As Caspar and Kyle were talking and taking the chance to try to catch up with each-other, he became faintly aware that Pan was digging a finger rather painfully into his spine. Apparently he desired Caspar's attention, badly. So badly that he was risking a digit, because he knew Caspar hated to be interrupted.
"Excuse me, just a second," he said, apologizing to Kyle and spinning around to face his impaler. "What?!" he hissed viciously.
Pan looked white as a sheet, as if he had seen a ghost. Somewhere, at the same moment, a writer crouched over his netbook while sitting in the bathtub, and chuckled at his clever pun.
"And why are you laughing to yourself, you creep. Bath's are for girls," Caspar said, addressing his writer. "You know I can hear you, right?"
At this the writer grew very silent, and slid down further into the lukewarm water, attempting to hide from Caspar's prying senses.
"Whatever man, I know you're there, weirdo," Caspar said under his breath before returning to the task at hand. "What is it, Pan?" he asked, obviously irritated and expecting a good answer.
"S-ss-ss-s-s-signatures," he responded cryptically as he stuttered the single word.
"John Hancocks?" Caspar offered helpfully.
"N-No, I'm detecting a group of signatures very close by, and they're approaching r-r-r-rapidly."
Caspar grew serious, a difficult feat for him. "How many?"
Pan closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again, their pupils shaking with fear. "F-f-four, I think."
"What are you reading off them, are they friendly?" Caspar drilled him, trying to get the information as soon as possible.
The sprite began visibly shaking at this point, the boards of the dock under his feet starting to rattle from his uncontrollable trembling. He only shook his head fearfully.
"Get in the capsule, Pan, and don't come out till I tell you to," Caspar ordered, snapping into action. "As for you," he said, shifting his attention to &, "You guard this capsule with your life, and don't let anything get to Pan. He's important, and completely defenseless. & nodded at this, ushering the still shaking Pan into the capsule before turning around and assuming his defensive fighting stance, planting his right food sideways, six inches behind his right shoulder, and stretching his left leg forward about fourteen inches and pointing straight ahead with his left foot. His left arm hung loosely at his side, and lifted his right arm and held it at a right-angle from his body, turning the palm of his right hand up to face forwards.
Caspar regarded the curious stance as & calmly maintained it, serenely staring ahead at nothing in particular. He was a true warrior, no fear, no trembling, he was a very different sprite than Pan, in fact, the exact opposite. But what he lacked in technological prowess and telepathic ability, he made up for in spades with pure athleticism and fantastic fighting skill. His stance looked almost comical, but Caspar had seen him fight once before, long ago before he had frozen himself in time, and it was truly an awe-inspiring sight to behold. He almost felt bad for anyone who might attempt to get to Pan and the capsule.
He looked up sharply as an eerie scream pierced the stillness. Some of his companions seemed unsure of what to do next, while others looked like their prayers had been answered, their hungry hands itching nervously at the hilts of their weapons.
Caspar looked down at himself, he was completely unarmed, he didn't even have socks. And more importantly, he wasn't in any shape for physical combat of any type. That left his trump card.
"Pan!" he called out to the sprite hiding in the capsule behind him.
"...y-yes," the sprite replied meekly, barely audible.
"I need you to do me a favor. Access the control panel of the capsule and activate the emergency defense initiative, the capsule will take care of the rest," Caspar said steadily, as two dark figures emerged from the depths of the pond, and slowly walked up the sloping, sandy shore. One was a female type creature, with fangs visibly glistening in the half-light of the halo, a stocky stump of a masculine figure at her side, with a beard that looked as if it could hide a pod of whales within its thick curls. The female appeared to be wielding a golden sword, and the male, a sturdy staff. Caspar doubted very much that they were prop weapons, and that the menacing pair could possibly be live-action role-players seeking a rousing faux-battle. This was the real thing. There was murder in their eyes.
Caspar shot an apprehensive glance over his back at Pan, who was busying himself with something within the capsule. "Any time now, Pan," he called to him nervously.
"Sorry, this thing is kinda ghetto, I'm not used to inferior technology," Pan responded evenly. Caspar made a mental note to stop teaching slang to the sprites. They always used it at the most inappropriate times. "Ah, here we are, defense initiative engaged."
As soon as the sprite spoke the words, four ultra-bright flood lamps illuminated on the top of the capsule, bathing a circular area extending from the capsule as a radius for one hundred out in all directions with its near-blinding synthetic light. Simultaneously, a small explosive charge went off from the top of the capsule, catapulting a small, metallic projectile into the air in a parabolic arc that reached its zenith half-way across the dock, and then began tumbling end over end in a shiny blur before being caught nimbly in Caspar's right hand.
He turned to face the approaching creatures again, holding the trinket lightly in his right hand.
"I thought you said there was four of them," he called scoldingly to Pan.
No sooner had he said the words than two adamantine behemoths erupted from underground, each brandishing a massive war-hammer that looked more like a telephone pole to the untrained eye.
"Oh, ewwwwww," Caspar responded to this new development. He was also faintly aware that he was looking through the monsters at the male and female standing directly behind them. They were slightly translucent, like Caspar's tan-starved skin.
"Ghosts," Lox said, a frightened tinge evident in her voice. That's right, she's a writer, what does she know about fighting monsters? I better watch out for her, that is, if Kyle doesn't do it first.
"Almost," the male figure responded snidely.
"But if you like ghosts," the woman said, "you're next," she remarked, seemingly directing her words to Lox.
"Not on your life!" Caspar yelled to her boldly, shortly afterwards adding, "or after-life, or whatever...wow, that was lame, wasn't it?"
"Just a little," someone confirmed from somewhere beside him.
Caspar watched the woman sprint forward at this point, mounting an all-out assault on Lox, who managed to spring out of the path of her sword, just barely evading being diced into a neat chiffonade. She answered back...by having her scythe ripped from her hands, and getting slammed, hard, into a tree. Not the best answer. I better get over there, fast.
Bolting headlong down the dock, his piston-like footfalls punishing the ancient wood, Caspar began to charge toward the baddies, his weapon in hand, before being completely cut-off by the faster, and apparently more suicidal, Fenris, who careened past him like a runaway stagecoach, her wicked sword sinisterly reflecting the violet glow of the halo. Three blinding bolts of energy screamed through the air after her, apparently fired by the angel-thingy, who had taken a tactical position closer back to the dock.
Seeing that she seemed to have the situation well in hand, Caspar zig-zagged past the slow-moving golems, his lean physique adding greatly to his agility, and so overcome with evading both giants he stopped paying attention to where he was going just long enough to smash full-speed into the stocky bearded guy, who in turn tumbled over and jostled the scaly female one. He fell to the ground violently, his head dashing against an upturned rock and temporarily stunning him as Caspar, whose collision had been partially cushioned by the man's extensive beard, received a far less jarring impact and only stumbled forward awkwardly as if he had forgotten how to run temporarily, before he regained his footing, and dashed over to where Lox was now standing, scythe in hand, facing an enraged female wielding not one, but two golden swords now, and who looked very pi**ed off at having been injured by Lox.
"Hey, no hard feelings about the poncho, it's really very...becoming on you," he said in a quiet aside to Lox to let her know that he was next to her. "As for you," he said coolly, his voice taking on a steely edge, you're fish-food, and I'm not talking about those smelly flake thingies that come out of that pepper-shaker thing." Caspar winced at his last words, "Da**, I really need to stop clarifying my threats. Regardless...take this!" he yelled, now brandishing the metallic weapon hidden in his right hand.
A small cylindrical stick with a tiny patch of frayed bristles on the end extended out from the contraption, and then promptly began vibrating, producing a droning buzzing sound. It was a toothbrush.
"Son-of-a...," Caspar breathed awkwardly, flipping the toothbrush back into the handle. "I forgot about that option," he apologized lamely to Lox before once again brandishing the weapon with a flourish. This time, a sizzling, orange bolt of energy grew out from the handle of the weapon, extending to a length of about three feet. "Plasma baton, bi***," he quipped as he swung the weapon in a neat arc, its luminous shaft leaving a glowing wake of burnt electrons behind it in the air.
The female instinctively held up her sword to block, a foolish gesture, as Caspar was only too aware that his plasma-baton would slice through it like wet tissue paper. Unfortunately, right before this occurred, the bearded guy appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, his staff only barely making it in time to come between Caspar's baton and the female's sword. The staff appeared to have stopped his weapon's path, but on closer inspection it was slowly being eaten away by the boundless energy of the micro-sun powered baton. Realizing this, he shifted the bulk of his weight forward and focused it into his staff, with a grunt, sending Caspar staggering backward gracelessly into the same tree that Lox had been dashed into.
"Huh, thanks for stripping away some of this pesky, cushioning bark for me, Lox," he said, smirking and winking at her at the same time, while secretly saying on the inside, "Oh shi*, oh shi*..."
As she raced towards her massive enemy, Fenris noted that he was not entirely unlike the Minotaur she had fought in the Labyrinth on the Isle of Treason back home, and that, like him, this foe had chosen a warhammer for his weapon. 'Which means he'll be slow, at least when it comes to his weapon,' She thought. That worked to her advantage, because while strength was a part of her arsenal, her main weapon was speed. She could almost hear Angelus adding 'Well, and a sword', but to her great relief the angel didn't speak. As she approached it, Fenris watched the twin pull the hammer up over it's head, ready to strike. 'Perfect,' She thought. Just before she reached the spot where the beast landed it's blow, she stopped suddenly, pulling back. After that, everything went exactly according to plan, as the beast's hammer hit the ground, hard, shaking the earth below but missing the warrior entirely. As the hammer hit the ground Angelus' shots colored the air beside Fenris, and collided with the knees of the monster. The translucent flesh tore like paper, and the monster fell forward, resting it's head on the handle of it's hammer. Fenris had seen opportunities like this many times before, so she did not let the chance to end her foe go to waste. She launched herself forward, reaching the hammer quickly and launching herself off of it's head, blade extended towards her enemy's neck. As her blade met the flesh she seemed to hang in the air for a moment, the flesh resisting the pull of the blade. But Fenris managed to plant a foot on the monster's shoulder, and she used her excess momentum to finish the strike. There was a sound of meat being cleaved in two, and a moment later the beast's head was separated from it's shoulders. Following it's decapitation it did not fall forward as Fenris had expected, but instead simply dissipated, disappearing into the air. The warrior fell forward then, and she was forced to roll forward to avoid a rather painful landing. When she finished the roll, she crouched, her blade forward, and smirked at the remaining enemies. "Anyone else want to try their luck?" She asked the group at large, confidence lacing her tone. From her perch in the air, Angelus rolled her eyes. "Dear God," She said, obviously annoyed, "She's cocky. God save us all, she never makes good decisions when she's cocky." Fenris narrowed her eyes at the Angel, but let the insult slide. After all, there was no point getting upset now. She was in the heat of battle, and here she could feel truly at home. Angelus, in turn, turned her attention away from Fenris, who could more than handle herself against these opponents, instead focusing on helping the rest of the team. Her next three bolts still prepped, she tried to get a good shot at the enemies that were now tangling with Lox and Caspar. She narrowed her eyes, trying to find some way to hit them without hitting her new allies to no avail. "Dammit," She whispered to herself, "I need a better..." As she spoke, she remembered that she could teleport, and she did so, reappearing in the air above Caspar and Lox. "..Angle," She finished, smirking. She twisted in the air, training her weapon on the chest of her new foes, and unleashed her volley on them. Silently, she noted that if the male's staff could stop Caspar's Plasma Baton, it could certainly stop her own plasma arrows. 'Oh well,' She thought to herself, 'I have yet to encounter an enemy that could be dispatched on the first shot.' She silently hoped that someday she would meet such a foe, so she could cross 'Killing something effortlessly.' off of her bucket list. 'Man,' She thought, realizing the implications of this thought, 'I'm a really bad angel, aren't I?'
Kyle stood in a mix of awe and determination as two phantoms materialized before them. One carried a staff. The other twin golden swords. Both seemed all too eager to make introductions for all the wrong reasons.
As the one nearest to the capsule, Kyle was furthest away from the approaching spirits. Between him and they, there stood Caspar, Lox, Fenris, Angelus, Abedah, and the little pup, Anibus. There would be no way that he could bring his sword to bear. In fact, considering that the only one he'd fought alongside here would be Caspar, he wasn't exactly sure how to anticipate their reactions. He might very well throw one of his daggers and inadvertently sink the weapon into his ally's skull.
Kyle instead waited. He watched the spirits, looking for any weaknesses. Of course, there was the usual bravado, the usual creepy intimidation. Kyle just shook his head.
It's all so incredibly cliché.
On the shore, two golems appeared from the earth, male, almost child-like giants who were covered from head to foot in the chocolate soil. They bellowed a challenge, and suddenly Fenris was off like a shot, her weapon out and thirsting for blood. Kyle grinned unconsciously. He'd been like that when he first arrived. Every battle was a chance to create a shining moment of glory, to face down the fires of hell, and freeze them solid. Every fight was a test, and Kyle was determined to pass with flying colors.
But now, even as he thought back to those countless battles, numerous wars, and the sheer number of deaths that he had personally inflicted, he really didn't feel any different. He felt sorry for the friends that he had lost, sure. The companions that he had held in his arms as they took their final breaths. The comrades who had been murdered for their efforts to stave off the tide of evil and destruction that seemed to permeate everything around Kyle himself.
Sometimes, Kyle even wondered if the only reason that this evil existed was because it was a counter-balance to himself. If everything needed a yin and a yang, then was the true purpose of Kyle's efforts only serving to increase the amount of pain and misery that existed?
No, thought Kyle suddenly. That's not right. Kyle knew that pain and misery existed long before he had been created. Evil did not begin simply in the mind of a writer. Sure, there may have been specific manifestations that occurred merely because the writers of the Illusion had dreamed them up, but they were mere avatars. They were representations of a very real and very dark power, something that actually existed. Kyle had seen the evils in the hearts of men, and though he sometimes doubted whether his actions would make any difference in the end of it all, he held onto one thought.
It makes a difference to the ones I save.
Lox had engaged the ghost with the twin swords, and Caspar had leaped to her aid. Just to even the odds, the second ghost had brought his staff to bear, blocking the power that seemed to shoot with fury from Caspar's baton.
With Fenris engaging the first golem, the the two ghosts occupied, that left Kyle and the second golem. It was a challenge that Kyle was more than ready for, but that didn't mean the stakes were any less real. Kyle had known that in the subconscious, he was safe. The wars that he had fought had been nothing but proxy, imaginary battles that helped him to keep his mind sharp, but not much else. With no real threat of death, there was no real danger to worry about.
But here, back in the Mind Game, death was real, especially for a character. Sure, there were ways of bringing a character back. Kyle knew of several intimately, including the Wake-Up Room that had rebuilt him at one point. But that experience was not one that he wished to repeat.
Okay, thought Kyle. Enough introspective already. Let's do this thing.
The hazel-eyed warrior walked with purpose to the edge of the dock, swirls of mist and fog emanating from the spot where the two wraiths had emerged. The golem stood at the waters edge, his massive war hammer clutched in one hand. There was no clothing on his person, aside from a rather flimsy loincloth-looking garment about his waist, and two bracelets on his wrists that Kyle swore looked like broken shackles. Tattoos were etched up each arm and incorporated into a larger piece of art on his back. The golem bellowed out a challenge with an angry howl.
Kyle reached up to the hilt above his shoulder. The smooth steel slid serenely from its steel-lined sheath, sharply sending it's sound through the air. It was a familiar sound, one which only served to bring back memories of power. Of victory.
The two combatants stared at one another for just a moment. The giant stood at least two heads taller than Kyle did.
This will be fun.
Kyle leaped from the dock, and landed with a crouch before the massive creature. The battle began without any further hesitation.
The golem brought his hammer down to bear before Kyle had even fully stood. Kyle rolled to the right, the weapon's head burying itself into the earth. Kyle rushed forward, his blade lashing out. The golem brought his left wrist forward, using his bracelet to protect himself as the metal collided, sparks flying.
The golem used the momentum to swing his hammer around as Kyle landed again, and Kyle leaped over it, missing the swing by inches. The golem continued his spin, intending to bring his weapon around to bear again. Kyle stabbed his blade into the dirt, and placed his weight against it. The hammer and blade collided, but luckily the weapon held, knocking the golem off-balance.
Kyle spun himself, pulling his dagger smoothly from his belt, and plunging it into the golem's right shoulder.
There was a howl of pain as the giant staggered backwards, but the creature wasn't finished. Instead, he reached over with his left arm and lifted the hammer again. Kyle pulled his sword from the ground, and reacted to a quick falling hammer, shrugging the attack off to the side.
Suddenly the action became more fierce than before, the creature desperately trying to gain a foothold. Kyle fought with purpose, his years of experience allowing him to keep his cool under the rising pressure. The creature was becoming frustrated as Kyle parried attack after attack, forcing the giant to wear itself out. This was almost becoming easy, routine.
And then, Kyle lost a little focus.
One wrong step, and suddenly the golem's fist connected with the warrior's jaw, spinning him around. It was like being hit with a freight train, and Kyle briefly wondered if his jaw had actually been not only broken, but ripped off completely. He hit the ground, his sword falling from his grasp. He rolled immediately, and was rewarded with the hammer slamming to the ground exactly where he'd been just a moment ago.
He scrambled to his feet, and tried for his sword, but the golem stepped right in front of it, finally realizing that without the weapon, Kyle had lost his edge.
Oh really? Thought Kyle. A pun? Now!?
"No more for you," said the golem suddenly. It was the speech of an uneducated child, rumbling through the mouth of this gigantic creature. "You die now."
Despite his jaw, Kyle laughed, spitting a little blood. "You know, I just knew you were going to say that." Kyle looked like he could barely stand. The creature watched him, and finally made his decision, planting his feet, ready to charge. Kyle slowly reached down and grasped his hatchet.
The golem rushed forward, his hammer raised, ready to bear. Kyle snapped from his ruse, pulling the hatchet from his hip, and his boomerang from its holster under his arm. He rolled away from the charging beast, and up on his knee, he threw the hatchet as hard as he could, the blade sinking into the flesh just behind the golem's left knee. The creature buckled, and stumbled, falling to his knee. Kyle threw the boomerang off to the side, and then turned back to his sword.
He didn't even watch as the boomerang's blade sunk into the back of the golem's left shoulder. Calmly, he tested his jaw. It didn't seem broken, or at least, it felt as if everything were where it was supposed to be. Satisfied, he reached down and grasped the hilt of his blue-bladed weapon.
He turned, and saw the golem just kneeling, staring at him with wonder, unable to move. Kyle carried the weapon low, and spit more blood from his mouth.
Approaching the golem, he grinned slightly, ignoring the crimson stain across his teeth.
"Thanks," he said to the golem. "I needed that."
He then ignited his blade, the blue sparks cascading across the weapon with an ethereal intensity. Power surged through sword, and into Kyle as he swung.
The blade sliced through the golem's neck without any resistance whatsoever, which knocked Kyle a little off-guard. And then the golem evaporated, nothing but dust falling back to the earth. Kyle reached down, and swept the dust off of his weapons, now lying in the dirt.
From dust to dust, he mused. He noted that Fenris had similarly dispatched her foe, instantly raising his first impression. He didn't know this second warrior, but he would have to remember that she wasn't exactly one to be trifled with.
"Two down," he said calmly, and turned towards Caspar and Lox.
"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."
I'd like to know the same thing, Abedah thought. But before she could say that out loud, the dog started going nuts at the pond and a banshee yell filled the air, seemingly from everywhere above them. The sound made her dizzy again, but instead of covering her ears as some of the others were doing, she picked up her dagger and leaned against the tree to steady herself.
As the evil visitors introduced themselves, along with their equally heinous companions, Lox whispered the word, "Ghosts." That's what I would think, until the male corrected her. Then, as if the vine were the P-wave to a coming earthquake, a great melee broke out. Abedah looked at the dagger in her hand, then looked at Lox's scythe and the mermaid's sword (do I see a second one?). She couldn't get involved in this fight - that would be suicide, and for what? She moved back behind the tree where she hoped the ghost-like creatures wouldn't guess where she was. She peeked around for a moment, and saw Lox losing badly. The tree shook ferociously from impact. "Who is your message for?" Message, what message? "I never created a character like you, not even in my mind."
Okay, this place is getting too much for me. I can't be dreaming, otherwise I would have woken up from the vine attack. She quickly looked above her to make sure there wasn't any other murderous vegetation about. Then she remembered something Angelus had said, "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." If this really is Free Play, it should detect the anomalies and filter them based on ability, right? What are you doing, Old Friend?
She pushed the thought aside, and decided it was about time to figure out what was in these pouches. Aside from the dagger and the canteen, there were five, each made of leather, and each secured to a leather belt with a slip knot. To remove the pouch, she simply had to lift it enough to lighten the pressure on the knot, and pull the loose end of the sinew. Each contained what appeared to be powders of various colors and textures. I'm not a chemist. How am I supposed to know how to use these? The commotion behind her was getting louder, and the tree vibrated again with another thud. "Huh, thanks for stripping away some of this pesky, cushioning bark for me, Lox." It sounded like the skinny guy from the capsule.
She noticed that one of the powders looked very familiar, though she was sure she had never seen it before, except perhaps in some historical texts. Gunpowder! Abedah looked at the dagger again, and realized that the blade was made of steel. The handle, also, though beautifully carved, was not solid. After finding a crack in the end, she was able to get to the inside of the hollowed-out handle and pull out a piece of flint. Maybe I can be of some help after all. She reached around and grabbed the vine that had fallen to the ground. The hacked end was solid, but the other end was more fibrous. She pushed the cap back into the end of the dagger and started hollowing out the solid end of the vine as quickly as she could. By this time, Fenris was doing a lot of damage to one of the warhammer twins. With the vine hollowed out enough to fit some of the small stones that were lying around, she bore a hole as far back as she could in what was becoming a gun barrel and cut some of the thin fibers from the end of the vine. She pushed in about a gram of the powder, then realized she had nothing to pack it with. She grabbed a couple of the stones and pushed them together into the barrel until no more would fit. Then she tapped the end on the ground to release the stones and put another gram of powder into the barrel, repeating the process. Finally, she added two stones, set the wick in the hole, and aimed the crude gun at the old man with the staff. Fenris and Kyle had finished off both warhammer twins, and it seemed the others were having trouble with the old man. It took a couple tries, but she got the fuse lit, and held the gun still. By all rights, the powder should have exploded in her hands, injuring her instead of the target; but by luck or fortune or some other power, the stones burst out of the intact barrel. They did not hit the torso of this large figure, but succeeded in knocking the staff out of his hand and leaving a bloody mess in its place. I'll take that. Hopefully that will give the others a chance to do what they need to. She got to work getting the gun ready for another round.
Horror movies were scary, creaky sounds during thunderstorms were scary, food from the college cafeteria was scary, Donald Trump’s gravity defying declawed head merkin was scary.
This situation was terrifying.
Having grown up in America in relative luxury her whole life, Lox was in no way equipped to fight for her life at this moment. She wasn’t exactly a rough and tumble kid from the streets. She was a college lecturer before she was deported to Limbo and she could not recall ever seeing anyone successfully fight with any weapon in her entire life.
That’s not to say she had never been in a fight before. Being as weird as she was, she had had a few admiring bullies that had tried to pummel her into oblivion on a few occasions.
"Hey, no hard feelings about the poncho,” Caspar said quietly. She didn’t know he was beside her, but since he was the closest familiar person, she felt her confidence increase incrementally. “It's really very...becoming on you."
She snorted, “Oh, this old thing?”
"As for you," he said icily to the mermaid, “You're fish-food.”
Great line, Lox thought, mentally writing down this conversation for later late night laptop tapping.
“And I'm not talking about those smelly flake thingies that come out of that pepper-shaker thing."
Lox hit the mental delete button.
"Da**,” Caspar said annoyed, “I really need to stop clarifying my threats. Regardless... take this!" he bellowed waving what looked like a metal tube in his hand.
Lox, and perhaps even Diantha, watched in anticipation as a brightly colored toothbrush came out with as much flourish as any similarly priced hygiene apparatus could.
“Prepare to be whitened!” Lox said trying to back him up while unsuccessfully suppressing a giggle.
“Son-of-a…,” Caspar said the second before recalling the toothbrush. “I forgot about that option. Plasma baton, b****!” he cried as a brilliantly orange beam erupted from the handle.
Lox was impressed. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we called that a light saber.” She watched with glee as Caspar’s slim frame started laying waste to Diantha as only Master Yoda would.
That lasted for a full forty seconds when Daddy Cane cut in to this little do-si-do.
In no time, Caspar was in a pile, baton on hand, at the bottom of the same tree that had given her the most intensely painful involuntary massage of her life.
She, Diantha, and Daddy Cane were facing off now. Taking a mental registry, she officially had twice the problems she had before she came to Caspar.
In the corner of her eye she could see that Kyle had come out of his reverie and was avidly battling one of the childish golems. In no time he had turned the rock into a mud puddle and had personally thanked him for his participation in battle.
Fenris had delivered a deft, no-nonsense execution reminiscent of the way a child would playfully behead an ant.
"Anyone else want to try their luck?" Fenris crowed as the ghost’s body dissipated into ashen curls of harmless smoke.
"Dear Got," Angelus remarked, agitation in her tone, "She's cocky. Got save us all, she never makes good decisions when she's cocky."
Not that Fenris had a chance to. Angelus was behind her the entire way suddenly even more powerful than she had been before.
All this was going on while Abedah, who had been pretty quiet from this point was strategically hiding in the bushes like a seasoned Marine calmly assembling a boom stick out of a vine.
Lox’s head was swimming. Not just from the overstimulation of what her allies were doing, but because Diantha had introduced her to the double edge sword that was the head-butt.
Now she could very clearly see two disco divas and behind her saw Kyle approaching with a determined look on his face.
Thank Oprah that she wasn’t already dead.
She blocked Diantha’s next blow by extending her scythe. Seeing an opening, Daddy Cane slapped her across the back with his pole. She was in the process of dodging so she only took half the blow. Still, having been a very mischievous child she had taken a lot of beatings in her life. She never could recall such a masterful use of a wooden device.
“Ow! That freaking hurt!”
The cavalry had arrived. Someone was in the process of attacking Diantha full on. They wrenched one of her swords away and were busy crossing blades with her.
That just left her and evil Santa.
