A feed-back loop inside the mind game, similiar in nature to a black hole. Its reach is far, and the objects of its attraction find themselves inexplicably drawn by its pull. It is a place of destruction and creation, where aspects of the mind game are broken down and then reassembled into differing forms. Strange creatures and objects abound on the plane, and many laws of the mind game are changed or nullified commonly. Needless to say, it is a realm unlike any other, with infinite possibilities.
Two beings sit, side by side, on the edge of what appears to be a rickety wooden dock. They're cooling their legs in an algae-green pond that lies in the center of a small crater, on top of a dormant volcano. There is no shelter of any kind within sight, only a T-shaped dock sitting in the middle of the pond. It is dark outside, but there are no stars or moon in the sky, instead a luminescent band of violet clouds encircles the peak of the volcano like a halo. Both Pan and & are fishing off the edge of the dock, with simple cane rods, with what could be described as infinite patience. _________________________________________________________________________
"The halo is looking especially brilliant tonight", Pan observed cheerily, keeping his eyes focused on his cherry-like bobber.
& nodded his head sagely, "Sure is."
Pan shot a sideways glare to &, "You didn't even look up!"
"I didn't have to, I can see its reflection in the water!" & growled, thrashing his rod and stirring up the pond for a few seconds.
Pan meditated a moment. "Oh."
"Aren't we supposed to be some of the most intelligent residents of the multiverse? Because sometimes the stuff you do..." & trailed off.
"Oh, shutup you...uh, shutup...curses! How do you say your name anyways?" Pan tried to keep his attention on his line.
& chuckled, "See, this is the kind of stuff I'm talking about. Any uni-cellular flagellate can pronounce it."
"&", & said clearly, "See?"
Pan nodded dumbly, "Uh, yeah, it's..." he knew he could not pronounce it, he couldn't even comprehend the sound it made, so he gave a valiant effort, "yeah, it's shbelznam...ing...ton."
&'s rod twitched, violently launching his hook and bobber out of the water for several seconds before loudly splashing back in. "Wrong!"
Pan tried to contain his mirth at irritating his fishing buddy so soundly, but he could not suppress a small chortle. &'s eyes grew wide and for a second it looked like he was about to throttle Pan until he was interrupted.
"Hey, I think I just got a bite!" Pan exclaimed, gripping his rod soundly between both hands.
For the moment & forgot his wrath and watched hopefully. "Really? Well? Is there something on the other end?
Pan frowned, staring into the mysterious depths of the pond, "No."
& groaned, "Ah."
Pan gazed silently for a while, ever deeper into the pond.
"What is it?" & asked meekly.
Pan cocked his head, as if he were listening to something far away. "They're coming."
Clothes, all of their clothes, were packed into sacks lining the short hallway’s wall. The glass jars used as cups remained behind on the small hand-crafted table, along with everything that was insignificant for their journey, including their son, Arem. Not in the least was he insignificant, however his home was here, his birthplace, the only place he knew. His small body was perched next to the slouching brown bags, while he watched as his parents and five sisters ran about hither and thither picking and grabbing at everything in their house. Pocket-sized family portraits were torn from the walls, hand paintings from the children were folded up, and a small stone from the house’s floor was placed in a wrap, in order to remind them of a thing that will soon be a mere piece of the past.
Throughout all of the bustle and uproar, Arem’s parents stopped in the middle of the living room and began talking amongst themselves in hushed voices. It was a silent argument; a silent struggle that Arem sensed was about him. His father stood their quieted by his wife like a defeated ram who lost the battle for its love. They both slowly turned to Arem crestfallenly, for they lacked the ability to accept what was truly imminent.
Dejected, his father walked over to him, rubbing his black handle-bar mustache, and squatted in front of him.
A small laughed filled with unbelief escaped him. Again he rubbed his mustache out of frustration.
“I don’t know how to even put this, but…there is always. Oh hell.”
“There’s always a place for you there, okay? When you get older you’ll understand.”
He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out a small piece of paper.
“Here take this. His name is Steven Morde, and he has a son about your age…uhh…I forget his name…damn. I think they called him Beeb. Yeah, Beeb Morde. If you ever change your mind you’ll find us with this.”
His father placed his hand on his shoulder. Arem looked to him, then behind him, and saw his mother holding her mouth while tears streamed from her eyes.
The ticking of the clock continued, echoing across the room, a unceasing reminder of time's constant flow. There, in the darkness, sat the writer, his mind battling within itself.
On the one side, there stood marshaled the forces that wished to create. The Forces of Creativity. They were arrayed in colors varied and vibrant, their golden armor shining in the moonlight with an unnatural gleam, especially for this time of night.
On the other, the Army of Fatigue crouched in the shadows, waiting for a sublime opportunity to end this color-concocted charade. They desired no battle. They desired an end. They hoped, with one swift stroke, to cease the conflict, removing this threat of "creativity" with only the most cursory of efforts.
Yet still, neither side dared to move. The writer continued to struggle, Creativity and Fatigue each poised to strike at any moment.
But in the midst of that conflict there still existed a solitary figure, just to the side of the impending chaos, yet close enough that just his presence could make all the difference.
He was arrayed in bold colors, steel blue, black, white, and silver, the hood of his cloak still lifted up to hide his hazel eyes. Though the vigor of youth still garnished his features, a close inspection revealed strands of white peppering his dark brown hair.
On his back was a familiar scabbard, and in it, a familiar blue sword. His belongings were well-worn, yet well-cared for, having been utilized often through years of adventures. Each item was familiar to him, and all-too familiar to the writer. After all, the two men had known one another for over a decade.
This friend of the writer's, of course, was Kyle Brogan.
The warrior surveyed the battlefield before him, leaning on a weathered walking stick. He had no interest in fighting tonight. In fact, he almost agreed with the ideals of the Fatigue Army, and simply wished that the writer would just lay himself to sleep. After all, such would save him so much trouble.
But Kyle knew the writer, and the writer knew Kyle. The writer was never one to simply abandon Creativity, no matter what the demands of Fatigue. And Kyle knew that, despite his personal misgivings, the writer's cause had merit. And so, he dropped his walking stick, preparing for the upcoming conflict.
"You know," said Kyle aloud, aware that the writer could clearly hear him. "If you'd just start writing this would be over fairly quick."
The writer pondered this, his hands hovering above his keyboard.
"Just start typing." The sound of sliding steel rang through the air as Kyle removed his blue-steel sword from its sheath. He quickly inspected the weapon, knowing as he did so that it was pointless - the blade had never grown dull in the years that he had carried it, so why would it be so now?
"But what to write?" Asked the writer aloud, alarmed, suddenly, at his desire to speak with his own fictional creation.
"Whatever comes to mind," quipped Kyle, pulling down the hood of his cloak. "I'm sure it'll be fine."
"But to what end?"
"Look at the posts above this," said Kyle. "This is Limbo, my friend. It's been several years since I've actually had an adventure beyond the confines of your personal imagination, so I'm very familiar with the whole 'limbo' concept." He slipped his weapon back into its sheath on his back. "I just need you to start writing something."
"But why?" Asked the writer.
"So I can breathe again," replied Kyle, his annoyance becoming evident. "Despite my own personal misgivings, I really can't go anywhere until you let me, so I need you to move those fingers of yours across the keyboard."
The writer thought about this, and scratched at his ear.
"So," he said slowly. "What you're saying is that you just want me to write so that you'll have something to do?"
"Now you've got it," said Kyle, spinning his hatchet through his fingers. "So are we going to do this thing, or what?"
The writer again stopped to think. Though the ideas of commitments and time danced through his mind, all of that was pushed out by a single, solitary thought:
What the hell.
"That's the spirit," said Kyle.
And so the hero charged through the forces of fatigue, his sword reducing them to naught but wisps of smoke. With the Forces of Creativity at his back, he decimated his enemies with ruthless abandon, carving his path across the battlefield.
As the last of Fatigue fell, he finally saw the portal there, at the edge of the battlefield. It shimmered in the bright moonlight, and seemed to be beckoning him.
He glanced around at the Creativity Forces to his right and left, but they seemed to be simply encouraging him to move forward. With a last glance at the now-barren battlefield, Kyle Brogan looked into the maw of the unknown.
Finally, he looked up at the writer with his trademark grin on his face.
Though she could not remember going to sleep, Fenris was not surprised to find herself opening her eyes. What did surprise her was the black sky that greeted her. It was strange, but while she could see that the sky itself had no stars or moon, she could still see a brilliant light at the edge of her vision. She could also tell that the sand she was laying on was much softer than the hard earth she had been standing on before. She sat up, turning, and confirmed her suspicions. She was no longer on the Olympic Plateau. That wasn't the only surprise she found. She also discovered that she wasn't alone. "Well," Said the Angel, looking down from her perch on the sky above, a smirk resting on her face, "It's about time you woke up." Fenris stared up at her, shocked by the newcomer. She had never seen an angel before, but the word sprang to her mind immediately. She had also never seen this particular angel before, but she couldn't shake the strange feeling that they had met. "Where am I?" Fenris asked, her eyes searching the shore, as if an answer would be waiting there for her. She found nothing but sand, and a lake with the most remarkable surface, for while there was nothing in the sky the water reflected a massive aurora, with pillars of green and purple and magnificent blue pulsing through it. "The void," Said the Angel, nonchalantly, "The Pool of Imagination to be specific." Fenris' eyes grew wider as the angel spoke. "So I'm..." She started. "Dead?" The Angel asked, cocking an eyebrow, "No, just waiting." Fenris was confused, but before she could voice this confusion the angel spoke. "The force that controls you, the 'player' we call them, has grown stagnant, so since you aren't needed, we've brought you here," She said. Fenris nodded, although the words didn't make any sense to her. "Who are you?" She asked, staring up at her new guide. The Angel smiled, a truly magnificent smile that showed friendliness, as opposed to the cocky smirk that had previously rested on her face. "I'm Angelus," She said, "I'm you're guardian angel." Fenris frowned, nodding slowly. "So my guardian angel is redundant?" She asked. Angelus narrowed her eyes, frowning. "Oh haha," She said, "Haven't heard that one in my thousand plus years." Fenris laughed, but then fell silent again. On the Olympic Plateau, back in the world that she had called home, she had a purpose, and that purpose had defined her identity. Now she was relieved of any purpose, and she had no clue what to do with herself. "So," She asked her Guardian, "What am I to do now?" The Angel shrugged. "I don't know," She said, "But now that you're awake we can go ask someone that does." Fenris raised an eyebrow. "And who might that be?" She asked. "Esse, the conscience of the Is," Angelus said, seeming annoyed by the words, "But I was hoping to avoid talking to her." "Why?" Fenris asked, rising to her feet. Angelus grinned, turning back to the warrior. "Does anyone like talking to their sisters?" She asked. Then, silently she turned, gesturing for Fenris to follow. The warrior did, and the two began to wander towards Esse, and purpose itself.
Lily Wong was tired. Not the kind of tired you feel when you've had a long busy day, nor the good kind of tired you feel after working or playing outdoors all day. This was an old, weary kind of tired; the kind that drains you of your energy before you even get out of bed, and makes gravity feel like you're living on Jupiter (if Jupiter had a solid surface, that is). She spent most of her day isolated, in spartan quarters, with limited illumination. She had devoted her life to the I.F., for what in return? Empty promises? She did it because she had a passion for research, and at first, she wanted to be near the love of her life. But he was taken from her, so long ago, and the only thing she had left in the entire universe, were these displays, and lines of code, that constituted one of the crowning achievements of the I.F.'s Battle School in space, the computer system. While her staff did good work, and had developed a number of innovative games and tasks to train and weed out the best of the geniuses on board, the diamond in the crown was hers alone. She called it, "Free Play," but she knew all the kids called it, "The Mind Game." At times, she could control elements within the game; but most of the time, she left it alone to do its own thing. She had designed it to be intelligent, to learn from itself and to learn from all those who used it. But it wasn't perfect, and it wasn't complete. There were still a few areas she needed to build, just in case one of these kids outsmarted her. It hadn't happened yet in all the decades she'd been there, but there was always a chance.
She sat at the console, thinking. The lights were low as she preferred. She just couldn't motivate herself to make any progress. This was becoming more common of late, and she needed to find a way to work through it. She had a holographic console that she mostly kept covered with a cloth. The I.F. had insisted, but she hated the thing. It was too bright, and it made her eyes hurt. She didn't want to be immersed in the worlds she created, or her creation created on her behalf. She wanted to be an outside observer. But maybe, now, it was time to experience her world in a different way. Lily took the cloth off the display and set it folded neatly on the long seat in the room. Another bit of clutter the I.F. insisted she have. She activated the display and called up a resource map of Free Play. This was not unusual, as it gave her an idea of which areas where being used the most and where she could concentrate on making it perform better. There was often one area on the map that intrigued her. It was isolated from the rest, and whenever she tried to view it, all it showed was her room as she worked. "Some kind of feedback loop," she had always assumed, and left it alone. After all, the program was designed to redesign itself from time to time as it learned. Curiosity and ennui caused her to try viewing it again, just for the heck of it. What happened next might have caused her heart to stop, except she was no longer herself.
Her room was no longer the dark isolated place she was used to. It was an ancient stone enclave in an ancient forest. She could hear birds, and wind, and streams, sounds she barely remembered. The colors were vibrant, amazingly rich. She herself felt as full of life and vigor as her surroundings, a stark contrast to what she felt just moments before. And her age - she was no longer the wretched spider in the shadow, she was as young and beautiful as she was when she was working on her thesis. What is this place? she thought. Her hair was long and richly black, shining in the light that seemed to emanate from everywhere in this forest. She wore a dagger on her hip, with a beautifully carved handle. Her belt was made of rope, with several pouches tied to it. From appearances, one would think they would be heavy; but she hardly noticed them at all. Is there danger here? What are these things? She stepped out from the enclave and began walking towards the stream. She had a sense that she wasn't alone.
After they had been walking for about half an hour Fenris began to grow uneasy. She realized now that it had been a mistake to trust her new companion so easily, as she had no way of knowing if this so called angel was really trustworthy. It wouldn't be the first time I divine seeming being had led her into a trap. "Angelus," Fenris said, planting her foot in the loose dirt that made up the path. As she did a cloud of dust puffed out in front of her, obscuring her airborne companion. The angel turned, a smile still resting on her lips, lifting an eyebrow slowly. "What is it?" She asked, seemingly unfazed by Fenris' suspicious gaze. "How do I know I can trust you," Fenris asked, "How do I know that this Esse you're taking me to isn't an enemy, or that you aren't just leading me into some sort of ambush." The angel considered the question for a moment, obviously unsure of how to answer. Then, slowly, she started to speak. "Well, I'm your guardian angel," She said, "So shouldn't you trust me by default?" Fenris gave a short growl. "How do I even know that you are who you claim to be?" She asked. The angel rolled her eyes, obviously annoyed by the question. "This is getting us nowhere," She cried in frustration, "Come on, if we stop and argue now we won't make it out of the woods by the end of this cycle." "Maybe that's what you want," Fenris retorted, her suspicion growing. The angel didn't respond at first, she simply narrowed her eyes and glared at Fenris, annoyed by her distrust. Fenris responded by glaring back, remaining distrustful. Finally, without breaking eye contact, the angel spoke. "That's a nice sword you've got there," She said. Fenris smirked, placing her hand on the handle of her blade, which gave a pale bluish white light. "It's a vorpal blade," She said, "I had to kill a Jabberwock to get it." The angel smirked. "I know," She said, "I was there." Fenris raised an eyebrow then, suspicious of her companion still, but happy to know that she had finally found a way to test her. "Really?" She asked. "Of course," The angel responded cheerfully, seeming to perk up at the question, "I've been with you through all of your journeys, guardian angel, remember." Fenris smirked. She wondered why exactly her companion felt the need to reinforce the fact that she was a guardian angel, but she was going to put that claim to the test. "If that's so," She said, "Then tell me where I found the blade." The angel glanced skyward, shaking her head as if amused at how simple the question was. "It was lodged above the Jabberwock's eye, you drew it forth and proceeded to use it to cut off the creature's head," The angel said, her tone one of cool disinterest. Fenris was amazed, as this answer was absolutely correct. She stood for a moment, stunned, and stared up at the angel, who leaned back on her heels and chuckled,a massive smile resting on her lips. "See," She said, "I told you, I'm your guardian angel." For a minute Fenris could say nothing, but eventually she glared at her companion. "Whatever," She said angrily, "Whether you are or not, I don't need a guardian. I've defeated Gods and titans, what good will a petite little wisp of divinity like yourself do me." The angel said nothing, she simply looked skyward and gave her amused head shake again. "And tell me, dear warrior, how you think you've survived all of your battles?" She asked playfully, "How you came out alive after you were defeated by Thor, and, for that matter, how you managed to stumble across that nice little Vorpal blade of yours in the first place." Fenris said nothing, but she knew that there was truth to the Angel's words. She had often been amazed by her own luck during her travels, and now it seemed she had a plausible explanation as to where that luck had come from. "Listen warrior, and listen well," The angel said, stopping midflight and staring her charge in the eye, "You're quite good with that sword of yours, but never forget that I constantly have to act as your shield. You should appreciate my talents. If not, I may stop using them to save you." For a moment Fenris did not speak, she simply continued to give her guardian her obstinate glare. Then her expression softened, and she gave a short nod. "Thank you," Angelus said, smiling once more, "Now come on, we have a long way to go." As she spoke, the path led them into a huge overgrown forest, with strange trees that seemed to have grown at impossible angles, and distant cries from beasts Fenris could not imagine. She had never seen a forest quite like this in her life, and as she walked through she finally began to accept in her mind that she was far from the world that she had known before. She was going to have to learn this new land, she knew, and worse still, she was going to have to learn it very quickly. Who knew what could be waiting behind the next tree, or in the dark shadows that waited beyond.
Travelling by portal, Kyle mused silently. Never seemed to be a positive experience.
Throughout Kyle's adventures in the land of Illusionia, which he since had become aware was really just a single part of the greater computer program known as "The Mind Game," Kyle had been through quite his share of portals. From simply travelling from one location to another, such as the portal that whisked him from Hollows to Sugar Cane, or to another dimension, such as his impromptu visits to Pamuya or Imperial City. No portal had ever led him to happiness, but that just didn't matter much right now.
You see, Kyle Brogan was bored.
And despite any misgivings about what may lay ahead of him in this land of Limbo that he was travelling this portal into, he had been laying dormant for far too long. The familiar itch of adventure was just too invasive for him not to at least try to scratch it.
While the writer's mind had been rather preoccupied by the trappings of school, work, and relationships, Kyle had been forced to simply bide his time, trying to keep himself and his own skills sharp while languishing in the world of the writer's subconscious.
It wasn't exactly dull, especially as Kyle had taken on the role of the writer's mental bodyguard, cutting out depressing and dark thoughts, allowing room for the positive to flourish. Such was how the Forces of Creativity had gained their foothold to begin with.
But even causing a mental revolution really only increased his craving for a more sizable adventure. Because at the end of it all, those Forces were nothing but phantoms, representations of thoughts and dreams left untouched, unshaped. They had no faces, and they had no real form. Instead, they were malleable, shifting, and really only marshalled themself into a military threat because that was what Kyle himself had recognized.
That craving had planted itself within him almost a year ago, when he realized that he needed to move from this place. He was tired of his imposing confines, and longed for the open fields and eternal skies of Illusionia.
So, when the portal had opened, he had hesitated slightly, but in his mind he knew that he would eventually step through. That itch of adventure was just too much to ignore.
And such is how he found himself flung face-first into a tree in the middle of an unknown forest.
Rubbing his face in an attempt to assess the damage, he quickly deduced that nothing was broken, except perhaps for his initial enthusiasm.
Portals, he complained inwardly. Lousy portals.
He was grateful to see that his clothing and equipment was intact, with his sachel belt, rope, dagger, hatchet, cloak, boomerang, and the sword on his back. He'd often wondered why he felt so compelled to carry such an inordinate amount of equipment with him, but finally surmised that he was often the heroic plot device, and much like a certain black-caped crusader, much of what he needed could be found on his belt.
A quick survey of his surroundings revealed him to be on the edge of a modest clearing, surrounding a rather ancient-looking enclave of stone, with intricate carvings having been etched in a now-forgotten language across the rock.
Why, thought Kyle, If these places were abandoned so long ago, am I always compelled to make a visit? It's like I'm forever stuck as some fantastical archeologist for no reason.
A small stream made it's way across the clearing, appearing from the woods to, (if Kyle's ability to read the sun hadn't diminished), to the north. It meandered around the stone structures, eventually vanishing into the darkness of the forest in the southeast.
Without much else to go on, Kyle started for the stream, hoping to fill his water pouch.
