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“Five brothers… three are dead, one has become something I’d rather not think about. The other one is me.” – Pinthar, Oracle of Bansu.
You fool; Arriack’s land is dead and full of memories.
You fool; Arriack’s land is full of dead memories…
This wasn’t home.
“Pox, where are we?”
Two voices, one questioning and wary, the other metallic and faint, both alien to this world. It was the metallic of the two that answered.
*at the moment unable to coordinate. tracking systems indicate that we are no longer on tensure*
‘Obviously.’ The six distinct shadows cast at his feet had alerted him to that fact already.
They weren’t supposed to be here; that much he already knew. Something had gone wrong; the brilliant yellow glow surrounding them only confirmed it. ‘If this were Tensure the sky would be deep purple, with scarlet sands rippling in blinding brilliance beneath…’
Confused, he tried once more to grasp the situation before him.
Fact of the matter was, this place didn’t reassemble anything he had ever seen before. In fact, the only example he could even think of was Terra, some 140 parsecs towards the Rim. And according to every record he had ever seen, Terra was nothing more than a charred orb orbiting a singular Class O star.
With an audible sigh his visor faded from view, causing his nictitating membranes to clamp down over his milky white eyes. He raised one hand to further shield them.
*atmospheric and environmental readings, nominal*
Reaching out he placed a hand over the six-sensor array of Pox, his environ unit. “Anything else?” he asked.
*not that I can detect*
Turning, he allowed his eyes to wander over the eight-legged metal arachnid at his side. “You do realize that our lives are rarely this simple, that if we are here and not back home…” the rest of what he wanted to say he left unfinished.
With a sound like thunder, the environ unit retreated further into stasis. In the moment that followed, a solitary figure remained on the smoldering hillside.
The land before him played out flat and featureless; a long series of boundless plains carpeted with knee high grass. In the far distance, what he judged to be the direction north, were hills leading further towards a range of mountains. Directly behind him lay sparser grass, broken shards of rock and further barren plains-
His revere was broken by a faint hiss, as his armor once more patterned itself after the world he now indwelled, dressing him in the all too familiar folds of protective tension mail and mesh. With a grin he closed his eyes, taking the time to run his fingers through his hair, tucking strands of it behind his angled and somewhat pointed ears.
‘I could learn to love a place like this,’ he began, ‘not as hot as my own world, or as crowded.’ Tensure’s three azure suns had burned his people’s skin coal black and their hair nearly colorless. Compare it to this world, where the ground actually seemed to breathe life, cool air and moisture. In the distance and all around came to him the sounds of life, chirping, clicking, and larking.
In retrospect, Tensure was a graveyard.
“If I were to muster out of the cadre, I’d do well to find a place like this. Just enough out of the way, hidden from the Extreme…”
*you may not have to wait* Pox interrupted.
With a moment’s hesitation his armor began to re-pattern once again, this time outfitting him in a short sleeved tunic and long thick pants. Beneath these he still wore the familiar, always present, tension mesh.
By his side Pox’s arachnid-form still crouched in stasis, the confluence of his presence, as well as his own confluence, distorting the jaundiced light and landscape around them.
*hostile life form indicated*
“Meaning what,” he asked? And in that moment he was someone and someplace else- with some effort he returned. Little would be gained if he were to replay his past, at the moment they appeared to be in danger. “Can you at least give me a tactical,” he inquired? With this he turned to face what could possibly be an adversary-
Only to see nothing… at least nothing he could readily identify or classify as a threat. Only more barren plains dotted with squat, evenly spaced structures on the horizon.
*unable*, Pox began before ceasing. *unable to quantify at the moment*
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, giving his companion a questioning stare, “To change our appearance while perceiving no imminent danger.”
Pox responded with what would have been a mental shrug- if a machine could shrug.
“And that’s it?”
“Can you at least tell me why we are here, what we are supposed to be doing?”
Resigned to the fact that, at the moment, they appeared to be stranded, and sensing no further communication between him and his machine, his lifeline to home, he decided to strike out towards the east, away from Pox’s perceived danger of earlier. Walking would give him some time to think.
Besides, at the moment he may appear to be both lost and confused, but he wasn’t stupid. Sooner or later he would figure this place out. Also, unless he could find something familiar there would be no return home trip, or anywhere for that matter, an absolute fact in jump-to-navigation.
The only real question left to ask then, was ‘why he had been brought here to begin with?’ A question he had no immediate answer to, but one that desperately needed answering.
On the Watchtower
‘A miserable life sucking hell,’ the man thought, while shading his eyes and peering over the wind blasted and worn battlement. In the distance, beyond the border, lay the blasted and lifeless wastes of the Great Expanse, an empty desert like land of cooking sands, relentless heat and hopelessness. Ribbons of heat radiated upwards from the land bringing the illusion of wetness, movement and mirage.
Giving vent to his frustration, he turned his back to this bleak scene and slowly allowed himself to slide down the wall till he was seated on his rump. Sweat seemed to roll off his brow like rain, running the furrows and lines of his sunburned and weathered face. In a haphazard fashion, he wiped the sweat from his eyes, running his hand over his stubbly chin and neck. “I swear,” he began, cursing his god, people and nation. “I spend one more year out here, one more day, and I’m going to kill somebody.”
If only there was someone else about to hear him. For the past year and a half he’d been stationed here, pretty much exiled to the ends of the earth, only to keep watch over the Great Expanse… “The same as watching nothing,” he exclaimed. “And all for what… love of duty, sense of honor?” ‘There must be worse duties,’ he thought, but at the moment he couldn’t think of any.
‘This place is like a bump on the arse of the world.’
The watchtower he commanded, one of a hundred or so, lined the last remaining boundary between what once was, and what little remained of the Great Empire. ‘Each one manned by some unlucky soul whose ill-gotten luck had landed him here as well.’
Using the toe of his right boot to draw lines in the sand, sand which pretty much covered everything around him, he closed his eyes and leaned back into the blistering heat of the rock behind him.
At the moment he was forty feet off the ground, ‘and that much closer to the heavens,’ he thought. But this distance and thought did little to bring him any relief. It had been so long since he was away from here; he could hardly remember what green and growing even looked like, much less the coolness of day. From dawns light to twilight, eternal blistering heat was the only thing the blasted lands around him seemed to give.
As a child he had dreamt of doing something grand with his life, which is why, when he was old enough, he’d volunteered for service… ‘For land, King and country,’ was the motto that had taunted him- how disillusioned was the reality of his life as an adult. He’d amounted to something all right. “As my ex-wife would say, Gerald, you’re a shit, just like the life you lead.”
Problem was, for the last year and half, he would have had to agree with the bitch.
When the sound first came to him, it began so subtle, so soft, as to almost lull him into believing that what he was hearing never truly existed to begin with. That the heat had fried his brain and his senses-
But the noise grew. With each passing moment, the see-saw raucousness of cicadas continued to grow, working its way through his brain like fingernails being drawn across a wall of slate. It began to set his teeth, what few remained anyway, on edge.
“What the hell is that,” he asked, while peering over the upper battlement of the watchtower. He’d left the lower battlement earlier, which had been stationed halfway up the height of the tower, for the very top, another twenty or so feet further up from where he had been. “At least there’s a breeze up here,” he murmured.
Once again peering over the sandy rock wall, he lifted the veil covering his face, and used his hand to shield his eyes.
There. Right there was blight upon the expanse, what appeared to be a shadow wavering and dancing its way through the folds of radiant heat, seemingly making its way, ever so slowly, towards his position.
“What in hell would be coming from the Expanse,” he questioned of no one. A year lost in solitary and you would be talking to yourself as well.
He continued to keep his eyes peeled, mesmerized as the darkened blotch continued to meander its way across the blistering sands before him, with each passing moment growing ever closer. In fact, it wasn’t until the blight took on a recognizable shape and the see-saw cicada sound following it grown, that he reacted at all, and by then it was too late-
A man-sized darkness had materialized from within the wasteland and was upon him. No explanation forthcoming that he could see. All he could do now was hunker down behind the protective wall of the tower, his hands clamped over his eyes and ears, and hope the nightmare walking below him would pass on by- instead, the sound grew and grew, to the point where it became a living breathing thing, eating away at his brain like maggots eating into dead flesh, gnawing at his mind and leaving little trails of madness behind.
Porous holes leaking sanity, like sweat, pouring from his mind and brow.
The sound then ceased.
Tears, like sweat, dripped from his nose. He refused to open his eyes or unclamp his ears for fear that the shadowed shape had somehow gained entrance to his tower, climbed the series of steps leading up from the ground below, and had somehow spiraled its way here, to the towers peak, to stand before him, and was even now, looming before him, demanding to make its presence known.
Words were forming in his mind, in the madness swirling there, pushing past all his defenses and exposing him, leaving him naked and defenseless before this new presence.
“I have not come to bring you harm,” the voice seemed to say, before clarifying and withdrawing completely from his mind. The next he heard was with his ears. “I am lost and seeking direction, that is all.”
Whimpering, he wiped at the string of snot leaking from his nose with the back of his hand. In his fear he has soiled himself. He is ashamed. With no other recourse but to throw himself over the side and escape, he managed enough courage to at least open his eyes. What he sees before him causes him pause to consider the madness of this place.
“What do you want from me?” He weeps. He is unable to keep his eyes fixed on the figure wavering before him, it’s as the very air surrounding it seems unstable, like it could break up at any moment and fall away.
“I seek direction. Where am I?” It is that same still voice.
At least the deafening roar of cicadas is gone. The stillness following is almost as bad, however.
“I’m sorry. I can’t help you,” he replies, his eyes leaking tears. The whisper of a bitter breeze reminds him again, that his bowels have let go. Once again, he is ashamed.