She watched with interest while the bearded man twirled his staff in his hand and immediately after he did so, she performed the same move more awkwardly.
An imperceptible smile traced his lips.
He took one step toward her, and copying his posture, she did the same. One more step and then…
There was an explosion.
Plasma arrows descended upon both of them, burning a clean hole through Lox’s shirt. She crouched and rolled on the ground instinctively because she was on fire. This had happened to her once before she had entered Limbo but it was a long story and she barely had time to think of a clever way to share it, when a second volley sprayed out over them. She was thankful that a shotgun was not a weapon designed for accuracy, because if she had taken that last hit directly she would have been a bean strainer. Instead she had two pieces of shrapnel sticking out of her side.
The old man’s cane had been blistered into two pieces. Shocked by the blow, he buckled, his entire left side full of shrapnel. He was oozing blood now, but instead of just one staff he was carrying two stakes.
She got up weakly. The sights and smells of battle were all around her. Something else was on fire. People were screaming, some in victory and some, like her, because they were covered in blood.
Caspar had tried to help her but he had just drawn another enemy, Kyle and Fenris were too busy eating their kill’s still-beating hearts, Abedah had confused her for a wild bird, and Angelus was trying to drill holes into her.
“Please,” Lox moaned. “I-I-I beg you. Please. Please… stop trying to help me.”
Perhaps it was Abedah who could feel his dark eyes on her first. His nose sniffed the top of her head, and then dismissing her, he slid past her into the clearing. It was at that moment that an enormous swaggering jackal looped quietly from the forest. He could rest his head on man’s shoulder standing at full height. Golden, erect ears sat upon his pointed face like a crown. His tail and back, bushy with spikes was a blue-black while the rest of his body was silver. Dark designs flashed in his expression, his slavering jaws slack in anticipation.
That first shot had totally not gone as expected, but it did some damage. Unfortunately, some of the damage was not on the enemy. For someone who had had very few opportunities to practice using weapons of any kind, much less make them, Abedah was generally pleased with the result, but hoped Lox could forgive her. She should have been paralyzed with fear - her heart was certainly beating fast enough, but the challenge of defeating a problem with nothing but her wits stimulated her focus so much that everything else just went blurry.
She was so intent on her task that she didn't hear Lox moan, "I-I-I beg you. Please. Please… stop trying to help me."
She was so intent that she didn't hear the shuffle in the tall brush next to her.
She was so intent that she didn't feel the hot breath on the top of her head.
It wasn't until she had put down the vine to pick up the flint and blade that she saw the golden, erect ears of the jackal. He looked hungry, but who or what was he hungry for?
'Friends will become foe, and foe friend.'
She hoped he liked mermaid and mud pie.
Lox, feeling very embarrassed that she was being beaten up so badly, stood up on shaky legs. The old man allowed this, perhaps because he was wounded as well, or maybe because he was momentarily busy fighting with someone else.
She tried to pretend like she wasn't hurt and that the glossy gleam in her eyes was from allergies, not injuries. She was a very proud person and had never lost a fight in her life, but right now her win percentage was on zero. So was her self-esteem.
It was much easier writing a warrior than it was being one.
She felt around her for her scythe.
She did not have to look long.
A gigantic black eyed jackal was carrying it as gingerly as a swaddling child in his enormous teeth.
Lox had never been afraid of animals, but she was just about ready to run when she realized she recognized those oversized ears. He probably had sonar abilities. Which mean it could only be...
"Anubis?" Lox asked taking her weapon. He pushed his muzzle into her elbow and nearly knocked her down. Then, with an especially slimy lick, he wet the entire left side of her face, tail wagging.
"This is corny," she said to her writer, "but I like it." She had something to add but the jackal darted away. He covered the ground quickly, his long limbs charging toward his target with complete abandon. The dog assaulted the bearded man with his full force, sending him directly to the ground, disarmed. He sunk his silver teeth into the man's arm and shoulder while the bearded man repeatedly punched Nubie with his free hand. If the jackal could feel it, he showed no sign of pain. Instead he released the blue fellow, the down side was that he had lost a severe chunk of his arm and his shoulder bones were exposed. The dog was playfully devouring the man's severed arm.
The warrior knew that this was a life or death situation. This simple mission to kill a group of ill-prepared youths had gone wrong from the start and he was the one who underestimated their abilities. Even the twins had been destroyed and it was just he and Diantha that were left to fight this fight.
His eyes flashed toward the shore, there was still a chance that he could run now and save himself, but looking into the eyes of the group that surrounded him he rethought that. He would rather kill at least one of them to be a lesson to all of them and if that meant giving his own life then it was well worth the price.
The bearded man flew toward one of them at full force, his stake aimed for their heart.
Caspar and Lox were still battling the two wraiths-turned-warriors, and as he looked up, it almost seemed like they were gaining the upper hand. Kyle watched with delight as Anibus, the little dog, transformed into a large jackal, and clamped his jaws down on the male warrior's shoulder. Screams began to echo across the small clearing, and so Kyle looked down as his tools, hatchet, dagger and boomerang, laying ready in a pile of dust.
Smoothly and quickly, Kyle slipped his weapons back into their sheaths, one at a time. His jaw was still bruising up, and he could feel the muscles start to tighten, so he started working them through the pain in order to keep his mouth limber. He was no doctor, and he vaguely thought about how he might be doing the exactly wrong thing, but this wasn't the first time that he'd been walloped, and it wasn't even the biggest creature he'd fought. Instead, Kyle just chalked the strike up to being a little out of practice. After all, he'd only really fought in a mental subconscious for the past two years. That was equivalent to learning to read by thinking about the letters.
He wiped the hatchet blade on his trousers, and slipped the handle into his belt, finally reaching down to grasp the hilt of his sword.
It was then that he heard the yelp of the jackal as its grip was torn from the warrior's arm, its jaws taking with it a good chunk of muscle and ligament. Blood began to spurt and drip, and it was obvious that there would be little chance of recovery.
You might say that he's been 'disarmed.' Kyle shook his own head. The writer's damn puns were getting to him.
There was a moment of hesitation. The warrior glanced about, his staff clutched in his left hand, seemingly keeping him on his feet. Kyle watched, warily. He could see the desperation in his eyes. The anger and frustration seemed to boil within him, and were his eyes even capable, they might have set the man ablaze with rage.
You've lost, thought Kyle. It's time for you to leave.
Apparently, the bearded blue man didn't share Kyle's suggestion. Instead, he turned, and ran right at Kyle, pulling a stake from his jacket with intent to plunge it right into Kyle's heart. Kyle smirked.
You can't be serious.
The hazel-eyed swordsman stood his ground, his blue blade held gingerly in his right hand. The warrior continued his charge, a desperate battle-cry launching from his throat. The gap was closing, faster and faster, and still Kyle stood, his stance unmoving.
At the last possible moment, Kyle sidestepped, and slashed his blade upward, slicing directly through the stake, leaving nothing but a blunt handle.
He turned slowly, the warrior nearly stumbling to the earth in sheer surprise. Kyle almost laughed.
What kind of moron would try to attack the most heavily-armed soldier with naught but a small stake? Especially with those kinds of injuries?
The man, deceptively agile despite his injury, spun around, his staff still clutched in his left hand. It wasn't until then that Kyle recognized the staff. He'd seen it once upon a time in Aker's Armory, but remembered it further from the time that his writer had spent describing it as the weapon that Andromeda had utilized all those years ago. But what was this random fellow doing with the Queda Staff of Rithonne?
The two men glared at one another, Kyle daring the injured blue brute to make a move.
"It might be a good idea to just give up," said Kyle. "It's not as if you've got a chance at this point."
The brute looked around and saw Abedah still struggling to get her second shot off. The piece of vine she picked off for a wick must have been moister than the first. Anubis had turned his attention to the mermaid, and the brute thought this unskilled non-warrior would be the easier target. After all, she was responsible for shattering his staff, and now he'd get his revenge. She was so determined to get the flint and steel to light the wick a second time, he had no need to run after her. He lumbered like the drunken ogre he was in her direction.
A thought came into her head, as loud as a shout, Forget the gun, girl. RUN!
She looked up and saw the brute a step away, lifting the yet powerful shard only half a meter from her chest. She rolled along the ground once to get to the trunk of the tree and used it for leverage to push herself into the fastest sprint she'd run in forty years. However, in Limbo, with a much younger body, she found herself in remarkably good shape and was able to keep enough ahead of the brute to avoid immediate injury; but for all his leaking bodily fluid, he was somehow able to keep her on the run.
Takes a lickin', and keeps on tickin'. What was this shouting voice in her head? And why would a brute be ticking? Ticked, maybe, unless he was carrying a hidden detonation device of some kind.
Distracted, Abedah tripped over a root that had seemed to spring up out of the ground, and fell into the ground. She was behind the hill the formed the cliff where the pool was, and didn't fall into any hole that she could see, but fell into the ground in the same way the mud twins had come up out of it. She stifled a scream. The ogre hurled his stake, which went through the same patch of ground that she had. But when he stomped around, he remained on the surface. The stake landed not five centimeters from Abedah's head, and clattered on the rocky floor.
The brute, now more angry than ever, was ready to grab any tree or boulder he could uproot with one injured arm and grind these invaders into dust.
Abedah looked around in the dim light. What she saw was far more familiar to her experience than the medieval motif on the surface. There was a hologram generator, which is what must have hid the hole, some terminals along the rock wall, and several tunnels leading who knows where. She stepped over to one of the terminals. Perhaps she could get some real answers now and find out what was going on. However, as soon as she hovered her hands over keys, a strong burst of energy hurled her against the opposite wall and the screen showed the words, "STRIKE ONE," in large, red letters. She was going to need a few minutes to catch her breath from this one.
Caspar rubbed his back gingerly, his spine was practically sobbing out loud, "don't make a scene," he thought silently as he suppressed a moan of pain of his own. Without a cushioning layer of muscles to protect his bones, concussive impacts were definitely not his friends right now. He looked up to see not only the fishy-female, but the bearded-brute as well, menacingly advancing on Lox, who was no better, but in fact, worse off than when Caspar had come to "save" her.
He took his eyes off Lox for a moment as he realized that Kyle was facing off against one of the gargantuan golems. Fenris had already dispatched the other with ease, with the aid of her supremely powerful angel-friend, and there were two with him and Lox right now. That meant that all four signatures were accountable for. What did these people...things want?
Caspar turned his attention back to Lox just in time to witness her suffer a vicious headbutt from Diantha.
"Eehhhhhhwwwwww," he said sympathetically as Lox staggered backward from the cranial assault, then, "so I guess that's why you wear your hair like that, right? Battle armor,". Now that's an idea.
He pushed himself back up into a standing position with the grace of a three-legged spider, bracing his back against the tree and catching his breath for a second, before pushing off the tree into a dead sprint, and setting his sights on Diantha, who was already rearing back with the golden sword in her right hand as Lox barely blocked a blow from the sword in her left, and then got brutally red-striped across the back by Stumpy's staff, his elegant beard swaying peacefully in a sudden breeze as Lox cried out amusingly, "Ow, that freaking hurt!".
Caspar was going to say something clever, but from fear of epically failing, he simply kept his mouth shut as he engaged Diantha, re-igniting his baton in a blaze of amber, the burnt electrons crackling and popping around its blade, as he leapt off Stumpy's back and did a forward somersault, drawing the baton in a downward cutting arc that guillotined on Diantha's defensively crossed swords.
"Don't interfere, Caspar, we're not interested in you right now!" she hissed as she quickly stepped backwards a few steps, keeping a defensive stance. She analyzed the spots on her swords that had been used to block his blow. A full inch of material on each sword, relatively the size of a thumb, had been vaporized from each blade.
"What?" Caspar said, mimicking her defensive stance with his baton held vertically before him.
"You're technology is impressive though, he didn't anticipate this. He also didn't anticipate your apparent atrophied state. Such a...human thing to do," Diantha hissed condescendingly.
Confused by her words, Caspar didn't have time to fully digest what she had said, reflexively responding, "How do you know my name? Who are you?" he demanded.
A mocking expression took Diantha's scaly face, "We know much more about you than just your name, Caspar Ahsani. Arallian-Werewolf, turqoise eyes, black hair, in possession of the mythical weapon, the Bracer of Aquais, or should I say formerly in possession," she smirked glancing at his bare arm.
Caspar was so floored that he had forgotten about what was going on behind him, never even registering the spray of shrapnel that narrowly decapitated him, or the shower of plasma arrowed death, nor the lumbering gold-crested behemoth that loped out of the forest and "fetched" Stumpy's arm, which caused his writer great frustration because of the obvious joke to be made by Caspar concerning the nickname he had granted the bearded-brute, and the brute's current situation as an amputee. It was the one that got away...
"How...," he started, "how-"
"How do I know this?" Diantha interrupted him, finishing his question. "Like I'm telling you, I've already said too much already, and like I said, we didn't come here for y--" she gasped suddenly, her eyes growing wide a second before she crumpled to the ground in a heap of silver sequins and fins. Caspar looked up from her defeated form and saw & standing there, his right palm still outstretched.
"Noooo!", he protested, "what'd you do that for, she was revealing important information."
"You're welcome, Caspar," & said calmly, then adding, "she is not dead, I struck a nerve-bundle, she is just unconscious."
"Oh, okay then," Caspar said, "...and thanks. But what are you doing over here? I told you to protect Pan."
"Pan told me to come help you, he said you were getting your a** beat," & replied matter-of-factly.
"Oh, well, good-stuff," Caspar relented, turning his attention away from the fallen Diantha to the last remaining combatant, Stumpy,(here it comes), who appeared to have grown even stumpier since he had last seen him.
Stumpy executed a clumsy forward assault on Kyle, not a good idea, and was almost comically parried and brought to his knees with ease by Kyle's effortless sword-stroke.
The two stared frostily into each-other's cold eyes for a moment until Kyle broke the silence, "It might be a good idea to just give up, it's not as if you've got a chance at this point," he reasoned out loud.
Stumpy gripped his staff even tighter in opposition of Kyle's words, beginning to chuckle darkly, "gahaha, surrender, to a True One? Never..." He summoned as much strength as he could for one final attack, refusing to bow his head and let his beard touch the ground for this scum, and then paused, staying motionless for a brief moment. He cocked his head so that his right ear faced the ground, and held it close against the earth, a slow grin creeping across his wizened features.
"Perhaps I don't have to die today," he muttered quietly under his breath as he breathlessly regained his footing and stood up once more, cradling his bleeding torso with his free hand, stemming the blood-flow, while keeping a grip on his staff with his other hand. He began to slowly back away from Kyle, inching towards the pond while holding his staff up defensively in case the warrior attacked him.
At the same time, a deep, low rumbling sound began booming underfoot, like thunder trapped in the ground. It wasn't very loud at first, but the rumbling grew into a deafening roar, and the very earth began shaking tremendously, before a small pit imploded downward in the ground in between where Stumpy and Kyle were standing. The rumbling continued as the pit cratered and grew outward, like a spreading ripple in a pond, until it was at least fifty feet across. Then an armored, rust-colored head, that looked like it belonged on a dinosaur, emerged from the earth, and lifted up several feet on a long, red-armor-plated neck, before the creature's massive shoulders with over-sized shoulder-guard armor erupted from the soil in a hail of earth and silt, followed by the rest of its armor-plated body. It was bipedal, and had two very long arms, with three claw-like tendrils hanging from the end of each arm. It stood nearly thirty feet tall at its full height, though its arm-span from tendril-tip to tendril-tip was nearly double that. To complete the monstrous picture, two devilish eyes glowed red from within the armored helmet the creature wore.
"Kreeeeahahhhhhhhh!" it roared, whipping its arms back and forth savagely, before slamming them both downward into the ground, driving their six tendrils deep into the earth.
"What the fu**?" Caspar screamed, staring at the armored creature that looked like it belonged from the Cretaceous Period, except for its full-body suit of segmented, ruby armor. He didn't have time to utter equally eloquent statements due to one of the beast's massive tendrils erupting from the ground directly beneath his feet and wrapping securely around his ankles, lifting him into the air and shaking him like a tambourine for a few horrible seconds, before slamming him down into the ground, face first.
"Ow." Caspar observed dryly, as Stumpy took this chance to bolt off along the shore of the pond, detouring through the woods where he saw Abedah struggling with some vine contraption, who looked like an easy target, which tempted him to pursue her for a distance before she lost him somehow. He shrugged it off, mainly glad that his master had spared him and sent aid, though he was not so sure of Diantha's fate. "Too bad, she had a cute tail," he said resigning himself to the probability that she was as good as gone, as he made his escape in the midst of the fray.
Fenris had to admit, at this very moment, she was rather happy that Angelus was here. The reason for this was that without the tiny angel, she would have been stuck at the bottom of the pit her massive new foe had emerged from. Angelus, meanwhile, was not particularly happy to have Fenris as her charge, as she was keeping her out of the aforementioned pit by carrying her. "Oh for the love of," The angel muttered, "Fenris, seriously,what do you eat to weigh so much?" The warrior turned her head, scowling at the little angel. "I'm wearing armor, genius," She spat, "And I have all my supplies, and the sword, and..." "Fine, whatever," Angelus shouted back, flapping her wings desperately in an attempt to reach flat land more quickly. Eventually she managed to reach a relatively safe spot farther back towards the woods, but her attempt at landing simply ended with her dropping Fenris before gracelessly tumbling into a tree. As she managed to get herself airborne again she rubbed her head, which was hurting enough that Angelus had the distinct impression that she was on a tilt-a-whirl. After shaking her head a few times, she managed to slow the spinning, and was able to take note of the large creature that now waited for them. "Great," She mumbled, "Another freakin' random encounter." Fenris, predictably, said nothing, she had her sword out already, and she was looking for a route to her enemy. She could see none. "Having some trouble there, are we?" Angelus said, her head still hurting her enough that she could barely maintain her sarcastic tone. "Yeah," Fenris said, not even bothering to sound angry, "I'm not seeing a way to get to this thing that doesn't involve falling back into that pit." The angel thought for a moment, admitting that this was a bit of a problem. "Yeah, unfortunately you can't fly," Angelus said, "And I'm not..." She paused, as she had an idea. An awful idea. Angelus had a wonderful, awful idea. She closed her eyes, concentrating, and in a moment Fenris found plasma forming around her. First in the form of two vertical poles that stuck out of the ground on either side of her. Then, a large rectangular array of thin, almost silken material formed between the two. This second material was not plasma, and it seemed flexible. Only then did Fenris comprehend what the angel had constructed. "A slingshot!?" The warrior said, absolutely incredulous. "A slingshot," Angelus replied, cheerily. "What am I supposed to do with this?" Fenris asked. Angelus grinned, floating down to Fenris position before casually pulling back on her shoulders. "You don't have to do anything," Angelus said, "Except...." Before Fenris could react she found the material of the slingshot, and herself along with it, being pulled back. She turned to shoot an icy glare at Angelus. "Have a nice flight," Angelus said, grinning. Before Fenris could retort she found herself soaring through the air, an angry, flying missile headed straight for her enemy. As the shock of being airborne wore off, she drew her sword, deciding to take advantage of her flight. Seconds later she had embedded the sword into her foes chest, and she found herself danging from the weapon, unsure of how to get down. From her perch near the woods, Angelus frowned. "Yeah," She said awkwardly, "I probably should have thought this through more." Then she shrugged, deciding that Fenris would have to find some way out of this on her own.
"Gah," spat the warrior, clutching at his bleeding torso. "Surrender, to a True One? Never..."
Oh brother, thought Kyle. He could just run. It's not like you always have to win every battle. Sometimes, it's better to just cut your losses and live to fight another day. You know, like in those times when you're missing an arm, don't really have a weapon, and your enemy is fundamentally uninjured. That's a good time to retreat.
But Kyle knew that that was the fundamental problem with pride, especially among villains. There very rarely seemed to be a long-term perspective in mind. They would look to attack in a rash and ill-conceived plan, and then would put all their efforts into it. The only baddies that ever seemed to survive were those that actually took the time to retreat when the opposition was too much.
But then again, that only ever seemed to bring them a temporary reprieve. By Kyle's memory, Thokk was gone, Serpon was gone, Vrashna was nowhere to be found, and Aker and Yemoja were undead for all intents and purposes. With that kind of track record, you would think that the title "True One" might make someone pause and consider who they were dealing with. Apparently not.
Kyle's eyes narrowed as the wisened warrior seemed to listen to the earth. He muttered something that Kyle couldn't quite discern, but soon that was the least of the True One's concerns. The ground began to shake, and Kyle suspected that there was yet another golem or two to deal with.
How about a little originality? We already did this just a couple of posts ago!
Then the ground began to sink, pouring itself into a pit that eminated just a few yards away from where Kyle was standing. Kyle bolted away from it, not wanting to find himself caught in whatever this sinkhole might want to offer him.
The pit continued to widen into a crater, at least fifty feet across, before it finally stopped. Kyle slowly stepped forward to its edge, and looked down just in time to see the creature that hell had apparently decided was too large to contain.
An armored, rust-colored head emerged from the earth, carried upon a neck that seemed plated with a ruby-colored armor. Massive shoulders led to massive arms, each tipped with claw-like tendrils that were literally writhing in anger. Its eyes seemed to be made of blazing fire as it whipped its arms about in an effort to free itself from the earth.
Kyle looked up, as the creature eventually stood at its full apex, at least the size of a two-story house, with armor covering most of its body. Finally free of its soil prison, the creature slammed its arms forward, Kyle barely dodging out of the way in time to be covered in the spray of dirt and roots. A savage bellow echoed from the creature's throat, a primal scream of rage, pain, and fury beckoning all who heard it to react with awe and fear.
"What the fu**?" Caspar screamed. Kyle couldn't have agreed with the sentiment more.
Kyle had faced down giants before. Battling the Swordmaster, facing down the Northern Giants outside of Tetradias - But this was something entirely different. With the armor of a Marut and the strength of a demi-god, this creature had Kyle at a loss. Despite his many talents, trying to break down a creature the size of a house wasn't exactly one of his strengths. He began to step back, hoping that observing for a moment might offer some kind of weakness to exploit.
No sooner had he created a little distance, however, than Fenris was suddenly flung towards the creature, burying her sword hilt-deep into the creature's chest. The armor-clad lizard roared again, and began pawing at the female warrior, trying to gain a grip and pull the woman off of, and out of, his chest.
Or, I guess we could just go with the head-on approach.
Kyle rushed forward, pulling his boomerang from its sheath yet again. He threw the weapon, aiming high, and caught the creature in a small piece of exposed flesh at the back of his neck. Not enough to cause any real damage, but even a splinter there would hurt quite a lot in that spot. The creature bellowed in pain, now pawing at the wound on its neck and Kyle took whatever advantage he could get, hoping it would give Fenris some time to do something with her precarious position.
He reached into his pack, and pulled out the long length of rope that he kept there, tying it around one tree, pulling it taught towards another, and then tying it again. If Fenris could convince the creature to step backwards just a step or two, perhaps they could knock this beast down and give themselves a fighting chance.
"Backwards!" Cried Kyle to Fenris. "Get him to move backwards!"
"Easier...said...than...done," Fenris muttered, struggling to keep a grip on her sword. What she needed was a route down, but anything short of a straight drop seemed out of the question. However, as the creature tried to pry her loose again, she decided to take advantage of his feeble attempts. She pulled at her sword with all of her might, and freed it, falling forward and tumbling onto the creature's arm. "I really should have thought this through," She muttered, now finding her blade caught in the creature's forearm. "Hey, that's what I was JUST thinking!" Angelus cried from the woods. Fenris rolled her eyes. It would be nice if the angel would bother to lend her assistance at this point. After freeing her sword again, she clumsily scrambled up the monster's arm and up to it's shoulder. Now she just had to keep climbing. How exactly she was going to go about doing that she wasn't sure. "A little..." She started to shout,but Angelus had already gotten the thought, and had decided to respond by firing on the creature. Three plasma arrows caught the creature dead in the chest, tearing through it's armor but not doing much damage. The beast stumbled back, screaming in agony. Fenris shrugged, it got the job done. "Y'know, you could have done that earlier!" She shouted. "I know," The angel said, making her jump. Angelus hovered in the air above Fenris right shoulder, grinning as if all she had done was cause Fenris a minor inconvenience, instead of almost costing her her life. "But," The Angel said, continuing to grin, "I saw the chance to shoot you out of a slingshot and my whole brain just went 'what the hell?!'" Fenris sighed, pressing her palm against her face. If she wasn't trying to kill a giant armored dinosaur she would probably find the nearest hard object to introduce Angelus face to. Unfortunately, she was killing a giant armored dinosaur, so that would have to wait for later. "Incidentally," Angelus said, "You might want to...um, move." "Why?" Fenris asked. Then she looked over the beast's shoulder, and realized that it was about to walk right into Kyle's trap.
In the blaring afternoon sky, the sun beamed ferociously from its highest degree on the various sand dunes below. The Great Red Desert of Kopul-Vul’s golden flecks of sand collided into Arem’s bare shins and arms as the wind uplifted them, and sent them into a gusty whirl. A black scarf covered his nose and mouth from the assault of the whipping sand. The matching gold flowers of the bush were at full bloom in the barren desert. They had sparkling golden tips, which bled into a radiant yellow that shimmered beneath the brutal rays.
“There she goes…what a beauty isn’t she?” Dougie said, shielding his eyes with his hand.
Arem looked in the distance at the beautiful arrangement of glimmering flowers near a small river that extended to the Ahlantic Ocean. He knew that somewhere beneath the desert sand lied a room that would help him see his family, but unfortunately, that came with a price. He forgot about the deal he made with Tao, and now, this turned into a bounty hunt for a man named, Alban.
They trotted closer to the bush and got to work. They began to comb through the sand with their hands trying to find anything out of the usual dusty swirls.
“You know, ever since your father and I came here there has always been those clouds northeast, strange, right?” Dougie asked, digging several holes in the earth.
Arem continued to claw at the sand with his hands. The grains slipped through his fingers and replaced the hole he laboriously dug.
“Perhaps, ugh, it’s like some sort of rain city…a-a cloud city.”
Dougie stretched his back and wiped his hands together. “Meh, no such thing.”
“Is there something you guys are looking for in particular?!” A man screamed over the howling wind.
Arem turned around and uplifted himself from the heaps of sand.
He gave Dougie a quick glance, and then called out. “Uh, maybe!”
