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ORPG Original and detailed RPs for the experienced and ambitious RPer.

 
 
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Old 01/15/2011   #16
Baldy
Default

Reg's Christmas OVA - Getting Even

The landscape had gone cold in the Artolian part of the world. There was a thick blanket of snow as far as they eye could see, and on colder nights the wind cut to the bone. But nobody minded, because to combat the rising chill, the warm, crackling feeling of Yule was in the air. All over the country—all over the world—people were putting up decorations, and organizing parties, and baking traditional goods to give to friends and families when the three-day long celebration arrived. Although different people celebrated it different ways, the winter solstice was a universal concept, and so everybody was in on it somehow. Everybody was in a festive mood.

And in the second Violan facility, that meant the doctors were in the mood for a bit of a friendly spar. Not nearly as “to the death” as usual – after all, this was the season of giving. And even if the Destrillians were nothing but tools of war, their overseers felt obliged to break their subjects’ boring daily routine of tests and solo training, and to pit them against one another; to let them in on the holiday fun, in a manner of speaking.

Kram had no idea what Yule was, of course. Neither did the rest of his kind. But they all obediently obliged when their doctors told them they were going to spend the day fighting one another in relatively friendly one-on-one matches. (Except for number twenty eight, who, as per usual, had refused to fight and had been locked up in his room again. Shame.)

“You will only continue to fight until somebody tells you to stop. That could be us… or perhaps one of your comrades. Who knows?”said the disembodied voice of a scientist over the PA system in the room all the Destrillians were sitting against the wall of. “Number twenty two, number twenty four, begin the match.”

Kram watched as the chosen two stepped into the middle of the room, both dropping into their respective stances. He calmly observed the both of them, the only betrayal of emotion a quirk of his eyebrow at the choice the scientists had made. Salem was going to flatten Hannah – the girl didn’t even know what her powers were, and his friend was one of the more brutal Destrillians in the facility. A tiny smirk curved his lips. He wondered how long it would take for the girl to tap out.

Not very long, as it were. Hannah tried her best despite having no known power, relying on her nimble body and her prowess with hand to hand combat, but quick and light as she was, she was no match for Salem. The green-haired boy didn’t even look like he was enjoying himself, it was so easy. He stood in place, a bored expression on his face, and after he had dodged Hannah’s kicks and punches a few times and gotten tired of them, he whipped his arm out like a viper striking and shoved the girl, a cry of pain being forced from her as she skid right back to the far wall. Before she could even take a step forward an explosion had erupted right in front of her, causing her to dive desperately underneath it and to roll back up to her feet a little while away, breathing heavily. She knew what was going to happen next, as it always did—and she was in no mood to be made a fool of by Salem.

“I’m out,” she said, aiming a glare at the smugly triumphant grin of her opponent and then walking back to her place beside Tao, where she slumped down the wall and wiped the sweat from her brow.

Lokka was up against Salem next. He made a much more impressive show than Hannah, Kram thought idly; the quiet boy with his toxic green eyes would give you no sign he was going to make a move until it was too late. The two Destrillians were more or less evenly matched, on good days, and the battle was very long and drawn out. A singed hand here; a bruised knee there; a few fiery blasts and an invisible wall or two and before the darkness Destrillian knew it, ten minutes had passed and the two were still fighting.

“You sure you wanna keep at it, Lokka? You’re starting to look a little pale,” Salem mocked, a grin twisting his face as he leapt to the side of one of Lokka’s attacks and brought an elbow down on the smaller boy’s spine. “Oh wait.”

Lokka ignored the verbal jab completely, but took the blow like an expert and snapped around to place a well-aimed kick in the back of Salem’s injured knee, causing the gas Destrillian to stumble and fall.

“That’s enough, you two. Go sit down.” Lokka only just barely spared a disparaging look for Salem before going back to his solitary place, leaning against a corner and discreetly wiping blood off onto his pale hand. Salem got up, thoroughly satisfied at having had such a good run, and took his own place next to Kram.

“Bet you’re on,” he said to the red-eyed Destrillian, who only nodded in response. “What, you’re not excited?”

“It’s a fight. There’s nothing to be excited about,” came his reply, matter-of-fact and devoid of the enthusiasm Salem had been expecting.

“Tch. Buzzkill.”

“At your service.”

“Numbers twenty-one and twenty three, step up please.” The scientists, behind their bulletproof glass observation window, were immensely enjoying the sight of their creations going at each other without needing to closely observe and analyze and chart and measure their progress. For once, it was just for sport—gladiatorial, almost. And most of the Violan staff found that there was something exciting in watching two Destrillians fight when they didn’t have to use all manner of machinery to pick the performance apart.

Kram sighed as his number was called. Ignoring Salem’s I-told-you-so punch on the arm, he rose and walked to the middle of the room to face his opponent. She stood there, taller than he was, her long silver hair tied back to keep it out of her way in battle. Tao Hong, the Destrillian of speed.

The only thing that could have lessened his enthusiasm.

“Begin.” Tao, for her part, looked ready for a match. She was a proud girl, they all knew, and she would not allow herself to back down from a fight she would probably much rather avoid. Kram wasn’t looking anywhere near forward to this, himself, but orders were orders and besides, he wouldn’t hurt Tao too badly. Just a little nick and scrape here and there – she could take that. Then she’d call for him to stop just like the crybaby he knew she was, and that would be that. No harm done.

They began.



-----



In the short while between the beginning of Kram and Tao’s fight, and the end of the scientists’ Yule festivities, things had gone very wrong.

Kram watched forlornly as Tao was wheeled out of the combat room, unconscious and bleeding profusely from her side. He could feel the stares of the other Destrillians on his back; could reach out and sense which belonged to who. Hannah, obviously, was the one filled with reproach. How dare he do that to her best friend? How dare he lose control in what was clearly stated as a not-so-to-the-death fight, and rip Tao open with his powers like a serrated knife shattering through a porcelain doll?
Elvan and Lokka both were giving him plain stares. Simple. Blank. The only words you could put to it were “hmm.” They were both sitting there, politely taken aback at the display of brutality but not caring enough to really feel for the silver-haired girl.
Salem, he could practically see nodding in approval. Stupid bitch had it coming, the yellow eyes would say. And Castiel? Kram could feel the boy’s eyes appraising him, looking upon him with a sense of respect, of awe—

And suddenly he hated himself for it.

There was nothing to be amazed at, losing control of yourself, giving into your powers and watching as you destroyed things you never wanted to destroy. A bitter scowl settled onto his face. It’s nothing to be proud of. All it means is that I’m too weak to control myself.For all their fighting, the Destrillians had never gone so far as to mortally wound one another, but here they were and Tao’s scientists were even now trying to find a way to stem the blood flow. She’s dying, right now, and it’s your fault, Kram. Great job.

Winning had never felt so much like losing before. Sullenly, he slunk back to his room and spent the rest of the day brooding in the thick, tense silence that pressed around him there.


-----


There was never a way to tell whether it was day or night inside Viola, but Kram’s abilities had always been a telltale sign. They always grew stronger when the sun had gone down outside. When it finally had, then, he opened his eyes – something he had great difficulty with, having been pretending to sleep and fighting off the effect of the Distrum for hours now – and focused on the tiny coil of darkness behind one of the monitors. His room was especially well-lit to prevent giving him too much to work with, in case he’d ever wanted to do something like this. But Kram had never cared enough to try and escape his room, so over the few short years he’d been there, the Violan staff had relaxed their security.

That had been a mistake. The darkness behind the monitor wobbled, then took solid shape and shot towards the only guard in the room, ricocheting off the back of his skull and effectively rendering him unconscious. He would be up in a minute or two, so Kram had to act quickly. With all the strength he could muster, he forced all the tiny shadows in the workings of the stasis pod door to work like a lockpick and in moments, the door hissed open, allowing him to tumble out.

He got to his feet with no time to spare, and grabbed the needle of Distrum from the security guard’s pocket—and then jabbed it in the man’s arm and squeezed, watching with cold satisfaction as the liquid entered the man’s bloodstream. Either he would be out for a very, very long time, or he would die. It didn’t matter to Kram. He only cared about one thing then and there.

The heart-stopping trip to the experimental level of the building took an excruciatingly long time. Luckily, the flickeringly half-lit hallways were perfect for Kram, and ever since earlier that day he had been savagely taking advantage of his power—almost as if to show it precisely who was in charge of it. There were no casualties; there were no sightings. He was invisible.

After what seemed like forever, he finally set cautious foot in the room where Tao lay, side bandaged thickly, bound to her cot. She was wide awake – the pain had quickly wasted the Distrum her caretakers had administrated, but it wasn’t like the girl was strong or stupid enough to try anything in her current situation.

The darkness Destrillian approached her silently. Her pink eyes widened in surprise when she saw him, but there was no trace of fear in the look, and that made Kram feel worse, for some reason. It was like she knew he hadn’t meant to hurt her that badly. It was like she’d forgiven him already.

But he knew that some dark, Destrillian part of him had wanted to hurt her that badly, and more badly still. She shouldn’t have forgiven him. He hadn’t even apologized yet—but that was going to be fixed.

“Tao, I—”

“Don’t.” She tried for a smile but only wound up grimacing as a wave of pain overtook her body. A hand reached compulsively for her wounded side, only to be restrained by her bonds. It was pathetic. “I know.”

“How…” Kram swallowed, feeling uncomfortable at the sudden emotion he was feeling. What business did he have, caring about this, anyway? Disobeying his doctors, breaking out of his room, all to see if Tao was alright? He thought she was nice, but he didn’t care that much about the stupid girl.

Did he?

She didn’t say anything, only looked at him, expecting him to finish his sentence. Kram, though, had no idea how to finish it. The silence dragged on, the two of them staring at one another, until Kram realized that he was wasting valuable time standing there like an idiot. “How’s your wound?” It was quite obviously not the end to the first ‘how’ sentence, but the girl took it in stride.

“The doctors said I will be here for a few days, at the very least,” Tao explained, in that funny, half-formal speech pattern of hers. “It…is very deep. I don’t know how close I was to dying, but…” She cringed, hissing out a gasp of pain. Kram started at the sound; it was so grating to his ears. All his fault.

“How can you just lie there and talk to me?” he finally asked, hardly believing how much he meant what he was saying. “You should hate me.”

“I couldn’t hate you, Kram.” She strained to smile again, and this time she succeeded. “Especially not now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I heard Hannah’s doctor…told her about something called Yule,” the girl began to explain, ringing a bell in Kram’s head. Hadn’t he heard mention of something like that at least once in the hallways today? “A time of celebration. I just—I don’t think it would be right to hold a grudge during such a peaceful time.”

Kram frowned. Her words had just made the ugly feeling in him even worse. He was dismal. “You’re too good to be a Destrillian.”

Tao only shrugged in response—before promptly remembering that moving hurt. A lot. She made a small noise of pain and that only made Kram feel worse. It was all just going downhill. “You shouldn’t be here, you stupid crybaby,” he said, and it relieved a little bit of the pressing, crushing weight, to talk. So he began to just say whatever was on his mind, hoping it would make the discomfort go away. “You don’t fight to kill and people are going to hurt you here because of it – I used to think you were just too weak for it but after today I know now it’s harder to not fight, and… I just… You’re not even angry. You just lie there with this goddamn gash in your side and you talk to me like it’s not my fault and that makes it feel like you’re stronger than I am and I’m hating it.”He paused for breath, looking anywhere but Tao to keep from becoming any more titanically embarrassed than he was now.

But she just laughed, a fragile little giggle, and replied as if it were normal to hear number twenty three speak with any feeling. “It’s okay. It is hard to stay controlled, but we can all do it – we do it all the time. You do it all the time, Kram, you just slip once in a while is all. That’s all right.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“I forgive you.”

“No, it—what?”

“I said, I forgive you,”she repeated, looking up at him with a sincerity that shone through even the pain she was feeling. Her voice was warm and strong and it made him feel something, which was scary. But welcome. “None of us is perfect, and that’s why we have training in the first place. We may be Destrillians, but I believe we all have the right to be human once in a while. We are allowed to mess up and to learn from our mistakes, right?”

“You should be allowed to hurt me back,”Kram replied vehemently, stubbornly upholding the sense of honour he’d only just realized he had. It had always been there, but he had always been able to shove it out of sight in the name of orders. But there were no orders to follow now, no rules or regulations or things to keep his self-righteous side from peering out. “I almost killed you. You should be able to get even.”

“Oh, Kram,” was all she said. Tao’s eyes had their usual motherly concern in them, and the pity killed him.

“Hurt me back, Tao, goddamn it!”

“…all right. Come closer.” Kram stepped right beside Tao’s cot and undid the bonds that held her torso and her arms, fully prepared and expecting her to sit up and hit him or something. He closed his eyes, ready to take it on the chin and then feel better. But instead of a fist, it was a kiss that met his cheek.

He leapt back like it had been fire. Tao saw the look on his face and smiled a sad smile, lying back down gingerly. “There. Now it hurts.”

She was right.

“Night, Tao,” Kram said, unable to handle being around her any longer. All the guilt and bitterness and self-loathing (and that little speck of something else) had risen up in his chest and he could barely breathe for it all. He was not used to feeling things.

“Goodnight, Kram. Happy Yule?” she said back, trying out the last two words on her tongue. They felt right enough.

“Happy Yule.” And he ran back to his room as fast as he possibly could, ignoring how a pair of guards saw him and began to give chase. He was running from much more important things. He made it back to his room, checked the guard on the floor (he was dead, it seemed,) and then climbed back into his pod, wanting to forget it had all happened.

But it was still there when he woke. And the day after that and the day after that. And from then on, things were different between Kram and Tao; there were sidelong glances as they passed in the hallways and their fighting turned into dancing, and slowly, something they could call a friendship began to grow.

She had the uncanny ability to make him feel, and he hated it and loved it at the same time.

__________________

Disappear with the stars and come back alive.
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Old 04/14/2011   #17
Hisako
Default

Arisa Amuro

Rookie's Dossier

Rocco threw down the folder on his desk, prompting Arctos to pick it up. "Perfect scores in the Aptitude exam, ninety-pluses in all Physical and Combat assessments. What do you think?”

Arctos’ already worn brow creased further as he dug his penknife further into the cast binding his forearm, leaning on the side of Rocco’s desk for support. “What do I think?” He laughed, a hollow, bitter laugh with the weight of months’ worth of paperwork apparent in his mood. “I think she should be a fucking astronaut, that’s what I think. She should be in the Self-Defense bullshit, pulling off ‘special aid’.” He gritted his teeth as the dull ache from his fracture cut through the numbing of his medications, slicing down the middle of the plaster by another inch. “Fucking thing won’t cut.”

“You’re not worried she’s just a Shokakan looking for a fight?”

“Rocco, I’m worried about a lot of things at the moment. I’m worried about the government talking away our own goddamn money. I’m worried about the breadsticks and peashooters they’re replacing our fucking batons and guns with. I’m worried about the poison-huffing dipshits expanding their turf downtown. What I’m not worried about, Rocco, is some immigrant who has a death wish for the Orange Zone. And if the report is right, which you say it is, then she can handle herself fine in any other squad. I don’t need another.”

A heavy sigh escaped before Rocco could stop himself. It was one thing for Arctos to speak his mind, it was another thing entirely to continue his bitter tirade. “The reason why we’re here is because you do need another, Archie.”

“Don’t fucking call me that.”

“I know that Detective McGraw was a big part of the team, but -”

“There were only four people who can call me that.”

“- But Wolfe’s Pack has always been a five-man team.”

“And now there’s only three.”

“And you know we’ve been tightening our belts on this, Arctos.” Rocco stubbed out the remains of his cigar on the ceramic ashtray next to his in-out tray. “These days detectives aren’t the only ones doing the problem-solving, and the riot squads aren’t the only ones putting down the flash mobs. And for god’s sake, the doctor said the cast comes off by the end of the fortnight, stop picking at it.”

“Don’t have time for that shit.” The last few inches of plaster gave way to the penknife, and Arctos flung the cast into the wastebin by Rocco’s desk. He took the period of silence as an opportunity to snatch the file off his desk.

He flexed his fingers in pain, as he browsed through the rookie’s dossier with his good hand. He clenched painfully, curling his lips in disgust. “Oh come on, Rocco. I don’t give a damn if this kid is world justice herself, she’s barely had four months on the job. She’s still a fucking cadet.”

It was Rocco’s turn to express his own sort of displeasure. “When was the last time we had talent like this graduate, Arctos? Or for that matter, when was the last time we had talent like this even enlist? This is as good as it gets, Wolfe. This isn’t even a take-it-or-leave-it situation. You just take it, no questions asked. You take it, because in a year’s time there won’t be anything for us to take.”

Arctos threw the folder back onto Rocco’s desk. “This kid better be a fucking prodigy.”

“Why don’t you see for yourself?”

***

The rain pounded and rattled the windows of the station like an endless cascade of pebbles off the rooftops of Osea. A woman stood at attention, at one end of the empty conference room, chairs and tables stacked and moved to the side. Rocco and Arctos sat at the other end. It was a full five minutes before Arctos bothered beginning the interview.

“Officer… one-six-six-seven, Amuro. Arisa Amuro.”

There was a pause. “That is your name, right?”

“Yes, sir.” Her voice was loud, clear, bold, confident. Arctos leaned back on his chair and templed his fingers.

“You graduated from the Academy with flying colors. The officer who signed your papers called you, ‘a shining example of the potential talent in young law enforcers today’. Do you recall this?”

Arisa lifted her chin up a fraction as she replied. “Yes, sir. The statement also included a recommendation -”

“Lemme tell you something, Officer Amuro, and I use the word officer in a very loose sense of the term.” Arctos sniffed in disgust at the headstrong reply of the policewoman. “The officer who signed your papers was a fucking snitch for a gang called the Wildcats down in the Orange Zone district. He managed to peddle five hundred k’s worth of lysyrgic in the week before I weeded him out. So I’m sorry to say that his words don’t mean a rat’s ass to me now that’s he’s rotting in a penitentiary somewhere. Are you aware of that?”

