Lox put a hand on Caspar's mimed bow, shaking her head pityingly, as if she were his kindergarten teacher and he had just turned in a macaroni picture that looked like someone had sneezed on a piece of construction paper. They both turned their attention to the brawl as Kidd appeared on the scene, reeking of amber, and rashly interposing himself between Eshu and Alex, though he was only armed with a blade that could be mistaken for a butter knife, and a shield that looked more like the lid of a pot.
"Is he going to fight him, or cook him dinner?" Caspar wondered out loud.
As the newcomer thoroughly inked Eshu's eyes with a triumphant yell, Lox grabbed Caspar's hands exclaiming, "Yeah, it's time to go."
"Awww, but it was just getting good," Caspar complained as Angelus explained that the person that had been fighting with Eshu was not Kyle, but rather some Alex character, who was apparently not in favor with the group.
She continued by hesitating and stammering, "Secondly...I kind of, um...."
"Are you about to come out to us?" Lox predicted.
Caspar stifled a giggle, holding a finger to his mouth to shush Lox, and encouraging Angelus to continue.
Angelus looked like she was about to poop her pants when she said in an embarrassed tone, "I lost my powers."
Caspar puzzled for a moment, and then seeking clarification asked, "Which one?"
Angelus ignored his question and continued explaining, "I mean, I can still shoot plasma arrows, but right now they don't have any bite. So I'd be more hindrance than help. Besides that, it looks like Kyle's got enough help already."
Caspar glanced at Angelus with a confused look on his face. "But...I thought that wasn't Kyle--"
"Agreed," Lox cut in as she forcefully led Caspar down the alley by his arm as if she were pulling a wagon loaded with goods to the market.
He gave one more side-ways glance over his shoulder at the strange combatants as he allowed himself to be herded onto a nearby trolley along with Angelus, still puzzling over what he had woken up to, as the trolley suddenly took off on its own, despite having no driver or apparent method of locomotion.
The group rode awkwardly in silence, gawking at the sights and sounds of Zion in full celebration-mode, until Lox randomly produced a cigarette seemingly out of thin air, and then lit it with a flourish before simultaneously sighing and exhaling a blue-gray stream of smoke. Caspar stared at the glowing end of the cigarette and his thoughts immediately turned back to the scene on the dock back in Limbo, where the smoking phantom had disabled Pan and & and then disappeared completely, along with his friends. The promise he had made before succumbing to Pierre's neurotoxin came back to him now, and he felt a wave of sadness and bitterness rush over him. He was supposed to be searching for his friends, but here he was sightseeing and making jokes.
"I'm glad you're alive, Caspar," Lox said at length, derailing his thoughts of the past.
He tried to look like he hadn't been brooding as he responded, "Oh...yeah, me too."
She continued, “I know that’s weird to say but I thought you were really gone or that you had just been smart enough to avoid being grabbed like the rest of us.”
Caspar stared at Lox for a moment, wondering for the first time what all had happened while he had been stuck in the capsule. He was about to ask when a voice from out of nowhere suddenly exclaimed, "Next stop, Sankara Plaza!"
He figured that he could press Lox for answers later, when they weren't surrounded by strangers, and when his stomach wasn't churning and gurgling like a live volcano.
“Final stop ladies and gentleman. The Hallowed Temple of Nyx," the voice called out.
"Nyx," Lox said, "that's a big goddess."
"Your mom's a big goddess," Caspar mumbled under his breath at no one in particular.
"The big goddess," another trolley-rider corrected.
Lox looked like a child who had just been scolded. "Right...," she said quietly.
Caspar frowned at the rider who had spoken up, doing his best to look intimidating despite the fact the he more resembled a hat-rack than a person. No one talked for the rest of the trip, apparently absorbed in their own worries, until the trolley eventually screeched to a halt in a considerably nicer part of town than he had woken up in.
Angelus, Lox, and Caspar disembarked the trolley and began meandering purposelessly through the museum-like area of the city that was bordered by a multitude of statues, fountains, and impressive ancient architecture. Normally Caspar would have been entranced by their beautiful and inspirational surroundings, but his wonder was trumped by the intoxicating scent of food wafting through the brisk night air. He inhaled the smell in the air hungrily, snuffling with effort as he attempted to eat the food-laden atmosphere. Lox seemed to pick up on this as she inquired from a passerby whether there was somewhere close-by to grab a bite to eat.
"The Morani," they responded dully, as if she had just asked if they were indeed standing on solid ground, "the Morani Library, right there," they added, indicating the direction with a fatigued nod, "it has a cafe."
Caspar grasped the passerby's hands in his own, squeezing them as if trying to extract juice, "Thank you, sir, thank you so, so much."
The helpful stranger boggled at Caspar, feebly attempting to remove his hands from Caspar's death-grip, "Y-yeah, it's no problem at all, really."
Thinking of an appropriate way to show his extreme gratitude, as his stomach growled audibly, Caspar bowed low, almost to the point that his forehead was resting on the polished marble street. "A thousand blessings on you and your house," he replied, speaking loudly to be heard over his rather vocal gut.
The passerby hesitated awkwardly before bowing slightly in return, and mumbling, "Th-thanks...," as he thought to himself, "I really should start staying home on Celebration Night, all the weirdies come out for it."
Lox, once again, dragged Caspar away from the disturbed man, leading him into a massive building that was apparently the Morani Library. But once they entered the building, it was Caspar's turn to lead as he practically galloped to the counter at the cafe located in the corner of the library.
Caspar looked at the food-display-case the way a person who had been wandering through the desert for a week without supplies would look at a jug of water. The cafe's proprietor glanced hesitantly at Caspar's eyes, mad with hunger, wondering if he was going to have to remind him that the food in the case was actually made of wax.
"I'll have that," Caspar blurted, pointing to a juicy looking steak of some kind, "...and that," he added, pointing to a plate of meat and vegetables in a thick, brown gravy, "...and that as well," he said, motioning to an entire casserole dish. "And I'll take a few jugs of whatever you have brewing over there, and a couple of loaves of bread as well. And a slice of pie. And--"
"--I think that's enough for now," Lox cut in, putting a reassuring hand on Caspar's spiny back.
Caspar shot her a pained, incredulous look, as if she had just suggested that he stop breathing because he was hogging all the air.
"Ehhhh, okay, that'll be it then," he relented, before adding ominously, "for now..."
Lox and Angelus sat a distance away from where Caspar sat, probably worried that if they got too close they might be consumed as well, which was probably a smart choice on their part. At this point, Caspar had no discretion at all, and almost attempted eating a large, wooden casserole dish until Lox gently reminded him that it wasn't food.
"I can't believe you're eating all that," Lox said, mystified by Caspar's ravenous behavior, as she politely tucked into her chicken and yams over rice.
"Can't talk, eating," Caspar responded eloquently, his voice muffled by a whole roasted chicken he had somehow procured and managed to fit into his mouth.
A group of children seated nearby munched on a large bowl of kettle-corn, their eyes wide in amazement, as they watched a spindly Caspar attempt to swallow the chicken whole, and wash it down with a second roasted chicken. He turned to their astonished faces and winked good-naturedly, before ruining his cool by choking loudly.
"Cooooggghhhchhhggghh!" he sputtered, his eyes turning red and bulging. He looked pleadingly at the pint-sized voyeurs, but their mother was forcing them to turn away and focus on their own food.
Lox rolled her eyes and reached over to slap him heartily on the back as she managed to continue eating her own meal.
"Than goo," Caspar responded gratefully through a mouth and a half full of partially-masticated food.
"Cassandra," Lox sighed as she dipped her bread into her hot chocolate. Caspar wrinkled his face in disgust, it was probably the only thing he wouldn't eat at that point. "Do you think Cassandra has thought of where Ramus might be?"
Caspar looked at Lox, and then at Angelus, wondering if she was talking to him, because if she was, he had no idea what she was referring to. He shrugged as he emptied a brimming tankard of fizzy apple ale.
Despite her lack of response, Lox continued, “Maybe I should try to find out where Hayder is, instead. Working backward, Acel is wherever Hayder is. Acel wants to see Ramus fall, so he would keep close tabs, no? Ramus is undercover, but we know Acel is a famous politician, which means he’s a public figure. Public figures always have files on them. If we find Acel we can find Ramus.”
"Um...what?" Caspar asked, completely unenlightened on the matter.
Lox didn't hear him. "I think I'm going to apply for a library card, have a look around," she said as she stretched like a sleeping panther and then disappeared down an aisle between two towering bookshelves.
Angelus took one look at Caspar, who had half a goat sticking out of his smiling mouth, and turned to Lox, aaying "I think I'm going to look around and see who else is here. I'll catch up with you when I'm done,", and then proceeded to make herself scarce before Caspar managed to unhinge his jaw.
One of the children who had been watching him earlier dared to peek back at him when their mother's attention was diverted, just in time to see a single hoof protruding from his gullet, which he swallowed like a spaghetti noodle. The child sat there, stunned, as if their brain had been unplugged, only coming back to their senses when their mother flicked them smartly on the ear. Caspar and the child winced at the same time.
The voice of an elderly woman, who had apparently smoked a pack a day since she was three, crackled through some hidden speakers in the vaulted ceiling, saying dismally, "Attention, patrons, the library will be closing in ten minutes, please make your final selections and make your way to the checkout desk."
"Great," Caspar thought, "now where are we gonna go?" He remembered passing through a district of Zion where all the houses were actually piles of cardboard held together by bird droppings, and shuddered.
He stood up on still unstable legs, but feeling better thanks to the food, and took off in a random direction in search of Angelus and Lox. He hadn't paid attention to which way they had went earlier, due to the petting zoo he had been busy consuming, so he figured one direction was just as good as another, and headed north at a brisk walk. Hopefully Lox and Angelus weren't getting into any trouble, but a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach convinced him to believe otherwise, unless that was just indigestion.
Watching from his perch on a rooftop across the street, Noon laughed to himself at how utterly ridiculous this entire situation had become. Idly, he picked another splinter off of his trench coat, flicking it to the cobblestone below as the spectacle unfolded. He drew out a cigarette, and placed it to his lips as he searched for his lighter.
This Alex character was far unlike the Kyle Brogan that he'd come to know over the past few weeks. Kyle, he'd come to understand, was a moral and just man. He was a man who lived by a specific and unwavering code, which meant that, as a person, he was just a rock to be depended upon. There was never any real ambiguity. He was the kind of man you could almost set your watch to.
Alex, on the other hand, seemed almost the polar opposite. Unpredictable, wild, and full of guile, he seemed to bounce from bad situation to bad situation like a pirate pinball. Whether disappointing his friends, or threatening crew-mates, or even just getting himself into fights that he had no business in, it was like the man was completely lost, unable to find his bearing in the ocean of life, just drifting along from one encounter to another.
It was as if the Captain knew exactly what he should be doing, but was hesitant to do it. His compulsions were there, which was why, Noon suspected, the pirate was currently engaged in a one-sided brawl with a golden-armored sex-fiend. Despite claiming to be a scalawag, Alex Brogan's mind was at clear odds with his heart, which was why his personality was just so unbelievably scrambled.
With a long drag of his cigarette, Noon realized that he was perhaps being a little too contemplative. Maybe Kyle's alter-ego was just a nutso jerk.
Noon had followed him, at Kyle's insistence, to keep an eye on him. Kyle himself had claimed that he'd had enough, after waking up just a few moments after the scuffle, and headed off into the Red Lantern District.
For his own part, Noon was understanding. As he had watched the interaction between Kyle and Alex, who were really just two sides of the same coin, he wasn't sure how Kyle could avoid going completely crazy. At any point, especially when dealing with other people, a man realizes that it would just be easier if he did something himself. Extending that, the theory would stand that if a man could duplicate himself, he might get more done. He might be able to get things finished in half the time, because he could avoid having to explain things, and both would have the exact same standards of quality.