Had I been thinking, I would have conjured up a more modern version of that pouch while sitting in the writer's subconcious. So much for taking advantage of the situation.
Kyle tasted the water, found it palatable, and so began to fill his pouch. He'd hardly started when he suddenly saw movement coming from around the stone structure.
In the past, he would have tensed up, worried that someone was out to get him. But, if his experiences had taught him anything, he usually found that the first person that he met in the story was more likely to be friend, than foe - At least at first.
He continued to fill his water pouch, and only when he was done did he look up to see a gorgeous ebony-haired woman walking towards him. He smirked.
After all, he had always had a thing for dark-haired women.
"Hey there," he said calmly, standing up to his full height. "Just arrive?"
"Hey, there," came a voice from behind a tree. She turned, not quite sure what to expect. As the figure emerged, she came face to face with what could only be described as her mirror image, as she appeared in this strange world.
"And who, or what, pray tell, are you?" asked Lily, hand on her dagger.
"You need not fear me, and you could not kill me. I am both your Bane and your Guide. Your task is to discover where you are and why you are here. You will find much that is strange and beautiful; but none more so than yourself. Things change quickly here. Friends will become foe, and foe friend. That which is unseemly will often be that which you need the most. Do not be afraid."
"You are strange. Do you always look like this? Can I expect talking trees and birds, too?"
"This is not Narnia, but keeping an open mind will serve you well."
"I've never heard of Narnia. Am I still at the Battle School?"
"It is your task to discover where you are and why you are here...."
"Yeah, you said that already."
"DO NOT INTERRUPT ME," the mirror image boomed. Lily took a step back and withdrew her dagger. It grew hot in her hand, but did not appear any different. She dropped it on the ground and held her burning flesh to her bosom. Yet the skin was not red. "For that, you will not see me again until your task is complete. Your name until that time is Abedah. Do not try to use another, for no one will hear any other but Abedah." The mirror image walked back behind the tree. Lily picked up her dagger and tried to follow, but found no one there and no trace that anyone had been there.
This place is nuts. I should go back to where I started; maybe there's a door there somewhere that can get me back to my room. She tried to remember which way to go, but suddenly felt very confused. Lily Wong had always been a strong personality, completing her education years ahead of her peers, knowing exactly what she wanted and what she had to do to get it. Now, perhaps for the first time in her life, she was completely uncertain of herself. "Okay, I can figure this out," she spoke aloud. "I am Lily Wong...." She stopped, and tried to say it again, "I am Lily Wong." But at the mention of her name, the very air refused to pass along the vibrations of sound. The silence of her voice on those words frightened her terribly, and that was a feeling she had not known since perhaps her infancy, a long, long, long time ago. "Where are you, Bane?" she shouted at the trees. The trees only swayed in the gentle breeze, playing their same ancient song. "I am," she paused, "Abedah." She spoke her new name softly, and the sound was not stopped. It was a name both foreign and somehow familiar.
Abedah started walking again, along a stream that led to a pool. There was already someone there. "Hey there." She reached for her dagger, but remembered immediately the searing pain it had brought just a short while ago. She took her hand away. "Just arrive?" he asked, seemingly amused by her obvious confusion.
"Why?" she asked. "Do I look lost?"
'Friends will become foe, and foe friend.' So which is he? she wondered.
"Well yes, to be honest, you do," said Kyle, the smirk still across his lips.
Kyle had expected to know exactly what was going on here, but realized that he was now closed off from the writer's thoughts and memories. Before, he had full access to all the exposition and back-story of everyone, but it seemed that now, having entered the portal, that source of information was closed off.
I'll bet he's laughing at me right now, thought Kyle.
But even without the benefit of being able to read all the extras, he could still make some minor observances.
This woman was uncomfortable, tense. It was obvious that she was a stranger here, especially considering the cleanliness of her clothing and the seeming lack of familiarity with her surroundings. So, he could rule out Forest Dweller or Elf, or even someone who had spent any extended length of time here, in the forest. It was as if, like Kyle himself, she had been dropped in the middle of the enclave from absolutely nowhere.
As well, the quick reach for her weapon meant that she was nervous, fearful, yet accustomed to the weight on her belt. It also represented a lack of training. The expression of confusion at his candor meant that she had expected some kind of hostility, or had just recently experienced some.
She also seemed to be hesitant to actually touch her weapon, which Kyle felt odd. A weapon was often an item of comfort, offering a bit of security even in the most unfamiliar situation. But to this woman, it was as if she was avoiding it. A cursed dagger, perhaps?
In any case, at least he should make some kind of pleasantries.
He slipped the water pouch back into its place on his belt, and wiped the excess water on his trousers. Dry, he offered his hand to the woman.
"Kyle Brogan," he said with a smile. "Nice to meet you. It seems the two of us both arrived in the middle of this place out of thin air. While I'm not exactly unfamiliar with the situation, perhaps we should get to know one another a bit. I have a feeling we might be in for a bit of a journey."
As they continued to walk through the forest, Fenris found her that enjoyment of her present circumstances continued to wane. She didn't like this place, it was strange and more than that it felt like she didn't belong here. She didn't like following others,and this had been a large part of her insistence, back in reality, that she should remain on her own, only traveling with others when it was necessary. She never took orders from anyone, a trait her father had always despised, and she seemed to constantly be in conflict. When she was younger, she had hated this, and she had done everything in her power to avoid fighting, but as she had grown older she had embraced her combative nature, and she had relished taking part in the massive conflict that was still reshaping her world. She was born to be a fighter, and this, more than anything, made her feel out of place here. After all, what good was a fighter in a world without conflict? "There is conflict," Angelus said, nonchalantly from her position ahead of Fenris. The warrior jumped at these words, utterly shocked by her companion's new-found ability to invade upon her private thoughts. "How did you..." The fighter started. "Know what you were thinking?" The angel said, smiling, "I didn't, I mean, not really, it's not like I literally heard the thought, I just..." She trailed off, trying to find the right words. "I felt the idea," She decided, "I could sense uncertainty in you, and I could sense that it stemmed from conflict, so I guessed that you didn't think that there was any conflict in this world, and I just want you to know that there is. It's just not the kind of conflict you're used to." The warrior nodded, trying to understand what the angel had said. "So there is conflict, but not fighting," She said, uncertainty in her tone. "There can be fighting, but there are also types of conflict that don't require physical conflict," The angel replied, "I mean, the same is true in your world, but in that place the physical is played up. This world is different. The conflicts are more...internal, I suppose." Fenris said nothing, but a look of confusion spread across her face. The angel sighed as she saw this, certain that she had not made herself clear. "Look, Fenris, think of it this way, what has been troubling you since you got here?" She asked. The warrior considered the question. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do," She said calmly. The angel nodded, smiling. "Right," She said, "So there's a conflict. You have to fight with yourself to find your own purpose." Fenris frowned. "I thought Esse was going to tell me my purpose," She said, annoyed. The angel rolled her eyes. "Trust me," She said, "Esse could give you directions to the store and you'd still not understand them. My dearest sister speaks in riddles and in abstract concepts, so don't expect a lot of clarity from her." For a moment they continued to walk in silence, but suddenly the angel smiled, her smirk returning. "We're in luck," She said cheerfully, "Looks like you've got a companion with a very, very similar plight to yours." She rolled her eyes again, something she did far too much Fenris noticed. "I swear, it's like everyone glanced at each other's notes." Fenris could make nothing of this statement, but since the angel did not elaborate she decided not to question her about it. The angel, in return, did not answer the question she had sensed. "Come on," She said to Fenris, "There are others up ahead. One is like you in that she is strong willed, independent, and presently confused, but unlike you in that she is a thinker, not a fighter. You could both learn from each other. There is also one much more certain than either of you, who seems to simply be looking for adventure." She smiled. "Well," She said with a bizarre glee, "He'll find that we have no shortage of that here." Fenris was about to ask how her angelic companion had discovered all of this, but she received an answer before the words could even escape her lips. "I sensed their thoughts," The angel said, "It really is a useful skill, in case you were wondering." The warrior could imagine it was, but that knowledge didn't do her any good. "I could teach it to you, y'know," The angel said, smiling, "It's really not that hard, you just need to be more empathic." Fenris nodded, smiling slightly. Perhaps this diversion into this strange new land was not a complete waste. The ability to sense the thoughts of others would serve her well in her native land, if only so that she could more easily discern friend from foe. "And how do I become more empathic?" She asked. The angel stared at her incredulously, as if this question made no sense. "Well, first," She said, "You stop being an anti-social nitwit." "Meaning?" Fenris asked. In response the angel vanished from sight, appearing behind Fenris and shoving her off of the path. "Go make friends," The angel called to her as she tumbled off of the path and through the undergrowth. As she got to her feet Fenris turned to scowl at the angel, but before she could she found that she was on the edge of a stream, and that she was not alone. A beautiful woman with dark hair stood nearby, and close to her was another traveler baring a strange blue sword. Fenris said nothing as she watched them, she simply tried to find Angelus. She did not have to look long, as the angel suddenly slid back into existence beside her. "Ah come on,"The angel taunted, behaving more like a child than divine being, "How are you going to make friends if you don't talk to anyone." Fenris glared at the angel, and started to turn back to the path, but before she could she heard her own voice echo through the clearing. She turned, watching as Angelus smiled, speaking in the warrior's voice. "Excuse me," Came the angelic imitator's call, clearly aimed at the other travelers, "I seem to have lost my way, could either of you assist me." Fenris was livid, and she turned back, placing her hand on her blade, tempted to strike the angel, but before she got the chance the angel faded from sight once more, leaving only Fenris and the other travelers. She waited for the others to turn to her, inwardly hoping that the angel would not find some way to force this game to go on for much longer.
OOC-If I have learned anything from this, it is that all spirit guides are nothing more than children who have learned how to speak like philosophers.
This little situation wasn't anything new to Kyle, obviously. He's been through it before, numerous times, and it was usually at the beginning of some crazy scheme where there's be some person offering him and his newfound friends something, and then they'd make their way into the middle of some adventure, only to eventually be stabbed in the back by the very same people who were asking for their help.
It was a common cycle in his life, one that he'd often wondered about, and one that he saw quite clearly while perusing the vast library of thoughts, ideas, and even the pages of notes that the writer had put together. Kyle had complained about the process several times, and he and the writer had even had a few rather intricate conversations about the whole thing.
Kyle had been surprised to find that the writer was in fact, very aware of this strange cycle of events, and even moreso, was slightly annoyed by it. But in the end, both of them had conceded that there was very little else that the writer could have done, given the situations that he had been thrust into.
However, thought Kyle. That doesn't mean that I can't do anything about it.
He continued to address the black-haired woman in front of him, without missing a single beat.
"As I talk to you," he continued. "I can only assume that there are others like the two of us walking around in this forest."
He indicated the clearing rimmed by the dense foliage and trees.
"Generally, we show up in these little starting points in groups of about a half-dozen. Not sure why it happens that way, but it does. In any case, we should start seeing some of our other companions coming out of the woodwork soon enough."
"If my timing is correct," said Kyle, the grin wide on his face. "We should our next acquaintence in three," he put out his fingers to emphasize the point. "Two, one..."
"Excuse me," came another woman's voice. "I seem to have lost my way. Could either of you assist me?"
Kyle winked calmly at the dark-haired woman before him, and turned slightly.
"Oh sure," said Kyle to this new newcomer. "Welcome to the Unnamed Forest. This here is my new friend 'dark-haired lady,' and we've both been dropped here without a clue as to why, or what we're supposed to do about it."
"My name is Kyle Brogan," he said offering a casual salute. "Could I get your name? Or do I have to rely on my already-astounding nicknaming skills?"
Fenris tried her best to smile at her fellow traveler, but the resulting expression only made her look uncomfortable, which she was. "My name is Fenris Wolfe," She said, "And I'm..." Before she could finish however, she was cut off by the only familiar voice in this strange new world. "Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention," Angelus called, reappearing on a high branch in a nearby tree, "You're really one to call my name redundant, Ms.Wolf Wolf." Fenris sighed, covering her face with her hand. She was quickly growing annoyed with her constant companion, and the little angel wasn't doing anything to improve her reputation. "Sorry," She said, turning back to Kyle, "That's Angelus, and she claims to be my guardian angel." As Fenris spoke Angelus threw herself from her perch, unfurling two massive white wings from her back and gliding gracefully down to where her charge stood. As Fenris finished speaking she slid to a stop, coming to a halt in between the two adventurers. "Hello," She said, smiling politely at Kyle and holding out her hand, "The name's Angelus, pleased to meet you." The angel tilted her head slightly, considering the newcomer. "So,what exactly brings you to this lovely forest today Mr.Brogan?" Fenris looked away from the angel, crossing her arms and doing little to hide her annoyance. It was nice to know that the angel was capable of being polite, now if only she would show some of that courtesy to the one she was supposed to be guarding.
Many years have passed into the unruly loop of the past, like that of waves rippling into the red-veiled horizon, since the time Arem’s parents fled from poverty leaving him on the banks of solitude. They would have been pleased to see that his frail frame became of a healthy average size, his shoulders became broader, and his somewhat darker olive complexion was free from any blemish. He grew his black beard full and rich, his hair curled to his ears as vines to the trunks of trees, and his almond-shaped eyes were dark brown like his fathers. With all of this, any mother or father would have been contented, except with the knowledge that he continued to dwell in poverty. Moreover, their displeasure would have intensified knowing that he compensated for this penniless ruin with fighting.
The irony of the entire situation was his lack of combative skills. Once, his right arm was broken in two places by a six foot beast of a burly man, and a woman (her gender is still in question) ruptured a disc in his lower back. However, this did not limit the price of entertainment he made available to the crowd, although it made him seem like a circus buffoon. He was lively, he described every move before he carried it out, he mocked the blood pouring from his nose, he was the crowd’s distraction from hardship.
Throngs of people gathered in the back of a run-down stone house, with its white paint chipping from the edifice revealing water-stained concrete. Howling and whooping sounds filled the dark night from the ravenous army preparing for a great fight, and Arem was ready to serve them. He walked into the dirt battleground staring at his opponent, who was a solid, 5’11” black man baring is exceedingly white teeth. He wanted to devour Arem layer by layer, marrow by marrow. Arem wiped his sweaty palms on the back of his torn cargo shorts, and reached for the earth to dry his hands and bare chest.
A short, stout man pushed his way through the crowd, and positioned himself between Arem and his opponent. He cleared his throat arrogantly, and released a surprisingly booming voice from his mouth.
“Gentlemen…and gentle gals! Here to my right stands the infamous, men of men, jack of all fights, heartthrob fighting machine, Arem The Bulllllllll!!!” He screamed, rousing the gathering to monstrous cheers and applause.
With a quick, comical gesture to the left, he bellowed in a deep, hoarse voice,
“Aaaaand standing to my left is the black stallion of the west, the towering beast of the east, the raging horse of the north, the dirty clout of the soooouth, William ‘The Nightmare’ Dooocckeryyyyyy!!!
“Now you boys both know the rules. No running, telling, or giving up. You fight until your opponent is unable to continue, and most importantly you put on a show. Let’s do this.”
The announcer scurried back into the midst of the people, and left in the center was Arem and William, staring at each other with focus and the intent to hurt, perhaps more so on William’s side.
Arem smiled and extended his hand towards his opponent, only to be greeted with a left hook to his chin like lightening bolting down on a tree. The crowd roared in laughter and hollow ohs. The fight had begun. Arem dug several punches into his foes ribs, and connected one to his nose.
“Ah so here it is, the beast has been stung,” Arem cried out, sending the people in to a rage of excitement.
Angrily, his opponent charged at him with full force. Gripping Arem’s left arm, he pummeled his fist into Arem’s spine, one, two, four, five…Arem screamed in pain then began to chuckle.
“You’re weak compared to Lady Anne,” he said, continuing to laugh.
William turned him around forcefully, and smashed his head into Arem’s, making him collapse to the floor. Blood trickled from his nose to his teeth which he bore in a wincing grin. Several stomps from the opponent’s feet came crashing down into his ribs making cracking sounds like that of a foot stepping on twigs.
The short man darted out of the crowd agilely, and grabbed William.
“Whoa whoa whoa! Ok ok big boy ok!”
Hearing this, the crowd booed the announcer and tried to incite the fighters to continue, however Arem was down for the count. A tall man grabbed Arem by the arms and dragged him away from the raging crowd.
“Come now kid,” he whispered with a heavy accent.
He uplifted himself painfully and flung his arm around the guy’s shoulder. They both hobbled to the small bar nook across the street and entered into the side door. He placed Arem on one of the stools, and went to the back of the bar.
“At least this time you hit him once. Ha! The name’s Pierre, you drink?”
Arem grinned, and then grimaced while holding his ribs.
“Only out of shame,” he then replied.
“Ha! Well then this one’s on the house.”
The bartender cleaned a small glass with a white towel, and filled it with a dark-tinted beer. He slid the drink along the table into Arem’s hand.
“I’m guessing you’ve been doing this for years,” Arem said chucking down the drink, along with the pain throughout his body.
“Meh, somewha’, wha’ bout you?”
“About a year, pays alright.”
“Same here…how much you make tonigh’?”
“Not bad,” Pierre said, nodding his head to the amount.
A multitude of the audience from the fight began filing into the bar. While passing, many of them patted Arem’s back and a few “good fight” phrases were uttered. He enjoyed the many congratulations and the excitement of the people, but not as much as his short companion, who lived off of the excitement of it all. He entered the bar jovially, shaking a money bag in his hands.
“Here you go. That was short but memorable eh? Hey Pierre! Sunshine on the rocks.”
“Hey Dougie,” Arem grabbed the bag from his hands.
Pierre leaned against the bar, and handed Dougie his drink.
“Let me ask you guys something. Have you ever heard of this place called limbo?” Arem asked, sipping the last dregs of his beer, and looking into the empty glass as if the answer was inside.
Dougie choked on his drink, and retorted, “You’re not thinkin’ of leavin’ me eh?”
“Well folks ‘round ‘ere call it Al-Aaraaf. Y’know like a type of purgatory. Never wan’ed no par’ of it.”
“Yeah me neither…but…”
There it was again, that deep drawing void of longing for his family that never returned. The mere thought, or rather question as to what had become of them. The whirling memories of them once being here, then suddenly they were submerged into this realm unlike any other. A place that Arem, at the time, knew was not for him, but seemed drawn by it ever since his family ventured into it. He was torn by his once stance on the matter as a young boy, and his newfound pull towards it.
Abedah didn't know what to do. People had always been tools to an end, certainly not to be trusted. Data, information, physics - these things were predictable. They could be counted on to bring the same results under the same conditions time and time again. As long as you understand the rules, they could never hurt you. But people had a long history of doing little else but hurting one another, often in horrible ways. This boy? man? in front of her - he had features of both youth and age - was dressed to the hilt in battle gear. He was obviously used to causing pain, but was he used to being hurt? Lily, (well, at least I can think my own name) you're over thinking this whole thing. Just introduce yourself and get to know the man. Maybe he's got the answers you need to get you out of here.
Kyle hardly gave her a chance to answer, but she was taking quite some time to do so, so he just kept on speaking. But before she could open her mouth, this voice called out from the woods. The voice was then accompanied by two beings. One was introduced as an angel. Lily didn't believe in spiritual beings; but since she couldn't explain how she came to this place, she could at least approach it as an authority which the other traveler tended to defer to.
"I am L- Abedah. Angel, perhaps you can explain where we are and why we are gathering? Is this place even real?"
Angelus giggled as Lily spoke, responding to the thoughts she was sensing from the woman. She was really quite flustered, this woman, as her knowledge was of logic and science, and this world lacked in logic. More than that, it forced her to interact with people, something she didn't seem to like very much. It was really quite convenient that Angelus had found her, because at the very least it gave Fenris a companion that she could understand. People that don't like others tend to make wonderful friends. She could also sense that the woman did not believe in the spiritual. 'That's quite fine,' Angelus thought to herself, 'For I am not a fairy, and I don't shrivel and die because of your disbelief.' "Well, L-Abedah," Angelus said, laughing, "This is the void, the dead space where all of the things that Esse has decided no longer belong in what you call the "fantasy game" go, it's also where the game itself,and that nice, self-generating core you gave it comes up with the scenarios for the players. Essentially, this is where everything in the game begins, and everything ends, or at the very least that's how I've always thought of it. In specific, this is the Lost Woods, and while I cannot say for certain why all of us are here, I can guess why you are. Normally one goes to this area to learn who they are. They go in lost, and they leave having found themselves. However, given that Kyle here seems to know who he is quite well, I'd say I might be mistaken. The void has a funny way of changing it's own agenda, so only the Is could tell you why you are really here now. What you are doing here, and what you take from the experience is up to you." She smirked, a knowing smirk that filled Fenris with dread, as it gave the first hints of a vast wisdom that she had not previously seen in her companion. "As for whether this place is real or not," The angel said, "Reality is subjective. In your mind, no, this would be a fantasy, but what you call a reality is a fantasy to a more distant power still, and we can only guess at whether what they call reality is any more real." The angel continued to smile, as she finally let her eyes meet with Abedah's. "Still," She said, "If what I can tell from your thoughts is true, than you know why you are here. Your task is to discover that on your own. I cannot tell you your purpose, I can only help you find that out for yourself." She turned to Fenris, giving her a sad, but reassuring look. "Same goes for you, my wondrous warrior," She said, a melancholy in her voice, like that of a parent trying to help a child that is far away. Fenris nodded slowly, beginning to process how the angel felt. She was here to help Fenris, she knew, but at the same time it pained her that she could only help the warrior to a certain degree. Fenris' pain was her pain, and the warrior's successes were hers as well. "Now your starting to get it," The Angel said softly to the warrior, "See, this empathy thing isn't that hard, is it?"