“I am aware of that, sir.” She barely skipped a beat. “Graduation Supervising Officer Knolls displayed erratic behavior and signs of paranoia during the training course and supervision of the Aptitude Exam. He frequently went for bathroom breaks and communicated on his private mobile phone during his work hours.”

“Hmm.” Arctos continued to probe through Arisa’s profile. “Says here you hold – or held, should I say – dual citizenship between Artolia and Shokaku. Is that correct?”

“That is correct, sir. My father also held dual citizenship, and although my mother was a Shokakan citizen, I was born here.”

“Was he the one who taught you your kenpo?”

“I beg your pardon, sir?”

“Your kenpo, gendai bujutsu. Your hand-to-hand aptitude. You put Sergeant Gregson on his ass in fifteen seconds flat during your Physical Assessment. The arm locking is a staple move, the throw a typical use of counterbalancing using the opposing leg. Unless you were an actual soldier of Shokaku’s military, which is obviously out of the question, you would have someone most accessible to you teach you the art. Since your mother would have stayed to the conformist role that your culture demanded of her, as the home guardian. And your father also taught you the firearms skills that got him killed in provoking a gang firefight… and got you into this role as a cadet pretending to be an officer.”

At that last flourish, Arisa faltered slightly. “I… yes, sir, my father was a -”

“Why the fuck are you here, Amuro?” Arctos narrowed his eyes to slits as he sat forward. “I mean, this. All… this.” Arisa’s gaze unwavered as hers met his. “You could just go to the ASDF and go career all the way to the top. Make yourself a killing and live like a queen. Shit, if you really want to waste your talents, go for a modeling career. You’re practically a thirty-two-twenty-four-thirty-two, kid. Why the fuck would you want to put a blueshirt over that?”

“I -”

“- What in the hell do you see in the Artolian Enforcement Detachment that looks so inviting to you?”

“I believe.”

“You what.” Arctos’ voice was flat, incredulous.

“I believe in the law, sir. It might not be the only thing between this country and anarchy, but it’s the best thing we have. And it might not look like much to you any more, Inspector, but I still believe in it. And I still believe in the people that work for it.” Arisa almost glared at him as she finished speaking, a silent challenge that Arctos couldn’t be bothered rising up to.

“No-one needs to believe in jack shit, Amuro. No-one rewards a hero these days.”

“I’m sorry you think that, Senior Inspector.”

“We’re done here. Get out of my sight.” Arctos looked down at the sheaves of paper strewn amongst the table in front of him. Arisa left without a word. Rocco turned to him with a bemused smile. “And before you say it, it doesn’t make a difference who her father is.”

“He’s rubbed off on her, hasn’t he?”

“He’d rub off on a trash can if he thought it would turn into a law abiding citizen.” He put Arisa’s file back together again, slowly, deliberately, going over every fine detail again. “It’s almost a pity he went batshit insane for real.”
“She’s a keeper. You know that.”

“The Chief Inspector was damn near the best in the force, and it fucking broke him to see us reduced to this.” The rain outside reduced to a trickle, fat droplets of water running off the rooftops and tapping on lower ones as they fell. Arctos sniffled as the chill began to set in. I don’t expect his kid to be half as inspired as he was.”

__________________
死の果までも追い掛けます、 探し出し
奪われた物全て取り返して見せる

RIP in peace old sig lolol 04/2015




Don't believe your eyes? Don't be surprised.





Last edited by Hisako; 04/14/2011 at 06:10 AM.
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Old 05/10/2011   #18
Bex
Default

Thetis Alcesteos

Six

Middlegate was an old town, and the girl had known it since they moved there. Paint flaked off the clapboard houses, the cobbled streets had worn down to rubble, and nearly every white picket fence had more than a few panels missing. In the fall, the air was filled with the smell of swollen wood, and in the spring, the fragrance of fresh blossoms was nearly overwhelming. Whenever she asked why they had moved there all those years ago, the girl always got the same answer. Her father would say that he liked the quiet, whereas her mother would tell her how much she loved the flowers here. Not that the girl had anything to complain about; her house was freshly painted, the garden filled with fruit trees that were perfect for climbing-- not to mention the trickle of a stream that she liked to dip her toes in to. The only problem was that in Middlegate, everybody knew everybody.


In this town, the family was a curiosity. With bright blue eyes, light blonde hair and olive skin, the little girl they saw so often running through the maize fields simply couldn’t have been Artolian. Maybe not even Alvyssian, they muttered amongst themselves during their community coffee meetings. They would gossip about how the father was a doctor, and how the mother was often in hospital, and how they had once caught the little girl picking flowers from their gardens. Of course, the community had never thought to ask the family any of these burning questions, and thus they remained unanswered.


So that was how things were; the family stayed out of the way of townspeople, and the townspeople stayed out of the way of the family. Mostly, anyway—the little girl would often come home crying about how some of the other children had made fun of her name. But the mother had always been able to make her feel better, whether it be with a hot chocolate during winter or a Popsicle during summer. Most of all, the girl liked it when the mother told her stories. A lot of the time, the mother would tell stories of great heroes who fought off magical monsters and beasts that were so huge they could squash her with a single finger. Sometimes the stories were scary, so the girl would hide under her bedcovers while her mother sat beside her, her voice soft with the maternal reassurance only she could give.


One thing the little girl didn’t like about the stories, however, was the way that her mother would speak in a language so unlike her own. The girl asked her parents over and over to teach her, so she could learn all the secrets to the myths and legends that she had been told. Once again, she was given the same reply. Perhaps when you’re older, they would say. So the little girl would puff her cheeks out in a pout and run off to climb any of the numerous trees their garden had to offer. The girl was used to being on her own. The girl’s mother had home-schooled her, and the other children were mean, so she didn’t talk to them much. If she was ever seen outside the lush perimeter of her house, it would be in the tall grass and dainty flowers of Middlegate meadows. For hours, the girl would sit there, pick petals and produce shrill whistles from the coarse blades of grass. Sometimes her mother would have to come and find her, though the girl didn’t mind.


Then one day, her father came home from work early. It was raining outside, and the girl stared out of the window. She watched as the water swallowed their flowerbeds, each one turning into a nightmarish swamp as once bright petals disappeared in the churning mud. The father laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder. Your mother is sick, he said, but the girl didn’t understand. She was scared and confused, like her father was speaking in that strange language of the stories. They needed to go and visit her, the girl was told, so she held onto her battered old teddy-bear with one hand and her father’s sleeve with the other as they made their way out of the house.


In spite of the pounding of rain on the aluminium roof of their car, the girl could still hear her father shout at the small congregation of townspeople who had gathered by their fence. They huddled together and whispered amongst themselves, preying on the latest gossip like a pack of hungry wolves under a collection of garishly coloured umbrellas. There was shouting, so the girl in the car curled into herself and thought about the monsters and magic of her mother’s stories. One of the group outside caught her eye, and she scowled. The girl didn’t like the townspeople very much. She was almost always on the end of a disapproving look. It took what seemed like hours for the father to disperse the crowd outside their home. Then, without a word, he climbed into the car and they were on their way.


The rear-view mirror framed her father’s gaze in a way that made the girl feel a little uncomfortable. With short intervals to focus on the road, his eyes were almost constantly locked on his daughter. She had never known how to meet his stare; it wasn’t like her mother’s. It always felt hard and serious. The girl hugged her knees as close as the seat-belt would let her. Her shins knocked together as the chill of the rain crept through a small gap in the window. Several minutes passed before it stopped. Then her father broke the silence. We’re going to the big city, he told her, to see your mother. He caught a glimpse of her pink tongue through the gap in her teeth as she smiled. He smiled back.


Rolling hills and thickets of trees sped past the car, and the little girl watched with her nose squashed against the window. Her mother had been away for days, so the girl was more than excited to see her. Bright blue eyes stared at the fence that drew a line across the horizon. She pressed her teddy-bear against the glass. He didn’t seem to appreciate the view as much as she did. It seemed like they had been driving forever when they finally stopped. The girl wrinkled her nose as she the stench of the gas station caught in her nostrils. Her father opened the side-door and told her she should sit quietly while he filled up the car and that he would lock the doors and only be a couple of minutes and that she shouldn’t worry because he’d be back soon and then they could see her mother again. The door slammed shut. A few minutes later, it was wrenched open again.


Thetis hadn’t seen her father since.

*********************************************************************

When the girl woke up, she was glad to be alone. Silence sat in the room like a second person, save for the drip-drop of rain through the broken roof shingles. One of the curtains was draped across a chair, casting a harsh bar of orange light across the mattress. Thetis Alcesteos didn’t bother to close it. The darkness scared her a little bit; the deprivation of light when she was in Viola had always sent her thoughts into a frenzy. Like a snake, they would coil and wind themselves around her head, suffocating her, poisoning her. She rolled onto Fiona’s side of the bed and groaned into the pillow. But Thetis couldn’t go back to sleep, not now. The tiredness was still there, yes, but it was unreliable, fleeting.


The tiled floor of the bathroom was cold underfoot. With a pull of the cord, a single bulb shed its dull light across the room and the girl dragged herself to the dirty glass mirror. Any form of distraction would do. For several minutes, she stared. Thetis searched in herself for the image of the little girl in the dream. The skip with which she walked. The gap-toothed smile. The slight button of a nose. The rosy cheeks. The olive skin.


There was no trace of her.


She stared at the girl in the mirror and saw the same thing she always had; high, hollow cheekbones, arms punctured with needle scars, slouched shoulders, skin pale with sickly pallor, eyes that had seen too much. Thetis shrugged the mess of blue hair back over her shoulder. It was some sort of self-conscious reminder, when every strand spilt over her skin, ratty and untied. Things hadn’t changed much at all, not since Viola, anyway. She pulled a spare hair-tie from her wrist and began to braid her hair. For Thetis, the very act was therapeutic. Calming. Routine. Then something caught her eye. As she threaded one lock of hair into another, her arm pulled up the material of her tank. And there it was, plain as day.


Thirty slim black bars of varying widths branded into her skin of her hip-bone, underlined by nine digits that would be forever burned into her memory. The mark of a Destrillian. She couldn’t remember how she got it, only that she woke up one day and it was there.


It hadn’t faded.

****************************************

What are we waiting for?


Dr. Abaddon had once described Dr. Perkins as a soulless automaton. On the contrary, Alison Perkins thought her silence to be a form of dignified professionalism. There was no need for a stream of obscenities as the risks increased, no murmured threats towards incompetent colleagues and no off-hand attempts at humour to relieve the tension. No, to Alison Perkins, silence was her greatest guardian against escalating frustrations.

Are we waiting for someone?

“What have I taught you, Number Six?” The Doctor didn’t look up from the clipboard she was studying.

“…T-that I should talk verbally when I’m with you or the other doctors, Dr. Perkins.” There was a small sigh of satisfaction as the prototype in the Plexiglas chair finally spoke. It had only taken three hours, twenty six minutes and seven seconds. But that wasn’t what they were both here for. Yellow eyes darted to Dr. Perkins as she fingered a speck of dirt on her lapel. There was nothing else to focus on.


“Have you felt anything unusual in the last four weeks, Number Six?” Whether it was a trick of the light, the prototype didn’t know, but she swore she could see her reflection in the Doctor’s glasses. There was something sinister about her that made a shiver run up Number Six’s spine.

“Well,” the prototype mumbled, winding her fingers through strands of blue hair “I-I keep feeling sick when the other doctors stick needles in me—“

“Answer my question, Six.” But prototype Six didn’t want to answer. She didn’t like it when she heard that horrible, scolding voice, but she hated it even more when the doctor was disappointed with her. Before the prototype said another word, her eyes darted from one corner of the room to the other. There was no one else there, except, of course, the men behind the two way mirror. But Number Six didn’t need to know that. The blue-haired girl gripped her knees until her knuckles turned white, and, as if she was telling a secret, the prototype leaned closer to her doctor.


“S-sometimes…” she didn’t dare the meet the doctor’s steely gaze. “I-I mean, all the time, kind of. I-It feels like there’s always something else in the room with me.” Alison Perkins stopped scribbling notes. “A-and it’s not just this room, it’s e-everywhere I go.” Number Six’s teeth sunk into her bottom lip. “T-the worst part is, I know I could t-touch it if I wanted.” Fingers began tapping nervously on the arm of the clear plastic chair. “I-I just think it would swallow me up if I t-tried.”


With a small smile, Dr. Perkins carefully rested her clipboard on the desk. What could be more reassuring than the reminder of success? Perhaps human ingenuity was not so flawed after all. The doctor steepled her fingers and reclined into her chair. “I would like it very much if you would concentrate on that feeling for a couple of minutes,” she paused for a second. “Could you do that for me, Number Six?” Her voice was steeped with a kindness the prototype had never felt before. She longed for it, to hear it again and again. A rare smile crept onto Number Six’s face, and her hands trembled with excitement.

“Will I get into trouble?”

“Of course not,” the reply came, smothered by the same false sweetness. Dr. Perkins leaned forward, and her voice lowered to a whisper. “It’ll be our little secret.” An excited nod sealed the contract of confidentiality between doctor and patient. No longer shackled by the fear of a harsh reprimand, the blue-haired girl shuffled to the edge of her chair and closed her eyes.


It all seemed to happen in slow motion. Fingers flexed and muscles tensed as Number Six reached out to touch the phantom that had bothered her for so long. At first the prototype thought she was bending the air, but it was much heavier than that. It was suffocating, the way the very molecules surrounding her seemed to shake and spasm. Blue eyebrows knitted together; it was almost tangible now, licking at the tips of her fingers, taunting her. There was no-one now, only Number Six and the ever growing pressure that threatened to squish her into the ground if she stopped concentrating for even a second. The room stretched and swelled and nearly burst. Clenching her fist, the prototype’s mouth twitched open. She snatched at the air, and, with all the strength she could muster, forced it back.


Yellow eyes snapped open as an explosion of pressure slammed into her body and sent her flying backwards. Chest heaving, Number Six stared as water trickled down newly formed rivulets in the wall. Then she remembered she wasn’t alone. It was only when the prototype watched Perkins’ mouth opening and closing without a sound that she heard the ringing. Ringing that was agonising, shrill and relentless. Scrambling away from the guards that tried to pull her to her feet, Number Six swung her arm almost instinctively.


The prototype’s mouth hung open at what she saw next; a pair of fully grown men hurled across the room by a wall of water. Number Six knew it had been her; she didn’t feel so overwhelmed in her basement world anymore. In fact, she felt strangely powerful. And watching those guards as they slammed against the wall? She didn’t understand why, but it made her feel… good. The ringing subsided, and a nervous, yet ecstatic smile painted Number Six’s face as Dr. Perkins walked over, clipboard in hand.


“I-I did it! I did just like you said I should do it, Dr. Perkins!” For the first time since she had woken up, Number Six was laughing. Elation overshadowed all fear of consequence, and her happiness soared like a kite in the clear blue sky. She had never felt so free.


And for once, Dr. Perkins was lost for words. How she marvelled in her own creation, her own ingenuity. Water. How extraordinary. All the failures, all the mishaps, all had been overcome. No, they didn’t matter anymore.


Alison Perkins had created a fully functional Destrillian.


A tug on her sleeve tore the doctor from her reverie.


“Y-you aren’t angry at me?” The doctor’s eyes roamed over the two unconscious guards before resting on the prototype. In the moment’s silence that followed, there was something in the way Dr. Perkins lips had curved in to a smile, something about the way in which she held the prototype in her gaze that made Number Six draw away.


“Some things come with their own punishments, Number Six.”

********************

A year had passed since Number Six manifested her powers, and finally, finally, she had been allowed to access the Recreation Room. The prototype was excited, of course, but fear churned inside her. Anxieties floated through her thoughts like storm clouds. Only, there didn’t seem to be a silver lining. Number Six had been warned that many prototypes had turned out to be…unpredictable, but as long as she remained obedient, she would be safe. Number Six loved that word, safe. It reminded her of how she felt when she was sleeping in her pod. There was something safe in the glass of her tube. It was familiar, and she couldn’t deny the enveloping security of being tenderly imprisoned within. No training, no tests, no interruptions. When she was first told of the Recreation Room Number Six felt distinctly Un-Safe. She didn’t like it one bit.


Dr. Perkins told her how important it was that she tried to integrate with the others. Other Destrillians, she called them. Number Six had been referred to as such for nearly a year now.

Destrillian.

She didn’t understand what it meant.


When the recreation room door was opened to her, it hardly became any clearer. In fact, Number Six thought to herself as she ambled over the threshold, the only thing everyone seemed to have in common was how strange they all looked. Only two steps in, Number Six caught a glimpse of a blonde-haired girl in a corner. Pale and wiry, dark rings of exhaustion hung around her storm-grey eyes. Number Six thought she looked a little sad, sat there with an IV in her arm. But she didn’t approach her. She didn’t want to be scared away.


Without a second glance, Number Six tip-toed over to the nearest chair. Before taking a seat, the prototype eyed it suspiciously, as if it was a prop to someone’s cruel prank. She decided against it, and instead slid down the white-washed wall to sit on the floor. After what felt like an age, Number Six finally mustered the courage to take a look around.


That was when she saw her. The girl with piano key hair. She had none of Number Six’s wide-eyed vulnerability, no, there was something about her; something wild, untamed; something of an education that made her seem distinctly out of place in the confines of the four walls that boxed her in. In a way, Number Six felt relieved when she saw her, but also wary. She was a protest against the rules and authority that hung in the air like smoke. It was only when the doctors moved the girl on that Six felt her illusions shatter.


How could she be allowed to think otherwise? This girl, this Destrillian was a seduction, a false hope to dream beyond her cryo-tube. Dr. Perkins had warned her about the others, and now she understood. The lure of temptation hurt more than she could imagine. So, like a drowning human breaking the surface of the ocean only to be dragged back under, Six shrank back into her corner.


