Entry 9 (by Yrthanivak Eshlazi)I feel their entry across the Fold. They, pitiful of creatures sucuumb to my whim and wishes , coming to remove themselves, seeking salvation of sins they have acted through shadowselves and dark minds. Let them play the part of marytr and redeemer to souls already lost and denied from the light which deceives them. Yes, I will watch their game and see what darkness lies within, swirling masses of nightmares and fears to play and linger.
Before me a revolving cage of spherical proportions, spinning in resemblance to the confusion they see, and how trapped are they within the maelstrom, torrents of anger blinding them as they search escape. Moving in time to the lines passing at hundreds of beats she, small one with crazed eyes and murderous mind knows the cage stops as she begins to move. Her other doing likewise and confusion slips from my grasp.
They are outside of it but I have their secrets within me, coming forth like a thousand fold of cloth, drowning in countless waves, layers in layers within layers. Hide from yourself my kittens and lose your minds in secrets and lies. Seek a path to end the maze of curtains and recall the safety of the cage, of confusion. No, what do they do now. They stop their movement in the falling lines of mystery and reveal to each other, the small murderous one and her, who loves the lover child, secreted words of deeds and actions. The curtains fall away. They come closer.
Standing now, by the pool in which they swam and parted from the Ile Perdue, dissent and mistrust lying in the pink serenity, reflecting moonlight above. I do not do this, but bear witness, my compulsions within them untying, waving in power. Silasht machiok en fusiolamack Silasht! A hand breaches the surface of the life fluid, pink in pool of dissent and mistrust. Fear gripping my kittens, the body of a . . . no, not my creation. Who does this? Body of a man, covered in white, eyes like a child, heart of a messiah. I watch.
The lovers lover steps into darkness, a form of warrior tall and shining with death, lurches forward, sister of shadows falls within the pink, disappearing without a sound. She-Warrior of meat, metal and souls raises blades of dread and hatred to her once brother, cord of life pulling at his torso. Murderous child, shaken into the pool- life fluid. Avatar of War, spirit body upward flies, pausing at apex, shining blades. He disappears from her slice of revenge, falling into pool of life, she pulls her child towards her and I feel him escape my soul prison. No, they are conquering their fears and claiming my prizes.
Skinless back child, you feel solace in your mothers arms. I pity thee.
From stars which guide a curtain of night above, sickly beauty of glimmering hope descending to their outstretched arms. She shows herself to them and they know they are her children. What fears they have most, I observe in spirit even as their mother reveals a place of great magnificence, shining city of glee and laughter, like the taste of bile in my throat. I hate it. I create with rage a fire of size that would consume a world and send its path to sunder the bastions of destiny. She empowers them. Shadow sister, warrior girl and stone pillar with skinless back.
Water, purity against my wrath and explosions in air, cleansing rain falling on shining city . . . why?! I must leave them soon, in time coming, but another presence takes hold of the forms and a world of white, like cowls of death falls.
From ashes of flames and bones of defiled she rises, surrounded in cowls of white, no depth in fields of fate. Small warrior child lashes against her and wounds open on her chest where fate was denied a chance to grasp the child's soul, where cutting wound sought flesh and eminence guided it away. Death will claim what is owed. I laugh now. Mortality faces my escaped kittens, ripping thoughts that sear their minds and spirits ; bodies showing sores in the flesh. Shadow child chants, mantra taught by light of old. Mirrors, reflecting imperfections in white create shadow, layering confusion, fold within fold. Crone fears now, eight hundred faces and forms step through the glass. Dancing Sister dancing Death. She lashes out, fates darkness with laughers' light. Spirits battle and forget my kittens.
They are away from me now, the cracks which I festered are sealed and forgotten.
I show myself, in glory and power, they quake with wonder. Honey drips from the air and sticks sweet and luring. My voice is filtered, seductive like the smell which surround them. " Yoo--u seek release! Yoo-u will return to me. I am your guide. I am your salvation!".
----Bastion calls them home. They will return to me. They need me.
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Rest and Rust Storms
Well, I'm back. The girls rescued my soul from a coma and managed to strip the taint from our souls. That Z'Bri has nothing on us now and I feel great. After the ritual, we lay low and hung out for about six weeks, recuperating and allowing our true selves to live and breathe once again. I started work on a new table, Cinder did a skit at Junks, Chigger helped me get some new decorations for the Bin ( she did trash the place after all ), Mana took up her weapons training again ( although she's still mute ) , and Bastion, well he just sat around and looked pretty. Actually, I don't know what he was up to!
Slash didn't come around much. I suppose hanging around with a bunch of freaks was bad for the rep. That is until one day she came up to us in Junks ( before we got overly pissed drunk ) and told us someone wanted to see us . . . someone serious!
She guided us towards the woods on the far west side of Hom, near the Fallen Bridge. We followed a couple of animal trails towards a clearing where the most amazing and shocking sight greeted us. Joanites! The Watch! Before we could charge headlong into the spilling of blood and brains, Slash of all people, stopped us.
The leader approached us, unarmed, and Cinder seemed to recognized him. It was the Captains second, the one that was with her at the slaying of the pregnant woman in Bazaar! I looked at Mana, her head was down, eyes averted from the sight before her. I can't imagine what was going on within her. Here was a perfect chance to get revenge, but she maintained her cool . . . and her silence.
" I come to help you!" he said.
" Bullshit!" we responded.
He began to explain to us that the Clinic, his Captain Monika, the slayings; all of it was coming from a higher order. Maybe, even the Elder Council. He also stated, that there was a traitor among the Elders of Hom. They where giving away information, on pregnant women, to the people behind the grisly acts. That's how they know and how they lure the Fallen from the safety of Hom.
We asked him why he was telling us all this, and he said he had witnessed enough.
His name was Daryck and he felt that the scarring ritual was unjust and against the orders of TeraSheba and, most of all, dishonored Joan.
He also told us he would find out more information, but didn't want to risk his place among the Tribes. We would have to do the dirty work of acting on whatever he gave us. And what did he give us? A key to the Clinic and a map to a secret meeting place where he could be reached.
They left shortly after that, lucky for them. . . we were ready to break his legs, just because!
Then the discussions began among the cell! We decided to send a few of us in, to scout out the place on the Map. Chigger, Cinder and Slash volunteered for that duty. Bastion, Mana and I were going to check out if there was an inkling of truth to Daryck's claims, of traitors among the Elder council. How that was going to happen, we had NO IDEA, but we had a mission dammit, and we where going to figure it out come rain or storm.
Well, that's exactly what occurred. Shortly after the girls left for Bazaar, to scout out the map, the sky began to darken and the wind picked up something fierce! A rust storm was coming and Hom went into lock-down mode. It lasted all night, and I remember wondering if the girls made it through or not. They did, as they came back the next day apparently saved because they received shelter in an Evan family's's farm. They said there were Scrays in the storm and that the farms entire livestock was cleaned to the bones. It would be a rough winter to come for those folks, that's for sure. At least they helped out my friends.
Unfortunately, a sickness also descended with the passing of the storm, and people all over became ill. Some got by with hacking throats and headaches, while others fell into fevers that lead to death! Luckily, we faired okay.
Two warm summer days went by and it was decided that, with Bazaar in a likely state of recovery, it would be a perfect time for another attempt at scouting the map's location. So they left on their journey with high hopes while we stayed and started asking questions.
Let it be known that uprooting a traitor is not the simplest of tasks! In fact, it's downright next to impossible! We turned up very little over the next couple of days. The only thing that amounted to anything was that we managed to geta copy of the key to the Clinic made.
We were careful not to draw too much attention to our questioning and soon gave up, to avoid any serious repercussions. That's when the Chigger and Cinder came back, less Slash on their side!
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The Hive: Honey Sweet and Good to Eat!
"What!?" was my first response.
Here's the story as they told it...
They went into Bazaar, and as we had expected it was still in shambles after the rust storm of the century. They had little, if no trouble finding the beginning of the map, which started in a trade emporium, near a water fountain. They followed its trail ( still unmolested ) to a large underground hallway, that was extremely wide and lined with pipes on smooth walls. Still, without any resistance, they came to a large, wide red door, made of metal. No guards! Then it opened with a grating sound and two people came out, cloaked and secretive. They moved by them with no hassles! Before the door shut again, they snuck within and entered a small room with a single set of stairs leading towards a larger room with a circling balcony. The room was sparsely filled with Tribals. All kinds of Tribals! Now, they said they were disguised but still . . . no guards, no questions, no nothing. Piece of cake!
Within, they apparently witnessed a secret meeting, lead by a judge of TeraSheba. He spoke of an Agenda and a Date! Very cryptic and in secret coded terms according to Chigger. After hearing enough to get the gist that something big and underground was going on, they left. Again, without any resistance!
The girls justified that no-one would find this place by accident. You either knew about it, or you didn't. Sounded good to me.
Here's where everything gets a bit confusing. They decided to stay the night, as it was getting late, so camped out in an abandoned building. That's when Chigger saw the kid. The one that led her from the Hive the first time! Slash said they should follow him, that way they would know another way in for when we come back to kill the Z'Bri!
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! . . . they did. The stupid twits followed him. Right into the depths of the under tunnels of Bazaar. Did I say stupid?!
Well apparently down there, they saw the freak-a-zoids harvesting fungi and mushrooms. No hassles! Still! The cake was being eaten in big gulps at about this point. Chigger saw Adam, a Fallen Agnite that Bastion often looks out for, running with a bunch of others down a parallel tunnel. Stupid Chigger ran after him! Only a couple of slices of cake left at about this point!
The kids cornered Chigger and Cinder, Slash apparently lost in the maze behind them. Chigger asked Adam what he was doing here.
Adam responded, " Hoping you'd come back, my kittens!"
Thanks be to the Goddess, because that's when Slash showed up.
‘ Hurray, we're saved,' you might think? Think again.
Slash walked up and joined Adam and the other children. She was a part of the Z'Bri's twisted games! Chigger tried her best to speak with the real Slash, but all they heard was the sweet tongue of Eshlazi. I don't know how they fast talked their way outta there, but if someone could do it, it was a Dahlian, Fallen or not.
Not wanting to risk anymore time in Bazaar, under the skyrealms, they headed for home in the darkness of night. Night is a scary place under the best of circumstances and that night was far from reaching that goal. No more cake for them at this point. They were waylayed by a bunch of Zoms, likely rotted corpses, dead from the illness a few days passed. From what they said, they were next to coming face-to-face with Baba Yaga and her death crew, when unlikely rescuers showed up. A decimated Dahlian caravan . . . Chigger and Cinder's uncle and family, Emron. His fast whistling arrows, a lit with flame, saved their sorry butts. They spent the night with them, heard a few lectures, and generally had a very tense time of it.
Good! They screwed up and Slash was paying for it! So here we are . . . looking at these two sorry excuses for scouts and saying . . . " What?!".
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Well, continuing on the recent vein, Cinder decided to lay the mother of all mother's on us.
" Why don't you ask Bastion, whether his master has any more secrets in store for us or not . . . his Z'Bri Lord!" she said.
We picked up our collective jaws from the floor at this point, completely shocked by her scathing statement. She continued to glare at Bastion with eyes that could make Baba Yaga cringe. Silence pervaded the room with a thickness, much like the Great River's ice-flows in Winter. I stepped in between the two.
" Cinder are you crazy? What are you talking about?" I said in Bastion's defense.
" He was the one who told us about the Hive, he was the one that carried our defiled bodies from its horrors, he was the one that didn't take the Ritual at the Shelter, and he is the only one who has come out of all of our hardships, without even a hair out of place."
Again, our jaw muscles got a workout and were creating some nasty dents in the floor.
Bastion spoke. " I know I have appeared to be unaffected by everything, but why would I have helped you . . . all of you, in the darkest times? I did it because I can't deny who I am, Fallen or not. I was trained and brought up as a Magdalite, and I honestly care. Really, really care! Why are you attacking me like this." ( "I love you." what was written all over his face, but he didn't say it. )
" Then take the healing ritual, go speak to Mari-Anne Melina and tell her we need you to take the ritual." Tears were welling up in Cinder's eyes, and she broke past us into the other room.
I didn't know what to say, the whole affair was beyond me.
Chigger took Bastion by the hand and told him they should go speak to Mari-Anne. Sometimes Chigger can have a bigger heart than any of us. I thought about the exchange between the two, Cinder and Bastion, and wondered if it was anything more than a lovers spat. But what Cinder said held some truth. Looking back on past events, Bastion did come clean out of the whole Z'Bri Hive thing! Why? Because he was a Magdalite, rather than a Dahlian like the rest of us? Did he have a stronger will, or a horseshoe up his butt, or did he have dealings with the Z'Bri? I barely noticed Bastion and Chigger leaving as I pondered these things. Perhaps I should look over my Journal; for clues that might hold some truth! No, I can't second guess my friends. Bastion rescued us many a time, and quite often was the only one who kept a level head. Why were we questioning our blessings? What had we become? The Bin is tense again, Cinder is in the other room, I am sitting on the stupid table, and Mana maintains her ever vigilante silence. Maybe she's luckier than the rest of us. Cinder needs to get a grip, they should have never gone back to the Hive.