Es tu angé? Kyle almost laughed out loud. It's as if I'm part of some continual Illusionary cliché!
So, here stood the four of them.
Abedah, the dark-haired scientist or whatever, who apparently didn't like people and wanted this radically illogical place to make some sense. She also seemed to be integral to the creation of The Mind Game itself.
Probably an important piece of information to remember.
Fenris Wolfe, who if Kyle remembered his Norse mythology, seemed to be named after the mythical hound who bit off the hand of the god, Tyr. She seemed able enough, some type of warrior.
Angelus, the angel. That one almost made Kyle chuckle. He half-expected Arael or Sway to pop out and pinch him just to wake him from some crazy daydream, but yet, here was Fenris' guardian angel, here to explain everything.
And, of course, there was Kyle, who was ready for something to do that may or may not involve the use of his sword against something or someone with some type of fighting skill. That itch for battle was gnawing at him again, and he needed something to scratch.
"Lost Woods, eh?" Said Kyle, mostly towards Angelus. "Any idea what's outside of them? A beach? Some wild plains? Or does this just keep going?"
He paused for only the barest of moments. "Wait a minute," he said. "Why don't we just go find out? Anyone up for a little hike through the dark and scary forest?"
Fenris smiled at the thought, as that seemed more up her alley. After all, she had heard something growling in the undergrowth, and as long as she had an opponent she had a purpose. Still, as this thought occurred to her, she felt something like regret fill her. 'Perhaps,' Said a small voice in the back of her head, 'You should seek out something more meaningful than fighting to base your life around. Perhaps you only fight to hide from the problems that you don't want to face.' Fenris was unsure of how to handle this idea, but in her heart she knew that it was true. She had always used fighting as an excuse to run away, but she didn't know what she was running from. 'Maybe I really can find out something about myself in these woods,' She thought. "Sounds like a plan to me," She said to Kyle, "I mean, it's better than just standing around talking." Angelus fell back on her heels again, considering the idea. Fenris noted with amusement that the angel seemed to have remarkable balance, and that she seemed to be testing this by rocking back and forth, leaning further back each time. 'How fitting,' She thought to herself, 'An angel that can't fall.' "I suppose there's nothing better to do," The angel said, "I mean, the only thing close by is the temple of Creation, which is where we were headed, but even then there would be little to gain by heading there. Besides, you never know what revelations about yourself could be waiting behind the next tree." She let her eyes rest on Abedah as she said the last word, wondering how this woman would react. Fenris and Kyle were fighters and experienced travelers, and the idea of finding the secrets that waited in a land like this would be instantly appealing to them, but in this woman's case her reaction wasn't so certain. Either way, some self discovery could probably do this woman some good. 'Your reality has jaded you,' Angelus thought, 'Perhaps you have come here to discover the wonders that exist within life.' Then again, maybe she hadn't. Angelus couldn't tell, she knew nothing of this woman. Still, as she wondered what these woods would reveal to the others, she became more certain of what Fenris would likely learn from this place. 'You know how to fight, and you aren't afraid to face your struggles,' The angel thought, 'Now you just have to learn what's worth fighting for.' She looked back at the warrior, and into those stern eyes, and wondered if she'd be too stubborn to find out the answer to that question. Angelus had a feeling she would. Then again, Angelus always believed in the best possible outcome. This mindset kind of came with the wings, after all.
OOC-I feel bad, in that Fenris and Angelus feel less developed than everyone else's characters, but I'm genuinely writing both for the first time,so I'm trying to figure out what makes them tick. Perhaps I need this little excursion more than anyone else.
In Free Play? That's impossible. Free Play is a virtual world, completely digital. There is no possible way for a human being, or any other kind of being, to jump from the analog world of chemistry, physics, and biology to the digital world of information transfer and analysis. How long she had been here, Lily couldn't tell. It was certainly less than half a day, but did time register in 24-hour increments here as it did in other human habitats? If she assumed that the Free Play explanation was false, she was left with two logical alternatives. She was either dreaming, which she did rarely and never so realistically, but then she had been extraordinarily tired; or she was dead. Though her Chinese heritage taught that people reincarnated in cycles, that time itself was fluid, Lily had never accepted that idea. It was superstition from a more barbaric time, when gods and spirits were frightening creatures that hid in every danger. Nevertheless, here she was. She couldn't think of any other possible explanations, so it was apparent she was going to have to determine which of these impossible scenarios was the most correct. Without any additional input, she would consider it a dream.
"A hike sounds like a perfect idea," she replied to Kyle's suggestion. "Would you mind leading the way, Mr. Brogan?"
He chuckled in his charming way. "You may want to consider filling your canteen before we go."
Canteen? Oh, my - which of these pouches is for water? Come to think of it, what's in these other ones? Abedah moved her hand blindly to one of the pouches and took it deftly off her belt. Without thinking, she bent over to the pool and filled it with water. The pouch swelled with the added weight, but did not burst. It seemed she had grabbed the correct pouch without even knowing which it was. As she was bending over, she felt, more than saw, a shadow play in the water. It was a shadow of deja vu, a memory that she couldn't hold on to, but was so far away it seemed like a dream within a dream. The memory also carried a sense of anticipation. What had she seen? What was the memory?
The sun was high in sky as they began their trek through the woods. Though there were only the barest of indications, Kyle would have guessed the time to be just about midday. It wasn't overly hot, but that could probably be owed to the tree canopy. The humidity and the creature activity throughout the undergrowth seemed to give off the impression of summer, or at least late spring.
What better time to be hiking through the woods?
His memories came to his mind yet again, of past travels through woods and forests, or even just of past adventures throughout this infernal Mind Game. For most of the adventurers that Kyle had met in Illusionia, this place was really more of a surprise. It was a place that they arrived in, and not their native land.
Apparently the Mind Game was a place that those in "reality," (or wherever the writer was from), entered via a complete and utter accident. Sometimes they entered through a portal, sometimes they were whisked into the world through a computer, or sometimes they simply appeared, almost out of thin air.
Though Kyle was used to the strangeness of the process by now, it still fascinated him.
Because for him, Illusionia was home, and not the other way around.
His first years in life had always been a little hazy to him, but he remembered his relatively brief tenure on the streets of New York all too well. But that had been but a fleeting experience, and even in the midst of those young years, Kyle had known that he didn't actually belong in that place.
Inter-dimensional travel always seemed to elicit a certain uneasiness from the travellers. Once, long ago, Kyle had spoken with some of his companions about the phenomenon in between the scenes that the writers had been creating.
And you always thought we just stood around waiting for the writers to pick things back up again.
Each of them, while in a seperate dimension, or "alternate universe," had to learn to supress a rather flesh-crawling feeling that seemed to indicate that the person didn't actually belong in this place. It wasn't exactly painful, or even unpleasant. It was more just a prick of conscience, similar to a gnawing feeling in the back of one's mind when something just doesn't feel quite right.
For Kyle, that feeling, right now, was gone.
He reached out in front of himself, pushing aside some underbrush with his bracer-covered arm. His companions still seemed to be following at a steady pace, but the hours were starting to blend.
Still, they said very little as they pressed forward. Though Kyle was still grinning as widely as ever, he didn't say much except to offer minor instructions here or there. Honestly, he didn't have a clue where to go, but was simply headed in a straight direction.
With the water that he'd retrieved, he expected to be able to travel at least fifty miles, if they didn't push their luck too far. While that seemed like a long distance, Kyle knew that there were several forests throughout Illusionia which were far larger, some several times that length.
He hoped that they wouldn't have to camp in the midst of the trees for the night. Memories of the Red Desert Forest danced in his mind, including the rather unwelcome arrival of a group of burly, axe-weilding centaurs in the morning.
In an effort to keep his mind from wandering too much farther down that particular journey, he called back to the dark-haired woman behind him.
"So, Abedah," he said casually. "Who are you, really? I mean, I can go first if that makes you feel more comfortable, but it'd be nice to at least get to know my travelling companions, you know?"
He turned back to Fenris and Angelus. "And be thinking, you two," he said with a grin. "Cause you're next."
Pan had already started fiddling with his fishing pole, he looked up, annoyed,"Them!"
For a second a look of realization flitted over &'s face, but it was fleeting, and soon replaced by a look of utter confusion. "Yeah, but who is them again?"
Pan finished unscrewing the base of his pole from the thinner top half, revealing a small, circular red button on the inside. His thumb went to press the button down, but hovered momentarily as Pan looked up again, even more annoyed, "The them we've been sitting around waiting for, for who knows how many cycles."
& thought about this for a second, "Oh."
Pan pressed the red button.
& looked around for a second, and then looked over at Pan, "I think the battery died."
Pan fumed, "It's only been used once! There's no way the battery is dead!" He pressed the button again.
Again nothing happened. & clicked his tongue knowingly, "See, I told you so."
Pan glared at shortened rod with the button, and then gave it a few experimental whacks against the palm of his other hand. He pressed the button once more.
A large whooshing sound like a great pressure being released from a small opening emanated up from the darkened depths of the pond, accompanied by a massive pillar of bubbles floating up to the surface.
Pan grabbed on to one of the corner poles of the dock as it began to shake violently, with & grabbing on to the one opposite him. Grinning with this development, Pan crowed, "I knew the battery wasn't dead, oh ye of little faith."
& only nodded, half his attention focused on the pole that was preventing him from falling into the roiling water, the other half dedicated to watching a small shadow in the depths of the pond that was growing steadily in size.
Bubbles continued to froth and churn the surface of the pond as the stoic pair observed the shadow had grown to about a quarter of the size of the dock, and was much darker now.
"Not much longer now, I should think", Pan muttered absentmindedly.
As if in response to this, the dark shape breached the surface of the pond in a final tumult of bubbles. An egg-shaped chamber, metallic in substance, though almost imperceptibly so due to the amount of green algae, barnacles, and other aquatic plants that had grown on its curved surface, rose above the pond on a pair of telescoping, mechanical legs until the chamber was nearly as far out of the water as the pair of limbo sprites who stood, mouths gaping, on the dock. The machine halted its ascent abruptly and locked into place with a sharp mechanical clang.
The dock once again stationary, Pan released his grip from the support pole. He cautiously walked to the end of the dock where the chamber had finally come to rest and reached a hand out to feel around the surface of the machine. He found what he was looking for and wiped his hand back and forth, as if polishing it. Several thick layers of algae and muck flew off into the water, revealing what appeared to be a small, rectangular window beneath. He put his face to the window and peered inside. A pair of fierce, turquoise eyes stared back at him, causing him to gasp in surprise.
"Oh! Up so soon?" He turned to & who was still gripping the support pole and staring, wide-eyed. "Well, get over here! I'm gonna need your help getting this thing open. Let's not make him wait any longer."
If this really was a dream, Abedah considered, then perhaps the best way to get out of it and back to her existence - she couldn't really call it a life, if she thought about it; but it was what she knew and what she was comfortable with - would be to travel down this wretched road of memory. Perhaps a part of her was yearning for something of a time gone by. It would be illogical for her to dwell on such things during her waking hours, for the past could not be changed. And it was illogical to yearn for something one could not obtain. The most logical way of being was to live in the present, and complete one's job to the best of their ability. However, she was human, and logic doesn't answer every human need. There was one human need she had that simply couldn't be filled, the need for love.
"I suppose I might as well, though there isn't much to tell. Who I am here, I have no idea. Before I met you by the pool, I was met by a mirror image of myself, an odd creature that I have to assume can change its appearance, who told me my name was Abedah and any other I might try to use would go unheard. I've tested that curse, and somehow it seems to be holding. It said when I figure out what this place is and what I'm doing here, the curse would be lifted. You seem to have had many experiences in, if not this place then one like it. Some part of me is adept at wielding the tools of my trade here, but what that is or what I've done before in this body, I have no recollection.
"In my reality, as you call it and I remember it, I am responsible for everything that makes this 'fantasy game' run and everything around it. Earth, and the human race, has been in a brutal struggle against an alien race with whom we cannot communicate or dialog and who seems intent on destroying us for no apparent reason for longer than I have been alive, which is a very long time indeed. My country, China, was greatly devastated during the first invasion. We were recovering, growing, stronger than we had been before, when the Formics returned. I was a teenager then, and determined to learn all I could about the human race as individuals, so perhaps we could find the strength in ourselves to defeat this undefeatable foe. By skill or by luck, one of our own found a way to stop the second invasion. From that time on, we have been preparing for an inevitable third invasion. My combined knowledge of the human mind and technology made me a unique asset to the organization created to make those preparations. And that is what I have been doing for more than thirty years. It probably sounds like a mundane existence from your perspective, but I find my adventures in my own way."
As Abedah talked, the group continued their hike, trudging their way through the underbrush with a relatively steady pace.
Kyle wasn't exactly surprised by who she explained herself to be, but as the "creator" of the mind game, and really, a main builder of Illusionia itself, it was obvious that her actions would carry significant weight here.
What could be gained from placing the Mind Game's creator inside of her own creation? I mean, aside from the rather karmic nature of the idea, what could really be gained by it?
While "resting" in his previous perfunctory limbo, Kyle had actually read up on some of this Formic War material while the writer was browsing through his library. Something about some kid who is destined to save the world from aliens or some other nonsense. For Kyle, engaging an enemy in space just didn't translate well for him. Where were the ground battles? Where were the fights between soldiers where the real wars were always won?
The Mind Game, however, had been a repeated phrase throughout the library. Something about a world where things could be created from thin air, could shift and change with an almost unpredictable fluidity. This intrigued him specifically because he had recognized exactly who he was at that moment.
Kyle Brogan was a creation of the Mind Game.
While he recognized that there were many different parts of the Game itself, Kyle wondered briefly whether this person at his side would be considered his creator, at least inadvertently.
She wouldn't have any direct knowledge of Kyle himself, of course. Having never been within the confines of Illusionia, she wouldn't have understood the consequences of her own actions. Instead, she probably wouldn't have even considered it. How could she have fathomed the personal ramifications of what she had created? That an entire world, sprawling cultures, strange and intricate creatures - All had been created by the Game itself, all without this woman's knowledge.
Recognizing his own actual creation should have startled him. It should have rattled him. But one piece of knowledge kept him from losing his grip. Kyle realized that, despite appearances, he wasn't actually a creation of the Mind Game itself.
Sure, it may have looked that way. He had appeared in the Game, first and foremost. According to the Illusionia mythos, he was born here in Illusionia, and in fact had lived most of his life there. But, he knew the well from which he had originally sprung.
He knew his own creator.
He knew the writer.
So who was this person who claimed to be the creator of it all? Was she being truthful? Or not? There was a lot of things to discover, and Kyle wasn't sure where exactly he stood within it all.
Honestly, he kind of wished that he had someone that he could talk with about all of this. Kyle's own strengths had never been in trying to actually make sense of all the insanity that surrounded his life. Instead, he had simply been trying to resolve the problems that seemed to consistently arrive, all in an attempt to just keep the forces of evil at bay long enough for his friends around him to live their lives without fear of having their souls destroyed.
You know, for a change.
He realized, however, that he hadn't responded to Abedah.
"That doesn't actually sound too bad," he said cavalierly. "Sometimes I actually wish I could put the sword down and think through things for a change."
The forest was starting to thin out. Kyle quickly stepped towards the edge of the trees, and crouched at the edge of the brush. No sense leaping out into exposure without knowing what was waiting for them. He hunched against a tree, and scanned out into this new clearing.
Before them stood a mountain pond, in what looked like a rather inconspicuous bowl nestled in the midst of a circle of small peaks. It seemed as if this so-called "Lost Forest" was actually on the top of a mountain, or possibly a mountain range.
Stupid, thought Kyle. Should have picked up on the high elevation.
Then again, any change from the rather airless confines of the writer's subconscious had been a shift in paradigm.
The pond was wide, but not quite large enough to be considered a lake. That, however, was where the lack of strangeness ended. Kyle could make out a roughly egg-shaped construct hovering above the pond, covered in algae and plant life, supported by a series of telescoping steel legs. A long, wooden dock extended out towards it, built obviously for this singular purpose.
At the end of this dock, peering into the construct's viewing window, stood two rather excitable creatures that Kyle couldn't quite make out. Were they satyrs? Sprites? He wasn't sure.
He turned to Angelus.
"If you have any suggestions about what to do next, I'm all ears."
In the depths of a pond situated in the crater of a dormant volcano, a curious egg-shaped machine sits on the bottom of the pond, grown over by verdant algae, long tendrils of pond weeds, and even some crusty barnacles. Due to the apparent growth of life on and around the machine, it appears to have been there for quite a long time.
Inside the metallic capsule, a naked human form curled into the fetal position floats in a clear, bubbly gelatin. An impressive amount of wires and tubes lead to and away from the sleeping figure, connecting him in several places to the machine's life-support systems.
The single source of illumination for the chamber is an eerie violet diode located in the middle of what could be called the ceiling of the capsule. However, in a shiver of electric activation the chamber twitches ever so slightly, and the light switches over to a warm amber color. At the same time, the sleeping figure's eyes twitch, and then begin visibly moving in small circles beneath the membrane of his eyelids.
Upon activation, the machine's first task was to begin awakening its occupant, as well as initiate the re-animation procedures. First, a dose of highly concentrated adrenalin and caffeine is spiked directly into the occupant's temporal lobe, via a thin tube snaking its way up the occupant's nose.
Caspar's eyes shot open as the dose worked its magic and sent his nervous system into overdrive. For the first time in a long time, he was aware. He didn't know how long he had slept in darkness, waiting, but the sensation of consciousness was so strange and unfamiliar that he reflexively convulsed.
Big mistake. Throwing up while floating in a dispersion of gelatin is about the same thing as throwing up while doing a hand-stand. There was also the issue of the breathing tube in his throat that partially obstructed the path of the "vomit". Luckily for Caspar though, he hadn't eaten any real food, or anything at all as a matter of fact, since his installation into the egg. His metabolism had not only been slowed, it had been completely frozen. So he only got a face full of bitter tasting bile, instead of a smorgasborg of vile-tasting chunks masquerading as partially-digested food.
Excellent. Yet another comical introduction. He's done it again!
As Caspar lamented his lot in life, or at least his lot as a fictional creation of someone else's mind, re-animation procedure two was implemented, the draining and venting of the endoplasmic gelatin that had helped preserve him through the ages and kept his frail body from drying out or getting jostled too much by unpredictable seismic and volcanic activity.
He had been suspended, both in time and in gelatin, for so long that he had completely forgotten what it was like to support his own weight. As the gelatin was vented into the outside water, Caspar found himself standing awkwardly on his legs for a split second before crumpling to the floor unceremoniously in a slimy slick heap of atrophied flesh and bone.
"Real smooth", he mumbled around the oxygen tube that fed down his throat, so it actually sounded like "wheel smoo". He gripped the tube as firmly as he could in his still-awakening right hand and tugged feebly. He could feel the tube scraping against the sides of his esophagus, it was sickening, but relieving at the same time. After a few more tugs the tube came out with a "spluk" sound, accompanied by several ounces of saliva and what could only be described as "gunk".
Caspar took a few breaths of his own, breathing in the distilled, but still stuffy air of the capsule. His lungs felt like they were creaking as they stretched and relaxed on their own power.
He sat there, breathing slowly for a second and rubbing his throat until he felt a lurch, and heard a whooshing sound, accompanied by the mechanical whine of servos and motors. The capsule was ascending.