Disapproval mewled in the background as the girl strolled around the room, talking to some, waving at others. Prototype Six shuffled uncomfortably. If Dr. Perkins saw her doing that, she didn’t even want to think about what would happen. Number Six looked away and put her hands on her knees. She could not quite feel them anymore. A faint sound from across the room made the water prototype aware that she was being watched. Number Six glanced at the girl who was making her way over and turned herself further into the wall.


“Haven’t seen you here before.”


Leaning over to study Six, the girl hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her sweatpants. Long, fine strands of black hair hung down by her ears, while her deep violet eyes were framed by high ridges of cheek-bone and a fringe swept with white. Number Six noticed the soft line of her mouth and how she had to almost pout to hide her smile. Yellow eyes followed the delicate curve of her neck, the slope of her shoulders, the toned contours of her arms, drinking in every detail of the girl’s unblemished porcelain skin as she went. After a thorough examination, the purple-eyed girl righted herself. With a twitch of the fingers in greeting, she finally introduced herself. “I’m Ariel. What’s your name?”


“T-today is my f-first day,” The water Destrillian stammered and stared fixedly into the floor. She felt suffocated by the attention. Every object in the room began to bulge; and Six felt herself shrink as the room seemed to strain with things and people far bigger than she. Ariel was unusual; that much was clear. The way she held herself; how she walked; the musicality with which she spoke; it was the strength and detachment of someone who lived in another world.


“I can tell,” Ariel teased, and Six flinched at the laughter in her voice. She pulled her knees a little closer. “So what’s your name, then?”


“My name is N-Number Six,” she said almost in a whisper. Ariel cocked her head to one side.


“The doctors here call me Number Twelve, but that doesn’t make it my name you know,” Ariel sat down next to the water Destrillian and held her in a firm gaze. “Don’t you have a real name?”


The blue-haired girl lifted her eyes from the floor and caught Ariel’s stare. It was only a few seconds before she looked away again. "D-Dr. Perkins said I-I'm called Number Six. That is my name.”


“She's never called you anything else?” Ariel raised an eye-brow. Around her, the air was sad somehow. Behind that smile in her eyes lay two dark pits of disappointment. Number Six didn’t answer and her brows furrowed in confusion. All these questions were beginning to make her feel uncomfortable. Dr. Perkins always made her answer questions.


“W-well, sometimes she just calls me S-Six." Ariel’s gaze intensified and Six’s heart tightened in her chest. After a moment’s silence, the water prototype glanced nervously across the room. Dr. Perkins was conspicuously absent. The blue-haired girl pulled her legs closer and smiled shyly at the older girl "You c-can call me that if y-you like?"
Ariel twisted her face into a scowl, her dislike for the doctors' labelling of the other Destrillian was obvious.


"Do you like that then? Being called Six?"


Six's gaze dropped as Ariel's sharp tone cut through her confidence. There was complete silence for a moment or two, and Six hoped someone would come to take her back to her tube. The water prototype screwed her eyes shut as she fumbled for the right words.


"W-well I g-guess I do," the blue-haired girl didn't meet Ariel's stare. Her lip trembled everso slightly as she spoke. "I l-like it."


The Destrillian of Sound relaxed her gaze a bit, noticing how timid and nervous the blue-haired Destrillian was, she made sure that her next words were spoken with less intensity.


"I used to like being called Number Twelve too, I suppose. Back when they first started letting me out of my pod. Then, one day, I overheard one of the guards calling me Ariel. I liked it, so I kept it," she said with a smile. "Turns out that was the name I had before I woke up."


Six looked up, eyebrows knitted in confusion. "B-before you woke up?"


Ariel turned to meet Number Six's large yellow eyes and shrugged, "You know? That first time you woke up? If you can remember it. Not all of us can all that well." Six's bangs fell across her face as she shook her head. "Why don't you ask your doctor what your real name is?"


"I-I don't understand," Six stammered. Dr. Perkins didn't like it when the water prototype asked questions. She didn't like it one bit. Yellow eyes widened as the doctor's savage tone resonated in her. White fingers twisted in each other. Six was frightened. "I don't understand."


"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," Ariel said gently, recognising how her persistance was making Number Six tremble and stammer, and instantly recognising the source of that insecurity. Her doctor must be a total bitch.


"I can find out for you, if you want? I can find you a better name than the one that they've given you."


The curious gleam in her eyes faded almost as quickly as it had appeared. "B-but I like this one," Six mumbled. The quiet order and cleanliness of the recreation room seemed to be unravelling around her. She desperately wanted to be back in her pod. Dr. Perkins hadn't told her the others would be so unkind. As if to make sense of it all, Number Six took a deep breath and spoke slowly. "It is mine."


"No, it's not, it's their's." came the sympathetic reply.


The thought made her nauseous. Something unsettling had swum up in the blackness. The water Destrillian shivered, as if to physically shake it off. The feeling remained. Ariel was still wearing that hard gaze, and Six would have cried if her eyes were not so dry from staring.


“Number Six?” There was an odd whimper in the attendant’s voice as he spoke. “It’s time to go.” He seemed to brace himself, as if preparing for an emergency. The prototype nodded obediently and rose to her feet. She looked at Ariel, who remained cross-legged on the floor.


“I-It was nice to meet you,” Six said quietly, just as Dr. Perkins had told her to. The water Destrillian allowed the man to lay his hand on her shoulder and lead the way. In the second she looked back, Six caught a glimpse of Ariel glaring venomously at the guards.


Six faced the door. And she smiled.
__________________

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Old 07/12/2011   #19
Alex
Default

Jason Spencer
Origin, part III

32 Years Ago
The Undercity
Vaul


If Jason Spencer had noticed that the rusted hands of the clock had stopped ticking then he had declined to do anything about it. Not that there would have been much to do about it anyway, garbage could only be stripped down for so much and it was doubtful this rusted and broken relic would have fetched a price worthy of him lifting himself up off his mattress.

Clocks were a pretty arbitrary commodity in the Undercity anyway. Neither daylight nor darkness filled its cramped corridors of this grimy makeshift metropolis. It was permanently lit by the sickly green floodlights that hung from the ceiling of the massive underground hollow. It was powered by hundreds of thousands of thick rubber pipes that supplied the ramshackle settlement with power from massive turbines buried deep beneath the Undercity itself.

When the first survivors of the war with Artolia fled the radiation drenched wasteland of the surface in favour of the underground, it had seemed like a natural plan to construct their settlement above one of the nation’s geothermal power stations. The power station itself was one of the few pieces of infrastructure that had survived the nuclear bombardment because of its geographical location so many miles beneath the planet’s surface.

However, power had only been the first step towards survival, and the collection of survivors would have quickly abandoned their newfound haven had they not turned their attention towards attaining fresh water and growing food in the few areas of non-polluted farmland on the surface. Neither task proved to be easy; many months went by before the settlers were able to find and create a reliable fresh water well that was not poisoned by the radiation soaked topsoil. Moreover, the above-ground farms needed to be kept under watch every hour of the day by grim-faced men and women who had to monitor the direction of the wind and the amount of radiation that would be blown in.

So the Undercity had prospered, attracting the vagrants and the survivors, those who had been forced to eke out an existence in a world that had been scorched barren by conflict. Nobody was turned away and over time rudimentary society had begun to develop once more. Arguably for the very first time since Artolia had dropped its nuclear bombs during the war, some semblance of normal life was being cultivated in the deep pits of the world beneath Vaul’s charred surface.

Life was not perfect here, as Jason Spencer and Oberon had quickly discovered shortly after their arrival at the undercity nine months ago. Like any power vacuum, there were those quick to fill the gap and take advantage of the fledgling society.

It wasn’t so much that crime was rife in the city. In that regard it compared quite well against the metropolises of other countries. Laws here were strict and strictly regulated by police primarily made up of former soldiers in the Vaul armed forces. After a few minor skirmishes, the pair of teenagers had learnt not to get on the wrong side of the city’s security guards. The problems facing the Undercity mainly lay with the factionalism that had been allowed to develop in the absence of any definite system of government. Decisions and plans were often developed by prominent figures within the community or those who had been around the longest . Seniority, coupled with the charisma required to make oneself noticed, was heard and respected.

And Oberon was late.

Oberon was frequently late these days and it never failed to tick him off. They were going to miss their appointment at this rate. In all fairness, it could more accurately be called a job interview; not that the Undercity had anything quite as simple or as divisive as actual employers or currency. Such things had been abolished when the lofty goal of survival had been made the goal of this society, rather than the cultivation of any class or economic based hierarchy. As such, everyone was expected to work in order to receive regular rations of food and clean water. Whilst it was true that the city would not turn away the unemployed, they were treated as worse than dirt by the populace.

Since they had arrived, the pair had quickly been given jobs helping to clean out the old ventilation system leading to the geothermal power station below. It was dangerous work because of the ramshackle state of the shafts and the difficulty posed in navigating their narrow pathways. Often the shafts themselves fell vertically, with nothing in the way of handholds for gripping onto; not that there was ever much need for that. In certain parts, the dank vents became so narrow that even the smallest, most lithe of individuals could get themselves wedged in there for days until rescue came.

It was nightmarish, claustrophobic work that was often handed out to the children and teenagers because they could most easily navigate the narrow labyrinthine network of tunnels and pipes beneath the Undercity. Thankfully, both Jason and Oberon had now reached the end of their adolescence and were considered by their superiors to be much too large for work in the tight confines of the ventilation system.

Whilst both boys had developed a wiry, lean physique, it had been Oberon who had gained the most from the growth spurt, albeit only just. Jason, however, had found that his broad shoulders and regular exercise had married themselves nicely to the regular food he was now receiving from the Undercity’s kitchen into giving him the taut physique that was a far cry from the scrawny, underfed adolescent he had been years ago.

And Oberon was still late. Frustration growled in the pit of Jason's stomach.

He swung his legs down from the top bunk and sighed. This was a nasty habit that his friend had been picking up.

As if on cue, the door to the single bedroom that made up their accommodation swung open and Oberon’s form swaggered through, his sharp, chiselled features hidden beneath an unruly mop of dark hair.

“You’re late again,”

The accusation was instantaneous, but Oberon merely smirked incredulously and raised his eyebrows up so that they disappeared well beyond his shaggy fringe.

“What’s the big deal?”

“You’ll know the big deal if we miss our appointment with Rossiter and we’re stuck cleaning poison out of the ventilation shafts for another six months because you don’t know how to arrive anywhere on time.”

Rather than respond to the retort, Oberon simply pulled a sour face as Jason clambered down off the top bunk and glowered across at his friend. Much to his irritation he could see that despite his younger age, the barest traces of stubble were starting to form across Oberon’s chin. He doubted he would ever hear the end of that.

“Let’s go then.”

The pair swiftly left the chamber, taking the time to seal the several locks on the door before setting off down the hectic metallic corridor towards one of the several dozen elevators that the Undercity used to transport its denizens to the many floors of the abandoned power plant and its many workers to the outskirts. This was where new sections of the city were continually being cut out of the sheer rock in order to continue expanding the necessary living quarters for the refugees who sought shelter beneath ruined wastes of the world.

Predictably, the corridors of the shelter were filled to bursting with the usual busy workmen clad in their overalls, urchins running playing and merchants wearing wide shaggy cloaks to hide their contraband. None of these posed an obstacle for the two teens as they expertly wove their way through the crowds towards the elevator on this level. To this day it never failed to amaze Jason how vast this complex was. Despite the various sections that had fallen into disrepair, it had been protected from the nuclear bombardment because of its natural protection deep beneath the planet’s crust.

As always, the queue for the elevators was a long one. It was the hub of everything. Of the spider’s web of activity that was woven throughout the entire facility. Once the pair had finally gotten on, they set their sights on foreman’s office three floors above them. Most of the main offices for the power plant had been here originally, however many of those non-essential ones had already been converted into administrative offices from which the entire Undercity was run.

As the pair left the elevator it was obvious that unlike the residential floors below them, this level of the city was not used for housing refugees. It was far cleaner and its walls were not dirtied by the constant hustle and bustle of moving crowds. Instead the uninspiring slate grey paint was largely covered up by cork boards, to which an incalculable amount of lists had been pinned. From requisition orders to work rotas, everything was on display here, formulated by a small army’s worth of secretaries and analysts, drawn from any member of the city who showed themselves to have a particular aptitude for organization.

It was in one of these offices that Foreman Cameron Rossiter was based. Rossiter had been a former Major in the Vaul armed forces’ engineering corps and was easily the most physically imposing man in the entire city- at least, according to everybody that had ever had an appointment with him. He was the one responsible for assigning every citizen in the Undercity to their respective job assignments. Usually, the line outside his door stretched all the way down the long corridor but today it was curiously empty. The office door was tightly shut and muffled shouting was distinctly audible through the closed door.

“Wonder what the poor shit in there did to piss him off,” growled Oberon in a low voice, just in case Rossiter’s keen ears picked up on the muttering.

“Knowing Rossiter? Hell, I don’t know. Brought him the wrong cup of coffee?” Jason suggested wryly. Rossiter’s explosive temper was almost as well known as his commanding skill in organizing the ramshackle workforce of the Undercity. Something twisted unpleasantly in the pit of Jason’s stomach. The thought of upsetting Rossiter and being forced to work topside on the windmills that measure that amount and direction of the radiation sweeping the country. Those poor bastards definitely did not have a long shelf life.

Oberon gave a grin at the joke. Unlike Jason, he didn’t seem nervous at all. As always in times of great stress, he remained totally unflappable.

“How do you do that?”

“Do what?” Oberon replied, genuine confusion in his voice.

“You don’t seem worried at all. What’s your secret?”

“What’s there to be worried about?” came the response, Oberon’s voice was strange and curiously flat. “Whatever this guy can do to us in here, is nothing compared to what we’ve already been through out there.”

He didn’t need to elaborate. Both of the boys knew exactly what he was referring to and exactly how much they had lost before they had run into each other six years ago. Was that why he never seemed scared?

The door to the office swung open, nearly being pulled off its hinges in the process as a simply terrified young man was almost thrown from the room.

“You two. In here, now.” A deep voice growled from the inside. It was deep and rumbling, like the feeling of an earthquake or a volcano.

Silently, the pair entered the sparsely decorated office. Besides the man in the centre of the room, its most prominent feature was the row of filing cabinets that lines two of the four walls.The desk and chair seemed to be nothing more than a token commodity as both were piled so deeply beneath papers and clipboards that it was a wonder that anything could be found there at all.

All these things paled in comparison to the room’s true centrepiece. Truthfully, no matter how big the office might have been, it became almost comically dwarfed by the presence of Cameron Rossiter. Simply put, the man was enormous, easily over seven foot tall, colossal arm muscles bulged out from beneath the sleeveless coveralls that were stretched tight across broad shoulders. He seemed to have more in common with a rhinoceros than any human being the pair had ever seen before. His black hair was closely cropped and a distinct comparison to the thick beard of black bristles that dominated his face.

As soon as the pair entered his line of sight, Jason had the distinct impression that his dark eyes were scanning the pair of them. Staring right through them from their home in his craggy, tanned face and picking them apart, piece by piece.

“Jason Spencer and Oberon?” he grunted, flicking his eyes down to one of the clipboards that he snatched up off the desk with one gloved paw. “Oberon, your last name is missing,”

“I don’t have a last name.” The dark-haired boy replied back. Jason did all he could to avoid sighing, this was a tired conversation that he had heard all too many times before.

“Don’t have a last name?” Rossiter repeated, snapping his eyes back up to meet Oberon’s. There was no doubting it now, he was definitely sizing the two up. Though his voice had become quiet, not sceptical or judgmental, but definitely curious.

“I was an orphan. Parents only left me with the one name.” Apparently this was all the answer that Rossiter needed as he simply grunted and returned to staring down at his clipboard.

“You two have any particular area you would like to work in?” Rossiter asked. His voice had once again dropped to low, utterly unreadable levels.

“Not really,” Jason answered this time, drawing the coal black eyes in his direction.

“Good, I’m not in the habit of indulging peoples favourites or fancies,” Jason could have sworn he had seen the corners of Rossiter’s mouth flicker upwards into a smile beneath the bushy beard. “You’ll be working where we need you to work most. You understand?”

“Yes sir,” both of the young men nodded.

Rossiter nodded in approval. “The mining division could use a couple of strong lads like you. It's more work than the engineering down in the power plant. Maybe when you’re older,” Jason nodded, Oberon smiled. Mining was definitely good work compared to some of the other terrible jobs that needed doing just to ensure that the Undercity could continue to function. Mining and expansion were much better than swabbing out the all too easily clogged sewage pipes, afterall.

“Orphan you say?” Rossiter rumbled again, apparently losing his train of thought. “If you hadn’t told me otherwise, I could have sworn that you two were brothers.”

.oOo.

“Can you believe he said that?”

“Yeah, absolutely,”

Jason and Oberon both looked incredulously across the dirty little table that was now liberally covered in empty glasses of particularly cheap vodka.

“What? You guys do look alike!” the justification was said with a particularly grotesque grin. Not that, that was his fault.

“Ever the joker, Coffin,” Jason replied drily, “Do us all a favour and shut up.”

Their partner, Coffin just spread his horrific grin even wider. Coffin wasn’t his real name, but it was one that he had taken to calling himself because according to him ‘he’d be in one sooner rather than later’. It was a remarkably optimistic attitude to have considering that he was speaking the absolute truth. Coffin was one of the many, many people who had suffered directly at the hands of Artolia’s nuclear bombs. In addition to losing his family and friends to the fire, he had been hit directly with the heat and radiation. As a result, seventy five percent of his body had been covered in twisted, searing burns that might have healed with time, though his appearance would forever be a living portrait to the atrocities committed.

He was completely hairless, and his nose had almost completely disintegrated, leaving an a gaping dark hole in the centre of his face, which was an almost unrecognisable mass of blistered scar tissue and sickly transparent skin.