Bastion and Chigger came back and said Mari-Anne Melina didn't want to perform the Ritual without necessary cause because of its dangers. We were to watch over each other, and look for signs of the taint. Anyways, the Ritual needed to held on a full moon and that was at least twenty days away. We had time. Or did we?
They also told us that they encountered a cloaked Stranger on the way to the Shelter. He came from the shadows and kept a safe distance. He told them that secrets to rescuing Slash and a way to defeat Eshlazi were to be witnessed north of Mortuary on the next full moon!
Yea, Like that was a good idea. Some wacko hanging out in dark alleys and telling us, Fallen, to go into the heart of Tribal territory with a price on our heads from the whole Clinic thing, at night, under the full moon, with a bunch of dead people seemed like a real keen idea! That fell to the wayside pretty quick.
They also said they were ‘ambushed' by four Fallen Agnite Jackers calling themselves " Demons of Righteous Knowledge". There's got to be a punch-line in there somewhere.
They said these kids tried calling a time-out when Chigger punctured one of their sides with her lawn darts. Apparently they had mistaken us for Jo'han sympathizers or something. They let them live, and said they could come along on our next Skyrealm raid if they salvaged a few chairs that would go with our table. Leave it to Chigger to make sure she gains something from nothing. Now we had a bunch of kids doing the mundane stuff for us and we could get onto some serious business, like Junks!
Junks was great as usual, except Cinder and Bastion went off to a side room for a while. I had a funny feeling when they left, but ignored it. I should try not to do that. Funny feelings equal bad news and that's exactly what happened. In the mean time, we hung out with a couple of girls that we ran into at the Shelter a few weeks back named Danelle and Meg of the River Dreamers Cell. I think Meg likes Bastion, that's why Cinder took him off to the side rooms, but Danelle is strangely quiet, but very cute. She was a Magdalite, and well, I've always been curious. A couple of swigs of Rust later, Cinder came back. Bastion had left!
She had thought maybe he had come back to see us, but when we said we thought he was with her, we became worried. We asked Barber, he didn't know! We raced back to the Bin and all of his things were gone. Shit! I knew it. I cast a sidewards glance at Cinder, but she didn't notice. We brain stormed where he could have gone and we all came to the same conclusion. The Hive!
Damn that place. No matter how we seek to escape it, it comes back to haunt us, luring us in like insects to sweet nectar. Trapped is what we are. I didn't voice my opinion, but somehow I felt it. We weren't free, we were animals in a maze that all led to the same god awful place. We gathered our things and left for Bazaar. Nothing is ever easy for us.
On our way to the bridge, Meg came up to us and asked if we had seen Bastion. We told Meg he might have gone to Bazaar, specifically near the Sunken City, but didn't mention the Hive. She offered herself as guide to take us there upon one of her canoes. Oooh, water ways of Vimary at night, on a inherently unstable ship. Good idea. We said yes!
Meg and Danelle each commanded ( is that the word ) a canoe, Meg, Cinder, and Chigger in one, Danelle, Mana, and myself in another. Under different circumstances, it would have been a dream come true. Me, two girls, nighttime. Errhemm, back to the story.
The Sunken City by water is a magnificent and eery thing. We navigated our way through the buildings, knowing dozens of lost stories lay beneath the water. We were very quiet, as TeraSheban look-outs guard the more common paths, but we managed to slip through undetected. We docked and hid the canoes and the two River Dreamers guided us through many hanging bridges and platforms to the edge of the Sunken City. Praises to solid ground!
The time it took us compared to regular travel was cut by half, however. There's no way Bastion could have beaten us here. Meg and Danelle took their leave of us and wished us luck. I noticed a pause in Meg before she left, but I don't think anyone else noticed.
Here was the plan. Under no circumstances were we going to enter the Hive. If we saw Bastion, we were to persuade him to return, but wouldn't put up a fight. We were not going to rescue Slash either, baited or not. And so we waited. And waited. No Bastion.
That's when the Stranger showed up again. He told us, again, that our destinies lay in the hills north of Mortuary, on the night of the full moon. We told him to you know what. He left without a sound and we were left with a great big empty feeling. Cinder then came up with the best idea any of us had for a long time. We were lost, confused and desperate. It was time for us to swallow our pride, suck in our egos, and stoop to a new level.
We were going to speak to the Elders.
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13th Entry on Friday the 13th !!
The Elders of Hom
The Sepulcher: Cinder, Mana, Chigger and I approached the large wooden door set into the mysterious tower with a sense of hesitation. Two flights of stairs led up to it, one lit by a lantern, the other cowled in shadows. We decided on the lit staircase, for obvious reasons. The door was opened by a small Doomsayer, with eyes that belied her summers. She had a strange way of looking right through you, as if we were the ghosts! Inside, the Sepulcher, Chigger's description held true. Even her embellishments fell short of the ominous and dark corridors within. We followed as best we could a way inwards, but Chigger said everything was different somehow. Furniture, shelves, and all the rest of the apparatuses were in different positions, although you wouldn't be able to tell by the dust and cobwebs.
We came to a series of three arches, one leading up, one leading down, and the last with a door inset about a bodies length in. After a quick ‘ what to do next' session, we went up. We found ourselves ascending a spiral staircase, that opened into a large circular room, bubbling with liquids carrying a pungent smell. Large verandas formed half-moons from each window, circling the entire tower. A large sheet covered what looked to be a cage of enormous proportions, a slight breeze skirting its edges. Chigger went to take a peek as to what lay within.
" Do not uncover those things you would regret." came a voice from the shadows.
We all froze, our eyes fixed on whatever we were just looking at. Veruka the Wraith stepped from behind the cover, a slight growl escaping from behind her. " You seek to understand what it is that binds you." she said.
" Our friend is captured, and we suspect another is under the Horrors sway. We are lost as to what to do. We need your wisdom." said Cinder.
" Your anger strengthens the beast. Your division lends it power. Overcome your fears, strengthen your will, understand the dream and its aura will cease to affect you. So the Ancient Ones say ‘ Bend and you shall rule'. Is it a lie? You will find it to be true. Be true to yourself and all will go well with you." We stared at her, allowing her words to sink in.
" What are we to do though? We don't know what our next step is. How are we to be true to ourselves, if we don't know what our options are?" Cinder asked.
" Every thought, every action, every decision will lighten the path to your destiny. Take care in your choices, for now they are your choices. Don't ever forget that, or what I have told you. Don't deny who you are." Veruka's words held the weight of importance one would expect to find in a such a venerable old hag. She had seen things, I realized, that we could only imagine. I suddenly looked at her differently. I had respect.
" We'll try, but one more question." Cinder continued. " We were told by a mysterious Stranger that there is place north of Mortuary, near the Great Hill that holds a key to our current plight. We were told to go there on the coming full moon if we wanted to destroy the Jo'han and rescue our friend."
Veruka, in all her wisdom, looked mortified . . . even more than usual. Her death mask revealed hesitation on her part, which did little for lending me any confidence. A raven called into the night air, and Veruka regained her composure. " GO! Go and seek what destiny holds for you. Seek and understand."
It was plain that this was our cue to exit, so we left with haste, thankful to breathe the cool air over the stagnant fumes within the Sepulcher.
We discussed our next plan of action.
The Temple: Den Hades made us wait for about three hours before we could see her. Chigger and I, in the meantime, were bugging the heck out of each other in a childish fashion. Of course she took things too far and really ticked me off. I left everyone else, holding back my emotions, not wanting to let her have the satisfaction of knowing she won. I spent a few moments outside the Temple, until Mana came to comfort me. Cinder didn't do anything to stop her little sister. Not ever. Not when she trashed the Bin, or wrecked my table, or put me in a coma, or got all of us in trouble at the Hive, and then again with Slash. She was pulling us apart, as though when everything is cool, it's not exciting enough for her. Why was Chigger like that and why didn't Cinder care? I was becoming frustrated with my ideals. No one understood what I stood for. Who could understand that I had visions of a land without the Fatimas or the Z'Bri. That one day, humanity and all of its dreams would be real. We would control our own destiny and take it to great heights. Ah, forget it. No one understood. No one.
Well I missed the meeting with Den Hades, but apparently she freaked the life out of Chigger who went burning by us, tears cascading from her eyes.
Cinder apologized to me about Chigger's behavior. When I asked her about what Den Hades said, Cinder seemed distant. Like she had been opened up to something miraculous. Den Hades had taught her a Mantra. No. ‘THE MANTRA' of dreaming. That would have been something to hear, but Cinder said it was given to her under strict conditions. Personal conditions. Only those ready to really learn were told of it, and once again, it seemed that Cinder had become a prodigy of sorts.
We spent the next two weeks taking part in Rituals at the Temple. They strengthened our minds and gave us a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a Dreamer. We learned of metaphors, and symbology, and the often unseen but ever constant tug of the Goddess Creator. It was amazing. We learned how to symbiotically dream with one another, and feel their essence mingle with ours. The secrets we learned and are continuing to practice are worth a lifetime of respect. I feel different. I see different. I think I'm growing up!
The Shelter: Mari-Anne Melina heard our plea for a way through our ever present hardships with empathy and love. I really liked her for some reason. More than because she helped save our lives, and more than just her good homestyle cooking. I felt she played the role of the mother I never had. I never knew my mother, she died during my childbirth, but if I did know her, I would have wanted her to be just like Mari-Anne Melina.
Mari-Anne told us that we were divided in spirit. That we constantly fell through the cracks of our weaknesses instead of building on our stengths. She advised us to uncover a symbol for ourselves. One that represented us as a unit . . . as a Cell. We discussed the matter for quite some time and decided that whatever we came up with, we would scar it on our right hands.
The symbol we found that best represented us, is an ancient one. It looks like this:
It means Holding Together. It belongs to ‘ The House of the Receptive' and is pronounced ‘Pi'. It is strong under the Lunar mansion and its power number is 8. Very fitting in all aspects. I knew this was going to be a great symbol for us.Following Mari-Anne's advice we honored it as a holy symbol. Our importance for it is what was going to give it power, in turn it returning that power to us. We were to treat it as a living entity, so we bow to the enscription we made of it at the Bin every morning. It exists within our meditations at the Temple, and we look to it in times of anger and frustration, knowing that each of us is scarred with it on our right hands. Yes, Mari-Anne Melina is a wonderful woman.
Mek's Training Hall: We walked in while Mek was teaching some combat theories to the Jackers that were, we thought, going to acompany him on his next foray into Z'Bri lands. " The strength of the warrior lies not in numbers, nor in what is expected. The true warrior must have confidence in his actions, resolve in his attack, and reliance upon his training, experience and skill. A thousand untrained whelps are no stronger than a single spiritual warrior." He glanced over to us. " Now, train the special maneuvers I have taught you until they are natural and flowing. Begin!" Mek strolled over to us with the grace of muscles that did his bidding.
" What brings you to the Jackers?" He asked.
" Slash has been captured." We responded.
Mek seemed upset with the news. " By a Jo'han." We continued.
Okay, NOW Mek seemed upset with the news. He looked back at the training youth and called for a warrior named Jared. Jared took center stage, and Mek approached him, tossing a staff to his opponent. The sparring match was amazing. Now, don't get me wrong, Jared was a very exacting and supple fighter, but definitely no match for Mek.
" Get a healer for him." Mek commanded as he came back towards us."I don't do rescue missions!"
" What do you mean?" I asked.
" With the amount of people that I have seen dragged into the shadows, pulled from their sleep and captured through treachery, I would be spending all my time and resources rescuing people rather than doing something better. Like making certain it can't happen again. I kill Z'Bri. The less Z'Bri the less hostages, but I can't go back for those lost along the way. Not now, not ever." We looked at him, understanding his reasons, but there's no way I was going to let that stop me from rescuing Slash. She deserved it. She would have done the same for us.
"If I were you I would leave it alone, but judging by your faces that isn't an option. Listen, the Z'Bri are twisted, and the Jo'hans are Z'Bri renegades. Who knows what they're capable of. Even if you get Slash back, are you willing to pay the price? Will she be the person you knew and grew up with? You'll have to deal with the consequences. If anything, at least understand that!" He sighed. " I'll tell you what I know of the Z'Bri." Mek went on to explain to us about the Houses and the ability we call Sundering. He told us of Atmosphere and the taint. We listened intently to his words, piecing together so much of what had happened to us. Now we knew what we were fighting. We were fighting a Sangis!
He also told us how to prepare, stating that a calm mind equals a focused body, the vehicle of destruction against our enemy.
We learned a lot from Mek that day. He's not the gronk we assumed he was.
Slash suddenly didn't seem that far away.
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We found ourselves on a trek to Bazaar in the hopes of discovering a safe path to get north of Mortuary. Mana, Chigger, Cinder, and I needed to get there in two days time on the full moon. Mek had advised us to use any and all means necessary to insure a safe journey. That's exactly what we planned to do and Daryck, the Captain's second and Lieutenant of a Watch patrol, was our ticket. He had told us in the past that the secret underground meeting place was where we could locate him, so that was our first priority.