Angelus blinked, obviously flustered by Kyle's sudden insistence for an answer. "I'm not any more sure than you are, I've never seen anything like this in my life!" She cried, trying to contain her shock. While she wasn't exactly telling the truth, she wasn't lying either, as the only thing she had ever seen that even resembled the capsule were the storage chambers that Esse used for unused avatars, and even those were different. Likewise, she had never seen anything like the two sprites that waited at the end of the dock. She sighed, closing her eyes and doing her best to sense the thoughts of those out on the dock. The pair that stood outside the capsule seemed to be focused on what was within the capsule, and they didn't have any of the mischievous glee she would have expected from something that meant her trouble. Of course, few things in the void would cause her any trouble, but she didn't see any particular reason to fear them. The thing that lurked within the capsule itself was harder to sense, and the only thing that she could tell about it was that it was weak, and that it wasn't happy. "Everything seems harmless enough," She said to Kyle, somewhat sheepishly, embarrassed by her outburst, "But be careful, if Dragonball Z has taught me anything it's that nothing good ever comes out of capsules." "Dragon what?" Fenris asked, utterly confused. Angelus rolled her eyes. "Y'know, I always forget how unaware you are of the world outside this game," She said, "It's kind of annoying, actually." Fenris said nothing, she just decided that the comment was another one of the bizarre, nonsensical things that Angelus had made up, and that she would figure out what it meant another day. For now, there were more interesting matters to take care of.
"If I'm awake, and this thing is ascending, that can mean only one thing", Caspar mused out loud.
However, that statement wasn't exactly true. Caspar had given the sprites two conditions for bringing him back. The first was if Pan detected beings in close proximity with similiar mental patterns to Caspar's, aka so called "True Ones" (or people like them). The second was if Pan and & were in fatal danger and required emergency assistance. Caspar had no idea which provision was necessitating his re-awakening, but he was in a sour mood regardless. His throat hurt, he was covered in slime, he was naked and cold, he was too weak to stand on his own legs, he looked like a skeleton wrapped in skin, and judging from the condition of his atrophy he had been in stasis for quite a deal longer than he had originally planned on.
"Looks like you've been busy for quite some time, no time for little ol' me, eh?" Caspar observed out loud, seemingly to no one in particular. But he was addressing someone directly. That someone was his writer. He waited for a response, but none came.
"Oh, c'mon! I know you're there! Elsewise, I'd still be piddling around doing nothing. I got so sick of doing nothing in your absence that I actually put myself in a state of suspended animation. Can you even fathom what that's like? That's almost like committing suicide!"
Finally, Caspar's writer answered his creation. "Yeah...sorry about that. You know what it's like, taking classes, teaching classes, relationship stuff, second jobs..."
Caspar shook his head, an annoyed smile fixed on his face. "No, I don't know what it's like, and you know that, too. I don't know what a lot is like, heck, I don't even know what it's like to finish a story-line."
The writer paused a second, "You know what, I don't know what that's like either."
Caspar laughed. A loud, eerie, deranged laugh that would normally come from the mouth of a mad scientist playing Got. It would normally be written out as something like, "Mwahahahahahahaha!" He went on laughing like that for a rather long while, until he finally relented and responded, "Well, this here's yer golden opportunity, ain't it?"
The writer realized the truth of Caspar's words, even though he was mocking the writer's colloquial speech and slang. "Yeah, I guess it is."
Caspar nodded his head in agreement. "You know, I'm smarter than you give me credit for...and taller."
This time it was the writer's turn to laugh. "Haha, nice try, but I'm still writing you as 5'8"."
Caspar sulked. "I was over six feet in Imperial City."
"You also had green eyes in Imperial City, and some weird chocolate milk fetish, oh yeah, and I almost forgot, you slept in a dumpster and told jokes to cockroaches", the writer reminded him.
Caspar sighed, admitting defeat, "Point taken, but that was mainly your fault."
Suddenly, the capsule halted its ascent and clanged to a stop on its telescoping legs. "Well, it's been nice chatting and stuff, but I have a grand entrance to make", Caspar preened. "By the way, any word on whether I'm walking into an ambush, or a welcome-back-type-of-thing?"
The writer was too busy shoveling ramen noodles covered in thai peanut sauce into his mouth and watching the "Doctor Who" marathon on television to respond to Caspar's inquiry.
Caspar rolled his eyes and sighed once more. "A-hole."
“Ay go you to see Isabella abou’ those ribs uh”, Pierre insisted.
“Oh Pierre, calm ‘you’ down. This boy is a bull, right?” Dougie said, roughly slamming the back of his hand in Arem’s ribs. A low audible groan escaped his lips.
“Speaking of ribs, why are you suddenly interested in this Araaf place?” Dougie continued, stuffing the peanuts in his mouth from the small glass tray on the bar.
Arem shifted in his seat, uncomfortable about the question just posed. He really did not volunteer the story on his family’s sudden departure, and did not feel it should have been a detailed news report broadcasted to the masses. Cleverly, he decided to parry the question.
“And when did ribs become a part of limbo again hmm?”
Dougie grunted, “You underestimate me, boy. I speak a lot, and I hear a lot.”
“No one figh’in you on tha’ one bud,” Pierre laughed boisterously.
Dougie contorted his pasty plump face in a childish scowl, while his fleshy cheeks burned a bright ruby red.
“Alright boys, I’ll let yall hash this one out alone,” Arem said, slowly uplifting himself from the leather-encased stool.
“And where you think you’re going?”
“Dougie my dear, I’m going to see a man about a dog.”
While Arem walked to the entrance of the bar, Dougie screamed out sarcastic phrases, metaphors, and various similes explaining how he felt about him leaving. It did not matter, he was a man of sorts, and although Arem genuinely liked his colorful personality, he favored his ribs more, and in addition, Isabella was not so bad to look at. __________________________________________________________________________________________________
Pulling aside a thick brocade of red fabric from the doorway, Arem peered inside the elaborately decorated quarters. He knew this room all too well. The various emerald green pillows with gold stitching were placed neatly against the white walls, as he remembered them. There was a long, flat mattress on the floor that was covered in gold sheets, situated in a back room with a crimson throw pillow at the headrest. The final puzzle piece which made this alluring picture mesmeric was a tall, slender woman. Her auburn hair extended all the way to the end of her back, her eyes were a pale blue like the raging sea waves, and her mahogany complexion glistened against the candle light.
“I see you were waiting for me,” Arem said stepping inside.
She turned her head to the sound of his voice, and a girlish giggle parted her lips.
“You keep me in business, Arem…and no, I was actually waiting for my fiancé.”
He held his stomach mockingly, and remarked, “Ugh you’re not fixing my already afflicted condition with such a jab.”
“I thought it would bring you back to reality,” she answered coyly, her hands attending to the flowers on the nightstand.
“You can wait in the back room, Arem. I will be with you momentarily.”
“Ya Isabella, I hate when you call my name so charmingly with such robotic speech.”
“And I hate when you speak as if you were from an old story. Now, please go so I can get you fixed up, and outta here.”
She pushed him into the back room, hastily walked to another, and disappeared behind a black veil. Arem sat on the edge of the bed and waited for her to return. The room smelled of incense and burnt fragrant oils that reminded him of his mother. She was rather a thick, shapely woman who walked gracefully about the house, lit juniper and myrrh scented incense, and prepared dinner before his father returned from work. It was as if the smoke from those incenses in Arem’s memories casted shadows upon his mother’s face. She was becoming a blur in his mind, along with his sisters. The only reason why his father remained emblazoned in his memories was because he resembled him, and every time he saw his reflection in a puddle of water or in a glass jar, he saw a young version of his father.
Isabella returned with a withered silver tray that had a roll of gauze and a needle and thread. She placed the tray beside him, and walked to the corner of the room and grabbed a pillow. She sat in front of him and stared him in his eyes.
“Now, what’s the problem?”
“I think my ribs are broken-“
“And you have a gash on your arm,” she cut him off, and gave a small nod to his right arm.
She continued, “And I guess your shirt just happened to walk away.”
Arem smiled, “Unfortunately, I didn’t do this for you this time. I actually prefer to fight without a shirt because then the opponent does not have an advantage.”
“It seems like he already had an advantage.”
She unraveled the gauze and began wrapping it around Arem’s ribs tightly.
“Lay down so I can begin this stitching.”
Lying down, Arem asked, “Have you heard of limbo?”
“You mean Araaf?” She slouched over his arm and began sewing up his wound.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Why? Are you thinking of visiting them?” Isabella said, referring to his family.
She was the only one who knew about his family going to limbo many years ago. At the time, Isabella was the only one he loved and trusted, but she was someone whose decisions were based on the opinions of others. A flaw that he could not forgive…
She sighed, “Arem…please…”
“Your fiancé, I hear, knows a lot of it.”
“Yes, actually he’s looking for someone to go there for him. Perhaps you can take up that offer.”
“I have a feeling that you already told him I would,” Arem peered down at her, and she turned away shamefully.
“I thought…I thought it would be good for you,” she said quietly.
“Because you wanted to fix what you broke?”
Isabella’s head shot up with tears swelling in her eyes.
“That isn’t fair!”
Arem turned away from her and stared at the gaslight on the wall. The flames of the fire burned ferociously as the flame in his heart once did. However, a streaming water of acceptance put out those flames long ago.
She gave a small painful laugh, pushing aside her feelings, and then asked, “Would you like to speak with him?”
"I'm not any more sure than you are," said Angelus, a little more excitably than Kyle would have expected. "I've never seen anything like this in my life!"
"It's alright," said Kyle. "I have."
There were always inconsistancies throughout Illusionia that seemed to indicate that the "world" of the Mind Game wasn't always the most stable. Though much of the world was of a fantasy-medeival bent, there were always random things that seemed to appear that just didn't quite "fit" within the rest of their adventures.
Off the top of his head, Kyle could remember the street-race "chariots" from his old adventures in Aquais, as well as the mechanical giant, the Marut, who the True Ones had tangled with numerous times. He could also recall some kind of fairy-light machine that Najm had described to him during the Elderin Invasion. Suffice it to say, machinery and technology in this psuedo-medieval world never quite seemed to match the era that they were supposedly in.
Kyle had learned just to take the randomness in stride. He simply chalked the strangeness up to the fact that most of these "writers" were probably high or drunk or delirious whenever they started slinging their ideas around. Though he'd never actually caught his writer unsober, he'd seen him in crazy enough situations that it was hard to deny that a few screws were loose in that head of his, with or without an extra burst of strong liquid lubricant.
"Everything seems harmless enough," continued Angel.
"I guess," said Kyle, still eyeing the capsule. "I mean, we might as well check it out, right? I'm sure we can handle a couple of little sprites if need be."
Kyle stepped out of his hiding place, and started making his way towards the dock. He heard Angel's protest as soon as he started moving.
"But," she stammered. Be careful. If Dragonball Z has taught me anything it's that nothing good ever comes out of capsules."
Kyle smirked a little, and shook his head, climbing onto the dock. The wooden panels looked old, but dry. Sturdy. With a pond this small, it was obvious that this wooden construction had been built with only this capsule's eventual "reawakening" in mind.
The dark steel frame of the capsule's legs disappeared into the darkness of the pond, revealing its deceptive depth. Algae, barnacles, and other water life seemed to cling all over the structure, as if it had been laying dormant for years.
Then again, thought Kyle. Maybe this is something that's been sitting here from one of our old storylines. Did we leave it behind during Fatal Purity?
Kyle approached the little sprites, who were gazing intently into the small portal window on the side of the egg-shaped capsule. He hesitated for a moment, but then realized that he might as well get their attention.
"Hello there," he said calmly. "Could I ask what this is?"
She drove around a few times. Cars were so tricky and though she wanted to just click in, she had not studied the floor plan carefully enough to ensure that she would not end up stuck in a wall somewhere. For all the years that Sway had lived, she had never been so nervous. It was as if she were meeting a celebrity or leaving the love of her life.
Her level of anxiety even made it hard to park properly, and she was relatively sure that it was illegal to park inside an azalea bush, but she could not be sure. She walked up the planked wooden stairs gingerly, her black wings ruffling the feathers of a noisy neighbor.
She could still turn around. Her feet rested on a welcome mat with an asymmetrical African print. A door stood between them and a frightened voice inside her said she did not have to open it. The beautiful dunes of Pamuya awaited her if left now. She could go back to that sunny planet and reign as its leader forever. Or at least that is what she was assigned to do. It had been fun, but a few years of that had already bored her. Turn around now and keep doing what she had always done, or go forward and branch out into a new frontier here in this humble southern suburb. But there was always the possibility that she could be eliminated forever if this meeting did not go well.
Her over-warm hand touched the cool steel of the knob. Locked. She clicked through the door; that is she exchanged her location for another through mental means. She did not like the term teleport, it seemed like it implied wavy lines and beaming up. She was happy to know that she could click just about anywhere. The only place she couldn’t go was Illusionia. She needed her creator for that.
The sharp cry of a small dog greeted her. He ran up to her aggressively and, finally reaching her, pulled up short when he realized she was not a human being. He peed a little, backing up slowly tail firmly tucked. She, on the other hand, did not move. Instead she was taking in the living room. All the furniture was borrowed or second-hand. It was not run down, though. It comfortable and lived in. A true home, a place Sway had never had. The apartment was organized, but it was obvious that three people lived here because there were that many different types of furniture and artwork. There was a sewing, coffee, and turn table in the living room. What belong to whom? She was distracted by a wet sensation on her foot. After a few suspicious sniffs the dog had decided that she smelled extremely familiar and was eagerly licking the top of her feet. In fact, she smelled like his very favorite smell of all.
She scooped him up in her arms. At first he shivered, terrified yet thrilled, but after a few scratches behind his right ear he snuggled up to her feverishly attempting to lick her face. Weird. How did she know to do that? And how did he instantly recognize that she was no longer a threat after a simple sniff? She put him down.
With a delighted dog trotting proudly behind her she played a guessing game deciding which door belong to her. Her. What did she look like? What was she like? Was she even real?
She heard a woman laugh. It was like a girl’s laugh, high and infectious. She imagined someone only laughed like that with tears in their eyes, showing all their teeth. A smile broke her lips. This was the door. She opened it.
In front of her a young woman was typing on a red laptop. She was sitting in a green chair on a bare, blond desk, sockless with one foot on top of the other. She reared back and stretched, totally unaware that she was being watched.
Sway couldn’t breathe.
She was mahogany. Dark dreadlocks carelessly flowed down her back in neat curls. Heavy eyebrows framed the dense darkness of her almond eyes. She was plump, but shapely. Full lips that had just been in the act of laughing were now pulled back in a startled smirk.
Sway closed the door behind her.
“Who are you?” the woman demanded.
“You know who I am,” Sway said, “Although, we were both just girls when we met.”
“No,” the woman said. “No. This is crazy,” she laughed again, but this time the notes had a manic quality. “You can’t be here. You aren’t even real.”
“I’m not?—If I am not real, you are not real. What shall I call you angelo…mom?”
“Joslyn.” She said with finality. She was already slowly standing, her eyes hovering for just a moment too long on a wooden rod she kept behind the television. All pretenses of finishing this episode of The Office were over. “And I am real. I am not your mother. If anything…”
“We are the same person,” Sway finished her thought.
“No we aren’t. You’re a cold blooded killer, you were abused as a child, you can’t stay in a relationship—”
“Cold blooded killer? You’re just as heartless. You don’t cry at funerals and when someone’s hospital bound you don’t show the least bit of surprise or shock. You barely acknowledge your emotions and every decision you make is based off whether or not you’ll have to feel something later.”
“That’s not… entirely true.”
“And abused as a child? Your father is Dark Seas. He humiliated you as a child. And an adult! You only got on good terms with him when you stood up to him. And when did that happen? Like two years ago! So don’t talk to me about daddy issues.”
“How do…you even know this?” Joslyn asked slowly.
“I—don’t know—“ Sway admitted. Suddenly she realized that everything Joslyn knew about her, she also knew about Joslyn. “And you can’t stay in a relationship for the same reason that I can’t.”
“Which is?” Joslyn inquired with curiosity.
“Damn it! I thought you would know.”
Joslyn shook her head. “I don’t know. I guess it’s because people aren’t worth trusting. And they lie all the time. And I can’t stand for anyone to make a fool of me.”
“That’s how I feel, too.”
“And… well…” Joslyn said.
“It’s always like… Even though I try and try and try—”
“They always love me more than I can love them,” they said at once.
A tense silence fell between them.
Joslyn was visibly uncomfortable. She had slowly sat back down at her desk but she did not know where to go from there.
“Maybe because you really want to be with me.” Sway said, suddenly sitting on her lap. She took her face in her hands and kissed her.
Joslyn stood up startled, knocking Sway back on the desk. “Stop. That’s gross mainly because I’d be in a relationship with myself.”
“But you are just that egotistical. And that’s really what you want. You consider yourself to be perfect and me the perfect version of you.”
“That makes sense but it doesn’t make sense. We would fight all the time, we could never get along. And you’d be smarter than me. Because I made you smarter than me. I would hate that.”
“Well then admit that you want to be like me.”
“I thought you said I was you.”
“You are. But you’re a different type of me.”
“Well you also have to remember that you have flaws I don’t have,” Joslyn said. “Like you always feel the need to be in a relationship, you’re a murderer which would not fly in the real world, you consistently make poor decisions, and your powers are too strong.”
“Too strong?” Sway asked lighting a candle with her fingertip.
“It doesn’t make sense for you to be in the Illusion anymore, Sway. You’re so powerful you’re practically a god. Which means you don’t need them anymore.”
Sway looked troubled. “Them? I like them, though. I want to be with them. They’re playing without me and I’m here arguing with you. Put me back in.”
“No. There’s no challenge anymore. I know who you are and what you will do before you do it,” Joslyn said, catching the candle a second after it fell from Sway’s hand. “The fact is, I know you too intimately to have fun writing you anymore. You’re a math problem I have solved over and over again and the sum is always the same at the end. I worry that I can’t write any other character, now. That they’re all just versions of you—me—us and that is all I can do as a writer anymore. You’re so strong at this point that there is no enemy that can be created that you could not single handedly topple.”
“Except for you,” Sway said bitterly. “Why did you make me so strong you couldn’t sustain me, then?”
“So you could branch off and be free somewhere. So you could live and find happiness. Why do you think I made you with wings? You don’t need me, Sway. You don’t need anyone. That is where our difference lies. I wish I could be that way. I wish I did not need anyone.”
“But if you’ve taught me anything, Joslyn, it is that you do need people.” She felt as if she were going to cry, “And I will prove it to you.” Her creator had lost faith. She had become a cynic. She no longer wanted to write, and writing was the one thing that could free her.
“Prove it to me?”
“And I will show you that you can write new things. I will show you new places and new people. I will show you why I fell in love with the True Ones.”
“What do you mean?” Joslyn asked.
Sway ignored her. She pulled a feather from one of her wings and wrote something on its stem. Meanwhile, Joslyn was eyeing the balcony, wondering whether jumping from the top floor would be considered a suicide or a daring escape.
“You know how—“ Sway interrupted her thoughts, startling her, “When you originally came up with the idea of clicking, you made it so that I could not instantly travel between two places that weren’t close. For example I clicked from one side of the door to the other, but there was about a moment’s delay between me moving.”
“Yes,” Joslyn said eyebrow raised.
“Well if I had clicked from Pamuya to here, for example, more time would have passed. I clicked from Pamuya to earth and a year has gone by on earth before I arrived here. I did not experience that year because I was traveling through space, and I’m practically immortal so it did not matter, but you experienced that year where you did not write me at all.”
“You’re confusing me.”
“So if I clicked you somewhere, it might be a long time before I could recover you. You realize that? Depending on how close that place is.”
“Wait clicked me somewhere? No. I don’t want to go anywhere.”
“But very little time would pass on earth. Does that make sense?”
“No. That makes none sense. Absolutely none sense.”
“You make an excellent lampshade,” Sway said with a smile. “You will fit in well.”
Sway hugged Joslyn spontaneously. She wrapped her arms around her as a child would entangle her mother. Once more she kissed her on the forehead. “Take this,” she said wrapping her hand around a package. "Now it's my turn to write the story."
She woke up in degrees. She had fallen a long way. Her ribs hurt and her knees were bruised. A thin, pink tongue was licking her feet. Birds sang melodies overheard and their songs mixed with the slow swaying of the trees in a gentle breeze. There was dirt in her mouth. She sat up.
With her legs crossed she reached for her glasses, but they weren’t there. Yet, she could see. A small hoary dog jumped into her lap, having waited hours for this opportunity. He had pointed golden ears, face and chest, but the rest of his fur was a blue silver. His tail wagged so furiously, he was causing her injury, maybe because there was a barb at the end of it. She stood up, leaner than she had been. Had been what?
She shook herself. This self-discovery introduction had been done too many times. Instead she took stock of her surroundings, wondering if anyone was watching her. No one that she could see.
What did she remember? Something about being a lampshade. “A lampshade. A character who asks questions so that a concept that is glaringly unbelievable can be explained.” How did she just think of that? “I’m not a character, though.” She reminded herself. But those kinds of characters did annoy her, though, it seemed that all they did was appear to be confused all the time. Just keep your cool.