“Whatever you say man, I’m just here for the booze,” came the jovial reply as the hairless man picked up his glass and downed it in one. The two boys grinned and did likewise. Coffin had been one of the first people to help the two settle into the Undercity when they had first arrived from the wastelands, and he was a hard man to dislike. A couple of years older than the pair of teenagers, Coffin was always ready with a quick joke and almost unstoppable optimism despite his horrific injuries. This staple of his personality was only compounded by the ludicrously bright orange vest that he wore adorned with a blank grinning face.

“You ever work the mines, Coff?” Oberon asked casually, signalling over to the man working behind the bar to get another round of their cheap, nasty vodka ready.

“ ’Fraid not, Oberon, don’t got the energy for it, you know?” he replied back. Jason nodded in understanding; mining was tough, physical work and Coffin, despite his boundless optimism, was not cut out for that level of physical endurance. “I doubt Rossiter would take it too kindly if my arms fell off whilst on the job.”

“He’d probably just tell you to keep going with your teeth or something. I’d hate to see what would happen to the poor sod who fell behind on production,” laughed Oberon.

“We have incinerators for a reason.” Smirked Jason, prompting another round of laughter from the three friends, not to mention another round of drinks.

“You guys not think about trying to volunteer for the security forces?”

“Definitely not, I’ve seen enough of what the military can do,” replied Oberon almost instantly. His voice was unwavering and decisive. Jason shifted uneasily in his seat. It was not an action that went unnoticed, as though Oberon had fully expected Jason to back him up immediately. He turned to his long time friend and raised his eyebrows expectantly.

Jason merely shrugged.

“Something you want to bring to this party?” asked Oberon, the tone of his voice had a definite steel to it.

“The military isn’t going to start fighting back against Artolia, so what’s the point?” Jason stared at the vodka in his chipped glass as he swirled it around with his wrist. “We’d only be fighting against the same scum we always fight,”

If Jason had expected the reply to just blow over the conversation as though it was no big deal, he was being desperately hopeful.

“You what!?” Oberon shouted so loudly that the bar manager and several of his customers turned to stare in disgust at the racket. “Are you fucking serious? You’d consider joining the army only to get one over on Artolia?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Jason asked icily, keeping his cool despite his friend’s explosive outburst.

“Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t you once tell me that you are an Artolian, Jason?” asked Coffin. His rasping voice remained surprisingly neutral.

“It was Artolia who imprisoned me in a camp, Coffin. It was Artolia who gunned down my parents right in front of my eyes regardless of their nationality. I have every right to hate them just as much as the two of you do,”

Oberon continued to look appalled. “And you want revenge, right? Is that it?”

“You don’t?” the response was quiet and utterly deadpan.

“I don’t see the point of more fucking war when we could be focusing on helping people, protecting them from each other,” Oberon snapped back. “I read those books you know. The ones that you thought I didn’t? The ones about history? War accomplishes jack shit, Spencer, you of all people should know that.”

“Helping people?” Jason scoffed back almost immediately, “You can’t really expect me to stay here forever, Oberon. Hiding in this dark, seedy corner of the world. Not after all that’s happened. Not after everything I’ve lost to Artolia. You of all people should know that.”

If anything, this was what staggered Oberon the most. Never had he considered the prospect that Jason might have had plans that lay beyond the walls of the Undercity. Beyond the borders of Vaul.

“So what? You’re going to burn Artolia to the ground just because you lost Mommy and Daddy? The world doesn’t revolve around y-“ The punch took that connected with his jaw had come so quickly that Oberon didn’t even have time to comprehend it before he was laid out on the floor. The glass-burdened table was suddenly upended as Jason lunged at him, eyes wide and rabid. A combination of shock and alcohol had slowed his response time so that when he staggered to his feet, a crowd was already forming to try and separate the two. Coffin leaping between the two and literally forcing the two apart.

“I’ll make it revolve around me!” roared Spencer, his face a livid mask contorted with rage. Something had snapped between them in mere seconds. Jason Spencer had always been so quiet and so reserved, to see all this rage and hate spilling out of him was a sobering sight. Oberon, no longer was leaning on the jostling crowd for support, just stared in disbelief. Spencer was almost unrecognisable.

“You’re an idiot,” Oberon spat back, watching with savage enjoyment as Jason continued to thrash against those who crowded back to restrain him. He had seen everyone in his entire orphanage die at the hands of Artolia in the war, but there was no hatred there. Nothing like this. People couldn’t be trusted to settle conflicts on their own. It would only ever breed more revenge born out of hate.

“You’re both idiots.” Coffin grunted unhelpfully as he continued to hold the pair apart at arm’s length.

“Get off me!” Jason howled, breaking free of the many pairs of hands that gripped him. He cast one glare of pure loathing at Oberon and then turned, vanishing into the tight throng of people.

“Jason! Jason!” he called after him, but Jason Spencer was gone. His oldest friend was nowhere to be seen amidst the oncoming press of people demanding to know what had started the confrontation.

.oOo.

It had taken roughly an hour for Oberon and Coffin to finish explaining what had happened to pair of extremely unimpressed looking security guards. Their disinterested glares had given the two lads every impression that this incident would be filed under ‘drunken argument’ when the report came to be filed.

But it hadn’t been a simple drunken argument. Something felt torn inside Oberon as he and Coffin sat in silence in the empty room that used to belong to himself and Spencer. Coffin had been right, earlier in the night, when he had made a passing remark about the two looking like brothers. They felt like brothers. They had spent practically every day of the past seven years at each others’ sides, literally fighting the world itself for their right to survive. Now Jason was gone.

The room had been completely untouched, he clearly hadn’t checked back in here on his way out from the bar.

“You reckon he’s left the city?” Coffin asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

“The hell should I know.” Oberon snarled back, for what felt like the two hundredth time. The whole experience had been so explosively out of character that he wasn’t sure what Jason would do next.

Coffin shrugged. He hadn’t known Jason for nearly as long as Oberon had, but he still felt compelled to stay and help his friend in his time of grief.

“I’m sorry I brought it up, man,” he said lamely.

Oberon looked up from the wooden chair, his expression one of genuine puzzlement.

“I’m sorry I brought up the whole security thing. I didn’t expect him to fly off the handle like that, I should have just stuck to the booze,” Coffin continued earnestly, even after Oberon waved away the apology with a gesture of his hand, hoping that Coffin did not notice the tears prickling at the corners of his eyes.

“No, shut up. You have nothing to apologise for,” he sighed. “The bastard’s gone,”

“Good riddance.”
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Old 07/12/2011   #20
Alex
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Various
From the Memoirs of Captain Aiden Hubble
399 Years Ago
The Shattered Sea


The men had been talking.

Captain Aiden Hubble knew as much. No expedition sailed this long through waters this dangerous and with no pay in sight without the crew murmuring and hissing mutiny behind his back. In was in the nature of sailors to complain, especially with privateers. Men who had renounced the rigid discipline of the navy in order to live the life of piracy and freedom; these were men who most frequently resorted to complaining. If they were malcontent under the authority in the Artolian Navy, then they weren’t going to be any happier under the command of a shady privateer.

Such was the way of things. The Captain couldn’t afford to be picky about his crew. Not when he had asked so much of them already.

The Captain was not an unreasonable man. His stocky, grizzled appearance belied a keen, savvy mind that had made him as able a businessman as he was a seaman. At least to this end, his appearance was fitting. His thick silver hair and beard had and tied into thick knots and braids for the most part, for convenience sake, and his features were hardened and red from nearly three decades of working his craft across every ocean under the endless sky.

Or so he had thought. There was no two ways to look at it, Captain Hubble had concluded; they were lost.

So the men had been talking.

And the Captain had been fretting. He had lost track of the amount of sleepless hours he had spent pouring over the vast yellowing maps he had spread over every flat surface in the small captain’s cabin, each one criss-crossed with a spider’s web of cartographer’s lines and navigation routes through the thousands and thousands of islands that peppered the storm-tossed Shattered Sea. Unfortunately, every one of these maps was useless. The labyrinth of identical barren, mountainous islands and unchanging charcoal grey tumultuous water that spread out in every direction around them made this particular vast stretch of water probably the most deadly in the entire world. Countless ships throughout history had been lost in this lifeless geographical maze; enough for Hubble’s every instinct to warn him against making this voyage. But the promised pay had been too good and his wallet had been light for too long. There wasn’t much call for privateers in a world that had already been eaten up by armies and corporations.

The Captain sighed fruitlessly; the latest weather chart he had been training his watery eyes on had proved just as useless as the last three he had seen today. He grasped the thick rubber mug he had been using to steady the charts against the pitching and the rolling of the ship against the perpetually turbulent seas, lifted it to his lips and took a generous swig of rum, its fiery taste doing nothing to cure the knot of anxiety coiling in his stomach.

The ship rolled with the latest wave and the charts spilled from the table. He did not bother collect them. Instead, with mug clasped firmly in hand, the Captain marched forth from his Cabin and out onto the deck of the forecastle. Unsurprisingly, the rain was lashing down. It was nearly always raining in the Shattered Sea, but that was only when storms of ball lightning weren’t blistering down the corridors of water between the tall cliff faces of the surrounding islands.

This truly was a hellish place.

“Captain,” came the grim acknowledgement of the helmsman, a small, wiry lad with a thatch of messy straw blonde hair. “Storm’s coming in.”

“You sure, Chase?” Hubble queried, taking another sip of the rum from his mug.

The young man nodded resolutely, not even turning to face his Captain, his eyes instead focused on the horizon of chaotic open ocean and the occasional bleak, towering cliff face. Hubble didn’t doubt him. Thirty years at sea and he had yet to find a man with eyes and instincts quite as good as Chase, a street urchin from a pirate port that he had ended up rescuing from the gallows, where the boy had been scheduled to hang on several dozen charges of theft. As good as his eyes were, he had never been very good at pushing his luck.

“Aye, I’m sure.” Chase added for emphasis, noting the inky black distant clouds and the low rumbling of thunder.

“Anything else I should know, Chase?” The savvy Captain drained the last of his mug and leant his elbows up on the worn railing, looking down at the scurrying of activity amongst the sailors on the maindeck; a rag-tag combination of Alvyssian mercenaries, Xi Qin pirates and dark ex-slaves from the Southlands who had abandoned their masters and run north into poverty and desperation.

Chase seemed to bite his lip, temporarily holding his tongue.

“The crew is getting restless, Cap’n.” He spoke carefully, torn between betraying his crewmates and loyalty to his old captain. He decided that restless was a much better word than mutinous.

Hubble scowled, discerning Chase’s true meaning despite his diplomatic choice of word.

“Too much work for not enough pay?” he asked rhetorically. Given the substantial amount that he and the crew were being paid to charter the islands around the Shattering, he found this a questionable claim on the part of his crew.

“Not my place to say, beggin’ your pardon, Cap’n.” Chase commented stoically, but Hubble discerned that as another yes.

It had been a peculiar job, Hubble reminisced. He and his crew having been recruited out of some backwater free town on one of the Thalassan Islands. A shanty town, away from the natives and from the navy, and a refuge for pirates and privateers, it had no name and it would probably disappear sometime in the next year. Relocate to another cove, or another island, or just vanish entirely, its occupants boarding their respective ships and setting sail for beyond the horizon.

He had arranged to meet the employer in one of the many saloons set up in such a free town; one steeped in the whores, filth and alcohol that came with a town free from the law or influence of any nation or corporation. The interior of the large ramshackle establishment was lit by grimy green lanterns, and felt reminiscent of the insides of a large (and particularly cheap and filthy) ship.

Hubble had barely touched the large pint of cider before him, wanting to keep a clear head as he negotiated business with the enterprising noble who had hired him to navigate through the islands of the Shattering and map out a safe course to the islands near its core. The gentleman himself seemed both completely out of place in this place and simultaneously completely at ease with his surroundings. His cynical eyes and easy smile had led to a relatively smooth negotiation of Captain Hubble and his crew’s fees, judging from his spotless and clearly expensive manner of dress, the old, wry Captain was not afraid to start negotiations high.

The noble had smiled back and assured him that money would not be a problem.

Almost as an afterthought, the Captain had asked how his new employer was going to expect to walk safely through the streets of the free town. Someone of his dress and obvious wealth was bound to attract the attention of every cut-throat and thief in the area. The gentleman motioned to the trio who stood by the bar, huge men, with at least half dozen or so weapons strapped to their person and watching their exchange like hawks. He explained how much faith he had in his bodyguards. Hubble hadn’t pressed the matter.

The change in direction of the strong winds through this narrow channel brought Hubble back to the present. He swore under his breath, counting on the wind going against his sails in order to buy him more time to prepare his vessel for the oncoming storm. Now the sails billowed out as the small gale filled them and the ship noticeably took off like a rocket, cresting high waves and risking crashing into the high cliff walls that flanked them on either side.

“Take down the sails!” the Captain roared, piping up and gaining the attention of all those present on the deck. “We need to slow our speed!”

The crew were only too happy to start lowering the sails and taking down many of the auxiliary sails entirely, taking any course of action that would slow the propulsion of their vessel into the dark clouds rushing to meet them from the horizon. Veering off course was also not going to be an option, even as one of the cliff walls gradually tapered off beneath the ocean waters. It would have been insanity to tear off in that direction, with jagged undersea reefs like rows of knives that needed to be navigated with the utmost attention to detail.

It had taken a further hour for the worst of the storm to hit. Slate grey waves crashed against the fat hull of the ship that caused it to pitch and roll sickeningly with each thunderous strike. The jagged cliff faces that surrounded the ship looked jet black enough the obsidian sky. Not even the light of the setting sun could pierce the ominous skyline that stretched out around them in every direction. The only illumination came from the forked lightning that crashed down all around them.

Any thought of mutiny that the crew might have had had long since been put out of mind, replaced by the pure determination to survive. In all his years at sea, Hubble had never known a crew work this efficiently. The prospect of certain death did bring out the best in people.

“I suppose it would be too late to turn back, sir?” Chase yelled over the howling wind as he clung on with white knuckles to the ship’s wheel.

“Aye!” Hubble shouting back at him, even standing just feet away from Chase, he had remarkable difficulty hearing the young man. The sound of the wind roaring in his ears felt deafening and the constant feeling of the rain pelting his exposed skin had left it feeling tender and raw. Every one of his many layers of clothing felt utterly soaked through, as though he had been dunked in the water.

“We’re really going to force our way through it?”

Hubble stayed quiet, eyes transfixed on the sight in front of him. High cliffs jutted out from the water like a pair of dark fangs, driving the water between a steep bottleneck. His watery, old eyes widening in horror. No amount of experience was capable of preparing a sailor for the sight of what was developing between the rocks.

Even in calm waters, threading the ship between the two unforgiving slabs of rock and the twisted mess of sharp rocks would have been a challenge. In this storm, it seemed so much more likely that the ship would smash itself apart as it slammed into one of the cliff’s sides. Even that now seemed like a distant possibility now as he watched the scene unfold in front of him like a gripping tragedy that he could not bear to take his eyes away from.

Out from between the gap in the rocks, a tremendous surge of water had spilt out all at once. Before he knew it, he was feeling the ship sucked towards the massive wave that surged forward down the narrow rocky channel directly for the prow of the ship. Vast and grey, to his horror the wave showed no sign of slowing its terrifying ascent. It continued to grow and to gorge itself in the water around it, drawing more in until the lip of the wave towered almost as high again as the topmost mast of the ship.

Time seemed to slow down as the crew who scurried across the ships’ deck stopped their work to look at the gigantic wave. Even the wind appeared to have momentarily died down as though in respect to the colossal power of the sea as the wave rushed forwards to crush the ship under its heel.

.oOo.

17 Years Ago
The Hubble Residance
Kurban

“And they survived?” asked a sceptical voice.

“Some of them did, yes, Mr. Spencer,”

Jason Spencer raised his eyebrows in surprise as he looked up from the leathery pages of the manuscript. The face of the man whose living room he was now sitting in broke into an earnest smile.

“Forgive me, but I don’t think you would have come all this way to read my great-grandfather’s manuscript if you knew that it was a fake.”

The man was smarter than he looked, Spencer had to admit to himself. Finding any account of what lay at the heart of the Shattering was rare enough, especially given how difficult it was to actually gain a permit to study the core of the ruined continent. Many expeditions had tried, all had failed. Without exception, almost every single person who had been to the inner workings of the Shattering for the past three hundred years, since the birth of what would be considered modern science had never returned, or had been driven so insane as to be utterly unintelligible. Thus there had been a mutual decision by the governments of the world, a decision to make it a taboo subject to want to further investigate the bizarre geographical formation of the island. It would forever remain a mysterious anomaly. Studied from afar but never up close, too many times, too many precautions had just been swept aside by whatever it was that lay in the dark heart of the world.

Solomon Hubble smiled pityingly at what he saw as a foolish young businessman. A handsome man with a mane of sweeping black hair and a full dark beard that was only just beginning to show the emergence of his first grey hairs. He was not the first adventurer who had shown up asking about his ancestor’s voyage to the Shattering almost four hundred years ago and he doubted that he would be the last. He extended his arm and gestured back to the enormous book that had been laid open on the table in front of Spencer.

“Would you like to continue reading, Mr. Spencer?”

With a curt nod of acknowledgement, Spencer’s bottle green eyes shot back down to the dirty, ancient pages of the book and he continued to read.

.oOo.

Before he could see anything, Captain Aiden Hubble had become aware that the rain had stopped. The feeling of the harsh droplets slashing against his skin like bullets had been so enduring that the relief it brought to his skin was immediately noticeable. It was only then that Captain Aiden Hubble became aware that he was alive again.

His eyes cracked open slowly, gradually widening in disbelief. He had survived.

Lying on his back, the Captain was staring up into the pure blue of the sky. The only traces that a storm had ever graced such a serene looking sky were the faintest whisps of silver clouds that strung themselves across the horizon.

He was alive. For a moment, that mattered more than any of the hows or whys or wheres. He opened his mouth a sucked in a great lungful of air through his chapped lips. The fresh, cool air scorched the inside of his throat, which felt dry and scarred from the salt water.