On our way to the Emporium that housed the tunnel entrance I recognized a familiar face among the hundreds that crowded the streets. I pointed this out to the others and we followed our query to an open front tavern. It was Darius, the traitor bastard that took us to the Clinic under the guise of a Fallen Joanite. He had two Magdalite whores with him and they disappeared through a door in the back.
Our hearts were racing and a sense of vengeance fell over us. This was a prime opportunity to get a hold of him and get some satisfaction at the same time. We safely scouted out the back of the tavern and found a rear entrance that was poorly being watched by a couple of guys that likely worked in the kitchen. Inside was a hallway that had three doors. All were set into the left-hand wall. The first one had muffled sounds of someone speaking. We passed it on to the second door that was more inset than the other two. A woman's voice and some laughter filtered through. The third door was locked and smelled of ale.
So the second door it was. It wasn't locked or jammed up, so we nicely opened it up to be greeted by the sight of two naked magdalite whores pleasuring the bastard Darius. The two nubile young women attempted to back away from us upon our intrusion, but Darius grabbed one of them, his arm wrapped around her throat.
" Nice meeting you again, traitor!" said Cinder.
The rest of us were quiet, but Chigger tossed a chair at him, accidentally striking the woman. She didn't look impressed.
" What are you going to do? I didn't mean for that to happen to you. I was just following orders." Darius pleaded
" Who's orders?" Chigger asked.
" Monika . . . my Captain. She works with Euramali at the Clinic." He said. " We just follow her orders. Listen. I'm sorry. What are you going to do?"
He looked pathetic. I noticed the whore who he had hostage was reaching slowly down her bare thigh.
Cinder yelled, " Look out!". I don't know why she tried to warn him, because a second later Darius hit the floor, holding his soft spots and groaning like a wimp. The whore stepped out of the way.
" We didn't see anything. Let us two go and we'll forget about it." she said.
Sounded fair enough for me, so Chigger and I told them we would guide them away from the tavern. Before we left, I noticed Mana had a very scary and serious look on her face. Cinder asked her what she wanted to do. Mana just removed one of her daggers and stepped towards Darius as we left the room.
I'm not sure what happened and Cinder won't exactly say. I can imagine, though. Cinder's ashen and pale face tells it all. Must have been really bad.
We got out of the neighbourhood as fast as we could and found ourselves walking down the long, wide hallway toward the secret underground meeting place. After some time we found the big red door that Cinder had described from their last visit, but it was closed. After waiting for a while, Cinder and I decided to see if there was a back way in and went to explore the side-passages.
Now, we weren't splitting up as we had foolishly done in the past. If the door opened, Mana and Chigger were to go in without us and we would meet up with them later. So off we went.
The tunnels were huge and Cinder told me a few things along the way. She didn't divulge any details about what Mana did to Darius, but she did say she doesn't know if it was healthy for Mana. I defended Mana, saying that those bastards mutilated her and she could do whatever she damn well pleased to get revenge. We weren't arguing or anything. I just often feel that Cinder's a bit too lenient when it comes to looking on the Tribes. They cast us out and we no longer belong under their rules or laws. It's something they'll figure out soon enough.
After a bit of exploring and being careful not to get lost, we found a wide passage with a sunken area that had metal rails running along its surface. It was mostly submerged in water and seemed to go off in both directions. We couldn't for the life of us figure out what the ancestors could have used these tunnels for, but came up with all sorts of stupid ideas. Even travel. Yea right. Vimary had clear skies before the Z'Bri, why would they hide from it and travel underground? Besides, the streets of Bazaar are huge. Plenty of room there. They probably had lots of place to walk about and ride in their ‘Teknology' carriages!
Just before we headed back, we were greeted by a kid that said he was from Playground. He had on a funny hat and seemed quite smart. He told us that we were near or on the Anger line, whatever that meant. We never did get his name but he continued on his way in his little raft that hummed. Funny, I thought we were a long way from Playground.
We got back to the red door and it was closed with no sign of Mana or Chigger. We waited and a short while later it opened up and we snuck inside. Mana and Chigger told us that an old man went to get Daryck for us, but that it could take awhile. Oh well, I guess we could get comfortable then. Chigger said it was weird because, the old geezer seemed annoyed that we had used Daryck's name and that we should call him the ‘key holder' instead! Hmm, whatever.
Several hours passed and the door opened every hour for about two minutes then closed again. A few people came and went, never bothering us or drawing attention to themselves. Finally, just as we were getting ready to leave, Daryck ( or ‘key holder') showed up. He was with another Joanite Watchman named Salor. Daryck seemed to trust him so we spoke openly. We asked Daryck about what was going on north of Mortuary on the full moon and he didn't know. He said it was very dangerous for the likes of us to go there and that it was also out of the Watch's territory. He didn't have much influence up there. We also asked him about why there were so many Joanites in town. He hinted that they weren't Watch, but from the Seven Finger Towers in the north. He didn't know why they were in Bazaar, but that it was causing a lot of tension between the Watch and the Blades. Great, more Joanites than we could imagine. We also asked him what this place was and he said that it was used by an underground society that is faithful to the Fatimas but seeks to undermine the Elder Council. Seems they feel the Elder Council is corrupt or something. Some surprise that is!
Daryck seemed very helpful and went along with helping us get to Mortuary. He said he couldn't take us all the way but would do what he could. He also asked us if we were responsible for the gory death of Darius in Bazaar. We told him the truth, not wanting to create lies at such an early stage. He said he could hole us up in a dingy place caused Medusa's in the Abyss. Salor would take us there for tonight and the next day, and Daryck would pick us up on the day of the full moon early in the morning, before sunup. So off we went, unknowingly into a trouble spot like no other . . . Medusa's!
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
Medusa's Den of Wolves
Salor took us through the dark streets of Bazaar, always keeping to the shadows and staying out of well traveled roads. We soon found ourselves in a very questionable area of Bazaar known as the Abyss. This is where all the secret, perverted, and criminal members of the Tribes and Fallen alike get their kicks. I have heard that it's on par with Ile Perdue. Maybe worse. Safely reaching the entrance to the tavern of thieves and killers, Salor took his leave of us, telling us that the proprietor, Andora, knows that we were staying till the full moon and that him and Daryck will pick us up in two days. Swell, we would just hang out and keep outta trouble till our escort returned. Unlikely! With the people I was hanging around with that seemed next to impossible, as you'll soon see.
Andora showed us to a table in the corner and offered us the services of some of her ‘kids'! We were shocked, but didn't show too much contempt, after all, she was our host. She also offered us our fortunes read, but not wanting to play with fate just two nights before Mortuary, we politely refused. As we got comfortable, the sights that greeted us about the den were appalling. Kids and young girls were pleasuring tribals and outcasts in plain view. Whores, male and female, were soliciting us and others for nothing more than wanting to feel worthwhile. It was disgusting. Not because of the acts themselves, but because of why people were doing them. It seemed vile and sickening. It felt like we were lost.
I had always thought of Evans as being kind and caring with a touch of overbearingness. That opinion changed quite quickly after our run in with a real bruiser. I noticed him staring at Cinder during our discussion about why Mary had died and resurrected as Agnes. Yea, I know. We were having a deep conversation amid sex, sin and debauchery. . . what can we say?!
I pointed him out to Cinder, hoping she would cover up, or turn her back to him, or appear to look a little less sexy in general. But no, she instead waved him over. Now this guy was big. I mean huge. He probably slept with sheep and raised houses to get his exercise. Definitely not someone we wanted to hang out with. Besides, he was an Evan and we were Fallen attempting to hide out for two days. Oh well, that's what you get. Once a Dahlian, always a Dahlian.
He pushed a chair open, inviting Cinder to sit down with him. I could see his one hand was below the table! Cinder dared Chigger to go over, goading her on, knowing just what strings to pull to have the stage open for the show. Chigger went. I told her to sit down, but she went any ways. What happened to 'Pi' and our symbol of unity? We were past all this juvenile garbage, I had thought, but apparently I was wrong. Again, my ideals had outlived their usefulness!
Things went from bad to worse after Chigger refused to go with the guy. He insisted, of course, and an argument broke out. A friend of his, an even huger guy by the bar who had smashed someone's head open earlier came over to back up the Evan.
Great, here we were in the middle of a confrontation with a couple of locals. In fact, a Dahlian who was being well taken care of in the corner, chuckled over that the second bruiser was the leader of a gang in the Abyss. ‘THE' gang in the Abyss actually. I guess I was the only one to hear him, because my fellow idiots failed to back down. Just before heads stared rolling, Andora came over and informed us that our 'private' room was ready. We escaped just in time to a small back room that left little to the imagination. We cleaned it up as best we could, happy to be clear of the danger.
We argued a bit before we tried to sleep. We didn't resolve anything and kept to ourselves the rest of the night. Chigger and Cinder are a couple of idiots. I know that now. The next day I spoke with Cinder and told her that she either takes responsibility for Chigger's actions or to shut up when I do. I was sick of Cinder not saying anything and then defending Chigger whenever I got mad at her. It seemed hypocritical. Fucken sisters!
* * *
That night, we all had the same dream. We were standing in a large circle in heavy rain. Shadows swayed along the edges, each one holding a torch. Lightning cracked the sky and the dried dirt broke into islands along the ground. The rain quickly turned the earth into a soggy, muddy pit and our feet sunk into it, trapping us. We looked into the center of the circle and an arm breached the ground, rising into the air, fingers outstretched. Lightning cracked the sky and we woke up.
* * *
Breakfast was brought to us by Andora. It was nothing great, just bread and milk. We ate in silence. I was mad. Really mad. None of us spoke for most of the day. We had until next morning here and Chigger suggested we scout out the neighborhood! I snapped. I yelled at her that we were to not draw any attention to ourselves. She was a stupid bitch and was going to get us all killed. I screamed at her to shut up and sit still or I would make her sit still. Cinder once again came to her rescue. I glared back at the two sisters and saw my death in them. They would kill me with their shenanigans and shortsighted ways. I knew I couldn't stay with them forever. After Slash was rescued, I was thinking of leaving the group. I glanced at my arm and covered it up, ashamed of our symbol.
That night the Evans returned. The Dahlian in the corner (I thought I heard his name was Darun by one of the wenches) Chuckled again at our plight. As was expected, the Evan came over and continued harassing us as though no time had passed. Things once again escalated and Andora was nowhere to be seen. Shit. We were seriously in trouble. The Evan grabbed Chigger by the arm and her small size was defenseless against him. That's when our silent warrior stood up. She pulled her sword from its scabbard and placed the tip at the Evans throat. The Bruiser gang leader had a smirk on his face, as though he didn't think Mana would do anything. I covered my face and sank deeper iinto the booth as the Evan dropped to the floor, his head hanging from his shoulders by a small line of flesh.
The bar was dead quiet. Andora called off her guards and we took the Evans body out front and burned it. The gang leader went and sat at the bar, not looking back at us for any reason. I can't blame Mana for what she did. The sisters ( Chigger and Cinder ) brought it upon us. Mana just did what she had to do, but maybe Cinder was right. Maybe the whole Darius thing wasn't that healthy for her.
I spoke to Cinder after. She aplogized about defending Chigger again. She also apologized for the mess she helped create. I knew that if Daryck and Salor didn't show up in the morning, our lives would be over. I told her this and I also told her that I might leave after we get Slash back. She just looked at me and said she wouldn't blame me. We stood there and watched the body burn.
The next morning, before sunup, Salor came for us. He spoke quickly to Andora and then took us to some horses where Daryck and two others were waiting. We rode quickly from Bazaar and soon found ourselves outside of the Abyss and the regular city. We were on our way to the Great Hill north of Mortuary. The moon was slightly visible in the dawning sky, but the warm days we had grown accustomed to were clouding over. It seemed we might get a summer storm! Just our luck!
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
After some hard riding, we found ourselves near the south-end of the Rift. Our muscles were sore and our minds generally fatigued from the dream that had plagued our last two harrowing nights. Not having ridden a horse, for about fifteen years in my equal number of summers, made it all the more challenging.
The humidity in the air was growing, threatening to choke us in our saddles. I was glad when we stopped, being clear of Bazaar and spying eyes. The two other Watchmen took the horses to a watering hole while we quenched our own thirsts. The sky was becoming more and more grey. Daryck and Salor came over to us.
" I heard you had some problems at Medusa's !" Daryck said. " The Abyss can be a trying place, but where you're going is far worse for the likes of you. Fallen are punished by death for being spotted near the Great Hill or the Hunting Paths. We're not there yet, but here's where you must make a decision. Neither one is great."
We looked at him and began to understand the danger we were putting ourselves into. Since our exile we had never ventured farther than Bazaar or the surrounding lands of Sanctuary. Now, we were planning on going into the center of Tribal lands to witness some great event. Into an area that, if we were seen or glimpsed by watchers, all of our lives would be over. No questions, no remorse, no record. Just gone.
" What are our options?" Cinder asked.
" To make time and to ensure you get there before midnight, we could escort you, but . . ."
" But what!?" I said.
" We would have to take you in as prisoners into Mortuary. It would be safer. . . the traveling, but once we reach there, someone with more influence could take control of you. We would have to stage an escape, or sneak you in to be safe." Daryck said.
" I don't like it." Cinder said. Chigger, Mana, and I nodded in agreement. " What's our other choice?"