For Kyle, though, his twin had turned out to be naught but a doppleganger, an impostor. He was only a ruse, and instead of doubling the original's effectiveness, he was nothing but a hassle, causing more and more trouble as time went on.
Noon had to wonder what the Writers' reasoning was for bringing such a strange character into this realm. Surely they had thought such a choice through before…
Noon stopped himself. Of course they didn't. Throughout his implanted history, Noon was very much aware that a writer's whims and fancy weren't always thought out. Some choices were logical, and made sense. Some were emotional, and became entrenched in the dramatics among either the writers with one another, or even personal struggles.
And then sometimes, the writers would just do things for the hell of it.
As Noon watched with delight as Alex was thrown yet again to the cobblestone, he had to wonder if this was just one of the latter instances.
And as Alex retreated with the aid of one of his men, and Noon put the cigarette out, he drew his pistol, suspecting that it wouldn't be the last time.
Kyle's mind was frazzled. He wound his way into the Red Lantern District, still annoyed that he always seemed to find himself in the seedy underbelly of whatever town he entered.
But even as he thought about it, that made perfect sense. In the places that were absent of darkness, light was never needed. You don't need a torch in the daytime, but only when you've lost your way, and can't see for all the night.
Though he often complained about it, his lot in life was that of the light, and his heart would never let him do otherwise.
Which is why, he suspected, this Alex person was bothering him so much. Couldn't the man see what their calling was? They were both a man of truth, meant to protect the people who couldn't protect themselves, not prey on the weak simply because they were easier targets.
The innocent were to be assisted, not meant to be bartered, bought and sold. Kyle tried desperately to think back into his history, wondering what might have turned his own self into such a completely different person, and yet he couldn't come up with an answer.
The one thing that had always kept his focus straight throughout his life was his creed. To defend the innocent, and to stop the destruction of freedom. For a single choice to have created such a different and extreme change in personality would mean that almost any choice, be it small or large, could have drastic consequences upon one's own being. If Kyle had chosen a shirt of red and not blue, would that make him into a completely different person? Then what would?
Could every man's path and destiny be so easily altered? Was fate so very fragile that a man'e entire being could be circumvented by a single event?
Kyle just couldn't wrap his head around it. Surely the gods would not be so cruel as to allow the inhabitants of this world to be so easily altered. The warrior took comfort in the fact that, despite whatever consequences might have led his twin down another path, the choice had been his to make.
No matter the situation, no matter the hardship, the choice was always his, and no one else could have made Alex take the path that he had.
Kyle wondered briefly if he was too late.
"Don't you touch me!"
Broken from his contemplation, Kyle bolted towards the sound. He knew that, especially in the darkness was when light was needed most.
He came around the corner just in time to see an all-too-familiar sight.
A woman was cowering in a corner, as two men seemed to be struggling on her behalf. The one who seemed to be winning now had his sword across the man's throat, growling into his ear.
“Think very carefully about what you say to this woman next mongrel," said the man. "Because I swear to you they will be your last words. You may as well apologize before we leave you in the gutter, drowning in your own filth.”
Kyle stepped forward, and gripped the swordsman shoulder.
Jimmy waited for Hitomi's answer, but she acted like he wasn't even there. Turning to Cassandra, she started to speak, "Cassandra." Then her voice turned deep, giving this other girl a challenge. Shadows rose from the floor, swallowing the assassin, and swallowing her into otherworldly darkness.
Before Jimmy had a chance to process any of this, the girl whispered a name, "Ramus," and in a flash, told Angelus that there was somewhere she needed to go and ran off. That left Abedah, Angelus, and Jimmy in the aisle, but not quite alone. There were other patrons milling about. An announcement came over the speaker that the library would be closing.
"I thought you said this place didn't close," Abedah challenged.
"I guess things change."
When he turned around, he found Angelus hovering with her bow drawn. Having not seen what she was capable of, and considering the condition in which he found her, he considered that it was more for show than a real threat. He pointed his sword at her, though she continued to hover just out of his reach. "An angel and an imp are little different. One uses her abilities for the betterment of others, while the other is nothing more than a troublemaker. You've proven yourself to be the latter, thus, an imp. If you'd let us alone on the ship, we'd have been clear and on another journey by now. But you had to interfere and sic those spirit tracers on us. So we had to make a detour and found ourselves in quite another bit of a mess, it seems. And now we have the displeasure of running into you again, with someone else who obviously is displeased with your antics. And there's obviously something wrong with you, or you could have simply teleported yourself or your friend there somewhere a little less toxic to your health, or pulled some other trick to remove the threat. But you didn't, probably because you can't. Oh, and you've met my friend." Jimmy left it ambiguous whether he was referring to Abedah or his sword. "I think you have some explaining to do, and you have nine minutes left to do it, so talk fast."
Angelus had discovered something thanks to her recent de-powerment. Being mortal sucked. She hadn't ever really been truly immortal she knew, but her nearly unlimited power had always made the idea of being killed by any of the denizens of the game almost laughable. Sure, the Gods of Terra Di could hold their own against her, and she had risked her life in combat against other guardians before, but she was so used to being confident in her own ability to survive that the idea of dying seemed almost completely foreign. As such, she'd never really been afraid of dying. Now that dying was a real possibility, even the slightest chance of being killed scared her. Which is why having a sword pointed at her was a terrifying prospect. And yet, she realized, a little of Fenris had rubbed off on her. Namely, her charges tendency to rebel against death, a tendency that became stronger the more likely that outcome was. Fenris had become notorious in Terra Di for being unafraid to threaten anyone. Angelus, for her part, was not going to go without having her dignity restored. If Jimmy really was going to kill her she was at least going to set the record straight on his absolute lack of understanding of her. "You don't know me," She said, trying to sound angry but coming off more as petulant, "And you definitely don't know my situation. I didn't WANT to get everyone stuck with these stupid spirit tracers, I just didn't have an option. They weren't part of any deal I made, and if you really believe that I'd ASK for this stipulation, think for a second, what would I have to gain knowing where all of you are? I'm a transdimensional mythical program that exists across all of space and time at the same time, and I'm a telepath. If I wanted to find any of you I'd have tapped into your mind and followed the signal.And what could I possibly gain from selling you out? Money? Guardians don't even use it, so that would be pointless. The only thing Alex or Hayder got out of any deal with me was my service, and I got a trip home out of it. The spirit tracers were Alex's doing." She watched the blade carefully, tracing the blade with her eyes and trying to dance her words along it's flat, knowing that skillfully used words here could be as disarming as her arrows. "Secondly, just so you know, an imp acts out of MALICIOUS intent," She said, "Selfishness is more of a human trait than anything. I have been selfish, true, but a good deal of my actions were intended to help as many people as I could manage. My deal on the Ascension saved my charge from bleeding out in a cell. Tell me, if someone slit Abedah's throat and gave you an offer that could save her, wouldn't you take it?" She placed her hand on the blade's flat,watching as a trickle of gold slipped from her hand and onto down the flat before dripping onto Jimmy's hand. "And I'm helping Cassandra with her own problem," She said, "Which is pretty generous considering she decided to introduce herself by trying to kill me." She sighed, shaking her head and looking Jimmy in the eye, giving a slight frown. "Look, I've made a lot of mistakes, and I've hurt a lot of people," She said, "But I didn't mean to hurt anyone. I'd like the chance to redeem myself before you decide to viciously end my life by that blade. If nothing else I think you ought to get to know me." She laughed, pressing her hand to her mouth and getting a quick coppery taste of her own blood. She ignored it, more caught up in the realization that she didn't even know who the person currently lecturing her was. "It's funny," She said, "You're telling me that I betrayed you, but I don't even know your name. So before you put an end to me, how about we get some introductions out of the way." She tore a strip from the shoulder of her dress, quickly tying it around her bloodied hand before offering that hand to Jimmy. "Hi," She said, "I'm Angelus, and I am very, very sorry." ((OOC:To my memory Angelus and Jimmy have never met, so this feels like the right response. And for once...I like this.))
Eshu had never been so incapacitated. He couldn’t see anything and as consequence, it seemed his hearing was failing him. It was as if he was listening to the world through a conch shell, but that might have had something to do with his helmet being up.
In any case, he stumbled around, mummy-like, full of anger and highly annoyed. It wasn’t as if he had never lost a fight before, but no one had ever tried to blind him. It was a sissy move, as far as he was concerned, but that technically made him a sissy for falling for it.
“I didn’t steal anything,” he proclaimed with disgust, “At least today! And if I had stolen something, I’d be man enough to admit it.”
He had removed his golden armor, up to his neck at least, and was clawing at his eyes in disgust. “And you should know that a gentleman does not put goo of any kind on another man’s face.” A beat passed and he realized what he said, paused for a minute, and started to laugh. At first it started as a titter, but then he had to lean against the wall to steady himself as he slapped his own knee. His laugh was infectious because it was totally incongruent with his largeness. It wasn’t quite girlish, but was suspiciously like the way a hummingbird would laugh, rapid and low.
“You got me, I lost this one,” he said waving his hands in front of him dismissively. He wasn’t mad anymore, instead, he was in a good mood, having met his match. “Eshu, by the way,” he stuck his hand out to shake Kidd’s but he was facing the wrong direction. Though he was much larger than Kidd and probably could have sat on him and broken him, he made no posture to continue the fight. From what little he could hear, they were alone, and he had already lost what had come to get. He had no squabble with Kidd and there seemed no reason to waste his energy battling over nothing.
After getting his eyesight back and explaining to Kidd, not without warmth, that the next time he saw Kidd he would have his rematch, Eshu struck out for home empty handed.
He bit his fingernails pensively on the long bus ride home, blackened from hard work at the mine. From his back pocket he pulled out a battered paperback he was nearly done with. He read as the bus glided along quietly through the crowds. The porter sat inattentively at the door, becoming an automaton because of the lax nature of his work. All he had to do was shout the next stop, and really he needn’t do that. There was a signboard display along one of the sides that did as much. Since even the most idiotic people in Zion could read, he figured the shouter was there for visitors who could not read Zionese.
And how precious reading was. The book was good. Well bad, really. It was a murder mystery, but better written than most. There was drama, plot arcs that were unexpected, and most of the characters played against type. He was usually pretty good about figuring out how the killer was faster than the author could throw in tricks to deceive him. He had an innate way of knowing about people and felt fiction wasn’t that far from real life. Because really, what separated us from books? Certainly not language or experience. The separation was mental and perceived because fantasies were as much a part of life as realities and Eshu considered them inseparably intertwined.
But his intuition with people ran deep. That was how he knew that the only way to not be destroyed by Kidd in his precarious position in his temporary sightlessness was to concede the victory and any spoils. Further resistance, especially in a place as seedy as The Red Lantern District, might have brought out the man’s wild side.
He yawned and scratched his stomach, battered with hunger. He hadn’t eaten lunch or dinner and was annoyed that this was all to do with a fantasy he had about finding someone he had lost. That girl with the violet hair could not have been who he thought she was. And then how did he know that? She had been, hadn’t she?
He paused folding down the edge of the book. It was the last page. He hated finishing books. There was such finality there and he always wished that there could be more. Just like anything written, it is never done. There is always room for improvement, more drama, more writing, more sweating, more inadequacy and personal neurosis to be piled upon a page to tipping. But books had to be printed. And once the last page was written there would be that milky, blank page that promised nothing, and then a few lines about the author, and then the empty hardness of the cover.
Did he want to know the end of this book? If he read it, the illusion would end, the characters would vaporize and it would be over. He felt uneasy. No. He would return the book and never know what happened, he’d make it up a hundred times in his head alone, each time different.