“Do not be afraid,” the voice repeats. “I come in peace. Lower your hands… let me look upon you and you me.”
It is a request he cannot deny.
As he removes his hands from across his eyes, the darkened blight which he spotted earlier is indeed here, has indeed climbed the stairs of the watchtower, and even now stands before him- and the blight isn’t alone. Suspended in the air beside him is a lesser blight the size of a small pony, a monstrous darkened beast that refuses to take identifiable shape, or reflect any but the brightest of lights. The two are enshrouded, inscrolled, in swirling vapors of darkest night that seem to dance and wither.
“Who are you,” Gerald inquires. “Are you a god?”
“I may appear to be,” the vaporous shadow replies, “But I am not.” A slight pause, “neither am I like you, however,” The shape adds. “In all truth I am a stranger to this world, and am in need of information.”
“I have nothing to offer that you need,” Gerald manages to stammer, while raising his hands in piety. “Can you not see that I am without worth?”
If he is expecting an answer from the shape wavering before him, he is sadly mistaken.
A longer moment passes.
When Gerald finally manages to open his eyes again, sometime later, it is to find that the blight has gone; the watchtower is all but deserted except for him.
Pitching his weapons over the side, Gerald pauses for only a moment at the lip of the battlement- before joining them. The last thing he cares to remember, before striking the stacked rock some sixty feet below, is how the darkness from the Expanse had touched him. It had burned him clear to the bone.
What was there to say, exactly, other than madness seemed to fill this place like a plague.
Some time ago he had left the solitary structure and its crazed occupant behind. It was obvious that little hope or guidance could be gained from either one. In fact, no sooner had he done this, left the structure, then the life that had been there had ended, its thread ceasing almost as quickly as it had begun.
“It is obvious, even to me,” he began aloud, if only for the benefit of his companion, “that the man couldn’t fly on his own. And yet, that did not persuade him from leaping over the side of the structure to his death.
*I fear that our appearance was the cause of his distress* the unit responded.
“Did I not reduce our stasis,” he asked, still confused by the actions of the unstable man. After all, he was well aware of the noise their combined stasis fields created when fully deployed. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had dealings with other races and species.”
*I am aware. however, this may have been his first encounter with our particular culture. You are aware of the perception between technology and primitive perceived magic. often they are mistaken, one for the other*
‘Of this I am only too aware,’ he thought. “Have you had an opportunity to place our location yet? Are we still as ‘miss-placed’ as we seem?”
*having cross-referenced our location against all known and mapped quasar/pulsar combinations, i have yet to determine our exact location*
And why didn’t this surprise him?
It was obvious his first run in with the local’s had been a disaster. Still, it could have been worse-
Only he couldn’t quite think of how exactly. After all, dead was dead.
Twice he’d sent Pox into stasis, only to have the unit return figuratively empty handed. They still had no clue as to their location, or any probable mission. Granted, at first he assumed they had been sent here on purpose. But what purpose? This place held little strategic value, at least none that he could determine. Some sort of training exercise then…?
And yet he didn’t think so.
“Something is definitely there,” he said, “Something alive.”
Pox remained quiet.
About an hour’s travel past the first tower, the ground began to ‘green up’. Not so much prairie, but more like sparse tundra. In the distance he could see a broken column of red stone. Circling the column was a singular dark mass. Occasionally the mass would stall, veer towards the column, only to pull away before resuming its elegant, yet lazy spiraling flight once again.
“Any idea what that is,” he asked?
*an indeterminate lifeform*
At that moment, during a particularly long spiral their direction, the mass broke free of its circling and began to head in their direction.
‘Great,’ he thought. ‘I go from really lost, to completely lost and about to be found.’ He wondered what the mass might be- what sort of creature? Was it intelligent? Was it friendly?
Would it try to eat him?
He didn’t have to wait for long. In no time at all the creature had begun to take on identifiable shape, and that shape at the moment seemed to be large and avian. A set of pale, almost luminous green eyes, seemed to glare his direction.
Before he could inquire of Pox-
*possible antiquitarian. unable to clarify. shall I continue* Pox’s warning seemed to blare across his senses like a flare shot against a blackened night.
To say he was surprised would have been an understatement of epic proportions. “Do whatever it is you need to, just don’t leave me ignorant of our situation.” Normally the darkness of their shared stasis was enough to cloak them from most prying eyes. Obviously not this time, however.
Unconsciously he stretched out his stasis field until the very air around him wavered on the brink of instability and collapse.
*initial analysis: reptilian, possibly ballistic. heavily armored*
*at the moment, no. check that*
“A creature of Terran myth… have we inadvertently arrived in the Sol system?”
*sol has been classified off-limits. it has also been silent for more than a millennia*
‘So that’s a big no!’ “At least arm me,” He said. His words were followed by distortion- Pox now resembled a long slender blade with a corded metal hilt.
“Seriously, you see something like that ‘thing’ headed our way and the best you can do is become a sword? Do you realize how close we’ll have to be before you become effective?”
By now the large brown shape had taken on identifiable form, just as Pox reported, reptilian, winged, trailing two iridescent tendrils of pale blue flesh like a split tail.
It was at least twenty meters in length and probably weighed a couple of tons-
*according to directive* Pox began.
“To hell with the directive, all I know is that trying to use a weapon like this on a thing like that is akin to whacking a Volgan with a yo-yo stick.” In his mind’s eye he could picture the Volgan’s twelve massive legs, each punching out 1500 kilogram pockets of earth as it charged towards him head on-
A yo-yo stick was a child’s toy, a padded stick about a meter or so in length and used mainly in practice and self-defense.
*the blade will suffice. i have adjusted your cortex reaction time accordingly*
“Unless you’ve underestimated its abilities-” It had happened before. Exasperated he let the matter drop. Pox knew exactly what incident he was referring to.
Shifting his center of balance, he allowed the aerial predator to glide a little bit closer- carefully bidding his time.
When to attack is all about sizing up your enemy, before you even swing.
His first run-in with a life form here had ended badly; the man had ended his own life. It appeared this time; the creature in question left no doubt as to its true intentions. It was about to become a moment of kill or be killed.
In those last few moments before combat; the giant creature suddenly broke skyward, all the while bellowing a deafening shriek- loud enough to crack the world.
In that moment the world beneath him seemed to waver and shift, as if it were suddenly a mirage, then-
*warning* came Pox’s cry, but by then it was too late, as everything around him turned into an ever expanding ball of intense heat. With something akin to a metallic shriek, Pox contorted once, before vanishing entirely from view, possibly back into stasis-
End result, he was suddenly and completely weaponless.
As his armor began to re-pattern and change, he managed to bring his hands up to cover his eyes in an effort to protect them- even as the all consuming flames continued to expand around him. The resulting aftershock of the creature’s (?) attack threw him almost twenty feet to the south, where he lay sprawled across the earth, gasping for breath, his armor and mesh steaming and popping from the intense heat. Beneath him the ground had been charred a deep smoldering black.
‘Now is not the time for Pox to pull a vanishing act. Minus the unit’s capabilities, I am pretty much defenseless.’ He thought.
From where he lay he could no longer see the beast, but he could feel it, struggling in the air above him. At the moment it seemed to be held in place, as if trapped. The entire time concussion waves continued to rattle their way down the hillside, breaking large stones into pea-sized gravel and dust. The aftershocks of the creature’s attack seemed to roll on forever.
With absolutely no clue as to what to do next, he managed to make it to his hands and knees, frantically rubbing at his eyes, anything to try and clear them- in that same instant there came an ear shattering blast, a sound reminiscent of the sodium storms back on Tensure- In the midst of this second wave he is slapped to the earth by what he later describes as; ‘a giant’s hand.’ After this darkness falls so quickly he has no time at all to react, not even for surprise.
The first thing I hear- “It lives, I see.”
As I came to- the comforting buzz of my stasis seated firmly behind my eyes, its energy dulling the aches and pains I surely knew to exist, I struggled to set up. This I managed, even though my arms were bound securely behind my back.
Before me burned a small fire, a handful of wood stacked knee high beside it. The fire offered heat and/or light into a world gone pitch black, so black in fact that there were no stars in the sky overhead.
Across from me set a man, an old man complete with long straggly red hair and a pinched face. His skin was a fine even brown, the color of burnished bronze. He was watching me, the slightest hint of a smile pulling at his lips.
“Who are you?” I asked. “And what the hell did you do to me back there?” The idea that on this primitive ball- at least I assumed this place to be a primitive ball –that someone or something had been capable of damaging my armor or even me, was enough to cause me stress.
In answer to my question the old man got up, brushed a twig from his clothes, and approached me. Kneeling before me, he reeked so deeply of freshly turned earth that I almost gagged.
“What is this that you wear,” he asks, drawing his thumbnail down across the front of my tension mesh. He is pressing down so hard that his thumbnail actually leaves an indent. I can feel the weight of his touch on my chest- it causes me incredible pain.
Another pause for concern, nothing here should have been capable of hurting me, much less touching me.
After he did this, and before I could answer, he withdrew. It was as though he intended for us to remain separated by fire forever.
“Before I say anything, I want answers,” I said. This, even as the first real stirrings of fear entered my soul. “Where is the beast that attacked me earlier? And who are you?”
In answer he smiled. “For the sake of argument, let us just assume that the ‘creature’ you are referring to has withdrawn for the moment.” His eyes reflecting firelight, “Why do you ask?”
“Why do you care,” I snapped back. But who was I kidding? Something had definitely attacked me, an antiquitarian from what Pox had indicated. But the last known antiquitarian had been eradicated some years back, a couple hundred at least if memory served me right. So there should have been no possible way- In fact, the only reason I even knew about them was because of Pox, and that had only been in passing, vague rumors, hinted at references… legends mainly. Supposedly they had all come from Sol sector, weapons of an earlier war now abandoned.