The man smirked and walked three steps forward from the flower bush, and then bent down over what appeared to be a sea of sand. He then dug deep within the earth.
“It’s not this by any chance?!” The man said, clasping onto a metal latch and pulling upward. Arem and Dougie exchanged looks of excitement mingled with doubt. Arem was leery of how the stranger was behaving. He acted like he knew them both very well, being friendly and showing them the way. Was this the Beeb Morde they were looking for?
Who else was it?
“Follow me boys,” he said, and then disappeared deep into the earth.
There was nothing else left to do. A complete stranger found the underground room with ease, and Arem and Dougie were left in the desert quieted by the impending reality of it all. Arem shrugged and followed the man into the sandy grave, while Dougie tagged along behind him. Arem’s feet came in contact with a staircase leading to the ground floor. A loud thud resonated throughout the room as Dougie closed the metal hatch above them.
An underground compartment was rather an understatement from Arem’s father. Perhaps, when Steven Morde headed the Limbo department, it was just a small room, but after many years, it became a facility, although it was not as futuristic as Arem expected it to be. He thought there would be a massive spherical portal, where neon blue waves encircled it. All they had to do was step into the portal, and they would suddenly be in Limbo. However, it looked more like a cave carved from rock and dirt with the exception of steel tables, the steel staircase from the desert above to the ground of the facility, and the steel beams lining the walls.
“I’m guessing you guys are not here just to keep me company,” the man said, fiddling with papers on one of the tables.
For the first time Arem realized Dougie did not retort with a witty comment like he always did. They both seemed to be captured by the events to come. They were going to be leaving Illusionia for the first time. Not just to another area in Illusionia, but a different world all together.
The man walked around the untidy quarters, picking up crumbled parchment on the floor, and clearing the table of a plate of half-eaten food. He was of average height and rather thin. Arem knew he had to be in his early thirties, but he seemed to have a spirit of someone much older. He had a clean shaven head and face, and light brown eyes that focused as if they could see through walls.
“So, did I make a mistake in allowing two mute people into my pig sty, which I apologize for, or are you two imperfectly normal human beings?” the man asked, staring at Arem and Dougie as if they were misplaced furniture.
Arem finally snapped out of his wonderment, and stepped off of the staircase into the facility. “No, I’m sorry. I think we are just surprised a bit. Are you Beeb Morde?”
“Wow, no one has called me that in years, you must’ve known my father.”
“Hardly. Actually, my father came here many years ago.”
“Yes I know. As soon as I saw your face I wondered if you were related to a person I’ve seen long ago, so I took a chance. By the way my whole name is Habeeb. My father was rather a busy man, so names were not his forte. Unfortunately, he chose Beeb for me, and for some reason it reminds me of Bieber which irks me.”
Habeeb threw the final piece of junk into the garbage pail, and motioned them to sit on the tattered floral sofa in the center of the room. They took their seats and watch as Habeeb pulled up a chair and sat across from them.
“Limbo, am I right?”
“Well, yes,” Arem answered.
“Limbo is quite a complicated thing to explain, but I rather you know everything there is to know about it before you get into something that is, in a whole, strange from the ordinary. My father, Steven Morde, was somewhat of a wondering type of guy. I remember one time my father was alone in his room, and he was mumbling something. He said, ‘Why can’t I remember, why?’ So I, being my father’s child, the apple from the tree, asked, ‘What can’t you remember?’ You know what he said? My father said that night, that he couldn’t remember his parents. His parents! Can you believe that?”
Arem couldn’t believe it. How could one not remember his parents?
Habeeb continued. “So, this event had thrust him into a slew of research and investigation about Illusionia and its inhabitants. To make a long story short, my father discovered that our world and the people in it were not created…but they were rather a series of imaginations by a group of people.”
Arem furrowed his eyebrows. A series of imaginations? Of someone’s imagination, what?
Dougie finally broke his silence. “Excuse me?”
“I know it’s a hard pill to swallow. Whether or not you believe me as of now is solely up to you, but I’m not finished so you will have to listen in order to get a full grasp.”
He drew a deep breath, and shifted in his seat. “My father came to the conclusion that we were imagined and Illusionia was made by a series of imaginations. Like I said, he came to this conclusion after much research, and because of that one thought that sparked action; he couldn’t remember his parents. Even the people of Illusionia could hardly remember their past, and I couldn’t remember my grandparents. To us, the things that we did not remember did not exist at all. And according to the results, it did not exist. Our parents, grandparents, dogs, cats, et cetera, were not important to be imagined, therefore, those things were expunged from our memory banks if they ever there at all. Just think about it for a second, do you remember your grandparents, let alone your parents?”
Arem tried to think back to a time when he was younger and his family gathered together on special occasions. He tried to remember if his grandparents were there, but he couldn’t. He had never thought of it before. Not only could he remember his grandparents, but he could barely remember his sisters’ faces or their names. They were not imagined. Arem pushed the thought out of his mind and began to shake his head.
“That could be easily written up as bad memory, or maybe your grandparents died before you were born. That does not prove a thing except that the human brain is susceptible to forget,” Dougie said.
Arem was impressed at the way he was speaking, he never heard him talk like that before, but he agreed wholeheartedly.
“But do you remember your parents?”
Dougie did not answer.
“Excuse me, but I forgot to get your names,” Habeeb said, leaning back in his chair. His hands folded on his lap.
“My name is Arem, and this is my friend and a friend of my father’s, Dougie.”
“So, Dougie, do you remember your parents?”
“No, I don’t, not even my grandparents, what a riot, eh?” Dougie chuckled out of confusion and disturbance.
Habeeb stood up from his chair and began to pace back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back.
“To continue, that is not the only thing my father discovered. These imaginateers---the people who imagined everything---are complex individuals or their imagination anyway. When they imagine a world, such as Illusionia, they must expound on that said place because either they are not satisfied with it, or they want to imagine something brand new and fresh. Therefore, they began to imagine new worlds for us to dwell in. They imagine new people, new creatures, new everything and anything. This, to us, is known as realms, Illusionia being one of them,“ he paused and turned to Arem and Dougie.
“Now, so far my father found that there are three realms that exist: Illusionia, Imperial City which is a more futuristic realm, and yours truly, Limbo. So today, you come to me ready to venture into another realm.”
Habeeb finished his explanation, or rather a introductory to Limbo. Arem leaned forward and rubbed his face out of disbelief. He was more confused now then when he arrived.
“So, what are you saying? That we were not born?” Arem finally asked.
Habeeb turned to him, clearly disrupted from his own thoughts. “No, you are born. Everyone is born. We were created like any other individual was created, even like our imaginateer was created. It’s just that our imaginateer gives definition to our lives. He, or she, gives our life details. Without him or her, we would still exist, but without purpose somewhat. We would have babies, get married, have a job, the works, but we would not have a journey. Like me for instance, my purpose in life is getting people in and out of these realms, but I would not do so without the imaginative details of my imaginateer. Remember Arem, our imaginateers does not create…they only imagine,” he said, his eyes piercing into Arem.
“But what about what you said about this whole grandparent thing?”
Habeeb sighed. “Just because we do not remember our grandparents does not mean they did not exist. How could we exist if we did not have ancestors, and a series of events leading to our being? The reason why we do not remember is because it was not detailed for us. Once an imaginateer feels that it is necessary for their imagination to receive such information, then you will remember.”
Arem sat their trying to process everything that was said. It was like a tornado that sucked up so many materials that it began to bump and bruise everything in its path. He stared off into the empty space of thought and reality trying to believe, but the incertitude in his mind dominated.
“Don’t take it too hard, mate. Just think of it this way, it’s like knowing that one day you will die. It’s inevitable, you just have to accept it,” Habeeb said, consolingly.
“So can we talk to this imaginateer, give this pipsqueak a piece of our minds?” Dougie asked, raising his eyebrow.
Habeeb let out a small laugh. “Why not? Talk, scream, ask questions. I like to keep a good relationship between myself and my imaginateer.”
Habeeb leaned over, and whispered. “You get more out of them that way.”
“So, how do you get to Limbo?”
“Well, that this quite the fascinating part, Arem. Now, there is something called the Imagiwave.”
“The imagi-what?” Arem and Dougie asked simultaneously.
“The Imagiwave. Now, an Imagiwave is a wave of imagination that the imaginateer emits; for example, let’s say the imaginateer is describing a ball in the corner of the room, or a light fixture. At this point of imagination, we start to insert imaginations of our own, like while the imaginateer is describing said objects, we began to imagine going into another realm. Then before you realize it, your imagination began to manifest itself, and you rode the Imagiwave.”
“Why can’t we just imagine it for ourselves?” Arem asked, leaning forward.
“Well, because we are imaginations, it just does not seem to work that way."
“So, how do we know when the imaginateer is imagining? Whoa that was a lot of imag words,” Arem said, turning to Dougie and nudging him.
“Just listen. So, let’s begin,” Habeeb took his seat. “Just listen.”
The group sat there in silence, not uttering a word, or making a gesture. They did not stir, nor did they scurry about the quarters. Arem rested his palm on the floral patterned sofa which had a silver trimmed border. The fluorescent light pervaded throughout the room reflecting off of the steel tables and beams. Limbo at this time of year was like a lush garden. Its trees extended their branchy arms toward the heavens as if they were reaching for the heavenly bodies above. The facility smelled of wet rock and lavenders. There were no windows for the sun to come in, nor were there cracks in the ceiling. It was a just a hollow cave with---The vines of the forest in Limbo hung from tree to tree, swinging in the light breeze. The sun was not bright, but it sat lazily in the sky, giving off its dull rays to the earth. The white tiles of the facility were---Arem felt his head on the wet grass beneath him. He suddenly opened his eyes, and saw a different sky, a different environment, and there was a small mechanism in his ear.
It chirped. “Arem can you hear me? Arem, this is Habeeb, did you make it to Limbo? Arem?"
What it felt like to be a character that was simply… well… frozen.
There weren’t any icy tendrils wrapping her in a seductive embrace, the temperature had not suddenly dropped, in fact it wasn’t even as if time had slowed to a stop. The difference was, she just realized there was no hand pushing her anymore.
There was nothing driving her to do anything. At first the feeling she got was best described as listlessness. She was carelessly watching things go on around her.
Birds trilled quietly again, bees swam through the thick spring air lazily, and waves playfully traced against the bay.
She was frozen.
What was the reason? There was always a reason, though it wasn’t always a good one.
Was her writer running out of ideas? When Lox was a writer that was never the reason why she ended up frozen. She had no shortage of ideas, but sometimes she had a hard time finding any good ones. Any ideas that were worth sharing with four other people, at least.
Then perhaps her writer was agonizing on exactly what to write or say. Was she killing herself over a word or a sentence or some secret insecurity? That caused a lot of frozenness. But Lox had always found that to be the silliest reason to be frozen. Who really cared how well you turned a phrase, anyway? Wasn’t writing all about playing with your friends? It did not really matter if your performance was imperfect as long as you participated.
So perhaps they were planning something, which was good and also dangerous. Good because it meant that they would have direction, but dangerous because sometimes people got so caught up in talking about the plot that it never got written. Other times people felt like their opinions did not matter or they weren’t being respected and they cut out.
Lox would never know what it was. Just as the lull was over and the fleeting footfalls of the bearded man disappeared into the distance, the ground opened for the second time.
The ground burst opened like a torrent of water and scattered roots and leaves everywhere. This time a huge ruby behemoth came tearing out of the ground like a hellish beast on assignment.
Anubis bristled, his teeth bared. He snapped at the dragon’s ankles, nimbly avoiding the tendrils that were raining down on him. He missed a step and got hit across his backside. Enraged, he howled in fury and bit one of the tendrils off by the tip, leaving it two feet shorter than the others.
All the while, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up as Lox stumbled to her feet. Her feet moved quickly over the leaves as she ran for more cover. It was not that she did not want to fight, okay, no, it was that she did not want to fight.
One of the things about writing that was so cool was making your character dispatch an enemy in a creative and dramatic way; the problem was she had never killed anything that was not an insect in her entire life.
Swwwwwhhhhaaaaaaaaapppppppp! A tendril ripped out of the ground and she narrowly dodged a blow that would have taken her back out.
Hiding was not going to help.
“I’m sleepy, my feet hurt, and I missed breakfast. The faster this thing dies the faster I can fix all these things,” she said to herself. “Which can only mean one thing: it’s rabbit season.”
She jumped out of the way as another tendril crashed close to her, cutting a sapling in half. She had to admit, this was pretty fun.
Fenris was swinging from the monster; her sword was hilt deep. Kyle had smacked the dragon with his boomerang.
As the beast bellowed in pain, she reached back and with all her force jammed her pike to its full depth into the monster’s side with the pike at the top of the scythe. She yanked the weapon out and stabbed twice more in quick succession.
There was a smile on her face when the monster kicked her feet from under her and reared back right before it bent down to rip her throat out. The monster’s teeth were sharpened banisters in jagged rows and its ruby armor obscured the sky. Sharp teeth sunk into the hood of her poncho. Then she saw daylight. A warm tongue licked the side of her face.
Anubis had pulled her away just in time. She quickly got to her feet as the dog charged the beast, sinking his teeth into it’s nostril before letting go and retreating in anticipation of the tendrils.
Kyle and Fenris were back at it now that even more blood had been drawn and the beast’s head was close to the ground and within their reach. Lox had to appreciate the fight in Fenris. She never gave up.
In the confusion, Anubis put his massive head under the seat of Lox’s pants and lifted her up until she fell on his back. She had never ridden a dog before, but that was pretty irrelevant based on what had happened this morning alone. Atop Anubis, she finally understood what the scythe was for. As he zipped off in a wild pattern between the monster’s feet and past their allies she found how easy it would be to slice off someone’s head.
Instead, she focused on the monster’s ankles, swinging at them with all her might until they were a different ruby, raw with wounds.
As the beast fell forward, head hanging low, Fenris grinned. Sure, she had just almost fallen off of it's shoulder, but she had managed to remain at her perch, and now she would have a chance to kill it. She took advantage of the opportunity, racing along it's shoulder until she found an appropriate place to launch herself onto the back of it's neck, and finding an area free from any armor. She buried her blade in the beast's neck, grinning as crimson blood flowed freely from the wound, and as the monster howled in pain. "Bloodlust," Angelus muttered, like a therapist taking notes on a particularly unruly patient, "Now she has bloodlust. Awesome, just awesome." Then she turned, noticing Kyle on the ground below. "For the record, if you want to finish this thing off, I really wouldn't mind," She said, "Fenris has already had one major kill, I think it's someone else's turn." She hoped that the warrior wouldn't be offended by this. After all, everyone had to have their moment in the sun, and Angelus felt that Fenris hadn't quite earned it yet. "Yeah, nobody really gets a crowning moment of awesome in the first chapter," She said to herself, "That would be cheap. After all, the rest of the cast is made up of veterans, it makes sense for them to be awesome. We're not quite there yet." Fenris wasn't listening, she was still busy driving her blade into different nerves to see which part of the monster they made twitch. "Anytime now," Angelus muttered, waiting for another hero to put the creature out of it's misery.
Pens and needles. That’s what it felt like. A bunch of tiny pens and needles pricking at Najm’s skin as she spiraled in between realms, tumbling down a tunnel whose walls were only made up of blinding powder blue lights. First it was cold…then was hot…and then sometimes there was even a numbness of sensation accompanied by a dull, almost robotic hum. It seemed as if she had been travelling for a day or part of a day when suddenly, she came to a halt, her body twisting in a graceful front flip onto her feet, and onto a platform made of space, canopied by time.
It was different. It was all different. Nothing like this had ever happened to her before, nor had she ever seen a place like this before. In fact, it was quite intriguing. Perhaps she could take her son here one day, have him play with the shimmering stars beneath her feet. Or sit amidst the roman numerals dancing above her head.
A small smile escaped onto her countenance.
Oh how she had missed him already. How long had it been anyway in such timeless time, she mused, looking about her for some type of hint of an answer.
“Approximately four days,” a voice sounded behind her. “Or five, if you count this minute.”
Najm whirled around, instinctively reaching for her dagger, but it wasn’t there, nor was there any person to greet her either. Instead, she saw her same setting as far as the eye could see.
She smiled. Typical.
“I don’t suppose you’re my savior huh?” she asked sarcastically.
“No, more like your writer. But savior will do,” the voice replied with an equal spot of sarcasm.
Najm was confused. “My what?”
“I don’t have time to explain all of that right now,” the writer began. “All you have to know is that our worlds have somehow collided. I do not know the reason why. It seems as if another writer has hatched that plot somewhere in the distance, but all the doors and portals have been opened and the realms are now merging.”
It was like an information overload. Realms, plots, and writers? What the hell? Had she just walked into bedrock?
“And like a batman signal, you call on me and I’m supposed the handle your mess?” Najm was beyond pissed. “Who the hell are you anyway?”
The writer frowned somewhere far away. “I should not have made you so damn stubborn sheesh.”
“Made me so damn stubborn,” Najm parroted indignantly.
The writer ignored. “Someone from your universe has realized mine and is trying to take advantage of this valuable piece of knowledge. In short, my realm is in danger, but I can only defeat the threat on an imaginative scale.”
Okay, so obviously the writer, or whatever, had missed the class on clarity and Najm had to figure things out for herself.
So far, the term ‘realms’ was not completely Chinese. From what she could remember with the Elite Purists, the True Ones dived into a portal into some kind of a dimension that paralleled theirs to some extent. So could it be that there were other realms that paralleled each other on various plains or was this…writer jerking her chain?
“One question though, why me?”
“Why not you?” the writer retorted. “Not to mention the fact that you are my character, of course.”
Najm nodded her head.
Fair enough. Whatever the last part meant seemed to be a subject for understanding some other time.
There was no point in fighting either. Besides, it was not like she had much of a choice anyway. This writer thingy seemed to be a being of great power. To pull her from her home, without much cognizance she might add, and bring her to a place where time and space flowed freely as a solid concept could only be classed as power to an amazing degree.
This writer wasn’t asking for her help, but in fact commanding it. This meeting was simply a briefing of some sort on the task at hand.
She had to admit, it was highly original. Most of the time there was a sudden thrust into a setting completely unknown with the task of figuring things out for themselves. However, there were still many unanswered questions, which raised Najm’s next question.
“So what am I supposed to do?”
“That doesn’t leave much room for a story now does it?”
Talking in riddles again.
Najm pursed her lips slightly amused. “Okay so how about this one?”
“What’s in it for me?”
There was a long silence that ensued between the both of them, as if the writer seemed to be considering what he/she had to offer.
“What good is a gift without a surprise?” joked the writer. “What good a trick without the prestige?”
Najm rolled her eyes and sighed. Then she smiled. “Nothing comes easy, eh?”
“If I told you about my life, you would call a series of unfortunate events. Now go…”
Abedah wasn't quite sure how long she had sat on the floor of the dusty cavern - there really was no reference for time down there and there weren't any clocks. It couldn't have been that long since the computer terminal still held the same message as it had when it had flung her across the room like the smelly shoes off a pair of tired feet at the end of a long day.
As she stared at the message on the screen, "STRIKE ONE," it changed its image like a long-delay slide presentation. The image was of her, exactly as she was on the floor. This is awfully familiar, she thought. The next slide was her now empty room at the Battle School, the 3D terminal exactly as she had left it. Then there was a picture of a coastal village, and a sense of deja vu washed over her. Suddenly, she recognized the village as the university where she had earned her Doctorates. She moved to jump to her feet to get a better look at these images, but as she rose, the bones and muscles in her back protested loudly with the stiffness of a great bruising. "Aaaa," she yelped in pain. By the time her legs were under her, the scene had changed again to a middle-aged bearded Caucasian man in a brightly-lit windowless room, eating a bagel, sipping coffee, Who drink coffee anymore? and typing away at a computer. She could only see the back of the man's head and his hands, and she only recognized the computer as such because it had a screen and a keyboard. She couldn't make out anything on the screen because the quality was terrible. The next picture was of another man, a space pilot. The first man, she had no idea who he was. This man, however, she knew she knew, but could not remember from where. There was a sense of strong emotion with this memory, but she couldn't identify what that emotion might be.
She was still leaning against the opposite wall, when the last picture was replaced with some more text: Name: Lily Wong Alias: Abedah Age: 68 Earth years Status: Infection
Abedah blinked in the dim light, and said in a low voice, "How do you know who I am? What do you mean, 'Infection'?" The screen went blank. She slowly made her way, cautiously, back to the terminal. She tried again to press a key, tried to make something happen. She expected to be reprimanded again, and braced for the shock; but nothing came. And nothing she did could elicit any response from the computer. Like the one in the picture, it was not like any computer she had ever used. But it bore much more familiarity to her than the contraption that strange man was pecking at.
This would make perfect sense to her if this was all just a dream. In fact, it followed a typical dream sequence quite closely. But she was convinced this was no dream, and it was up to her to complete her quest as quickly as she could without getting herself killed in the process. She felt some rumbling from the dusty ground, and some more dust fell on her head. "I'd better see if I can find a way out of here," she said aloud to herself. She found the broken stake on the floor and picked it up as the only means of defense she had left. Using it as a short walking stick, she made her way down one of the tunnels. The light grew dimmer, and there were no lamps or torches that she could find. She used the stake in the same way a blind person would to gauge the space in from of them, but felt nothing until she reached a space that seemed like a sharp turn in the tunnel. There was a faint periodic dripping sound in the distance, but nothing that indicated any kind of motion or light. The air in the tunnel was very stale and very musty. It was clear that nobody had been down here in a very long time.
Nervous about getting lost, she turned around and made her way back to the cavern; but when she reached the point where she expected to begin seeing the dim lights, there was nothing but deep darkness. She continued walking slowly, using the stake and wall as guides, and reached the entrance to the cavern. It was still nothing but the blackest panic-inducing darkness imaginable. Starting to worry that she did in fact make a wrong turn somewhere (but where? there weren't any turns or branches from that tunnel), she slowly walked along the wall where she remembered the terminal being. She counted the distance she walked to help her keep her bearings. There was nothing in the room except her, and the darkness.
As soon Kyle saw its lumbering form, he understood that the behemoth's demise was not only inevitable, it was a sure thing. It wasn't so much that he knew how to defeat it, or even if it would be Kyle himself who did the job, it was just that feeling he got.
Creatures this large always seemed doomed to fail. They existed purely as shock, as a device to put the reader in awe, and to create that moment that said "Oh, I don't know if the hero's going to make it out of this one!" But in the end, the hero would, in fact, be triumphant. The heroes would come up with some way, some how to handle things, they would defeat the giant, and everything would go back to normal. That was just the way things worked, especially here in the Mind Game.
Despite whatever histories and adventures that he'd been through, Kyle always knew that the Mind Game was a place of predictability. It was a place that could be counted on to be unpredictable, which meant it was fairly easy to predict. If they thought that everything was okay, it wasn't. If they were safe, someone was about to try to kill them. If something looked simple, it would be extremely complex. Once you got used to always looking beyond the first impressions, everything just seemed to make a lot more sense. You know, in that crazy, nonsensical kind of way.
Kyle watched Fenris continue her climb, struggling against the creature the way a flea might as well struggle against a dog. Sure, the small bites that her sword were causing would have been annoying, but he wondered if there was ultimately any use. What could she possibly do here?
And then came the plasma arrows.
The glowing projectiles sliced into the creature's chest armor, chunks of the ruby-colored material crashing to the earth. But it was just enough. Kyle stepped into just the right position as the creature's wound-laden ankle clipped the rope he'd strung across the trees. The rope held, surprisingly, but the trees did not. Instead, the trees began to pull themselves from the earth, uprooting as the beast lost his footing. He landed on his back, a deafening crash accompanied by the splash of dirt, roots, leaves and foliage. And there stood Kyle, two dagger in hand.
Without hesitation, he pierced the two exposed eyes in the creature's head, twisting the daggers before pulling them out again. In a swift motion, he dropped the blades, and pulled out his longsword, pulling it back. Like a needle, the weapon pierced the creature's skull at the crown, and then Kyle ignited it. The weapon itself may not have been fatal, but the rampant electricity now pulsing through the creature's brain surely would be. Kyle held it there, holding on for dear life as the beast convulsed, twitching and writing in involuntary pain, no real roar coming out of its throat, but instead a jerking gurgle with the sound of a boiling tar pit.
Kyle still didn't move, not willing to risk the creature still being alive. Instead he held his weapon in place for a full two minutes, until finally pulling it from the melting skull. Blood drenched the blade, and drenched Kyle himself. He stepped warily around the creature, seeing no movement in its chest, but still not convinced. Instead, he moved to the neck, and lifted his sword again.
He sliced it across as ferociously as possible, hacking a jagged, deep line across the creature's throat. Blood spilled further, but Kyle wasn't willing to take any chances. If this creature was not dead now, it must be immortal.
The task finished, Kyle looked toward Fenris.
"Well, that was fun, eh?"
He started walking back towards the pond, retrieving his weapons, and looking to clean himself off.
Under normal circumstances, Fenris would have agreed with Kyle and that would be that. However, the creatures fall had left her in the unfortunate position of being covered in mud and blood, as well as soaking wet, which was not, as she had hoped, helping her situation at all. So she stood, filthy and slightly humiliated, hoping that everyone would just overlook her unwanted change in appearance. As if on cue, Angelus spoke. "That solution was a little messier than you'd hoped, eh, Fen?" Angelus said. Fenris didn't need to look at her to know that she was currently grinning like an idiot. Instead, she turned, and decided to show Angelus how fun it was being covered in mud. Only, when she turned the Angel was nowhere to be found. "Now, really, you didn't think I was going to just LET you do that, did you?" Her voice came from nearby, taunting her. Fenris turned again, once again finding no sign of the Angel. The angel laughed. "Oh come on," She said, her tone still mocking, "Where would you normally find an angel?" Fenris looked up, and scowled at Angelus, who was floating lazily on her back about ten feet above the warrior. "Anyway," She said, "I think we should find somewhere for you to clean yourself up, and while we're at it, we should make camp. Monster battles are fun and all, but they're very exhausting." 'Says the Angel who did next to nothing,' Fenris thought to herself. "Hey, I did something!" Angelus shouted, "I shot arrows at people...and stuff." The angel then turned her attention to the shore,making a quick head count. "Um..." She said, awkwardly, realizing that they were one short, "I don't want to alarm anyone but I think we've lost Abedah...or L-Abedah...or some other L name...look, the really confused scientist, we've lost her, so we should figure out where she's gotten off to before we have to fight a mecha-mammoth or something." Silently, she hoped that the mysterious forces at work in Limbo didn't take her up on the whole Mecha-Mammoth thing. Armored dinosaurs had been more than enough for one day.