The bus stopped at Sankara Plaza and he got off knowing that no buses were going to The Morani at this time of night. It should be closing soon and the only way he could get there before that time would be to walk a brisk three miles. His long strides cut through the night air and he hummed a song to himself. A strange sight, such a large man singing, but he had his reasons. He knew what he looked like and to keep women from crossing to the other side of the street at night he would sing strains of chamber music. No one could fear a man belting Drantier’s cello concerto in a clear bass, even if he did have twin picks in the belt around his waist. This adjustment was a self-conscious move. Being his usual rash self he has scared a woman away today. He wouldn’t be so foolish if he ever saw her again.
Eshu nodded to the library’s receptionist. She nodded back in turn.
“Finished it that fast? You checked it out this morning,” the receptionist wheezed in her scratchy baritone.
“I worked a half-day today.”
“You look like you’re in a good mood,” she said ironically.
He sighed. “I met a girl, but she got away from me,” he explained his melancholy.
“What’d she look like?”
“Violet hair, brown skinned, amber eyes.”
“Just like yours? I saw her here. Not an hour ago.” She saw his face open up then quickly shut as he tried to hide his rapture. “But we close in thirty minutes.”
“That’s more than enough time,” he said absently handing her the book.
“So who’s the murderer in this one?”
“No one,” he surmised. “I believe the victim faked her death.”
She was in the stacks, having been totally distracted the way she always is in a library. The books speak to her, tell her to read them and she obliges, sitting in the isle between thick shelves, her legs sprawled in front of her like a child, reading unabashed. She turned on her side and flipped to the middle of a book of runes, trying to match up the symbols she wore with the ones on the page. She had already found what she needed to direct them to Acel’s manor. Or more specifically, she had an address for him. But it might not be his home address; in any case it was closer than they were.
The reason she was not rushing was because Angelus had just at that moment stopped following her, and though she did not mind her company, she had not been able to make any excuse to enjoy such a beautiful place. She revered libraries the way some revered churches. They were cathedrals of thought and imagination, and she meant to be filled with the spirit of them.
She bit her nails absently, not hard enough to chip them, but just to nibble. She heard the clink of buckles behind her and turned to see a pair of loosely laced black boots, connected to denim trousers, a plaid shirt with overalls, and a black vest. What stood out the most, however, was the generous application of tattoos all the way from the man’s wrist bones to the base of his neck, touching his ears.
“Eshu,” she said self-consciously, realizing how she looked laying on her side, one arm draped over her hip, biting her finger. She sat up immediately.
“I found you,” he said in the absence of anything to say.
She was a gazelle. She had mounted up quickly and, like a stag charging across asphalt, she took off, startled, in the other direction. He bolted after her, a hunter in chase. She weaved her way through the books, not nearly as fast a runner as he was, but being the leader gave her the advantage of making no mistakes in her path. She was quite agile and more than once, had run straight for him on coming to a dead end and side stepped his grab. Patrons watched on as they ran their race, thinking them lovers teasing one another, for the man looked positively on top of the world and the woman, singularly determined to outfox him.
He decided he would push her into a corner she could not get out of and began to block her turns, unable to put hands on her. Soon she found herself lost in the Horror section, and at an appropriately eerie dead end. She faced him. He was taller and twice as wide as Hayder. He did not have his perfect proportions. He was top heavy, with boulder-like shoulders, a solid waist, and a runner’s lean legs.
She was shaking with rage. “What do you want from me?” What she was saying really, pleading actually was, what are you going to do to me.
“I don’t want anything. I will not hurt you,” he had a stupid smile on his face. He was so overjoyed, and a little winded, he had not recognized that his words probably meant nothing to her.
“Why are you following me?”
“I want to talk to you,” then seeing her blank stare added, “You remind me of someone, well I think you are someone.”
“Everyone,” she spat, “is someone.” She was impatient.
“Have you ever wondered what your tattoos do? Or why you are the way you are? Or what those symbols mean? I know the answers. I just have to know if you really are who I think you are.”
She softened, sagged even, like a kite in a lazy breeze. “Who do you think I am, then?”
They were sitting across from each other now, Indian style, each staring at the other between sips of coffee. There was no small talk between them because neither was good at it or had any patience for it. They quickly learned that they both liked to laugh and make poor jokes at the most inappropriate times. They even favored each other, to the extent that they were the two extremes of one idea. She was average sized, and shaped exactly like a woman, whereas he was the definition of manhood to the largest degree possible. They had the same eyes, under identically heavy brows, with curled lashes that were just as thick on the top as the bottom.
“I thought what they said was true,” he said holding the hot part of the mug, yet showing no sign he could feel it. “We were orphans, you know? Who could I ask to check? I had almost been convinced that you were dead.”
“I can’t explain to you enough how impossible—“
He said he understood. She was born in “America” and had no recollection of Zion, yet she spoke Zionese perfectly and the words she chose were too witty for them not to be her first. Jokes do not travel well over lingual barriers. There was also the matter of her hair and the obvious overload of magic that she was burdened with that only she could not see.
And she countered that she only wanted to escape this place. The trope of long lost family was overplayed, and she had no desire to make any additional friends here.
But they were not friends, he insisted. They were flesh and blood, and what was more, her explanation about her writer did not hold up. If she was being written by this “Sway” then the argument that she could not be from Zion was completely bunk.
“Why?” she had asked with the plain-faced incredulity of a demanding child.
“Because if Sway can write your current activities, and she can write your future activities, then why can’t she write your past? A new past? Because I do not care what you say, I know irrevocably that you are my sister and no other.”
“Irrevocably, that is a big word for a miner,” she said dodging the significance of his statement. She leaned back on her elbows and thought. Sway could do whatever she wanted, include create a new past, present, and future for her. She had done it herself, waited until the moment was right to flesh Sway out and done so, in degrees, and never with any consistency.
“Mining is my work. Reading and magic sustain me,” he said.
“Are you Hayder 2.0?”
He scuffed. “No. I’m not an arrogant twat like Acel’s kid; I’m just a simple man. But I’m not a dummy either. I know what I know.”
And it was then that he showed her, using her own hand to point, the different tattoos hidden the designs on her arms. He described the bubbles hidden behind one of her ears. It was so she could breathe underwater if she had to, or entertain children, if it came to that.
He could draw the tattoos out of her skin better than she could. He had drawn the feather off of her wrist, it was Sway’s Lox explained. She would not let him call her Pharia. He tried to tell her how her name wasn’t Lox, as she was not the child of either of the Lox’s, but she quickly lost patience. It was what was written on the message she had to deliver, but even as she explained it she realized how arbitrary that was.
She was growing frustrated because she was coming to the truth of things.
He asked her to show him what she could do, since there was so much she couldn’t and he was not rude enough to point that out. She pulled a live snake from her skin and put it back again. On the other side, she had a sword, she explained, but it was impossible to pull out. She had asked him if he could.
“No,” he said. “That is a very special sword, a sickle sword, and your native weapon. You can only use it out when you need it, and never at any other time.”
“How very Bastian Bux of Sway. I can’t fight with a sword.”
“You’re an expert with your native weapon. When you get it in your hands, the power,” his eyes were glowing. “It’s incredible.”
“What about the wings on my back?”
“Jump from somewhere high and find out.”
They talked at length about many things until, abruptly, he grabbed her wrists while she was speaking. “You’re alive,” he said emphatically, his stare would have been unnerving if it weren’t so earnest.
She would break the awkwardness of it, but his statement sounded like a question. And she let him hold her hands for a moment, and for some reasons, she could not feel strange around him any longer. “Yes, we are.”
"Attention, patrons, the library will be closing in ten minutes, please make your final selections and make your way to the checkout desk."
“I guess that means we must part.”
“No,” he said. “Not again. I want to help you with your mission.”
“It’s really Angelus’s mission,” she said. “I just want Hayder back.”
He looked disgusted. “Acel’s brat is a low-life loser. Why would you take up with him?”
Her face hardened, “This is coming from the guy who pays for his alleged sister’s prostitute.”
A girl flew past them like a ghost. “Cassandra,” Lox breathed.
“So that’s Cassandra,” he said only missing her tackle by the slightest degree. “You have some strange friends. The Morani is about to close and she’s exiting through the roof.”
Lox had up until that point thought it would be a good idea to follow Cassandra, but upon hearing that changed her mind.
“So why is this place called the Morani? Isn’t that the evil god who was defeated by the goddess Nyx?”
He nodded. “The same. So you know the legend?”
“I wrote it.”
“Don’t be sacrilegious.”
“But I did,” she insisted. “I’ll tell you what happened and you tell me if I’m wrong.”
So she told the story of the creation of Pamuya. She shortened it.
“The creation story.
In the beginning there was everything. Too much of everything, to the point that the universe was completely and totally crowded. There was so much stuff that the sun, moons, and stars constantly crashed into each other. Planets, as we all know, are sentient beings, far more intelligent than people but unaware of the feelings of human beings in the same way humans cannot comprehend the feelings of a proton.
The planets spread out and in their solitude they were quickly very lonely. They created people of all stripes and varieties to inhabit them, not knowing what they were doing, really, and after their creation generally abandoning them to do good or evil.
At that time there was a being known as Morani who was celestial but no planet. He was an impossibly powerful and incredibly alone. As a result Morani was a cold god, ice cold. Colder than winterwhite and blacker than the Universe itself. He was blueblack, like a person frozen underground. He was solid, bold and fearless. Mischief coursed through his veins. His teeth were blinding and were only seen when bared; never knowing what it was to smile. He carried a spear in one hand. He was as young looking and handsome as a prowling lion, which was fitting because he had a mane of flaming hair.
“I thought you said it would be short,” Eshu said. “I will say you’re accurate thus far.”
Lox rolled her eyes.
“What Morani did not know, was that there was a goddess in the universe, far weaker and much more powerful than he. Her name was Nyx.”
“I bet you’ll mess this part up,” Eshu said, arms crossed.
“Nyx was red hot. It would burn your eyelashes to gaze at her. Beautiful, passionate, magnanimous, a wit. She was the most intelligent being to ever exist and that was her true strength. She was like sweet chocolate, her skin was smooth and like peering into dark glass. She had the power to manipulate any element or object. Her creativity was limitless. She was a queen crowned in moonlight and—“
“her laugh was rolling thunder,” Eshu said as if reciting a verse of scripture. “Next you will explain that all that was necessary so that you could get at the root of the problem.”
“Yes, the crux of the story. Morani loved the divisions between people. His heart warmed as brother fought brother and sister battled sister. He thrived off of it and reigned for million of years. Because people were so frustrated they created their own beings to worship and praise because they wanted someone to love again. The planets had given up on them and themselves. They quietly began to close, being destroyed by their creations or the gods their creations created.
“It was then that the Universe realized that it was imbalanced. It set a chain of events in motion to reorganize itself. That day, or century, or millennia, Morani heard something he had never heard before.”
“Singing,” Eshu cut in. “From the bottom of the deepest sea of Tartarus, the oceanic planet.”
“Right. Morani was drawn by this mysterious sound and when he found her there, cradled at the bottom of the ocean, he was transformed. He had never seen a woman before, nor anything as beautiful as Nyx, and he realized immediately that she was much kinder and more intelligent than he could ever hope to be. She told him she was Nyx, born out of chaos to restore order. He saw, in an instant, that there was little he could do to stop her. He decided to destroy her on the spot. But though his name was Morani, which means warrior, he could not kill Nyx. She told him that she would have limitless mercy for him, for that is what her name meant.”
“She hit him with the old okey-doke,” Eshu laughed. “Women are crafty like that. Morani was messed up for centuries, trying to understand why she had said she would grant him mercy after he had tried to kill her.” Eshu was enjoying this despite himself.
“Yes, and in the meantime Nyx got to work. She created her own race. The Pamuyans. They were evolved birds, with long wings and lives, dedicated to the restoration of order.”
“You didn’t explain how she made them immortal though,” Eshu wagged his finger.
“Nyx and Morani met again. Morani challenged Nyx and lost when she pierced his heart with an arrow, splitting his soul in two. She told him he could only live as long as greed, hate, and vanity lived. With his split soul and the ash from her wings she made the Pamuyans saying, ‘Do no harm to anyone but love without reserve.’”