But she couldn’t be cool. Instead, she took this opportunity to do the one thing that she had always been best at.
She laughed. She had such a terrible reputation for laughing at the most inappropriate things; people just expected it from her. She laughed in the middle of the reading of the holy word in service, she laughed at funerals, she laughed through beatings, she laughed at car accidents, she had once laughed at only the unfunny parts of a movie, and now she was laughing at the most tragic thing of all—herself.
“You thought switching me here would teach me something? You know what it’ll teach?” She said in tears looking through the canopy of trees trying to catch her breath, “It’ll teach you how much being a writer blows! I would take Pamuya any day to put the cracktop down.”
The dog, overjoyed at the sound of her laughter, wagged his tail more passionately. “And what have you got me wearing?” she asked herself. She was the same height now, but her build was athletic. She was wearing a white undershirt and a pair of loose fitting green pants that stopped at her knee. On the ground, draped over a black bag, was a purple poncho with a green stripe down the back and through the hood.
“Okay so I’m a circus performer and you’re my opening act,” she said to the dog who was circling the clearing and growling for no obvious reason. “It’s crazy Black Lady the tarot reader and Sir Furbutt the daring dog.”
But then she saw what the dog was referring to. In the woods, down the road from them, was a trio of people. One young woman was walking between two winged creatures.
“Sway,” she said without thinking. Maybe they could take her back to Sway and Sway would put down her … her… she couldn’t think of the word. She was already forgetting where she had come from and how she got here. Whatever it all meant the one thing she knew is that she needed to follow that girl.
She ran off into the woods and put down one foot before she found herself staring at the sky again. This time her vision was blurred and her cheek was studded with sandy pebbles. More delicious dirt. The culprit, a long black staff.
She got up lazily with a livid scowl on her face. The little dog, satisfied that he had alerted her to the three travelers, pawed quietly at the stick.
The young woman picked it up. It was a scythe. She turned the cool black wood of the handle over in her hands. It was as tall as she was and had a red scarf around the tip. She maneuvered it so that she could strap it onto her back. Baring the fact that ancient weaponry was laying around in a forest, the most unique part of it was the spike that jutted out from the very top of the scythe. It was blackened, eight inches, and looked positively, “Sinister,” she remarked.
From her vantage point she could see that the three were coming directly her way. But it would take them some time to climb the hill she was on. She quickly riffled through a black bag at her feet. In it was a sling, a black feather, and a note. She opened it with tangled fingers.
quote:Deliver this message - Lox: I will find you, love…
“That’s it!” At least that was all she could make out. There was more but it was impossible to read. She cursed the day she gave Sway her own handwriting. No one could ever make it out.
The three women had disappeared. She had lost track of them. Fear rippled through her and the dog was starting up again. This time his barking, though very deep for his size, was manic. He snarled staring intently at a bush. She glanced over the ledge and noted that the three had joined a larger company. She instantly recognized the man with a blue blade. They were moving off the opposite way, now.
“Come on, dog,” she said to the pup. “Stop making so much noise. You’re drawing attention.”
Quickly she followed after the group as they pushed through the forest. Quickly was the key word, not quietly. She had absolutely no stealth even though she was wearing sandals and she wasn't running.
Still she picked her way through the brush until she was just trailing the group at a conservative distance. If things got out of hand she wanted to give herself enough room to turn around and go the way she had come. Curiously, the little dog seemed to be showing the easiest way to go, despite the fact that she had made all the wrong decisions about which twigs to step on and which rocks to tumble over.
She had really expected the little animal to leave her, but he stuck by her side as if he had known her for years. Looking down at her arms she noticed she was covered in tattoos. When had this happened? They looked like hieroglyphics to her, but clearly they said something.
While she was wrapped up in this discovery the group had stopped short, surrounded by an egg shaped capsule. From the furtive shuffling she could hear from inside there was a person.
"Lady Gaga?" she said aloud, but as soon as she had said it she had no idea what it meant. It sounded like something a baby would say. Or a disease that only affected women.
She scaled the closest tree for a better view and hunkered down to wait.
With no knowledge of what was awaiting him outside the protection of the capsule, Caspar audibly went through his inventory. He looked down at himself.
"Shrimp-like naked body with hardly enough strength to stand, let alone fight, check!"
He continued looking down at himself, he couldn't put his finger on it, but something was different, apart from the fact that he looked like he had switched bodies with a twelve year old boy. He pushed on, still unable to figure it out.
"Bracer of Aquais," he announced as he lifted his right arm and fondly patted its fleshy, bony housing. "Wait a sec..." Caspar sputtered, "What's with this fleshy, bony housing?" Looking down, he reeled with terror as he realized that he was lamely patting his own forearm.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" His cry was bloodcurdling, and reverberated inside the resonating metallic walls of the capsule.
Outside the capsule, both sprites who were attempting to open the badly grown over and rusted hatch paused. Their eyes grew large and they looked at each-other for a second.
"Did you hear that?" Pan asked.
& flashed him an incredulous look, "of course I did, a deaf tree stump thirty light-years from here with wax in its ears, if tree stumps had ears, could've heard that.
"What's he doing in there? Do you think he's okay? What if something's wrong?" Pan asked tensely.
& laid a reassuring hand on what could have been the sprite's shoulder, "Relax, Pan, I'm sure he's fine. You know that guy, he's tough."
Both sprites looked up at the viewing window as Caspar appeared, clutching his right forearm firmly with his left, with a crazed look on his face, his mouth agape in a look of sheer horror, before disappearing again from sight.
Pan's eyes were so large now that they had formed gravitational fields and a few grains of sand we're slowly orbiting them like tiny moons, as he looked fearfully again at &.
Both sprites immediately returned to their earlier activity of attempting to open the ancient hatch, their fingers fumbling clumsily with the antiquated mechanism in a blur of apprehensive and fearful motion.
Inside the hatch, Caspar was now lying flat on his back, his left arm now draped over his forehead. It was gone. The bracer: that had saved his and so many others' lives countless times, that had taken forever to fully master, that he had spent a fortune and a great deal of time upgrading since Imperial City, whose mirrored surface was perfect for annoying birds and other small creatures by reflecting blinding hafts of light into their beady, black little eyes...Caspar realized he was probably revealing too much at this point...it was gone!
Feeling vulnerable and confused, Caspar looked up at the top of his left hand that was resting on his forehead. The tattoo of the moon in the desert, the curse mark, it was also gone. The combined shock of the loss of both the bracer and his tattoo was just too much at once. Caspar scrambled to his feet and began pounding on the inside of the hatch with both hands, screaming, "What did you do to me? Get me outta this thing, get me out!"
Outside of the capsule, Pan and & redoubled their efforts at the sound of the pounding and yelling now booming from the inside of the chamber. Pan was so vested in trying to get the hatch open that he didn't read the mental signature that was now striding boldly across the dock towards him, until it was too late.
"Hello there," a strong, male voice said calmly. "Could I ask what this is?"
Both Pan and & spun around, they had forgotten about the others, whose detection had started this whole affair, they looked awkwardly at each-other, and then into the chilling, hazel eyes of the figure with the large sword on his back, and a cornucopia of other hostile implements hanging off him in multiple place. The drumming and yelling from the inside continued.
Pan muttered, "Uh, this isn't what it looks like, nothing's going on here...nothing."
"That's an awfully loud nothing," Angelus said, floating gracefully into place behind Kyle. A wave of thoughts reached her, and she didn't even have to try to figure them out. "Allow me to correct myself," She said, "An awfully loud, awfully scared nothing." Fenris waited at the edge of the dock, watching the scene tensely. Angelus turned, sensing her apprehension, and waved to her. "Come on!" She shouted, "You're allowed to talk, you know. You don't just have to stand around watching everyone all the time, in fact I would advise you not to...it's kind of creepy, to be honest." Fenris said nothing. She was being cautious, and in her experience that was a good thing. "In my experience, it's kind of boring," Angelus said, once again using her somewhat irritating empathic powers, "And besides, the thing in here is naked, confused, and a little bit nuts at the moment. And small. And...well, lots of things, but the point is, a threat isn't one of them." Fenris sighed, surrendering to the fact that this angel would not rest until she forced her to interact with everyone. At long last she walked to the end of the dock, watching Pan and & fumble with the release mechanism for the hatch. "You,uh, want some help with that?" She asked awkwardly. She could feel Angelus light up like a Christmas tree. "Wow, you can be nice, I never..." She started, but before she could finish the thought Fenris had pushed her, throwing off her balance, and making her flip in midair. The tiny angel now found her hair falling gently into the water, and she now found herself struggling to return to her previous position. "Fine, whatever," She said, irritated, "Keep putting up the whole, mean, cold persona, I know you only do it because you're afraid of getting hurt." That comment stung, and Fenris was not in the mood to hear it. She had grown tired of this angel's annoying insight into the inner workings of her mind, and she wanted a break from it, even if it was temporary. With that in mind, she grabbed one of the Angel's ankles and, realizing the angel could do nothing to stop her, she dunked the poor creature into the water. For a moment Angelus could do nothing but splutter desperately for air, but eventually she managed to land a kick on Fenris' arm, forcing the warrior to let go of her. After that she spread her wings and awkwardly rose back into the sky, coming to a stop high enough above Fenris that she couldn't try to bully her again. "If that's how you treat your friends, I can see why you don't have any," She cried angrily. The warrior did not respond, she had already turned her attention back to the sprites, having suddenly noticed that something was pounding away at the inside of the capsule. "So," She said, turning to Pan, "Who, or what, is it that you're trying to free, exactly?" As she spoke, she let her hand rest on the handle of her blade, letting the gesture act as a warning to the sprite that if she didn't like his answer there would be dire consequences.
"Uh, this isn't what it looks like," stammered one of the sprites. "Nothing's going on here...nothing."
Kyle opened his mouth to speak, but his own thought was voiced for him by Angeles, who had decided to float her way next to him. Kyle silently cursed his writer for not keeping up, and for missing an obvious opportunity to further his own character.
"That's an awfully loud nothing," said the winged woman. Kyle agreed. There was quite a racket inside of the capsule, and it sounded as if someone was trying desperately to get out. As the screaming within the capsule continued, Angel adjusted her thoughts.
"Allow me to correct myself," she said. "An awfully loud, awfully scared nothing."
This seemed to prompt a minor conflict between Angel and Fenris, as they started bickering over whether Fenris was going to involve herself in the situation. As it turned into a physical confrontation and then a push and shove contest, Kyle just rubbed his temples.
Why is it that things always have to get so unnecessarily complicated?
Kyle started gazing around, waiting for his writer to get back to it, so that he could just step forward and open the latch already. It was obvious that these two sprites weren't going to be able to do anything, so he might as well just do it himself. However, he realized that he wasn't able to do anything until his writer got his lazy butt back into his chair and started typing his actions.
While he'd gotten used to the rather turn-based method that his life seemed to take while working his way through these stories, he often became annoyed at the rather haphazard schedule that his writer often decided to make, which often interfered with the story itself. There would be days at a time where Kyle was left to simply watch the other characters move on without him, while he stood there, waiting for a description to give him permission to move his feet.
Despite the over a decade of practice, the process was still maddening.
While gazing around, though, Kyle took stock of his surroundings. He looked about the pond again, still seeing the exact same water as before, the exact same telescoping legs, and the exact same trees. And there, sitting in those trees, was the exact same random woman who was staring down at them.
Sighing, Kyle turned back to the capsule, and watched as Angel and Fenris continued to argue, with water dripping off of Angel's hair.
Ha! Angel hair. It's a pasta. Okay, stupid joke.
Then Kyle paused for a moment, and turned his head around. Why, exactly, was there some random woman in a tree? Not only that, but there was a small dog, also in the tree. What possible reason could there be for that? Kyle looked up at the woman quizzically, and then grinned, shrugging his shoulders. He waved at her, and then turned back to the task at hand just in time to hear Fenris' ominous assertation.
"So," said the lady warrior. "Who, or what, is it that you're trying to free, exactly?" From her tone, it was obvious that she was trying to be intimidating, but Kyle only shook his head.
"Who cares?" Said the hazel-eyed swordsman. "Let's pop the cork on this thing and find out!"
He looked at the hatch, noticing a small red button sitting right next to the door's outline. Noticing the lack of progress that the two sprites had been making while trying to pull the door open, he reached over and pressed it.
This was accompanied by the hissing of air, and the movement of machinery as the door suddenly started to push outward from the capsule. The screaming seemed to quiet, and after a rather hefty latch flipped itself, the door cracked itself open.
Kyle ignored the sprites' protests, reaching over, and pulling the door open to see what was inside. Immediately, his eyes widened, and he pulled his cloak off of himself, awkwardly covering his eyes as he handed the long, brown garment to the capsule's occupant.
"Well hey there, buddy! You might need this more than me."
Arem returned to the main room of the house, and sat upon one of the green pillows which faced the kitchen door. Through its aperture, he could see her yellow, flowing dress going to and fro about the kitchen. It had been years since she was the woman he loved. There was a time when he admired and adored her, a time when he could see ‘no heaven---but in her eyes’. They have been together for many years prior, so much so that every inhabitant of the outskirts of Elderin could not mention one of them without the other. It came a time when they were to be engaged, however, a few of the opinions from her friends and the elders around her took precedence over her heart, no matter how contradictory that may have seemed. They told her to marry someone of a higher status, someone that would give her both love and protection with his might and his money. In their culture, it was highly disliked to get married to someone who did not have parents, or whose parents were divorced, especially to someone that lacked the “proper” financial status.
Although, he thought of her often and the charred piece of his heart still numbed at the sight of her, he closed the eyes to his soul in her presence and allowed the past to be what it was meant to be…the past.
Isabella pushed open the kitchen door with her back while holding a silver platter of steaming hot tea and fresh baked bread in her hands. She placed the platter carefully in front of Arem, and took her seat on a pillow adjacent to his. Then, she delicately grabbed a small cup of tea and sipped it.
Close to betraying his feelings, Arem was interrupted by the sound of footsteps near the doorway. The curtain was pulled away, revealing a tall, statuesque man in a long grey tunic, and black slacks. He’s clearly not from around here, Arem thought, as the mystery man walked in, dulling his colorful surroundings like a grey sky behind a rainbow. Arem watched as Isabella joyously jumped up and swung her arms around his neck, only to catch herself in an awkward situation. It was rather a disgusting sight, and he wished he immediately turned invisible at the exact moment.
Instead, Arem stood up as joyously as her, mocking in every movement, and held out his hand. Isabella glared at him, and said, “This is the guy I was talking to you about…”
Her fiancé shook Arem’s hand with a stern and jealous-ridden face, which was like stone, wide and with dents in his cheeks. He had hooded eyes which looked as if they were black instead of an intensely dark brown.
“My name is---“
“Arem, my Isabella has told me.”
“You know that’s the third time I’m getting interrupted today,” Arem said, wonderingly.
“Nothing. So! I hear from your Isabella that you are in need of me,” Arem said, throwing gasoline on the already blazing fire of his jealousy.
His eyes narrowed at Arem’s words, and then he retorted, “Actually, I am in need of anyone who wants to make a quick buck such as you.”
Arem laughed heartily.
“Oh yeah that’s right, you’re generous to the poor,” Arem said, quickly nodding to Isabella.
“Please! I didn't set up this meeting to watch a dog fight,” she said holding on to her fiancé’s hand tightly.
“Ok. So, since we are doing business together, what’s your name?”
“Ohhhh an Eastlander eh?”
“You know of it?”
“Heard of it…and judging by your clothing, you’re definitely a man from the east.”
Arem turned around and took his seat in the same spot, then gestured to Isabella and Tao to take their seats in front of him. They did so, with their hands still tightly grasping one another.
He sighed, “After you…”
Tao began with a great upward heave of his chest.
“As you may know, I am a prominent man in my area. I’ve travelled across Illusionia to arrive here and settle down. As you can see, me and Isabella are inseparable---“
Staring with dead eyes, Arem interrupted, “Isabella and I…”
“Excuse me?” Tao asked with a quizzical expression on his face.
“Nevermind…please go on.”
“So, as I was saying, I want to develop the outskirts of Elderin like any other important place in this world. I want this town to be…great,” he paused arrogantly, rubbing the black stubbles of hair on his chin.
On that note, Arem unveiled a large sword from beneath the row of pillows and sliced through the air with a quick motion, decapitating Mr. Seesari. Isabella held and blubbered over his headless body as it slumped to the floor, while Arem shrieked in laughter. Unfortunately for him, it was a mere thought that itched in his imagination. So, he had to drag himself through the distasteful gooeyness of Tao’s self-conceit.
“However, like every great man, I have a splinter in my plans. A man---no, he does not deserve that title---he is an insignificant bug who placed a wall in my way. His name is Alban.”
“A description of him wouldn’t hurt.”
“Well, now let me think.”
Arem rolled his eyes.
“He’s about 5’10”, tall and lanky…uh, oh and he wears glasses. Last time I saw him his hair was shaved, so I can only guess at the color, perhaps black or a dark brown...maybe. His eyes are green and sunken in, and he has a hook nose. So, are you up for the challenge?”
“How much?” Arem asked, leaning forward.
“The richest stones you would ever see from the Eastlands. You find a way to get there, and I’ll give you half going and half returning. Perhaps, I’ll even throw in some gold if the job is done to my liking.”
Arem smirked, “You know…I think I might know a guy who could get me there.”
"That's an awfully loud nothing," the angel said bobbing up and down behind the blue blade wielding brunette.
Lox knew everything about this guy. Or at least, everything that a person who had read a shaky biography on another could know. Still, having read ever post that had ever been written about this particular person, she hadn’t the foggiest idea of who he was or what he would do. All she knew was that he was a superman-type. He was no nonsense and if he ever asked you to dance the answer had to be no. Though he was an animated warrior The Robot is where his dancing skills peaked.
"Allow me to correct myself," a puffed up girl said, "An awfully loud, awfully scared nothing."
Lox studied her carefully. She was thinking of a number of very spirited young female warriors who had come through this way before. This one was a bit different from the rest because she was trying so hard to be so commanding. Her angelic companion was an obvious foil, someone put into her path to emphasize her own traits for good or for bad. What was strange about her display of ferocity was that there wasn’t any apparent need for it… yet. Perhaps her writer knew something that she did not know. Maybe there was danger just around the bend and this display of ferocity was necessary foreshadowing to the fools this young woman would soon lay to waste. Lox thought it strange that she have a spirit guide, especially since she wasn't really giving her much advice. Then again, there was no reason why she should overanalyze of underestimate her use. She had a dog the size of a breadbasket in her bag who was staring up at her with loving eyes completely unaware that he was tangled in her sling.
While she worked the little dog out she decided that she must at least name him, his thin pink tongue licking her hands the whole way. But what?
"Come on!" the angel shouted, momentarily causing Lox to nearly fall out of the tree in surprise. "You're allowed to talk, you know. You don't just have to stand around watching everyone all the time, in fact I would advise you not to...it's kind of creepy, to be honest."
The stoic girl gave the angel the type of death glare a mother gives to a child in church from the choir stand.
"In my experience, it's kind of boring. And besides, the thing in here is naked, confused, and a little bit nuts at the moment. And small.” Lox laughed to herself, momentarily forgetting that her laugh sounded like a high pitched machine gun. Wouldn’t every naked guy love to be described as small? The dog wagged his barbed tail so hard she had to put two hands on him to get him to stop, “And … well, lots of things, but the point is, a threat isn't one of them."
Lox froze. All this noise she was making from her canopy could not be going unnoticed. The tough girl looked totally put out by her travel partners.
Two strange looking men were trying to wrench open the egg, perhaps in a daring attempt to make a delicious omelet.
"You, uh, want some help with that?" Super Girl asked awkwardly.
"Wow, you can be nice, I never—" Instantly the little angel was dunked into the water. Super Villain, then? "Fine, whatever," she sputtered, "Keep putting up the whole, mean, cold persona, I know you only do it because you're afraid of getting hurt."
Lox raised an eyebrow who was she afraid would hurt her?
The angel shouted at her, but was totally ignored by just about everyone. Lox was studying the artful hieroglyphics that were tattooed all over her arms and legs. The dog was busily trying to pounce on a butterfly.
While mulling over the meaning of all the crowns, eyes, panthers, serpents, and eagles that adorned her, she was mentally searching her story rolodex, trying to recall any of these characters and the only one who stuck out to her was Kyle. That was when she noticed that he was looking directly at her, waving like he was on a parade float.
To the dog she said, “I guess that means one thing. The jig is up.”
"So," the young woman said, turning to Pan with her hand on her weapon, "Who, or what, is it that you're trying to free, exactly?"