There were some elements of a battle that always seemed to be missing from the page. Lox was experiencing them all.
The most important thing that was missing was the most perverse. The ghosts had the decency to evaporate after they had been killed. Granted Diantha was napping while sporting a screw-faced grin with her elbow at an awkward angle, but the most obvious consequence of slaying the beast was the smell.
Smell did not explain this odor, this stench.
It smelled like boat water and turtle wax, like burnt garbage and smoky dairy, like cat urine and poultry infections. It was a terrible, redolent bouquet of queasiness.
“This,” she said kicking the dragon’s dead paw as a pool of blood rushed to fill the open space, “is stank.”
Its mouth lolled open and its gouged eyes were mocking, crimson tears flowing hot. She figured that because it had been hickory smoked by Kyle’s blade, that was probably the reason why it smelled like a cave of unwashed butts.
"Anyway," Angelus said, "I think we should find somewhere for you to clean yourself up, and while we're at it, we should make camp. Monster battles are fun and all, but they're very exhausting."
“The angel is on to something,” Lox said with a wrinkle over her nose. It was late afternoon now and it would be twilight in a couple of hours. She guided Anubis up to the crest of a nearby hill. On unsteady feet she stood up on his back and took in a panoramic view. She could not clearly see the shore on the other side of the lake because the light was dimming but the woods on the other side looked dark and tangled. South of the hill was a clearing. There were a few branches strewn over it and three fallen logs lay in a triangle around a tree with russet leaves.
"Um..." Angelus said cautiously, recognizing that someone was missing, "I don't want to alarm anyone but I think we've lost Abedah... or L-Abedah... or some other L name...”
“It’s Abedah, I think,” said Lox, distracted.
“Look, the really confused scientist, we've lost her, so we should figure out where she's gotten off to before we have to fight a mecha-mammoth or something,” Angelus said.
“I think she’ll be okay,” Lox said staring intently at the site below. “She’s smart, she’ll find her way back when she realizes the battle is over. If any of us had any sense we would have run, too.”
Lox stretched sleepily. “I think we should go down to that red tree and take a load off. At least, that’s what I’m going to do.” She started by walking down to the camp site, but seeing that Caspar was on his way too she decided that she wanted to race. She nudged him. “Can’t beat me, toothbrush.” At that, she took off.
There's no point in staying here. Even if I could find the hole in this blackness, I don't have a rope or a ladder or anything to climb out. There has to be another way out.
Abedah made her way back to the tunnel she started down before. At least that way she had a slight idea of where she was in relation to where she started. After going about 10 meters down the tunnel, the walls started to vibrate and a loud rumble grew in volume behind her. Rocks and dust began to pelt her from above. She instinctively squatted against the wall with her arms over her head. In less than a minute, the vibrations stopped and a wave of dust washed over her from behind. The musty air was already giving her a headache, and the dust only made her choke. And of course, my canteen is still with the rest of my pouches by that tree. After the cloud had moved on, she made her way back to the entrance of the tunnel, only to find it completely blocked by a cave-in. She hoped there wasn't going to be a need to try one of the other tunnels, because that was no longer an option.
She remembered the sound of dripping she had heard during her first excursion, so she concluded that there at least might be some potable water in that direction, if not a way out. Walking down the tunnel in the pitch dark was by no means a quick trip. Every step she needed to stop and make sure there were no obstructions, pitfalls, or other life-threatening events waiting for her in the next step. Before long, she began to hear a scraping sound from behind her when she stepped, but not when she stopped. She turned and waved her stake in the air in every direction, but there was nothing there.
"Who's there?" she shouted. There was no answer.
She took a few more steps. Still the scraping. "Say something! If you're going to kill me, let's just get it over with!" Still no answer. Abedah knew, from her background in psychology, that both stress and sensory deprivation could cause hallucinations. Stress was definitely a factor; but only her sight was deprived, and that usually wasn't enough to cause this kind of experience. She continued on, when a hissing voice quietly spoke behind her, "Whhhhhyyyyy arrrrrre yyyyyouuu hhhhheerrrrreee?" She waved the stake behind her again, and again found nothing there. She considered charging; but thought better of it considering the native wildlife she'd seen in this place so far.
The voice asked again, "Whhhhhyyyyy arrrrrre yyyyyouuu hhhhheerrrrreee, losssssst onnnne?"
"You said it, I'm lost," was her reply. "I fell down a hole running from some grotesque falling apart ogre, and got trapped in this tunnel when the roof fell in."
"Yyyyouuu arrre thhhhe channnngerrrr."
"The what?" The hissing was very difficult to understand, even in the underground quiet, and it wasn't helping her headache at all.
"I'm sorry. You aren't making any sense. None of this makes sense."
During this odd conversation, Abedah continued making her way down the corridor, which she was surprised to find had not gotten any smaller, one labored step at a time.
"Yyyyouuu maaake the worrrrrld channnnge. Shhhheee doessssn't liiiike iiit."
Free Play. This voice must be talking about the changes she regularly made to Free Play as part of her work. That must mean this entity knew who she was.
The voice continued, "Shhheee ssssaiiid yyyyouuu wouuuuld commmme. Beeeeffffforrrre theeee long sssssleeeeeeep, shhhheeee sssssawwww annnnnd toooold mmmmmeeee."
Abedah had to be careful how she asked, so she paused a moment to choose the right words. "Can you tell me please, who is 'she', and how does she know me?"
"Shhhheee iiisss yyyyourrrr chiiiilllld."
"What!?!" Abedah had no children, had no husband, and had not known that true completion of self that comes from belonging to something greater in such a long time that she couldn't even say it had been a part of her life. The ramifications of this revelation make her feel dizzy, and in spite of the pitch dark, she began to see flashes of color, and lowered herself to sit on the floor.
As Caspar's allies mounted a unified assault on the monster in the newly imploded crater, with Fenris now expectedly and quite literally hurling herself at the enemy and burying her sword a few bloody feet into the beast's sternum, eliciting a furious screech of pain from the behemoth,followed by a burning barrage of plasma arrows, which eviscerated a small chunk of the creature's armor, and a sizable piece of its flesh as well, followed by,Kyle who had thrown his boomerang in a wide, swinging arc, expertly curving it around the defensive reach of the monster's tendrils so that its bladed edge sunk, quivering, into an un-armored patch on the monster's body less than 2 meters across, a space no bigger than a womprat, followed by Lox, and her dog-thing turned mega-jackal, who got in on the slaughter, despite being tendril-whipped a few times in the process, eventually teaming up so that Lox could Anubis-surf up to the creature's feet and scythe away the tendons and flesh in its scaly ankles...as all this was happening...Caspar was flattening the uneven ground, with his face.
Everyone was fighting valiantly, ducking and dodging attacks, setting up elaborate rope-traps, and Caspar was being repeatedly lifted up off the ground by the tendril wrapped around his ankles, shaken around like the tendril was mixing a cocktail inside him, and then savagely slammed down against the ground, where he enjoyed a few delightful moments of ants tagging his eyes with venom graffiti, before cycling through the same routine yet again.
As the tendril lifted him up off the ground once more, Caspar took the opportunity to search for &, he could really use the fighting expert's help right about...five minutes ago. Not seeing him anywhere, Caspar resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have to free himself personally, which he had been doing a rather un-excellent job of so far.
Preparing himself for another slam against the ground, Caspar screwed his eyes shut and braced himself, as the tendril brought him painfully down once again on the hard earth.
"Oww!" Caspar yelled, that had hurt much more than being slammed against the ground on his face had thus far. He opened his eyes and saw what had made his face-plant even more painful. It was his plasma-baton, wedged between two rocks.
"Ahahaha, yes, suck it!" he screamed victoriously as reached out for the baton and wriggled around, slicing up towards the tendril and igniting the weapon in the same motion, severing it just a foot below his own feet.
The amputated tendril loosened its grip around his ankles and Caspar kicked it away disgustedly, before rolling over on all-fours, and then painfully pushing himself back up on his feet. He looked over to the crater where his allies had been fighting the creature to see Fenris standing over the beast, calmly sliding her sword out of the creature's neck, before Kyle appeared on the creature's head, and skewered the monster's eyes on both of his daggers, before ripping them out swiftly. He half expected them at this point to cut out the creature's heart and eat it raw, but to his surprise they eventually moved away from the slain enemy, until Kyle slit the throat of the fallen beast as he passed by it on his way towards the pond to clean himself up, wrapping up the whole event by saying simply, "Well that was fun, eh?"
"No!" Caspar called out between cupped hands, in response, as he began walking back over to rejoin the group near the water.
His and Lox's paths back to the pond intersected near the now very much dead creature, which she kicked, expertly exclaiming, "This, is stank."
"Agreed," Caspar said, watching the blood and entrails pooling from out of the monster's expansive wounds, "and I thought they smelled bad on the outside."
He got close enough to hear Angelus saying "Anyway, I think we should find somewhere for you to clean yourself up, and while we're at it, we should make camp. Monster battles are fun and all, but they're very exhausting."
“The angel is on to something,” Lox chimed, wrinkling her nose as she walked up a nearby hill with Anubis shuffling after her.
Caspar lifted one of his arms and speculatively sniffed at the arm-pit. "Oh, dear Got..., ancient, time-preserved, B.O."
Um..." Angelus interrupted , "I don't want to alarm anyone but I think we've lost Abedah... or L-Abedah... or some other L name...”
“It’s Abedah, I think,” Lox called from the crest of the hill she had climbed.
“Look, the really confused scientist, we've lost her, so we should figure out where she's gotten off to before we have to fight a mecha-mammoth or something,” Angelus said.
"Mecha-mammoth," Caspar parroted pensively, "that would be pretty cool."
“I think she’ll be okay,” Lox said staring intently at something below. “She’s smart, she’ll find her way back when she realizes the battle is over. If any of us had any sense we would have run, too.”
"I would have," Caspar said defensively, "but it caught me around my ankles."
Lox continued, "I think we should go down to that red tree and take a load off. At least, that's what I'm going to do," before beginning to trek down to the campsite.
Caspar shrugged nonchalantly, following the poncho-glad Lox towards the tree she had designated when she nudged him saying, "Can't beat me, toothbrush," before bolting off like a frightened deer.
Caspar just shook his head at her naive enthusiasm and energy, feeling the weight and fatigue of his injuries, as well as the atrophied and weakened state his body was in from just waking from stasis. "Noobie," he called after her, before adding, "You're right," as he slowly picked his way towards the tree, groaning about aches in his knees and cricks in his back the whole way there.
Caspar made no attempt to chase Lox. Perhaps he was falling apart like a doll that had been abused by his owner. And as Lox was running down the hill she started to feel the tingle in her legs that let her know tomorrow was going to be rough. Looking back she saw him gingerly making his way down through her trampled path like a crumpled tortoise. Maybe that meant she was the hare.
"Noobie," Caspar called after her, before adding, "You're right.”
At that Nubie barked, recognizing his name. His tongue lolled out and he pressed his massive head against Caspar as he loped along at his side.
The air was warm by the campsite and was rife with the fragrance of honeysuckles. There was a pond nearby cradling the image of a waxing moon that was becoming bolder as twilight approached. Lightening bugs were preparing for their show. They would have to hurry if they were going to get their camp set up before nightfall.
Lox thought back on all the years she had written The Illusion and knew that there were very few times that the characters really got to sit over a fire and chat. Most of the things that were written were angst, battle scenes, sexual tension, or a character’s deep thoughts about “their mission.” Moments of true camaraderie off of the battlefield were rare.
She pulled her hair into a ponytail, busily picking up stray sticks and heaping them into a pile. “I feel like I’m,” she was about to say ‘at Girl Scouts’ but she knew no one would know what that was. She had slept in the open air before but wished that someone’s writer had been smart enough to pen a tent or at least a blanket. She wondered if a tent was one of the “constructs” Angelus could build. Instead she said, “probably safer with the group. So maybe I’ll stick around until I can figure out how to get back home.”
With her scythe she cut down as much dry grass as she could carry in two hands and put it on top of the sticks. White little rabbits scattered in all directions when she moved over the grass. There was a job to do, so she set about doing it. She always began a task without much planning, but ended up with good results because of her efficiency and persistence.
“I wonder how I would write all this,” she mused aloud. “I’d probably say that you, Caspar, are much younger than I imagined. Your eyes are quiet terrifying, really, because they’re so bright.” She didn’t mean that as an insult but her lack of tact had made it across into this second dimension unchanged. “I have only read the sad things that you have seen, but from your eyes I can tell you haven’t forgotten them.”
Nubie was lying in her pile of sticks chewing on a few of them. She bumped him out of the way as she began to line it with a ring of stones.
“And then there’s Kyle, he’s more… I don’t know… he’s bigger than I thought he was going to be. I expected strong silent type not exactly body builder. Who thanks a monster for fighting them? Kind of scary, really. I don’t know anyone else, so I don’t know what to expect from them.”
Fenris was not listening, she had turned her attention to the pond, in the hope of cleansing herself of the filth that still clung to her. Angelus turned to her, an eyebrow raised. "Since when do you care about being a mess?" The little angel asked, "What are you, Qing-jao?" Fenris raised an eyebrow, having never heard the name before. She wondered if she was some other warrior that wandered across this realm. Angelus seemed annoyed by this thought. "Nevermind," The angel said, annoyed, "Go clean yourself up." Fenris complied, heading off for the pond. Angelus made no attempt to follow her, afterall, Fenris was a big girl, and she could bathe on her own. Instead, the little angel set about constructing a tent. As she did so she turned to Lox. "Well, you were wondering, weren't you?" She said, adding a canopy to the poles she had raised. The tent was large, and made of the same strange, flexible material as the Slingshot, but it was nothing special. Under normal circumstances she would have taken this opportunity to show off by building a truly luxurious shelter for the team. But she was tired, and annoyed from the day of battle, and all she wanted to do was sleep. If Esse was here, she would have built a proper fortress, the angel thought, but Esse was a showoff. Angelus sighed at the thought, falling back on her heels. She knew that this wasn't true, what Esse really was was a prodigy, but her sister's insistence on showing off her remarkable talent had always annoyed her. She knew that Esse meant no harm, but her remarkable skills had always made Angelus feel unimportant, like she was the least loved child of two parents. Of course, she had no parents, but the feeling was the same. 'Wow,' She thought, parroting an earlier thought, 'I really am a terrible angel.' She sat in the air, sighing and crossing her legs, watching Lox build a fire. Maybe through this journey she'd be able to prove her worth. But even if she did, who's acknowledgment was she looking for, and how would she know that she'd earned it?
Picking his way gingerly through the brush towards the tree that Lox was already waiting at, with the caution of someone navigating a minefield, Caspar grumbled his way down the hill, with Anubis' still massive form galloping alongside him, periodically nudging Caspar with his boulder-sized head, which felt like the equivalent of getting sacked by a three-hundred pound linebacker.
"No, Anubis!" Caspar said attempting to scold the beast, "Down! Bad d-jackal-monster,", to which the heedless creature simply responded by licking his face ferociously with its strange tongue.
"Pbbttffft, blech," Caspar said, spitting after having his face completely hosed down in jackal saliva, as he walked into the prospective campsite, which conveniently had a small pond nearby for fresh water. Ofcourse the other pond was also a source of fresh water, and they could have easily camped there, except for the fact that it was surrounded by mutilated corpses of creatures Caspar had never seen, yet alone smelled before.
Lox was already busying herself with gathering some materials for a fire, a task Caspar was quite familiar with himself in all the "camping" as he liked to call it that he'd done while being in the Illusion, although he also regarded sleeping in a dumpster as "camping", which he doubted anyone else would agree with.
Meanwhile, Angelus had begun assembling, out of thin air, with some type of elastic, glowing plasma substance, what looked like a tent, as Fenris went to the pond to wash the dino-guts off.
"Well, you were wondering, weren't you?" she said, turning to Lox.
"I'm not sleeping in that," Caspar said, more to himself than to Angelus. He still didn't trust her, or Fenris, and was glad he had asked Pan to put mental shielding on him.
"I feel like I'm," Lox started saying as she crouched over a natural pit in the ground.
"The only sane one around here?" Caspar offered, half-seriously.
...“-probably safer with the group," Lox continued, as she started hewing down dead grass for kindling with her over-sized gardening implement. "So maybe I’ll stick around until I can figure out how to get back home."
Caspar searched for flint-like rocks on the ground nearby as he responded, saying, "Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I mean, after being attacked by an evil mermaid, golem twins, Stumpy the Beard-master, and a giant armored dinosaur within just minutes of meeting us, not exactly a pleasant wilderness out here, ya know? Besides, you wouldn't want to miss out on all the fun that comes along with traveling with The New True Ones!" he said, announcing the improvised name with much bravado, throwing his arms out wide in exclamation, which caused him to drop all the rocks he had gathered thus far. He looked around sheepishly, hoping no one had seen, and quickly gathered up the rocks again as quietly and inconspicuously as he could.
“I wonder how I would write all this,” Lox said said, hopefully still busy with the grass.
"Mmmhmmm," Caspar mumbled, trying to sound interested as he searched in the growing darkness for the flints that had tumbled into the dense shrubbery.
Lox continued, “I’d probably say that you, Caspar, are much younger than I imagined."
Caspar chuckled lightly at that. "Well, that's kinda a long story--"
"Your eyes are quiet terrifying," Lox said, cutting him off, "really, because they’re so bright.”
Forgetting about the lost flints, Caspar walked back over to the fire-pit with the ones he had recovered, and experimentally began striking the different rocks against each-other to see which would bring a spark, if any. He didn't know what to say to Lox's comment, so he let her keep speaking.
“I have only read the sad things that you have seen, but from your eyes I can tell you haven’t forgotten them," she said, returning to the pit and beginning to line it with stones.
Caspar looked down at the flints in his dusty hands. Hands that had been covered in blood countless times, half the time either his or his allies', hands that had been clenched into fists and slammed against countless walls and doors with the frustration that came with being continually separated from the only people he had grown to regard as friends, the same hands that had sealed the stasis capsule hatch, shutting out everything and everyone, and activated what Caspar had thought of as the "Deep Sleep". The same two hands that Caspar had sworn never to let go of his friends with again.
"And then there's Kyle," Lox said, pulling him out of his reverie, "he's more...I don't know...he's bigger than I thought he was going to be."
This elicited another chuckle from Caspar. "And I'm smaller than you expected, I wonder who's just right?"
"I expected strong silent type," Lox said, disappointedly, "not exactly body builder. Who thanks a monster for fighting them?" She cried with disbelief.
"Kyle, Fenris, Najm, Jet, Sway..." Caspar said, ticking them off on his fingers. "Heck, Arael liked a good blood-bath as much as the rest of them, though he was too stiff to show it."
"Kind of scary, really," Lox said, "I don’t know anyone else, so I don’t know what to expect from them.”
Caspar took this opportunity to deflect the conversation from the topic of him to the rest of his allies.
"Well, I imagine where you're from, you're generally not attacked and in fear of your life very often, right? Because that's kinda a daily thing around these parts. I still can't get used to fighting and killing, so I hide and sneak around as much as possible, but these guys," Caspar said, referring mainly to Kyle and Fenris, but abstractly Najm, Jet, Sway, Arael, and the rest of the old bunch, "that's all they know. If there came a day where they weren't constantly fighting for their lives, I don't think they'd know what to do."
Caspar was still in the process of going through the rocks he had acquired and testing them against each-other when one of them erupted with a shower of orange sparks upon being struck. He grinned at Lox as he struck the two rocks against each-other once more over the pile of dead grass she had cut. Several glowing sparks fell into the tangle of dry weeds and slowly turned into embers, which Caspar blew on lightly, eventually coaxing a tiny flame from one of the embers which started catching to the rest of the tinder, crackling as it oxidized.
"And if I didn't have them to travel with, by my side," Caspar continued, rubbing his hands together and warming his palms at the growing fire, "I don't know what I'd do. Actually, that's a lie, I know exactly what I'd do. I'd go crazy and freeze myself," he admitted. "But I'm not crazy--I'm much better now, I feel like I have a purpose again."
He took one of the sticks that had caught in the fire and pulled it out, blowing out the flame, and broke off a piece of the burnt end. This, he crumbled in his hands so it was a granulated pile of ash, which he took the nearby pond's edge for a moment before returning after having moistened it so that he now held a black paste-like material in his hands. He delicately dabbed it on all the cuts and scrapes that he had earned earlier that day, sealing and sterilizing them with the ash-paste.
"Here, you could probably use some of this," he said as he leaned over to Lox, offering her the clump of paste still cradled in his right hand.
…And go she did, right into a huge pond. When she smacked its surface, it felt as if she had slammed into concrete, totally knocking the wind out of her and submerging her in a cauldron of wetness. Shocked by the sudden change of setting, she paddled frantically, grabbing at the surface at an attempt to replenish her already diminished oxygen supply. She kicked and flailed her limbs wildly for a refuge, any refuge from her imminent demise, but it was no use. Silence crept at the edges of her blurred vision in long black, ominous vines. Her body let off its final wretch and with that last peek of survival instincts surging through her appendages, her subconscious hit a crescendo in the most dominant, subtle way like all subconscious did. Like a secret it bellowed in information, but was silent in approach, and of all fatally important things to say, it said the most important of them all.
Stand up asshole!
She obeyed, darting through the ponds surface like a torpedo and inhaling deeply on her now long lost love like only an addict would on a cigarette just upon having a relapse. At length of much needed catching of her breath, she spat a string of profanity venomously at her writer. Of all the ways to appear in a realm, water was at the top of the list?! She could hear her writer now, her tongue thick with sarcasm in a retort that most likely sounded along the lines of ‘you know how I like to make an entrance’. In essence, it wasn’t really much her writer’s…no…the writer’s fault. In reality all she had to do was stand up, but Najm didn’t care. Najm never really cared for the basics of a situation in its most minute form, she was unloading. She could have died for crying out loud!
Her thoughts were suddenly silenced by the writers comment earlier… ‘Why did I make you so damn stubborn, sheesh’.
Najm immediately frowned. “Ha ha,” she whispered sardonically, pulling a long string of seaweed from her hair. What the hell was SEAweed doing in a pond anyway?! “Very funny.”
She looked up and was greeted by none other than the rest of her comrades: The True Ones. They were all staring at her as if she had just shown up to her own funeral. Najm closed her eyes and smiled to herself.
And what an entrance it was, she thought.
Slowly but surely, she sloshed her water laden boots through the pond, her arms sweeping in large strokes in an attempt to make her way to its shore the fastest way she knew how.
At the shore, of course like all stories went, was none other than Kyle Brogan, the hazel-eyed swordsman, the Blue Blade warrior, the caped crusader, the…the…damn he just had too many nicknames to keep up. But one thing was for sure, there was a lot of bad blood between them, a lot of unresolved issues that festered and were fetid like the sewers of Imperial City. How had his writer referred to them, it was in fact the perfect prose suited for rivals the likes of them.
“The two of them had never really gotten along, and it wasn't as if things were about to change just because they'd traveled a few centuries into the future. Personalities that did not mesh were hard to get over, and there could be none that were more diametrically opposed than the Shadow Assassin Najm, and Kyle the Blue-Blade Warrior.”
She couldn’t blame him. She did kill one of his fellow friends, not to mention the fact that she did blast off his arm too. But that was an accident, she was aiming at the guy behind him. But of course that didn’t matter because how did you even begin to apologize for amputating someone’s arm?
Such a long time ago. She had changed so much. Maturity had raked her youth away with its brutal claws deemed ‘life experiences’. And the opinions that she had once formed were changing, morphing into new ones as she pedaled her way up life’s stream. Her chief concerns were more like Enfamil or similac rather than pumble him until he sleeps an eternal sleep. But she wasn’t one to plead for forgiveness or even ask for it anyway. People like them never did.
She nodded her head once. It was the same nod he had gave her when he was boarding the ship back in Dark Path. The same nod he had gave her when they had met up with Jett on the streets of Elderin. One of respect and understanding. There was a lot to be handled between them, but not today….Some other time….
She walked past him, with a not so flattering squish squish and made her way to the rest of the True Ones. A few rabbits scurried on by her feet and she had wondered whether she had ended up in the realm of Disney. Possibly ‘Sleeping Beauty’ or ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’?
She smiled at them sheepishly and waved. “Why, hello guys.”
The water was murky, especially as the gore finally started to peel away from Kyle's skin. He'd removed his upper clothing, leaving his sheath, belt, and harness to the side as he tried to clean the blood off of himself. Not really knowing most of the people around him, he removed his boots and dove into the depths, hoping to wash away at least the freshness of the battle off of himself. It was obvious that the bloodstains would be sticking with him for a while, regardless of what he did. All there was to do was soak and scrub the mess from his skin and hair.
At least semi-satisfied, he made his way back to shore, mundanely giving his shirt, vest, and other garments the same treatment, just trying to wash some of the blood away. Though Kyle was intimately familiar with the sensation of someone else's blood sprayed across his person, it didn't make the feeling any less uncomfortable, nor the chore to wash it away any less of a pain.
As he thought about it, wringing out his shirt, Kyle realized that his writer could have just skipped past all of this. He could have simply said that "Kyle cleaned himself up," and moved on. But for some reason, unbeknownst to Kyle, his writer had a tendency to focus on even the most minute details if they carried any kind of significance. By now, the warrior had gone with it for so long that he was kind of used to it.
Kyle had volunteered to enter the Mind Game again, and so that meant that he had to give up a certain amount of his own freedom, his own luxury of doing what he wanted, when he wanted. Instead, there was a path to follow, and Kyle himself wasn't always at the reins. Instead, it was a constant feeling of tug-of-war, where, at times, Kyle was calling the shots, but at other times, the writer was. It was, whether for better or worse, one of the conditions of being a character in the Game. Kyle flung the wrung-out shirt and vest over his shoulder, and pulled his sword from its sheath, looking to clean it up as well.
The timing of that act couldn't have been more coincidental.
Across the pond, the water suddenly seemed to explode, a shape crashing its way into the surface. Pond water sprayed in all directions, and Kyle leaped to his feet, his bloodstained sword gripped in hand. At first, there was nothing, and Kyle wondered, briefly, if it had just been another consequence of Caspar's capsule. But then a shape started to maneuver its way to the shore.