" We point you in the right direction and you head there yourselves. There's two ways to go. Straight west towards Mortuary and then north, into the Great Hill. It's the easiest path to follow, but again, you might be seen. The second path is to follow the Rift into the Discarded Lands and cut west when you see the signs to the Hunting Paths. They're easy to see, for they have big warning signs against non-tribal trespassers." Daryck finished and answered a few details for us. We then took about ten minutes to seriously come to a conclusion. This was our big choice and all other events of the coming day would unfold off of this one decision.
We decided to go on our own.
Daryck and Salor wished us luck and the protection of the Goddess. We parted and I felt strange. I had almost forgotten, after everything Daryck did for us, that he was a Joanite. What, was I going soft?!
* * *
We trudged our way through the knotted woods and derelict buildings along the Rift. We didn't say much along the way, just kept walking. By the time we reached the entrance to the Hunting Paths on the south-east side it was early afternoon. We figured about five or six hours, barring unseen circumstances, to reach our destination. The Paths didn't go straight and often became quite steep or treacherous. That, and we had to keep track of where we were. Lucky thing we were Dahlians and Chigger made certain we were heading in the right direction. The trails crossed at times and Chigger used her Eminence of Motion to feel which way was Mortuary.
The sky continued to darken overhead, and the canopy of thick trees soon blocked out the sun. After we were well into the Paths, it started to rain.
Our progress was slowed tremendously as the trail started to be confused with streams and the side bushes crept inwards. Rocks and slopes became extremely slow-going, but we forced ourselves to keep from rushing forward. A broken ankle was no better for us than slowing for a few hours due to conditions.
The rain let up for about an hour and we pushed ahead. An hour later, we heard horses coming. We dove into the bushes, hiding from whoever came forth. Of course it was Joanites! Six of them! They were riding with plenty of equipment and seemed tired. They stopped several feet from us and the two up front spoke.
" Why must we go to Bazaar? I hate it there. It's nothing like what it used to be, having become a den of thieves and greedy merchants. I plan on leaving as soon as possible." said the helmed rider.
" It is for a good cause - our Fatima's cause. Never forget that. Our Devotion is what makes us strong and in the coming time, that will be strengthened and remembered. It's a great thing happening here, and we are a part of it . . . will be a part of it. Aren't you proud?!" said the second rider with blonde hair.
" Of course, but I don't want to be mistaken for a member of the Watch! Imagine the shame of it all!" The others all laughed at this apparent joke.
" Come on! We must reach Bazaar before dark, or at least get out of these woods by then. There is a Yagan village on the outskirts. Let's make for that."
They rode away, allowing us to remove ourselves from the damp and wet undergrowth.
" What was that all about?" I asked.
" I don't know," said Cinder " But it's something big, and I don't know if I like it."
There was no use of speculating, so we carried on, waiting for the night and with it, more rain.
* * *
" There's something in the woods"
" Yes I see it. It has red eyes. Shine your torch . . . wait . . . where did it go?"
" Let's move, I don't want to know what it is."
" There it is again, run!"
" It's following us, let's get out of here!"
" No, there's more of them. There's more eyes in the woods."
" Cinder look out!"
It leapt at Cinder and grasped her by the left shoulder with its snarling maw. She stumbled and Chigger and I continued to run as Mana swung her sword at it. I glanced back. " Chigger look out!" I yelled. Another creature lunged at her, but a howl broke the wind and it backed off. Chigger jumped towards it. "No! Chigger don't!"
The wolf snapped at her, catching her below the knee and dragging her small frame to the ground. I swung my long staff at it and smashed it against its jaw. It bolted back into the woods. Chigger was screaming in pain. " Ah, Shit. Chigger, don't look. It's really bad."
Just as I was stemming the flow of blood, Mana came around the corner supporting an injured Cinder. We looked like we were in bad shape. Mana began making a splint for Chigger, who had lost a lot of blood and was looking groggy. After Mana secured Chigger's wound, she turned her attention to Cinder. Both sisters were in poor condition. Damn, and we were so close.
I wasn't going to give up. I helped Chigger to her feet and Mana helped Cinder. We carried on into the rainy, dark forest.
We soon saw the torches that surrounded the ruins of Mortuary. It was a gigantic, old building with a collapsed golden dome. We had made it! But where to now? That's when I saw someone in the shadows up ahead. I told the others to wait and went to investigate. The sight that greeted me was more shocking than I could have imagined.
" Guys, someone's here." They all looked up.
Bastion looked at the group in silence. His eyes met with Cinder's and she nodded to assure him that she was okay.
" We're not far from the ritual, and we have about a half an hour before midnight. If you can. . . come!" He then started climbing up a slope, off the path. I helped Chigger but there was no way she was going to make it up the incline. Bastion saw my difficulty and came back for her, lifting her over one shoulder and then continuing his climb.
We reached a clearing and the rain started to pour as though it would flood the world. We snuck to the edge and looked in upon something I had seen only in my dreams.
Flat rocks covered the ground, scattered about the clearing forming little islands in the puddles. Figures stood around the perimeter of the circle, each one holding a torch, their bodies clothed in marked and tattooed skin. A single person stood in the center, their eyes sown shut with burn marks around them. She was completely naked and seemed quite young for a Yagan. The ritualists on the outside were chanting in a deep, resonating fashion, and were swaying in the wind. Lightning cracked the sky as the blind Yagan began her high pitched squealing song. It felt strange, the wind and the weather - almost surreal or magical.
The chanting was rising to an epiphany and the song was increasing in speed and tempo. I glanced at my cell mates and Bastion. Chigger was holding her hands to the side of her head and seemed extremely afraid. Her injury was festering in the mud and she was delirious. Cinder was watching the events keenly, almost dissecting each move and motion in turn with the chanting and foreign lyrics. Mana had a look of resolve on her face. She appeared like a cat ready to spring into action. Bastion seemed like he was timing something; like he knew what was going to happen. The sky parted over the circle, allowing the full-moon to shine brilliantly down on the center Yagan. More bright flashes filled the sky, setting the place a-glow.
The skins of the ritualists flew up and around their bodies, flapping wrathfully in the torrent of rain and wind.
" The moment is at hand," said Bastion. " Get ready."
We set our weapons before us, not knowing what to expect. Only what I was fearing from my dreams. The ritualists started to approach the center Yagan, drawing long, thin blades from their sides. They completely encircled her, and raised their blades over their heads. I held my breath.
The blood flew all over, splattering the ground and flowing into the cracks of the mud. As the murderers stepped away from their sacrifice, the body of the Yagan, broken and bloody, sank into the softened dirt. She completely disappeared as the ritualists turned away, their eyes closed and mouths continuing the chant.
Worms and insects rose from the ground all around us, surrounding us in a pool of bugs. The trees looked petrified and rotten, barren of all leaves and signs of life.
It happened then. An arm breached the ground, hand outstretched and groping for the sky. The rest of the mud-covered body rose from the ground and levitated, slowly turning in circles. She was dead. Blood ran from her wounds, and bone and flesh was torn from their natural locations. A pure blue line shot from the sky and struck the dead Yagan. Her body began to contort and pull, muscles ripping from bones, as though she was turning inside out. Bones started to fly up from the muddy ground, attaching themselves to her lifeless body. She was being stretched and elongated, a sick and wicked looking form attempting to take shape. The shape of a weapon! A spear of flesh, and blood , and bone.
"Now!" yelled Bastion. " Now, get the spear!"
We ran headlong into the circle, our weapons screaming overhead and descending in arcs that met with death. The ritualists were still in a trance and gave little resistance. We were murdering them, and they were completely helpless to stop it. I saw Cinder and Bastion make straight for the spear, destroying anyone in their path. Chigger was nowhere to be seen.
Cinder grabbed the spear and I heard Bastion yell for her to let it go, that he should take it. I saw the spear of flesh attempt to suck Cinder's bones from her body, hoping to make her a part of it. She was resisting with all of her might and screaming at the top of her lungs. The pain must have been excruciating. All of her veins were seeking to explode from her skin, creasing her body with purple and red lines. Bastion grabbed her and tore her away from the center of the circle.
" Fight it!" he was yelling. " Fight it, Cinder!"
We opened a path of escape, Mana and I, and yelled for Bastion to follow. Mana fought her way to Chigger and we all went tumbling down the slope. Just before I fell, I saw a brilliant flash of light and the flesh-spear sucked itself into Cinder's eyes, disappearing from sight. A whisper went through the air. It said, ‘Fate and Destiny are but one.'
I landed with a crash, but luckily the foliage broke my fall. The others were here and I saw Bastion helping Cinder to her feet. We ran.
* * *
I woke up at the bank of a river. We had collapsed from exhaustion. The sun was beating down on us and it appeared that it had never rained at all. I quickly looked around for the others and saw them scattered about. Bastion was talking to Cinder, who had a very serene look on her face. Chigger was sleeping and Mana looked like she had just gotten up.
Later on Chigger was asking what happened to the spear and we all looked very sad. I don't know if we gave her a straight answer or not, but I was starting to comprehend the consequences of what had happened. We had acquired a means to rescue Slash and destroy the Sangis, but at what cost? Somehow, I didn't want to know. Bastion was feeling extremely depressed. As though he fully knew what was to come. He was telling Cinder that he should have been the one to grab the spear. That she didn't know what a horrible thing it actually was to be ‘chosen'. Cinder simply lay her faith in her destiny and said it was meant to be.
We began our journey back to Hom, and happened upon an Evan trade caravan. To our luck, the father, Dan and daughter, Leanne, that helped the girls out during the rust storm were there. They tended to Chigger's leg ( Cinder's wounds were gone) and offered us a ride in their wagon to the Fallen bridge. I was pleased with their company. We're going to heal up a bit and get some rest now. It has been a long few days and the Bin is looking more like home than ever.
But don't worry Slash . . . we're coming.
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
Mari-Anne Melina greeted us with her regular cheer, that is until we showed her Chigger's leg. She immediately called for some of her aides and took Chigger upstairs to redress and fix the wound. They worked for just under an hour, Chigger screaming at the top of her lungs about how she was going to kill the next person that touched her injury. Typical Chigger!
In the meantime, I took the opportunity to get some real food. Mana and I ate together, while Bastion and Cinder did some catching up. It was strange that he was back with us now, after everything that had happened. And what about Cinder? She apparently had this powerful weapon or Yagan bone-thing inside of her that could kill a Z'Bri! What did it mean and how was it going to affect our future? I still felt as though no-one understood me, but I really do care for my companions. They really piss me off sometimes, but I can't just leave . . . not yet. We haven't rescued Slash and the Clinic still stands as a blight on the earth. We have a lot ahead of us.
Mana fell asleep in one of the upstairs hallways, and I went ( with full stomach and clean clothes ) to check up on Chig. Bastion was speaking to Cinder in the hallway, so I went in to see the wounded sis.
" Hey Chigger. What's the word on your leg?" I asked.
" It's fine, they say about a week, maybe less! Then we can go kill Eshlazi!" she said.
" Great. That's good news about your leg." Cinder came into the room.
" So Cinder, we can take Chigger back to the Bin to rest for the week and then follow through with our plans!" I stated.
Cinder looked at me and shook her head. " Mari-Anne said at least two weeks off of the leg and another two or three weeks after that for muscle damage and flexibility. Chigger's not going anywhere."
Well, that was not going to do. I complained to no-end about how Slash was in a dire predicament and that we couldn't wait any longer. I convinced Cinder that we should speak to Mari-Anne and and ask her to heal Chigger with the River of Dream. Cinder gave a shrug and I was off. I tracked down Mari-Anne and pleaded with her that a friend of our was in danger and that we couldn't allow Chigger to be in bed for so long. She saw our point and agreed to help with Dream Weaving an Aspect, as long as we promised to help around the Shelter in the Winter time.
Mari-Anne was rubbing an onion base brown paste into Chigger's leg. We knew it was going to stain her skin an oily brown hue for a very long time. The essence in the room could be felt moving in a spiral like fashion and pure life energy seemed to flow through everything. Mari- Anne continued the ritual, constantly mixing more paste into the wound as she worked. When she was finished she told Chigger to not touch it for at least a day, and that it would itch a lot. Hopeful that the Aspect of Anima would quicken the healing process, we left Chigger alone to sleep.
The rest of us thought it would be a good idea to see to other matters while we waited for Chigger to get better. Bastion and I were going to check up on the status of the Bin and make sure that no- one else had moved in, while Cinder and Mana were going to speak with Veruka about the importance of the Spear. We parted and went about our separate duties. When Bastion and I arrived at the Bin, the place was infested with vermin. Rats, insects, roaches ( those things can survive anything ), even a bird's nest! We cleaned the place as best as we could, utilizing our eminences to speed up the tasks. When the girls finally got back to the Bin, we were almost done.
Cinder said Veruka spoke about a bunch of cryptic and non-specific areas. I guess you have to be careful when people ask you questions about their fate! Veruka told Cinder that when the time is right the Spear will present itself to be used. So there would be no practice runs, or any idea what the power of the Spear was going to do for us when we finally faced the Jo'han. My earlier concerns about the cost of using the Spear resurfaced and I closed off from the others. It was strange, the feelings of elation and fear that I felt. I was anxious and excited that we had come so far in understanding the enemy that haunted us, but did we really know anything? We seemed very close to the edge of something that could change our destinies for ever. . . and I was scared.