He had very few memories of the crash. Though the raw pain he felt in his chest as he sat up was testament to how powerful the force of the wave was. He remembered the ship disintegrating as it made contact with the rush of water, he remembered watching the top deck crumple apart like paper. Then the full force of the wave hit him and he knew know more. But now he had woken up and everything seemed to hurt. Every fibre of his being seemed bruised or damaged by the storm.

Slowly. Almost painfully slowly. Hubble began to move around and survey his surroundings. He was sitting on a rock lying low in the water so that it was worn smooth by the waves that must have been lapping at it for thousands of years. Very little wreckage of the ship had washed up alongside him. A piece of wood no more than a foot across, a thin stretch of rigging, nothing more than scant debris; it would have been impossible to tell what it had come from.

He twisted his head around to take a look behind him, realising with some discomfort that there was a sharp pain in his neck whenever he tried to turn it; necessitating that he move his entire body around in order to survey the landmass behind him.

In all his years at sea and journeying to the many different corners of the world he had never once seen any island quite like this. There were no discernable features on it at all. No hills or valleys, beaches or fields. It simply rose in a slow slope off into the distance, though not even to an extent that it would be called a hill. It was merely a gentle incline, smooth and featureless. Though, what made it so unusual was that unlike the rocky ring of islands that dominated the horizon in every direction, the island itself didn’t look to be made of rock at all.

Glass.

The island appeared to be made of glass. Smooth and not even cracked despite the fact that this place was obviously ancient and stretched deep down to the sea floor, where it was anchored, not simply floating. Dimly blue, reflecting the colour of the pure azure sky above them, for a moment, Hubble was robbed of breath. Nothing else he had ever seen had come close to the majestic beauty of this pristine glass wasteland.

Ever so slowly, step by step, the bedraggled captain made his way up the slope. It was so gentle that he didn’t even have to worry about slipping on the glass in his wet boots. Turning his body one way and the other on either side of him he saw that there was nobody else from his crew here. Nobody else seemed to be making the same ascent as him, and the island was certainly flat enough that if anybody else had been climbing up the slope along with him he would have seen them no matter how far away they would be. Unless they were on the other side, past the summit.

He continued to trudge forwards, every step was agonizing. His old body was crying out for rest. But still, he felt compelled to keep going. It was as though something was calling to him from beyond the summit of the island, something just out of his reach. It felt like an almost audible beckoning, as though voices were carrying on the wind.

But there was no wind. The air around this glassy dome that inexplicably rose out of the ocean was still the point of being non-existent. Not even the knots tied into his grey beard stirred.

So the Captain kept on climbing, only dimly aware of the sun as it beat down upon the exposed top of his head and back of his neck. It was only now that he noticed that the wide tricorne hat that he had been wearing before the ship had been destroyed was lost to the Shattered Sea. It wasn’t much further now.

He pressed on, eventually coming to the summit of the island’s rise and for a second time his breath was taken away. The sight was more incredible than the island of glass itself.

Hubble stood and gazed across at the most unusual crater he had ever seen. It was roughly a mile across and completely circular, presumably the glass incline that the Captain had just walked up was mirrored on all sides of the crater, all leading up to the steep drop over they reached the summit leaning over the precipice.

It wasn’t just the size of the crater that amazed Aiden Hubble though, he had seen plenty of canyons and valleys in his time. But none quite like this. It was as though a vast raging maelstrom had bored itself down through the centre of the glass island. Every wild line and contour was frozen perfectly and preserved in glass, unmarked and unscathed by the passage of time, and it stretched down so deep into the island that the gnarled, twisted bottom of the crater was shrouded in pitch darkness, even in broad sunlight. After the initial steep drop, the crater continued to twist and narrow itself downwards, the blue sheen of the glass gradually fading through to royal blue and then to indigo before it disappeared into blackness as the pit continued to twist inwards to become narrower and narrower.

He felt sick looking down into it, like the yawning mouth of some gigantic corpse. This was a bad place. Something unspeakable had happened here. This crater was a monument to it. An everlasting scar on the face of the planet and a warning to stay away, this was not a place that life was meant to return to following the disaster.

Biting his lip, Hubble felt it now in earnest and it made him make one tentative step backwards. There was something buzzing in his ears, something indescribable. When he shook his head the noise seemed to disappear completely, as though it was something that he might have just imagined. Was it coming from the bottom of that crater?

It was as though someone or something had taken control of his body, as though he had been relegated to a mere spectator’s position as he watched himself take a slow first step back towards the lip of the crater, and jumped.

.oOo.

“It’s incredible that your great-grandfather made it back at all,” Spencer commented quietly as he looked up from the book. In the four hundred years since these words had been penned this was by far the most vivid collection of notes describing the physical experience of being on the island at the heart of the Shattering. Not once in the four hundred years since then had any of the handful of survivors who had walked on that island produce quite such a vivid recollection of the experience.

“The log stops here, I don’t suppose any note was ever made of what it was that Captain Hubble found in the crater?” he asked the question gently, well aware of the publicity surrounding the Hubble family and how well rehearsed the potential answer would probably be.

“Nothing he ever spoke of,” Solomon Hubble’s answer was so well-rehearsed that Spencer’s had already thought two steps ahead of it.

“Mr. Hubble, please, the full story,” he motioned to the jacket pocket of his smart double-breasted suit. “I am prepared to pay you handsomely for it.”

To his satisfaction he saw the greedy eyes of Solomon Hubble light up as they darted momentarily between Spencer’s green eyes and the subtle indication towards his cheque book. They might have been in a country far from Artolia, but they were by no means cut off from world politics. The fame and wealth of Jason Spencer was not news to him.

He opened his mouth to speak but then stopped, as though he had thought better of it. “My family have never told anybody this,” he spoke quietly, in a dangerous whisper. “We thought that it was best that nobody went back there to look. The last thing we want is more blood on our hands.”

Spencer said nothing in response to this, but he leaned forward. His face was kept stoic and expressionless but his green eyes widened in ravenous interest.

“For four hundred years my family has told people that he never spoke about what he found down in that crater,” Hubble closed his eyes and took a deep inhale of breath “But that isn’t to say that Captain Aiden Hubble didn’t find something down there. He just didn’t speak of what it was. Maybe he couldn’t bring himself to describe what he had seen. But he never wavered in his diary entries, ones that we never released to the public,”

“He was adamant that there was something down there.”

A Map

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Old 07/19/2011   #21
Alex
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Salem Locke
‘Do you ever feel like you’re just filler?’ and Other Short Stories

Six Months Ago
Spencer Mansion Underground Complex


“Well, do you?”

“Do I what?” Ariel asked from across the mansion’s vast dinner table as she plucked a fresh can of beer from the six pack.

“Can’t you read? Ever feel like you’re just filler?” Salem asked again, finishing his own can and throwing it carelessly onto the mansion floor.

“I’m sorry, you’re going to have to elaborate, Shockwave.” The Destrillian of Sound pulled the can open, sending a fresh spray of foam onto the tablecloth, watching with satisfaction as Salem’s face wrinkled at the use of his codename.

“Like, shit, I don’t know,” Salem waved him arms in the air as he struggled to find the appropriate words to give his internal musings. “Like what we’re doing now, just sitting around and having a beer. Like this kind of thing doesn’t matter. Like all we’re doing is taking up space until the next big thing happens.”

Ariel raised her eyebrows and took another sip of her beer. Conversations like this were pretty much par for the course with Salem. In fact, compared to some of the things he could come up with, this was positively normal.

“Isn’t that just what life is, though? Just filler in between the big moments that actually matter?”

“Comforting to know, isn’t it?” Salem grinned as he cracked open another beer. “Sometimes we can have those days that last forever and ever and then whole months and years can pass in the blink of an eye.”

Just like that, the conversation had changed. Ariel took another gulp of the frothy beer and listened patiently; she knew better than to interrupt when Salem was beginning to get started on one of his quasi-philosophical ramblings.

“See now, I can’t remember a damn thing about last week, or where Elvan and Lorelei have gone. I mean, they are supposed to be here, right? But boom, just like that, it’s all been glossed over like it was nothing. But this here, this conversation about absolutely nothing has been 331 words so far,”

How he knew this, Ariel didn’t bother to ask. Sometimes she was convinced that Salem just made half of this stuff up on the fly.

“Elvan and Lorelei are on assignment in Xi Qin,” she corrected him, “and you would know that if you actually paid attention to those briefing reports that we get sent.”

“Yeah, I can’t read,” Salem said casually. Again, she had absolutely no idea if this was true or not. She was absolutely sure she had seen him reading a book before. Unless he was just pretending to read in order to get out of actually having to hold a conversation. That could happen, too.

“And I remember everything that happened last week, thank you,” she continued, taking a large swig of beer. “Have you thought that maybe it’s just your memory? It’s been pretty shitty ever since you broke into Spencer’s wine cellar.”

One of Spencer’s wine cellars,” Salem interrupted, holding up a hand to correct her. “I’m convinced that he has more hidden around here somewhere.”

“Hidden for good reason,” Ariel commented wryly - not that Salem was paying her any attention anymore. His gaze seemed vacant and his mismatched eyes glazed over slightly. Not wanting to rush him back into another utterly perplexing odyssey away from the safe waters of logic, Ariel didn’t comment and just happily sipped her beer.

“Do you reckon snails have teeth?” he finally asked.

“What?”

“I’m going to my room. See you around,” and with that, the Destrillian of Gas kicked away the chair from under himself and stalked off to his bedroom (but not before remembering to pick up the rest of the warm cans of beer and tucking them under his arm). Ignoring Ariel’s agitated stare, he rounded the corner from the dining room and hurried up the white marble spiral staircase that joined the hallway that led to the Entrance Hall.

It didn’t honestly matter to Salem whether or not snails had teeth. Ariel had been beginning to get boring and stringing together the first sentence that came to mind and watching how she reacted was that much more interesting than just saying goodbye.

It was so easy to get bored here at the mansion. In between the communiqués from the Sponsors or from the Boss in prison, the Destrillian found himself with vast chasms of time to kill. It made him feel trapped. Caged, like an animal. He finished his beer and kicked open the door adjacent to the second art gallery and threw the empty can through the doorway. Truthfully, he had no idea what lay beyond there. The mansion seemed to go on forever.

“Hey! I think you dropped something!”

Salem turned and looked behind him with exaggeratedly raised eyebrows as Finn Eliot marched out of the room he had hurled his rubbish into, her hands planted firmly on the hips of her navy blue pyjamas adorned with dozens of sleepy little crescent moons.

“Stop complaining, Short Stuff, that’s Ariel’s department. Or Lorelei’s, if you catch her in the right mood,”

“This house isn’t your dumping ground you know,” Finn cut across him with a scowl. “You can’t just do whatever you like.”

“But I do, anyway,” Salem reminded her with a casual grin. Fiddling for a second with the stash of beer under his arms, he struggled to wrest one free from his elbow’s grip without dropping the collection all over the floor. “If you want a beer you’re going to have to come and get one yourself. I don’t have enough hands for this.”

Finn didn’t even bother to dignify this with a response. “So what are you doing anyway?”

“What are you doing?” Salem shot back instantly. Finn’s rigid, disapproving pose seemed to relax a little and Salem grinned. In spite of their occasional bickering, Salem enjoyed the company of the little Destrillian, though he couldn’t help but feel her preparing some sort of chastising remark after every few of his sentences.

“I was just heading off to the kitchen; I fancied some ice cream. Care to join me?” she spoke quietly, as though afraid of being overheard and told off. Salem laughed at the young girl’s cautiousness. There was no authority over Destrillians here. Especially here.

“Nah, you’re on your own tonight, Shorty.” He wasn’t sure why he was shunning her company tonight. He wasn’t feeling the crippling pangs of boredom that he had been downstairs, but something else was pulling him away.

“You’re planning something aren’t you?” she asked him; the corners of her mouth were apparently having some degree of difficulty deciding whether or not to become a grin or a frown.

“Yeah, I think its character development, and it sucks.”

Leaving behind the Destrillian of Time to her mid-evening ice cream crusade, Salem continued to navigate his way through the winding corridors of the mansion. He noted for the first time just how far away his own quarters were from the main rooms downstairs. The mind really did go to funny places when it had nothing to occupy it.

At long last he came to his own quarters, located at the end of a corridor with deep burgundy carpeting. It was the only doorway in the entire corridor. He had this section of the mansion all of himself.

The door itself could barely be seen beneath the gigantic full length poster of a blonde woman in a snakeskin bikini. Salem barely gave the scantily clad picture the admiring glance he usually paid it as he kicked the door open and flopped face down on the black bed-sheets of his emperor sized bed.

Unlike the many dozens of other bedrooms in the mansion, the ones that had been occupied by the Destrillians for the years that they had been under the personal care of Jason Spencer were a stark contrast to the lavishly decorated, but impersonal, other rooms. In the three years that the Destrillians had lived in the mansion, they had taken every measure possible to adorn their quarters in whatever manner best reflected the personality that had emerged in the relative freedom outside the confines of their relative facilities.

Nowhere was this more true that the bedroom of Salem Locke.

To begin with, the walls on the left and right hand side of the bed had been roughly blown apart, extending the already considerable living space into the two adjacent rooms. One of these had been turned into a lounge for a formidably sized television set; the other housed a small minibar and dumbwaiter system that went straight down to the kitchen. At one point, Spencer might have intended for this room to be a cocktail lounge for important guests.

Next, Salem had turned his attention to the forest green wallpaper that had originally plastered the walls. Now, there was no trace of that wallpaper left on the walls. All of it had been hidden behind all manner of posters. Everything from scantily clad women (there were quite a few of these), motorcycles, and cars, to a tattered black skull and crossbones flag that was so large it was draped over an entire wall of his lounge.

When did life get so dull? Even the last mission that Persephone had delivered to him had only sent him as far as Villnore. Helping Maruca Avidez test weapons systems for his new thing at the place. Yawn. Whatever. None of it actually mattered.

At least when Spencer was here it felt like they were working towards something. Even if they weren’t. Even if Spencer’s entire plan just amounted to being some massive power trip that the old man had cooked up just to get one over on everyone else, it felt like the work he had been having Salem and the others do felt important. Now there was just nothing. Nothing conversations and nothing missions and always the same old faces.

Salem rolled over in his colossal bed and stared up at the poster he had pinned up above his pillows in bed. Eight naked lesbians riding the same motorbike had never looked so boring.

Maybe I should blow up the ceiling.

“Salem Locke! You’d better not!” Ariel’s voice carried from the end of the corridor. Evidently, she had been on her way up to see him when she’d heard his thoughts. This whole psychic thing could be such a hassle sometimes, if you don’t actually think about the ins and outs of it.

“Get out of my head!” Salem shouted back at her, as her loud footsteps began advancing on this door. “Seriously we should have like a code, or something.”

Like, a code where I can blow things up and you don’t wear any clothes.

“I- What?”

I’m joking.

When Ariel kicked the door open her face held none of the playful disapproval that Finn’s had. She looked angry and her brow was furrowed behind her fringe of choppy black and white hair.

“What the hell is going on with you? You’ve been acting weird all night, and now I could hear you thinking about blowing up more of this place from all the way downstairs.”

“I never was very good with that whole psychic thing,” Salem interjected, but he bit his tongue as Ariel’s nostrils flared.

“What is going on inside your head, Salem?!” It was a demand. Probably not even an unreasonable one, considering how rarely what was going on inside his head actually got communicated to other people. Not since he had been back in the facility had he ever been pressed into one of these talks - by someone who went on to betray him, no less. So that had all worked out lovely.

“Salem, I can hear your thoughts. Please, tell me what’s going on?” She had asked this time; her voice had become much softer. Ariel was always doing funny things with her voice.

“Do you ever feel tired of all this?” he began slowly, none of the usual eccentricity was present in his voice. He sounded exhausted.

“Tired of what, Salem?”

“Living here, in this cage. Doing the same boring shit month after month. Taking orders. Sometimes I reckon that we made a mistake by not escaping when we should have.” Ariel looked sideways at him, her expression deadpan. “Well you know what I mean.” He was familiar with Ariel’s failed attempt to escape from facility one. But he’d never asked her why she’d gone from wanting to escape Viola to being at the beck and call of its President. She was here now, that was what mattered.

“We work for Spencer, right? Not the Sponsors? We aren’t just their errand boys for those damn Lyverius bastards, right?” There was a faint air of desperation in his voice that didn’t escape Ariel’s notice as she looked at him with a look that might have been slightly too understanding.

“That’s right.”

"Good, because I'm bored of them."

"You're just bored?" Ariel's voice was tinged with disbelief at her fellow Destrillian's childish complaint. Salem just shrugged as she narrowed her stern gaze.

"What's the point of having this life if we're going to waste it away being bored? Life shouldn't be boring."

Ariel didn’t say anything, but her earlier frustration with the Destrillian was beginning to evaporate. Without Spencer’s physical presence in the mansion things had become so much slower-paced. Moreover, working for the Lyverius’ acquaintances of their boss felt nothing like their previous work for Spencer.

It no longer felt like they were accomplishing anything. With Spencer every mission had felt critical and important to the progress of his plan. But under the Lyverius’ command they felt less like accomplices in helping their boss achieve his goals and more like disposable tools, forwarding agendas and schemes that they knew nothing about and cared nothing for.

“It’s not as though Spencer is going to stay locked up forever you know,” she said calmly, watching as the tattooed Destrillian propped himself up on the edge of the bed. “He is going to get out eventually,”

“Yeah, it’s all part of the plan, I know,” he cut himself off before he bitterly added that it was all that had been drilled into him by the Boss when he had been at the mansion; though the look on Ariel’s face seemed to suggest that she knew what he was going to say anyway. At no point in hearing the man talk endlessly about his damned plan had it ever been made clear that their lives and abilities would be condemned to rotting away in such mundane and uninteresting circumstances.

“So just suck it up for now, things will get back to normal eventually,” she turned to leave, but not before stooping down to pick up one of the cans of beer that Salem had dropped on the floor.