Then again, supposedly they were all dead as well.
The question remained; something had definitely attacked me, something powerful enough to send Pox running back into stasis.
Trouble had found me- as usual.
The old man before me acted like he was still waiting for me to answer, I saw no real reason to lie, so….
“It’s carbonite armor,” I said, “sort of like steel, but a hundred times stronger. It’s as natural to me as skin is to you.” ‘And it’s alive,’ I wanted to add, but thought differently about. After all, it’s not like he would gain any advantage from having the exact composition of my tension mesh. Carbon was carbon. Good luck in destroying that.
At my answer he dropped his eyes, “The names Regadev,” he said, surprising me.
“Rastus,” I replied.
“You’re not from around here.” It wasn’t a question.
“Neither are you,” I stated. I didn’t know this for a fact, like him I was only guessing. As I said before, magic is the presumed appearance of technology to the untrained… “Care to unbind me,” I asked, turning my body sideways to show him my bonds.
He no more than gestured then I was free.
“Thanks,” I said, “How did you do that?”
In response he smiled, a smile which caused me to involuntarily shiver, as if I were suddenly cold.
“What now,” I asked?
“That’s pretty much up to you,” he replied. “It’s not like you’re a prisoner or anything. Feel free to go at any time.” The entire time he spoke he kept his eyes focused on my feet.
After a moment or two, and seeing me going nowhere- after all, where was I going to go, he looked up.
I still had no clue as to where I was.
He continued, “I know how you feel,” he said, “believe me. It’s not fun being the one on the outside looking in?” I feel he was obviously referring to my being here, while at the same time, at a loss to explain my presence here. “Still,” he continued, “In time you may even begin to comprehend what has taken place. Until then, I would ask that you keep an open mind about you.” It was a command.
“I’m already surprised,” I said. “Are you sure you can’t tell me anything more about where and why I am here-?”
I waited for him to shrug before I attacked-
Leaping across the flame I grabbed for him. I was hoping to catch him off guard, take him to the ground before he could defend himself-
But I didn’t. Faster than I could imagine he dodged my attack, only to reach out and grab me by the throat, spinning me around and pinning me against the side of a tree.
I was back to nowhere, and now barely able to breathe.
He leaned in until our noses almost touched.
“The last thing you want to do is mess with me, boy. You may be a badass where you come from… but you have no idea what a badass can truly be until you’ve meet me.” In that instant an image came to mind, of an immense creature of legend, leathery wings spanning meters to either side, leather-like scales for skin and eyes radiating a time before I was born. The image quickly faded. “I may be the last of my kind,” he continued, “but let that serve as a warning to you as well- I am the last of my kind for a reason.” With this he let me go.
I slide down the side of the tree and set on my rump, rubbing at my throat.
“You may be wondering why I have spared your life, when I have taken so many before.” Brushing his hands against his robe as if trying to wipe off the feel of me, he continued. “Most of us are born spending the better part of our lives searching and seeking, striving to answer the questions of our being here. I am here to remind you of yours, at the moment you serve me. You were called by me to be in this place at this exact time and in this exact moment for a purpose. Yours is simply to watch and learn, and when the moment is right, I will reveal myself fully to you. Until that time, be content in the knowledge that you play your part.”
Riddles and games. “And what if I don’t,” I began, “What if I chose not to be content merely to serve? What then?” After all, Tensurian’s serve no one.
A look of extreme sadness fell across the old man’s face. I could tell he was putting on a show. “Well then,” he began, “you’d simply cease to be of any real value. In fact, you’d become more of a burden than an asset, and burdens simply need to be gotten rid of.” With this he got up and began to move into the night.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I began.
“And therein lies the mystery,” came his reply. “For all you know, I may be just a figment of your imagination, drawn here by the extent of your injuries. Then again, maybe not.”
I set for what seemed an eternity, questioning my sanity, questioning my mind. For all intents and purposes the old man was gone. I was sure of it.
I tried to stand-
“You are to remain where you are seated,” came the old man’s voice. And even though I could no longer see him he was obviously still here watching over me.
In that next instant I felt like I was being crushed, again. And this time there was no recovery, no quick dream. This time true darkness settled in, it seemed to erase everything, including my world.
Roman and Kiera
Roman hawked and spit, even as his mount crested the long hill, the one looking out over the Great Expanse, “As well as the one signifying the last remaining vestiges of humanity,” he remarked. Beside him, likewise mounted, likewise attired, and likewise minded, was Kiera, his riding mate.
Shadow to light, brother to sister, Kiera was everything he was not. Where he was heavily muscled, she was lean. Where he was pale and crowned with a shock of long blond hair, she was dark, brown as the earth, with masses of darkest umber falling from her head to her shoulders.
Occasionally she would stop to brush the tangles from in front of her face. He didn’t have that problem, preferring to wear his hair pulled back tightly, and bound by a heavy iron clasp… a clasp that their late mother had given him just before she passed.
He reached up to touch it briefly, remembering.
The land before them was a nightmare of cracked earth and fallowed ground. Only the hardiest and most foolish of plants seemed to flourish here. Great clusters of pine green shoots, meters high, their leaves pointed and serrated along the edges. Here and there, the occasional burst of white bell shaped flowers swinging from a toughened reeds and withered stem.
“Hell of a place to call home,” he began, clearing his throat and spitting again. Beside him, mute as the day’s light is long; Kiera nodded in agreement. Then again, in this period she was both blind and mute. What could she really say or see?
“And yet you continue to point us in this direction,” he adds, continuing their talk of earlier. For some god-forsaken reason she’d convinced him to travel twelve days hence from their home, only to wind up in this place. Had she brought him here only to kill them both from exposure?
He hoped not.
In his mind he could feel her words, even as she answered him, assuring him that this indeed, was the place, that in her mind’s eye she had not only seen fire fall from the heavens, just as the Oracle had predicted, but that the fire had indeed, landed in the very expanse and wasteland they now seemed to be treading.
‘I do hope you know what you are doing little sister,’ he added silently. And yet, these thoughts did little to ease his troubled mind.
In the distance he could just make out the wavering totems of watch towers dotting the vast border between the Greater Plains and the Great Expanse. ‘And to think, some poor slob has the honor, if you can call it that, of guarding this place. But from what? What could possibly be out here that they would need guarding from?’ In all his thirty-seven years he still didn’t have a clue.
He caught a look of irritation flirt across his sister’s face. Only then did he realize that she’d been facing him for quite some time, her blank face revealing nothing until now.
“What is it,” he asked? “Is everything okay?” He would be glad when this season passed, and her voice returned, until that time however-
She seemed to indicate that they should continue, deeper into the Great Expanse if need be. He half-heartedly agreed.
“This master of yours can be as vague as the morning fog,” he began. It was at this point that Kiera dismounted, handed him the reins to her mount, and began to run her fingers gingerly along the ground, as if searching for something. But what exactly was she searching for? The hilltop they had just crested was nothing more than a windblown pile of rock, sand, and a few scrubs of bitter weed.
His unspoken question was answered when she suddenly straightened, producing a few strands of crushed green grass in her hand. “So he has been through here,” he exclaimed. In response she held the twisted grass under his horse’s nose, long enough for his mount to pick up the bitter sweetness and gobble them up. Her mount managed to twist its head back long enough to appear jealous, before dropping its own head and feeding as well.
With everything going on, this much he knew- they were after a man. In fact, this man was the entire reason for them being out here to start with, that and the Oracle’s insistence. According to Kiera, the falling fire in her vision and the man they were seeking were one in the same- whatever that meant, such ideas were her gift, not his. His gift was with the bow and sometimes the blade. Put something needing killed in front of him and he’d kill it for sure. If more than this was involved… well, that is what his sister was for.
It was warm for spring, much too warm for this early in the year by far. But for the two small figures perched on the edge of the woods, one in brown patched jerkin, the other in woven wool and shawl, the unusually warm day simply meant earlier out to play.
The boy stopped just as sudden as he had started, his breath coming in ragged pants as he crouched amidst the tall waving grass of the boundless plains, the heat of the day causing sweat to trickle itchly down his nose, leaving his heart alone to pound in his ears. Running ahead of him was Ravin, his only companion since he could remember, a girl similar in age, but different altogether, her night to his day. The drifting lilt of her laughter continued to wave back towards him, carried on the pirouetting tips of prairie grass.
For a moment he was adrift in a slow moving sea of green, the wind spelling out hidden, and probably cryptic, messages in the tall-uncrossed plains.
To the north lay the beckoning coolness of tree shade, that and the moist mossy dampness under leaf and bough. However, this is not where his quarry lay, that would be before him, emblazoned in the midday heat. For even now, as he rested, she continued to flee further and further from his grasp.
“Fly if you must,” he roared. “But you cannot escape me forever wench.” On purpose, he clipped his words with precise abruptness. In doing so he seemed more aged than his youthful eleven years. Gripping his ever-faithful staff, a knotted and beaten branch of aged oak, he slowly rose up from his partial hiding place to once more gain sight of his ever-dwindling foe. Distantly he could pick out her flaring ebony hair, dark as a raven’s wings, and appropriate to her namesake. In less than a heartbeat, it simply vanished from sight.
Only her laughter remained.