Mana caught up on some more sleep, and I tried to follow suit. My mind had too many thoughts and I felt restless. Bastion and Cinder went off to the far room. Love or Lust?! Either way, by the time we all woke up, we decided that going back to the Shelter would be the best thing. On the way we encountered Meg, from the River Dreamers and a Fallen we see quite often, Nirvin Deker'on. Nirvin had something to say to Cinder in private, so I took the opportunity to see what the River Dreamers were doing tonight. Meg said they would be at Junks so I knew that Danelle was going to be there as well! I know she's older and everything, but she sure is cute. I think I might have a chance with her.
It seemed that the date was set and that we would all hook up at Junks later. We headed for the Shelter again. When we arrived, we heard Chigger had created some trouble for herself. She was wandering around, yes against orders, and had found her way into a storage closet. Of course, she wasn't exactly completely lucid and in trying to keep herself from falling, she took an entire series of shelves down with her. We were not impressed. The least I can say for it is Cinder did speak to her about it. Finally, Cinder was taking some responsibility for her bratty, unrestrained sibling. I had to laugh though.
When the time came for us to go to Junks, I felt bad that Chigger was not able to go with us . . . so I stayed behind. We talked about a lot of things and played some old Dahlian Dream games. Soon, however, the conversation turned serious. We started taliking about the Hive. Chigger told me she had a dream while she was sleeping. She said it was horrible. I listened to her, but she said she was afraid that the Jo'han was toying with us. That it had sent the visions to her to tempt her and scare her. Somehow I doubted it. We had broken its control on us. Chigger was probably just having nightmares because of her wolf bite. She didn't believe me.
* * *
You see yourself standing before a table covered with various tools and apparatus of shining silver. You lift a needle, holding it gently between your thumb and forefinger, letting the thin strand of flesh attached to its end fall naturally to the floor. You stare at your face in the reflection before you and lift the needle to your lips. The first prick draws a brilliant red line of blood that trails slowly down your chin and neck.
The needle pierces deeper, and you tug at it ever so slightly, allowing it to resurface, drawing the fleshy thread into a stitch that joins your upper and lower lips together. A tear rises and then escapes your eye from the stinging pain. You continue to make more stitches, tightening each one with a quick tug of the wrist. As you finish, your mouth now completely sealed, you place the needle back with the others.
Your hand reaches for a set of pliers. You toss it in your hand, playfully rolling it about your palm. You then proceed to grip it to the end of your left pinky finger's nail and wrench it from its natural place. You would scream at the pain, if you could, but instead your mouth lets out a muffled whimper. The blood flows freely from your left hand's fingertips, your nails lying on the floor by your feet. You smear the blood onto your face and neck, your eyes shining brilliantly at the contrasting richness of color.
You pick up two of the nails at your feet and place one under each of your eyelids. The scratching, abrasive touch of them against your sensitive iris causes your eyes to slam shut. You place your thumbs on the top of your eyelids and press, the nails underneath digging into the soft, supple texture, blood mingling with tears. You fight to scream and the stitches you had so carefully created upon your lips rip, revealing broken lines along their edges.
You fall to the ground, the self-induced torture becoming too much for your body to handle. You weep at your sad state, knowing all too well that in the morning you will be healed by your captor, only to begin anew a day of fresh sensations; of fresh pleasures. The worst part of your realization is that you are starting to enjoy the perversity of it all. The sex, the torture, the death. Yes, especially the death. You wonder who will feel your pent up anger and hatred tomorrow, even as you bleed on the floor. The child you were given today didn't put up any resistance. But children do taste better.
A soft hand caresses your cheek, and lips kiss your forehead. You sleep . . . but do not dream.
* * *
The next day we went back to the Bin to arrange some supplies and carried out some other errands. Cinder told us, that at Junks, Nirvin asked for some help from us, if we were willing. It seems that our capabilities at arranging contacts in Bazaar were becoming better known to others. He asked if we would help set up a meeting with his sister . . . his ‘TeraSheban' sister, Isabela, who happens to be a ‘Word-Taker' for the Iris Medi'on of the Elder Council! Cinder told him we had some other immediate concerns, but that we'd let him know in the near future if we could help. It was starting to come together. . . a lot of what was happening in Bazaar now. Elder Council TeraShebans arriving with entourage. Joanite Blades from the Seven Fingers and beyond riding in as well. ‘The Date' mentioned at the secret rendezvous place. Something big was happening in Vimary, and I sensed it was going to affect all of us, Fallen and Tribal alike!
By the time we returned to the Shelter, Chigger had done it again. She had wandered away and was brought back by one of Mari-Anne's aides. She was feeling especially ill as well. She said she was just exploring the Shelter and the surrounding grounds and ended up by the pond several dozen paces away. A couple of kids were playing with sailboats and Chigger said another child had a boat that went really fast, but without any sails! The kids started fighting over the boats, claiming that the one in possesion of the sail-less one was cheating somehow. One of them pushed his friend into Chigger, who with a weak leg almost fell over. Except, somone stopped her from falling. A bald-headed woman. Chigger had no idea how that encounter would change her life!
We convinced Mari-Anne that Chigger would be safer with us at the Bin. ( Whether the Bin itself would be safe was another thing all together! ) When we got there, a sick and perverted sight caught our eyes. Hanging from the ceiling was a single strip of pure black cloth that barely touched the floor. A Yagan death rite, placed in a person's home after a recent passing of an occupant. Was someone playing a trick on us or were they on to us? We all started chattering, raising our voices to get a piece in. I was screaming to burn it, to burn the cloth and all that it represented. Cinder tore it from its place and folded it up and placed it on the table. This was bad. The Yagans, who we had recently massacred, were hinting that we were already dead! I stormed into the other room.
I heard a strange voice from behind me as I went and, upon turning around, saw a youthful Yagan wearing a tight top and a flowing set of pants standing on the table where the cloth was placed.
" You are the Spear holder," she said to Cinder. " Return with me, or the poison that was administered to your sister will slowly kill her. Her fate is in your hands."
" Bullshit!" we said.
Chigger was feeling very ill recently; throwing up, getting dizzy and such, but we thought it was because of the herbs Mari-Anne had given her.
" Witness her elbow. There is a scratch there from when I caught her outside by the pond. Only I have the antidote, so killing me will seal her fate. You must decide. Return what you have taken from the Yagan Fleshers and save your companion, or watch her slowly wither in the next five days and perish."
Cinder stepped forward and said very quietly," Why aren't you gone yet!"
The Yagan Flesher-Assassin left via the balcony entrance and we all stood ther staring at Chigger. We headed back to the Shelter.
" You went beyond the wards, Chigger. There is nothing I can do." Mari-Anne looked helplessly at her, even as she comforted our poisoned friend.
" What about Veruka? Maybe she can save my sister?!" said Cinder.
" Perhaps, but what will we do? Is this all worth it. Remeber what Mek said?!" I spoke with hesitation. Suddenly I just wanted to give the power back to the Yagans and save Chigger, but I knew Cinder would have to be sacrificed to do it. Maybe she would have to be sacrificed anyway? I was so confused. We spoke for a long time in the basement, and Chigger was really feeling that we had come far, and wasn't willing to let her sister go to the Yagans, whether it meant she would die or not. We were slowly moving towards the opinion that we were going to storm the Hive and use the Spear, regardless of Chigger's current dilemma.
I didn't like it. For all we knew, Cinder was going to get killed using the Spear, and Chigger would die soon after. No matter what the details, it seemed to me that at least two of us were going to die in the quest of destroying the Jo'han Eshalazi, if not all of us. I mean, was risking all of our lives to rescue Slash worth it? Was killing the Jo'han so imperative?
We needed to speak with Veruka. Only she would know if an antodote could be made without trading Cinder to the Yagans!
" A Flesher-Assassin's poison is unique and precise. I am afraid you have no hope in saving yourself, unless the Yagan gives you the antidote."
No! Veruka was our last prayer. Now, even she had no further advice for us. We again, discussed, in her presence, the importance of the choices that lay before us. It wasn't easy, and Veruka aided us by sending us each a vision of the horrors that the Sangis have enacted upon us. Upon humans. The visions re-affirmed our minds and set us on a course I knew I would regret. The Yagans vengeance was complete. We were going to use the Spear to kill the Z'Bri. The fate of Chigger was decided. She was going to die!
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
The water reflected the night sky and the torches from the sunken buildings that surrounded us. Danelle and another River Dreamer named Shien were navigating the boat which held Mana and myself. Meg was commanding the boat with Cinder, Chigger, and Bastion as passengers. It was strange. After all we had done to come to this place, it somehow felt hollow.
Chigger had a deadly poison in her that we could do nothing to remedy. Cinder was likely going to perish in the use of the Spear that would destroy Eshlazi. Mana was mute, and yet seemed more natural now, with the hope of battle and the confrontation of evil. Bastion was shunned by those who should have protected him, his cell, and then there was me, Juniper, the misunderstood and overlooked idealist, risking his life out of some childhood loyalty to the very people who were likely going to die and take him with them. Yep, that's us.
The River Dreamers sensed an oddness about us, but we never told them our true purpose for needing to get to Bazaar with such short notice. They had helped us out several times now, no questions asked. We would, if we survived, definitely need to make it up to them. It was good to have friends like them.
My mind came back to reality as they carefully worked the boats through the hidden and unseen paths of the sunken city, all of us caught in a prayer like silence. After we docked, Meg asked us if we needed their help. Shien came up to her and simply shook his head. It was like he knew. We parted their company and I saw Bastion give Meg a kiss on the forehead. It was a parting gift to her, as though Bastion had resigned himself to whatever fate held.
But would I expect less from him? He loved Cinder and deep within me I knew, if she did not live through the ordeal, neither would Bastion. We placed our arms with the tattoos of the Cell's symbol in a circle, looking to it for strength. Only Bastion was lacking the markings, but he watched in silence as we mentally prepared ourselves. We then walked slowly towards the towering Skyrealm we called the Hive. It was a giant shadow against the night sky. It was our nightmares and fears. It was the one thing that kept us together.
As we started our ascent through the lower levels of the Hive, a tight tug in the gut of my stomach set in. Somewhere within this horrid place, our friend and companion, Slash, was trapped within. Were we going to join her or liberate her? Was it worth it? Was she even the same person? What of the Spear and its power? Was it going to aid us or hinder us in the final confrontation? These questions and more crossed my mind, but it was too late to have regrets. Whatever was going to happen was already decided. The moment we made the choice to come here, from the very first time, we were destined to arrive at this point, but somehow it felt wrong. Very wrong. I didn't voice my feelings, but I felt as though we had done something that had sent our paths on a spiral that we couldn't recover from. We were out of control . . . out of everyone's control. I pinpointed the feeling within my gut and understood it for what it was . . . chaos!
After several stories of climbing broken sets of stairs in perpetual darkness, we heard footfalls above us. We came to a door that was slightly open and gave way to a large area cluttered with debris. Cinder sucked all the light out of the area, transforming the entrance into an inky black void. Bastion and Mana placed themselves at the threshold, peering around the corner of the room. We saw half a dozen freaks, standing inside. They were unarmed and didn't notice us. We stormed them before they could set themselves a defense, and they fell within a matter of moments. Mana slashed at their flesh with large arcing slashes of her sword and killed three of them herself. I struggled with my opponent, until Chigger helped me finish him off. She had already dispatched her own victim. Bastion claimed the life of his adversary with a quick series of strikes with his hands and feet. He really knew how to strike a persons vital centers. Cinder aided us where she could, but it was important that she remain untouched until we met with our true opponent, the Jo'han Eshlazi.
We glanced around, scanning the room for others and checking to make sure our opponents were dead. We managed to escape without a scratch.
Before we could discuss our situation, the whole building began to shake. The very walls themselves were rippling and dust fell generously from the ceiling. We braced ourselves and made a circle with Bastion in the center. We watched in horror as the walls changed their appearance and the air became thick and misty. Instead of standing in a room of dead freaks and garbage, we were in an odd shaped chamber with walls made of a fleshy, cartilage like substance. The ceiling was made of a thin, stretched membrane that pulsed with the flow of fluids rushing through veined lines and arteries. I supposed we were in some sort of lung or organ made from the sick and perverted mind of Eshlazi. I covered my mouth, not wanting to breathe the taint that lingered in the air.
As we let the reality of our new surroundings sink in, a bulbous, boil or wart rose from the floor across from us. Within it was the fetal form of Slash, completely naked but seemingly uninjured and in good health. She was breathing a pink, translucent fluid. We stepped towards her, but at our first movements we heard the sweet voice of Eshlazi whisper in the air.
" I knew you would return . . . my kittens!"
" Show yourself."
" You couldn't resist!"
Cinder raised her arms and struck with the force of The River of Dream at its substance. How could she still channel eminence in such a tainted environment? She did it with all of the strength one would expect after hours of meditation! The fibrous ceiling tore down its center, dripping a red, puss-like rain upon us.