“Just try not to blow up the ceiling, it’s all I ask.”
__________________

Last edited by Alex; 07/19/2011 at 12:58 AM.
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Old 07/19/2011   #22
Alex
Default

Magnus Nordstrom
Confirmation

8 Months Ago
The Osean Citadel

It had not been a good day.

In truth, it had not been a good week, as far as Magnus Nordstrom was concerned.

The Vice-Chancellor of Artolia could only grimace as he watched the rain fall in streams down the windows of the luxurious private sedan. The jet lag from his overnight flight back to Artolia from Canctra had left him feeling strung out and irritable. Some men might have mistaken these as being signs that the man was getting in over his head at the highest level of global politics. But to suggest such a thing of Magnus Nordstrom would have been an insult to the forty years he had devoted to the Artolian political system, more than twenty of those years to the position of Vice-Chancellor itself, the second highest seat of power in the entire country.

During his tenure, Magnus had overseen four different Chancellors of Artolia come and go like the tides. Yet he had remained resolutely anchored to his office, and despite multiple attempts by his political enemies to remove him, here he still was, leading a government attaché to Canctra to settle an agricultural trade dispute.

Twenty years worth of influence at the highest level had seen him make enough contacts and spin himself a web of security so tight that it had largely become accepted into unwritten law within the apocrypha of Artolian politics that the only way Magnus Nordstrom would retire was when he decided he wanted to. Such was the scale and scope of his political entrenchment.

No, it was not lack of experience that caused Magnus’ weary sighs as he cast his gaze upward towards the stormy steel coloured sky. It was just age. Returning his gaze to the lengthy folder on Western Alvyssia’s reparation payment schedule, his mind couldn’t help but return to the real debate he had been engaged in throughout the week. That maybe the time to retire was drawing sooner rather than later. He had watched as the past forty years of politics had etched line after line and wrinkle after wrinkle onto his skeletal face, and seen his once proud, blonde hair become a mane of silver under the stresses and strains of a lifetime of late nights and hard decisions.

The sound of distant thunder broke his thought process and brought his attention back to the dull report and scowling disapprovingly whenever he came across a line that indicated that they were beginning to slacken on their reparations policy towards the Western countries. Chancellor Gerald could be such a liberal-minded fool sometimes, and a far-cry from the tougher policies that had been advocating in the years before this latest Chancellor’s appointment.

“Will you be heading home then, Vice-Chancellor?”

“No. Take me to the Office.” Magnus spoke only in blunt commands, not even bothering to look up from his folder.

“Right you are, Vice-Chancellor.”

Magnus barely even heard the driver; it was as though the man existed on some lower plane of existence that was so far beneath his own that nothing he had to say was relevant.

The roads of the Osean Citadel, the seat of the entire country’s political and judicial power, were so jammed with the cars of commuters reporting to the dozens and dozens of different government branches that progress to the office of the Vice Chancellor was irritatingly slow. Magnus was not yet so lost in his report that he was unaware of the passage of time. Still, the storm above continued to moan and grumble. Without meaning to, his mind automatically began envisioning the potential damage the rainstorm would be doing to the Orange Zone’s notoriously poor sewer system. Within two days' time a report detailing the damage estimate would be passed under his nose. It was nothing more than clockwork.

It took a further twenty minutes for the car to pull up outside the entrance to the Office of the Vice-Chancellor. It was the formal name given to the small circular building that was attached to the gargantuan Artolian Capital building that housed many of the more senior offices of the government. The Vice-Chancellor’s office seemed to be a small, albeit grandiose addition to the building. With its high domed roof and outer walls wreathed in columns, it was very elaborately decorated for what was essentially a single office, reception area and small record library.

The rain had stopped by the time Magnus had left the car in the parking lot at the bottom of the hill beneath the Capital building. With his briefcase tucked in one hand he moved swiftly up the white marble double staircase that led to seat of government.

At first glance, he did not appear to cut the most impressive figure: barely six feet tall and rapier thin. Though the wide berth many of the junior politicians gave him as he cut into the building was equally done out of respect for the senior official and out of apprehension. One lowly minister was in such a hurry to get out of his way that he spilled his coffee over Magnus’ five thousand credit, black leather shoes and the plush indigo carpet of the high-ceilinged hallway.

With a withering glance, the minister practically leapt out of sight through the nearest doorway.

A nearby thunderclap heralded the start of yet more rain.

No, Magnus Nordstrom was not having a good day.

So when he entered his central circular office building to find his personal assistant lying on the floor, dead and continuing to bleed from the short-bladed knife buried to the hilt in the centre of his back all over the decades-old carpeting of the room, all he could do was sigh in exasperation. His tired senses took longer than he thought possible to register alarm at the scene. They took longer still for the logical part of his brain to register the fact that the attacker must still be in the room.

“Nordstrom?” The voice that came from behind him was cold and inquisitive.

“You have the right office,” Magnus responded, slightly bemused that his unseen assailant felt the need to seek some reassurance that he was indeed the Vice-Chancellor. All things considered, he did reckon himself to be a rather recognisable figure.

“Are you going to kill me?”

No response. He could practically feel the knife or the gun of the killer trained on his back and a very real sense of fear began to well up inside his stomach. Swallowing, he did his best to control it. He had found his slate coloured eyes drawn to the body on the floor and it had given his usually commanding voice an unnatural tremor.

“May I turn around?”

“Yes.”

He had been expecting a professional mercenary. Some tough military-type who was skilled enough to have infiltrated this deep into the Artolian government without being detected. The killer was a young man, deathly pale and wearing dark street clothes. He could have been a college student but for the unusual eyes. At first his sockets looked empty and devoid of life. It took a moment for him to see that there where eyes there beneath the long tangle of badly dyed hair, but they were jet black. Something restless stirred in his memory.

“Who sent you?” It seemed a far more logical question than ‘who are you?’ rarely were individual mercenaries or thugs ever as important as the figures or interests they represented.

The stranger cocked his head at the question, allowing the Vice-Chancellor to get a better look at the sharp, angular features of the face beneath the hair. His features were utterly unreadable.

Something inside him clicked.

“No one sent me. I came on my own.” The eyes like coal were staring and unblinking straight into his own.

“I see. I was under the impression that the project eliminated memories of your previous life, Kerr.” His thin lips spread into a small smirk as he saw the Destrillian momentarily caught off-guard by the accusation. It couldn’t have lasted more than a second, and nothing in his face betrayed it, but Magnus was sure that he saw his son’s body momentarily tense up at the sound of his own name.

“It did,” Kerr spoke slowly, giving no indication about whether or not his shock had come from the admission that people in the government knew about the Destrillian Project or whether it had been his father who had said it.

“It clearly didn’t stick,” Magnus replied wearily. “So are you here for information, then? Or for revenge?"

“Neither.” The response was so blunt that this time it was Magnus’ turn to be caught off-guard. Ever since he had heard of his son’s and the other Destrillians’ escape from Viola he had known that it was only a matter of time before he would be tracked down and attacked by one of them. Either for information on the company, which members of the government had condoned the plan or just outright killed for his involvement in the whole messy affair, especially if it was Kerr who had found him.

“Then why did you come here?”

“I wanted confirmation.” Kerr moved around the room towards the corpse and knelt beside it to tug the knife free. “That you were my father.” He pulled hard on the knife and it jerked free from the body, causing it to momentarily spasm in a way that forced the Vice-Chancellor to close his eyes.

“I was beginning to think that you weren’t going to comment on it at all,” said Magnus contemptuously. Kerr shrugged as he got to his feet again.

“So what do you want then? To know why you were selected for the Project?” For the longest time, Magnus had known that potentially he would have had to explain this to his son, if they ever saw each other again. Not justify, simply explain. Pleading for Kerr’s understanding or even forgiveness was never something that had crossed his mind. Even now.

“Are you expecting an apology?” the Vice-Chancellor sneered at him.

“That’s irrelevant. I’m a Destrillian now.” His son sheathed the short knife into a leather holster in the lining of his jacket pocket. “I’m here because the Artolian Vice-Chancellor has my last name.” The pitch black eyes flicked back up to meet Magnus’ own and Magnus understood. This hadn’t been a mission born out of hatred or vengeance, but curiosity. Did his son really hold no feelings of revenge whatsoever for the father who had so willingly given him up for the Project?

“At least on that, we can agree. You were irrelevant,” the reply was bitter and succeeded in sending a shadow of fury rippling across the Kerr’s face.

“I was human,” the Destrillian corrected him. It was obvious that uttering those words disgusted him. As he shook his head his eyes caught an image captured in a picture frame on Magnus’ wide-semicircular desk. A small elderly woman with a kind face and greying hair pulled up into a tight bun was beaming at him with her arm around a much younger man in a military uniform. The man was much larger than the old lady, with broad shoulders, strong arms and a lantern jaw. His blonde hair was cut short and matched the healthy moustache that adorned his grinning face. Kerr scowled.

“They would be your family,” Magnus prompted. “Your mother, Eris and your older brother, Reissner.,” The words were lost on Kerr; whatever memories he had of growing up with these two people in the photograph where nothing more than ghosts and shadows.

“I don’t care.” Kerr turned on him again, though his voice sounded angry now, rather than disinterested. It was as though the visual reminder that he had once been related to human beings only incensed him. Magnus’ eyes were drawn to the spot inside Kerr’s jacket pocket where he knew his son was concealing the knife. The politician couldn’t help but assume that his son might care more if he had actually remembered more of his childhood.

“I see. So your memory really hasn’t returned then.” Far from sounding relieved or upset that his son couldn’t remember what his life had been like up until Magnus had put him forward as a candidate for the Destrillian Project, instead, Magnus sounded somewhat interested. “And you don’t care about your past at all?”

“It hasn’t,” Kerr replied, frowning at the fact that Magnus’ own features were as impenetrable and hard to read as his own.

“It doesn’t matter what I was before.” Kerr shook his head again to free his vision from the long brown hair that kept obscuring his vision, and for the first time Magnus was momentarily taken off-guard by how strongly his son resembled him from forty years previously. “We’re done here.”

Magnus couldn’t help but feel as though he had escaped rather slightly as his eyes caught the sight of the darkening blood on the carpet as they followed Kerr storming towards the main door.

“How do you intend to get out of here?” Magnus asked one last question, this time it was he who was taken under the thrall of curiosity. The Capital building was arguably the most highly defended building in all of Osea. Maybe even all of Artolia.

“The same way I got in.” Kerr’s reply was short and curt. Without turning around to catch one last glimpse of his father, the Destrillian had disappeared between the pair of double doors and left Magnus Nordstrom standing, frowning at the corpse he had left behind.
__________________

Last edited by Alex; 12/24/2011 at 10:33 PM.
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Old 09/20/2011   #23
Hisako
Default

Connors Guzman

Number Two

Smoke gently rose from her body in light grey curls as she sagged to the floor in a crumpled, spasming heap. Somewhere else inside the house, the burglar security system was stuttering. Spasmodic wailing could not drown out the howls of fury and despair as the young man looked across the room from where the noise was coming from. A small flame began to ignite from the circuit board where the lamp had been attached, but the boy’s father was too panicked, too livid, too everything other than rational to notice anything other than the body he cradled in his arms.

The son looked down at his own arms. He had been toying with cables, as usual. A frayed one connecting power to the television had caught his fancy. The thought of running his finger over the exposed wire, feeling the pulse of electricity underneath, had come as naturally as instinct. One thing had led to another, and the mother went to investigate a badly flickering lamp, cursing the quality of the light fixtures that her employers had rather readily purchased for her.

The power that coursed through the boy’s fingertips and into his body, forced itself out again. The surge went back into the grid and struck his mother like a full-fledged lightning strike. Natural curiosity gave the boy his last glimpse of his mother’s eyes; deep blue pools for irises, framed in mild surprise. To him, that became the defining face of death – mere mild surprise, too slow against the speed of light to register any agony or pain.

Other men came and went as hours became days and days became weeks. Men in emergency uniforms, then men in military ones. Men in expensive suits, and finally men in lab coats.

In the middle of it all, a family became whittled down to a father and a son. Neither had said much at all. Now, the father retreated into a shell of alcohol and voiced his pain with his fists. The adolescent boy took his beatings quietly but not passively, just as he took everything else. They were once training lessons; they were once mixed martial arts conditioning sessions, trained to make the son as much of a prize fighter as the father once was. Now they were simply beatings from a grieving father, an outlet of indiscriminate rage in the rawest possible form.

It was the day that the boy nearly died, that the men in lab coats returned. The uniformed guards accompanying them separated him from the father and beat the whiskey-stained man until he stopped struggling. The father hardly made a sound as he unclenched his fists and went limp. The adolescent boy himself was nearly unrecognizable. His face had been pummeled purple, the cuts from swollen eyeslids, lips and broken nose bleeding profusely. The rasping whisper emanating from the syringe valve inserted below his larynx was a poor excuse for breathing. His jaw looked deformed, as if it had been smashed from the left-hand side; a bloody gash trailing all the way down to his collarbone where his face had made rough contact with a long, blunt edge.

But, against all logic, he was still alive.

Even with the vestigial breathing mask fastened to his face, the doctor walking beside the stretcher could tell it would take months of rehabilitation until any research could ever be made. She tentatively laid her hand on his right shoulder, the least bruised part of his body, although she could not bring herself to smile reassuringly as she had been instructed.

“Hello, Connors. I’m Doctor Rosin Franklin. You can call me Rosie. I’ll be taking care of you from now on. You’ll be safe.”

Connors’ deep blue gaze, framed in mild surprise, never left the Viola scientist until he was given a double dose of the sedative. He did not wake for another month.

***

“Do you remember now, Erthys?”

“I don’t remember so much as I do experience, I confess.”

“It is a memory you are experiencing. A personal experience.”

Erthys floated in a blank, white void of light. It had been some time since he could recall how long he had been in here. A lesser being may have already gone insane from the solitude, but lesser beings would not have stayed here long.
And Erthys was not exactly alone.

He rolled a shoulder muscle, relishing the feeling even though he could not see his shoulder. “It is really a shame. It doesn’t feel like a memory to me. And if it doesn’t feel like a memory, am I really remembering it?”

There was a moment’s pensive silence.

“You have to find them, and take them back.”

“Finding them would be a more practical task if I knew who they were. Who would be ‘them’?”

“Me.”

Erthys looked in the direction of the new voice, not quite sure of what was up or down, in front or behind. But he saw.
The young man was ragged, pale, but muscle and sinew strained taut under his skin like cable steel. The blue irises had faded, like an item of clothing passed through the wash too many times, but it was a gaze as piercing as ever. As naked as a newborn child, he could see the myriad of scars, needle tracks and bruises, least of all the long, white scratch of skin tracing the edge of the hollow of his throat, to the corner of his lips, almost inviting the stilted smile that Erthys recognized.

“You?”

“There are more of us, but only one of you will leave. You will make that choice, and return in chaos before the end of everything. You will leave this empty space behind, but you will come back when you have no more need for your body.”

“The ‘end of everything’ isn’t quite an inviting event to return to, although I suppose if I can pay a visit to the family one last time, I can put up with it.”

“You have all the time in this world of yours, but there is very little where you are needed. Make destiny. I will be there for you when it happens, Erthys.”

They both moved, Erthys running a hand over his face, feeling the rough scars wrapping his blind white eyes from under his eyelids, the long cascade of hair, and felt the rest of his body return to him. He found it in himself to smile, mildly surprised.

“Fascinating.”

__________________
死の果までも追い掛けます、 探し出し
奪われた物全て取り返して見せる

RIP in peace old sig lolol 04/2015




Don't believe your eyes? Don't be surprised.





Last edited by Hisako; 09/20/2011 at 03:40 PM.
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Old 12/30/2011   #24
Alex
Default

Salem Locke & Kram Niet
Torn

5 YEARS AGO
VIOLA FACILITY #2

The young boy with the uncertain, innocent face had grown into one of Viola's finest Destrillians as the years went by. Fond memories of training with Salem had made Kram alert and focused in attaining the end goals of his overseer, Dr. Ying Li: to be one of Viola's best ever superhuman weapons. Having grown in Viola after the supposed abandonment of his mother and father, Kramskov Niet was already destined to follow the dark fate that awaited all children who were converted into Destrillians.


However, one incident two months ago had changed him forever. The arrival of Destrillian number twenty-one, Tao Hong, had unintentionally strayed the young man far from his goals, replacing them with his own individual desire: freedom. The young man struggled with conveying these feelings to his friend and partner Destrillian number twenty-two, Salem Locke. These were the days depicting their fall from friendship to animosity; how Kram had defied Viola in exchange for freeing she most important to him, and how Salem had tried to dissuade Kram from betraying the ideal that he had been following for so long over something so little as love.


Kram was escorted by Dr. Li and two units of guards. The boy's sudden shift from reluctance to overconfidence over the years had garnered praise from Dr. Li, but she had yet to thank the one arguably responsible for the boy's change: Salem Locke. However, today there was something different in the air. Not unlike last time, where it was carefree between the doctor and her subject. Dr. Li had something in mind and wished to see it for her own eyes.


"Alright Dr. Li, who are we up against today?" Kram asked Dr. Li while walking with cool confidence towards the training room. The very same one where Salem and he combated a squadron of Viola's training droids and emerged victorious so many years ago. Dr. Li gave the young man a pat, ever so proud of her successful subject's growth. But this only masked the intentions of today's training - such is the deceptive touch of Dr. Ying Li.


"Today we are pitting you against Mr. Locke. Do you remember that time where he and yourself fought against a horde of machines to test your team compatability?" she asked him as they strode back to the memorable training room.


"Yeah? Why do you suddenly want to shift my usual training against Tao to Salem? I've been doing well haven't I?" Kram asked, slightly anxious.


"That is correct. But because I have noticed a decreased interest to further develop your abilities, I have decided to change the roster. Need I remind you that you still have a long way to go before you are finally given the norms and privileges of Viola?" she asked.


"Y-yes..." Kram said in a quiet and somber tone.