Maybe smart, maybe not. If these two had been waiting a long time for this egg to open and a person came threatening them, their reaction should probably be to harm that person. Then again, if these people were allowing people to witness the opening of this egg, they probably meant no harm. After all, villains have to make long, complicated speeches before they could deploy the use of chemical warfare, sharks with laser beams, or any other foolish death inducers like war camels or cannibalistic caterpillars.
Kyle, who had always been a man of action and had already invited her to the party, could not stand a moment more. "Who cares? Let's pop the cork on this thing and find out!"
Made sense to her.
Then there was the deus ex machina, the little red button. He employed it and slowly the door yawned open.
Kyle, not satisfied with the slow movement of the door, worked to pry it open himself. Lox would later curse this day as the very worst of her life. She had never seen anything so wrinkly and translucent in her existence and the sheer shock of seeing a naked man who looked more like the last Chinese dumpling on the buffet propelled her from the tree.
Kyle, just as confused, snapped into action, "Well hey there, buddy! You might need this more than me."
Rubbing the back of her neck after the dog had gracefully scaled his descent by landing on her head, she gathered the scythe that had almost beheaded her and trudged over to the group.
Hide and seek was over. “Base,” she said weakly sitting on a nearby rock.
Everybody grabbed their weapons.
The dog stood protectively between her and the rest of the crowd looking as ferocious as a kitten sleeping on a baby panda’s belly. But she walked through oblivious, the scythe bobbing up and down behind her.
As she usually did, she began talking to no one in particular in a voice so low key and clipped it seemed rehearsed. “I’m Lox, apparently, or at least that's the name that was written on this paper." She hid the envelope in her bag quickly. She was supposed to deliver a message, yes, but to whom, she did not know. She realized that she probably shouldn't reveal her mission to these people because she had not deciphered the message yet and there was a possibility that at least one of them was here to stop her. She changed the subject abruptly.
"I have no idea how I got here and as a former writer I am now being written by someone I created.” Fastidiously she sat up, cleaned the place she was sitting on the rock quickly, and sat back down again. “So far, I would say—” she looked up to the heavens, “She sucks!” Instantly she grimaced rubbing her jaw. “Anyway, I might as well join you as you rekindle your bromance for a while until I figure out how to get home or my ride picks me up.”
Then distracted, “But seriously, dude, put some clothes on. This is…” she rubbed her forehead, “this is not the boom boom room. You need all this,” she said tossing her poncho in his direction, “and a tan. And a comb. Good lard.”
Cranky? Maybe. But this wasn't the first tree she had fallen out of today. Few people could maintain a positive attitude in these conditions.
(OOC:Angelus is one person, I just refer to her as 'the angel' half of the time because it's easier...and because if I wanted to I could just call her angel. Angelus is angel in latin, so essentially I'm writing about an angel named Angel. Sorry for the confusion. Also, way to kick my confidence in the teeth -_-;((OOCeption:Since sarcasm doesn't work online, understand that for the most part that was a joke)), although if the opportunity presents itself I can answer some questions about Fenris and Angelus. I'm just trying to avoid a massive info-dump,so...) Fenris stared tensely at the newcomer, her hand still resting on the Vorpal blade. While the naked boy on the dock was, as Angelus had said, hardly a threat, this new, strange girl couldn't be so readily trusted. "Oh, shush," Angelus said dismissively, having once again used her empathic powers to sense Fenris' thoughts. Fenris had to remember to ask her to stop doing that at some point. "Fat chance," The angel said, using her powers again, "Anyway, I know back home in Terra Di everyone was trying to kill you...well, okay, not everyone but a lot of people, but most of the people here probably have less malicious intentions. You really need to learn to trust people." Of course, Angelus thought, that was part of the reason Fenris was here. Her absolute distrust in people had made social interaction next to impossible in her own fantasy game scenario, and it represented a similar lack of trust present in her player. If that distrust continued to grow, the player would be completely incapable of making any social connections, which would be disastrous for her psyche. It would also make her useless to the I.F. Angelus paused for a second to acknowledge that she had, in one paragraph, thought of three entirely different but connected fictional realities. 'And people wonder why our writer is having a harder time breaking the fourth wall,' She thought to herself. "So, having a tough day, eh, Lox?" Angelus said to the newcomer, smiling and placing her hands behind her back. For a moment she considered rocking back and forth on her heels, a habit she had grown to love since being granted the ability to fly, since she could now lean impossibly far back without falling, but she was stopped by a writer's revision. After all, she had already used this habit several times on this page. She frowned slightly. 'Stupid writer,' She thought, 'So what if I've already done it, I already do it all the time, it's not like I come into the real world and tell you not to grind your teeth every couple seconds.' Somewhere, far away, in the state of Missouri, the writer of this pair responded by furiously grinding his teeth while trying to think of the next sentence. "So," She said, turning her attention back to Lox, "You're now being written by your own creation. I have to admit, that's an amusing twist on the norm. More than that, you're currently in a bad mood thanks to falling out of a tree, and you have a whole ton of questions for everyone here. So, if you want to ask me and Wolf-girl here anything, shoot." Fenris scowled at her. This was less out of distrust and more out of annoyance, since she didn't want the angel putting words in her mouth. "I don't have to answer anything," She said irritatedly, but Angelus cut her off with a quick smack to the nose. Then she flitted back out of reach, aware of Fenris' new plan to reintroduce her to the lake. "Bad wolf," Angelus shouted at her, as if berating a dog, "Provide insight into your character. It helps people invest in you and stuff. Honestly, the pair of us are criminally underdeveloped, although to be fair we both come with the disadvantage of being brand new." Fenris scowled again, but eventually her expression softened, and she resigned herself to this exercise. If it would get Angelus off of her back she would amuse even this silly whim. "Fine," She said, turning to Lox, "What do you want to know?"
Like any good warrior Fenris went straight for her blade. But before she could get in a good slow motion depiction of her charging toward her target, Angelus deftly pulled her up short.
“Oh, shush," the angel said. And then after a beat, “Fat chance."
Did the angel just tell herself to be quiet and then tell herself she wouldn’t?
The angel addressed Fenris in accusatory tones, "Anyway, I know back home in Terra Di everyone was trying to kill you...” Lox sat up listening carefully. So this girl was on guard because people wanted her dead. She immediately began to go on the offense. What had she done and who had she done it to? She doubled her grip on the scythe. “Well, okay, not everyone but a lot of people,” the angel prattled on, revealing a great deal of information that probably should have been private, “but most of the people here probably have less malicious intentions. You really need to learn to trust people."
Angelus seemed to be thinking of something, but Lox cut in. “No,” she said shortly. “She’s wrong. You should definitely not trust people around here. As far as I know, most of the people who seem trustworthy can only be trusted if they are the chosen few. If they’re not it’s a guarantee they’ll drink your milkshake with no remorse.” Her stomach growled belligerently.
"So, having a tough day, eh, Lox?" Angelus said to the newcomer with a grin on her face. She wasn’t being ironic at all, but was genuinely asking for a response even after dismissing her advice.
“Yes, I’m having a terrible day. I keep forgetting things and then remembering things that I am pretty sure aren’t true. Like I have a family that lives on an island behind some bright green hills. But I’ve never seen a place like that before. Two brothers and a sister.” Now how was that for giving up too much information? Angelus was kind of disarming that way.
The angel paused considering her next move with a distant look on her face.
Wait, maybe her secrets were safe with her. She wasn’t listening to her anyway.
"So," She said, turning her attention back to Lox, who had not relaxed her grip on her scythe though her dog was eagerly playing with a budding tulip, "You're now being written by your own creation. I have to admit, that's an amusing twist on the norm. More than that, you're currently in a bad mood thanks to falling out of a tree, and you have a whole ton of questions for everyone here. So, if you want to ask me and Wolf-girl here anything, shoot."
Right. Right. Right. And right. Everything that she had just been thinking had been repeated by this angel. What kind of divine being could read people’s minds? Now she was thinking about home and these trashy novels she used to read. Something about Sookie Stackhouse and telepathy. Just as she thought the thought, the name and the novels flew from her mind. Why was her author erasing everything? Even things she could use to her advantage. Quickly, Lox, think! What did people do to prevent Sookie from reading their minds? Simple. Don’t think about the particular thing you were trying to hide at that time. Think of anything else. She can’t read your mind all the time—but most certainly don’t think about your mission.
What if she could read minds too? Well if she could, why would anyone be asking her what she wanted to know? This duo would simply tell her.
She relaxed, only incrementally.
“I won’t ask you what is happening or what we are about to do. Having written this story for ten years I know that no one in the game or on the other side of the computer has any clue. We could spend days trying to come up with a plot and then never complete it, as is our custom. There’s no point in asking. We’re clueless. We could be taken to Candyland in five minutes or go get ninja attacked in ten.” At the idea of a ninja attack the dog had stealthily hidden everything but his tail in a bouquet of sinister hydrangeas.
"I don't have to answer anything," she said irritated, but before Lox could roll her eyes because she hadn’t asked anything yet, Angelus cut her off with a quick smack to the nose. She wisely made evasive maneuvers as Fenris made an unsuccessful grab.
"Bad wolf!" Angelus shouted at her, as if berating a dog. At her voice the puppy abandoned his hiding place feebly with tail tucked and with big glassy eyes sat sadly on Lox’s feet.
Angelus was a bastion of advice today. "Provide insight into your character. It helps people invest in you and stuff. Honestly, the pair of us are criminally underdeveloped, although to be fair we both come with the disadvantage of being brand new."
“We’re new,” Lox said brushing petals off her feet. “And undeveloped. The dog doesn’t even have a name and I think I might have made mine up.”
"Fine," She said, turning to Lox, "What do you want to know?"
“Weeeell…” she said shielding her eyes as Caspar began to realize he was naked. “I would like to know if teleportation is in your arsenal as well as telepathy, angel thing? I’d also like to know if someone could get Caspar a shirt or a robe or a snowsuit? The third question is simple, Buffy, if people are hunting you are they hunting everyone? I don’t know how long you’ve been traveling together or if you’re a new person or not, but I do know that people with enemies never leave them behind. Are we about to get our throats slit?”
Angelus nodded, taking every question in turn, and watching as Fenris, somewhat grudgingly, listened intently to each of Lox's queries as well. When the newcomer had finished asking her questions, Fenris turned to Angelus, giving her a small nod as if to suggest that she should go first. Angelus obliged. "Well, firstly, yes, I can also teleport, as well as generate plasma arrows and generate limited constructs...although I'm not sure if I can do that here in limbo. That little process is built into the fantasy game itself, and given that we're technically separate from that I'm really not sure what I can do. I think my writer is just making it up as he goes. Also, I think that Fenris should have a few spare clothes in her bag." She turned and nodded to Fenris, who pulled a small brown rucksack from her back and proceeded to look through it. She drew several articles of clothing from her bag, each of neutral gender. They would be big on Caspar, but they would at least cover him up. Angelus took them as Fenris placed them on the ground, and carried them over to Caspar, placing them on the dock. "You might want these," She called to the naked boy, before falling back into place behind Fenris. She noted with pleasure that Fenris seemed willing to talk, if only to get some of her own hardships off of her chest. "Right," Fenris said, "First of all, my enemies are not hunting anyone else, as far as I know, they are after me because..." She struggled to find a way to quickly sum things up, but she discovered that she couldn't think of one. "Okay, this is complicated, but basically I'm the daughter of the Demi-God Loki, and I bare within me an immense power called the wolf spirit. Loki intended to use me to overthrow the ruler of my homeland, Valhalla, but he was stopped when I was young. I was taken under Odin's wing and taught to act as his enforcer, stopping any who opposed him. However, as I grew older I realized that many of my enemies posed no threat to the gods, and that Odin was simply trying to force the people of the region to pay tribute to him. I rebelled against him, and killed another Demi-God, and for that I was bound to the shore of the River Styx. I was freed by Death, who revealed that Odin needed the tributes to seal up the true God of our world, a being called "The Is"." "Who's trapped in this void, by the way," Angelus interjected. Fenris was shocked by this revelation, but decided to finish her story before asking the Angel about that. "Anyway, as long as the Is was sealed away the gods could stay in power. So I've been trying to bring down the gods." "Who are much more numerous than you'd originally though," Angelus interrupted again. "Right," Fenris said, growing annoyed with the angel's interruptions, "So that I can free humans from their tyrannical rule. That's basically why I have enemies, and why you don't need to worry about them." Angelus rolled her eyes. "I thought we were trying to avoid an info-dump," She said, annoyed. Fenris stared at her, confused. "Nevermind," The angel said, "I was talking to our writer." Fenris didn't know what to make of that comment, so she simply turned back to Lox. "I hope that clears things up," She said. Angelus shook her head, annoyed. "You left out the part where all of the gods from every mythology are vying for control of your world," She said, annoyed, "But whatever, that premise is way, way, way too complicated anyway." She stopped for a moment, looking at the dog. "I guess we should come up with a name for that little scamp," She said, thoughtfully, "How about...um...Scamp." Fenris smirked, raising an eyebrow. "Wow," She said, "Took you all of five seconds to think of that one, didn't it?" "Shut up," Angelus said, "I don't hear you coming up with anything." ((OOC:Gotta' run, will edit a lot of this later))
Some writers liked to believe in the tangle web of their words embroidering a page. Some writers also believed that when their pens stopped dreaming, their fantasy ceases to exist, however, this was not always the case. The imagination, in fact, existed in a realm of its own and continued to pursue its path without the meddling pen of a writer. Unbeknownst to the writers, of course, they weren’t creators. Simply guiders of a fate that already existed in a world that paralleled their own. Why were such rules and laws set up this way? Perhaps to stroke the ego of the writers, who knows. But this was the way things were, and Najm knew undoubtedly that it would perturb her guider greatly when she discovered Najm got married and had one kid of her very own….
Najm slammed the door to her bedroom and heaved a weary sigh. “Why must you do this to me again?”
Cekic and her had just gotten into argument only moments before.
He did not understand. But how could he? Their child was only three months old and she was leaving to go on a journey in the name of the True One destiny? What sane parent would do such a thing? He urged her to consider his plea of rethinking the matter, and something about how she needed to drop the gig and stop playing hero. He also made a strong effort to send her on a guilt trip, specifying how much time she would miss out on the life of their child, as if she did not know that. She knew that perfectly well and that’s what hurt so bad.
Solemnly, she looked over to her infant in his bouncer near the foot of her bed, his wide, innocent, almost cartoonish eyes staring at her expectantly. He then kicked his feet wildly and unleashed a soft coo in response to her stare. Slowly she made her way to him, keeping her gaze steady on his pleasant countenance. She knelt down just before him and flashed a soft loving grin. He howled at the expression as if the mere attention of his mother sent shockwaves through his body. She took up his bite-size hand and allowed it to coil around her index finger.
She had learned a great many things while her writer had been away. In fact, she felt like a whole new person. She matured greatly and mastered the art of patience and learning to stay human even after only three hours of sleep. She had learned the Albanian culture and how to keep a leash on her tongue about how stupid some of their practices were. Yeah sure, her mother in law was a trip, and it was hard to be around competitive housewives who tried unyieldingly to seem important to the world without a college education, completely devaluing the fact that housewifery was an education within itself. Yes, it sure was difficult at that time trying not to slit a few throats as an assassin, especially when one of her fellow housewives was heated by a wave of jealousy. But above all of that and most importantly, she had learned to learn a man. Learn his buttons, his likes, dislikes, how to nurture and take care of two human beings at once. She had learned, in its simplest respect, how to love.
After this, the old Najm seemed far away, buried in some catacomb to lay at rest. Asleep, but never forgotten. There were some things you couldn’t unlearn and some things that just needed to be done. And she had to cool her heart with this, and explain it to her son, even though he could not understand, that there was a world out there that needed protection just like he did and that sometimes big sacrifices are needed to keep things in motion.
“Your daddy already hates me for this,” she began. “But I cannot bear the thought of you hating me too.”
He flailed his arms and gave her a slight smirk.
“Sheesh, don’t make this harder than it already is.” She gently kissed the little, pudgy fingers wrapped around her index. “I have to go now pa. Mommy is a True One and there is some business she needs to handle right now. You be good for daddy okay. At least until mommy gets back.”
Tears welled in her eyes, but she fought back the urge break down into an uncontrollable sob.
“I love you,” she whispered, feeling her writer now pull her away into another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.
“Please don’t forget mommy okay.”
He chuckled. It was the first time he had laughed. And that was the last thing she saw.
Abedah, overcome with the absurdity of her situation, let out a loud cackle that lasted for at least half a minute. Coming from one as old as she was at the Battle School, the sound would have been absolutely terrifying; but when Abedah laughed like that, it was clearly the sound of utter disbelief.
"Don't you see that none of this is real?" No one answered, but just looked at her oddly for a moment before returning their attentions back to what they were doing before. Pan, however, having nothing much to do at the moment, flitted over to Abedah to get a better sense of this strange stranger. He looked into her eyes for moment, flew a complete circle around her, and returned to her face, taking a big sniff. "You are strange, stranger than the other strangers," the sprite said. "You are an infant."
Abedah was incensed. "An infant? Do you know how old I am?"
"Very," Pan giggled and flitted back to &.
Abedah walked over to the tree where Lox and Angeles were having a lively discussion and leaned against it. She listened for a while, but couldn't make sense of this talk of writers guiding their actions. She had a strong imagination, needed one to create this world of Free Play. But the idea of being controlled by a greater reality was not one she was accustomed to thinking about. She had studied ancient religions as part of her coursework in psychology; but she had, like many of her peers, associated them with the addictions of personalities too weak to cope with the objective reality. Yet these others, who seemed to have more experience in this dreamworld than she did, all seemed to believe in a pantheon of Writers. And this Lox claimed to actually be a part of the pantheon.
While she was considering these things, a fibrous vine attached to the tree moved slowly and subtly enough to go unnoticed, until it wrapped around Abedah's neck and squeezed. She tried to reach for her dagger, but the vine lifted her a few inches off the ground, with the dagger falling out of her hand. Lox noticed the action, and being the closest, took her scythe and hacked the vine just above Abedah's head. The vine went limp, and Abedah fell unconscious to the ground.
Caspar was still yelling at the top of his lungs, and pummeling the capsule hatch when his hands started going numb, possibly from their frenetic impacts against the unyielding super-engineered alloy of the capsule, or maybe the numbness was from oxygen deprivation? Was he even breathing?
These thoughts cascaded around in his mind like bumper-cars being piloted by grizzly bears that were wearing goggles, the old timey kind that were made with leather, with red scarves wrapped around their burly nec--
"Hold on, now just a minute here, cowboy," Caspar interrupted, derailing the writer's train of thought, and strangely and existentially interjecting despite the fact that he was being written at the same time.
The writer paused, partly because that's what his natural reaction was, and partly because he was still figuring out what to write next.
Caspar immediately launched into a tirade, which was amusing because he was attempting what could be called a Napoleonic pose, and fittingly enough his petite structure was suiting the role he was acting rather well, "I'm not gonna ask you about the bracer, or the cursed tattoo, because I'm sure you will explain it eventually, you always do, or why you named that sprite out there after the ampersand symbol, but I just needed to ask...You had me there with that bit about "thawts cascadin' n' mah mahnd n' such," but bumper-cars being driven by bears wearing goggles and scarves...really?"
The writer didn't miss a beat, "It's a confusing scene, isn't it?"
Caspar thought about this for a second, "Well, yes..."
"I'd say mission accomplished then," the writer quipped, "and also, my southern accent isn't really that severe. I don't want to do it, Caspar, but I'll give you a foolish accent if you persist in mocking me."
Caspar gawked, staggered with the thought of such a thing, "You wouldn't!"
Caspar imagined himself being greeted and welcomed by a ticker-tape parade after his exit from the capsule, and when everyone was screaming his name and clamoring for a speech from him his first words to the gathered crowds were, "'ello theh moi 'appy chaps!" It was like vocal diarrhea, and equally as unsettling to his stomach.
"Fine, fine, I'll lay off your accent...for a while," Caspar added in an annoyed monotone.
"Excellent, well then, back to the story," the writer chirped.
And before Caspar could get another word in the amber light in the ceiling of the capsule began intermittently flashing. He looked down at his pathetic, naked excuse for a body and winced.
"No, not yet! I can't let them see me like this!" Caspar wailed as the hatch hissed as it cracked open, a thin shaft of violet light penetrating the dreary dim of his capsule and casting an indigo line across the tops of his bare feet.