" Coward . . . show yourself!" yelled Bastion.
Chigger was striking at the air, performing a series of symbols that spelled Eshlazi's death. I found myself standing near to her. After all, this was maybe the last time we would ever spend together. Bastion's voice lingered in the air as another boil rose from the ground. Within was a twisted and deformed creature made of the bodies of three individuals, joined together in a perverse fashion. The boil popped, and the creature stood tall before us, razor sharp claws releasing from hidden folds of the skin of one of its arms. Its eyes, one in the base of its neck and another near two navels opened and focused upon us. Before I could act, Mana was upon it, slashing and carving with her sword. Cinder focused her dream essence upon it and released Puppet Show. The creature started to attack itself, each one of the three bodies hating the other. Chigger fell upon the beast as well, and I watched as Mana and Chigger were soon covered in blood and guts.
Cinder stood calmly in the middle of the room, and called for Eshlazi to show itself . . . It did.
The floor and ceiling and walls began to pull tendons and muscle and bone from their substance. The form of Eshlazi soon loomed before us, standing about nine feet tall and filled with a sickly sweet longing. For the first time, it was before us, face to face and in the flesh. If I wasn't filled with dread before, I was now!
" I was waiting for you. I am glad you have returned." said Eshlazi.
" Returned to see you die." said Cinder.
" But I have so much to show you. My kittens."
" You will meet your end here this night. You are a wicked creature. We want nothing of you or your kind."
" Ah, but among you the seed always lay. Even now, he stands among you. Let me show you."
We saw a young child with the markings of a Magdalite. He was being scolded because he was not willing to partake in the lessons of pleasure and love.
" No. I don't want to. I'm afraid. You can't make me."
" You will learn, or you will be punished. What will the Sisterhood say?"
" No!" He bursts pass the older Magdalite and runs wildly away, only to be caught soon after.
" You will see what happens to undisciplined children who don't understand the way of the Lover!"
He is led into a group of teens, all disrobed in a candlelit room. They call to the young child.
" No! I'm afraid!" The child pushes the older lady, and she stumbles, crashing against the wall. Her body tenses and then relaxes as the blood pours forth from the hole in her chest, the candelabra clenched tightly within her fist.
The child lies, broken and scarred under a set of stairs, the markings of a Fallen scarred in his skin. A set of long arms lifts him from his sleep and carries his small body away from the cold floor.
It whispers softly into his ear, " You need not be afraid anymore, my kitten."
* * *
Cinder was right.
By the time I realized what was going on, Mana was trapped against the wall, her body held in place by a multitude of hands. Chigger was drawing upon her eminences, and the faces of hundreds of people surrounded us. The faces of those killed or tainted by the Z'Bri; Tribesmen Ancestors, the Fallen, and those lost to time. Cinder and Bastion were walking hand in hand towards Eshlazi, Bastion's eyes red with tears. No! What was happening. She had to resist it, but I couldn't move to help her. I was frozen to the spot.
Bastion placed his hand into the open hand of Eshlazi. He then reached for Cinder, and placed his free hand around her head, love in his eyes. I heard him whisper, " I did it for you, my love," and passionately kissed her. The Spear came flying out of Cinder's body and was sucked into Bastions. He pushed Cinder to the floor and embraced the Jo'han. " Father, I'm home!"
The bodies of Bastion and the Z'Bri Eshlazi began to meld. Bastions arms pierced into its chest and Eshalazi's chest opened up, his ribs and bones pulling Bastion within. Pure Dream opened up a crack in reality and an envelope of power glowed with an alternating orange and green hue. A sound, louder than the greatest thunderclap, struck the air and lifted our bodies like we were Agnite ragdolls. The walls began to bleed and I saw Mana rush to Slash who lay helpless on the floor. Another person stood near to me and picked the dying form of Chigger off of the floor. She looked unconscious. He was big and was marked as a Joanite. He looked like one of the faces brought about from Chigger's eminence. Cinder ran toward me and helped me, as I helped her. We ran.
We found ourselves outside of the Hive, the top tainted levels collapsed and gone from the death of the Z'Bri that gave it power. The Joanite placed Chigger gently on the floor and Mana did the same for Slash. I looked at Cinder who was staring up at the Skyrealm in a dazed fashion. Wait a second . . . who was the Joanite!
" Who are you?" I asked wearily, my staff at the ready.
" Your worst nightmare!" said the Joanite with a smile.
I yelled for Mana and she supported me, her bloody sword at the ready.
" I felt Dahlia. She gave me a choice. She was within me and allowed me to change. I can still feel her . . . is it me or her who speaks?! Is it me or him?" He looked at the silent and sick body of Chigger lying on the broken ground. " I sure am small aren't I!"
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
A Lesson in History: Part 1: Chigger's Death
We returned to Hom and, I of course was extremely confused about the current state of affairs. The whole thing didn't make any sense. We had defeated Eshlazi, or so I thought, and as to what exactly happened to Bastion, well the last I saw of him was that he and the Z'Bri were sucked into some kind of vortex! Chigger was unconscious and being carried by the Joanite, which is where things get way beyond me; but I'll try my best to tell you what I pieced together from Chigger's account and what I saw.
During the time when we were confronting the Z'Bri, Chigger was drawing on her eminence of Vengeance to protect herself from the evil Atmosphere. The faces of hundreds of people were drawn from the River of Dream itself and were watching over her and focusing her energy. Now, we all know that Chigger was poisoned by a Yagan Flesher assassin just before our foray into the Hive. This is where Dahlia apparently stepped in to completely change the whole order of existence. Chigger (or her soul or mind or whatever) was given the option of leaving her poisoned and dying body to transplant herself into a different, long dead shell of someone else. . . someone who's face was present and a part of her eminence at that very moment.
Chigger being Chigger, she decided that the life of a stumpy, loudmouthed, crazy-haired, oddly tattooed, banished Dahlian trickster of fourteen summer's age was passe. So, she opted for the massive, hulking, imposing and did I mention intimidating body of a Joanite . . . with the markings of a Templar at that! Don't ask me, I have no idea how it happened, or why, or even where to begin to figure it all out, all that I know is that for some mysterious reason, Dahlia wanted or still has some plan for Chigger. That's what I think anyway. I mean, why else would She save Chigger?
So, we took Chigger's 'original' body back to the Bin and waited for her to die.
It was very strange. Watching Chigger take her last breath. I mean that was it. She inhaled deeply and never exhaled. Her small, silent frame lay serene and quiet upon the table. But, then again . . . she wasn't really dead was she? She was still alive and breathing and walking and talking and making stupid smart-ass remarks, even as we carried her dead body to the Sepulcher. It was so surreal. Worse, Chigger was now a man!
Veruka had us say our last goodbyes and as we gathered around the old Chigger that I knew so well, and loved and hated all at the same time, I saw on Cinder's cloak a small glowing broach. It had the swirled symbol of Dahlia, inset with a white gem. I didn't take special notice it, but I recall seeing it before. Around the time the girls returned from the Secret Rendezvous location on their scouting journey to be exact. Where did she get it, and why was it glowing like that? I dismissed the distracting thought from my mind, gave Chigger a kiss on the forehead and departed the Sepulcher. Chigger the Joanite Templar was the last to say goodbye to Chigger the Dahlian Jacker.
Chigger came out awhile later and was crying. I guess it would be strange to see yourself dead. It would put a lot of things into perspective. Cinder took her sibling into her arms and embraced 'him' with unconditional love . . .the kind that comes from within. I knew there was going to be quite the adjustment period ahead. One that I didn't think I was going to welcome very easily.
Awhile later, we ran across Meg and Danelle from the River Dreamers. We never told them that the Joanite with us was actually Chigger. Meg was really sad over the news that Bastion had perished in the Hive. Her and Cinder held onto one another for quite some time and we intended to meet up with them later at Junks, to reminisce and help get over all of the changes.
Our intentions never panned out.
On the way to the Shelter we smelled smoke in the air. It was coming from the east side of Hom and large dark clouds could be seen from our vantage. It wasn't far from the Shelter, so we ran as fast as we could towards it. The sight that greeted us was shocking. Squats were attacking Hom and setting buildings on fire with complete disregard for the effects it would have. Already the raging flames were spreading from building to building and the Fallen were too busy fighting the raiders to concentrate on putting out the fire.
Cinder screamed at me over the cacophony of the battle to run to Junks and get some help. Her and Chigger and Mana raced to a nearby well in the hopes of dousing some of the flames. I spun about and ran as fast as the wind. I tossed my cape to the side in order to keep myself from being hindered. When I arrived at Junks the word had already arrived and many people were preparing themselves for the upcoming fight. Seeing that I was unnecessary, I yelled out the current conditions and raced back towards the Shelter and the full scale melee!
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
Cinder was running way to fast and Bastion, Mana and I were having trouble keeping up. She was sitting there, in the Bin, all pretty and stuff when suddenly she propped up and screamed, " Chigger's in danger!"
Then she went racing off into the setting sun! What was she thinking?
Nonetheless, we chased after her as best we could and finally reached our destination. Cinder blew open the front door and yelled out, "Chigger!", then went racing up the stairs towards the chamber where Chigger was healing from her wolf bite. Cinder got there first and I managed to catch my breath, even as I struggled up the stairs.
" Cinder, what is going on?" I asked.
" Someone's trying to kill Chigger . . . a Yagan Assassin!" she replied.
" It's true, I saw her, but this time I escaped her poison because I knew what was going to happen!" said Chigger.
I sat down to regain my composure and Cinder stood up and said, " Where is Mana and Bastion?"
She left the room quickly and headed down the stairs.
" Chigger, what's this all about . . . do you and Cinder have a weird sister connection?" I asked.
" Err, it's kinda complicated. I'll wait for Cinder to get back." she said.
Bastion came into the room and Mana accompanied Cinder shortly after. The girls were carrying a jug of water which I happily drank from. Bastion looked at Cinder and said, " Okay, you got us all worked up, now what was the commotion all about?"
Cinder said, " You may not believe this, but Chigger and I know a lot of what is or was going to happen . . .actually, we lived it already!"
" There's a Yagan Assassin who wants to kill me because of what we did at Mortuary. Actually, she did kill me and I became someone else and we even went back in time and you died Bastion and we figured out a lot of things." said Chigger.
" We also know about what you're planning to do and why you never took the ritual to cleanse yourself from Eshlazi. We know your . . ."Cinder was cut off by Bastion.
" Wait, I don't know what you two are talking about, but could we not do this here Cinder?"
" We're a group and I'm not keeping anymore secrets. I know what you are. . ."
" Please Cinder, not here. Could we discuss this in private . . .for me?"
Cinder agreed and her and Bastion left the room while Chigger told the rest of us what happened except for one thing. . . something to do with Bastion's banishment!
" Okay, you guys may not believe me, and I know I've had some pretty tall tales and outright lies in the past, but now I'm serious and Cinder can back me up. Hell, I'm sure even Mari-Anne can back me up so just listen and try to understand!" We leant her our ears and only interrupted a couple of times to clarify some points but here's the story as Chigger described it.
A Lesson in History: Part 2: Chigger's Story
" ...so after you ran to go get help to put out the fires and repel the Squat attack, Cinder, Mana and I all ran down into the heat of the battle. It was intense. We were chopping up Squats by the dozens until finally it seemed the wave of attackers was overcoming us. That's when we saw you coming down the hill towards us. Well, at least we thought it was you, but it was actually someone else. The Fallen all around us were fighting bravely and of course I was a huge, strong Joanite Warrior. . .a Templar actually! Except, now everyone around us changed. They were all Joanite Blades instead of being Fallen. The Squats were still Squats, but some Blades on cavalry called out to me and said, 'Karvy'on, come join our flank so we can squash these soulless bastards to their deaths' or something like that, so Cinder and I went towards them. There were a few Dahlians among us, but Mana was nowhere to be seen. One of the Blade cavalrymen looked at Cinder and said, 'Shalla, it is a good sign that you are with us. We cannot lose this battle now!'."
We joined their flank and, well, to make a long story short, we defeated the Squats with minimal losses. We regrouped and I found out that I was a Templar named Tulka Karvy'on. The importance of the clan name didn't hit me till later. Cinder was a woman named Shalla and it seemed she was somehow revered by the Dahlians that were with us. Even the Joanites looked at her with a sense of respect."
So there we were, riding back through Hom. The Fallen that must have been around were hiding in their hovels and broken buildings. Yes, the place appeared a little less organized than the way we know it now. Later on we discovered that we were about fifteen years in the past! A year before I was born!"
I'm getting ahead of myself though. We returned to the land area just east of Sanctuary and I was expecting to be split up from Cinder, or should I say Shalla! But instead, I was apparently staying with the Caravan of the Beautiful Severance, our parents' caravan! My duty was to travel as guide and protector and also to keep in line with a judge among them named Sakai.
When we arrived at the caravan, they put on a great show and feast in honor of our success in the battle. The rest of the Joanites had left for Bazaar, save for two of my guards. It was great . . .I had lackeys."