From the trailing hair, and the lithe build, Kyle guessed it was a woman. Perhaps the water wraith from before had returned? Kyle was, of course, incorrect, but to him, the truth wasn't really too far off.
Kyle staked his sword into the shoreline, and placed his hands on his hips in incredulous annoyance.
Of all the people who he could have seen here... Najm? Really?
If Kyle's memory served him right, he could chalk almost every truly horrible problem in his past two adventures to this woman. From the Bedouin massacre, to the problems at Cloud City, to the eventual war in Elderin... And then, even in the future, he hadn't been able to escape - Instead this woman had blown his arm off with a sniper rifle, killed his Lieutenant, and betrayed the entire team into Trident hands...
There were few people who Kyle might have wanted to see less than Najm the daughter of Alva.
She obviously sensed his animosity, for she didn't say a single word to him. Instead, she nodded, walking by. She nodded!
Kyle offered a lazy salute, pulling his sword from the ground and turning away. Pulling a stiff brush from his satchel, his started scrubbing away at the blood on the blade in the water of the pond. As he worked, though, he continued to glance up towards Najm and the others, just on the off-chance that this rival was, in fact, on their side. Though, as he thought about it, if she wasn't then he could justly run her through and feel perfectly fine about it.
The image settled comfortably in his mind, and a smirk lit his face.
Fenris had just finished wiping the muck from her face when something smashed into the pond with a loud "Thwack!". It took quite an accomplishment to amaze Fenris, but this sudden interruption of her bathing had succeeded. She had stood, watching in utter disbelief, as a new warrior exploded up from the bottom of the pond, gasping for air, and then had proceeded to scream every manner of curse she could imagine at some unseen force. She had then sloshed her way to the shore and proceeded towards the rest of the group's camp. Fenris responded, at first, by standing and staring at this scene, utterly stunned, but then her instincts returned, and she hastily rushed to the shore, dressed, and chased after the newcomer, weapon drawn. She reached the camp just as the newcomer introduced herself. "Excuse me," Fenris cried, her sword still in her hand, "Who's this?" From where she sat in the air, continuing to toy with the tent, Angelus turned, shrugging nonchalantly. "Oh, her," She said, "She's the assassin." Fenris narrowed her eyes, preparing for a fight. "Who's she here to assassinate," She said, distrust racing through her. The angel shrugged again. "Dunno," She said, "She's an old rival of Kyle's apparently." Fenris started to ready her weapon, waiting for her new enemy to make a move. Angelus rolled her eyes, appearing behind Fenris and placing a hand on her arm. "Fenris, dear, I hate to tell you this, but normally it's not considered good form to introduce yourself to your target when you're an assassin," She said, trying to calm Fenris, "So I think we can trust her to not slit anyone's throats. So please, let's NOT pick any fights we might not be able to win." This was exactly the sort of situation Angelus had grown tired of when she had been Fenris' unseen protector. Fenris had a nasty habit of picking fights with anyone she thought might try to hurt her, and sometimes those enemies were more skilled than Fenris gave them credit for. Fenris could be anyone in an outright fight, true, but assassins were very good at avoiding fights altogether. If you're enemy is dead before they know what's hit them, they can't fight back. "What would you know about assassins?" Fenris asked, angrily. Angelus rolled her eyes. Fenris wasn't even looking for a fight anymore, she was just angry, and she was going to let that anger loose on anyone that dared to talk to her, in this case her guardian angel. "Quite a bit, actually," Angelus said, "In fact, in a few hundred years I'm going to be the guardian angel for one of your ancestors, who just happens to be an assassin." Angelus smiled at the thought. She was rather fond of that particular charge, even though she hadn't technically met her yet. "Name's Lior, nice kid, inherited your skill without your bullheadedness." Fenris blinked twice, losing her anger in her utter bafflement. "What?" She asked, confused. Angelus shrugged. "I'm a divine being," She said, "I exist across all of space and time at the same time." Fenris blinked again, completely lost. "How is that even possible?" She asked. Angelus sighed. "Y'know Merlin?" She asked. Fenris nodded. She was vaguely familiar with the name, he was apparently a powerful wizard who lived in a part of Terra Di far from her own home of the Valhalla Valley. "Right, y'know how he experiences his life backwards?" She asked. Fenris didn't know, but she decided to entertain the thought, and she nodded so that the angel would get on with her explanation. "It's nothing like that," Angelus said. Fenris slapped her hand against her forehead. The angel smiled, glad to now she could still get under the warrior's skin. "Basically, I get sort of...I dunno, signals sometimes, from the past and future. It's nothing special, it's just sometimes I remember things that didn't happen, or things that haven't happened yet. So for some reason I have a memory of one of your ancestors who hasn't been born yet. Like I said, nice girl, smart, driven, not too stubborn to realize when she's picking a fight she can't win." Fenris nodded, deciding that she never wanted to ask Angelus to explain something ever again. As she thought this, the Angel floated away from her, going to meet the new warrior. "Hi there," She said, "Sorry about my companion, she's...she's not very trusting. I'm sure you understand." She actually wasn't sure in the slightest that this newcomer understood. She just hoped that if she was nice to her she wouldn't decide to poison Fenris' next meal. 'Not that I couldn't save her from that...again,' The little angel thought.
The words kept echoing through Abedah's mind. The lightheadedness passed, and Abedah stood. The complete darkness was so disorienting, and her throat so parched, she had little choice but to continue on. The scraping sound as she carefully stepped assured her that her companion, whatever it was - actually, Abedah was starting to think of it more as a female - was still with her. She was glad to have a companion in this darkness; trying to navigate it alone may have cost her what was left of her quickly waning sanity. You're welcome, the voice in her head replied. Her sanity meter, if she'd had one, would have dropped another point with that reply. Abedah just shook her head in the darkness. The two continued on in silence for a bit, Abedah just thinking. The slow steady sound of dripping water was growing louder, and was now accompanied by the faint sound of moving water. Wherever they were going, they were getting closer.
Finally, she asked the companion, "How does 'She' talk to you?"
In the same hissing voice, the companion answered, "Yyyyyouuuuu sssssawwwww hhhhherrrr... iinnnn theeee caaaverrrnnnn."
The terminal. If this was Free Play, it might make sense that an object could just appear than vanish, completely disconnected from the realm they were supposed to be inhabiting. Free Play! A significant thought just occurred to Abedah. I am the Changer. If Free Play had some level of thought, even primitive, she might think that I am her mother. She might even be frightened and confused. I never programmed the game with any understanding of the mission. I never thought I needed to.
"Does 'She' have a name?"
"Shhheee hhhassss nnnnot ssssaaaid."
Splash. The stake Abedah was using as a sight pole landed in a stream of water, perhaps ten or fifteen centimeters deep. She reached down and cautiously tasted the water. It was fresh, cold, and quite refreshing. She drank deeply as best she could. She wished she had grabbed her belt when she ran, but she really wasn't used to running for her life, much less fighting for it. In fact, she had never really faced any true danger in all the decades she had lived. Certainly there were the hidden dangers that come from just being alive, but she had no experience facing even a single immediate threat. For her, the imagined threats that she had put into Free Play were much closer to real than anything that might have faced her on the streets of Earth.
With the stake, she could tell that a quick leap of the stream would give her her next step. Apparently her companion didn't mind getting wet as the scraping became sloshing for a short while. There was little conversation between them as they went on, and most of the companion's replies were along the lines of, "I don't know." After what seemed like hours of walking, though it had really only been about thirty minutes, the darkness seemed not quite so deep.
"Is it my imagination, or does there seem to be some light getting in here?"
"Wwwweeee arrrrre nnnnnearrrr theeeee ennnnnnd."
Besides the light becoming stronger, the effort it took to keep walking seemed to be growing. Either gravity was increasing, or they were walking up an incline. Here, Abedah wasn't going to assume anything. She still needed her stake to guide her, but she could start to make out the crags in the wall she was walking against. After making a couple sharp turns, the light became suddenly enough that she could see clearly. She stopped and shielded her eyes until they could adjust to the change in luminosity. The exit to the tunnel was about a hundred meters ahead, and it was covered with vines, hanging roots, and leaves. It seemed not to have been intentionally concealed, but simply hidden by natural forces, or what passed for natural in this realm. She turned to finally get a look at her companion, but the companion was staying behind the last turn, making a clicking sound like playing cards wedged into the spokes of a bicycle wheel. "Come on," she urged, running the remaining distance. The scraping assured her that the companion was indeed coming.
After pushing aside the loose covering, she found herself in a forest that appeared to be on the opposite side of the hill from where she had fallen into the hole. A powerful stench assaulted her nostrils from her right. After instinctively trying to go away from the odor at first, she realized that with battles comes death, and with death, stink. She jogged along the hill, and finally came to the pool of water where Casper had emerged. Now another person was coming up out of the water - looking at the wet hair from behind, she couldn't tell if the person was male or female - nod at Kyle who was doing his best to remove the grime of battle from himself and his sword, and walk off.
Then she noticed the slain dragon some ways behind him. "Oh, my!" she exclaimed. Her companion's scraping was right behind her now. "I'm sorry I ran off, but I've discovered a few things that might explain what's going on around here." Being new, she had no idea that this battle was actually normal. The really weird happenings hadn't even started yet. "I sort of met someone in the tunnel, and...." She turned to introduce her companion, and was startled to see the largest, furriest, bluest arachnid she had ever seen. The spider's jaw was at the same height as Abedah's head, and at least as wide. Abedah screamed and ran to hide behind Kyle, her stake still in her hand. The spider, confused by Abedah's reaction, hissed and clicked and backed quickly back around the hill to the tunnel from which it emerged.
"No, wait - I'm sorry. I never even asked your name." She ran after the spider, but it was too late. The companion was gone. "èrbī," she muttered in Chinese, disgusted with herself, as she began to walk back to the scene of the battle.
Arem refocused his eyes on the haze of clouds above him. The sky was washed with orange, pink, and light blue colors as the sun was setting behind the cluster of trees. He could now feel a sharp pang in the back of his head which expanded and contracted like a beating heart. He rubbed the source of his headache, and slowly rose from the dead leaves and crushed twigs that littered the ground. His clothing was different from when he left the cavern structure beneath the desert. Apparently, while they were imagining Limbo, Habeeb had a few imaginative details he needed to add for their journey. Thick black fabric crisscrossed over his chest with matching black trousers, and a braided rope which wrapped around his waist, holding crescent-shaped weapons.
He shot up straight at the sound of his voice within his ear, and spun his head from left to right looking for the origin, but there was only Dougie sprawled on the ground unconscious.
”Arem, this is Habeeb, did you make it to Limbo? Arem?"
He put his finger to his ear, and talked slowly. “Yes?”
“Can you hear me?”
“Y-yes I can, how the hell are you doing this?”
“While I was talking to you, I was thinking of a way to possibly stay connected without physically going into the realm. I thought since I can imagine clothing and weapons, I can probably bring something from one realm to the next by the Imagiwave. And remarkably I have.”
Arem looked down again at his clothing, and then at the weapons. Why did he give me weapons? Were they necessary in this realm? He thought. He only fought with his bare hands, and even he did not come out on the winning end.
“So, did it work?”
“To a T. I look like something from street fighter. Whatever that is. I suppose you’d say that came from my imaginateer, no?”
“Anything that you do not know how you obtained the knowledge of it or an aspect that you cannot remember, it is a result that either you have been brainwashed for the first, or it’s you’re imaginateer for the latter.”
Arem ascended from the dirt and wiped the dust from his clothes. “Whatever you say.”
“You doubt me?”
“No, I just didn’t reach the point of blinded belief.”
"You mean faith."
Dougie stirred on the ground and got up on all fours. “Ugh, travellin’ like that isn’t for old men…who are you talkin’ to?”
“I don’t think you can doubt it’s me anymore.”
“No, I guess I can’t.”
“Do you smell something? Smells like something’s burning,” Dougie said, sniffing the air.
“Yeah, I smelled it for a while now.” Arem looked up beyond the trees and saw smoke issuing from the top in the far distance.
“What is it?”
“Shhh…wait a minute. I think there’s probably someone in the forest.”
“I’m going to have to put you in my pocket for a minute. Just listen out,” Arem said, removing the earpiece while Habeeb protested against it.
Arem began stalking toward the root of the scent, but Dougie grabbed his arm.
“Where are you going?!”
“Are you serious? If there’s people over there then it’s a better chance we’ll find a way around this place. The more people we speak to, the quicker we can find Alban.”
“Alban? I thought you were here for your parents?”
Arem peered down, forgetting that he didn’t mention the bounty to Dougie. “Uh, yeah them too.”
“You’re tellin’ me---,” Dougie sighed. “What happen if there’s freaks over there? You don’t run to a fire, you run away from it.”
“Well it won’t hurt to find out, eh?”
They both moved on in the thick of the trees that stood around them like giants, which were strangers to Arem’s eyes. He looked up at them as if they would uproot and squash him and his companion like clay. Dougie whacked several branches with his cane, inaudibly cursing the new realm that he was in. It was surely different from Illusionia. If Habeeb was right, he thought, then the imaginateers really out did themselves. He realized that this was the reason why he remained behind in Illusionia. Change was not something he enjoyed being sprung into, and Limbo definitely lived up to his expectations. The tall, thick forest, and the sinisterly twirling branches from the trees, as oppose to the vast barren desert and small homes to amazingly structured palaces.
As they approached a circular orifice at the edge of the trees, they witnessed a group of people setting up camp, bathing in a small pond, and a creature-like entity constructing an odd looking tent.
“Are you’re tellin’ me something is not wrong with this picture? You have an ‘it’ that is happy-go-luckily fixing a tent, a woman with snakes in her hair, a shabah* dog. Dammit people are bathing together!”
“Keep your voice down.”
Arem couldn’t object to what Dougie was saying, although he was speaking as if there was a microphone in his throat. The scene was rather peculiar, and terrifying from the party of weapons to the strange group of people. What did I expect? I have to use them even though they are…different. Arem thought.
While peering through the opening, Arem turned to Dougie. “Well, let’s add some class to this scene, why don’t we? I’m an exquisite embodiment of handsomeness, and the women cannot resist your boyish charm, right?” Arem asked sarcastically.
“Pfft, you got that right.”
Dougie resigned his current stance on the matter. “Alright, alright, but I’m not a simpleton, Arem, this ‘Alban’ situation is not over.”
Arem nodded, and then placed the earpiece back into his ear.
They both emerged from the thicket, and walked down to the small meadow below. _______________________ *Shabah: Ghost
The weighty detail of their journey that Arem failed to mention was detected by Dougie, even though he tried to push it underneath the rug of words. Dougie’s bubbly personality often hindered Arem from believing that he was remotely capable of fishing things out of him, but Dougie knew him better than any other person, and it was safe to say ‘better than his parents’. When Arem's parents left him on the outskirts of Elderin, it was with Doug Helmstead that Arem’s father left the care of his son.
Dougie and Arem’s father were best friends while growing up on the border of Elderin. They did everything and anything with each other, and enjoyed every minute of it. They were inseparable, but different views on poverty were the Alexander that cut their Gordian knot. Dougie took the view that a person’s financial status was cards that the player had to play; the dealer was unprejudiced and the player had to accept whatever hand he was dealt. Arem’s father on the other hand felt as if financial statuses should be solely based on how hard one works, but in reality a person could work until their cuticles cracked and bled and still, the decision was up to the ruler, in order to keep the balance in society. Arem’s father was under the impression that he was dealt a sour hand and decided to fold.
Arem always believed that it was kismet that he came under the care of Dougie. They shared the same views, and were truly like father and son, although, Arem was ashamed to think of it this way. From childhood, Dougie taught him to be content with whatever was given to him, and beat the crap out of anyone who tried to disrupt that happiness. He never demeaned his parents to Arem’s face, but Arem could feel that his true father’s decisions left a black stain on Dougie’s concept of him. Still, Dougie did not mull over the past, but was there to create a future for Arem, and he was forever grateful to him for that.
Now, they were side by side. Arem toed down the hill precisely, while Dougie hobbled alongside him. Arem felt as if he dived into the sea of the unknown and saw some bizarrely looking fish. He walked carefully around the beastly creature, as it licked at his blue silver paws, and then peered oddly at the apparition like entity finishing up on a tent. From the brittle stick man, whom his clothes hang loosely from his frame and the tattooed cobra, to the bathing bunch, there stood a woman that looked oddly familiar. She reminded him of Isabella, more like the other side of the mirror that people did not see. The dark side of the mirror that showed no reflection but a wall of nothing; she was the inverse of Isabella perhaps. She probably had something more worthwhile in seeing on the inside, as Isabella possessed on the outside, but what Isabella contained within her, appeared on the face of this woman.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Dougie whispered in his ear.
“This girl…she reminds me of Isabella,” Arem said, staring at her.
“No silly, that woman standing next to her is one sexy feline. That sword at her side, that means she has sass, my friend,” Dougie mumbled over his words, covering his mouth.
Arem turned to him with squinted eyes. “I thought you were more of a poodle kind of guy.”
“No, sir. I like a cat with a wolf’s heart, and that woman…”
“Yeah just keep it at that. I don’t want to hear about old man fantasies. But I’ll give you this, you can talk to the feline, but I’m going to see what’s up with this one.”
Arem sauntered over to the woman with black hair like the perfectly layered feathers of a raven. He wasn’t sure what he would get from doing this, but it was like walking into a room and seeing a person that was an exact carbon copy; someone that, perhaps, you could relate to. He was probably wrong, it was probably the tattooed cobra that held more of a resemblance to him within her, but he could not look into souls, only appearances and she had it.
“Uh, I’m kind of looking for a way around here, and this is the only group of people I’ve found. My name is Arem Thawr,” he said nervously, holding out his hand.
It was already an awkward moment, after coming out of the woodworks and having to introduce yourself to a brood of people that you have just found along the way, but hopefully this moment would not thrust itself further into the rabbit-hole of wonderland.
The sword was clean, finished, and dried. Kyle oiled the blade, making sure not to waste too much of the liquid in the fuller, and then rubbed the substance into the weapon with a practiced hand, satisfied, he placed the weapon on a stone near the bank.
In a rush of speed and frantic craziness, Abedah jogged up to Kyle in a rush, apparently satisfied that the battle was over and done. Being that he had been the first person to greet her here in Limbo, Kyle grinned and nodded.
"Well hey there, dark-haired lady," he said with a grin. "You missed all the fun, I'm afraid."
"Oh, my!" Exclaimed Abedah, commenting not only on the carnage, but also on the rather pungent aroma wafting its way from the remains.
"We're probably going to have to burn that thing in order to keep the stink away," said Kyle thoughtfully. "Otherwise that scent is going to follow us for days."
Abedah just looked at him, either stunned at the prospect of lighting about three tons of dead lizard aflame, or lost in thought that he would even have considered such an idea.
"I'm sorry I ran off," she said finally. "But I've discovered a few things that might explain what's going on around here."
"Oh really?" Said Kyle, amused. "So what did you find?"
She looked both ways, as if hiding some kind of secret.
"I sort of met someone in the tunnel, and...."
Abedah turned, as if to introduce someone, but Kyle didn't see anything there. Suddenly, though, Abedah leaped in fight, screamed, and jumped behind Kyle for some kind of protection. Kyle just stood there, a little dumbfounded. What in the name of Andolus...?
Then, as if the invisible creature had changed its mind, she started chasing after it, like she had somehow offended it.
"No, wait - I'm sorry," she called. "I never even asked your name."
Kyle just stood there, a puzzled look still playing itself across his features. Sure, he'd seen his share of weirdness, and he'd even known people who had had invisible companions, such as Dianna and her "friend," Holden. But this was just too much weirdness for one day. He needed a chance to just take a breath, sit down, and relax for a few moments. Even with the sheer amount of insanity that this place seemed determined to throw his way, he had to find a way to calm down.
He blew the breath out of his lungs, lifted the rest of his clothes, and put them on, retrieving the rest of his gear as he walked his way over to the impromptu campfire that Lox and Caspar had started.
Caspar. The kid looked like death. A scarecrow had more mass than him and was at least twice as intimidating. It was a drastic change from the last time that he'd seen his old friend. Years ago, Kyle remembered the rather unorthodox roles that their respective writers had thrust them in. Kyle was mean to Caspar for almost no good reason, Caspar was supposed to be angry at Kyle because of some other reason. Most of it seemed to settle around their rivalry with Sway, but to Kyle, that still seemed rather forced.
What most readers never seemed to understand, though, is that through all of it, there were certain times when the characters were truly being themselves, and then there were the roles that they were often forced to play via the writers. While Kyle certainly loved Sway, there were definitely some things that the two of them needed to work out that were just never fully resolved. At the time, Kyle had felt the role was rather interesting, and he'd enjoyed playing it, especially during the epic break-up scenes that both he and Sway shared.
But when the writers weren't around, even Kyle and Sway had discussed that they were a pretty unorthodox pairing, even as characters. The uber self-righteous do-gooder alongside the girl who'd just as soon as kill you as say hello. But, for the sake of their writers, they'd both continued the story, even to the point when Sway had to live for centuries just to make it into the future. That had really done a number on her. Kyle remembered just seeing the difference in her eyes after that point. While she and Kyle still had a lot of history, they'd agreed that it was probably best to leave that past where it lay.
Of course, with Caspar there, that had only exacerbated the situation, especially with the escalating violence that seemed to crop up all around them in Imperial City.
Kyle's head was starting to hurt just thinking about all this again.
Suffice it to say that Kyle really just wanted to talk to his friend again. It would be nice to just relax, not have to kill any more monsters for the night, and just catch up a little. Of course, it might also be good to get to know this woman, Lox, who apparently seemed to know exactly who he was for some reason. She had mentioned that she was one of the writers, but Kyle had already been thrown into Limbo before she'd put up a post, so the only way he'd get to know her would be to start asking questions.
His gear dropped to the ground, Kyle pulled out his sharpening stone, and sat down with his blade across his lap.
"So," he said to Lox and Caspar simultaneously. "It seems that things here in the Game are still same-old, same-old, huh?"
It had been awhile since Najm looked upon the faces of her fellow True Ones. In fact, she had not seen them ever since her betrayal back in Imperial City. Welcoming her with open arms was a far-cry from what she had expected, but the proper decorum of a simple hello didn’t seem too ominous. If that did not work, she was sure to try the weather as a topic of discussion next. Now that was some neutral talk. No one would suspect her of the same bout of treason then.
It was no wonder that she always ended up in the same position time and time again in her life, biting the hands that fed her only to turn around and plead for some form of refuge from those same hands. It made her question why she was a True One in the first place. If her morals and ethics were not exactly sanctioned by her peers, why in the hell was she chosen to uphold goodness anyway? Everything she did was in opposition to their cause. Where did she stand?
It was a question that seemed to haunt her ever since being exiled from Elderin.
Where did she stand?
She was the odd ball out, the sore thumb of the bunch, the bald-headed step child. It seemed as if fate had purposely misplaced her as a taunting gesture of some sort. A big contradiction was what her life was because mother and assassin were equally as synonymous as a True One and assassin. The oxymoron could make the corners of any person’s mouth turn up.
Before the troupe could reciprocate what Najm would call a VERY friendly gesture, a deafening shout cut through the silence.
“Excuse me,” the woman beside her cried, brandishing an exquisitely crafted blade.
The blade swept through the air in one quick stroke and pointed at Najm as if to indicate her presence.
Najm never saw her before. Was she a True One as well? Could there possibly be more of them?
“Oh, her. She’s the assassin,” the winged creature above them replied quite impassively.
The woman’s eyes then narrowed upon Najm menacingly, readying her weapon for battle. “Who’s she here to assassinate?”
It was as if Najm was looking at a mirror image of herself. Well, herself way back when that is. It almost made her smile. Youth was truly wasted on the young, she thought to herself. How vigorous and spirited they were until knocked down a peg or two.
Najm opened her mouth to reply, but the little angel above seemed to be doing just fine playing Najm’s role for her. The two of them went back and forth like children on a playground. She kept on opening her mouth to get a word in edgewise but they just would not let up. The woman with the sword seemed to be stalwart on being aggressive and the angel’s friendly demeanor wanted to baptize all the venom the woman threw her way.
Finally, after what seemed to be a decade, the angel resigned herself to the fact that her belligerent companion was better left stubborn and gracefully glided beside Najm, the same pleasant smile plastered across her countenance.
“Hi there,” the angel said, waving innocently. "Sorry about my companion, she's...she's not very trusting. I'm sure you understand."
As much as Najm wanted to reply with a clever comment of her own, she bit back on her words and opted for a statement less sharp.
“Hello little angel. Don’t worry,” she assured the angel in a whisper, “I get it.”
But she couldn’t stop there. No. Pride had to take it a step further. After all, she was Najm.
She turned to look at the woman, her lips rounded in a pout and her eyes equally, if not more, eager to shed blood if need be. She tapped the hilt of her dagger and then playfully shook her index finger back and forth, hoping the woman would stand down.
She didn’t feel like fighting, so she walked away before the woman could get defensive with an abrasive gesture of her own, making her way back over to the edge of the pond. Honestly, she just wanted to be home where things were less complicated. It was the same reason why she stayed in Imperial City with Cekic to begin with, but it was no use anyway. The past had a way of diligently hunting its prey until scores were settled or buried truths and lessons were learned. Until the lessons were learned though, Najm had a mission, and it was time to start carrying it out.
She looked on, relinquishing her own personal thoughts for another time. It was time to focus. The faster she solved this puzzle the faster she could be home with her son.
Her writer had left her with no leads and nothing to go on save an objective. Unfortunately, she had to make her own way from here on out based upon clues. The first odd thing that beckoned a sense of cognizance was the place she was in previously before drifting into this realm. It was cradled between space and time. It was the first time Najm had ever seen time as a solid component, but what was even stranger was that she stood in between them. It was definitely something to make note of.
Najm Holmes pondered long and hard, searching to see if anything else was amiss, save the cute little rabbits that scurried on by her feet earlier, or why so much seaweed was in the pond, but there was nothing she could sink her teeth into.
Again she looked on at the pond, its still surface blanketed by a thick layer of fog. There were no ripples. Nothing. In the distance she heard a frog croak and few leaves rustle, but that was it. At length, she heard another voice.