“Laugh at me if you will,” he said, “but no one has ever escaped the grasp of the world’s greatest warrior. Why I myself have bested the best of the best in single combat, and I shan’t lose to the likes of you- a girl at that.” With a warrior’s cry still lingering on his lips he leapt forward, his staff flailing about. As he ran towards his dark haired foe, he imagined how heroically he must have appeared to anyone watching, his weapon of choice in hand; long-flowing coppery curls now matted with sweat, his body outlined against the mid-afternoon sky. He felt about ten feet tall, like he owned the world. No. By all the oaths he couldn’t really utter less Nam, his guardian, wail his legs- this women, as willful as she might be at times, was testing his patience. She would not be getting the best of him today.
“I’m still coming Rav, just you wait and see.” With laughter bubbling from his lips, he once again raced through the wavering walls of grass, darting first to the left, and then to the right, before, in a headlong rush, he broke free at last upon the well beaten path leading back into his village walls. He found himself on road. Ravin was nowhere to be seen.
“Now where in the world has that stupid girl gotten herself into?” Quickly becoming annoyed, he took a swipe at a passing fly. “She can’t have gotten too far ahead of me, surely,” he exclaimed to no one in particular. Pausing a moment more, and scuffing up a cloud of dust with his feet, he hurriedly scampered along the perimeter of the path, searching dolefully for any sign- some ‘mashing’ of the prairie grass, scuffed trail, where she could have possibly broken through from the grass. Try as he might, however, he just couldn’t find her. He couldn’t even hear her laughter any longer- it was as if the earth had simply opened up and swallowed her whole-
What he heard next, caused his staff to fly from his quickly numbing fingers. It clattered to a rest some three feet from him, right up against where the dusty brown path met the wavering sea of green grass.
Had that been a scream? Short and quickly muffled, but a scream nonetheless?
Suddenly his stomach didn’t feel so good, like he’d spent too much time out in the heat without a drink. “Rav,” he shouted, his voice breaking fearfully. And just like that, he was all of his eleven years
And he really wasn’t even eleven, but ten and a half’sy.
“Rav, this isn’t funny anymore.” She’d better hope something had happened to her, he was saying, otherwise-
As he rounded the slight bend in the path ahead, a path that continued on for some distance to what had seemed so harmless and inviting only moments before, the shade-drenched woods lying just to the north of their Ville, now seemed terribly daunting. Fearfully dark and forbidding, the woods now resembled, at least in his mind’s eye, a gaping toothy maw threatening to swallow him whole, if only he were unwary enough to enter them.
“Come on,” he muttered, his hands locking into fists by his side. Stooping he peered as best he could into the darkened lane beyond the plains, but could see nothing out of the ordinary.
“I’m going home now- and get Nam,” he threatened. Still he couldn’t keep the shakiness from his voice. “Boy, will he be angry when he hears you’ve gone and entered the woods,” he said, swallowing thickly. Step by step he slowly approached the end of the path, the spot where prairie met tree, till the boundary separating grassy brown earth from sky, had all but been swallowed up by leafy bough and knotted trunk.
Was that his imagination, or was that a goose-bumpily breeze wafting from the yawning chasm of dim darkness now rearing up before him.
At this point his heart was hammering painfully in his chest. Despite this fact, his feet continued to approach the woodland boundary, as if the dare to enter far outweighed the logic of turning and running home.
Crouched on its perch, a large black crow continued to watch the boy, even as the boy began to scream before turning and running home. Unbeknownst to even the crow, the darkness, that had dwelt just moments before within the confines of the woods, had withdrawn. What the darkness left behind, however, still wearing the shape of a little girl, would have been far kinder if it just kept her.
I can remember waking up to the sound of voices, one male the other female, both heavily accented and speaking in a language unlike any I’ve ever heard before. And this wasn’t one of your standard run of the mill wake up calls either, this one hurt- and it shouldn’t have. My pattern should have taken care of whatever injuries I might have sustained in the old man’s attack.
Obviously it had tried.
During the initial attack I can remember being forced to my hands and knees, after that, pretty much nothing until waking up and facing the old man… Regadev, I think he said his name was?
When I woke up this second time, after the old man had threatened me with my life, I found myself on my back; my head propped up. Surprisingly my confluence had been extinguished as well.
Do you realize how much power that would have taken? I would hate to even hazard a guess, and in this place, of all places, no less.
As before, no more than four meters away, blazed a small fire similar to the one the old man had set; only this one was spent, used up, only ashes remained.
Beyond the flame set two beings. Willing my pattern to continue its healing, I did my best to get a good look at them, without appearing so.
The male, whose voice was a deep rumbling baritone, seemed to be inquiring of the female, as to my condition.
“How should I know,” she said, “I’ve never seen anything like him before. As far as I can tell, he might be dead.”
“It was your vision that brought us here. We are now a full three days journey beyond the Expanse, and still you do not remember the reason for bringing us here?”
At first she seemed hesitant to continue, then- “We do what we must. We bring him to Bansu. We get some answers, other than that-.”
A long pause… during that time the male seemed to be considering. “Do you still believe he fell from the sky?”
“Aye, how else do you explain the looks of him,” she replied. “He burned my hand when I first touched him, remember. He wears strange armor unlike anything we have ever seen before, and his appearance is beyond description…”
Further lines of silence- only this time they run deeper.
“Despite how he arrived here, no one should have survived that attack, and yet, here he is.”
“Had not been for our timely arrival,” she began.
“If you hadn’t returned to me before the battle,” he replied. “Thank god whatever it was that held him fled of its own volition?”
“Yes, thank god… it couldn’t have been our attacking it, driving it back. No, it must have been some ‘god’ that helped.”
“You know what I mean,” the male continued. “I’m just glad it fled, that’s all.”
Riddles and more riddles, their language and this situation I found myself in.
In the end they quit discussing me any further, intent upon eating their meal and readying their camp for the night. I decided to cut them some slack and remain motionless, allowing the comforting numbness of my healing to continue unabated.
From the sounds of it, I would be needing my strength in the coming days.
With as little motion as possible I began to earnestly test my bonds, only to find that my hands and feet were still free- just as Regadev had left them -they’d just become numbed by my laying on them. Seeing that I had nothing left to lose I decided to drop the sleep act and set up… rather clumsily I might add, but still I managed.
For the moment I kept my static confluence as withdrawn as possible.
Talk about being surprised-
I’ll admit; I rather enjoyed their startled looks. However, much to my chagrin, they quickly recovered their composures, a little too quickly if you ask me.
The male, dressed in some sort of patchy tan jerkin, his long blond hair pulled back in a beaten iron clasp, immediately reached for what I took to be a weapon, a long curved bow of wood that had been bent into an arc and strung. The female on the other hand, clad in chain similar in design to mine, and darkened leather, just as quickly hefted a shimmering blade of steel from where she had been sitting.
“We seem to have reached a situation,” I began, keeping my voice as neutral as possible. Not that I was all that worried, after all, I’m pretty sure my armor could stop any of their primitive weapons. Then again, I’d been proven wrong before. Just recently in fact. The groove in my armor attested to that.
“I’m not seeing your point,” replied Roman nonchalantly. “Explain to me this ‘situation’.
“I’ll just take my leave and thank you for the company,” I continued, ignoring the man’s bravado. “Just point me to where I you found me, and I’ll be out of here.”
They both set perfectly still.
“Perhaps I’m not making myself clear,” I began, my stasis field flaring. Ripples of darkness began to swirl in eddies around me- the distant see-saw of cicadas behind me gearing up. From the pained expressions on both their faces I could tell they could hear me.
It was the female who finally broke the silence.
“We’re not deaf and we’re not dumb,” she began. “In other words we can hear you just fine. And you can drop the theatrics, we’re not afraid of your noisy darkness. Now, as for you going somewhere, as in leaving here, I’d highly advise against that.”
“Or what…?” I asked, amazed at how quickly they had assimilated by confluence field.
“Or this….” And with these words the female rose and advanced with her blade in hand. She stopped just as the tip of it rested on the armor beneath my chin.
I managed to remain still, as black flares of confluence began to worm their along her blade towards her hand.
She never even batted an eye.
“Like I said before, it seems we’ve reached a stalemate,” I began.
“A stalemate only occurs when both parties, each similarly armed, feel compelled to wait the other out because there is nothing to be gained from mutual annihilation.”
“Not exactly- that’s my point. You’re not armed, we are. For all intents and purposes we have the advantage, so it’s really not a stalemate… more of a checkmate.”
The females added response confused me, “So what do you propose,” I asked.
“We wait,” added Roman.
And wait we did, with neither of us adding to or subtracting from the issue at hand, mainly how to manage me. After all, being handled once by these primitive peoples was enough.
It was Roman who made the first gesture that he wanted peace, by slowly laying his weapon back down.
“It does seem we have reached an impasse,” derided Kiera. “What say I skewer him now and save us this trip altogether.” All this and she never even batted an eye. She never even turned around to face her partner; she just kept her eyes locked on mine, as if she were trying to read my mind.
“That we could do, Kiera, we really could- or we could hold off for now.” With a gesture he indicated that she should withdrawal. “We might as well let him have his say, though. I suppose you can always ‘skewer’ him later if you like.” From the expression on his face he acted like he’d faced this dilemma many times before.
“But think of the time it will save us if I cut him up now,” she said. “No long explanations, no bothersome or awkward questions like why and how come….” At this point she paused, her blade tip never wavering, “No one will ever need to find out, especially if we bury the body deep.”
I’d heard enough. “Now hold on a minute,” I said, hands out, “I’m unarmed here.”
“Then you should have armed yourself,” she said, as serious as death. At this point Roman was beside her, his hand forcing her blade to one side.
“I said, let him have his say, Kiera. We’ve got a long road ahead of us, and you and I both know we need to deliver him to the Oracle in Bansu… in one piece, mind you.” At this point he was looking her in the eye. Her response, was to huff mightily and turn away, reseating herself on the opposite side of the fire.