Eshu was smiling. “Yeah. Then Morani, angry, had taken the paradise of Pamuya and turned it into a dessert to punish Nyx.”
“But it didn’t work. The Pamuyans evolved from being birds and became people that walked the earth. He had made them infinitely more useful. The walked the Worlds restoring the balance of good and evil.”
“But the drama between Morani and Nyx was not done,” said Eshu. “He got even angrier seeing her creations excelling. And when he tried to kill them, they would just be reborn to serve Nyx again. But that was the thing—“
“He could never find Nyx,” Lox finished. “He searched but could not find her. At first he believed that she was dead and was joyous, but the more he thought on this the sadder he became.”
“Then he went batshit,” Eshu said. “He got more and more obsessed with the idea that she was dead. He thought she was playing a joke on him, but he knew that wasn’t it. He feared she had died so much that he destroyed everything he could touch to catch her attention. Nothing would relieve his pain.
Lox did not interrupt Eshu. He went on. “Then he had a dream about her. When he woke up one of her feathers was draped over her eyes and he tied it to the end of his spear, unsure of what to do. He remembered her smile. The next day he visited Pamuya, the same way he did everyday. He prayed she would be there.”
“And she was,” Lox said. “He decided that he should give her a present back.”
“She was pleased to see him and this shocked him,” said Eshu. “He thought she hated him, but then Morani couldn’t understand the concept of mercy.”
“He asked her if the feather was hers, but she gave him a cryptic answer. He had a gift for her, a diamond that he had dug from a planet of gems. It was a diamond in the rough, like him, valuable and unaware of its potential. It as gorgeous but Nyx wasn’t sure if she should take it.”
Eshu cut in, “She refuses and he’s hurt. He asks what he must do for her to take it and she says—“
“Give me your spear.”
Eshu laughed. “Then he got her good. He said, ‘If this is your feather, then it is your spear.’ And what does Nyx do? She bails. Girls are nuts.” Lox laughed. Eshu continued, “So Morani comes to Illusionia, devastated.
“Wait,” Lox said. “That doesn’t happen. After Nyx thinks about how much she and Morani have in common, they fall in love, Morani promises that he will always protect Nyx and they form the Nation of Pamuya, their offspring becoming what we now know to be Pamuyans.”
“No,” said Eshu satisified. “You don’t know the story after all.”
“I wrote it, I should know,” Lox insisted.
“Then you should know that that isn’t what happens. Morani finds the place of the most learned people and encourages their learning, compiling the largest library that there has ever been. He read each book, doing whatever he could to be as smart as Nyx. He still reads here, every day, trying his hardest to win her heart but he can never solve her riddles. Nyx knows that as long as Morani tries to win her, the Worlds will know peace, and so she denies her own happy life with Morani so that mankind can know love.”
“Wow,” said Lox at length. “That is a better ending than I had.”
“You really aren’t from around here, are you?” Eshu smiled.
Jerenon took a minute to admire the town. It was small; the kind of town where everybody knew everybody. There was only one of each type of store, and most of the people running them had been doing it for several generations. Illinton had one market, one inn which also served as the pub, and one blacksmith. There was an old mill that still functioned and a baker as well. Generally, the people of Illinton still lived the way their fathers had, and they way their fathers had before them.
All except for one very special young boy.
The home at the end of town belonged to the blacksmith. It was two stories, a rarity in these parts of town. In fact along with the inn it was the only building above one story Jerenon had seen since he left the Academy. It was the blacksmith’s son that had led him to this small town.
Jerenon walked up the dirt path, running his hands along the wooden railing of the steps up to the front door, taking note that they were almost impossibly smooth. The door he noted was cast iron. He knocked on the door several times; the sound was like that of a bell being struck. Before long the door was answered by a large man. The correct term to describe him would be thick. He had a spotty orange beard, and wore his hair cropped short. He was blackened by what was probably soot over most of his clothes; a simple shirt and pair of trousers covered by a well worn apron. He was easily six foot five.
“How can ah do ya for?” he gruffed.
This man is a Viking.
“My name is Jerenon. I wonder if I might speak with you for a minute. You and your son.”
He rubbed his beard thoughtfully and nodded. “Aye. Ah figured word would make it way ta the big city. “Name’s Cantrus. Boy’s in the back.”
Jerenon followed the man through the house. It was spartan as far as comforts were concerned. Aside from the long table and the two chairs tucked under it much of the house was cluttered with books and tools and half finished pieces of wood and metal projects. He couldn’t help but notice the scorch marks on the walls.
“Was there a fire recently?” Jerenon asked.
Cantrus stopped and looked about his house, like he was noticing the scorch marks for the first time. “Ah…ya might say that I guess.” He continued on to the back of his home, until they came to another iron door. This one had wood grain on it. Cantrus noticed Jerenon’s cocked head and raised eyebrows. “Heh. He did tha affer we blew out four doors in a month.”
“Ya can say that again. Saves me a load a money heating the forge. Good hands to boot. He gets tha from his mother a course.”
Cantrus opened the door. Jerenon whistled.
Cantrus wasn’t only the small town’s blacksmith. He had a hand in everything; everything that required fixing anyways. His workshop was a field of tables and chairs and dressers and shelves. Stoves and furnaces were stashed away in various states of use. Wires hung from the rafters and on the back wall hung more tools than Jerenon had ever seen. He couldn’t name half of them. In the back by the wall of tools, hunched over a counter was a boy, who couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven seasons old.
“Regus!” Cantrus called.
The boy looked up from his project. He looked his age. Fair brown hair and a pale face covered in freckles. He was lean and had a kindly look about him. He smiled. “I finished him dad!”
“No explosions this time?” he asked.
“Not one! He flies great too. Bubo!”
“Bubo?” asked Jerenon.
“Aye Bubo.” said Cantrus.
Regus’ eyes lit up, and looked at the ceiling behind Jerenon and Cantrus. They turned as well, and Jerenon saw something speed past him he had never seen before, which was something of an event for him. He’d seen quite a bit in his thirty odd years. A flying…thing…whizzed past him in a series of clicks and clacks. It wheeled around the room several times before Jerenon realized it was an owl. A mechanical owl at that. On its fifth or sixth round it crashed into a ceiling beam and tumbled into a pile of spare parts, tweeting dizzily.
“Well, he flies ok.” Regus said sheepishly.
“Ah it’s ok son. That was the best test run ah’ve seen yet. You’ll get it.” said Cantrus.
Regus smiled a little, even though he was still staring intently at the ground blushing. “Thanks dad.”
“That was really something. Really really something.” said Jerenon.
“He’ll work one day. As soon as I get my magic under control. He’ll work.”
“Hmm…you know I might be able to help you with that.” said Jerenon. Come take a walk with me. I’d like to tell you a story.”
Regus looked to his father for confirmation. Cantrus nodded and said, “Out the back with ya. I’ll fish Bubo outta the scraps.” A minute later Cantrus was watching Jerenon lead his son over a hill past their testing grounds. “Listen to em son. Learn well.”
Jerenon walked quietly with Regus, letting him lead the way. It was a beautiful country they were in, and a pleasant change from the urban sprawl that was springing up around the Academy. And when left to their own silences, he found, people were more likely to start a conversation on their own. It wasn’t long before his theory was proven right.
“He was flying better earlier you know. I promise.” Regus said without looking up from his trail.
“I believe you. He was quite impressive. I’ve known students who studied for years and can’t levitate an object a foot off of a table. What you did was remarkable, especially without any training.”
“My dad taught me everything I know. I mean, I learned some stuff on my own. But I wouldn’t have if he hadn’t taught me the other stuff.”
“The way I hear it you’re the only one in the family with a hint of magic in you son.”
Regus kept walking, accepting the fact because he was young, and nobody had told him just how rare and wonderful a gift he had. “I can’t do much useful with that. I can stoke the forge with my bare hands, and every once in a while…” he trailed off.
“You start fires.” Jerenon said calmly.
“It ain’t my fault!” Regus said. “Sometimes my hands start to itch. Then they get really hot. Then they just burst into flames. It’s weird though. It doesn’t hurt like the fires my dad makes.”
“But it burns wood just the same I see.”
“I fixed most of it.” He wore a guilty smile.
“And you made the owl. That’s not nothing.”
“He isn’t special though, like the fire.” said Regus.
Now Jerenon stopped. “You mean to tell me that thing is all mechanical? You didn’t use any other power to help you make it?” he said incredulously.
“No. He’s all clockwork. Just like my dad showed me.”
“Fascinating.” He rubbed his chin, and not for the first time wondered how it had taken so long for the Academy to find this boy. “What if I told you Regus, that you could make Bobo-“
“Bubo.” he corrected.
“Bubo fly. And all it would take was a few words, and a few hours worth of energy.”
Regus looked at Jerenon like he had grown a second head. “How?” he asked.
“With magic.” Jerenon whispered a few words to a nearby tree. Suddenly the wind picked up, and the breeze pulled at the outstretched branches of the sapling. Leaves fell from the tree and started to twirl in the wind. Jerenon uttered a few more words Regus didn’t understand and the wind stopped. The leaves however continued to swirl around on a current, though Regus couldn’t feel it. For the second time in as many minutes all Regus could say was, “How?”
“A levitation spell. I’m a little bit more tired than I was a few seconds ago, but something this small barely elicits a yawn from me anymore.” sure enough a small yawn escaped Jerenon’s lips. “I’m sure after using your magic Regus, you feel tired afterward, like you had just lit the fire by hand, or had half lit it anyways. Magic will do some of the work for you. Most of it if you’re trained.”
“My arms get sore after I start a fire.” Regus suggested. He was still staring at the leaves, poking at them experimentally, like he expected them to shatter if he touched them.
“Regus, what you can do, start fires and whatnot. I’m sure you know not everybody can do it.”
“Dad can’t.” he said, making the connection.
“Almost nobody can Regus. There are millions of people in this world, and as far as we know only a few hundred people can do what we do. There’s a place for people like us. Where we can learn from each other, and where we can be around people who keep magic safe. You can learn incredible things from us Regus. If you really want to.”
“I would have to leave wouldn’t I?” Regus asked.
“You would. You would come with me and not see home again for a long time. But when you came back, if you wanted to, you would be able to do so many things to make people’s lives, including your father’s, better. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to use magic. But what’s even better is to give the gift to others, to help people.”
“Do I have to decide now?”
“I don’t think so.” Jerenon said. “It’s nice here. I don’t get to see open fields like this enough. Let’s walk a little longer and you can think. Why don’t you tell me about the first time you used magic.”
Regus started walking again and began his story. “Well, I was outside bringing wood home…”
The sweeping, swooshing sounds of abandonment loitered heavily amid the forgotten characters. Fiery scales of the writer’s words licked the frozen atmosphere, resurrecting the lost souls like a beacon to an unguided individual. Unfortunately, a torrent of unexpected events held the writer captive in its realm without the ability to write. The characters asked why? The answer to such question may certainly hold significance throughout their journey. So now, let this writer return its readers to the scene where she left off.
A wrought iron carriage with its black, draping curtains rattled along the pavement, passing by the poor and rich towns of the Eastlands. The Eastlands was one of the biggest lands in all of Illusionia, governed by three ruling kingdoms of the North, East, and West. The N.E.W Kingdoms of the Eastlands, or so they were called by the inhabitants, were ruled by the dueling three. They were a proud bunch, and to their dismay they were siblings. Minamoto, the eldest brother, Masahiro, the youngest, and Magdalena, the only girl.
Sitting in the lavish carriage canopied by the dark shades was Magdalena, accompanied by her servant, Nohaym. She had not seen her brothers in almost six months, and without an atom’s weight of hesitation and all the frankness in the world, she would say she was definitely not pleased. They were constantly competing with one another, and since Magdalena was the only girl, it always seemed a bit one sided. And with the universe conspiring against her gender, she had to go out and have Tao.