“"I'm sorry I ran off, but I've discovered a few things that might explain what's going on around here.”
It was yet another dark-haired slender female talking to Kyle. Wow. Dark hair was surely the in thing around these parts. Kyle did not even acknowledge the woman, he just turned around and made his way over to the other newcomer with locks and Caspar, who already seemed to be cooking up a good friendship of their own. Obviously, someone’s writer was not paying much attention…tsk tsk.
Najm felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Uh, I’m kind of looking for a way around here, and this was the only group of people I found” the voice behind her began.
She slowly turned around. It was average-sized man with broad shoulders. He looked nervous, for his almond shaped eyes, which were framed by a set of beautiful venus fly trap eye-lashes, kept on looking up and down. His olive complexion linked with all his other features made him look as if he could be Najm’s kith and kin.
He had to be from Elderin. He just had to be.
After a moment of staring at each other, his hand darted out in front of him awkwardly. “My name is Arem Thawr.”
She smiled, slightly embarrassed not because she liked him but because she was lost in thought just staring. So dumb.
Despite the obvious faux pas, Najm immediately regained her composure and took his hand up within hers.
“The names Najm Alam,” she began. “Daughter of Alva the assassin from the kingdom of Elderin”
She searched his eyes to see if there was some hint of recognition. Some type of clue for her to take hold of. It wasn’t a coincidence that this man jus crawled up from the woodworks looking like Najm’s long lost brother. It was something she definitely needed to look into, but first she needed to answer his question.
She scratched the back of her head and looked around.
Come to think of it, she did not know where they were either. Boy she was slow. Sherlock Holmes her ass!
“Come to think of it. I have no idea where we are either.” She smiled uneasily. She might as well be blonde.
Real smooth Najm.
“But I have some friends..er…comrades. I think they would be more than willing to answer your questions.” She shrugged and looked over at the four of them, now five, counting the arachnid warrior who had just arrived.
“Well, our questions now I guess,” she added as side thought. “But before that, please do tell me from whence you came and how exactly did you end up here?”
She had to be more direct if she wanted answers. She was following the yellow brick road now. She could feel it. This was where she needed to be and who she needed to be talking to.
Taunted. Fenris had been taunted. This strange woman had just showed up out of a lake, given no explanation of who she was, and now she had the gall to treat Fenris like a child. Then, like a coward she had walked away before Fenris could even do anything. Fenris wasn't angry anymore. She was furious. She turned to shout after the woman, but before she could she received another sharp smack on the nose from Angelus. "No fighting," The petite being said, "Trust me, you'd do better to get on her good side. Really, you'd do better to get on everyone's good side, everyone distrusts you as much as you distrust them." Fenris scowled at the angel. She'd grown tired of being lectured by this pitiful excuse for divinity, and she'd grown sick of her sappy insistence that Fenris make friends. Fenris had once had friends. Then they'd all tried to kill her when she'd found out what she really was. Angelus rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Fenris, I get it, the past has made this whole 'trust' thing hard on you, but if you let one bad experience color your perception of people than you're just going to end up miserable and alone," She argued. Fenris didn't care what she said. She had never minded being alone, and she didn't mind if she had to remain alone for the rest of her life. "You will mind, Fen," The angel argued, now seeming to grow frustrated with Fenris' stubbornness, "Everybody thinks at some point that they can live their whole lives by themselves. That they don't need anybody, and that the rest of the world can be damned for all they care. But people aren't built that way, we need others. We need to have someone to share our triumphs with, and to help us recover from our most bitter failures. Someone who can share our tremendous joy and deep sorrow. We need to know that someone appreciates who we are. Otherwise what's the point of going on living?" Fenris tried to remain stubborn, but she realized how childish the gesture was almost immediately. The little angel was right, she knew. She had often wished for someone to brag to about her accomplishments, or who would listen to her sad tale and help her through it. She just hadn't wanted to try finding that person yet. She hesitated, turning back to the camp and trying to figure out how she was going to do this. She saw that the newcomer, who's name was apparently Najm, was already talking to yet another addition to the party. That was fine, Fenris should probably leave her alone for a while. She still didn't know how she felt about Caspar, if only because he hadn't quite decided whether he was a genius or a child, but she knew at the very least he was next to harmless, so she wouldn't have to worry about him trying to kill her if she said the wrong thing. Lox was very similar, although her inherent strangeness was somewhat off-putting to Fenris. "I'm sure she'd say the same of you," Angelus said, laughing, "Then again, most of us are strangers here." That was the real problem Fenris knew. Everyone here was strange, and as such she had no point of reference to use to make sense of them. They could hardly share common interests, they were from different worlds, and all of the similarities took years of explanation. She eventually decided that her proper path to learning of this group would probably be through Kyle. He was a warrior like her, and she could make sense of him. He was just seeking adventure it seemed, and more than that he seemed to be the type who enjoyed the prospect of working with others to accomplish some impossible goal. He was a natural leader, so he probably wouldn't mind Fenris' attempt to better her standing with the group, no matter how clumsy it might be. She started to walk to the campfire, but she turned once more, watching Angelus, who seemed to be observing Najm's interaction with the newcomer with minor interest. "Hey," She said, "You said everyone needs someone to confide in, but who do you have?" Angelus looked at Fenris, smiling slightly. She obviously hadn't expected the warrior to ask anything about her, and she seemed touched that Fenris actually cared. She looked off into the distance, her eyes glazing over, and then she started to speak. "I had my sister for most of my life," She said, the joy of the memories mixing with some unseen sorrow, "But, well, we just sort of grew apart over time." As she spoke, Angelus thought back to her younger years. She had been so excitable then, and she could still remember using her link to Esse to relay each and every one of her accomplishments, grinning with glee every time her sister had lavished any amount of praise on her. She knew now that each time she had inconvenienced her sister, who was, after all, always watchfully keeping the universe in check, but Esse had never complained, and she had always patiently listened to everything that Angelus told her. They both knew that Angelus could just as easily tell all of this to one of the other guardians, but for some reason in her youth Angelus had always been so eager to talk to her older sister, and to impress her in some way. Esse was the center of her universe back then. Now she seemed to be nothing more than a self-righteous symbol of Angelus' own lacking skills. She sighed, pushing this thought from her mind and looking down at the warrior before her. "I'm still trying to make new friends too, Fen," She said softly. Then she smiled, her old facade returning. "So let's go make some, eh?" She said,laughing. Fenris smiled slightly, and together they walked back to the group near the fire, hoping that, at the very least, they could earn the trust of their companions.
!@#$% idiot, she said again to herself. Now of the only two people that might actually be allies on this ..., Abedah wasn't quite sure she wanted to call it an adventure, the arachnid was startled by her impulsive reaction and Kyle must think she's completely nuts. She needed to retrieve her pouches, since they were the only things she had that might have some survival value here. As she walked by the stinking carcass towards the tree she had been working under, she tried to let her mind drift over the currents of imagination. This dragon was evolved, but she recognized the basic form and skills from some of her early work on Free Play. The scales here were much more realistic, and far more protective, than anything she was able to design. Yet the beast had been slain. In Free Play, eventually, the opponent was always slain. The avatars might have to die a few times before they succeeded, but they always did sooner or later. Except for the Giant.
Gone! The pouches, the dagger, the chunk of vine she was using as a barrel, the belt; all of it was gone. She looked everywhere around the tree, looked to see if there were any crevices in the tree they might have blown or been pushed into, looked for any sign that they had been picked up, but there was nothing. She was far from an experienced tracker, so there easily could have been some simple sign she had overlooked, but from what she could tell, the tools she had been given were now just as vanished as if they had never existed in the first place.
Out of nowhere, something struck her fancy. When she was young, she had fantasized about riding a dragon through the clouds. I never wanted to do that - I was too busy studying. Except when I was taking a break and reading. When did I do that? I remember now, when I was seven, or eight. Everything was too easy. I didn't need to study, so I daydreamed about monsters and dragons and mighty warriors. No, I didn't. But I remember it.
The Voice came back to her thoughts again, I hadn't written about your childhood before, so you wouldn't have remembered it until now.
Even though the dragon was lying in a heap on the ground, Abedah found a place where she could put her foot on a scale and climb onto its neck. She didn't care about the smell right then, and tried to lose herself in a childhood memory that had been locked away. But there wasn't enough of a memory for her to grab, and she instead thought about the revelation she had received in the tunnel - her daughter was trying to destroy her because she didn't like the changes. Too many things didn't fit.
"Enough of this," Abedah said aloud gruffly. As she climbed down the dragon's neck, the sharp edge of a scale that she tried grabbing onto and missed sliced the palm of her hand. "Agggh!" she cried in pain. She mindlessly clutched her bleeding flesh to her bosom, and in the process, fell the last meter off the dragon's neck, landing hard on backside. The new pains combined with the injuries she had received in the cavern, and the emotional turmoil and confusion caused her to groan softly.
She slowly picked herself off the ground, and seeing the campfire smoke a little ways away, left the now forgotten stake on the ground by the dragon and staggered towards the recovering group of warriors, still trying to stop the bleeding with applied pressure. "If I do have a writer, I hope you're enjoying yourself," she complained audibly.
The assembly was in full discussion, so she wasn't sure if she should interrupt. But she needed something, as her shirt was not doing the job and was just making her more of a miserable wreck than she already was. "Uh...," she started, "does anyone have any bandages?"
Fenris had completely forgotten about Abedah, but as she stumbled back into camp, her hand bleeding she suddenly remembered the strange woman. She wondered what exactly had brought her to this realm. This woman was a scholar, not a fighter, but for some reason she had come to this dangerous land, and as the group's struggles progressed it became increasingly obvious that this woman didn't know how to take care of herself. "Uh...," Abedah stammered, returning to the group, "Does anyone have any bandages?" Fenris rolled her eyes. To see a learned woman so obviously lost in this place was sort of amusing. It was obvious that she was going to need some help getting accustomed to the life of a warrior. Still, she was trying to build bridges between herself and the others. She turned to Angelus, like a child asking for permission to pet a strange dog. "Go for it," The angel whispered, still smiling. Fenris got up, opening her pack and pulling out a strip of white fabric. She tore with her teeth, and offered it to Abedah. "Here," She said,and then realizing once again that Abedah wasn't used to this sort of life, she added, "Do you actually know how to dress a wound, come to think of it?" Angelus grinned, happy to see Fenris making an honest attempt to reach out to someone else. "How'd you get cut, anyway?" The little angel asked as she observed the affair.
The hours passed on as the sun nestled itself comfortably into the folds of the horizon. The sky was lit aflame by colors of red, gold, orange, purple, and deep blue as night engulfed the forest and the stars emerged from the black. The crescent moon glowed with an ethereal clarity, the purity of the atmosphere creating an almost picturesque landscape above the motley crew of gathered adventurers.
Kyle had leaned back, placing his head on the rock he'd been sitting on throughout the night's conversations. The fire still glowed brightly behind him, but he wasn't nearly as interested in it as he was in the deep moonlit blue displayed above him. Instead, his mind was caught up in stars above him, beaming down as holes poked into the black canvas of eternity.
It was so much different than being surrounded with the lights of a city, unable to truly see the stars. While in his writer's subconscious, only rarely had he been able to look up and see a truly clear night sky. It had been something he had longed for, and now, finally, here he was.
The stars... They had always held such significance for Kyle throughout the years. The stars represented peace, represented a true sense of order in the chaos of The Mind Game. In the heavens, Kyle often saw his past displayed in an almost ethereal clarity - The echoes of his history shone down both in joy and sorrow as he watched his memories displayed. He saw his former comrades, some lost, some fallen, but each with a memory that burned in Kyle's heart. He saw old enemies, powerful gods and cunning creatures. He saw the races of Illusionia, from centaurs, elves and giants to Utopians and Tetradians.
His history reflected back to him across the sky with the plainness of a clean parchment, as if they had been written permanently in some record. But even as he thought this, he realized that this was exactly what they were. His memories had been recorded, and were all there and displayed for all to see. His writer had meticulously recorded, studied, and even interpreted hundreds of pages of Kyle's adventures, and those of his many companions.
Kyle himself had never found those all that interesting. He'd seen several of the records, but had looked away, feeling as if he was invading the privacy of someone else's thoughts. It was one thing to read through the posts of perfect strangers in order to get a feel for who they were, but it was quite another to dive into the thoughts of people he personally knew. The dark and twisted thoughts of Sway. The pain and suffering of Kelley. The unexplainable innocence of Jett. These were people that Kyle was intimately familiar with, and he felt as if he were betraying them somehow.
He decided, at that feeling, to avoid looking.
Of course, the writer still pored over the many records of the True Ones' adventures. After all, as far as Kyle was concerned, that was his most important purpose. The Writer was, for all intents and purposes, one of the true "gods" off The Mind Game. While not everything was within the Writer's control, many things were, and his abilities here far outlasted those of even the most powerful of The Mind Game's avatars. What he said often would become so, and as Kyle came to understand this, his own abilities to understand increased. He realized that his own relationship to his Writer was that of trust. He would have to come to trust this person, and so he had entered Limbo in the first place.
The conversations behind him varied in subject and content. Some said very little. Others seemed to speak a great deal. Kyle made the effort to get to know each of them, at least in face and name. He knew that it was important to get to know your travelling companions, and it felt as if this drill was a consistently repeating pattern in his life. There were always new people to get to know, and they always seemed to come from the strangest places.
Kyle noticed, especially, that Fenris and Angelus were particularly active in getting to know their new companions. He was a bit surprised, at first, especially considering the brash, almost constantly angry nature of the female warrior, but Fenris seemed determined to at least get along with the others. She seemed determined to prove to all of them that she wasn't just some stubborn, sword-swinging sycophant, but instead was someone who could be trusted, who should be respected.
The Blue-Blade Warrior had already made his decisions about Fenris from the first time he'd watched her battle that golem. She was headstrong, determined, and would let nothing stand in her way. While she would have to take a little reigning in, Kyle believed that she would be a valuable asset, especially considering her aptitude and willingness to protect the others.
Lox, Kyle had discovered, was actually Sway's writer. That had thrown him for a loop. Here he was, speaking with the creator of his one true love. The woman responsible for both some of the greatest lows, and the greatest thrills of his life. That wasn't to diminish the work of his own writer, of course, but this was the writer of Sway! It was a rather earth-shattering revelation. They talked about many of their old adventures, and it was amazing to come to grips with some of the "whys" behind Sway's actions. Sure, there had been that one time where Kyle had gained a glimpse into Sway's past, but never before had Kyle realized the extent of Lox's influence on who Sway was, and what she eventually had become.
Caspar, as was to be expected, was a little shy at first, especially when Kyle bluntly asked what had happened to him. Apparently, he'd become so bored after showing up in Limbo, especially with no one else around, that he'd placed himself into suspended animation until some other True Ones happened to walk by. By Kyle's count, that would have been almost a year-and-a-half ago. Kyle asked why, if he was in the pod, there was so much muscle atrophy or whatever. "&," who Kyle had taken to simply calling "And," quickly interjected that it was a miscalculation, which Pan vehemently denied, claiming it was a technical limitation of the pod, itself. As the two continued bickering, Kyle had smirked, and turned to talk with someone else.
Then there were the other newcomers, Dougie and Arem. One young, and one a little more wizened. Kyle really wasn't sure what to make of them. In fact, he became a bit suspicious, honestly, when he saw how quickly they seemed to warm up to Najm. To himself, Kyle wondered whether that would be a source of trouble in the future. Arem had explained that they were actually from Illusionia, which Kyle hadn't expected. There had never been any mention of these two in the compiled histories that his Writer had helped to create, so he wasn't sure where they had come from. But, now that he thought about it, perhaps they were simply newly "discovered" travelers, as had so many of the others been.
The conversations had continued for quite some time, as the drastically different personalities hesitantly came together in an awkward sense of comfort. As such, Kyle had turned from the others, and leaned back against the rock.
As the thoughts danced around in his mind, he casually looked around. Where had Abedah gone? He thought, perhaps, that she had retired early or something, but there was only the one plasma tent that Angelus had created, and not a soul had had the courage to step into it. So where was she?
On cue, as was often the case here, the woman in question appeared, her hand, bleeding, wrapped clumsily in her shirt.
"Uh...," she said with obvious embarrassment "Does anyone have any bandages?"
Fenris went into action first, pulling a strip of white fabric from her satchel and tearing it off with her teeth. Kyle reached over to his belt and pulled out one of his small packs of Mediera out, offering it to the injured woman.
"Here," said the female warrior, humorously out of character. "Do you actually know how to dress a wound, come to think of it?"
"Dark-haired lady," he said, shaking his head and still pleased with the elaborately innocuous nickname. He reached himself over, and pressed the Mediera carefully into the woman's palm, and began to tie the bandage off. "We're going to have to keep a better eye on you, I think."
"How'd you get cut, anyway?" Added Angelus. Kyle, himself, finished off the bandage and sat back down, waiting expectantly for an answer. The same question had crossed his own mind.
Arem watched as Dougie followed closely behind the woman, who had a winged being beside her. Dougie sat next to her near the flames of fire as they licked at the now tarnished barks of wood. He released his feet from his brown belted sandals, and wriggled his toes in between the lush grass. Smooth criminal.
He then leaned forward to the woman as she handed a bandage to another person. “Hey there, sweetie, you know this wise old man could probably use your protection. What’s your name?”
Arem smirked and turned away from the embarrassing scene to the woman standing in front of him. There they were smiling at each awkwardly, until the smile plastered on her face withered away. She grasped Arem’s hand into her own.
“The names Najm Alam, daughter of Alva the assassin from the kingdom of Elderin,” she announced with precision and strength.
“Elderin?” Arem whispered.
“Elderin?!” Habeeb bellowed.
Arem had forgotten the Araaf transporter heard everything he said. It was quite annoying, but perhaps he could be an asset around these foreign woods.
He was taken aback that he literally found someone that existed behind this realm, let alone where he previously dwelled all of his life. He was not familiar with the assassin from the kingdom of Elderin, but he decided to restate the phrase to see if Habeeb had an inkling about the history of Elderin.
Before he could speak, she began scratching her head and looking at the others.
“Come to think of it, I don’t know where we are either, but I have some friends…er…comrades. I think they would be more than willing to answer your questions.”
She then peered back into his eyes. Arem could not believe how much she reminded him of Isabella, and to think that she was actually from Elderin. Moreover, Arem was speaking to someone that was affiliated with the kingdom! A luxury that his kind was rarely afforded.
“Well, for our questions,” she uttered. “But before that, please do tell me from whence you came and how exactly did you end up here?”
She was indeed affiliated with the kingdom of Elderin. Arem seldom traveled into the innermost parts of Elderin, but he often saw some of them amidst their travels. They spoke with uprightness, and possessed a sort of exactitude in their speech. The poor folk that Arem was acquainted with would have never chosen their words so carefully.
“Erm, believe it or not I’m from the outskirts of Elderin. You could say my presence would have never been witnessed inside the kingdom itself,” Arem craftily plugged in the word ‘kingdom’ for Habeeb.
And like a cat ready to pounce, Arem heard the soft speech echo in his ear. “Elderin. The kingdom. This person you speak with,Arem, must be affiliated with the kingdom. Hmmm…I cannot tell you the deep history of Elderin, but the memory of the Bedouin Massacre could never be wiped from the memories.”
Bedouin Massacre? What was Habeeb rambling about?
Arem did not know what to make of the words Habeeb said, nor did he know whether to share the piece of information as to how he really got here. Was he to trust this stranger, even though she was of the inhabitants of Elderin? Or was he to remain silent about Habeeb, about the imaginateer? But he couldn’t. She was the only person here who was like him. She was another ally to grab the reins to this wild experience, this realm, and perhaps, go the distance with him, even though she herself did not know where they were, they could found out together.
“Well,” Arem now whispered, carefully not to allow the others to hear. “It’s sort of a long story, but since you too are from Illusionia, it would not be too weird.”
He paused, and again questioned his actions. But like Habeeb was in his mind rather than his ear he answered. “Say what you must, it probably might do us some good, with information that is.”
With such reassurance, Arem continued. “I met this man beneath the desert of Kopul-Vul---I’m quite sure you know of it---and…well he went on about how we were imagined rather than created, and that an imaginateer controls our journey. I guess he would say I don’t have faith as of yet, but we sort of imagined ourselves here. Like our imagination became aligned with the imagination of our imaginateer, and here we were. I know it’s absurd.”
Those words still seemed to burrow holes throughout his mind. The befuddling concept of it all. Arem an imagination of a person in another…realm. How could someone try and play puppeteer with his life? He was in control of the decisions he made, he paved the way for a new journey, and he watched his life unfold in front of his eyes. His eyes. Did the imaginateer imagine those too? The lines in his hands, the thoughts in his mind? Was he just a thing…controlled, or was Habeeb right?
It’s just that our imaginateer gives definition to our lives. He, or she, gives our life details.Without him or her, we would still exist, but without purpose somewhat. We would have babies, get married,have a job, the works, but we would not have a journey.
Remember Arem, our imaginateers does not create…they only imagine…
Dusk fell over them as if the sun closed its fiery lids eternally. The frolicking fire casted shadows on the dark trees, giving their green leaves a dazzling spotlight.
“Perhaps we should join the others. They probably know more about this place than we do.”
He motioned his hands over to the campfire for Najm, and they both walked over to the fire and took their seats beside the rest of the group. Everyone was talking about their journeys, who they were, how they came to be in this place. They all seemed to share the same questions. Araaf was truly a place of great mystery that had to be explored.
Abedah wasn't sure how much she should say, so she decided to keep to just the facts that wouldn't make her sound too crazy. While Kyle was tying the bandage, she started describing the events from her point of view that took place during the battle with the monsters, but left out any references to hearing voices in her head. She was bound to be put on ice already without adding that little complication. She described the cavern, and what she saw, including each of the pictures displayed on the terminal; the walk through the tunnel, and the revelations of the companion. She decided not to mention the little scene that only Kyle was a witness to. If he wanted to bring it up, she'd say exactly what she saw; otherwise, she was going to leave it alone.
Kyle had finished the bandage and seated himself about halfway through her tale. "Thank you both for your help," she interjected. "And Lox, I'm really sorry for hurting you with my little invention. I've really never done anything like that before, and I should just leave this fighting business to the experts.
"Now about this scratch." She was really starting to sound nervous. "When I went to pick up my things, there were completely missing. I looked around for a bit, but couldn't find anything. So I got this funny idea that if I climbed on top of that dead dragon, maybe I could see something I missed," she lied. "As I was getting down, I slipped and sliced my palm on one of the scales. And I just remembered, that shattered staff the brute was using - he threw the piece of it he was holding after me into the cavern. I was using it to help me through the tunnels, and I must have left it by the dragon. Since nothing around here is quite what it seems, does anybody know if it has any use? If it does, I should try to grab it in the morning when it's light."
This was actually a pretty peaceful scene. She couldn't remember enjoying a natural quietness like this. Or did I, and it just hasn't been written about yet? she thought sarcastically. There was no reply.
She found a boulder nobody was using, making sure it wasn't next to any homicidal trees, and sat to listen to what her fellow travelers might have to share.
Caspar was cute. It was because he had no intention of being cute that made him adorable. He was not cute the way a movie star is, but cute in the sense that something is endearing. Like a child with wild hair or a sleeping kitten. But then, Lox thought everyone had at least one element that was attractive about them. Even if it was a Quasimodo hump, everyone had their something.
"Well, I imagine where you're from, you're generally not attacked and in fear of your life very often, right?”
“I live in a pretty rough neighborhood. You can get robbed at night or raped. But never by a dragon.”
“That's kinda a daily thing around these parts. I still can't get used to fighting and killing, so I hide and sneak around as much as possible, but these guys," Caspar gestured to the people surrounding them, "that's all they know. If there came a day where they weren't constantly fighting for their lives, I don't think they'd know what to do."
Caspar was busily trying to light the collection of debris Lox was trying to turn into a fire. Getting a flint to cooperate was the only step in the fire-making technique that Lox was not very skilled at. She had basic survival skills because she was perhaps the only city girl that paid attention in Girl Scouts. She could tie a hammock, gather non-poisonous fruits, make a few knots, do some minimal tracking, field dress an animal and was not afraid of any creature with four to eight legs.
"And if I didn't have them to travel with, by my side," Caspar continued, getting the flames flickering, "I don't know what I'd do. Actually, that's a lie, I know exactly what I'd do. I'd go crazy and freeze myself," he admitted.
Lox raised an eyebrow. Who freezes themselves just because they couldn’t talk to a friend? Why not just text them or hit up facebook or twitter? And as soon as these words came into her mind they immediately flew out so that she was staring at Caspar blankly, not sure of what she had just been ordered to forget. He misunderstood her facial expression and continued, abashed.
"But I'm not crazy--I'm much better now, I feel like I have a purpose again."
He made a paste out of the ash of the stick and offered it to her for her wounds, which she was busily trying to keep Nubie from licking.
"Here, you could probably use some of this," he said as he leaned over to Lox, offering her the clump of paste still cradled in his right hand.
She took it, sort of relieved he didn’t just spit on the ashy stick, but too polite to turn down help either way.
“Thanks,” she said simply.
She thought she heard someone say ‘Najm’ and a thought popped into her head. “You know what’s weird about you and Najm?” Lox said to Caspar, “You both have “A” last names and most people don’t. “A” is the most common first letter of first names in Illusionia, though. Alva, Andolus, Aker, Areal, Angelus, Andromeda, Abedah, Ace, Anubis, the list goes on forever. What’s even weirder is that Asani is also Yemoja’s last name. Maybe you guys are related.” It was a weird fact, but names are a thing a writer would be preoccupied with.
And then without warning, a moment later, water was everywhere up on the hill with the shielded dragon. Lox looked up and saw the striking figure of a young woman dripping and covered with weapons. She had long black hair, dark skin, a high forehead, and a hundred shining teeth behind a smirk.
“Why, hello guys,” she called casually strolling by Kyle.
“Well hello, Mrs. Alam,” Lox said quietly, suppressing a grin.
She was conflicted. She knew that Najm did not know her and would not simply trust another female, or anyone for that matter. She watched her taunt Fenris without flinching. Lox also doubted that she would have the same respect for her that she had for Sway because Sway was a serial killer that demanded total loyalty. Also Sway and Najm’s interactions were limited and Lox never fully understood why. But at the same time, she had only seen a picture of Najm once and it had not done her justice. There was more justice in the line at the DMV.