The strangest thing was, the man who joined us in the battle, the one that we thought was you, and who sat with us at dinner was named Dane. Yes Juniper, your father! Your mom was alive as well and she was beautiful and happy. They were planning on having you at the time and that's how we knew what year it was. My parents were there as well. Of course I wasn't born yet. Cindra, my sis, was there too. She must have been about three summers old."
I was very confused and I played up our disguises and had a discussion with Shalla, a.k.a. Cinder. It must have been weird for her to see herself as a child. She made sure to get in a few snide remarks to our mother, Francine. Our mom was such a cow. Still is I guess. I finally saw how mean she was to the young Cindra. What a bitch. Anyway, Shalla always made sure she exposed my mom's rudeness, although she did it in a very tactful way."
I returned to my tent after the feast and guess who was there. My daughter, Monika. Monika Karvy'on! The bitch captain who was at this time only six summers old. I couldn't believe it. Here was my opportunity to set everything right. I could kill her in her youth and none of her evil Clinic garbage was going to happen. As I contemplated the possibilities, a familiar voice greeted me. It was Mari-Anne Melina! She was my child's caretaker! She told me that Monika was awaiting my return and was so excited to see me, but had fallen asleep because of the late hour. She also let me know that the little girl that I wanted to hate held me in the greatest of regards.
Mari-Anne was younger of course, and I spoke to her to try to figure out who I was and what I was all about. It turned out I was an important member of the Templars who was trying to oppose a new faction of Joanites and TeraShebans who wanted to stop the crusades all together! I was also married to a Crusader named Mirabella."
Turns out she was on a Crusade at that very moment and wasn't set to return till the end of the year. Lucky for me I guess. What would I, Chigger, have done with a wife. Well, I could guess but..."
Anyway, I needed to speak to Cinder, I mean Shalla, as fast as possible. I snuck out after everyone had retired for the night and worked my way to her wagon. She was waiting up, I guess half expecting for me to arrive. We discussed the reality of the whole thing and wondered if what we did was going to affect the future or if we were just in it for the ride. We also discussed whether we should kill Monika or not, but decided that murdering a child was bad for the soul. Besides, it just felt wrong."
During the feast earlier, there was a storyteller in the caravan that seemed to hold a lot of importance. His name was Janus, and Shalla and I both had the impression that he knew something was up. So we went to his wagon."
He was still awake when we got there and invited us in. We asked him what was going on and how come we were chosen to witness the events of the past. Yea, it seems weird that we were so forthcoming about who we actually were, but let me just say, that Janus wasn't an ordinary person. I have my hunches and Cinder does as well, but maybe, just maybe it was actually Dahlia! I don't think we'll ever know for sure, but he did tell us some interesting things. He said we had the possibility of learning many things because of who we were. We should use our intelligence and insight to help us in the future, and that many things would be revealed. Now that was the understatement of the century!"
That night, I couldn't go to sleep. I was pondering the weight of what was happening. I know, me pondering anything seems like a paradox. Nothing seemed to make any sense."
So, as I lay there awake I had a visitor. It was a white haired man with a tall frame and gaunt features. I remember he had really long fingers. He entered the tent and seemed to have had previous meetings with Tulka, so I played along. You'll never guess who it was. It was Eshlazi in a human form! He said he had made sure my wife was safe. He also said he was running out of kittens! He then pulled one from the folds of his cloth and was gently petting it. He said he was trying to nurture them but they often died under his care, although he was getting 'better'. I was so confused. He said he would maintain my wife's safety as long as I continued to aid him. He left and I sat there with even more questions."
Why was a Templar Crusader helping a Z'Bri. Eshlazi at that! I had first hand witnessed the evil that he represented and for some reason this Joanite, who I now was, was helping him. I had a very restless night."
The next day, we saw the caravan moving towards Bazaar. I was discussing some matters with Judge Sakai and he stated that an Elder Council meeting was going to take place in Bazaar to determine the future of the Crusades. He asked us to join him in his visit to the Council Building. On the trip, I spent some time with my daughter. She was cute, and I couldn't help but care for her. She had such trust in her eyes. Where did she go wrong?"
I also told Shalla about my meeting with Eshlazi and we speculated the repercussions of it. There were various reasons why he would have been helping Eshlazi, and we concluded that Eshalzi probably had Tulka's wife hostage."
When we arrived in Bazaar, we left with Judge Sakai for the Elder Council Building and witnessed the vote that made the future we live in the place it is. We saw speeches from several prominent Tribals and their viewpoints mainly said the same thing ; that the Crusades were a dying force that needed to be abolished. The reasons were varied and generally self justifying. At least that's how Judge Sakai described it. He was one of the few who spoke against dismantling the Crusades."
The major players who acted against it were an old Joanite Guardsman named Nostra Guy'on, a TeraSheba judge named Cylix Seth'on and another Joanite named Yasmin Luther'on. Judge Sakai said that Yasmin wanted to secure herself a seat of power among the soon to be institutionalized Watch. Now the Watch existed back then as well, but not as prevalent or influenced by TeraSheba as it is now."
We watched the proceedings until the vote was finally cast among the Elder Council. It was all in favor for the abolishment of the Crusades. After the vote, I was invited to meet with Cylix Seth'on and he offered me a position among the high seats of the Watch Wardens as long as I agreed to help take power away from the Templars. I answered in typical Chigger fashion. I decked him! He hit the ground faster than a Dahlian thief could pick a pocket, and even as I was dragged away to a cell I was cursing him and telling him that sooner or later, he was going to hell . . .by my hands!"
Well, my sis got me out of jail with a little bit of Illusion, and we hightailed it outta there before anyone caught on. We were racing to meet up with the caravan when we were suddenly attacked. Four Koleris warriors came at us from the darkness of the streets and dismounted us from our horses. Shalla, my sister, was cleaved in two and I was just barely holding off the Horde Warrior that assaulted me. Then came our salvation!"
Eshlazi struck down the Koleris that were going to devour Shalla's body, and then used some kind of Sundering ability on my adversary. He called him Sk'Ksul. The Koleris said one of these days he would destroy Eshlazi, and fled into the night. Eshlazi then used his Sundering and fixed Shalla and said he would be our salvation. . . if we would be his. He then grew a pair of wings and flew up to the towers above."
Shalla and I raced back to the caravan and we warned the others that there were Z'Bri about. The hunters took up their posts and we went to meet up with the families among the caravan. The last people we spoke with were Emron and his wife Celeste. Shalla gave Celeste her broach and said that one day, in the future, she was to give it to Cindra. I guess that triggered the journey to resort to its natural order and I found myself by the pond just outside the Shelter, almost about to shoved into the Yagan Assassin behind me. I looked at her and ran. I had avoided my death."
* * *
So, that's the story as Chigger told it. It seems far fetched and very strange, but whatever happened to the sisters, it held some truth. Whether it was a dream or a vision or an illusion granted by Dahlia is unimportant. What is important is that Bastion is the traitor among us and that he has a lot to answer for. At this point, I wouldn't mind seeing him dead! Everything that happened to us is his fault. Cinder was right in accusing him after Slash was captured.
Not only that, but now we know who is behind the Clinic. Cylix Seth'on!
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
Cinder returned without Bastion and I was half expecting that he had left to rejoin his evil beast of a father. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. She said he was sorry he had dragged all of us through the horrors Eshlazi had to offer, but that he was willing to help us avoid any further manipulations from the Jo'Han because he loved Cinder and Cinder loved us. I didn't like it. It was too easy. He couldn't expect that we would just forgive him after everything he did. Besides, he was a Z'Bri sympathizer! Past loyalties aside, now knowing that he was actually, for the majority of his life, under the influence of such a creature had massive repercussions. Despite the odds stacked against him, Cinder defended him. So did Chigger. They said that in their experience before, he had sacrificed himself to save us and that he never told anyone what he had planned. I said if he was really sorry for what he had done to us, he would do it again to prove that it was true. Cinder said she wouldn't let him die. She had seen it once and didn't want to see it again. She trusted in her vision and refused to have Bastion carry out the ritual necessary for him to take the Spear. We argued for a long time.
I was really hoping for Mana to back me up, but she maintained her silence. I could have really used her then. I miss her voice. Anyway, I finally came up with an idea. I told Cinder to go get Bastion, and if he swore on his love for her that he would never do anything to betray us and to use his role as Eshlazi's son to get Slash back, then I would accept him, but with one condition. He was never to make any mistakes or actions against us. If he did, I would do everything in my power to destroy him and whatever he stood for. I mean, he wasn't even a true member of our cell. He didn't have the tattoo of our symbol and never took part in any of the rituals that made us a single unit. He was basically just Cinder's slimy, backstabbing boyfriend!
Cinder half agreed with my bargain, but she said she felt like she was betraying his trust and their relationship. I said I didn't give a shit, and if he wasn't willing or ready to give up his loyalties to his father then he was as good as dead. Cinder went to go get him from the main level of the Shelter.
While she was gone, Chigger asked me if I would really forgive him or not. I told her that she was the one who had the vision. All of this was completely shocking for me and Mana. I never actually experienced any of what she said. I never went with them to the Hive, Eshlazi wasn't dead, Bastion wasn't dead, Chigger never became a man and had her real body die, and the Squats never attacked the island! The girls never even went anywhere, so how could they have lived so many fanatastic things in almost no time at all? She couldn't expect me to instantly understand. I didn't even know if I would forgive Bastion, whether he decided to agree with my bargain or not. I just didn't know!
Cinder came in with him shortly after and it took all of my will to keep from jumping at him in a screaming torrent of rage. I was so pent up with anger I felt I would explode. Bastion said all of the typical things I would think a traitor would say. Stuff like , "I'm sorry, I never meant to hurt any of you," and, " I'll do whatever it takes to gain your trust," and, " I'll protect you from Eshlazi as long as you give me a chance!" That sort of hogwash.
He said he promised that Eshlazi would leave us alone as long as we promised that Cinder wouldn't use the Spear. He said as long as Eshlazi knows that we have the means to destroy him, he wouldn't be a threat. Bastion also stated he would force Eshlazi to let Slash go or we could attack the Hive with whatever we wanted. Inside I knew they were false promises. There was no way Bastion was going to let Cinder die in trying to kill his father. He was getting the easy way out. By threatening his father with our weapon, he was saving both Cinder and Eshlazi, and getting the trust of my friends. We started arguing over the proposition Bastion put forth.
I was saying that the Yagan Assassin was going to kill any one of us because we stole the Spear from them and murdered a bunch of them in trying to get it. If we didn't use it, we were going to die anyway. Also, Chigger pointed out that Eshlazi had done evil things and was going to continue to do evil things unless we stopped him. I agreed with her remarks but she went one step further. She said if we could threaten Eshlazi with the Spear, then we may be able to alleviate our Yagan problem with his help! I was appalled. Chigger was suggesting that we make a loose alliance with Eshlazi based on blackmail! I yelled out my opposition to her suggestion. It was bad enough that we were letting a Z'Bri raised child live, but allying ourselves with a Z'Bri itself seemed ridiculous, Yagan Assassin threat or not! Of course Bastion spoke in her support. I knew it. He was still loyal to the beast.
Bastion started speaking about how Eshlazi was trying to learn how to love. He said Eshlazi didn't understand how some death was good and deserved while others were considered murder. He went on and explained that the Z'Bri lacked an understanding about what made some sex pure and joyful, while other times, the same actions were considered perverse and immoral. He capped off by suggesting that of all of the Z'Bri, they mainly didn't care to uncover why we drew boundaries about these things, but Eshlazi did. Eshlazi wanted to learn to love and understand what made us human!
Bastion said a long time ago, Eshlazi was learning to take care of kittens. That he was attempting to understand how to nurture instead of kill. How to have emotions for a creature that weren't twisted and resulted in the creature's death or basic ill health. Bastion said Eshlazi was learning with kittens in order to transfer his knowledge to humans when he felt it was ready. Chigger clicked two and two together and realized that Tulka, the Joanite she had become in her visions, was the Templar who was trying to save Eshlazi!
The thought seemed ridiculous to me. Could a Z'Bri be saved? Could the beasts overcome their basic nature? Did Eshlazi want to become like the Nomads of Legend? Were we stupid to even think such a thing, and if so were we even more foolish to consider attempting it?
I sure thought so, but some of the others didn't. Chigger seemed all for the idea. Mana was indifferent,while Bastion, well that's obvious. Cinder seemed hesitant to agree. She suggested the risk to us was far too great. Not only for the sake of our souls, but also because of the threat from those who may find out. Hell, even thinking such a thing was grounds for death.
I left the room. I needed some air, and I wasn't certain if I wanted to hear anymore. I wish it was never brought up. Why couldn't Cinder just love someone else? Why couldn't I just walk away? I went downstairs by myself and cried.
[back to top] [Return to Rusted Sky]
The Assassin's Assassin
Chigger came down to see how I was doing. She came up behind me and said she was sorry.
" I just don't want to keep anymore secrets, that's all." she said.
" How could you think such a thing? Eshlazi is everything that we hate and now you're talking about becoming its friend?! I don't want to do that . . . we could be killed for even thinking such a thing."
" I know, but we know what's right. We have to do what we feel is going to work and this is our one chance . . ."
" I don't want to talk about it. Let's see if Mari-Anne can lend some truth to your vision. Maybe then I'll know what you mean."