As they arrived at Minamoto’s Grand Gate, Magdalena began smoothing out her emerald green gown with her sweaty palms, and adjusting her black wrap on her shoulders.
“Nohaym, remember to serve all of them as you serve me…even better,” she explained, fixing the unruly strands in her hair.
Nohaym nodded obediently.
“And do not say anything, just work. It ticks Hiro off when servants meddle in the affairs of ours.”
“Very well,” Nohaym responded, as he climbed out of the carriage, and submissively took her hand into his.
He guided Magdalena from the carriage and into the warm rays of the afternoon sun.
“Well if it isn’t my little sister, Maggie.” __________________________________________________________________________________________________
A savage anger welled up inside of him as he woke to the emptiness of his dresser. The letter, it had been taken, stolen even, and Tao was unwavering in the belief that his callous mother was behind this act. How could I have slept through it?
He quickly tore from his bed sheets, and began rummaging through his belongings just in case it was carried off by the wind. He pulled out draws, overturned the Oriental rug, and searched beneath the furniture. Nothing.
Grabbing his robe, Tao violently opened the door, breaking the handle, and stamped out into the hall.
Jimmy had had no intention of actually hurting Angelus, but he was not at all happy about running into anyone from that damnable pirate ship again; and this one in particular had made him abort his plans. From time to time on his journeys, he would meet a companion, spend a season, and they would part ways. Something about Abedah made him feel that this time was different. Jimmy believed that a person made their own fate; and yet, there was no way he could have planned, much less predicted, the series of events that had brought him here.
His last venture in Zion had been about three years prior. From there, he had gotten work on a freighter going to the northern rough. He'd been told it was a land of barbarians, but when he had gotten there, he found the friendliest of folk. By Zion standards, they might have been considered uncivilized, but many were farmers and appreciated his skill on any kind of engine. He learned quite a few new skills of his own while there, the most significant being the use of a blade. He was still becoming a man, and many of the town's men took sport over both his naivety and his inability to hold his liquor. In the months there, both things changed; but he was still young and still impulsive.
When the Ascension dropped, somewhat heavily, from the sky just outside of town, the captain asked around for an engineer and finally came to Jimmy. "Our last, it seems, is no longer in our employ," the captain explained. After learning some of his background, he offered the lad a job. Not yet realizing what kind of ship he was going to be working, he relished the chance for a new adventure.
Being in the belly of the ship kept him insulated from most of the violence that comes from the crew of a pirate ship; but he quickly gained the wisdom his earlier adventures and youth had failed to teach him. Before heading out to Limbo, Jimmy had made it clear to the captain that their next port of call would be his last. Alex had no reason to hold any hard feelings and thanked him for his time of service. And then, just as he was ready to go, Angelus happened.
"You don't know me," She said. He didn't need to, he only needed to know what she had done. But as she explained her situation, he thought about what he would do if someone were threatening Abedah in the same way Fenris had been threatened. He had to admit to himself he would probably do the same.
"It's funny," She said, "You're telling me that I betrayed you, but I don't even know your name. So before you put an end to me, how about we get some introductions out of the way. Hi," She said, "I'm Angelus, and I am very, very sorry."
Jimmy put his sword away. "Angelus, I'm Momoji." It was time for a name change, and one close to an old legend seemed appropriate. He shook her bandaged hand. "Has anybody ever told you it's not a good idea to grab a blade barehanded?" he kidded. Abedah came around and stood next to Momoji. "What is Cassandra's problem?" she asked, recalling that the girl who had bolted out of the library was called Cassandra.
There was a tense moment where Angelus thought that she really was going to die after all. That her cries had fallen on deaf ears, and that the young man opposite her hadn't cared about a single thing she'd said. Then, to her astonishment, he put his sword away. "Angelus, I'm Momoji," He said, taking her bloodied hand and shaking it. The name didn't seem right to her for some reason, but she didn't care. The names humans gave each other often seemed off to her, and there was no point in questioning something as silly as a name. She was just glad that he wasn't pointing a sword at her anymore. "Has anybody ever told you it's not a good idea to grab a blade barehanded?" He joked, and she blushed, giving an awkward smile. "Esse may have mentioned it once or twice," She said, "But, y'know, better to stop it with my hand then my neck." She made a quick mental note to pick up a physical weapon while in Zion. She wasn't going to be able to fight with her native powers anymore, so she would need some way to defend herself. A bow seemed like a natural choice, but it would take her a while to learn how to use it properly, since the mechanics were different from a plasma bow, and it would be next to useless at close range. Complimenting it with a short sword would probably be smart. That didn't matter right now though, what mattered was the sharp faced boy standing across from her, and his companion. He seemed like a good fit for Abedah, there was an intelligence in his eyes that seemed similar to hers, and also a sense of jadedness. He was not a pirate, and it was clear to Angelus that his biggest problem with her was that she had made it impossible for him to give up his current line of work. Or, at least, she had made it impossible for him to do so without leaving the person waiting at his side. Angelus was about to apologize to Abedah again when the other woman spoke. "What is Cassandra's problem?" She asked. The angel frowned, trying to think of a quick way to explain this. The less time spent dawdling around a closing library the better, especially since Cassandra was now running somewhere on her own. If her enemies were all as powerful as the assassin that meant that the alchemist was in a great deal of danger. "Well," The Angel said, considering each word as she spoke, "Basically her best friend and his band of powerful magician misfits are trying to resurrect a corrupted guardian and overthrow the government. Cassandra doesn't like this because she thinks that magic is bad for Zion...which isn't necessarily true, but that's a really complex ethical discussion that would bog down the story, so we'll get to that later. The reason I'm helping her is that I don't want to see the guardian in question revived because she's crazy. And she tried to kill me. And she's a smug, pompous, show-offy, wouldn't-know-modesty-if-it-bit-her-in-the-wings..." She stopped, realizing she was saying too much. "Okay, short version is, she's bad news," She said, "And if she comes back we're all in trouble." She wondered what Momoji and Abedah would make of this story. She didn't expect them to help her, and she'd done enough to them already. Asking for their help seemed like it would just be rude at this point. Still, she could use all the help she could get. *** It had been a long time since she'd been to the house atop the hill. As Cassandra walked, she glanced up at it, seeing it dark, little more than a silhouette outlined against the moon. In her mind she could still see its light, shining brightly down at her as she walked, half starved with her father down the streets of Zion. The world hadn't seemed friendly then, but it seemed much brighter. Magic had still been rampant on the streets, and as a child she remembered being dazzled by it. What a fool she'd been. She reached into her jacket pocket absentmindedly, as if expecting to find her key to that old house still waiting there. She almost forgot how to breathe when she found that it was. She pulled it from her pocket, examining it in the moonlight, watching the white bounce off of its gold surface. There was still something comforting about the key, despite the awful memories that went with the place it unlocked. Even now it seemed like a promise that, no matter what, she would always have a home in Zion. The only difference was that now it was a home she didn't want. Still, looking at it now, and remembering the words of her old friend, she knew that she had to return to that house again. For a moment, she hesitated, thinking that perhaps she should head home first. Then she wandered towards the nearest trolley that would take her to the outskirts of town,knowing that it was her real home, her first home, that she needed to worry about first.
Many years later an incident such as this might have Arael laughing with his friends around a fire. It might make him look back on all the years he had spent protecting the weak and disenfranchised. It might even make him wonder why he had needed to be a Sentinel to do it at all. But right at this very moment, all the interloper was doing was ****ing him off.
“Let them go.” said the voice attached to the arm on his shoulder.
Right. Because obviously I’m killing her boyfriend and taking her as a prize.
“Listen. You may be a little late to the party and that’s forgivable. But if you hadn’t noticed, I’m not the one with my pants halfway down.” he said, gesturing with his sword toward his captives nether regions. “So if you’ll excuse me I have some scum to remove from the earth.” He would have said that, but he only got halfway through remove before the offender in his grasp took advantage of the situation. He slammed a heel into Arael’s foot, causing him to lose focus and rammed the back of his head into Arael’s face.
For the love of Nyx.
He was bloodied and blurry, and probably had a broken bone or two in his foot, but he had been in worse scrapes, and he could still see his attacker trying to make his way from the alley. He made a grab at his shirt and threw the man into the wall. He wished it had been harder, but having blood on ones hands and a raging headache does not make for the greatest circumstances when fighting. As it was, instead of killing the low life he had only managed to introduce his face to the brick and mortar. He slumped down in a pile, still breathing. He would have one hell of a headache the when he woke up.
Wiping the blood from his nose, probably broken, he took a seat next to his victim and stared up at the interloper for the first time.
“Somehow Kyle, I didn’t get the feeling we’d be spending much time together. Or is it Alex now? I’m not really familiar with the etiquette of going pirate and all. Is there a dress code and a form? Or do you really just abandon any sense of worth and responsibility you’ve ever had and flip off the world?” The man next to him began to stir; apparently he had a thicker skull than Arael gave him credit for. He took the liberty of slamming his head into the wall one more time for good measure. He slumped again, babbling about his mother’s cookies. “Because if it’s that second option, I’ve gotta say you’ve done a bang-up job thus far.”
Ignoring Alex, Kyle, whatever for the moment Arael turned back toward the girl, and ripped the sleeve from his stolen tunic. It was the second one of the night actually, Regus having ruined the first. “He won’t hurt you now. I doubt he’ll even remember he tried in the morning. Just try to take the long way home from now on. I’m sure it’s worth the extra time.” She nodded to him but still sat in the corner, staring at the man he had wrecked. It was a good bet she was in some shock.
She’ll be fine. Probably.
Arael stuffed some fabric up one of his nostrils to staunch the flow of blood and stood up, favoring his left foot now. Slowly, he began to limp past Kyle – now – Alex. “Nice chatting with you old friend. I’m sure there’s some rum somewhere around this hell hole. Or is it grog you fellas drink? I could never understand that. Anyway, nice running into you again.” He kept hobbling onward, idling wondering where he could score some free medical care and perhaps a bed for the night.
There was a long pause where no one said anything, and Angelus found herself hovering awkwardly, unsure of how to proceed. She knew that she had to leave to help Cassandra, but she didn't know whether she should wait for Momoji and Abedah to follow or just assume that they weren't going to help. Either way, she wanted to get back to Cassandra's and see what was going on.
"So... " she said, hoping someone would take control of the conversation from her, "I'm... um... going to go to Cassandra's now. If, you wanna', y'know, follow, that's cool and stuff." With that she floated awkwardly from the library, which was, according to the loudspeaker, closing in five minutes.
She sighed, hoping that wherever the others were things were going more smoothly for them. *** Cassandra could feel her heart pounding in her chest as she climbed the hill, the unkempt grass scratching her ankles, dust raising from the remnants of the old dirt path. Her heart was screaming at her, telling her to leave, to go home.
But, she told herself, this really was home. It had been her home for most of her life, and as much as she hated the place, she couldn't deny where she'd come from. If there was ever a place where she truly felt she belonged, it was here.
That didn't make things easier.
Because as she climbed the memories came back to her. Memories of hot summer days spent running along the hillside, playing a thousand silly games with Ramus. Warm July nights spent watching him try to create fire with magic, only to get sparks. Memories of her father, smiling down at her as she tried to catch fireflies. And memories of watching her father race from the house, caught in a magical blaze that extinguished his life. It was amazing to her how this place could bring equal parts comfort and pain. She supposed that was how a home was supposed to be. Either way, she found the experience unnerving.
Eventually she reached the summit of the hill, and drew the key from her pocket. She hesitated for a moment, holding the key in shaking hand and staring at the door, the moon turning it's reflective golden surface almost perfectly white. Did she really want to do this? Did she really want to open herself up to the pain that waited inside? So what if Ramus brought back Gadriel, she could just leave Zion, flee to somewhere else and start a new life.