He had tried to reach out and secure the hatch closed again, but he was too late. A pair of strong hands curled around the bottom of the door and lifted it rapidly, exposing his weakened and pathetic state for all to see. Caspar was temporarily blinded as his eyes adjusted to non-mechanical light for the first time in what could have literally been ages. He brought his right arm up to shield his eyes from the light, squinting through the pain to ascertain whether or not he was being awakened by the sprites for benevolent or nefarious purposes. As the muscles in his eyes relaxed and the aperture of his pupil contracted to a tiny black dot, Caspar focused on the tall blob that was dominating his field of vision, and standing directly in front of him.
"...Kyle?" he said the name like he wasn't sure if he was pronouncing it right.
Caspar stood there, naked as the day he was born, awkwardly staring in utter surprise. Kyle responded in similiar fashion, staring awkwardly, his eyes wide with what could be astonishment, or equally probable, disgust. He averted his gaze and pulled the cloak from his back, handing it to Caspar while trying not to stare.
"Well hey there, buddy!" Kyle said enthusiastically, "You might need this more than me."
Caspar accepted the cloak, slowly taking it from Kyle's hands and holding it loosely in front of himself, still too shocked to cover himself up fully. He looked past Kyle at the other three figures standing on the dock behind him. An exotic looking woman dressed for a hike through the woods with pouches on her belt, a young woman with dark hair, her hand resting on a wicked-looking sword, and...a winged figure, floating daintily in the air. He was about to ask who they were when movement in the corner of his left eye drew his gaze to another approaching figure, strangely clad, if that was possible considering what everyone else was wearing, though as he himself was wearing nothing he reasoned he was perhaps the most strangely clad of all. A small, odd-looking dog nipped at her heels, and as she got closer Caspar saw she had dark skin, which made him immediately think of Sway.
Everyone seemed to forget the wrinkled, naked creature standing awkwardly before them for a second as they bristled with weaponry and apprehension at the approaching girl whose hair appeared to be tightly bound in locks of some kind. It gave an intriguing textural look to her profile. Her dog-thing jumped between her and the group assembled on the dock, baring its miniscule fangs at them as the girl brushed past him idly, still clutching her scythe, which appeared to have a nice sized spike on the top of it. Caspar looked at the dog's teeth, remembering that on occasion he sported fangs ten times the size of the dog's, but that seemed so long ago now.
In normal life when someone asks you a question, you expect to get a response that will alleviate your confusion. Unfortunately, there was nothing normal about the Mind Game.
Lox listened carefully as the angel explained her powers. Carefully being the keyword because she was actively trying to think of anything except for what she needed them for. Since she knew that she could read her mind, she had to give her the wrong things to read.
Lox tried to do what guys did when they were in the act of doing something that rewarded distraction with extended enjoyment. She adopted that distinctive absent yet focused look of desperate concentration.
Then she proceeded to think about the most mundane but entertaining thing in the universe. Commercials.
"Well, firstly, yes, I can also teleport, as well as generate plasma arrows and generate limited constructs”
Vizio flat screen plasmas just forty-nine ninety-nine. Wait had she just said she could teleport? Pixels and high-resolution contrasts. If she could teleport then that means that she could take me – FOCUS, LOX! You are the worst right now. If you blow this and let her know what you’re thinking then she is never going to help you and she is going to figure out what you want. High refresh rates and low motion blur make plasma the sensible option. You should know more than anyone that revealing your objective too early and to the wrong person is a surefire way to never complete it. Now think about Blu-Rays and combo changers and whatever else comes in a flat screen box. Because let’s face it you’re a character with dreadlocks. And just about everyone in fiction that has dreadlocks is evil. Which means you are the villain and are most assuredly the bad guy. Even if you don’t know it yet! Your hair choice has sealed your doom. Let’s run down the list. New Joker: deranged, red eyed, yuck toothed; the Matrix Twins; hairline challenged albinos; the Predator: single handedly put Aliens on the endangered species list; the chick from Pirates of the Caribbean: a victim of the gum disease gingivitis; and finally, the only black guy in any of the Twilight films: a walking, talking wig.
Her train of thought was abruptly derailed and then launched into an adjacent river inaccessible to police and medical responders.
“...although I'm not sure if I can do that here in limbo.”
“That little process is built into the fantasy game itself,” Angelus continued, “and given that we're technically separate from that I'm really not sure what I can do.”
An angry crease formed between Lox’s eyebrows.
“I think my writer is just making it up as he goes.”
“So you have a writer, too? Can your writer write us out of here?”
As usual, Angelus with her bright and sunny nature kept right on talking completely missing the question.
“Also, I think that Fenris should have a few spare clothes in her bag."
Lox watched, self consciously twisting a coil of hair around her finger, as Fenris reluctantly retrieved a bundle of spare clothing. Lox cursed her own writer now who had started her off with almost nothing. By the time she had finished writing Sway she had a sizable bag of money, a horse on call, a few heroes to defend her, and a good amount of clothes. All Lox had in abundance were tattoos and unwanted animal kisses.
"You might want these," she called to the boy who was draped in Kyle’s cape. He looked like a kid poised to try his first attempt at flying off of a barn.
Lox, who was a straightforward person to a fault, had only vaguely remembered asking a handful of questions. She had no idea that her writer had suggested Fenris develop more. This explained the confused look that was on her face as Fenris outlined, very patiently, why someone would be trying to kill her.
"Right," Fenris began, "First of all, my enemies are not hunting anyone else, as far as I know.” That was a relief. “They are after me because..."
The sentence hung there like
And to make up for that uncompleted thought, Fenris explained to Lox a few years worth of woes in a considerable tidy summary. "Okay, this is complicated, but basically I'm the daughter of the Demi-God Loki, and I bare within me an immense power called the wolf spirit.” The dog perked up at this. Something about immense wolf spirit had his tail wagging at a hummingbird’s pace.
“Loki intended to use me to overthrow the ruler of my homeland, Valhalla, but he was stopped when I was young.”
“Well that’s probably a good thing because Loki’s kind of an a—“ With a sharp bark, the dog shushed her. Lox cocked her head to the side because she had never been corrected by a dog.
“I was taken under Odin's wing and taught to act as his enforcer, stopping any who opposed him. However, as I grew older I realized that many of my enemies posed no threat to the gods, and that Odin was simply trying to force the people of the region to pay tribute to him.”
Pyramid scheme. At least that is what she was going to say, but the dog was staring at her while slowly shaking his head. She kept quiet.
“I rebelled against him, and killed another Demi-God, and for that I was bound to the shore of the River Styx.”
“Wow Styx. That is not exactly beachfront property. How did you get out of there? A yacht club?”
“I was freed by Death, who revealed that Odin needed the tributes to seal up the true God of our world.”
“Oh snap. Sweet baby Je—?”
“A being called ‘The Is’.”
"Who's trapped in this void, by the way," Angelus interjected.
Lox was confused at this point, but it was probably because she wasn’t listening carefully enough. So as a person who tries to at least look intelligent she stayed quiet, nodding her head at appropriate times unsure of which void she was currently at residence.
Fenris looked a little confused, too, and since she was the one telling the story, Lox took this as an opportunity to not feel so bad.
"Anyway, as long as the Is was sealed away the gods could stay in power.”
“Oh that’s good right? Gods being in power and all? Everything seems to be in the up and up. No one to bother you. So what do you do in your free time?”
“I've been trying to bring down the gods."
“That is one hell of an extra curricular activity,” Lox said slowly.
"Who are much more numerous than you'd originally thought," Angelus interrupted again.
Wound… meet salt.
"Right," Fenris said, obviously tired of being interrupted at this point. "So that I can free humans from their tyrannical rule. That's basically why I have enemies, and why you don't need to worry about them."
"I thought we were trying to avoid an info-dump," Angelus said, annoyed.
Sway, not yet having the writing gusto to describe Lox and Fenris’s faces, instead took that moment to make a quick sketch of each with a captivating caption.
Tired of being interrupted and interrogated was officially over Angelus. She was also ready to rip an etiquette book in half, if need be, and use it as a weapon to waylay anyone who suggested she ‘mingle’. She had to save the world from the onslaught of multiple gods who were aware of her actions and may or may not be sharing her current location. Surrounded by an undoubtedly untrained if not illiterate rag tag group of people ranging from veteran to in-need-of-a-veterinarian, she was on a single-minded mission to restore order in the world. Yes, someone could try to kill her at any time, yes super human forces were trying to end her life, yes scores and scores and scores and scores of gods existed, but she would fight and rage and pummel immortals until they begged for the sweat release of death.
Who had just been involuntarily enlisted in a holy war is only now beginning to realize that s*** just got real.
"Nevermind," The angel said, "I was talking to our writer."
Breaking the spell Fenris turned to Lox to say in all sincerity, “I hope that clears things up."
Angelus chimed in, "You left out the part where all of the gods from every mythology are vying for control of your world," she said, annoyed, "But whatever, that premise is way, way, way too complicated anyway."
Somewhere in the south, Sway had just erased her original drawing and replaced it with O.O
She stopped for a moment, looking at the dog. The puppy immediately ran up to her trying to sniff and her entire shoe. Satisfied that he was in good company he rolled on his back, legs straight in the air, hoping for a tummy scratch.
"I guess we should come up with a name for that little scamp," she said, thoughtfully, "How about...um...Scamp?"
Fenris smirked, raising an eyebrow. The dog huffed. "Wow," Fenris said, "Took you all of five seconds to think of that one, didn't it?"
"Shut up," Angelus said, "I don't hear you coming up with anything."
“Hmm,” Lox said scratching his stomach. “What about Bennie, Herk, Harley?” The dog laid perfectly still as if she were killing him.
“Okay,” Lox said. “What then?”
Quickly the puppy zipped up and started hurriedly licking one spot on her arm. She tried to pry him away but he maneuvered himself back in to bathe the inside of her elbow. “Stop it,” she said.
He looked her directly in the eye, and whined in frustration, tunneling his snout into her arm. She stood up to escape from him but he ran around her in a circle, looking for something. She looked where he was licking.
“What is this Ra?” she asked.
“Okay so it’s a picture of—“ she studied her arm, “Isis?”
His tail sunk. Isis was a woman’s name.
“Not Isis. Then…” Why didn’t she know more about Egyptian gods? She had created Aker, after all. “Is it Horus, Amun, Bes, Sobek, Aten?”
The dog was manic at this point.
“Geb, earth god? You like flowers.” She said lamely. “Set? Surely not Set, you’re not chaos are you?”
He did not look amused.
He backed as if he were trying to say something then stood up on two legs and put his head in profile the exact way it was on the tattoo or on any hieroglyph you’ve ever seen, really.
He began digging up flowers with glee. Yes, he was striking terror in everyone’s heart as the keeper of the dead.
Lox gave Fenris a confused look. “But how can he be Anubis?” she said to her under her breath. “He’s too… fluffy.”
He jumped into her arms. “Fine. Anubis it is. But that name is too big for you now. Until you grow, you’ll just be Nubie.”
Nubie licked her face.
“YEEELCH! One more of those and our friendship is over. You are on probation, sir.”
Between this frantic game of charades and the reality that at this moment gods from another void were creeping closer, Lox and her author were starting to get the swing of this.
Fenris watched Lox and her dog interact, trying to fight off her own boredom. Lox, like Angelus, was extraordinarily talkative, and she had made the already difficult task of explaining her own personal history more irritating than it needed to be. As far as she was concerned, she was done listening to Angelus' instruction to make friends. Now she was going to do things her way, which meant finding some way home so that she could return to her previous business. There was a Greek God waiting on the Olympic plateau, and she thought that he was long overdue to be introduced to the end of her blade. She paused after this thought,taking a moment to note that Lox's dog had chosen the name Anubis for himself. 'Yeah, that works,' Fenris thought to herself sarcastically, 'This little puppy totally seems like the god of death.' Bringing up her mental checklist of "people that need to die", she made a quick note of the fact that Anubis hadn't yet left that list. She would have to find some time in her schedule to put an end to him as well when she got home. Angelus, in the meantime, was watching the scene with glee, a huge smile on her face. The simple sight of a girl and her dog amused her to no end, and this lighthearted change of pace to Fenris' gloomy world was enjoyable for her. So enjoyable that she decided not to tell Lox that she didn't, in fact, enjoy having her mind flooded with the equivalent of junk mail in order to block her telepathy, and if Lox tried a stunt like that again the little angel would use her teleportation powers to send her on a scenic vacation to the upper atmosphere. She'd heard tell that falling to your death was awfully beautiful this time of year. Fenris sighed, deciding to voice her frustration. "Alright,so now that we've got the nude midget and the dog-lover here with us can we get going?" She asked, "I mean, I know we have absolutely no objective at all, but there has to be something we can do that's more interesting than hanging out on the shore of a lake." "Yeah, but we're two short..." Angelus noted. Fenris turned and sent a fierce glare at the little angel, making it clear that as far as she was concerned there were already enough people in their party, and she would like a break from chatting about their life stories for a while. "Fine, whatever you think Skipper," Angelus said, shrugging, "We'll just put that off until later. Everybody's got a story to tell, and as you've already figured out, in a place like this they're definitely going to tell it." Fenris' heart sank. She had a feeling that what Angelus said was true, but she didn't care. For now, she felt stuck, and she would do anything to feel like she was making some sort of real progress towards...something, anything. She wasn't the kind of person who liked to stand still for long.
After a few minutes, Abedah woke up with her head throbbing from the temporary lack of oxygen. "Damn, I'm still here." She started to sit up when a wave of vertigo washed over her. She stopped until it passed, then proceeded to gather her dagger and her composition, and stood to look at the tree that had so abruptly attacked her. It wasn't actually the tree itself, but a vine attached to the tree, that now floated freely above her head. She took a step back and then saw the cleanly cut tail of the vine heaped on the ground. "Thank you, " she said out loud, not knowing who it was that had noticed her predicament and freed her.
“…If you ever change your mind you’ll find us with this.”
Over the nostalgic years, the once perfectly folded piece of parchment became tattered and blotted by rainwater, while its ink smudged and began to disappear. Still, in the middle of the page, small characters were legible. It translated to:
Beeb Morde: Limbo Located in an underground compartment in a place that has no name, where the single gold flower bush grows, and where the desert meets Elderin.
He held the parchment between his hands, reading and rereading the words that his father wrote so long ago. He never thought that one day he would consider even gazing upon it, or travelling to another place other than Illusionia. The thought of him repelling the suggestion of uprooting and entering into another domain still reigned true within his heart, however, the forceful pull of longing for his family was on the opposite end of the tug of war, and it was winning.
Arem had heard stories of Limbo, or Araaf as the natives called it, from his parents shortly before they made the decision to go there. They said that it was a place similar to this one, different races, different species, different…everything, but what distinguished Limbo from Illusionia was that they did not have to worry about being poor. That in Limbo, there is a kingdom suspended in midair from the rest of its neighboring towns that it governed. A place where you can request of the monarch anything you wish and he would give it to you, although it still remained a mystery how the monarch was capable of obtaining anything he wanted, and never was exhausted of it.
His mom often described this kingdom to him, choosing her every word carefully as her tongue became moist with the embellished description. She said that the kingdom was like a cloud in the sky which never blocked the brightness of the sun, or casted a grey shadow over the colorful houses below. A glass, cylinder elevator with crystal encrusted glass bordering it and extending towards the sky like an antennae, transported inhabitants from the ground floor to the large palace structure in the heavens. She would say with a glint in her eyes, that it was a miracle. At the time, Arem did not think so, but now as he pondered over every word, every description, as he saw that glint in his mother’s eyes in his memories, he realized that his once position on being of those who remained behind was only a childish reverie.
Arem reclined on a sea green bean bag-like chair in his small quarters, which had a plush midnight blue carpet and a miniature wash area. The kitchen could not be described as such; instead there was a copper plate that emitted fire atop of a gas tank. Also, there was a little wooden box that stored food. This was his home in Illusionia. He almost laughed aloud after going over his surroundings. Is this what I stayed for? He thought.
Suddenly, a rapid rapping on the door resonated throughout the flat. He rose and with a few quick steps, he pulled open the door. Doug Helmstead, or Dougie as he was called, stood at the threshold, leaning on a black cane for fashion rather than injury.
“I got your message. You know I rather you come to my house personally than send some stranger messenger,” he remarked, pushing Arem out of the way with his cane and entering the house.
“Please come in,” Arem said sarcastically.
Dougie casually walked to the chair and took his seat as if it was his to begin with. Arem closed the door, walked over to Dougie, and handed him the old piece of parchment.
“So this is why you called me out here?”
“Yeah…you know these outskirts better than anyone I know.”
“Way to pucker your lips, kid, but I ain’t comin’ with if that’s where you’re headed,” he said, raising his thick brown eyebrows.
“Well I was hoping---“
“Fuhget it, Arem. I’m ol---“
“I heard there are beautiful women there.”
“You said women?”
Arem shrugged. “That’s what I hear. Don’t kill the messenger.”
Dougie began to peruse over the parchment with more enthusiasm.
“You know your old man was never good with directions.”
“Wouldn’t remember…tea?” Arem asked, shuffling through the wooden box.
“No, thank you, but hey! This golden flower bush, right?”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“It’s north from our town. If I remember correctly, me and your dad would go there and get some flowers for the ladies. Anyway, those flowers are rare, and people around here---especially women---go ape for ‘em. A-a-and it separates us from the Desert of Kopul-Vul. So, there you have it,” he answered, leaning back apparently pleased with himself.
Arem looked up from the wooden box, and raised his eyebrows, “I guess we have somewhere to be then, huh?”
The girl with the strange poncho and dreadlocks wasted no time in introducing herself, despite not being asked to, saying in the bored voice of someone who had done this before, “I’m Lox, apparently, or at least that's the name that was written on this paper," she quickly stashed said paper in her bag as she finished her sentence. Huh, Lox, real original. "I have no idea how I got here and as a former writer I am now being written by someone I created.”
Caspar's ears pricked up at this. Former writer? Like, as in the same type of being as his own writer? This was beginning to get interesting, unlike awakening from a centuries long hibernation in a futuristic capsule to a group of strange looking people and creatures, and a familiar face from long ago, no, that wasn't interesting at all.
Lox cast her eyes skyward, venomously spitting the words, "So far I would say, she sucks!" She instantly winced and rubbed her jaw as if an invisible boxer had just caught her with a jab.
Caspar wondered if her writer had just punished her for her apparent blasphemy. He also wondered just who this writer was. Kyle was the only one he knew from the assembled group, so that ruled him off the list. That just left...everyone else.
“Anyway, I might as well join you as you rekindle your bromance for a while until I figure out how to get home or my ride picks me up," she continued. Caspar was puzzled, was she addressing him? What was bromance, and how was it being rekindled? Perhaps she was referring to some kind of signal fire, but Caspar saw no charred embers anywhere. His writer clapped a hand to his forehead, shaking his head slowly.
“But seriously, dude, put some clothes on," Lox said, turning to face Caspar. This time she was definitely addressing him. "This is…this is not the boom boom room. You need all this,” she said tossing her poncho in his direction, “and a tan. And a comb. Good lard.”
Caspar stood there, still holding the cloak Kyle had offered him, Lox's poncho now lay draped over his right side, hanging off his shoulder. He was about to speak up when he was interrupted by the winged creature.
"Oh shush," she said, seemingly directing her dialogue to the girl with the sword, and then immediately afterward adding, "Fat chance. Anyway, I know back home in Terra Di everyone was trying to kill you...well, okay, not everyone but a lot of people, but most of the people here probably have less malicious intentions. You really need to learn to trust people."
It seemed like the female warrior was going to respond to this when Lox cut in.
“No, she’s wrong. You should definitely not trust people around here. As far as I know, most of the people who seem trustworthy can only be trusted if they are the chosen few. If they’re not it’s a guarantee they’ll drink your milkshake with no remorse.” The chosen few. Could she be referring to the True Ones? If so, that meant her creation that had switched places with her was likely one of the True Ones as well.
Caspar watched all this, confused, and still naked. A gentle breeze lapped across his still nude back-side, raising tiny goose-bumps across the surface of his near translucent skin. He felt like he looked like a frozen turkey. The girl with the sword seemed to have some method of communication with the winged creature, Caspar's first guess was telepathy of some sort. It wouldn't be the first time he had encountered it. Apparently this girl had many enemies, and she shared some type of telepathic ability or link with the winged creature.
Taking note of this, Caspar directed his mental attention to the sprite standing silently beside him. He didn't think the words specifically, because that's not how it worked, but rather thought of what he was trying to convey, which essentially was, "Those two might be a threat, Pan, activate your mental shielding on both you and &, and extend it to me, but be subtle about it." Pan nudged Caspar's right pinky toe with his own left toe in acknowledgement.
The winged creature turned away from the sword-bearing girl and began chatting idly with Lox, asking her about her day, and the circumstances of her shift with her own creation. She then told her that she was in a bad mood because she fell out of a tree, and that she had many questions for her and "wolf-girl", Caspar assumed this to be her name(strange as it was). He was sure of it now, especially from the vexed look on Lox's face, definitely telepathic ability.