We left the common room of the Shelter and went to see if Mari-Anne was available. She joined us in the room Chigger was staying in. I didn't look at Bastion. . .I couldn't.
Mari-Anne was surprised that we knew so much information about events from before we were born. She seemed shocked and I almost thought she wasn't going to tell us anything, but she did. She didn't often speak about times before her banishment and I could tell she was uncomfortable with our questions.
" What you have said is true. Monika did have a father named Tulka and he loved her more than life itself. Unfortunately he made some powerful enemies and was banished shortly after the vote went through to stop any further Crusades. A lot of people blamed him that he was the cause of it all. His enemies, members of the Grand Council, accused him of being in league with the Z'Bri. I myself became disheartened that such a bold and honored warrior could be condemned by his own people. It was a factor that pushed me towards leaving as well. His daughter was taken in by a man named Cylix Seth'on. I never saw her after that. Something I still regret, as I cared for her as my own.
As far as Tulka's wife is concerned, she was said to have disappeared a few years after hearing of her husband's banishment. She learned that he was sacrificed in the Circle of the Chosen. What happened to her is a mystery. Some said she fled to the Outlands. Only the goddess can say for sure.
"So the Crusades ended. The last one was seven years before the final vote that you witnessed and was nearing its completion. I believe it was the Year of the Eagle. I miss those days. Days when the Watch stood for something besides the persecution of the Fallen and the condemnation of their fellow people. They started out as protectors, but now they're just wardens to a prison called Vimary!"
We listened for quite some time as Mari-Anne continued her tale. It made Chigger and Cinders' vision real. They actually did experience some things that happened, but why them? Only time would tell.
After Mari-Anne left we decided we needed to get rid of the Yagan Assassin problem. We didn't know how we were going to do that, but we had a fairly good idea of where to start.
On the way to Mek's one of the Dorks approached us and Chigger told him everything! Why would she do such a stupid thing? She told him all about the Mortuary Massacre and that if he or any of the other Dorks saw someone strange approach us, they were to make lots of noise and warn us. Sounded lame to me, but Chigger's got a big mouth anyhow. Why not just tell the whole world that we have a price on our heads? What an idiot!
When we got to Mek's training halls, he told us a little bit more about the past. He said Tulka almost single handedly removed any hopes of another Crusade. He said Tulka was a Z'Bri sympathizer and so no one was willing to support a cause that was leading to our strongest warriors being tainted. Mek didn't speak well of him. He did say that there were some who were opposing the Old Guard and were fighting to give new life to the Crusades. He seemed quite interested in the current events and I almost thought he was thinking of joining the Joanites if they did manage to start it all up again! I suppose he needed to fight, it was in his blood. We also asked him about what we could do about the Yagan Assassin. Mek looked at us seriously as he continued to sharpen a set of new blades. "You guys have a Yagan Assassin after you? Why? Were you the ones behind the Mortuary Massacre?" he let out a chuckle.
" Yes!" we replied.
He looked at us with a sad expression. " You're in big trouble. Yagan Assassins are a difficult lot to deal with. The only thing I can say is, keep it hush! Don't tell anyone and don't sleep. . . for the rest of your lives!"
Okay, we were in BIG trouble. Mek had no real advice. Oh shit . . . the Dorks! Chigger told those little blabber mouths and now all of Hom probably knew. We had to stop them. We ran to Junks.
* * *
When we got there, the whole room looked at us. I saw the Dorks and they came up to us. They said they warned everyone to help us out! Great! We went outside and told them to go hide and keep it a secret. As we watched them leave, a rough voice greeted us from behind." I hear you have an Assassin problem!"
" No, it's just a joke . . . you know Agnites and Dahlians, we're always joking! Hah! Hah!"
" Too bad, I heard about you guys killing a bunch Yagans at Mortuary. I like your style . . . if it were true. I could use people like you. If you promise to help me and my cell out, I could take care of your impending deaths!" he gave us a cracked smile.
" Sorry if we don't trust you, but we've been betrayed in the past. Who are you?"
" I'm Raven. If you let us take care of this for you, you help me later on. You've got nothing to lose, you're dead already."
"Okay!" we said.
" First, get rid of the kids."
We called the Dorks out of their hiding spots and gave them some crappy pretend assignment. We said we needed them to keep an eye out at the docks on the east side of Hom. They left.
" Hrmmph, I would have just killed them." Raven said as he walked away.
We all looked at each other in disbelief. Was he serious?
* * *
We were on our way back to Junks after picking up our things at the Shelter. We were going to meet the River Dreamers who had offered to give us a ride to Bazaar in their boats. That's when it happened.All of our torches went out and a shadow descended upon us with the swiftness of the wind.
Mana managed to deflect the initial blow and as the Assassin flipped to reset herself, a flurry of crossbow bolts came from a nearby alleyway. The Assassin stopped mid-flight and fell to the ground with a thud. A man with a long moustache stepped nonchalantly from the darkness and was reloading his repeater crossbow. Raven entered the street as well. " Good work, Mick!" he said. " Remember, now you owe us a favor." They walked away and we stood there with our mouths hanging open!
[back to top] [Return toRusted Sky]
Juniper's Journal:Final Entry
There are a few things in life that strike me as strange or amazing. After all, the world we live in is fraught with perilous and wonderful effects. However, nothing came as strangely to me as the events which unfolded over the past few days. Listen closely to my words, for I fear that they will be the last you may hear. Much has changed and there is nothing you or I can do to make things as they were. Maybe that's where we went wrong in the first place. Rather than taking the challenges that confronted us with the hopes of attaining something new, we struggled to recreate that thing we could never have. The solace of belonging to an established order or a set of traditions, to have a home to awaken to and family to guide our mistakes. We are on a new road now, one that I fear may lead us to our ultimate demise. But you know what they say. . . "Blood and Sacrifice."
The River Dreamers met us at the river's edge, their boats ready to transport us to Bazaar. Our plan was to contact Daryck in the hopes that he would shed some light on what was to come. We also had to tell him that there was a face behind the Clinic and its evil. A face that belonged to Cylix Seth'on!
The trip was uneventful and we maintained a certain silence. We were free of the dangers from the Yagan Flesher Assassin, at least for a little while. The manner in which she was dispatched still held me with awe, but I was more curious to learn of Raven than fear him, as I sensed the others did. By the time we reached the Sunken City, it was very dark and the city was shadowed under the moonless night.
There were more River Dreamers with us on this journey, than before. People we hadn't met. There was a tall, gangly fellow and a shorter stalky one as well. We didn't chat much, but they seemed nice enough. They offered us assistance in our duties, but as usual, we declined their offer. We parted ways: us on a secret visit with a member of the Watch, and them, on an innocent task of gathering supplies and trade goods. We didn't know it then, but we wouldn't be parted for long.
We reached the fountain that was near the entrance to the underground tunnels. We had traveled it so many times before and foolishly felt comfortable in our wanderings. It is always unwise to expect things to be as they were when you were last there. If Dahlia left us with one lesson, it should have been that change is always occurring when you least expect it.
The hall was dark and we hadn't brought with us any torches. Cinder made use of her Eminence of Shadow to consolidate the black ink into pools, leaving a faded light in its absence. Unfortunately, her Synthesis was weak and as the darkness regrouped and overlapped onto itself, we were left without any means with which to see. It was the opportune time for the beast to strike.
We heard it first, a slight hissing noise, followed by a dull clicking sound. We backed against each other, creating a defended circle. There was a deep resonating sound in my head as my blood ran at the pace of melting ice on a hot summers day. My breath was rasping in my throat and true fear grasped me with its unflinching hold. My knuckles turned white as I tightened my grip around my staff. Then, a flash as Cinder created an illusional flare that pervaded the hall.
I saw a glimpse of it as the light reflected off of its eyes. It was long and lithe., like a weasel or ferret. Except it was larger than a man and had a cunning look about it. One that held intelligence.
" The illusion won't last, I can feel it waning," said Cinder.
" Let's get out of here, we are at a loss in the darkness!"
" No, we have to go on..."
" We don't have a choice, we are ill prepared. Let's turn back."
" I hear it. Cinder! Bring back the light!"
I heard a rush as it struck at the air. Mana managed to glance her sword in the arc of its attack, deflecting a blow that was meant to sever life and limb. The River of Dream exploded in a flurry of activity as we all drew upon desperate means to save our lives. Chaos ensued as we stumbled in the darkness, undecided as to which direction led to safety and which direction led to our deaths.
There was a scream and Chigger was torn from my arms before I could secure my grip. Cinder cried out for her sister and ran off into the depths of the tunnel. Mana grabbed me and pulled me in the other direction. Bastion took a hold of my loose arm and we escaped from the beast that stalked us. Except now, we were short another member of our cell.
Cinder came back to us after Bastion retrieved her, a torch lighting his way. We sat in silence in the Emporium, trying not to think of what the beast was doing to our lost companion. Cinder was quiet.
" What should we do?"
" There is nothing we can do. It is at an advantage in the darkness. We can't find it now. We have to leave."
" We can't just leave. We have to try. . ."
" We've risked ourselves before trying to rescue others of our group. Where has it gotten us? Remember what Mek said. . ."
" We went back for you, didn't we?"
" You put me there!"
" What are you guys doing here?"
It was Meg and the River Dreamers.
" Nothing, we're fine."
" Where's Chigger? Are you okay, Cinder?"
What were we to do. I felt that Eshlazi was toying with us again. He had likely sent a chained to gather and kidnap us again, so he could place new tethers upon us. What if the River Dreamers began to suspect our dealings. We would be as good as dead.
" She's gone. We're okay."
" What do you mean she's gone? Where did she go?"
" We encountered something in the tunnels. It took her."
" Well we have to get her back. Time's running out. Let's go, what are you guys waiting for. . .she's one of your own!"
" We can't. . .take you with us. There are things you would be better not to know. We'll go, but we go alone. I can't say anything more than that. She's my sister, and we'll do what needs to be done. Thank you..."
" Let us go. We have done what we can. There are unseen and mysterious things taking place here. Let us go."
They left and I blamed myself. They should have helped us. We were more willing to accommodate a son of a Jo'Han than those with a more noble purpose. They would never trust us as they did. We had made a grave error at that moment in not accepting their offer to help save Chigger. An error I was destined to rectify.
The voice that spoke to Cinder was enticing. It told us where her sister was in the endless catacombs. We were guided right to her. Whoever it was that spoke to Cinder never showed themselves, but I had my suspicions. Were we going to walk blindly into a debt to further the evil that stalked us? We were playing a grand and dangerous game in which we were the pieces and the foul demons the players. My rope was wearing thin. I wasn't going to use it to tie my own noose.
Chigger was in good health. The beast apparently let her go after trapping her in its lair. She made up some wild stories about how she used flames to scare it away and how she chased it down a tight hole leading from its feeding grounds. The lies were steep and covered in half-truths and self delusion. I pitied her.
We went to a small merchants booth, as it was early morning, and managed to bribe some food and drink from his stall. The meeting wasn't going to take place and with Chigger safe and partially sound, it was time for some rest. As we sat and discussed certain matters, I questioned Cinder about the voice that guided her towards helping us find her sister.
" It's still with us."
" It helped save her. That's good enough."
" It's not. We are toying with something that's beyond our control. When will we be self reliant? When will we be able to function without it?"
" It saved me, whatever it was. You better not forget that."
" Saved you from a situation it placed you in."
" But saved me none the less. We should reconsider seeing if it will help us. . ."
" No! Never!"
" Listen to yourself, Juniper! You're scared of what it may do, that it may permanently harm you. But we saw things. It wants to help and it may be the only thing we have that can stop the evil that's taking place in the Tribes. Crimes against our people and our freedom. We may be making the biggest mistake at presuming it will help us at little cost to ourselves, but what else do we have? What else can we lose before it's too late?"
" Everything! Our souls, our lives, our minds, our freedom, everything! You want to take all of your chances and throw them away to some creature that cares little if you live or die. You would turn away the only friends we have in the hopes of covering up some scheme that involves the beast we hate, and with good reason to do so. There are so many ways for us to resolve our difficulties but, an alliance with the minion of the seed. . .that is something I cannot do"
" Face it, you can't believe that it loved Bastion. . ."
" That's another issue entirely . . ."
" No, it's not. You hate Bastion. Look at yourself. It's in your eyes, even as you say you don't. You hated him from the day you found out and you hate him still. He will never be forgiven in your eyes, even if you say you do. He is guilty for what he is, just as you think Eshlazi is to be punished for what he cannot change. Look at us. People persecute us for what we are, yet we know we are different than what they perceive. We aren't evil, Juniper. We're real, with feelings and hopes and mistakes and. . ."
" Aren't we. . .evil, that is? We who discuss making terms with the devil. I'll hear not another word. If you risk your soul, you do it on your own."
I rose from my chair and waited to see who would stand with me. Mana rose from her chair and I looked at her.
" Fine! Fuck off, Juniper! Fuck off, all of you! You're all cowards and unworthy of leading us out of the hell we call home. Get out, I don't want to see your faces anymore. Get out!"
Mana and I left for the last time. I'll never forget the look of anger on Chigger's face that day. Poor child.