She shook her head at the thought. She knew that this wasn't an option. Zion was her home, and while she had always planned to travel extensively, it would always be the most important place in the world to her. Zion was a part of herself, and as such it's struggles were her struggles. Accepting that, she placed the key in the lock, and forced open the door.
Dust rose as she entered, but as it settled a wave of nostalgia filled her. She still knew the layout of the house perfectly, and as she stepped inside she felt like she was stepping back into her childhood. At this hour of the night she even knew where everyone would be. She would be upstairs with Ramus, the two of them sitting around, whispering in the central hall of the second floor. They were, of course, supposed to be asleep at this hour, but neither of them had ever been able to stay in their rooms long enough to get to sleep at a decent hour. Her father would be in the main room, reading, a late night habit that he later passed to his daughter, and Shada would be at his desk.
Her eyes widened at the thought, and she realized that if there was anything that would help her find the location of the catacombs it would likely be there. After all, Shada knew every important magical location in Zion, and he had spoken of the Catacombs often, usually with some sense of distaste. Cassandra had always gotten the impression that there was something about them that bothered him, and she had always wondered why he had run to them during his last stand if he despised them so much.
She walked slowly to the desk, sliding a long unused chair from it and sitting down. A variety of yellowed scrolls rested atop the desk, and she quickly glanced over each, seeing that they wouldn't do her any good. Slowly she began to open the drawers of the desk, finding more scrolls, and she spent a great deal of time looking over them. Most were simply notes written by Shada, accounts of his journeys, large sketches of various creatures, descriptions of spells, or of magical artifacts. Cassandra was amazed at how clearly she could remember him as she read through the documents,and how she could actually hear his voice. He had left comments on almost all of the materials, often funny anecdotes, or interesting asides, and as she read she found herself smiling as she remembered the man who used to thrill her with stories of other realms, and of masterful magicians battling giant monsters. She remembered the man who had used magic to do everything from treating her illnesses to entertaining her with fantastic displays. She remembered the man who had been like a grandfather to her, and in whom she felt she could confide anything.
She quickly swept the memories and smile away, reminding herself that he was also the man that had killed her father,and that he had shown his true colors in his last few hours. That idea comforted her, but not as much as normal. Because she was starting to think that maybe it wasn't true.
Still, for all of the questions her search raised, it had produced no answers. As she placed the last scroll back into the central drawer she sighed, leaning back on the desk, trying to think of where else she might find clues to where Ramus might be.
As she stepped back, she noticed that one of the drawers had popped back open.
She raised an eyebrow, confused, and pressed the drawer back into the desk. At first something seemed to resist, and then there was a quiet 'click', and the drawer returned to it's place.
At first Cassandra made nothing of it, and had started to leave, when she realized the implication of that innocent little sound. She turned back, found the drawer in question, and opened it again. It appeared to be the same plain wooden drawer she had left just moments before. But as she reached into it, she found that the back panel seemed to be loose, and that it seemed to be made of a different wood from the rest of the desk. She pressed it backwards, and to her surprise the back fell open, revealing a small compartment.
Inside the compartment was a small book, with a faded black leather cover. She pulled it free, and saw that on it's spine the words 'Shada's Journal' were written in elegant gold script. There was a page hanging loose from the journal, and as Cassandra rose to her feet she found herself pulling it free, looking for a moon drenched place to sit and read the page. She found the spot almost subconsciously, it was the large red armchair where Shada used to sit and tell Ramus and her stories. She sat down, and slowly she began to read.
On the torn page she found this passage:
1.3-I look forward to tomorrow more than I have looked forward to anything in a long time. I have enjoyed traveling between the realms I must admit, but tomorrow I return home,and it has been far too long since I've seen my native land. My first stop will be the Academy, since I know that Perewell will be finishing his studies soon, and I feel like seeing how my old student is doing. He was always a clever kid, and hopefully he's found some of his confidence since we last met. I've heard some say that the Academy has changed for the worst, and whispers that the old masters have fallen, but I'm sure this is the kind of rumor that only the bored and weakminded perpetuate. It's probably just a story made up by a frustrated student annoyed with some minor change. I can see the light from the city from here. I've missed it so much.
1.6-I was wrong. I was so, so wrong. Perewell is dead, as are all of the old masters. I fear that magic as it is meant to be is dead here as well. These new masters are nothing but ambitious, cowardly men who seek nothing but to gain power so they can subject others to their will. They withhold the secrets of magic from those willing to learn, and instead allow only the most wicked and power-thirsty to study. This isn't how it's meant to be. Magic is supposed to be used to enhance the lives of others, not oppress them. Magicians are meant to be nothing more than servants to the common man, using their abilities to help advance society as a whole. These students have a different goal though, to create a world where the magical elite rule over the common people with an iron fist. They view people without powers as below them, and they view those unwilling to take power as weak. I tried to show them the error of their ways, and in return found myself trapped here, in their latest addition to this once proud institute, something that the more cynical students have nicknamed "The Catacombs". In reality it's the old storerooms(the one's Harribo and I used to sneak into to practice our more...risky spells), with just a few chains added. This would be nothing to me were it not for the fact that the chains drain the person held within them of their magical power. I feel so tired now. So very, very tired. I must find a way to escape. First, though, I really ought to sleep.
1.14-Samet, should you ever read this I want you to know that you are the most wonderful son there ever was. Somehow he managed to sneak into the academy unnoticed, and found me, having heard that I had been imprisoned by a bastard of a wizard in town. Earlier tonight he slid in and set me free, and though we had to fight our way out, I doubt that the bastards at the academy will try to recapture me. I killed one of their most powerful wizards on my way out with the Salamander spell(A classic, but effective, I must say), and I'm fairly certain if I don't try to draw a fight they'll leave me to my own affairs out of fear. It is wonderful to be home, and I feel ashamed for having been gone for so long. I was so caught up by the wonders of the various realms that I neglected the wonders that were waiting for me in my own household. Asha is pregnant, and nearly due, and I feel lucky that I have returned in time to see the birth of my first grandchild. I have a wonderful family, and I shouldn't have left them alone for so long. Samet has suggested that after the child's birth we should move from Zion, but I don't think we should. I think we should try to teach the people how magic ought to be used. I think we need to prove that our talents are not always used for evil. It's time to show the people of Zion the wonder of the world again. The best way to fight darkness is to become a shining light.
1.16-There are whispers of a magical army being raised to fight the new masters of the Academy. I think I may join it.
2.24-The Academy has fallen, and I think it has closed it's walls for good this time. I won't talk about the details here, they are too vivid...and too disturbing...for me to want to recall them. I will say that I am proud to have sealed off those wretched catacombs forever. I used the elemental key spell to lock them, and while I never plan to open them again I shall leave clues to my fellow alumni in case there is something of value waiting below the Academy that we need to reclaim. To anyone reading, if you gather the keys you need not worry about returning them to their hiding spots when you are done. The spell will automatically return them when you leave. Having always loved riddles, I shall leave their locations as such. A clever Academy student should have no trouble figuring out my feeble attempts at a brain teaser. They locations are as follows: The First key may be found where flames of justice and passion consume, and sometimes condemn men to doom. The second will be found where man intrudes upon the deep, looking for the benefits time does reap. The third,where the winds of time hold aloft our pride, and where our magic has gone to hide. The fourth,where all things begin, and all things end. And the fifth and final key will be found where some enter, and others leave, and all may go wherever they please. I hope you never have to open that wretched dungeon. But if you do, I wish you only the best of luck. You will need it.
As she shut the book she smiled, glad to know that, at last she could find the catacombs, and now she knew why Ramus hadn't entered them already. But the smile quickly faded, being replaced by the hint of a frown. Because for all of the new answers she'd received, her mind was forced to tackle many questions, and one painful epiphany.
She'd been wrong about Shada.
She knew now that while his decision to try to lift the magic ban had been misguided, and his methods had been monstrous, he had been right. It was possible for magic users to exist without regulation who would use their powers for good, and who could even help their non-magic using fellows without oppressing them. More than that though she knew that the man who wrote those journal entries was not the monster she had thought him to be, or the magical elitist that Ramus thought of him as. She also knew that Ramus was making the same mistake that Shada had, and that trying to overtake the government by force was no the way to go.
As she wandered to the hillside she tried to make sense of her conflicting views of Shada. With luck, by the time she got home she'd understand the man that had haunted her nightmares, and that still lived in her best friend's brightest dreams. **** Fenris felt as if she'd been asleep for months. As she opened her eyes her eyelids felt heavy, and it took a great deal of effort to lift them. She wasn't sure of where she was at first, and this helped her shake off the lethargy of sleep. She turned quickly, finding herself in a large room full of shelves, drenched in pale yellow light that flooded in from a window that overlooked the street. Fenris herself was in a large armchair, and while she was still wary, she was comforted by this fact, fairly certain that an enemy wouldn't provide her with such a comfortable resting place. That did not mean that the owner of the room was friendly.
She slowly shook off her tiredness, rising to her feet slowly, finding her blade resting against the wall. Frey lay on a nearby sofa, sleeping at an awkward angle. She did not disturb him, instead creeping into the hallway. It seemed that the house was empty, but she also knew that something could be waiting in the shadows.
She heard movement downstairs, and quickly walked to the stairs, slipping down them. Someone was standing in the shadows, talking to others waiting beyond the now open door. The newcomer was small, but there was something off about them.
Fenris tensed, sensing that there was something dangerous about them. The tension passed when they unfurled their massive wings.
"Oh, hey there, Fen," Angelus said, smiling as she turned, the moonlight seeming to surround her, making intricate patterns as it reflected off of her platinum hair.
The angel held out her hand to the door. "I made a couple of friends," she said, motioning to the people that waited unseen beyond the frame.
Fenris frowned, relaxing, but still wanting to know what was going on. Part of her wanted to press for answers, but she knew that now that Angelus had already started a digression there would be no averting her. She'd have to wait for Angelus to bring her up to speed on her own time.
Pounce found herself standing on a wool carpet in front of a low fire. The night wasn't particularly cool, but as a cat, she enjoyed warm places anyway. There was a bowl of cream sitting nearby, which she took a couple laps of to be polite. She wasn't at all sure of where she was or how she had gotten there until she turned around and saw Iysi sitting in her chair, just watching.
"Go ahead, dear, make yourself comfortable, and I'll tell you a story."
"But, why," Pounce began to protest.
"Shush, my furry friend. I'll answer all your questions in good time." Pounce did as she was told. The fire was just warm enough to tell that it was there, but not so warm to be uncomfortable.
"As I've gotten older," Iysi began, "I've lost a lot of the strength to do magic that I used to have. Oh, I can still teleport, transmute, scry, and start a fire; but it really does take a lot out of me. I also, from time to time, scry things from other realms. It's quite by accident, mind you. Perhaps there's a bit of a blessing to growing old and getting sloppy.
"There are things you said you knew. Perhaps when I'm done with my story, you can help me understand some of the missing pieces, eh?" Pounce just looked at her, but Iysi seemed to be watching something far away. "I needed to bring you here," she continued, "because I needed Abedah and Jimmy to take this next journey by themselves. Don't worry, you'll be needed before too long, but you should enjoy your chance to rest some. I know you cats need a lot more rest than people do." Pounce yawned. She hadn't had any chance to rest after getting off the pirate ship.
"Let me start by telling you a little about my past. I grew up right here in the middle of Zion; but it wasn't all at once. My grandfather was a student at the academy, that I'm pretty sure you've heard about by now. He was a good man, always interested in helping people. And he was a master wizard with magic. He often travelled, especially going to villages where the weather had been poor and food was having a hard time growing. And the things he could make grow.... He had the most beautiful gardens.
"When the academy was overthrown, he hid in the realms as many others did, extending his life in the process by quite a lot. My father was born about 150 years after, and was the only one among his siblings who had a knack for magic. He had to be very careful about how he trained, especially since Zion became a very dangerous place for serious magicians to learn or pass on their craft.