"Your performace with Bradley's pet has disappointed me, little grasshopper. I believe it is time to reinvigorate that spark I saw years ago after being dulled by Ms. Hong," she said sharply. Kram could tell that Dr. Li was beginning to notice his feelings towards Tao. How long before he was forced to say, he wasn't so sure. He even was a little nervous about the rest of the Destrillians finding out about the burried secret that happened during Yule with him and Tao. Never the less, it was just another training with Salem to improve his fighting abilities and he gave her a nod of absent-minded agreement as they marched towards the training room. Upon arrival at the familiar room, they could see a group of men along with Dr. Bench and Salem standing, awaiting their arrival.


"Good day, Prodigy. Mr. Locke," Dr. Li adressed the younger doctor and nodded towards Salem.


"Hello, Pretty. Hello, Salem," Kram said with casual politeness towards both of them.


Dr. Evelyn Bench scowled at Li's nickname for her and pretended not to notice, "Doctor, Subject 23, good morning," she said stiffly, with a curt nod. It was unfortunate that Kram worked so well with her subject; it meant that they were forced to see each other a lot. Somethng that Dr. Bench found deeply uncomfortable given Kram's apparent schoolyard infatuation and her own awkward relationship with the overbearing Dr. Li.


"You need to learn to lighten up, you know that, Eve?" Salem piped up, folding his arms and nodding a welcome at Kram. "Have a nice lie in, princess? You're late,"


"He makes a good point, Ying, it would have been more practical to get these two here at the same time so we could brief them together. It would have prevented any...misunderstandings," Bench stuffed her hands into the pockets of her slightly oversized labcoat and narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Dr. Li and Kram. She wouldn't put it past the Xi Qinese doctor to have given her Destrillian a different set of instructions in order to improve his performance against Salem.


"Forgive our tardiness. I have been trying to locate the boy. Not that I have lost control of him in any form, but he has been rather...lost in his thoughts, shall we say," she turned her analytic eyes towards Kram. He dodged her stare and tried to be as dismissive as possible, hoping that she would not see through his heart so easily. It was true that he had been visiting Tao alot in secret, but his near experience at being caught in the act almost overturned his relations with him and Dr. Li.


"I only wanted to come back here. That's all...I just lost my way and went back to my pod," Kram lied quietly. Dr. Li was not convinced by the Destrillian's shallow lie, her glasses flashing menacingly against him.


"My dear, the training room is not the direction of Number 21's holding cell," Dr. Li said coldly. She knew that something was going on between Kram and Dr. Bradley's subject and it really bothered her. Distorted tapes leading towards Ms. Hong's cell confirmed her suspicions that Kramskov and Tao had been up to something, nothing immature but something to do with seeds of dissent. Had the Destrillian of speed corrupted her prized subject's goals? Was this Dr. Bradley's gambit in sabotaging her life's work? She has yet to see if it indeed was happening right now.


"Whatever. Let's just get this over with," Kram hissed in annoyance as he brushed past her and the guards to meet Salem. Kram gave his friend a more welcoming look despite suspicions arising between him and his own overseer.


"Yeah, can we? Please? All this exposition is making me queasy," Salem snorted derisively.


Bench rolled her eyes. She had done her best not to get herself or Salem involved in whatever drama that Subjects 21, 23 and Dr. Li had whipped up for themselves. It was a further reason why she dreaded these joint training sessions.


"I agree with Salem." In response, the Destrillian threw her a gigantic wink, which she proceeded to ignore, "Lets just get on with today's exercises,"


"Whats on the agenda today then, Docs?" Salem asked, cracking his knuckles enthusiastically.


"The task is simple. As usual, you both will be pitted against each other. First one to draw blood without death shall be deemed victorious and relieved for an hour before being sent back to the pods. Use of weaponry is authorised," Dr. Li said.


"Well bugger me blind. You have blown me away with all this startling innovation," Salem drawled sarcastically.


"'Tis what I do best, my dear," Dr. Li quipped back with a smirk. Kram immediately broke away from the group and positioned himself on the opposite side of the arena, his hands kept to his pockets. There was a noticable change in Kram compared to the meek little boy years ago, he was rather distant towards them as of late, bordering on apathy. It was now made apparent by his desire to end this match and potentially win the hour Dr. Li proposed. He wanted this short freedom for himself...he needed it. She was waiting for him to return.


"Ready whenever you are, Salem," Kram called out as he clenched his fists burried under his pockets. This was no team related fight this time; he was going to butt heads with one of the deadliest and most experienced Destrillians of them all. 'The monster of monsters', as Tao described him. How far had Salem grown after fighting alongside him for a while, Kram had yet to see.


Not bothering to even uncross his arms, the Destrillian moved into position opposite his dark haired counterpart, whilst the pair of doctors and their guards proceeded to move to the room's periphery and out of harm's way.


"Try and make this interesting, okay dude?"


With an approving nod as a promise to do so, Kram darted towards Salem. With a slap of his right hand, he sent a wave of darkness against Salem. Unlike the smaller arcs he used to convey, this was more potent and darker than its previous forms. Kram's development had grown compared to the time he was last seen here. Using his left hand, he sent another wave against his friend before breaking off from the straight path and running left to catch him from that side. He readied his right hand with another slash of darkness in case Salem resorted to using explosives. He was rather cautious after experiencing the blast from various fights and the most notable one where he'd literally witnessed Salem tear through the largest robot he had ever seen. These accounts and experiences armed him with enough knowledge to find ways to counter his deadly gas moves.


The first arc of darkness was large and easy to dodge, Salem told himself with a smirk as he casually ducked beneath the searing wave of pitch black energy that tore across the room. He had seen Kram make this move hundreds of times before. Starting off with a large attack and then following up with a smaller one to catch you off guard. To his wide-eyed surprise, the fact that Kram had charged at him head on, following in the wake of his darkness attack took him off-guard. Another slash of darkness ripped through the air in front of him, prompting the Destrillian to roll his shoulders backwards to avoid the energy's high reach. Enough time for Kram to close the gap between the two.


Kram leapt forward and delivered a surprise round house kick laced with darkness up across Salem's face. All he had to do was knock him out instead of draw blood from his friend. Such attacks were his methods as of late compared to his violent tendencies of drawing blood from each battle. To add a fail safe should this attack fall through, he charged another burst of darkness from both his hands to at least grab Salem with them. He wasn't so sure if touching a Destrillian with a concentrated dose of darkness was enough to weaken them, but it was worth the risk. With a confident smile, he was about to land a connecting kick and with a couple with darkness laced hands as failsafes, he was confident that this fight was his to own.


It was a tactical decision, Salem had decided, to let the roundhouse kick connect with the side of his face. It had hurt, sure. But it was the easier option to take, giving him the time he needed to grab Kram's outstretched hands by the wrists. Twisting his face into a grimace, the larger Destrillian lashed out with one of his legs, colliding harshly with Kram's knee.


Kram felt the brunt of Salem's kick as it sent a shockwave of pain across his knee. Biting his lip to forcefully relieve himself of pain, Kram raised his free leg to send another kick laced with darkness across Salem's face. The dose wasn't fatal but enough to push him away from his friend's powerful counterattack.


Still gripping Kram's wrists with both hands, Salem had anticipated the second roundhouse kick. With a snarling grin, the Destrillian of gas waited for Kram to raise one of his legs off the ground for his next assault. As his cruel smirk spread wider, Salem leapt backwards, harshly tugging his hands backwards, yanking the Destrillian of Darkness off balance on his one foot.


Kram's face, apparent as ever, twisted into rage as he unleashed a deadly amount of darkness around his arms to loosen Salem's grip of his hands. At this rate, he would lose the match and fail to acquire the reward Dr. Li had promised. He had to hide the desperation behind his eyes; if Salem knew what he was after, this could turn into a bloodbath between him and Salem. He wasn't going to let the more experienced Destrillian have his way this time. It was winning that was all in Kram's mind.


Darkness began bleeding into his body as it began shrouding him in it, although he had to exert control or else the migranes would come faster before this battle was over.


I can't let you win...I've allowed you to win a thousand times. But not now, not when I can get the chance to be with her Kram said telepathically at Salem.


Oh will you give it a rest with the inner monologuing, Kram! Salem fired back almost immediately, quickly frustrated as he was forced to leap away from the other Destrillian and release his advantageous grip from around Kram's wrists, which were now wreathed in fierce, smouldering ripples of darkness. Reluctantly, Salem was forced to concede that this ability of Kram's to channel his power through his various body parts was ... annoying, at best. He closed his eyes for a moment and hoped Kram would take a step forward to close the gap.


The rapid burst of air pressure between the two Destrillians was generated so quickly that Salem barely had time to leap backwards to escape the expanding fireball. It was a bit ostentatious, the Destrillian of Gas thought to himself. He doubted whether or not Evey and the other doctors were aware that he was capable of producing such large explosions so quickly. The idea made his smile grow wider as the roaring orange explosion collapsed in on itself, leaving a smoking, charred crater on the dirt of the training centre floor.


The explosion took Kram by surprise. He lept back in horror as the flash of the explosion wiped off the shroud of darkness covering him like weak flames against a strong wind. Fortunately, he had stored a decent percentage of the shroud before it went to waste, seeking another alternative to put Salem at a disadvantage, he darted for the armory to retrieve any melee weapory to extend his reach towards the Destrillian of gas. Picking up two wooden swords laid out at the make shift armoury, he armed himself and darted for one of the foam plateus, hoping to strike Salem from above. He had to align his shadow with Salem in order to strike at the precise moment. With a leap of faith, he jumped as high as his injured legs could carry him, hoping the leap would carry him directly above Salem.


The timing was perfect, the training dome's lights magnified his shadow atop of Salem. Closing his eyes to focus, he tried to conjure the deathly effects of his powers right at Salem's feet, hoping he would fail to notice the ominous growing darkness. Readying his sword for a feint attack, he dove as the darkness of his shadow began to intensify at Salem's feet. With a daring smile, he readied his second sword for his real attack.


The attack caught the Destrillian of gas off guard. He had not been expecting Kram to follow up so strongly or so quickly. Beginning to utter a curse word so vile that it was practically untypable, Kram connected with his attack.


Kram landed a blow at Salem's head and followed with another strike to his chest. Kicking the taller Destrillian's knee down, Kram positioned both wooden swords around Salem's neck, as if threatening to behead him. The glare that Kram gave Salem was intense and filled with rage by his friend's refusal to stand down.


"You lost, Salem. Stand down already!" Kram hissed. The desperation to see Tao became so evident, he knew Salem could see it. He didn't have to hide his desire anymore. He had to win even if it meant knocking Salem out.


No snappy comeback, sarcastic remark or wry self-aware monologue sprang from the tightened lips of the Destrillian. His mismatched eyes contemptuously studied the determination etched into the face of his younger sparring partner. There was only one reason why Kram was fighting so ferociously and it had absolutely nothing to do with him.


He swung his head backwards, squashing his body low and beneath Kram's raised swords. There was no more grinning. His mind was made up.


An explosion in the air just behind Kram threw the Destrillian's concentration, just for a moment. Salem was up and on him faster than Kram anticipated. His face stoic and expressionless, cold and frightening. The first punch was a left hook aimed straight for Kram's face, easily telegraphed by Kram as he brought his hands up to block the punch. His hands were raised, away from guarding his body. In a better mood, Salem would have smirked. This was a novice's mistake.


The next punch was low and dropped like a sledge-hammer on Kram's side, connecting with his kidney and causing Kram to physically grunt with pain. His hands were moving down now, away from his face and back into a more regular stance for guarding shots to the body. Far too late. A second punch, much harder than the first got underneath Kram's guard and smashed into Kram's liver with the force of a freight train.The paralysing effect was instantaneous as Kram's body proceeded to lock up and refuse obeying his commands as his liver screamed out in anguish.


Kram wasn't in this fight as his friend. He wasn't even in this fight for himself.


The crimson eyes were glassy and unfocused. Barely even registering the enormous overhand right that connected so hard with the side of Kram's head that he felt the force it whip his face to the side and send burning hot shrieks of pain down his neck. The next thing his body knew it was on the ground, his open mouth faintly tasting the salty dirt of the training room floor.


"N-Not yet..." Kram hissed. Battered, in pain and filled with determination after all that punishment, he refocused his attention towards Salem. So this was what he was capable of if driven off the edge. Kram knew he had gone too far in provoking the far more experienced Destrillian. Tao was really the ire of the Destrillian of gas.


"I'm sorry I..." he gagged. " I disappointed you," he told Salem weakly as he tried to get himself back up. He knew that Salem was doing this because of Tao, he knew that Kram had lost all the focus and desire to fight alongside Salem. He showed his emotions and cards too early before he thought he could truly overpower him. It was a mistake, one he had to rectify. He forced his legs to move and his body to stand up straight, there was but one way to bring this match to a draw.


"I love her, Salem." Kram said, wary of Salem's rage. "I'm s-sorry, but I'm not the same kid who f-fought with you anymore." He knew that this was true, he knew that Salem had to accept this softer side of Kram one way or another.


"She makes-" Salem strode forward towards Kram, snatching out with one free hand to grab Kram by his long, scruffy hair.


"you-" he cocked his right hand back again.


"so-" his fist connected squarely with Kram's face. The punch was not aimed, or coordinated. It was messy and wild, aimed directly for whatever part of the earnest, emotional mug in front of it that it could reach.


"WEAK!" the last word exploded out of him. Primal and raw, like the bellow of a wild animal. He snapped his head forward again and was rewarded with the dull thump of pain in his own forehead as Kram was once again thrown onto the floor.


"WHY WON'T YOU FIGHT BACK!" Salem screamed down at the other Destrillian. Every enjoyable memory he had shared with his friend here in Viola, all of the pranks they had pulled on the doctors and all of the times he had dragged Kram into sharing the blame and the delight of causing mayhem, all of those memories hurt. Burning white hot with anger so much that it almost physically hurt him. Whatever this girl had done to Kram, it was obvious that this was no longer his best friend that lay panting and hurt before him.


"Because."


Kram suddenly grabbed Salem's leg with a sudden rush of strength that he had kept all this time. He forcefully pierced Salem's leg with his fingers and flooded the wounds with darkness. He rose up and landed his strongest punch against his stomach as he pierced Salem's left abdomen with his index finger, filling it with darkness.


"She-" he dragged Salem down to his knees, his wounded face and bruised eyes bringing his far more superior counterpart to his face. releasing his index finger from his friend's abdomen, he charged a darkness laced fist and slammed it against his chest, to further spread it around his insides.


"would- " he punched Salem's face with a fist full of darkness.


"never-" he headbutted Salem against his forehead.


"allow me-" he landed another strike.


"TO HURT YOU THIS BAD!" he roared at him as he charged another fist and was about to land another punch at Salem's face. He held Salem's head with the strands of green hair as he gazed at his wounded friend's eyes. The next strike would have been fatal, he knew it. The rage was culminating into this one deadly blow that would forever separate them.


You can't! Stop it! You've won! THAT'S ENOUGH!!


The darkness vanished from his hand as he forgot all his rage and threw himself unto Salem in complete embrace. He couldn't finish it.


The grin slowly found its way back onto Salem's bruised face. The pain felt real, though numbed by the chilling effect of the darkness. It was a strange sensation, as though he was moving his sore muscles through a dense ice pack.


"That's more like it," he choked out, coughing up his words through a throat that had obviously been on the receiving end of one of Kram's punches.


"See what I mean, dude? That bitch never lets you have any fun anymore." His laugh was wheezing. The darkness that was flowing through his insides made him feel as though his innards were simultaneously on fire and freezing at the same time.


"Both of you are equally important to me. You'd do well to never forget that," he told Salem. Releasing his grip on the Destrillian as he slumped forward, blood beginning to flow from his mouth. With tired eyes, he stared up at Salem's own wounded face.


"I'm... tired of all this 'fun'. Viola will never let us truly be free," he wearily told Salem. He knew that after seeing Tao wounded that night in Yule, ready to be healed for another round of experiments coupled with his and Salem's own experiences with the other doctors, was a clear indication that they were all fated to be chained to Viola's ruthless servitude forever. The promised sky and breeze that he had heard from Tao, the beautiful lands spread across the world to which they were separated from, would never be within his grasp. Not like this.


"Ugh, when did you get to be so full of crap," Salem groaned, rolling onto his back as the pain from the injuries finally sank in. "You little bitch." His voice sounded tired and far away, modestly interrupted with groans of pain.


================================================================================ =============


SIX MINUTES LATER


Doctors Ying Li and Evelyn Bench made their way into the cluttered mess of the training room to see both Destrillians lay there, intensely wounded and utterly defeated by their powers. As predicted, Kram had become an utter mess to escalate this fight.


"Humblest apologies for the mess, prodigy," Dr. Li coldly said as she eyed Kram's conscious body, still under pain from Salem's deadly assault. The data gathered from this fight indicated that Kram was no longer fit to be partnered with Salem for the mean time. She feared that it would be a fight to the death next time they faced each other like this or even in team-based trials.


Dr. Bench was forced to bite her tongue. As the fight had gone on she had been getting increasingly frantic in trying to get Dr. Li to stop the fight. The senior doctor, however, had merely waved away her concerns. Eager to get more data as she had watched her Destrillian be beaten half to death and then proceed to beat her Destrillian half to death. Exasperated, she had sent the armed guards away to go prepare a medical team to be despatched here. It was unlikely that either Kram or Salem would be walking away from here on their own two legs.


"What has happened to you, grasshopper?" she grimaced at Kram.


"He's got a shit load of that human emotion you call love," Salem grumbled from his prostrate position on the ground nearby. He had curled into the fetal position to nurse his stomach, which was in the act of deciding whether or not the damage done to it by Kram was worth a hearty vomit.


Satisfied by the Destrillian of Gas' answer, she made her way to Salem and forced him into lying down completely. The position he was in would've potentially hastened his wounds to a greater degree.