At this point, Lox spoke up, saying, “I won’t ask you what is happening or what we are about to do. Having written this story for ten years I know that no one in the game or on the other side of the computer has any clue. We could spend days trying to come up with a plot and then never complete it, as is our custom. There’s no point in asking. We’re clueless. We could be taken to Candyland in five minutes or go get ninja attacked in ten.” She's been writing for years? The game? As in the mind game? She has to be the writer of one of the True Ones. He was sure of it now.
Wolf-girl responded by saying childishly, "I don't have to answer anything," to which the winged being smacked her on her nose before flying out of her reach and saying, "Bad wolf." This caused Caspar to flashback to the entity "Wolf" that had been sharing his body a while back like an over-sized sleeping bag. Could the girl be a were-wolf as well? His thoughts were interrupted again as the wingding continued scolding wolf-girl saying, "Provide insight into your character. It helps people invest in you and stuff. Honestly, the pair of us are criminally underdeveloped, although to be fair we both come with the disadvantage of being brand new."
Caspar meditated on these words. Whoever the winged being was, it had revealed that it and wolf-girl were both characters being written, similiar to Caspar, and that they shared the same writer. That made sense, kinda.
Wolf-girl seemed to resign herself at this point, responding sourly, "Fine, what do you want to know?"
Lox didn't miss a beat, "Weeeell…, I would like to know if teleportation is in your arsenal as well as telepathy, angel thing? I’d also like to know if someone could get Caspar a shirt or a robe or a snowsuit?"
What? She knew his name? It's settled then, her creation was assuredly one of the True Ones. Caspar thought back to what she had said earlier. "She sucks." It meant that the True One writing her was a female, which narrowed it down somewhat. She could either by Kelly, Najm, Sara, or Sway. He ruled out the katana-wielding girl from Imperial City whose name escaped him, because she had been a new introduction, and supposedly Lox had been writing this character for years and years. He also ruled out Sara, as she had never made the leap to Imperial City, and so must have disappeared somehow. That left Kelly, Najm, and Sway.
"The third question is simple, Buffy, if people are hunting you are they hunting everyone? I don’t know how long you’ve been traveling together or if you’re a new person or not, but I do know that people with enemies never leave them behind. Are we about to get our throats slit?”
Caspar had to agree with Lox at this point. He too was anxious about these "enemies" who were stalking after Wolf-girl, and he wasn't too naive to think that they wouldn't be able to follow her to Limbo, despite the fact that getting to Limbo was an incredible feat in itself. His own journey to Limbo had necessitated the bulk of the stolen technology he had acquired in Imperial City, as well as the close instruction of Pan via a temporal rift to assemble the technology into a suitable dimensional transporter, but that was a story for a different time.
The winged creature glanced at Wolf-girl, receiving a nod to answer Lox's questions. "Well, firstly, yes, I can also teleport, as well as generate plasma arrows and generate limited constructs...although I'm not sure if I can do that here in limbo. That little process is built into the fantasy game itself, and given that we're technically separate from that I'm really not sure what I can do. I think my writer is just making it up as he goes. Also, I think that Fenris should have a few spare clothes in her bag."
It was so much information to process. Apparently the winged-creature was in possession of an impressive array of abilities not restricted to mere telepathy, and it was knowledgable not only of the mind game, but Limbo as well. Whatever and whoever it was, it was very well informed. Caspar suspected she was of some super-natural origin. Also, he found that Wolf-girl's name was actually Fenris, who proceeded to look through a bag she was carrying and drew out several articles of clothing, which the winged creature set down before Caspar saying, "You might want these" before flying back to where Fenris was standing.
At this point, it was getting ridiculous. With Kyle's cloak in hand, Lox's poncho hanging over his shoulder, and now Fenris' clothes lying in a neat pile at his feet Caspar was beginning to grow annoyed.
"Ok, I get it! I'm naked!" he said with evident exasperation, "Will you people stop throwing clothes at me like I'm some sort of walking laundry hamper!?" He held the cloak in front of him with one hand as he struggled to throw the poncho over his head and around his back with his free hand. With the poncho securely wrapped around him, he turned around awkwardly for a moment and pulled on the black shirt and gray pants that Fenris' pet angel-thing had given him, pulling the drawstring belt on the pants tight against his emaciated and bony waist. "Geez," he breathed irritatingly. Turning around again, he handed Kyle back his cloak saying, "Thanks, man, here ya go," and then shrugging off the poncho and offering it back to Lox saying, "No offense, but this isn't really my style, I'm more of an autumn."
Meanwhile, as he had been awkwardly dressing, Caspar had half-listened to Fenris launch into a lengthy explanation of how and why she was being hunted by apparently every god, demi-god, and every other mythical being and creature that could be possibly conceived because she herself was the daughter of a demi-god and was possessed by an immense power called the "wolf spirit". Possessed by a wolf spirit, ha, that makes two of us. She continued talking, but at that point Caspar had lost interest and his ADD had inspired him to idly start whistling an unidentifiable tune.
He was brought back to his senses when the lady with all the pouches started spontaneously cackling before asking no one in particular, "Don't you see that none of this is real?" Caspar looked at her and shrugged nonchalantly as he watched Pan grow curious sniff around her in a circle before declaring that she was a "strange infant".
He wondered what Pan meant by this as she responded indignantly, asking, "Do you know how old I am?" to which Pan responded mirthfully, "very," before resuming his place aside Caspar. Caspar chalked this up to yet another instance of the sprite's inherent weirdness. He watched the woman walk around for a while before pausing at the tree that Lox and Fenris were talking under. Suddenly, a vine-like tendril whipped out from the tree and coiled around the woman's neck, lifting her off the ground for a moment before Lox swung out with her scythe and severed the vine annoyingly, as if swatting a pesky fly, and returned to her conversation with Fenris. The woman fell to an unconscious heap on the ground, with hardly anyone noticing.
Caspar watched the conversating pair move away from a serious topic and light on the question of what to name the dog. After some deliberation the dog took the task upon himself and through a lengthy session of charades insinuated to Lox that it was Anubis.
Then Fenris spoke up again, saying "Alright,so now that we've got the nude midget and the dog-lover here with us can we get going?"
Caspar choked audibly. "Wha-! Nude midget? Excuse me, missy, but just who do you think you're talking to? She continued talking, obviously ignoring him, "I mean, I know we have absolutely no objective at all, but there has to be something we can do that's more interesting than hanging out on the shore of a lake."
"Like throwing you in it," Caspar muttered.
"Yeah, but we're two short..." wingding noted.
Fenris glared at the creature, staring daggers into her.
"Fine, whatever you think Skipper," it said, shrugging, "We'll just put that off until later. Everybody's got a story to tell, and as you've already figured out, in a place like this they're definitely going to tell it."
Fenris seemed to be very annoyed at this, she was obviously someone who liked to be in charge, as well as constantly doing something. As she glowered at everyone and no one, Caspar noticed that pouch-girl had regained consciousness and after shooting a vexing look at the vine that had randomly tried to lynch her, she offered an impersonal "thank you" directed to no one specifically.
At this point, Caspar returned his attention to Kyle, jokingly asking, "Did you get all that?"
Lox slipped her poncho on indignantly after Caspar flung it back at her.
"Alright, so now that we've got the nude midget and the dog-lover here with us can we get going?"
Caspar choked audibly. "Wha-! Nude midget? Excuse me, missy, but just who do you think you're talking to?”
“Exactly,” Lox laughed heartily. “Midget? Dog lover? This is coming from wolf girl? The hairiest woman in the world?”
Put off, Fenris replied, “I mean, I know we have absolutely no objective at all, but there has to be something we can do that's more interesting than hanging out on the shore of a lake."
"Like throwing you in it," Caspar muttered.
Lox laughed harder. “We could watch her doggy paddle,” she added under her breath. Caspar was funnier in person.
Fenris shot Angelus another annoyed look. Her seriousness reminded her of another bladed warrior.
"Yeah, but we're two short..." the angel countered matter-of-factly.
Lox’s distrust of Angelus instantly deepened. How did she know how many people were going to be on this trip? She could not only read minds but she could use telepathy, teleport, make arrows, and read the future as well. She had never known of an ally who could do any of these things. She was officially on Lox’s Do Not Trust list.
For that matter, she secretly moved Fenris to the list as well.
Lox found herself edging away from the group, unsure if any of them were worth her trust.
"Fine, whatever you think Skipper," Angelus said, shrugging, "We'll just put that off until later. Everybody's got a story to tell, and as you've already figured out, in a place like this they're definitely going to tell it."
“Most assuredly, but no one will tell anything if they feel like they’re being pressured… or if they get too busy. Sometimes it’s better to take it slow,” Lox said. She was trying to get acclimated to the place.
Caspar and Kyle were having a private side conversation, snickering with each other. Guy time. She wondered if she would get along with Kyle, if they would have a lot in common, if he would even talk to her, or if he would see her as someone he needed to shepherd. She wasn’t as young as Caspar so he probably wouldn’t see her as his ward, but she was an unfamiliar person and if Lox could recall Kyle usually didn’t take to anyone quickly.
Lox wondered when Kyle and Caspar had decided to be friends. She idly picked random bits of leaves from her scythe and patted the Asian woman she had saved from acute vine death on the back absent-mindedly.
“I hope you’re okay,” Lox said, “I’m kind of wondering why the forest attacked you and only you. I mean I have heard of someone having allergies, but I’ve never seen anyone get throttled by nature.”
Nubie noticed it first, the bubbling that was going on in the water. Playfully, he jumped down and splashed in the pond. With his little paws he tried desperately to catch what looked like a school of large fish.
He was adorable, his little face so determined. Lox took a step closer to retrieve him but was stopped cold.
A piercing scream came sharply through the treetops. It was an inhuman sound, the vibration of something neither dying nor mortal.
Lox clasped her hands over her ears. Too little too late. An eerie silence pervaded the lake’s bay. In the distance she could still see birds flying and the wind blowing, but there was absolutely no sound for a moment.
Her eyes wildly searched the people in the party, but some were just as fearful and confused as she. Others had instinctively drawn their weapons.
The silence felt physical. It pushed her down in its completeness.
She cleared her throat to see if she had gone mute.
Two figures emerged cloaked in complete silence. The dripping of the water off of their bodies was overloud in contrast.
Lox could see her breath.
The first figure was female. She was tall with tawny coloring and flashing blue eyes. She had a human form but her skin was shiny with mirrored scales. She was beautiful, except for the fangs hanging over her pursed lips.
On her right was a shorter, much older male figure. He was a deep blue with a beard that hung down to his waist.
“Are you sure these are the ones?” Blue-beard asked leaning on his staff.
“I am certain,” said the mermaid, golden sword in hand.
“I shall call the twins, then,” Blue-beard replied mildly, “Though we will not need them.”
From the ground beneath their feet, two towering male children emerged. It was as if these golems had summoned themselves from some unknown place. Perhaps they had been there all the time. The twins were covered in dirt, each held an iron war hammer. They were as black as underground.
The four figures stood directly in the middle of the group of travelers.
Their bodies shone and Lox noticed that she could see right through each of them.
“Ghosts,” she whispered, fighting her urge to tremble.
“Almost,” the old man said.
“But if you like ghosts,” said the woman looking at Lox with great interest, “You’re next.”
Fenris grinned as the newcomers appeared. It was obvious to her that they were foes, and that thought filled her with delight. She'd been itching for a fight since she'd arrived, and now the opportunity had finally presented itself. And, if she was lucky, maybe a few of her newfound 'friends' would be killed in the fray. This thought earned her another smack on the nose from Angelus. "Bad Fenris," She said, once again berating her like a pet, "We're supposed to be friends with them, remember?" "Y'know, there's two groups, so which THEM are you talking about," Fenris shouted angrily. Angelus rolled her eyes. "The ones we've already met," She said, "Y'know, the guys that didn't randomly summon giant ghost children to KILL us?" Fenris nodded her head, annoyed. "Fine," She said, "But I can't help it if they can't hold their own." Angelus said nothing. She had a feeling that Fenris was about to earn another humbling defeat, herself, but she knew that wouldn't stop her. "Hey, you do realize you don't know anything about these guys, right?" The little angel asked. Fenris smirked, preparing to attack. "Never stopped me before," She said, confidence filling her voice. Angelus rolled her eyes. One day Fenris would learn not to throw herself at the enemy, at least if Angelus could keep her alive long enough for that epiphany to reach her. As she thought this, Fenris ran forward, sword at the ready, ready to attack the first of the twins. Knowing that Fenris was probably about to get herself introduced to the wrong end of a warhammer, Angelus held out her hand. There was a flash of bright light and then a ball of white light appeared in front of her palm. Two beams shot out of the ends of the ball, and formed themselves into a bow. Angelus took hold of it with her left hand, pulling back on the string with her right. As she did three arrows appeared, composed of nothing but blazing white light. A moment later these arrows were tearing through the air in beside Fenris, covering her assault. Before they could meet with any target, Angelus prepped another three bolts, while also thinking up several other ways she could save Fenris. 'Do me a favor, writer,' She thought to herself, 'Give me the ability to make structures again. Oh, and a Phoenix Down. I really think I'm going to need one.' In the distant land of Missouri, the writer of this post slapped a hand against his forehead in annoyance, before opening his character profile for Angelus. He scrolled down to her abilities list and added "Healing" to her abilities list, and then added, "Incredibly Extensive" in front of it. 'That's not going to help me if she dies!,' Angelus silently argued with him. "I don't think anyone would just up and kill her off," The writer said, before stopping and realizing that he had just said that to his computer monitor. 'They might,' Angelus thought, 'Just to be rude.' The writer rolled his eyes. "We've still got the wolf spirit maguffin if they do," He said, pulling up his image reference for Angelus so that, at the very least, the act of speaking to a character that only existed in his head was slightly less strange. 'Whatever,' Angelus thought, annoyed. She noted then that she was going to have a talk with whatever character was currently writing Lox, so that she could learn how to swap places with her own creator. She thought it was about time he learned how annoying it was being a character in one of his ludicrous stories.
“But if you like ghosts,” said the woman looking at Lox with great interest, “You’re next.”
The golden blade flashed toward her. The woman could move with a great deal of speed. Lox instinctively sidestepped a blow that should have split her shoulder in half. If she had stepped the wrong way it would have sliced open her skull like a vine-ripened tomato.
She realized that a scythe is not a particularly good weapon choice against a sword pretty quickly. The woman wrenched it from her hand deftly and pushed her up against a tree so hard that she, and all the bark she had come into contact with, was immediately scattered over the forest floor.
The woman’s cold hands grabbed Lox’s shirt to pick her up.
“You will tell me what I want to know before I kill you.”
“Kill me? I-I just got here,” Lox made out, her eyes half crossed in pain.
The mermaid laughed then kneed Lox in the bottom of her stomach so hard that she threw up a little.
Lox, dazed and embarrassed, could not stop admiring the woman’s scales though her life was in danger. “I am an open book,” she managed, eyes swimming.
“Who is your message for?”
“I don’t know. No one told me who it was for.”
“Do I look familiar to you?” The mermaid asked. “Was it me, Diantha?”
How did this get so personal? “I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before. I never created a character like you, not even in my mind.” Lox was going to say more. She was going to tell Diantha everything she knew even though she was sure the sea-witch was going to bite her head off in the end, lady spider style, when she noticed the strong smell of urine pervading her lungs.
The mermaid smelled it too and she looked at Lox with utter disgust.
“It wasn’t me!” She said suddenly defensive.
It was Nubie. He was standing beside the tree that his owner had just been thrown against and was marking it like his life depended on it.
What a hero.
Just then another pair of fighters broke through behind them, grappling each other to the ground. The brawlers jostled Diantha just enough that Lox stumbled back from her. Both of them were hurt in the fall because they were hit so hard. But Lox was the first to realize that she was momentarily free. She scrambled back toward the under bush as quickly as she could. Nubie was dragging her weapon behind him. Her hands seized the discarded scythe.
“What are you going to do with that?” Diantha asked.
“Have faith in my writer,” said Lox.
She launched herself at the mermaid woman, noting that she had taken the opportunity to pull out another golden sword. She imagined she was fantasizing about cutting her up, sushi style, and serving her to friends after this battle.
She split the air with her scythe, missing her within inches. The woman, quickly recovered, and brought her sword down on her retreating hands.
Lox flinched, a long stream of blood dripping from her fingertips where she had been cut. Now holding the scythe was harder and her hands were slick. Secretly, her knees were wobbly. They stared at each other in this face off, each waiting for the other to move. Clearly this woman did not know who Lox was or she would have simply impaled her without caution. But the fact that she was being strategic meant that she could, indeed, be hurt. Anticipation denotes intelligence, but it also reveals weakness.
She had never been an athlete, but there was a definite spirit of competition inherent in Lox’s character and if she were going to be killed by a woman wearing a disco ball, she was going out with a bang.
She relied on what she knew best: slap boxing tactics.
She feinted; the woman fell for it and drew back. Lox, not missing a beat, pulled back the scythe with all her might and swung it like she were about to slice open a baseball. The blade dug its cruel, silver finger down the woman’s face and brushed against her throat.
It was as if someone had taken a tube of lipstick and marked her a bright crimson.
Diantha, blinded in one eye, was pissed. When she looked up and saw that Lox had teamed up with another traveler she swore she’d bury both blades in to the hilt.
Kyle had tried to pay attention. He really did. Often, he could keep track of most of the rather unique and multiple conversations that seemed to occur in the shifting tides of the Mind Game, but right now, he just couldn't focus. He thought, perhaps, that it might have something to do with his writer's busy schedule, or perhaps he was just kind of bored with the rather nonsensical topics that seemed to be flying through the air like dogfighting mosquitoes.
The newest addition to the party, that of the dark-skinned, dark-haired woman with a trailing dog, put him a little on edge. He knew this person, but couldn't place it.
In the years he spent in his writer's subconscious, there had been various times where Kyle had watched the unfocused guy spend an inordinate amount of time on the computer. Sometimes it was actually doing something useful for a job or a school assignment, but more often it was either clicking his way through gaming sites, or possibly updating blogs.
Every once in a while, though, he'd check on his social networking sites.
Kyle remembered several such events, because the writer didn't often take the time to look at them. His excuse, at least in his mind, was that he was busy, but being in his subconscious, Kyle knew that the man just didn't find them very interesting. He had often thought to himself, (in Kyle's hearing), that if he wanted to connect with his real-life friends, he would connect with his friends in real-life, instead of "poking" them to say hello over the web.
In any case, Kyle had seen this woman's face somewhere in those social network visits. He couldn't quite place her name, but he was fairly certain that his writer knew exactly who she was.
Well, of course he does, you dolt, thought Kyle. He can just check the name to the side of her posts. Duh. Kyle then started thinking about how he might get the information.
Could I get a hint? He asked in his mind.
There was no answer.
Fine, thought Kyle, smirking a little. Of course you're not going to make it that easy.
He was sure that it would all come out in the end.
Casper pulled him back into the moment, catching his attention before tossing his cloak back at him.
"Thanks man," he said, having found some simple clothes that didn't quite fit his admittedly emaciated frame. "Here ya go."
Kyle caught the brown garment with his left hand, and tossed it over his shoulder.
"No worries," he said. "Black's more your color anyway."
Casper smirked slightly before tossing the poncho back to Lox, the writer-turned-character that Kyle couldn't place.
"No offense," said the dark-haired humanitarian commercial. "But this isn't really my style. I'm more of an autumn."
Kyle shook his head.
"Right," he said, indicating the cloak. "And I wear this thing because it goes great with my eyes."
The conversation suddenly went rapid-fire as someone commented on where they should be going, and then someone made fun of Casper out-loud (even though they were all thinking it), and then someone mentioned that they seemed to be missing some people.
Finally, Casper turned to Kyle, and asked jokingly, "Did you get all that?"
"Oh yeah," said Kyle. "I've been keeping pretty detailed notes, actually. My guess is that there's going to be a test."
It was good to be joking with Caspar again. After all the heavy drama that their writers had put them through in Imperial City, Kyle and Caspar had often talked about how goofy it all was. After all, the two them generally got along just fine as long as no one was pulling their strings.
Kyle's writer had sent him off on a dark crusader's little journey, and then went and screwed with Caspar's life just for the heck of it. Then there was the strange secks-ca-pade that happened with Sway/Sadiq, and all this unresolved anger that was thrown onto the both of them to make them into rivals in Purity. After all that, it was really just nice to see his pal again.
He almost had gone to give Caspar a hug, but the whole "naked" thing had kind of made him hesitant.
"I'd ask what we're going to do next, but I know that none of us actually know. I guess one of us should just pick something so the writers can go with that."