She tried very hard to blink the fan-girl stars out of her eyes and unable to do so, finally suggested that she find berries.
This was always Lox’s exit strategy. When it was too hard for her not to laugh or stare at a person, she would find an excuse to leave. She had gone to an Indian wedding and once people started singing songs in Hindi she started laughing to herself so hard that she had to pray to her God and all of theirs to be quiet. When no intercessory spirits came to her aid, she hid out in the bathroom howling for a full thirty minutes to the crooning over the loudspeakers until the people she rode with came to find her, fearing a too powerful curry had taken her down.
This was one of those times. Lox had a terrible habit of staring at people without looking at them. In real life she wore sunglasses just to people watch. She only hoped she did not run into Jett because she had some questions about his ponytail she wasn’t sure she could keep to herself.
With that thought she took her empty bag and whistling said, “I think I’m going to find something to eat.” Nubie showed up immediately offering to carry her, but she felt like walking. Lox was like a Hobbit in that she expected to eat four times a day and she had already missed three meals thus far.
She picked her way though the woods and following her nose found a bush laden with black and red berries. She smelled them carefully, then being unable to resist any longer, popped some in her mouth. They tasted like sunlight and overripe strawberries. She busily filled her bag with them, taking the biggest ones she could find. Next she found a tree full of blood oranges and her good luck continued as she gathered some yam-like root, which she knew to be edible because her grandmother had cooked them before.
Nubie had been gone ahead of her for a long time and she was beginning to worry. She whistled for him and he showed up immediately in his tiny form again carrying two rabbits in his mouth. “How did you do that?” she asked. In reply he wagged his barbed tail at a hundred miles and pushed the rabbits into her shin. She took them and he darted out into the woods again. Before she could fully stand up to add them to her bag, he was back again with three more rabbits. “Very good, Nubie.” She said taking them. By the time she had made it up the hill and peeled a long plate off of the festering ruby dragon Nubie had retrieved ten rabbits. She washed the plate very thoroughly and when she was done had a full baker’s dozen. She dressed, cleaned, and deboned them as if she had done this a thousand times before and thought that her writer, who was a vegetarian, must be puking at her desk. That would serve Sway right. All those mushy love scenes she wrote gave her the same feeling of nausea because she did not believe in love herself.
Barely able to carry all the food she carefully waddled her way back to the campsite where Najm had settled herself in with some new men. She saw Abedah whizz by her with a large spider-thing at her side, but decided to ask as few questions as possible.
She took the ruby plate and carefully placed it over the fire so that it wasn’t touching it, but was being warmed by it. She laid the rabbits onto the plate and they began to roast with the potatoes. She introduced herself to all the new people by placing an orange and a scoop of berries into their hands. She figured that would be how she’d want someone to greet her.
Kind of tired, and waiting for the rabbits to finish, she sat down between Caspar and Kyle, the two people she knew best.
Kyle asked her questions about Sway. Had it been that obvious that she wrote the twisted sorceress? The questions he asked her mainly love questions. She gathered that he had read some of her writing and he seemed a little shy around her. She laughed inwardly because Kyle made her nervous, too. He would have every right to slice her in half for putting him through so much torment. He was so close to one of his main antagonists and instead of asking her why she had tortured him, was instead asking her about the methods she had used.
The conversation was briefly interrupted as they watched as Fenris tried to become a team player at Angelus’s behest. "No fighting," The platinum half pint said, "Trust me, you'd do better to get on her good side. Really, you'd do better to get on everyone's good side, everyone distrusts you as much as you distrust them."
Lox wondered if Angelus was manipulating Fenris. She must know that what she was saying was not entirely true. Lox distrusted Fenris because of Angelus, yet Angelus was putting the burden of making friends and seeming cheery squarely on Fenris’s shoulders. Strange love, Lox thought.
Kyle stepped up to give Fenris and Abedah a hand by providing a salve.
“Not better than your ash juice,” Lox said in a quiet aside to Caspar giggling.
"Thank you both for your help," Abedah said. "And Lox,” she stopped giggling at once and stood up very straight, knocking over a stack of salad greens. “I'm really sorry for hurting you with my little invention. I've really never done anything like that before, and I should just leave this fighting business to the experts.”
“Oh this old thing?” Lox said gesturing to the twin punctures in her once-white-now-blood-brown undershirt. “A flesh wound,” she laughed it off. “Don’t worry about it, I know it wasn’t on purpose.” But how did she know? It was kind of strange how Abedah was only appearing before and after conflicts and was in relative safety at all times. It was kind of weird how when she disappeared all their problems manifested, then she returned with a perhaps self inflicted “war wound.” Lox wondered if she could study Angelus the way Angelus studied the rest of them and perhaps find the answers to these questions.
"Now about this scratch." Abedah continued nervously, "When I went to pick up my things, they were completely missing. I looked around for a bit, but couldn't find anything. So I got this funny idea that if I climbed on top of that dead dragon, maybe I could see something I missed.” There was a wavering pitch at the end of that sentence and Lox wished that she could look into Abedah’s eyes and see if it was entirely truthful. As it was, it did not really matter, but Abedah was sitting between Angelus and Fenris in a ‘do not trust’ sandwich. "As I was getting down, I slipped and sliced my palm on one of the scales. And I just remembered, that shattered staff the brute was using - he threw the piece of it he was holding after me into the cavern. I was using it to help me through the tunnels, and I must have left it by the dragon. Since nothing around here is quite what it seems, does anybody know if it has any use? If it does, I should try to grab it in the morning when it's light."
After her explanation Lox wondered if it had been her fault she had fallen for pulling off ruby-dragon bits in the first place. Perhaps she had been too cynical. She turned the rabbits over quietly, trying not to look too obviously guilty.
Abedah really needed a lot of care and Lox did not want to be dead weight. Her pride would not allow it and the saying was true "there was always someone worse off than you." Abedah was very intelligent but whoever had created her had not given her any obvious weapons other than her smarts.
The food was smelling good. Lox should have hoped that this meal would in some way solidify her standing in the group, but instead she had created simply because she wanted something to eat and knew from the experience of having two roommates that if she made enough food she could do so in peace. It wasn't purely selfish, though, she liked to do things for other people. But right now it was time to eat.
“I hate to break up the love fest but… dinner’s ready.” She shrugged, picked up a large rabbit quarter, wrapped it in a palm leaf so as not to burn her hand and went Bear Grylls on it.
“So let’s get some good dinner conversation going, am I right? Let’s start out with the hard hitting questions. Arem and Dougie,” she said between mouthfuls, “Are you single? Because Fenris is available.”
Fenris blushed, utterly shocked by Lox's comment. Angelus smiled slightly, and would have laughed, but the thoughts behind Fenris' questioner had her feeling uncomfortable herself. She wasn't used to being distrusted, and she was starting to discover that the feeling hurt her quite a bit. She found herself feeling genuinely melancholy, a feeling she hadn't felt in quite a long time. "I...I'm, I'm not," Fenris stammered, obviously trying to find some way to end this train of conversation as quickly as possible, "I'm not looking for someone like...like...that." The more she thought about Lox's statements, the more she blushed, and Angelus couldn't hold back a smile. It was always amusing to see Fenris caught off guard, and anything dealing with love had always had the immediate ability to disarm her. Fenris had grown up in a culture that valued strength and masculinity above all else, even in it's women. She had never been truly taught how to deal with such intimate feelings. "Really," Angelus said, feigning disinterest, "Because if I recall correctly, just a moment ago you were thinking about how much you wanted someone to share your adventures with, and who could help you deal with the pain of your past." Fenris' entire face was bright red by this point. "I didn't mean...I wasn't talking about...," She stammered, but Angelus just smiled slightly. "I know what you meant, calm down," She said, "I'm sure Lox was just trying to tease you." Of course, Angelus wasn't Lox's biggest fan at the moment either. After all, she was perhaps the most unpredictable of this highly hard to judge band of heroes, and Angelus was having a hard time figuring her out, a feeling that she didn't like. More than that, this girl still distrusted her, and that was making her defensive. "Still," The little angel said, her trademark joy absent from her tone, "Since you've gotten to ask Fenris an uncomfortable question, I think I'll return the favor." She looked Lox dead in the eye. "Why don't you trust us?" She asked. Fenris smirked, shaking her head. "What, two random strangers she just met today and knows next to nothing about?" The warrior asked, "Let's be fair, angel, we're hardly the most trustworthy pair. I kill Gods in my spare time, and you have enough powers to qualify as a God yourself." "Which would give YOU plenty of reason to distrust me," Angelus answered, "But lets be fair, if you wanted someone dead they'd know it by now." Fenris nodded, admitting that this much was true. "But we don't know about you," She said, "After all, we have no idea about your motives, and you've got this creepy habit of reading all of our minds." Angelus glared at the warrior. "Which I use as a shortcut to learn more about you, pardon, but I'm not USED to it being a problem," She was actually raising her voice, something she hadn't done in what felt like an eternity, "For one, I usually HAVE to read people's thoughts since I'm not even able to be SEEN in your world. On top of that, my whole CULTURE doesn't use verbal speech most of the time, since most guardians are so used to using telepathy that it makes saying anything out loud redundant." This was true, the majority of Angelus' conversations were really just held by interpreting the thoughts of her fellows and then altering her own thoughts accordingly, it wasn't true telepathic communication, but it was as close as she could imagine getting. The only person she ever truly spoke to was Esse, and it seemed less and less likely that she was ever going to get that opportunity again. What had happened the last time they'd spoken didn't help that fact. The little turned her attention back to Lox, growing more frustrated with each passing moment. "Look, if you don't trust me because of what you DON'T know, then I'll answer any question you care to ask," She said. All Angelus wanted was to figure out what was happening, and to hopefully help Fenris learn something along the way. If that meant revisiting some unfortunate territory in her own past, so be it.
Lox grinned good-naturedly at the joke, but seeing as Fenris was a wolf, she hadn’t expected her to turn into a wounded turtle and draw into her shell. Never the less, to see the warrior princess turn brighter than a Mexican piñata was worth a little teasing.
Dougie had stars in his eyes and was already trying to figure out the right words to say to seduce his sweet paramour.
"I...I'm, I'm not," Fenris stuttered, stunned, "I'm not looking for someone like...like...that."
Fenris was so helplessly twee in this moment that Lox couldn’t help but laugh. Like clockwork, Angelus felt inclined to talk for Fenris. This may have been the first time she was apt to do so because Fenris was quite speechless after Dougie’s smooth words.
"Because if I recall correctly,” Angelus said adding gasoline to the kerosene, “just a moment ago you were thinking about how much you wanted someone to share your adventures with, and who could help you deal with the pain of your past."
Fenris was red enough to match the campfire.
"I didn't mean... I wasn't talking about..." she managed as Angelus grinned.
Lox tried to hold back her laughter now because this was just mean. She was just having a little fun; Angelus had put all her business into the street.
"I know what you meant, calm down," Angelus said, "I'm sure Lox was just trying to tease you."
“Just jokes,” she said sneaking a piece of rabbit to Nubie who took it and quickly darted like a ninja onto the rock that was inhabited by Najm, curling up at her feet.
"Still," The little angel’s voice lost it’s jubilant ring, "Since you've gotten to ask Fenris an uncomfortable question, I think I'll return the favor."
Lox didn’t see why she should answer any questions Angelus was going to ask her. She hadn’t asked Angelus anything, after all.
She locked eyes with Lox. She supposed Angelus was trying to be threatening, but it solidified her position against her. Lox was no stranger to conflict and all the years she spent writing a warrior that did not take disrespect lightly were more than a little autobiographical. Her face hardened.
"Why don't you trust us?" Angelus asked.
“Why don’t you just read my mind?” Lox replied coldly.
Fenris smirked, breaking the ice. She shook her head. "What,” Fenris said finding her voice, “two random strangers she just met today and knows next to nothing about? Let's be fair, angel, we're hardly the most trustworthy pair. I kill Gods in my spare time, and you have enough powers to qualify as a God yourself."
Lox thought this was a pretty obvious answer.
"Which would give YOU plenty of reason to distrust me," Angelus answered, Fenris "But let’s be fair, if you wanted someone dead they'd know it by now."
“That’s not exactly comforting,” Lox started peeling an orange. Besides, why would Fenris distrust Angelus? This was getting interesting.
"But we don't know about you," Fenris said, turning on Angelus. "After all, we have no idea about your motives, and you've got this creepy habit of reading all of our minds."
Angelus became the angriest seventh grader Lox had ever seen.
"Which I use as a shortcut to learn more about you, pardon, but I'm not USED to it being a problem," she was shouting now. "For one, I usually HAVE to read people's thoughts since I'm not even able to be SEEN in your world.” So she was also invisible as well. This was not really helping her case if she were trying to be more trustworthy. “On top of that, my whole CULTURE doesn't use verbal speech most of the time, since most guardians are so used to using telepathy that it makes saying anything out loud redundant."
“If I may interrupt,” Lox said finishing off a particularly succulent orange quarter, “if you truly wanted to learn something about someone you could simply ask a question. You don’t have to read their minds. Some things are secret or simply thoughts for a reason and I don’t see why you have rights to anyone else’s mind if no one has access to yours.”
Angelus was on the edge now for reasons Lox could not really understand. What started as a joke was turning into an argument after very little provocation. Especially since she probably found out she wasn't trusted by reading her mind in the first place. "Look,” the winged girl shouted, “if you don't trust me because of what you DON'T know, then I'll answer any question you care to ask."
Lox could hardly see how asking a single question could negate a person who had access to her deepest secrets. Angelus could just say something she thought would convince Lox and then go on reading her mind. Lox also had little patience for passive-aggressiveness since Angelus had singlehandedly worked herself up into this tantrum. But it was hard to argue with something that looked like a child.
“I don’t trust you because of what I do know,” Lox said simply. “I know you can read my thoughts, you can create anything, you can be invisible. You could know I was taking a walk, you could create a hole, you could push me in. There is no way I could deceive you into thinking I trust you to spare myself that fate because you could see through that. That’s why I will not bother to put this delicately. You know how easy it would be to get rid of one of us. And not just me. I know that you could kill any one of us and now I know that your traveling partner is just as clueless as the rest of us about you.” She finished her orange and sat on a round stone cross-legged, throwing small pieces of peel into the fire. The air smelled sweet. “I don’t have to read minds because I pay attention, but the more I find out about you the less reason I have to blindly trust you. I don’t trust you the way an insect doesn’t trust a human with a flyswatter. I think I have good reason. You could kill me because you don’t really need me and I get this creepy Children of the Corn vibe off of you, that should be enough right there.” Lox was famous for saying what everyone was thinking in the most unintentionally vicious way, “I’m sure I’m not the only one as no one has gone into your circus tent yet. So I guess my question would be, seeing as being distrusted offends you and the invasion of our privacy offends us, will you stop reading our minds?”
It was times like this that Angelus found herself annoyed with her status as an inter-dimensional being that existed across all of space and time. She was human in so many ways, but the little differences like this were always problematic and hard to explain. Lox's utter lack of subtlety wasn't helping the matter. She didn't like being distrusted, and she disliked being outright attacked even less, and since such interactions had been limited in her existence, she'd never properly learned how to deal with them. "I dunno," She said, trying and failing to regain her composure, "Can you turn off your ears? Can you stop using your nerves to feel? It's not that easy to just STOP listening to your thoughts." She sighed, this was where the explanation was going to get frustrating, and she was already frustrated enough. "Look, it's like being surrounded by speakers and trying not to hear anything out of any one of them, at a different point in my life I could just stop listening to your thoughts, but it's not that easy," She said, "Like I said, guardians use our empathic abilities to communicate, and at a certain point we just plain can't STOP, we pretty much forget how to, so no, I can't STOP reading your thoughts, I can just try to read less of them, and even that is difficult." She rolled her eyes. "And no, I can't access your deepest darkest secrets unless their on your mind, it's not like reading a book, I can't just flip to a page at will, you have to already be thinking about something for me to figure it out," She said, trying and failing to find someway to make herself seem less threatening. That was a challenge, and she knew it, but she couldn't help who she was. She had about as good of a chance of changing her powers and her habitual use of them as she had of waking up the next day as Nikola Tesla, in short, next to none. "And I can't technically create anything, I'm limited to non-living things, and even then, the process is rather draining. You'll notice I built a tent, not a palace," She said, going through each of Lox's complaints and deciding to address them one by one. "I also COULDN'T make a hole appear while you were walking, that's addition by subtraction, and I don't have the ability to write things out of the game," She said, "Trust me, if I did things would be a lot easier for Fenris." The warrior glanced at her, giving an expression that made it clear to Angelus that she didn't want the little angel's help. She knew that this was more due to Fenris' stubborn refusal to accept help from anyone then anything, but she was starting to get the feeling that she didn't have any friends at all in her present company, and she was becoming less and less certain with every passing moment that she had any friends in the world at all. "It's also worth noting that since you're a 'player character' I'm not technically allowed to do anything to you, so if I did just randomly decide to kill you my sister would summon me back home and reduce me into random bits of data," She said, realizing that this explanation would have probably saved her a lot of grief from the beginning. As she said this, she remembered a point at the start of her time as a guardian when she had been forced to watch Esse brutally disassemble a fellow guardian for breaking that very rule. It was one of the few memories she had that truly disturbed her, and the fact that the process seemed to cause Esse just as much pain as her target made it even more uncomfortable. "Furthermore," She said, getting sick of lecturing Lox about why she should be trusted, "If you really care about my mind reading so much, you can screen it. You picked an annoying but effective method earlier by spamming me with random information, but if any of you had asked, Caspar has a method that simply blocks out the signal. Either that, or he's just NOT thinking, and given how capable he's proven to be, I highly doubt that." She wondered what Caspar would make of the information that his method was actually working. It didn't matter to her, but she assumed that he would take some degree of pride from his success, and would be relieved to know his thoughts were his own. "And while Fenris isn't particularly knowledgeable about me, that's because I can't take on a visible form in her world," She said, "You interpreted that as me being able to turn invisible, but it's quite the opposite. I'm the invisible man, I've ceased being seen, and now I can't find a way back no matter how hard I try. It's part of why my empathy is so useful, I can't actually ask any questions in Fenris' world, so if I want answers I have to read minds." She was growing increasingly tired of defending herself for being who she was, and she was glad that her little speech was almost done. "Finally, I can't help that you come from a culture that has ironically cast children with unique abilities as villains, but my design was based on a putto because it's naturally calming for most people," She explained, "Shockingly, most NORMAL people don't see an angel in the form of a child and think of the angel of death." Of course, she thought, if most people saw what Death looked like in this world, they'd realize that they weren't too far off the mark. The Is had a funny sense of humor that way. Angelus knew she should bite her tongue here. She knew that she should do everything possible to avoid offending Lox, but she couldn't help it. She had always been unable to avoid conflict when it came, a trait that she had been lectured on many times in her early days, and she was not going to allow herself to be insulted. "Really though, I don't think your one to tell anyone about being untrustworthy," She said, "After all, you write a homicidal maniac for a pastime, and have been directly responsible for some of the worst moments in the lives of some of the people around us. Complain about my godlike powers all you want, you actually got to PLAY god with some of these people's lives, and your choices under those circumstances hardly make you seem like a saint." She sighed, falling back on her heels and rocking in an effort to calm herself. Fenris turned to her, smirking. She had no idea the little angel would go on a tangent like that. It was really funny to see her get flustered so easily. "You done?" The warrior asked, grinning. "Yeah, I think I am," Angelus said sheepishly, ashamed of her outburst. She was a guardian, she was supposed to be the symbol of righteousness. Instead she'd gotten in a shouting match with one of the people she was supposed to be guarding. If Esse could see her now, she wondered what she'd think. Then, painfully, she remembered that Esse COULD see her now, and her shame worsened. 'Sorry,' She thought, 'Looks like I let you down again, Sis.' She wondered if Esse had heard that thought. Even if she had, Angelus had the feeling she didn't want to talk right now.
Arguements were nothing new, especially around people like this. People with abilities, many of them rogues, most of them fiercely independent - These were people who didn't trust easily, and when they did learn to trust, they trusted absolutely. Often, in a group of strangers, you often found yourself gravitating towards those that you found the most familiar.
Was it any wonder that Kyle stayed seated next to Caspar for this new exchange?
As Kyle chewed on the pieces of rabbit that Lox had provided, he took in the show. On one side was Lox, a smart, witty, but stubborn woman who was none too pleased that there was an indestructible force just running rampant around them. On the other, there was Angelus, the child-like angel lady who had the unpleasant habit of naturally reading people's minds. It was like some strange battle royale.
Taking another bite, Kyle realized how circular some things in his life were. Sure, the characters would change, but the stories would often be the same. One person distrusts another, they argue on about it in tirades, and sometimes those conflicts became full-out fights and battles to the death. Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, and if this was the beginning of this little relationship, then Kyle was not looking forward to when it began to degrade further.
Sighing, Kyle rubbed his temples, more out of anticipation of a coming headache than the current presence of one. Cliché or not, can't we all just get along?
The subject went back and forth, Lox would say something, and then Angelus would reply, and then Lox would rebut, and then Angelus would respond, and on and on. It was like watching a rather boring version of a presidential debate.
So, Kyle decided he'd do what was necessary. He leaped to his feet, which seemed to catch the attention of the others. And then, without saying a word, he sat himself back down.
The point, of course, was to screw up the argument. He wasn't really all that interested in who won the conflict, but more that the conflict was over. So, he started tossing his dagger to himself, and then spoke quietly.
What could best be described as an anthropomorphic shimmer was floating in the air at the tunnel's exit on the side of the hill. A flickering hole in its surroundings, practically undetectable up to distance of five to ten feet, except for the fact that the shimmer in question was smoking.
"Ahhhhhhh, sexy smooth," Pierre crooned in a sing-song voice, lustily enjoying the lingering smoke on his tongue.
--Pierre, do you really think you should be doing that right now?--
Pierre ignored the child-like voice buzzing in his head and blew a smoke ring around a fluttering, sapphire-hued iridescent moth.
"Got ya," he whispered victoriously.
--Pierre, He's gonna get mad if you fail your mission.--
He sighed, and then took a long drag on the cigarette, burning the remaining two inches in a single puff. He looked longingly at the butt before flicking it in a graceful arc into the pond, where it extinguished with a quiet hiss.
"Fine Perrine, I'm getting serious, let's get to work," he said quietly as he walked out of the tunnel and began slowly making his way around the circumference of the pond, heading toward the dock. The sound-dampening boots he was wearing made his footsteps as quiet as a grave, as he picked his way across the rough terrain. He had been waiting in that tunnel for hours, and was eager to stretch his sore legs and get some fresh air.
"Oh...," he cried out loud, coming to halt.
--What is it Pierre? Are you okay?--
"The smell, Perrine," he said through clenched teeth, knowing that she was not aware, "it's quite horrible."
--Oh really? What does it smell like?--
Pierre continued his advance along the shore, breathing shallowly out of his mouth. "Like an eighty-year-old man, who has never bathed, attending a fish-market, and all the fish are rancid."
--Really? Wow, that's awesome!--
Pierre laughed quietly at Perrine's response. This was a game they often played, where he would try to describe what something smelled like to her, since she didn't have a sense of smell...or a nose.
"Perrine, my little angel, what do you see?" he whispered, as the hulking outline of the slain beast came into view on the horizon through the trees.
--Eight humanoids, and two questionables sitting around a fire, four-hundred and thirty six yards east of your position, and two more humanoids at the dock, eight hundred and five yards northeast of you.--
Pierre nodded slightly at this, continuing to stealthily advance along the shoreline. "Our target?"
--Forty one yards northwest of your current position, she looks unconscious.--
"Good," he said, halting once more and huddling close to a large tree as a loud commotion bellowed through the trees from the group at the fire's direction, "sounds like a fight, perfect timing."
Pierre took the opportunity to slink through the shadows the rest of the way until his target's silvery scales came gleaming into view. Diantha was lying flat on her back, her arms sprawled around her at awkward angles.
"Somebody did a number on you, D," Pierre said softly as he crouched near her fallen form. "Why couldn't you just keep your mouth shut, D. You know we all have the squeal chips implanted in our brains, you're such a fool," he said, his voice taking on a tone of remorse for a second. "He personally sent me all the freaking way out here to deal with you, so...I'm sorry D, but I have to do this."
Pierre stood up, a silent shimmer in the chilly night air, and made a gun with his right index finger and thumb, pointing it at Diantha's soft, scaleless neck. A soft clicking noise resulted in a puff of compressed air which shot out from the tip of Pierre's finger, firing a microscopic dart containing a potent tranquilizer invisibly through the air and into the side of Diantha's neck.
She was just lying there, seemingly unaffected for several moments, before a dopey smile crawled across her face, at which moment she seemed to relax even more than when she was unconscious.
Pierre stood there, in the quiet stillness, the pond's miniscule waves faintly lapping at the shore, and looked down at Diantha's angelic expression, musing about something or other until Perrine interrupted him--
--What are you doing, Pierre? Is she prepped and ready to go?--
Pierre didn't say anything for a second, still looking down at Diantha. "Yes," he finally said.
Pierre kept his eyes fixed on Diantha's serene expression as her body took on a curious, glow, before what appeared to be luminous flecks of gold fizzed around her body like champagne bubbles, consuming her in a frenzy of tiny golden sparks, before she and the sparks dissipated, and then there was nothing where she had been.
"See ya," Pierre whispered, turning his gaze up to the dark shape of the dock across the water, "Now for the second part of my mission."
He was about to start heading along the pond's edge towards the dock, as he had been previously, but instead he walked over the pond's edge and waded into the shallows.
"Never can be too careful these days," he said as he withdrew something metallic, which seemed to hover above the pond since the rest of him was cloaked, before he tossed it in with a mild "kerplunk". Satisfied with his work, he waded back out of the pond and returned to walking to his original destination of the dock.
"Perrine?" he whispered.
"What do you think he's gonna do with her?"
--The same thing he does with the rest of the ones you bring him.--
Lox accepted the paste from Caspar's hand with an "I guess I'm just gonna trust you on this one" look on her corn-row crowned face, uttering a solemn "thanks" as she grabbed a handful, much to Anubis' culinary delight.
"He can eat that, right?" Caspar said questioningly, then thinking on the subject, "what am I worried about though, he just ate someone's arm, I'm sure he's fine, aren't you boy?" he said said as he patted the hulking jackal's head, completely oblivious to the glaring size difference between his skeletal physique and Anubis' imposing mass.