At least for now I had some working room, if only I had some leverage as well.
The male was right. At the moment I was completely at a loss as to where I was or what I needed to do. My armor may be more than enough protection against their weapons, but I was still pretty much defenseless without Pox And even if I managed to somehow escape, I’d still be just as lost.
Besides that, it was dark.
What was it the antiquitarian had said, ‘listen and learn…?’
I’d always been such a lousy student.
Leaning back I willed myself to close my eyes and take a deep breath. The last thing I needed was to go off half cocked and ready to rumble. We needed- no, let me rephrase that- I needed to take a step back and regroup. We were at a crucial point in negotiations; and at the moment, I needed all friends I could spare.
Overhead, only starless pitch could I see.
As before, the unique ‘alien-ness’ of this world astounded me, and that’s saying a lot, because I’ve been to a lot of strange places and worlds- if only to kill what lived there. Still, if I were anywhere even close to being on a normal run of the mill planet, there should have at least been stars blazing overhead.
Here there were no stars.
“Aren’t you the least bit scared,” I asked them on a whim?
“Scared of what,” Kiera responded. Beside her Roman merely shrugged.
“Usually, the first time people see me…”
“We are not your average people,” Kiera shot back. “And you’re certainly not the first freak we’ve ever seen. Let’s move beyond that point, shall we?”
At least I managed to swallow nervously before answering in the affirmative. For some strange reason, these people made me feel uncomfortable and nervous. Then again, nervous and uncomfortable is easy when your alone, stranded in the middle of somewhere- who knows where –and completely defenseless with no known way home…
Her reply as to seeing ‘freaks like me’ did peak my interest though. To what and whom was she referring?
“So you have seen others like me?”
Totally blank and unreadable, their expressions, which only confused me more. “In that case,” I continued, “then at least allow me the privilege of introducing myself.” And this I did, though at the time I wondered just how much of the truth I should reveal to them. “Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I’m from a very far and very distant land,” I told them. As I did so I gestured generally off to my side.
Which was a mistake… it was obvious, by the look of disbelief on their faces, that what I had done out of reflex, gesturing, they took literally. Because of this misunderstanding, maybe my generally coming from the direction I had gestured wasn’t the best of places to be from.
Maybe what they hated and feared most lived there…
It was at that moment I realized that I could have used a guide book of some sort, that or subtitles… subtitles would have been nice.
“I’m sure,” chuckled Roman, leaning back to stare overhead. “In my time I’ve heard of many strange things coming from the West,” (must be the direction I had gestured.) “However… and I must profess, however, never a man of your- shall we say -looks and bearing. And yet, now is not the time for such discussions, the Oracle of Bansu is more than capable of clearing this all up.” It was at this point that the big man seemed to grow sober. “Only Stram’s and the Thrane exist beyond the Great Expanse my friend. And if you be of either…” he left the rest of what he wanted to say go unsaid. “Let’s just say this,” he finished. “Coming from either place would not be a good thing.”
Looking down I noticed I was still attired in tension mesh, the thumbnail mark of the antiquitarian obvious and glaring on my chest. “May I ask one more question?” I inquired.
Roman shook his head, “Of course,” he said.
“How many times have you moved me since you, shall we say, discovered me?”
“Are you in league with the antiquitarian?” I asked.
Still no answer, though they did inquire of each other at my asking. Perhaps they had some other name for such a creature here. I had no real way of knowing. “Then may I ask one more question…?”
It was obvious that my continued interruptions only served to raise the males’ curiosity; Kiera however, had pretty much written me off. Ignoring me completely she had busied herself with cleaning up what remained of their dinner.
“I was wondering if either of you have seen, or possibly heard anything about an odd metal creature wandering about?” I wasn’t sure how to describe my giant arachnid-like friend to them. Instead, I managed to sketch out an approximation of what he might have looked like in the dirt beside me.
Needless to say, they both shook their heads no. They did seem intrigued at my ability to draw though. I don’t think they even knew what to say. “Why… is this, ‘thing of metal’ important?” Roman asked.
“More than you’ll ever know,” I replied. “Can you at least tell me where you found me…?”
Still, answers were not forthcoming. In fact, the two of them looked at me, then each other, like everything I was saying was crazy.
“Perhaps you wish me to wait?”
“Perhaps,” Kiera replied.
Sometime after our discussion, and after I’d managed to choke down some of their awful food, (cast iron gut) I finally managed to fall into a fitful sleep-
‘Most of my dreams are stupid and make little sense, and those are the ones that I remember. As for the others… the ones I can’t remember, who cares.’
I am standing on a cliff overlooking the rocky banks of an unfamiliar body of water. It isn’t just ‘any’ body of water either, but a lake, a big blue lake being fed by two large rivers, both crawling in from the north. A third river, joining from the south, seems to be leaving. All of this, the rivers, the lake and the cliffs seem to be encompassed by a rolling rail of rock-crested hills and tree-lined mounts-
It is fall. The trees have long since passed from green to red and gold.
I am not alone-
Beside me stands a man small in stature, and pale, with long copper colored hair. I cannot see his face but I don’t have to, there is something about him that seems familiar to me, like I should have known him already.
We stand like this, beside each other on the cliff, for what seems an eternity. Everything around us is silent, with only a slight breeze left to tug at our clothing. When suddenly, over distant hilltops, breaks a brilliant beam of radiant silver light, its glare blinding me, causing me to turn away. When my sight returns I am looking down, realizing for the first time that the figure standing beside me has cast a shadow; it resembles a sword.
All I can do is stand there and marvel at this strange apparition. ‘What does this all mean, this shade, this shape?’
Without a word the man turns toward me, his hand/blade reaching out and grasping mine… bringing sudden and lingering pain. Looking down I realize that between his fine-boned fingers and mine there is blood.
But whose blood is it, mine or his?
His voice begins as a whisper, rises to a shout, “You have to let me go; but at the same time you cannot leave me here like this all alone either-”
Needless to say, after this I am wide awake.
Rubbing furiously at my eyes, I struggled to set up, while at the same time, saying goodbye to the night, goodbye to that stupid dream as well.
I notice that the fire of last night has fallen into ash and ember. Using this as a rough guide, I’d say I’ve been out of it for six, maybe seven good hours. It is still dark around me, but getting progressively brighter minute by minute, breath by breath… absolute darkness giving way to formless gray haze. As for Roman and Kiera, they are already up and about, packing and placing, folding and storing, tying and strapping, readying their equipment and provisions for what appears to be a rather long journey ahead. This got me to thinking, ‘Did these two ever sleep?’ and if so, ‘When exactly?’
Beyond our immediate camp stamped three long faced creatures. It was to their backs that many of the camps provisions were being tied to.
‘Must be pack animals of some sort.’
All this action and circumstance left me feeling pretty much helpless, the proverbial third wheel, in that everyone seemed to have a job except me… Oh, that’s right; my job was playing ‘prisoner’ at the moment, now I remember.
Rubbing my hands together, I flashed a wayward glance towards Kiera, my ‘none too friendly’ hostess. From her expression, I’d say she didn’t appreciate the look or the noise I was making… I turned away. Finding it much easier this second time around to ignore the woman and her pinched and sour face, I turned to find Roman, who at the very least, ‘appeared’ to tolerate my existence.
The giant archer was little more than an inky blotch against a lighter gray pallet, his face, at the moment, turned away from the encampment, his attention drawn elsewhere. As if he was waiting for something unexpected-
Confused, I turned back towards Kiera, who, much to my surprise, was doing the exact same thing, looking towards the exact same spot, the distant horizon. My curiosity tipped, I couldn’t help but follow their lead, half-expecting… I don’t know- something ‘big’ to happen.
“Days dawning has found us,” breathed the archer.
In retrospect, his words seemed entirely too inadequate to cover what occurred next. Far to the north the tiniest of glows flared into life. At first it seemed to flicker then dance, in its brilliance illuminating distant mountaintops. Then, with a rumble reminiscent of rolling thunder, an iridescent glow began to pour forth from that tiny flame, as if some ancient being had toppled forth a great caldron of liquid brass. Beneath the lights advance the very land itself seemed to murmur and stretch, yawning, as if welcoming the new day, while high overhead, the line separating darkness from light, raced by like a carpet being rolled up and put away.
Needless to say, all I could do was stand there, completely dumbfounded, the light of day breaking nothing short of majestic. An awe-inspiring grandeur far surpassing anything I’d ever seen on any other world. Within minutes the entire sky was filled to the brim with a brilliant, yet cool, yellow glow. Riding on the heels of this event, a low rolling rumble, as the racing light seemed to crash against the southern horizon in an explosion of cascading color.
And then it was done.
Kiera was the first to notice my open mouth and awe struck demeanor, “What’s the matter Rastus; you look like you’ve never seen the light of days dawning before.”
As I turned her direction she flashed me a brief and rare smile, before turning back towards Roman, and with a slight gesture, continued packing.
I turned to find Roman staring back at me, the most curious of expressions on his face, hovering somewhere between sadness and empathy. “I see my earlier assumption to be correct, in as much as concerning where you claim to have come from my friend. You must have indeed, fallen from the sky.” With a chuckle he continued, “Fear not, all your questions will soon be answered.” Stepping forward, he held his hand out, gesturing for my blanket, which I reluctantly handed over. As his hands began to go through the ritual of folding it, he continued, “Before we go much further let me continue with what I was saying last night— if I may?”
At my nod he expounded.