"One of the places my grandfather especially liked to go was a realm called Limbo. It wasn't easy as there are very few portals that can get one there, most of them well out of reach of humanity. But the creatures that are there, and the energies there, make it possibly the best place in the universe to study and learn magic. So starting about when he was 20, my grandfather would take my father to Limbo and teach him all the ways to control the magic that was in him, as well as the dangers that could easily take his life if he let magic control him. My father learned well, and was very careful to let his magic out in small doses. Like my grandfather, he used the realms to extend his life, and I was born when my father was about 150 years old. He stopped travelling after that, until he discovered that I had the gift of magic as well.
"I would see the tricks the magicians would do every year, and like many children, would say the same words and pretend to do their tricks. But unlike most of those children, when I pretended, I got sparkles. The other kids were jealous and asked me to show them how I did it, but I couldn't explain. I didn't know. As I grew, my father and I would explore the countryside and the world of magic, as discretely as he knew how. My mother knew what I was, but not being able to practice magic herself, couldn't understand some of the struggles I had. But she had her own type of magic. The skill in her hands spinning, crafting, weaving, knitting; her handmade fabrics and clothes were the envy of all. I remember we had visitors at least once a year, sometimes more, coming from every part of Illusionia, just to buy the things she made. But while my brothers and sisters learned her craft and her business, I spent my time with my father learning magic. It isolated me, kept me apart. I don't blame them. They had too much to lose if the council ever found out about me.
"As my grandfather had done with him, when I turned 20, my father took me to Limbo. We trained hard, and the creatures we had to fight were fierce. On one trip, he took me to a stone enclave and shared a story with me. He said that every 100 years or so, according to legends, there is a special energy buildup around that enclave, and a realm portal opens with such force, it can actually suck people into it. Now most portals, mind you, do their best to keep intruders out. They're very resistant, and it takes a bit of force to jump through them. This one, however, is the opposite. My father theorized that perhaps, if the legends were true, it might explain why Limbo was filled with so many wonders.
"When I returned to Zion, I found that much time had passed, though it seemed so little to me. My brothers and sisters were middle aged, and my mother was fully gray headed by then. I also found that much had changed in Zion, and not for the better. We stayed a year, tried to fit in as best we could, but quickly learned that there was no place here for magicians, even those who kept their magic to the festival. My father and I took our leave of our family, who, by the way, was actually eager to send us on our way. But he and I had each other, and we travelled among the realms. Oh, the sights we saw.... There was always danger, mind you, but the wonder of the universe.... Pounce, dear, I'm sure you've seen some pretty amazing things; but I'm telling you, you've barely scratched the surface.
"So, about 100 years ago, I'd say - you lose track of time when you've spent most of your life moving about as I have - my father's days were spent. I was crushed. I literally had no else. I decided to make one more trip through the realms, since I never expected to go that way again, now that my father was no longer around to make the trips with me. There was this one realm where time really went a lot faster than it did for us. We would pop in and say hello about once a generation from their point of view, see how they were doing, and add a little magic to their lives. They actually mistook us for ethereal protectors, as much as we tried to convince them that we weren't. But we did what we could for them, and they were grateful. When I told them we wouldn't be returning, there were quite alarmed. I spent quite a while longer than I had planned just to reassure them that they would be perfectly fine without us.
"Since I really had nowhere else to go, I came back here to Zion. My mother had also passed on, as had half of my siblings. The other two were in quite poor health, but they had no regrets. They had big families, but none who had my mother's skill on a loom. By the time I came back, there was no one still alive really who remembered me at all, and they would have been looking for a much older woman. The oppression had lessened to a degree; science and technology were taking over, and Zion was finding itself becoming quite prosperous. I set up a shop that sold a variety of goods, right across the street from here, in fact. It did a pretty good business, and it required me to leave town from time to time to look for new things to sell. But that wasn't the only thing I was looking for. Though I never found love or family; I was able to find a loose alliance of mages. It had apparently been established right after the fall of the academy, though neither my grandfather nor father had known about it. It was discrete, and the members rarely talked to each other openly. We set up methods of scrying and using magic to communicate. We were also on the lookout for new magicians to train.
"In my travels, I found communities of magicians in distant lands, practicing their craft openly. But many of those communities were using magic for selfish gain, which carries a very strict penalty from the energies of magic themselves. And they were as suspicious of outsiders as the council here is of magic of any kind. I was also piecing together the legends of the Limbo enclave that my father had told me about. That turned into a fascinating story in its own right, but that will have to wait for another time.
"I was finding myself getting old and tired, and discouraged as well. If people were being born able to wield the forces of magic, they were squelching their talents as a general rule. For decades of searching, I had found no one. But about 10 years ago, maybe a bit more, a group of orphans came into my shop. This by itself wasn't rare, since I found the sale of sweets to be an easy way to double my profit most days. But there was this one orphan girl, strong of spirit, with long raven black hair - a leader of this band of kids. She came in, polite as could be, and asked each child what they would like, patient with those who couldn't make up their minds, offering gentle suggestions. She brought the selection of sweets to my counter and set them down. And before I could tally up the total, she put her hand in a pocket, concentrated for a moment, and pulled out the exact amount, which I verified after she handed me the money.
"I saw her get flushed as she was reaching into her pocket. I doubt anyone else would have noticed, but I know what magic does to someone who hasn't prepared themselves enough. She was creating the money - I didn't know at the time whether it was out of nothing or if she had some raw materials in her pocket - with magic. After so many years of looking, I finally found someone in Zion that I could train. I called her back as she was walking out and gave her a special stick of candy that I kept aside for my best customers and imbued it with a bit of magic so I could scry her later. I asked what her name was, but she just thanked me and left.
"Later that night, I recognized where the children were sleeping and went to pay them a visit. Since it was dark and isolated, and the orphans were as wary of being discovered as I was, I let a bit of my magic show - a few sparkles to light the way. That was enough. The other children wanted to see more, but the girl melted into the shadows. Since it was obvious I wasn't going to get much out of her directly, I called the other kids into a huddle. 'How come the other girl isn't coming over?' I asked them. 'She's shy around grownups,' answered one boy, who certainly wasn't shy.
"'She can do stuff,' another girl answered. 'She helps us a lot,' someone else chimed in.
"I decided to go for the big question, 'What's her name?'
"'We ain't none of us got names,' the first boy answered, almost proud. ''cept her,' someone else interjected.
"'Oh?' I acted surprised. Actually, I was surprised. Most orphans on the streets here don't have any idea who they are, and for them, names are an easier way to get caught as a thief. 'Why does she have a name and no one else?' I ventured to ask. The kids just shrugged. I waited for a minute and tried asking again, 'Do you think it would be okay to tell me what it is?'
"A voice from the shadows spoke up, not in the whispers the other children were using, but with power and authority. 'My name is Abedah. I chose the name for myself, until I can find the part of my life that is missing, that was taken from me.' Well, I'll tell you Miss Pounce, she was so frail, and so confident in herself, that I just had to teleport myself in front of her and give her a giant hug. She didn't know how to respond at first, but finally she responded in kind. I could tell the other kids were a bit sad, and a bit jealous, so I made sure to give each of them a big hug before I left.
"Well, from then, young Abedah and her little band became frequent guests at my shop, and it became more than just candy. I set up some space in the back of the shop where they could get clean, and I gave them hot meals. All I asked from them is a promise to never ever tell anybody what they knew about Abedah and myself. And when I could, I would take Abedah out into the country as my father had done for me, and show her what magic was really all about. If I could have done it all over again, Pounce, I would have made having a family my top priority. But I've cherished the time I spent with Abedah. Funny thing about her, though. Almost every magician can manipulate heat and fire as one of their most basic skills; even if they can't do much else. But Abedah never could. I finally found that she could handle fire by science, so I gave her some powders that would generally give the same effect as a magician's fire, though without the use of magic.
"When she was 20, her band had learned enough skills that they could make an honest living to the last one of them. And they never did, as far as I know, tell a single soul our secret. It was time to return to the realms, to return to Limbo. But I'm not young anymore. I had no idea if I would be able to survive such a trip. But we had to go. Besides that, I'd been doing a lot of research about that enclave, and calculated that the time for the energy surge would be quickly approaching. We spent about a year getting ready. I had to close my business, which had finally started to lose its success as the nicer part of Zion moved elsewhere. And I had to prepare extra energy reserves, in case we ran into something unexpected, almost a certainty in Limbo.
"Finally, we took the trip. Abedah was looking like a fine young woman by then, but she insisted in dressing like either an ancient warrior or a field scientist, I could hardly tell which. The battles we faced were actually mild compared to those I remembered training on with my father. For that I was most thankful. We worked our way towards the enclave when we both felt the surge. I wasn't strong enough to resist the pull, so Abedah insisted I stay back. I could scry her to keep an eye out, and could use my reserves to teleport us both out of the way, or at least that was the plan. As she drew nearer, she said she heard voices, but couldn't tell what they were saying. Finally it was just one voice, a name, Lily Wong. The name meant nothing to me, still doesn't to be honest, but she kept repeating it again and again. There was a shock, my scry dissolved, and the energy field was gone. I tried finding Abedah by magic, but I couldn't. Instead, I focused on the enclave. She was still there, but seemed different, confused. My Abedah was still the body, but it seemed this other person, this Lily Wong, was now in possession. I could tell she still had her gift of magic, but no longer knew how to use it. I felt guilty for bringing her on this trip. I still do, and I keep looking for a way to get her back. I noticed Regus looking into Havermonte's theories. There may be something to that.
"But I needed to do something with Abedah to keep her from completely losing her sanity. So I transfigured myself to look like her twin and teleported to a clearing in front of the enclave. I cast a spell preventing her or anyone else from using any name other than Abedah. And I left her in Limbo. I really shouldn't have done it, but I could tell there was another warrior nearby. It seemed safe, and I didn't expect to be gone long - just a day or two until I could figure out what to do. But by the time I was able to return to Limbo, she was already gone. I followed her trail to what seemed to be a camp, and where there appeared to have been a serious struggle not long before. All I could hope is that she found her way back to me.
"Then, when Jimmy knocked on my door and told me he wasn't alone, my heart just about burst from relief. But she still wasn't my Abedah. I couldn't let on that I knew her, not yet. Not until I could figure out a way to have them both, or send Lily Wong back to where she came from. But I'm going to need from you, Miss Pounce, everything you know about Lily Wong. Miss Pounce?" Sometime during the long story, the cat had fallen asleep. Iysi was tired as well. She closed her eyes, as the low flames in the fireplace dwindled to bright tendrils and glowing embers.
Momoji glared hard at Abedah and quickly answered Angelus, "Lead the Way." The two didn't speak during the entire journey back to Cassandra's house. Angelus had seemed a bit nervous, but as soon she crossed the door, immediately went all bubbly.
"Oh, hey there, Fen," Angelus said, smiling as she turned, the moonlight seeming to surround her, making intricate patterns as it reflected off of her platinum hair.
The angel held out her hand to the door. "I made a couple of friends," she said, motioning to the people that waited unseen beyond the frame.
Abedah and Momoji entered, completely unsure of what they were about to get themselves into.