Anubis smiled with a mouth full of ash-paste and foamy drool.
“You know what’s weird about you and Najm?” Lox said to Caspar, “You both have “A” last names and most people don’t. “A” is the most common first letter of first names in Illusionia, though. Alva, Andolus, Aker, Areal, Angelus, Andromeda, Abedah, Ace, Anubis, the list goes on forever. What’s even weirder is that Asani is also Yemoja’s last name. Maybe you guys are related.”
Caspar's thoughts turned to the dark and lovely assassin from Elderin, Najm. They were friends, but sometimes Caspar felt like she was going to stab him in the face with a knife if the joke he told over the fire wasn't funny enough.
Caspar also thought of how Lox had referred to Najm, which cut her off potential list of True Ones who was written by Lox. That left only Kelley and Sway, and since Lox hadn't tried to come on to him or kill him and then necromance his corpse, he was fairly sure that she was Sway's writer. Caspar thought about this for a second, knowing Sway, and wondered what kind of story she would write when given the chance to be on the other side of the action. A shiver ran down his spine. Lox was probably in for a wild ride.
Caspar realized he had been staring awkwardly into the fire for a while before he responded to Sway's proposition. "You're right, Yemoja and I do have the same last name. I'd rather be related to the guy who invented cancer."
Silence followed. He had crossed the line yet again. He was about to apologize for his crude joke when an explosion near the pond echoed out from the stillness, splashing a surprising amount of water out in all directions from the sudden violent impact.
Caspar stood up, and was shocked when he saw a feminine form swimming towards the shore from the impact spot in the pond, a vaguely familiar feminine form, who, as she drew closer to land, Caspar eventually realized was none other than Najm Alam.
"Why, hello guys," she said as she briskly stepped past Kyle, who was busily sharpening his sword in his traditional gesture of "welcome and friendship".
"Well hello, Mrs. Alam," Lox said.
"Weird," Caspar added, then, "--but hello, Najm."
He, Lox, and Kyle, then proceeded to watch Fenris threaten Najm in her own strange version of "welcome", to which the assassin responded instantly in kind, though with arguably more restraint and sophistication.
Lox said something about berries before disappearing into the woods, with Anubis galloping and crushing small trees and animals close behind her.
Caspar had to admit that he wasn't really all that surprised when soon after Lox's departure, two more fellows appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, and also found their way into the campsite. They immediately attached themselves to the closest women in their vicinity, with the older one veering away from the alpha male, and making a beeline for the unaware Fenris. The younger one chose Najm, striding confidently right up to her and engaging her in conversation.
"Why do I feel like I'm at some sort of weirdo party?" Caspar said out loud, "and furthermore, who are those dudes?"
The group seemed to ignore him, entrenching themselves further into varying conversations for a while until Lox came staggering out of the forest with a shrunken Anubis, with a strange platter of skinned coneys and yams.
"Finally, someone who's thinking on my level," Caspar called to her, gratefully as she placed what Caspar realized was one of the dragon's sizeable scales over the fire, with the food cooking on top.
Lox passed around oranges and berries to all the newcomers before finally sighing with relief as she plopped herself down between Caspar and Kyle. Kyle took the opportunity to ask Lox a few things that had been on his mind, including the fact that she was indeed Sway's writer, and all sorts of questions related to that. Caspar was slightly disappointed at not getting the chance to announce his observation that he had figured out whose character Lox wrote.
Upon Kyle's blunt question, Caspar then proceeded to try and answer the many questions about his current state. Although he didn't in fact have a good answer actually, but rather just a flimsy excuse that he didn't truly believe. Everyone seemed surprised that he had frozen himself, but he wasn't surprised that they didn't readily understand his actions.
He was glad when Fenris and Abedah came striding into the group, to divert attention from his awkward attempts to explain everything. When Kyle jumped up to their aide, quick-drawing a batch of salve and hijacking the bandaging job from Fenris, Caspar smiled a little, temporarily forgetting about his own worries.
"No better than your ash-juice," Lox giggled reassuringly to Caspar.
"One-upper," Caspar chuckled at Kyle.
When Abedah came over and thanked him and Lox for helping her, and then proceeded to amusingly apologize to Lox for having shot her with her vine-gun, Caspar could stop himself from bubbling over with drunken laughter as Lox tried to play it off casually, like Abedah had just winged her with a snowball.
Gratefully, Lox interrupted everyone's conversations with the announcement that dinner was ready. Caspar's stomach growled apprehensively at the prospective meal. "Patience, old friend," he thought absent-mindedly to his stomach.
When Lox leaned forward and snatched a charred rabbit from the fire, Caspar accepted her movement as the cue to proceed and then launched himself enthusiastically at the food, as if he were Fenris engaging a deadly monster.
Lox started the dinner conversation with a humorous reference to the pair of gentlemen who seemed to resemble Najm in some ways, which led to a shy, and then angry response from Fenris, which brought Angelus into the fray, and then Fenris, Angelus, and Lox were caught in a ticked-off-triangle of doom that began spiraling out of control as it escalated in intensity.
When Lox brought up the subject of Angelus reading their minds, Caspar had to nod in response at the distrust it bred, as well as the invasion of privacy he felt. Fenris even got in on the argument, protesting Angelus' abuse of her telepathic powers. Angelus' response that it had become a reflex to her out of familiarity with using it to communicate to her own people was understandable, but it still didn't change the fact that Caspar didn't want anyone to have access to what was going on in his mind.
The arguing continued, as Angelus began addressing all the points that Lox had raised, about who she was, the extents of her abilities, and her limits regarding harming what she called "player characters", which Caspar immediately assumed was synonymous with "True Ones", though he was still not sure who out of the group could fall under that title, other than Najm, Lox, and Kyle.
Caspar found his attention piqued as Angelus proceeded to say, "If you really care about my mind reading so much, you can screen it. You picked an annoying but effective method earlier by spamming me with random information, but if any of you had asked, Caspar has a method that simply blocks out the signal. Either that, or he's just NOT thinking, and given how capable he's proven to be, I highly doubt that."
[i]So she had noticed the shielding, at least it worked.
"There's stuff in there not suitable for children," Caspar said, through a mouth full of steaming hot rabbit, "Great job on the food, by the way, Lox," he said, nearly choking on a large bone that had wedged itself across his esophagus.
Angelus, unphased, continued her tirade, with everyone else getting an irritated couple of words in now and then until Caspar felt a sudden movement at his side as Kyle shot up to his feet as if he had sat down on a rattlesnake.
Caspar, frightened and shocked by Kyle's spontaneous action coughed up a mouthful of half-chewed food in surprise, trying to catch the falling food debris from his mouth with flailing hands, managing to snag several chunks and throw them forcefully back into his gaping maw.
"Da**it, Kyle! Don't do that, you made me waste good food!" Caspar growled angrily as he wolfed down a whole rabbit.
Kyle responded by calmly sitting back down again beside Caspar, and then lazily asking no one in particular, "It's a nice night out, isn't it?"
Caspar looked from the grinning warrior, still stained with blood, to the bickering group, to the strange new people who were gathered around the sudden late arrival of Najm, to Abedah whom he swore he had seen with a gigantic, blue fuzzy spider at some point in the night, to the stinking pile of bodies decomposing alongside the pond.
"I don't know if I can give you that one, bud," Caspar responded dryly, "but on the plus side, we're not dead!"
There were a few concerns for her here. She did not understand why a child was shouting at her since she had yet to raise her voice. And she did not understand why Angelus was letting herself get so upset over something so basic as courtesy. Finally, this was the longest answer to a yes or no question that Lox had ever witnessed. And she had taught college English.
Angelus started her rhetorical strategy by using hypothetical questions to compare her mind reading ability to basic senses. However, the comparison was problematic. Angelus claimed it would not be easy to stop reading someone’s mind, not necessarily that it was impossible. Going along with her analogy of senses, it would be difficult for Lox not to hear. But it was possible for her not to listen to what she heard. It was also possible for her to put wax in her ears or use some other means to disrupt her own senses. The only reason Lox would not do these things is because it would make her uncomfortable or vulnerable to lose that fifth sense, yet in a hypothetical environment where she was the only person who had the sense of hearing, she would be in no more danger than the deaf around her. So it did not make sense for Angelus to say that her sense of mind reading was impossible to manage or control, it was just difficult to do so, and from what Lox was gathering she was not willing to exert herself, even if it alienated her from the group.
"Like I said, guardians use our empathic abilities to communicate, and at a certain point we just plain can't STOP, we pretty much forget how to, so no, I can't STOP reading your thoughts, I can just try to read less of them, and even that is difficult."
So is quitting crack, Lox thought, trying to keep a straight face but that doesn’t make it right.
Angelus claimed that her secrets were safe, but only if she never thought about them and that she could create non-living objects with difficulty. But she couldn’t make a hole.
Score one for Lox, then. She could definitely dig a hole.
She couldn’t write things out of the Mind Game, though, which was obvious because Lox was still here. But Lox figured the main function of this was to help Fenris who, at the suggestion that she needed help, looked repulsed. That gave Lox an idea, but she lost it.
"It's also worth noting,” Angelus continued in wound up yo-yo mode, “that since you're a 'player character' I'm not technically allowed to do anything to you, so if I did just randomly decide to kill you my sister would summon me back home and reduce me into random bits of data.”
Lox didn’t think her randomly deciding to kill her would be a random decision at all, but she did find the idea of someone being dismantled like a bunch of Legos amusing.
Angelus was drawing toward her final points now. Apparently the ‘Sookie Stackhouse’ technique had worked and she could protect her thoughts by always thinking of silly things. But as a person who spent a lot of time thinking, Lox surmised that this would be an inconvenience to them both. “Annoying” was Angelus’s choice of words, but perhaps not as irritating as having all your thoughts on display.
"I'm the invisible man, I've ceased being seen, and now I can't find a way back no matter how hard I try. It's part of why my empathy is so useful, I can't actually ask any questions in Fenris' world, so if I want answers I have to read minds."
If she was so empathetic then why was it so hard for her to understand what Lox was getting at?
"Finally, I can't help that you come from a culture that has ironically cast children with unique abilities as villains, but my design was based on a putto because it's naturally calming for most people."
Yes, calming. A high-strung, prescient, inter-dimensional adult in a child’s body who could read minds, create objects, and was in a bellicose mood. She was chamomile tea after a bath.
"Shockingly, most NORMAL people don't see an angel in the form of a child and think of the angel of death. Really though, I don't think you’re one to tell anyone about being untrustworthy," Angelus said hotly zeroing in on Lox, "After all, you write a homicidal maniac for a pastime, and have been directly responsible for some of the worst moments in the lives of some of the people around us.”
And some of the best, Lox thought. But that was really for Caspar and Kyle to decide alone. Lox had no way of knowing that what she was writing was real, but she was willing to take full responsibility for her actions. If they wanted to tie her up and throw her in a lake, they had every right. But Sway had been their constant companion through good days and bad, and though she had caused them both grief, she had saved their lives more than once and vice versa. And she loved them, both of them, and Lox was pretty sure that somehow they knew that.
“Complain about my godlike powers all you want, you actually got to PLAY god with some of these people's lives, and your choices under those circumstances hardly make you seem like a saint."
She sighed, and rocked back on her heels.
Lox wasn’t going for saint. She had been quiet through the entire speech, intermitted winding and unwinding a curl from one of the dreadlocks.
"You done?" Fenris asked.
Kyle jumped in the air causing Caspar to lose his precious rabbit-bits. There was a scramble to restore his supper to order.
"Yeah, I think I am," Angelus said sheepishly.
A longer silence passed.
From that rant Lox got two main points: Angelus could not harm her and her mind reading ability was automatic. Also Kyle had a nice vertical leap.
But back to the main point, why hadn’t she just said that?
“Right,” Lox said drily, clapping her hands together suddenly. “So… that’s a no… then.”
She plopped down on a log, suppressing a laugh.
Everyone who was expected a big showdown looked a little disappointed that she was going to end it on that, but Lox couldn’t see any reason to keep talking about it. It was clear that Angelus wasn’t going to do what she was asked, so why worry about it? Instead, Lox imagined she’d spend most of her day sending a torrent of images that included, but was not limited to, slippery piles of rotting human flesh being eaten by boars, a murderer killing people after using a bent nail to pluck out individual teeth for treasures, and writhing ghost-faced demons dismembering helpless children on a beach turning the water a thick, salty crimson, into Angelus’s mind.
Angelus had made some accusation that she was in some way less than “normal” for writing a homicidal character. She could show her a few things that were too adult for a message board.
With a few people still looking at her she said, “Alright. So you won’t stop. Be warned, I think of some pretty disgusting and perverted things on a day to day basis and unless you have some antacid, you probably don’t want to know what’s going on up there. And it’s true. I do write a homicidal maniac, or at least I did, but now she is writing me, so you can make of that what you will.” She did not think that was exactly relevant because everyone had figured out that she wrote Sway and knew better than Angelus what kind of person she was. Like a flash, there was that thought that was escaping her again and just as quickly it was gone.
“But essentially, you have the greatest disadvantage here because you can’t harm us on pain of death. You may be her guardian but Fenris is your protector. She is the only thing between you and an a**-whopping and if I were you I would be nicer to her, respect her privacy, and stop lecturing her all d*mn day. Especially since you don’t know her or the rest of us very well.”
And then the idea came to her very clearly. She had wanted to walk away from this, but she felt driven to say what she was thinking which was almost always a bad idea. Especially since she was arguing with a person who could read her mind, which would save her from seeming like an instigator to onlookers. But suddenly she felt it at her back, a ventriloquist’s nimble fingers moving. There was an invisible hand driving her to continue this argument. A hand she knew very well.
Sway was making her do this on purpose. She had to say these things, had to be the aggressor, had to seem like the bad guy. Why? To stir the pot, to create conflict, to draw lines. She knew no one would blame the cherub no matter how out of line she got, the blame would be on Lox. Why was Sway pushing her in this direction? Why would she be bearing down on her so hard to be belligerent? Even if Lox’s responses seemed reasonable, they were overly blunt. She would usually just roll her eyes at such foolishness.
Sway wants to wreck my relationship with Angelus and to some extent Fenris because has figured out that I am trying to escape.
Sway’s plan is for me to carry out her mission which is—Operation Waffles—she thought two seconds before she thought the true mission: deliver a message. But I have a different mission—Operation Relocation—(which was a better name because she had a little longer to think about it) which is to return home. And if I get what I want, she will not get what she wants.
And Sway always gets what she wants.
Why did I make her smarter than me? Lox groaned, massaging her temples.
She couldn’t explain this to Angelus now without giving up too much information, but she needed Angelus’s teleportation to go back to earth. And without her cooperation her return to a normal life would be impossible. She felt it slipping through her hands.
Don’t give up, yet, she thought as the warrior and angel rebutted, There is always coercion and blackmail. Another Swayish idea.
“You’re completely right, Fengulus," she said after they finished. "I have to go."
If Angelus had come to one decision over the course of the day, it had been this:She did not like Lox very much at all, and she wouldn't feel particularly broken up about it if her charge decided to introduce her fellow PC to the wrong end of a Vorpal blade. She wasn't supposed to be in support of any such plan, she knew, and the damage it would do to the psyche of the one controlling Fenris would be detrimental to the IF's plans, but Angelus didn't particularly care. 'Oh my foolish, sensitive sister, you've never been good at keeping your emotions from clouding your judgement,' Called a voice in the little Angel's mind. At first, she thought she had imagined it, but as quickly as this thought came to her to deny that idea. 'You should know the difference between my thoughts and yours by now, Angelus,' The thought came. Esse. These thoughts belonged to Esse. Angelus felt a mix of emotions fill her, joy, shame, anger, each mingled in a strange combination that she couldn't quite sort out. 'I didn't think you'd want to talk to me anytime soon,' Angelus thought, 'I've been a terrible sister of late, and an even worse guardian.' There was the feeling of laughter in her mind, and of forgiveness. In moments like this, she loved how kind her sister was, even though she felt that she hadn't earned such kindness. 'You have been neither,' The other voice said, 'You've simply been ineloquent. You always have been.' Angelus decided that this thought was true. Her intentions had usually been good, but her voicing of these intentions had always been misguided. Of course, the thing she had said to Esse before hadn't been born of good intent. They had been born of her own selfishness and jealousy. 'This is true,' Her sister's voice spoke into her mind, 'But you are still very young, and such simple faults are to be expected. No one in this realm is perfect.' Angelus had been on the verge of thinking that Esse herself was pretty close, but the other voice rebutted this thought. 'I am just as flawed as you are, dearest sister,' It thought, 'I am just better at keeping my flaws to myself.' Angelus sometimes wished she could speak like her sister. Even the simplest of statements sounded wise when they came from Esse. Most of the things she said were simply crass. 'So,' She thought back to Esse, 'What am I supposed to do now?' The other mind seemed troubled, and Angelus silently knew that Esse was trying to politely sidestep the fact that Angelus had dug quite a hole for herself. 'The problem, I think, could be best resolved by downplaying your empathic abilities,' Esse thought. Angelus rolled her eyes. She'd hoped that Esse would understand better than Lox that it was next to impossible to stop using her abilities. She had used the comparison of sensory deprivation for a reason, no matter what Lox thought one does not deprive their self of their senses by choice, and the feeling of being deprived of any is quite terrifying. Moreover, it was hard not to listen what people said when they literally spoke their thoughts straight into her mind. 'I'm not telling you to stop using your abilities,' Esse said, clarifying, 'I'm telling you not to voice responses to the thoughts you receive.' That would be somewhat easier, Angelus decided, although it would take some practice. The only problem now is that no one here trusted her. She could sense that somewhere, far away, Esse was smiling. 'I don't think that your reputation with the others is as bad as you think,' She thought, 'While she might not show it, Fenris is beginning to trust you, and most of the others are indifferent.' That only left Lox, who was, of course, not about to be Angelus' best friend anytime soon. 'Gaining her trust will take a little more tact,' Esse thought. Angelus fought the urge to groan audibly at this. Tact was something she seemed to be in short supply of. She also didn't feel like being nice to Lox at the moment. In fact, the first thing she wanted to tell her was that the rule against non-interference wasn't absolute. If Lox tried to to anything to harm Angelus, or impede her on her mission, then Angelus was fully permitted to inflict any non-fatal injury she wanted on the girl, and if she wanted to mentally assault Angelus as she had threatened, Angelus was also permitted to return fire. She hadn't tried it yet, but she had a feeling she'd be able to plant messages in the minds of player characters is she wanted to. She immediately felt Esse's annoyance in her mind, and fell back into her shame. 'If you let this grudge grow you're going to do more harm to yourself and your mission, and I think you can hardly afford that at this point,' The older mind thought. 'Well what exactly am I supposed to do?' Angelus thought back in frustration. She was only somewhat annoyed to find that Esse had slipped back into her normal, peaceful mindset. 'I can't give you that answer,' Esse thought, 'There are some solutions you must find for yourself.' Angelus rolled her eyes. Of course, Esse the wonderful magic 8-ball had reverted back to the standard 'Answer unclear-try again later' response. There was a giggle in Angelus' mind, and the little angel was surprised to find that she liked the feeling. 'I'm sorry, I guess I'm not nearly as wise as you thought,' Esse thought. Angelus smiled. She was surprised to find that it was easy to slip back into this pattern with her sister. For all of the bad blood between them, they were still family, and they still cared for each other. Under normal circumstances, Angelus would have been frustrated with her sister's preaching. Right now, she was just happy to know that at least one person in the world cared about her. As Esse's thoughts slipped away, she found that her sister might not be the only one looking out for her. Fenris still stood before her, but she was staring at the Angel intently, holding one of the rabbits Lox had prepared in her outstretched hand. "Hey, guardian angel thing, you there?" She said, seemingly unnerved by the trance Angelus had just been in. "Huh, um, yeah," Angelus said, caught somewhat off guard. She blushed slightly, embarrassed at having drifted off during her conversation with Esse. "Well, I know you might not like Lox, but the food she made is pretty good," The warrior said, seeming to make a concentrated effort to show that she really didn't care. The she blinked twice, suddenly realizing something. "Do you even eat?" She said, realizing that offering someone food they didn't need was pointless. Angelus blushed again, feeling bad for having to admit the truth. "I don't have to," She admitted, "But since you're offering..." She took the rabbit, and took a small bite. She had to admit that Fenris was right, the food was actually quite good. She also realized that from what she could tell from the thoughts she was receiving, Fenris seemed perfectly indifferent to her. "So, um, you don't seem to mind my whole mind reading thing," She said, afraid to learn whether Fenris actually cared. The warrior shrugged. "You're my guardian angel, right?" The warrior asked. Angelus nodded. "So you've been with me my whole life, and you've heard everything I've ever thought?" She asked. Angelus nodded again. "Then what do I have to hide from you?" The warrior asked. Angelus smiled. She was glad to know that, if nothing else, Fenris trusted her, even if the reasoning didn't paint Angelus in a better light at all. Not seeming to notice Angelus' relief, the warrior turned back to the others, deciding to join in the conversation. "Not being dead is a plus," She said, "It'd be nicer though if we had some sort of direction to follow. Right now we're all just wandering aimlessly, am I wrong?" She was also tempted to point out that she was hardly even certain that this was night. There was no sun in this place, only the strange purple halo in the sky, so things like night and day seemed incredibly subjective. ((OOC:Might need to edit that last bit, but I don't remember anyone ever mentioning a sun.))
Arem then cupped his hand alongside his mouth and leaned in toward Najm. “Well, it’s sort of a long story, but since you too are from Illusionia, it would not be too weird.”
And weird it wouldn’t be. Najm was all too familiar with the plight of the people that lived along the outskirts of Elderin, and although she wanted to be as forthcoming as Arem, circumstances just wouldn’t permit. After all, she did annihilate the one true person that empathized with their cause.
She felt a pain of regret surge through her body as she remembered the countless families Ace had once shown her, all clustered together in huts made of mud and stone, living off meager means in order to sustain a poverty-stricken life.
No, she wouldn’t tell him that she shattered the hopes of his people. It was better that way, but then that left her at a loss of words. Even still, she was going to follow this man. Perhaps he was not being as straightforward as she thought and still had some more information that could be of some use. Yes, following him was a must, at least up until something else presented itself as another leg in her journey.
He dipped into a ceremonious bow with his arms outstretched toward the now glowing campfire, as if to say ‘ladies first’.
“Perhaps we should join the others. They probably know more about this place than we do,” he suggested with a raised eyebrow.
The others, Najm thought with a groan. She looked over to them all peacefully surrounding the glowing embers, tugging at what seemed to be rabbit’s meat. Those damn rabbits were everywhere! She knew her betrayal would not exactly be the talk of the town, but it was still quite unsettling and awkward to sit amidst a group after you tried to kill them. In addition to that, she had just discovered that Arem was one of Ace’s. In other words, it was a recipe for impending disaster.
What’s a girl to do, she thought, as she let a nervous smile escape onto her countenance. What most guys do, play dumb until backed in a corner, her mind answered. And with that, Arem and her walked over to the campfire together.
It was rather unfortunate to see that Arem’s travelling companion had made himself quite at home by snuggling up to what he had mistaken for a blow up doll, Fenris, her being all too disgusted by his lewd passes. Lox cruelly thought better of the old man’s mid-life crisis display, and twisted it into a rather funny joke of her own.
“So let’s get some good dinner conversation going, am I right? Let’s start out with the hard hitting questions. Arem and Dougie,” she said between mouthfuls, “Are you single? Because Fenris is available.”
Fenris flushed a deeper red than the fire’s embers. Poor girl.
Sadly, this little event brought on a torrent of emotion which morphed into a verbal boxing match between Angelus and Lox. Good, at least it wasn’t Najm this time.
Since his owner was preoccupied crucifying the tooth fairy with her words, Toto, or whatever his name was, decided it was best he get his attention elsewhere, and trotted by Najm’s feet. Affectionately, he rubbed his soft fur against the bare skin of her calves, and Najm, quite pleased by the friendly gesture, ruffled the fur on his head tenderly.
As much as she did not want to admit it, children were a little like pets, save that fact that if an infant dies, you can’t conveniently flush it down the toilet or bury it in your backyard. Not unless you wanted to end up on the 7’ o clock news.
Suddenly, Kyle darted to his feet, catching everyone’s attention, even Caspar, who seemed to spit out a portion of his meal onto the grass just before him. They all in unison looked at Kyle expectantly, but he just sat back down….
Najm shrugged, not thinking too much of it. He probably was assaulted by a sudden butt itch or something. Who knows?
Da**it, Kyle! Don't do that, you made me waste good food!" Caspar managed to shout in between mouthfuls.
Kyle smiled apologetically and tried Najm’s strategy on for size. “It’s a nice night out, isn’t it?”
Weather was always a neutral topic, and everyone seemed to settle down at the question posed, save Angelus and Lox, who proceeded to bicker in hushed overtones, which, of course, concluded itself by Lox completely leaving the campsite, followed by her dog Toto who, now being in Najm’s lap, sprang to his feet and nonchalantly leapt off to follow his owner.
Caspar, on the other hand, responded in kind to Kyle’s inquiry quite playfully, which was much like his character. "I don't know if I can give you that one, bud, but on the plus side, we're not dead!"
He was always like that, making a near death experience seem like your usual stroll in the park. Perhaps it was his gift to be the comedic relief every now and again, but from what she could recall, when it was time to get serious, he seemed to mean business. Well, of course, in his usual ‘Caspar’ way. Maybe it was time for Najm to surgically remove the stick form her ass and converse, even it was with people who probably didn’t exactly consider her ‘friend’ material.
She clasped her hands behind her head and kicked back on the boulder that some other writer seemed to conveniently place behind her for such purposes.
“Yeah, that’s always a plus,” she agreed.
In the meantime, she began piecing the puzzle of her own journey together. The latest information seemed to drop a boat load of paperwork on her. Lox, for one, who was the writer of Sway, was now being written by Sway, so Najm was not the only one with a writer and the road of the realms that her writer was talking about was already being traveled, but by what means? Arem was from the outskirts of Elderin, so what exactly was he doing here and did he have a writer as well?
It seemed as if the more information she got, the more questions she ended up with.
“I got a question,” she said, looking out at the lake. “Where the hell are we?”
It was the simple question her and Arem could not seem to answer for themselves.