Of all the places I had ever been, the color of my skin never seemed to be in question or a problem. In this place however, it seemed to be an obvious point of wonder and question. “My friend,” he began, “it is obvious that you are a stranger among us.” He seemed just as curious to my features as I was of his. Where I was jet black, he was pale, where my hair was white, almost colorless; his was a light golden brown. Height wise we were pretty much the same. We both had two arms, two legs and all that… after all, humanoid was humanoid. And yet, despite our similarities, subtle differences remained. As a whole, he seemed overly fascinated with my eyes, possibly the nictitating membranes that clouded them, as well as the shape and function of my armor.
“You are indeed, very strange,” he said, not in an unkind way. As he spoke he laid his hand atop mine, wary of touching my armor. He obviously remembered how it had burned Kiera’s hand the first time. “And yet,” he continued, “you fear nothing.”
For the sake of their sanity, I’d withdrawn my stasis field completely. Talk about freaking someone out. After all, I’m pretty sure it’s not every day these people run into a race that can completely surround itself in a field of relative energy, shrouding one in darkness- that or wearing living armor. Then again, how many other races had been born and reared on a planet trapped between triple suns? And who, when their planet ventured between these same stars every five thousand years, would hibernate in underground cities for a thousand years or more?
“I know you have your questions,” he continued, “and we have ours as well. I can assure you though, our mission, the entire reason for us being here, is to deliver you safely to the one place in all the land, that can truly answer your questions.”
He was obviously referring to this ‘Bansu’ place again. They had briefly mentioned it last night; it’s where this Oracle person was supposed to be, a man beyond all time and measure- a man of knowledge, and an under stander of everything known.
I decided to keep an open mind.
“My friend,” he continued. “I do not profess to know why you are here, and from your expression, I’d have to say that you are as unaware as we. So I will ask this one small favor if I may.” At this point Kiera slid us another one of her incredulous looks. She’d obviously passed her own judgment on me already. “I would ask that you neither attempt an escape or do us harm.”
“That’s asking a lot,” I said. “As you mentioned before, I’m not from around here. Perhaps I would like to go home.”
At this he smiled.
How do I answer that?
“I realize we are strangers,” he said, “and no soldier worth his salt would gladly or eagerly cast himself into bonds without at least some fight, however, we do not consider you a prisoner, and by no means have you been captured.” Here he slid a sidelong glance towards Kiera, “despite the words from my companion stating otherwise… What we wish to accomplish here is important. You yourself are important, and the outcome of our future meeting with the Oracle even more so. So I would ask you again,” he paused, “No, I beg your patience and trust in us… trust that we have your best interests in mind as we complete our mission and deliver you freely, upon the steps of Bansu.”
At his slant towards Kiera, the young woman rolled her eyes and walked away from us, to finish packing on the furthest outskirts of our camp.
“I guess what I’m trying to say,” He continued, barely suppressing a grin, “Is that your word as a fellow warrior would set well with me, to us,” he gestured towards Kiera, “Can you at least agree to this,” he asked?
‘Did I really have a choice?’
Reaching out I laid my hand on the man’s bow, “Upon my honor, I swear to neither plan nor attempt any action which may in any way endanger our lives.” After we reach the keep of course, or once something looked familiar, this might change, but I didn’t want this to sway his response, so I didn’t add it.
As I finished, Roman began to smile. This time his words were lighter. “I believe your oath to be true Rastus. Now come and join us in a bit of breakfast before Kiera packs it all away. She has a tendency to be very thorough and knowing her as well as I do, she’d sooner hear our bellies grumble then feed us a second time.”
And like that, I guess you could say… we were friends.
Trusting little souls aren’t they.
But it was long ago and it was far away, oh God it seems so very far, and if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car…
(1993) Album notes for Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell by Meat Loaf [booklet]. Virgin (CDV2710 – 7243 8 39067 27)
It was obvious from the stench that the animal had been dead for at least a week, distended abdomen, matted fur, riotous feeding frenzy of flies playing tickle and tease with the foxtail lining the ditch.
For fear of death he chose to steer clear.
High overhead the sun beat down on the highway, the countryside, life in general, like a hammer against an anvil, without mercy but with purpose. It had been ninety degrees plus for more than a month now, and it looked like today would be more of the same. There was no breeze to speak of, only cloudless sky, as expected. Over his left shoulder, dual strips of asphalt bled off into the distance, motionless except for their watery haze. Before him lay much of the same, which is why he chose the off-ramp in the first place, he needed to find someplace else, someplace different then before.
With the weight of the world upon his shoulders, and what remained on his back, he continued his slow shuffle west, one dusty footstep at a time.
‘No one ever said it was going to be easy, or this hot.’ He suggested to no one but himself. But what could he really do about it other than complain. “I guess I could always break into some sort of rain dance…?” Then again, one look at the heavens said no, deadpan and steel blue with not a cloud in sight. It would take a hell of a lot more than a rain dance to break the current drought. It would take a miracle.
Having reached the top of the off ramp it was time to make a decision. He could cross the road before him and return to the highway below, in essence continuing his previous journey into the sun, which, at the moment was the direction his shadow seemed to be leaning- he could hang a right and head towards more of the same low rolling hills previously traversed, or he could veer left towards the town of Summersville and its citizens, whose sign said numbered around six hundred and thirty some souls- Despite the promise of his water running low, judging from the hollow slosh hanging from his left shoulder, the last thing he needed was to be around people. He remembered what happened the last time he was around people, ‘bad days’ as he put it, ‘bad days ending in gunfire.’ And the last thing he needed was more gunfire.
“Looks like I’ll be hanging a right after all.”
An hour later found the highway he’d just exited all but swallowed by the hills he had just entered. In an effort to escape the heat, his shadow had all but fled, what with the sun now directly overhead. During his journey he’d stopped once, long enough to take a sip of water, brush the hair from his eyes and shift the pack on his back. His tee-shirt, weathered and worn, lay thin on his shoulders, and continued its pattern of stick, un-stick, and sticking to his back. ‘It is a little warm to be wearing blue jeans,’ he thought, though at the moment he was wearing his Sunday best. Soon or later he would have to stop and change back into the only pair of shorts he still owned.
Whether blistering hot or chilly as all get out, this part of the country couldn’t quite seem to make up its mind- and the further west he went, the worse this condition became.
He had been born in Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi, to a good solid family. His father, though strict at times, had taught him everything he would ever need to know on how to survive and become a man. His mother had taught him all the finer things in life, such as what herbs to pick to flavor a soup just right, or how to care for his wounds, and also how to enjoy some of the simpler things… how shadows grew long in the fall, or how a particular beam of sunlight can break free from the clouds and hi-light a particular patch of ground in the distance, (such as after a gentle spring rain.) Or how the clouds seemed to roll and roil just before a mid-summer’s storm, building white upon white, higher and higher until swollen with violence they would suddenly let loose what had built them up in the first place-
The silence in the fields around him momentarily drew his attention elsewhere, away from his memories, until he realized that these fields were the same as all the other fields he had recently passed thru, non-descript and knee high in weeds and rolling green.
A single speck trolling a sullen sky caused him to absentmindedly reach for his journal. He had a habit of chronicling his journey, had been since the beginning. He often found comfort in the art of sketching what he saw, nothing grand or all that inspiring, but like his mom, he found joy in the simplest of things. Once he’d discovered a wild flower, white petal, green leaves, struggling against the elements, eking out its existence between the cracks of an old asphalt highway. Another time it was a weathered and oddly tilted fence post. The fence itself had long ago vanished, having returned to rust and dust, but in mute testimony the post had remained, another bent and aged squatter dotting the greater plains, much as himself. According to his latest figures and calculations, he had covered almost three hundred miles since his journey began, thirty since this morning. Not bad considering that his feet ached, his back ached, his shoulders ached, in fact, it would be a whole lot easier if he were to list what didn’t ache at the moment, rather then what did.
The sun was a good three fingers from the horizon when he came across the unexpected mile marker, a reflective green and white rectangle approximately twelve inches long and half as wide. The sign itself was attached to a galvanized metal pole and held approximately five feet off the ground by two galvanized bolts; it read ‘Mile Marker 244’. Allowing the pack to slide from his back, he gently lowered it to the ground before opening two of the three top straps. Reaching in, he quickly and carefully retrieved the first of three objects. The first was the most important, his father’s ancient sextant- this instrument he kept in its worn and threadbare padded black bag. The second object was equally as important as the first, but for an entirely different reason, his journal, chronicler of all events. The third and last object to be retrieved was his well worn and much thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Almanac dated 1982.
Three quarters of the way through his journal lay a thin red ribbon. Opening it at this point; today’s entry, he hesitantly lifted the ribbon, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
The faint scent of lilacs remained, and continued to amaze him even after all these years. The girl it had belonged to, long since forgotten.
Lowering the ribbon, he set the opened journal across his knees and removed the sextant from its protective bag. With nary a shadow behind him, he raised the sextant to eye level, sighted in on the Moon, merely a silvery smudge barely a fingers width above the horizon, and measured the angle between it and the sun. Locking and rocking the instrument, he made note of the indicated angle in degrees and seconds in the left hand margin of his journal. He then opened the Farmer’s Almanac, cross checked the angle he had just measured to the correct table to find his current time in Greenwich Mean, he then scribbled this figure down, before comparing it to the intricate watch he wore on his left wrist.
‘I’m still off by more than a minute,’ he thought. Considering that his watch was constantly being updated by the atomic clock buried deep beneath the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington DC this seemed all but impossible… a possibility he chose to ignore.
Things had changed; the world was a different place now.
His next two measurements, which he also jotted down, indicated his current location in the world, 38°25’2.08″N by 96°33’25.35″W. Finished with his recording, he carefully repacked each and every item, tightened each strap, and then re-shouldered his backpack before continuing his journey once again. There was a place he needed to be, sanctuary some would have called it, others Nirvana. He simply called where he was heading, home. According to his latest calculations, he still had a very long way and time to go.