Fenris narrowed her eyes as she watched Abedah and the newcomer enter. She remembered the new warrior from the pirate ship, though he looked different now, and she immediately grew tense. While she was aware of the deal with the pirates that would get her home she still didn't trust it, and she was personally still planning to find some way to avoid falling back into their hands. More than that, she was nervous simply because he was a pirate, and what she'd seen on the ship she didn't find them to be the sort she wanted to hang around. They were great warriors, true, but they were also men without morals. She had no reason to believe that this man was any different. Still, Angelus trusted him, and so did Abedah, so the warrior relaxed, deciding to follow their lead. "Angelus, what's going on?" She asked, "Last thing I remember we were fighting Acel, and then..." The angel looked up at her, blinking a couple of times. Apparently she had forgotten that Fenris hadn't actually been conscious for the trip to this place, and Fenris was surprised at how easily she could read the fact that the angel was just making this revelation. "OH!" She said, suddenly putting the pieces together, "Right! Um, we're at Cassandra's, and we're waiting for her and Lox to get back so we can figure out where the hell the Catacombs are and stop my evil sister from being revived." Fenris nodded, glad to finally know where she was, at the very least. She still wasn't sure exactly what was going on, but she had enough information to go on for now. She turned to the others. "It's been a while, Abedah," The warrior said, giving a nod of acknowledgment. This was the closest thing she could manage to a welcoming smile. "Who's your friend?" She asked, looking at Momoji. Before Abedah could answer Angelus cut her off. "That's Momoji," She said, smiling, "He's... actually I don't know his story, but he's from the pirate crew, and he doesn't like me very much, so be extra nice to him, okay." Fenris tensed, placing a hand on her sword. Angelus blinked as she watched, unable to understand why her charge had gone for her weapon. Fenris was well aware of the fact that Angelus didn't understand that someone not liking you often equated to them wanting you dead, at least, it did in the warrior's experience. The gesture of grabbing her sword had apparently made Angelus remember something, as she jumped in surprise again. "Oh, Fen, there's something I have to ask you," The angel said. The warrior let go of the sword, saying nothing. Eventually she gestured with her hand to encourage the angel to proceed. "I... um," She said, suddenly faltering. Fenris was confused, was Angelus nervous? That was something Fenris had previously thought impossible, but sure enough her guardian was actually blushing. "I sort of... um...," She said, "...Lost my powers." The warrior nodded, remembering the painful shock that had wounded her. She had supposed Angelus had been drained of her powers, but now she understood that the drain wasn't easy to recover from. Or it wasn't something that could be recovered from at all. Either way, her guardian was not he near-god that she had been before. "So what do you need from me?" The warrior asked, surprised to see that Angelus was actually asking for her help. The angel sighed. "I need you to teach me to swordfight," She said, "I can't use plasma arrows, and I need a way to defend myself." For a moment the statement didn't register with Fenris, but as she processed the request she found herself smiling. She hadn't ever tried to teach anyone how to fight before, but she remembered how Odin had taught her, and she thought that, in a way, it might actually be fun to teach Angelus how to fight. After all, so far Angelus had been the one teaching her things, it would be interesting to see how the guardian dealt with the shoe being on the other foot. "Certainly," She said, "But first we should wait for Cassandra." As if on cue a shadow appeared behind Abedah and Momoji. "Um, excuse me," The alchemist said from her own doorstep to Abedah and Momoji, "But what are you doing in my house?" Angelus smiled awkwardly, waving her hands in an attempt to calm Cassandra. "Don't worry," She said, "They're with me." Cassandra sighed, nodding as she entered. Fenris gathered that she didn't like having strangers in her house, even if they were going to help her stop an evil guardian. Angelus seemed unfazed by Cassandra's annoyance. "So," The angel said, "What'd you find after you ran from the library?" Cassandra said nothing for a moment, then she reached into her pocket, drawing a scroll from it. The scroll seemed to trouble her, and Fenris wondered why. "The catacombs are at the old academy," The girl said, handing the scroll to Angelus, "But we need five elemental keys to enter. That's why Ramus hasn't already revived Gadriel." Angelus nodded, opening the scroll and looking it over, leaning back in the air to get comfortable. "There's a problem though," Cassandra said nervously from the ground. Angelus looked up, seeming confused. "I..." Cassandra started, "I'm not sure I disagree with Ramus anymore. His approach is wrong, but his ideal is right. Magic isn't inherently evil, it's only evil when used incorrectly." Angelus nodded, seeing Cassandra's point and Shada's as she continued to read the scroll. "That's great," She said with mild disinterest, "But we still have to stop him. I mean, I personally have never cared about whether magic is legal here or not, that's got nothing to do with why I'm helping you. The only thing that matters right now is stopping Gadriel from coming back. Because I'll tell you what, she doesn't care whether magic is legal either. She doesn't care about any of you, in fact. All she cares about is herself, and doing what she thinks is best for her. And given the crazy stuff she was saying the last time I fought her, that doesn't mean anything good for this city."
It was clear that they weren't being warmly welcomed. But that shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering that nearly all the time that had been spent with these people was in some form of conflict or another, and that the reason they were returning was to get involved in yet another conflict. Abedah really didn't think they should be a part of it, but Jimmy - or Momoji now - had insisted and hadn't even given her much of a chance to speak her mind. She could have just struck out on her own, but she had no idea what kind of trouble she could find herself in unprotected, not knowing the slightest thing about Zion or its history. She chose to stick with this group because she feared the evil she knew less than that she didn't. Besides, Momoji was nice to be around, even if he could get a bit controlling sometimes.
The warrior woman, Fenris, acknowledged Abedah, "It's been a while, Abedah," giving a nod. "Who's your friend?" Before Abedah could answer Angelus cut her off. At the mention of the word, 'pirate,' Fenris reached for her sword. Momoji quickly considered his options, and decided not to do the same. This woman was obviously just being defensive, and at least as long as there were others around, he didn't think she would fully draw and strike. He glanced around and made sure there were places he could duck if it turned out he was wrong.
But he wasn't. Angelus distracted Fenris by describing her loss of ability, and asked Fenris for some swordfighting lessons. He was going to offer his own services in that regard, but he wasn't being spoken to, and Fenris actually seemed somewhat excited by the prospect. He kept his mouth shut.
At that point, the girl who was about to become Ginzu fodder in the library came into the house and immediately demanded, "Um, excuse me, but what are you doing in my house?" Abedah wanted to say something sarcastic, but again Angelus was quick on the tongue. At least in this case, being acquainted with the guardian was enough to satisfy someone. Abedah thought it interesting that the angel could actually connect with someone who didn't want to kill her.
Neither Momoji nor Abedah really understood the context regarding the catacombs, Gadriel, or why Cassandra would agree or disagree with Ramus. But Angelus' next monologue was enough to make them look at each other, sharing a growing apprehension. Abedah decided she needed to speak up. "I know I'm just joining this conversation a bit late, but is there any way to make sure Gadriel stays put, considering how volatile she is? And if she does somehow get released, how do mere mortals fight a guardian and not call it suicide?"
Angelus was actually kind of surprised to hear Abedah speak. She had been so caught up in her conversation with Cassandra that she had actually forgotten that she'd brought two new people along. She silently cursed herself for being insensitive, then turned to the woman and thought of the best way to answer. "Well," Angelus said, "The primary goal is to stop her from being released, which is the only way I can think of to keep her put." She frowned as she turned her attention to the next possibility, knowing that in her deprived state the answer to the second part of the questions was probably 'no'. "In the event that she IS released," She said slowly, trying to avoid frightening Abedah or Momoji away, "There's only a handful of ways to stop her. The first is the most difficult, but has the highest likelihood of success; we contact Esse and get her to send another guardian or two to take care of her. That'd still be difficult though, since the easiest way to reach Esse is through my mental connection to her, and it would probably take her a while to find a guardian capable of fighting on Gadriel's level." At the thought she found herself considering another possibility, this one little more than a pipe dream. Still, she didn't ignore it, because it made her feel proud and important, two things she hadn't felt since losing her abilities. "The second solution would be to restore my powers somehow, since I have fought her to a standstill before and the extra firepower you guys could lend me would allow me to beat her...probably." She sighed, slumping forward in the air as she realized this was the least likely scenario. "Other than that we'd have to use a sealing spell or a powerful magical artifact to stop her," She said, "And given that we don't have enough magical power to accomplish sealing something with her kind of strength that first option is iffy." She grinned hopefully as she continued, realizing that for once the environment could work to their advantage. "However, if we had an artifact that boosts magic power, or nullifies abilities, or seals things, or does a crazy combination of all of that then we'd be able to stop her with... well, not ease, but with less casualties." She sulked again, grimly acknowledging that even the best case scenarios for Gadriel's release would probably lead to heavy losses. "Either way," She said, "Our first goal should be stopping her from being released. If she isn't free she can't do anything to hurt us. If she is, well..." She trailed off, hoping that someone would find a cheerier topic.
“Listen. You may be a little late to the party and that’s forgivable. But if you hadn’t noticed, I’m not the one with my pants halfway down.”
Kyle quickly took note of the young woman, half-naked and wild-eyed. Of course he was trying to save her. This just isn't my day. But still, the voice was familiar. Kyle knew that this had to be someone he knew. He almost wanted to spin the man around, to get a look at his face.
“So," continued the man, his back still turned. "If you’ll excuse me, I have some scum to remove..."
The man on the ground lashed out, striking the rescuer's ankle with his heel. He stumbled, before the rapist slammed his head backward directly into his face. The man made a run for it, and Kyle reached for his dagger, but the man spun around, apparently forcing his way through the daze.
Kyle recognized him immediately. Arael. The years had not been kind to the former Sentinel. His hair was cut, and his wings were gone. The noble, stoic warrior that had once been Kyle's friend had been replaced by a hardship-laden man who life had chewed up and spit back out again.
And yet, the swordsman could still move like a gazelle.
Arael gripped the man's shirt, throwing the man into the wall. The man stumbled, crashing face-first into the bricks, crumbling. Kyle stood, still wary of his former friend as the blond-haired man sat against the wall, next to the frightened girl, still in apparent shock.
Kyle glanced at the attacker again, unconsious on the alley floor, yet said nothing. There was nothing to say. This sitaution was nothing new to either of them. The dregs of society were only oh-so willing to show their face. If not, neither Kyle nor Arael would have become so adept of fighters.
Yet still, as Kyle stared at the beaten man, his mind drifted slightly. What had he returned here to accomplish? What was he to do? Was this all just a joke? Was he fated to constantly return to the pits of every city, to deal with the corruption that people seemed hell-bent on creating at every opportunity?
“Somehow Kyle, I didn’t get the feeling we’d be spending much time together." Arael broke the warrior from his reverie. Kyle turned as the former Sentinel wiped the blood from his likely broken nose.
"Or is it Alex now? I’m not really familiar with the etiquette of going pirate and all. Is there a dress code and a form? Or do you really just abandon any sense of worth and responsibility you’ve ever had and flip off the world?”
"You've run into me before," said Kyle plainly. It was obvious that his "other self" had already conversed with his former friend.
Arael didn't seem to register Kyle's response as he noticed the attacker rousing. Instead, he gripped the man's hair, crashing his head directly into the mortar one more time. Almost drunkenly, he continued his thoughts.
"Because," he said. "If it’s that second option, I’ve gotta say you’ve done a bang-up job thus far.”
"I can see that you're doing just fine, yourself," replied Kyle, curtly. He noticed that the remark wasn't appreciated, especially considering the injured man was still doing his best to ignore him.
Arael tore off the sleeve of his somewhat ruined tunic, and stepped over to the girl, limping. Kyle almost reached out to help him, but it was obvious that that wasn't the right option.
"He won’t hurt you now," said Arael to the girl. "I doubt he’ll even remember he tried in the morning. Just try to take the long way home from now on. I’m sure it’s worth the extra time.”
The girl didn't move a muscle, instead staring directly at the fallen attacker, his clothes still scattered about. Kyle wondered what he could have done differently, and more importantly, whether it would have made a difference.
Staunching his blood with the remnants of his sleeve, Arael began to limp past Kyle, until finally Kyle caught him on a particular stumble.
“Nice chatting with you old friend," said Arael, struggling to his feet, and pushing Kyle away. "I’m sure there’s some rum somewhere around this hell hole. Or is it grog you fellas drink? I could never understand that. Anyway, nice running into you again.”
He started to limp off again, but Kyle stepped forward.
"Arael, we need to talk. There's some things that you need to know."