Nightfall would catch him stretched out in a local grotto, his eyes heavy, and with his heels kicked up to a velvety dark sky full of unknown stars spinning high overhead.
That night he dreamt-
When he was yet a child his father would take him out into the great dark night and point his face towards the heavens.
‘Do you see that’, his father would ask?
He would shake his head no, ‘See what Daddy?’
With, his father’s voice only inches from his ear his father would answer, ‘Those seven stars right there?’
Following his father’s lead, he quickly spots them.
‘That is the Big Dipper, a very important group of stars, son. So important, in fact, that they could save your life one day.’
‘But how Daddy…?’ How could pinpoints of light possibly save his life?
‘Do you see how those first three seem to form a handle, while the last four form the dipper portion itself? Now let your eyes follow those last two stars son… the last two stars of the dipper.’
He was confused- but did as his father asked.
‘Now imagine a straight line being drawn across the sky with its beginning, its point of origin in those two stars of the Big Dipper.’
‘I can see it now Daddy.’
‘Good. Following our imaginary line, notice that after only a few degrees, we run into what appears to be a much smaller dipper, one in which the handle seems inverted, as if flipped inside out.’
‘That bright star, the one the Big Dipper points too, that’s Polaris, son, what we call the Northern Star.’ His father, now fallen to one knee is facing him. ‘If you are ever lost, my son, if you ever loose your way, just seek out the Northern Star- it will lead you home.’
This would be a lesson he would never forget.
The next day-
In many places he went, like old bones; shale, granite and limestone had thrust themselves upward from the barren earth, while high overhead continued the same desolate sky. He would be destined to suffer three more days of this same heat, this same desolate terrain, before running across any first real signs of ‘them’ since coming across the diner all those many days and miles back.
Like a mausoleum, it had been raised from the rocky soil, with its sand blasted walls, dusty brown paint and aged and streaked glass. An abandoned, long abandoned, filling station, shadow streaked in ochre blush and bone white. One large garage door was all that remained of its three, and it was closed. The remaining bays, minus doors, were nothing more than blotches of darkness glaring out across the highway-
Like a dead man dreaming in the noonday sun, the entire structure seemed to be slumbering. The large plate glass window in front, amazingly, had remained intact, and was streaked in ripples of gold and blue… rainbows of refracted and reflected light. There were no signs hanging in those windows- at least none that he could see. The stations pumps were long since gone, only the twisted remains of rusted pipe poking up through an oval shaped concrete island beneath what used to be a canopied awning, itself now skeletal and torn. All that remained were four large posterns pointing at odd angles towards the sky. Beneath all this lay asphalt, broken and shattered, with tufts of prairie grass waving in-between. In and around were mounds of debris, yellow and stiffened newspapers, some folded, some burnt.
As a whole, the filling station was pretty much a pop-up picture opened to the American countryside in a book about dirt.
Forty years prior, however, things had been different- the first time he had come through-
Entering the station proper, with my father by my side, my senses were immediately overwhelmed by a variety of smells: the deep damp stench of oil, gasoline and compressed air- the sharp tickle of fresh rubber, and what was that, Wrigley’s Doublemint Gum? There was something else as well, something I couldn’t quite place- not back then anyway, the slight odor of decay perhaps?
Across the grease smeared and much scratched counter top stood a register, unattended of course, much like the station itself at the moment, beside it set a three-tiered rack of the aforementioned Wrigley’s chewing gum, with rows of green, blue, and yellow.
On the other side of the register lay a stack of ratty edged road maps, a cup full of broken and chewed on pens and pencils and one of those four by four boards with a nail driven through its center. Impaled on the nail lay a mish-mash of old receipts stacked at least an inch thick.
The wall across from the counter held a dusty black rack of Ever-Ready car batteries, beside it a dented can overflowing with greasy shop rags. A tattered year old calendar turned to the month of December seemed to round things out, hanging limp above the battery rack. Other than an overturned swivel chair behind the counter, and a coat rack holding an umbrella beside the door, there was not much else to catch my eye or hold my attention-
Like I said, that was forty years ago. The world had moved on quite a bit since then.
With one hand on the door frame, I cautiously enter the station. This time, instead of oil, gas and compressed air, my senses are assaulted by the stench of dry rot, disuse and dirt. Yellowed wallpaper, peeling in great curling strips, lay on the worn linoleum floor along with mounds of dried grass clippings, an old bird’s nest of daub and mud and a few tumbles of weed. A stack of thumb worn and much fingered phone books lay haphazardly stacked against the far wall. The glass countertop of yesteryear had been replaced with a piece of old plywood, and was covered in much disturbed dust. There was no register to be seen. Also gone, were the days of Wrigley’s chewing gum, paper widgets holding business receipts, and the year old calendar opened to December-
I paused a moment to gather my senses, freeing my left hand while reaching with my right-
Sudden thunder, thunder, thunder… as the wall next to me hammers twice; ragged clumps of sheet-rock lift outward and explode, disintegrating in a cloud of powder and white dust. Instantly my hearing is gone, as what was initially sharp pain has become muffled silence. My ability to see clearly, as I immediately dropped to the floor, with fragments of wall raining all around, had been broken by the three brilliant flashes, strobes of brilliant light which seemed to reach out towards me in ever expanding rolls, breaking free from the darkened confines of a backlit back room.
My world has become one of cordite and gunpowder, smoke, dust and debris.
The entire time all this is going on I’m instinctively reaching with my right hand, before suddenly finding and bringing forth lex talionis. In one smooth motion I bring the comforting weight of its steel to bear.
The last time I had been in this situation had been back at the diner- another bad day indeed! Three souls had lost their lives that day, all by my hand, and all because of ‘them.’
As always, they seemed to be ahead of me, while I remained what I felt to be, a good three steps behind. At least at the diner there had been some warning, some notice given, I simply hadn’t wandered in oblivious… not like here and now. Back then my entrance into the diner had been preceded by a star, its shape seemingly painted by a child’s hand, chalk white, on the top step just below the front entrance. Next to the crescent moon, I’d learned to keep my eyes open for them. Not this time though, there had been no star painted outside, no crescent moon above the door, no upside down ‘For Sale’ signs propped up or hanging in the front window… only ambush and gunfire.
They were definitely getting smarter-
Strained silence- after images chasing and darting, while outside a golden red coyote pauses in mid-stride, seemingly caught halfway between this side of the highway and the next, its head turns towards the station, ears cocked, tail tucked. Between one breath and the next she is gone, vanishing into the afternoon silence and glare.
The coyote had been at the diner as well, only afterwards, not before.
Rolling to my right will bring me up beyond the counter and into the space between it and the wall directly in front of the backroom’s entrance. I feel it to be my only chance at surprise, and probably what the other party feels to be my only recourse as well. A moment before I act my eyes are drawn to my right hand, to the word ‘Justice’ tattooed in blue across the knuckles there, crosshairs emblazoned across the first and second joint of my index finger, and with this thought in mind I-
Roll out and bring ‘Justice’ to bear, at the same time squeezing off two thunderous rounds, filling the space between us with afterimages of light and smoke. I continue on through with the motion, bringing myself up next to the door frame, out of breath but heartbeat steady. My back pack remains where I suddenly dropped it, just outside the front door and in the sunlight.
Silence reigns yet again.
A quick glance back towards the highway assures me that the coyote is gone, only then do I notice the sign, a star, finger smeared in white and ochre across the linoleum floor just inside the threshold where the sunlight meets floor, where light trumps shade.
While behind me… agonized silence, countless minutes, brass shell casings on the floor-
‘Ayin tahat ayin…’ I chant, as a bead of sweat breaks free from my brow and runs down my nose. With my left hand I brush a few errant strands of matted hair away my face, from in front of my eyes.
As the silence continues, there is movement, fugitive, and then stillness. I lean to the left, just in time to catch her under the chin as she steps forth from the room. With a single shot, a thunderous roar, the top of her skull lifts, showering the ceiling and doorway with brain and splinters of bone, a literal wash of red. Just as quickly I roll to the right, sparing myself most of the mess that follows. But not all, as one tiny tear of red rolls a course down my cheek.
I wait, for most of the time they hunt in pairs, lie in groups-
Not this time though.
I stand above her, my hands on my hips, lex talionis holstered. For all she has become, a child she remains, dirt smeared face, vacant eyes, with dark stringy hair in disarray. Dressed in rags she has lost a shoe in the struggle afterwards- the struggle to hold onto life as it burbled and gurgled its way past her lips. Still clasped in her left hand lies ancient iron, its barrel still smoldering, her right hand is clawed and crowned with broken, dirty fingernails, the word ‘Croatoan’ has been carved in the center of her right palm. Her wrists are chaffed and torn, evidence of her countless bids for freedom. The hand that holds the gun also carries the smudge of white and ochre, I notice also, the long fingered smears drawn from knee to thigh of her blue jeans.
‘Close this time, so very close. One day, maybe not so close, and on that day it will be my time to lose a shoe- but not today.
Today I was lucky.’
That night, with the stars burning bright, a small fire flickering between me and the mid-night shadows closing in, I weep, not for today, not even for the girl I’d killed, though I have wept for such before- no, I weep instead for the promise of tomorrow, and all the long tomorrows to follow.
Sometimes I feel like the only thing standing between our world, and the world they wish it to be, is me. And I would be right. ‘Ayin tahat ayin,’ be it blind or impartial, justice will find a way.
I move on.
Phillip-as described by Theo upon meeting him for the first time.: ‘Standing this close to him, I could smell the street all over him, a mixture of car exhaust and stale cigarettes- there was something else as well, and this something reminded me of the words wicked and wild. The cold, wet scent you bring in with you, right after you come in from playing outside on a cold winter’s day. All of this wrapped up in a threadbare corduroy jacket, ratty red-tailed gloves, and a tousled mane of the blondest hair I’d ever seen.’
Maggie/Magpie-Theo meeting Maggie for the first time outside the Majestic Theater: She must have been all of sixteen going on thirty, slender as a reed, dressed in scuffed and torn blue jeans, same sort of coat as the boy had on- second-hand times ten -gloves, a gold cross around her neck, and a dirty blue and white stocking cap pulled down over a chaotic mess of reddish blond hair, chunkily cut and spiked. She too was pale, like the snow falling around us. Her eyes, way too big for her face, hugged the shadows beneath her brows for protection; her lips were drawn and thin. She either disapproved of everything or was considering a pout.Emo Bratz or Riot grrl??
Theo Valerian- introducing himself to Phillip and Maggie- inside Leo’s Diner: ‘I’m forty-one; and I work as a Design Engineer for Clearinghouse- an instate Engineering firm -which means I get paid a lot to draw pictures on a computer. At the moment I live alone, except for Thumper my Scottish terrier. Oh yeah, and I also like to take long walks on short beaches while reading poetry…” (not really on that last one.)
Thumper- Theo’s Scottish terrier: When he gets excited he doesn’t wag his tail from side to side like most dogs, he ‘thumps’ it up and down on the floor like a club. Get it, Thumper?
Lycan- as described by Theo: The current owner of Leo’s. Leo’s owner was tall, built hard as steel and thin as a rail. Perched on the top of his head was a crown of bushy auburn-black hair, which often times drifted down over his left eye. As if his lady-killer good looks weren’t dangerous enough, he was also blessed with one of those year round tans, the kind that generally ticks off the rest of us ‘rice white summer people’. The only other distinguishing mark about him would had to have been the pale blue image he had tattooed on the right side of his neck, the one that looked like a giant bird rising from a pile of fiery ashes. He called it a Phoenix.
Kaelynn Carroll: Curator of the New York Museum of Art. Fiancée of Theo Valerian. 31 years old, auburn hair, brown eyes. The love of Theo’s life…
Feathers- as described by Theo upon his first run-in: ‘I turned to face our assailant- who was nothing more than a boy himself, maybe sixteen, with wild black mane for hair and deep dark eyes set in a long pale face. At first he appeared to be wearing nothing more than rags, like the others before him. The entire time he was talking he just stood there with his mouth hanging open as if gasping for air.’
Aaron- Theo & Kaelynn’s neighbor: My next door neighbor was at least six and a half feet tall, setting a little over two hundred and eighty pounds, with salt and pepper hair and forearms the size of tree branches. Add to this his menacing looks, and a nose that seemed to meander back and forth across his face like it had been broken a bit too many times, and here was a man few would argue with.
Fallon- a man hanging with Lycan at the Diner. Theo’s frist meeting.: The man with him, the one who chose to remain standing, was average height and build, hair running thin, with a face only a mother could love. In fact, the only thing that truly stood out about him, other than his ‘blandness’ was his demeanor, he reeked ex-military.
The woman in Red: Her eyes, one a pale watery blue, the other as black as night, worked their way up to mine. Her hair lay in matted clumps about her head; it had once been blond, only now appeared gray and streaked, darkened in places with grime and old sweat. The clothing she wore, mere rags, patched and faded in countless places, strewn and torn. She wore a combination of coats and old blouses, as well as the remains of, what I swear to this day, was an old ballroom dress, a fancy thing, lace and stitching… pearls, the whole nine yards. Though the last time anyone would have worn anything even close would have been about a century ago.
Sir Fredrick Henson- Director of Antiquities and the Curator: Henson was a short, balding man, whose bushy gray eyebrows easily overshadowed his hazel-green eyes. He also seemed entirely out of place, in his dark flannel slacks and overly-sized gray wool sweater, especially amidst all the brightly clothed tourists and leather clad ‘soccer hoodlums’ hanging about. Like most Englishmen his age, he seemed to be on the verge of a perpetual glare of displeasure, his forehead creased deeply in a frown… as if there was nothing left in the world to be happy about.
Nicholas Hilliard: 16th Century painter who had lived in London during the time of Mary the First and Queen Elizabeth. For the better part of a century, Hilliard’s works had only been shown in Buckingham Palace, and then, only to the royal family. His panel portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, known as the ‘Phoenix’ and the ‘Pelican’, both dating back to the late 1570’s, are perhaps two of his most famous works, commissioned by Queen Elizabeth shortly after her defeat of the famed ‘Spanish Armada’.
Master of the Hunt- Neit: “You fool,” hisses Neit, drawing inward upon himself, twin arcs of brilliant coldness by his side, his swords. In the ever present brilliance of the cadre he seems but a slip of a shadow, like a splinter in God’s eye. “You dare challenge me, I have walked where you have feared to tread, I have swallowed such light, and been cast from the heavens, banished in chains- you think you can stand between me and my prey. I will crash down the heavens and burn paradise to the ground before giving way to the likes of you.” He pauses then, his eyes narrowing, “You cut your own wings away in despair and rebellion, and still you think you have power over me? Know despair-” And in that instant Neit suddenly grows larger than the night, and in a shape reminiscent of that old beast, that fell dragon, he falls upon the angels assembled before him, crushing out their light, bearing them to the ground.
Shadow Mastiff’s: I finally located Phillip, he was with a man- but before I go there, there is something you must know… the corners of the roof, the corners of the doorways, anything at all that resembled a clear ninety degree angle of any sort; they all began to bleed darkness like a severed artery bleeds blood.And that darkness the corners bled began to pool.Once the pooling darkness on the roof was complete, a howling began. Simple at first, it quickly gained precedence and volume; in fact, it continued to spiral upward in strength, even as the darkness of the pools began to take shape, forms starting to materialize from within that night into long lean hounds with course dark fur, blood red eyes and with mouths full of long sharp teeth. As a pack, their backs and hackles were up; their tails tucked down.
Blair: Off to the north, above the wail of sirens, a large dark cloud separates itself from the ground and quickly approaches, wheeling through the night on a collision course with destiny- a thousand, thousand raven and crow. In one fell swoop they fall upon the stranger, cawing, spinning, merging. When the darkness of their arrival passes, only the stranger remains.Raven and crow are gone.“And you thought Neit and his hounds were bad…”
All I know is writing. Being an author is all I ever wanted to be- other than an astronaut! All I know is that the art of creation is never easy, in fact it’s downright agonizing at times. Not only do you have to bare your soul to a world that may never understand what you are trying to create, a sculpture, painting, or in my case, stories… still, you soldier on, try your best, and pour your heart out on paper, canvas and stone.
Why? Why do we, who feel we can do nothing else but create, fight this uphill battle, this slow, gut-churning crawl to a place where we never have been, but want to get to just as well? In all actuality, I don’t know. All I can do is tell it like it is. Creating something on paper for me, happens to be the most destructive and rewarding experience, even if it’s something terrible to behold. I say destructive because writing takes me away from the ones I love, my family, my kids, my ‘real world job’. Writing is like getting up in front of people completely naked, and hoping against hope that what you are putting out there says to your audience, what it’s been trying to say to you all along. And that is stories need to be told! They do, they really do. When nothing else seems to make sense, the act of creation will. (This should give you insight on how God operates… he creates, he’s the Creator. How can he not love us, when he could not help but create us. It’s what he does.)
Creation has occurred, months, years, whatever… it has left your mind and hands and entered the world. Now you have to put it out there still, doesn’t make a difference whether its good or bad, because for people decide upon it, people have to read it, people have to see it. Before someone can admire or dream along with you, someone has to believe in your creation enough to give it half a chance. And this is the hardest part, getting the world to believe in your dream, your vision when there are so many more dreams and visions out there…
Writing is a dreadful thing to behold, darkly horrific, exasperating and the most fulfilling thing I have ever done. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, and that’s the shame of it, because sometimes what you love and care for most, can still escape your grasp… still you try to struggle and create, and you don’t stop till it’s down and out for the world to see. For you see, stories will always need to be told, sculptures created and paintings admired.
So go create…
Our story began on the crowded streets of New York City, amidst the tragedy of the homeless and the down and out. It ended with a young man finding his father but losing his world.
‘Christmas has come and gone, with it, the memories of my family, lost now to the sands of time. Our only hope lies in the fact that they never found us, not really. The nightmare they sent, a true demon of darkness, has been vanquished, sent back to the pit. As for the man in the ‘silver singing spurs,’ the man who kidnapped my father… the less said on his behalf the better. Only know this, revenge has always been a dish best served cold.’
Absentia- Heir of Nostalgia Book Two
Our story continues with the tale of three young friends, born out of loss, held together by magic, protected by fate and brought together by destiny. Together, they will face the unimaginable, as the forces of darkness, now unleashed, begin to marshal their strength to conquer the world.
They seemed to be wearing some sort of malleable, very flexible, metal armor the color of night and shadow, forest and snow, moonlight and pitch, foliage and ground. Their long, narrow faces were pale and uncovered, their hair the color of a raven’s wings. In their slender hands they rapidly wove pieces of vine and branch in intricate, winding patterns, hypnotic looking shapes, and mesmerizing fabrications. And when they spoke, it reminded him of the sound that fall leaves make being blown by the wind just before the first frost, brittle and crisp, like branches being blown down the sidewalk outside his home, skritching and screeching, as they scraped their way across the lawn in the fall. His heart leapt into his throat as one of the ‘manimal’s froze; its dark eyes, the color of congealed blood, glancing up to where they lay in hiding.
Even in the night, Festus could see the flat ‘deadness’ being reflected there.