"Let it flow out. You are merely allowing grasshopper's powers to rupture your system if you lay in such a manner," she said patiently. With palm point techniques of Xi Qinese origin, she pressed his abdomen to allow bits of darkness to escape the puncture wound of Salem's abdomen. The darkness hissed and vanished everytime it escaped the wound. She stretched the leg which Kram wounded to allow the same effect to disperse faster.


"Duly noted," Salem mumbled to himself as his doctor went over to him to examine the extent of the damage. Placing her hands on her hips in frustration as she watched Li's aptitude in mending the damage done by Kram.


"Truly. Be still, child. Fortunate for your Destrillian background, any normal human would be rotting inside by now," she tenderly said. This went without saying that Kram's powers had the ability to cause a frostbite-like feeling due to the absolute zero temperature of Darkness.


"Kram, I think that its time that we talked about your relationship with Number 21," Bench snapped. The fact that Li would rather tend to her own Destrillian than discuss the elephant in the room was beyond irritating.


"I ain't saying shit, Pretty," Kram hissed back at Dr. Evelyn. He would only discuss it with Salem and no one else; it was their problem to resolve without the involvement of these doctors.


Dr. Bench cocked her head slightly and adjusted her glasses. It was a curious thing, she had expected this kind of language and attitude from Salem. But not from the traditionally more meek and mild-mannered Kram.


"This isn't up for discussion, Kram. These psychological factors could have a serious impact on your battlefield performance." Bench was forced to raise her voice at the end to drown out the sound of Salem moaning out a resounding 'No shit.'


"I love her. Salem's still my best friend. That's all there is you need to know," Kram stubbornly said. He was very reluctant to even say much to Dr. Bench due to the fact that she might be as controlling as Dr. Li.


He didn't want to give that advantage to them at all.


===================================================


DR. LI'S OFFICE


Dr. Li encircled the metallic stressballs around her hand while struggling to further understand why had Kram suddenly developed these useless emotions after being exposed to Number 21. The impossible odds of such events were starting to take a toll on her understanding of Kram's psyche and how he would be so desperate to see her. She had to eliminate the problem: Number 21. She had to find a way to forcefully make Kram remember his purpose and why he had been chosen by the project or else her career and life's work would come to an abrupt end. It was either adapt to Kram's desires or completely crush his insubordinate ways.


The sharp knocking on the door of her office prompted Li to raise her head. Dr. Evelyn Bench stood in the doorway, hands pushed into the pockets of her large labcoat and eyes looking unnaturally large behind the thick lenses of her glasses.


"We need to talk about Kram."


"I am well aware, prodigy..." Dr. Li said. One way or another, she was at a loss for Kram's strange display and rather hostile attitude in recent months.


"Abaddon would want to wipe his memories, or put him in isolation. There's no way that we are going to be able to keep this on him either. Once the latest psych reports comes in..." Bench let her voice taper off. Either way it was inevitable. There was no way such a strong development in one Destrillian's psyche could be kept a secret for long.


Dr. Li slammed the metallic objects at the table and shot Dr. Bench a deadly glare.


"Do you think, tampering with grasshopper's memories AGAIN will make him any better?! THINK, WOMAN! Mr. Abaddon would merely erase years of hard work put into Kramskov!" she yelled at Dr. Bench. This was the first time that Dr. Li had displayed any form of anger towards her staff other than arrogant gloating or resentful comments. Fixing her glasses, she took three seconds to recollect her composure as she began shuffling the stressballs.


"No...he must not know of grasshopper's fractured psyche at this moment. Instead, we must focus on eliminating the source of this mess," she told Dr. Bench.


"Believe it or not, Ying, I agree," Dr. Bench responded, her voice kept clipped and patient. She didn't appreciate being shouted at, though it was sadly far from the first time that the senior staff had vented their frustrations on her. "Salem is in enough of a mess without his closest comrade being turned into a brain-dead drone,"


"And I as well. It is not grasshopper's fault that this has caused him to lose faith in us. It's that wreched Number 21 as well as her ignorant doctor," Li hissed at the screen reflecting Dr. Bradley's face.


"We must persuade Mr. Abaddon to aggressively test Ms. Hong to her limits," she said sheepishly. She knew for a fact that Tao was incapable of progress after those canyons of scars etched across her back as well as her stomach scars prevented her from developing physically. But the fact such a frail female could incite such a change in her subject was the worst sabotage ever crafted by Dr. Bradley.


"What do you suggest?" Bench suggested. It was not impossible to think that Dr. Li was privy to more of Viola's higher level experiments than herself.


"There was a dangerous experiment created in theorem by Dr. Bradley's father before Ms. Hong was chosen to be the Destrillian of speed. The experiment was never completed as none of the destined candidates before Ms. Hong were ever successful in achieving their full potential. The Experiment was called Time Distillation Speed...forcing the subject to expend extrenuous amounts of energy to remain out of the sound barrier in order to allow their bodies to become near astral-like figures, or even experience frozen time in their point of view when in such a form. Fortunately for me, Ms. Hong has yet to be subjected to this..." Dr. Li smirked as she fixed her glasses menacingly.


"She has gone too far this time. She must pay for sabotaging my life work," she hissed.


"Does this facility's management know about this experiment? Does Spencer?" Bench's voice sounded shrill and slightly outraged. The Destrillians Project was one thing, but it was being done in the name of defending the nation. This experiment just sounded dangerous for the sake of being dangerous. That was a far weightier burden on her conscience.


"Only Mr. Spencer, Abaddon and Bradley's team are aware of this...officially, of course. It has yet to be approved once again due to its nature on vaporizing the subject before they could ever be truly achieve the capabilities of The Destrillian of Speed. Ms. Hong is still a poor wounded sparrow in this facility...and what happens when one approves to place a frail beauty like her under the raging typhoon of such an experiment?" she asked Evelyn.


"I suppose it might help stimulate her progress," Evelyn conceded, turning her green eyes towards the floor. Whilst it was true that this experiment could help Tao's development, there was no way that it would come risk free. Even for a Destrillian.


With a confident smile armed with a devious agenda, Dr. Li rose from her desk.


"Begin preparations. With your aid, we must discard that psyche report, forge it if you must and give me a year to convince Mr. Abaddon to initiate the Time Distilation Speed Experiment. We WILL force Kram and Ms. Hong to bend to our will!" she said triumphantly. She had to put Bradley in a dilemma, just as she had unwittingly placed her in one in the eyes of Spencer and Abaddon. They would have to move quickly before they discovered the forgery of the psyche reports and eliminated the years of Kram's development.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


1 WEEK LATER


"Number 20 and Number 23, your training is to commence in 30 minutes. Savour your moments alone to avoid any ill feelings," Dr. Li's voice called out through the speakers of the partially destroyed training dome. Kram was already idly picking weapons with Number 20, Lokka Kayne. It had been a while since the two had spoken, but at least no animosty had spawned between the two Destrillians--unlike the outcome with him and Salem.


"Hey Lokka?" Kram began as he fumbled through the various wooden weaponry made available to them.


"Yeah?" the other replied in a dulled tone. His interest in this particular type of training was miniscule at most.


"I know you and I haven't gotten close or have that much of a friendship. But I gotta ask you something...personal," Kram said hesitantly as he picked the wooden swords or batons to be used in the following exercise.


Lokka was assembling his weapon, not bothering to make eye contact with Kram. The boy wasn't intentionally avoiding it, though his mind was mostly elsewhere. "What is it?"


"Do you uhh...know this sort of feeling towards another girl? Something that you can't shake off when you see her? I don't know...love? Or dedication?" The younger Destrillian was lost in his own question towards his senior counterpart. The feelings he had towards Tao were bordering on love or something even greater than human comprehension. Maybe he placed too much thought into it, but either love or dedication seemed like the word for it at the time.


The older Destrillian paused for a few moments. "I don't think you picked the right person to ask about this," he said quietly as he returned to the weaponry in front of him. "But if you want an answer, then no, no I do not know this feeling."


Kram sighed in frustration. He thought he had pinned down the right word at that moment. However, he did have something else to ask instead.


"What do you think or feel about being here all your life? And you're trapped here with that girl you...uhh...love so much and you'll know something bad is going to happen?" He picked those words carefully, to avoid any other verbal confrontation with Lokka. "I uh, don't know about you but... Don't you have that sort of feeling towards someone here?" he asked him.


"You're my allies. Nothing more; nothing less," Lokka stated, allowing for a brief pause so as not to patronise Kramskov. "In regards to staying here all my life, well, that simply isn't true. We're weapons, Number 23. We were built to fight. You think we can do that here?" He twirled a large fighting staff around with his right hand, feeling and assessing the weight of it, forcing his body to accept it as an extension of itself. "And-- if you think something bad is going to happen, Kram, then why don't you do something about it?"


Kram bluntly placed a sword down in frustration before turning to him to show that it wasn't a simple thing to do. There was no holding it any longer with him and Lokka.


"If the ones who raised you, and put you through hell just to become a weapon without reward or praise, took everything from you as reward for your loyalty and servitude...what would you do?" he pressed on before deciding to come out with the hard question.


"I'd kill them," Lokka replied calmly. He took his stick and started walking to the further side of the room, having selected his weapon the moment he stepped into the room. Stopping when he reached the middle, he allowed Kram to soak up any honest answer he could.
"Nobody takes anything away from me."


Kram gave Lokka a confident smile before reaching for the wooden sword he had slammed moments earlier and made his way to the center a few yards away from Lokka, readying his weapon.


"Not even Viola?" he asked.


"Nobody."


Kram, for the first time ever, gave a wide smile that he would be known for in his later days. This moment changed him, served as a ripple that would break his bond with Viola for the days to come.


"You're a good friend, senior," Kram said. He knew what to do and what had to be done. The path was clear and this was all it had taken.


Lokka shook his head. "No." He turned to face Kram now with his chosen weapon at his side. "We're allies. Don't forget that."


Kram readied his much more flexible stance, to avoid resorting to powers this session. "A friend to me no matter how you define it."


"Training time started," Dr. Li called out through the speakers. "Begin."


Kram rushed at Lokka with a more enthusiastic and positive outlook. He had to tell her about this and eventually...Salem. He would have to accept his choice no matter what path they both might take in the long run. Times were changing for Kram, and he knew he had to act soon, be it a week or a year from now.


================================================================================ ==================


The recreation room was probably a misnomer. There was very little in the way of recreation to be had here. A handful of tables and chairs, a pool table that had half the balls missing and a table tennis set that lacked a net, balls and bats. Viola's intention had been to use these as off-duty techniques to measure the Destrillians proficiency for hand-eye coordination, though the idea had been quickly scrapped. The objects were simply part of the furniture now.


Or, in Salem's case, the pool table was a comfortable place to have a lie down. It had been over a week since his fight with Kram and still he was sore and walking with a limp. It was frustrating. Kram hadn't learned a damned thing. The pair hadn't even spoken since that day.


"Did you know that you breathe incredibly loudly?" The voice of Destrillian number twenty-seven, Lorelei, was tinged with annoyance. "Even in here, there's no peace and quiet," she sighed.


"Well, I'm fucking sorry, noise police. Next time I stop by the armoury I'll be sure to eat a silencer." He spoke the words to the ceiling, choosing to ignore Lorelei's scrutinising presence. The last thing he wanted was for her to start psychoanalysing the drama of the past week.


"Cheers," she replied brightly, deciding to leave her chair to engage the other in conversation. "So what brings you here today, Salem? Did the doctors get tired of you flirting with them?" Despite her opening reproach, Lorelei had decided some time ago that she rather liked Salem - or, at least, that he didn't bother her quite as much as most people did.


A handful of jokes immediately leapt to Salem's mind, though for once none of them escaped his lips straight away. He held his tongue and shrugged against the worn felt of the table.


"I needed some time away, I guess," he grumbled. Regretting the words almost as soon as they had left his mouth. There was no way that Lorelei wouldn't read something into that. Next time, he reminded himself, he would just make a tastelessly inappropriate joke about her being blind.


For her part, the indigo-haired young woman did not disappoint. "Something on your mind, then, I see." Coming to a stop beside the pool table, she decided that this was as good a way to pass the time as any. "Mind if I have a seat?" she asked, her tone somewhat more gentle now. It was rare for Salem to have anything other than sex, violence and mayhem on his mind - who knew when the next time that happened would be?


"Whatever," the response was dismissive and uncaring. She hopped up on the pool table beside him and settled in.


"Is there something I can do for you and your charming accent today, Lorelei?" There were over five hundred different tiles that made up the ceiling in here. Had he miscounted? He could have sworn that there were over six hundred yesterday.


He thinks it's charming? she wondered, fighting a smile. "Certainly," she replied. "You can tell me what's up. I've been here at least two minutes and you've only made two jokes, neither of which were at my expense, and you haven't tried to get in my pants."


"Very perceptive. You've seen right through me," he sighed, swivelling his mismatched eyes down to look at the Destrillian perched on the corner of the pool table. She could probably see much more with those brilliant blue, sightless eyes of hers anyway. Not that he had made much of an effort in hiding the fact that something had been very definitely been on his mind lately. "You've heard about Kram and Tao, right?" he wasn't sure what had prompted this admission of the very thing that had been on his mind. Maybe it was something about Lorelei's unnerving stare, or her cute ass, or the fact that she was the only other Destrillian in the room at the moment. He wasn't sure.


"Yeah," she replied, rolling her eyes. "What about it?"


"It doesn't piss you off at all? Doesn't make you want to slap him upside his big, stupid dopey head and then throw that HUGE BITCH on top of a pile of live grenades?" He didn't try and hide the anger edging into his voice. There was no point, really. Everybody in the facility had heard about Kram and Salem nearly killing each other in the training room last week.


"Not especially; I mean, she is a huge bitch, and I don't like either one of them, but someone apparently finds them useful. As long as that's the case, what do I care?" She glanced over at the green-haired Destrillian. "But obviously it matters to you."


"No it doesn't, I don't care," he immediately snarled back. "I just think it's annoying as all hell." He pulled himself up into a sitting position so that he no longer had to look up at the judgmental stare of the other Destrillian.


"Why?" she asked. "You're friends, aren't you?"


"He's an overly sentimental, dorky, good for nothing streak of piss," Salem shrugged. He and Kram had been friends, but there was no doubt that something had changed between the two over the past few years. Or maybe it had just been Kram that had changed and then subsequently everything else had changed around him. Either way, it was all Tao's fault.


"But?"


"He used to be my friend." Lorelei is so annoying. Lorelei is so annoying. Lorelei is so annoying. Lorelei is so annoying. The endless playback loop continued through his head. Had the doctors here neglected to inform him of her mysterious power to make him talk about goofy, personal bullshit?


"'Used to'? So you blame Tao, then."


"Of course I blame her. Fuck, better clear out some room in your pod for the platinum No Shit award I'm going to get to work on fashioning for you."


"How thoughtful of you," she said with a smile. A considering expression crossed her face. "Why not just kill her, then?"


"I dunno. I guess I've thought about it a lot." Salem shrugged and turned his eyes back towards the five hundred and forty four tiles on the ceiling, "The guards don't exactly give me a lot of free reign anymore, you know?"


Lorelei snorted. "So the two of you are training. Accidents happen," she said with a shrug.


Salem let out a mirthless laugh. "You think they'd let me train with her? I'm far too badass for her to handle."


"Ooh, I love a confident man," she chuckled. "Although..." Her expression suddenly became serious. "She seems to have him wrapped around her finger, doesn't she?"


"A damn sight more than his joke of a doctor does, that's for sure." Salem's eyes were drawn back to those of his indigo haired companion. "Why?"


"Exactly what you just said." She turned her unseeing gaze upon Salem. "Perhaps they've become...confused as to just where their loyalties lie."


The tone of what she was suggesting was not lost on Salem, who broke out into a wide smile. "Perhaps you're right." He slouched back down onto the table with his hands folded behind his head, the dawn of an idea beginning to break into his mind. Perhaps there was a way to get rid of Tao after all that didn't involve alienating Kram for good.


"Sometimes, Lorelei, you can be so insightful."


================================================================================ ============================


Two guards lay unconscious at Kram's feet. He was inside the ever so familiar pod room, where each and every one of them was contained - however this was not his. He sat at the base where the pod would normally be positioned, as if its guardian. Beneath the pod, slept the one he cared for, his newfound source of life. Kram idly threw one of Li's metallic stressballs around the room, resonating around them that they did not wish to be bothered or that he was there and had to beware. After several attempts and precautions, the guards had given up all attempts to prevent him from meeting Tao within the pod room. Tao's sleeping visage was well aware that Kram was in the room, watching over her and hoping to speak to her. Having caught his presence long before he sat at the base of her pod, she made her first move.


Hello there, Kram. What brings you here? she said through telepathy, still eyes closed.


Kram suddenly stopped throwing the ball around with one catch. Having caught her telepathic message, he placed it down to give her a still sense of peace.


Salem and I aren't talking anymore, Kram responded.


Tao remained still within the confines of her pod.


I am well aware, Kram.


Kram bit his lip, picking up Li's metal ball once more and throwing it around to think of what to say.


He's still your friend is he not? Kram...You should not have done that. Why did you let go of your feelings as easily as that?


Kram caught the ball.


He's not. If he can't accept you, or sees my feelings as weakness, then he's not. But he's still...


He's still important to you. No matter what. Keep in mind you and I have been around for but a year. But Salem and you, you both share a lifetime of friendships even I am envious of. Do not throw it all away, Kram.


Kram grimaced as he held the ball tightly.


We have to get out of here...


Kram, please. I've already resigned to my fate here... We're Destrillians. Nothing more. Even if we are free, where do we go?


Kram threw the metal ball against the Viola symbol etched on the left side of the door with all his might, denting it and leaving it stuck.


No. There is always a way. I'm going to save you and all of them, even if I have to save Salem from his own bloodlust.


Tao remained silent as her magenta eyes slowly opened and stretched her hand against the pod's glass. Kram placed it in as well, a red blush running through his cheeks as he stared at her beautiful glowing eyes.


Alright. But promise me that you would meet Salem again. Promise?


Kram reluctantly dodged her hopeful eyes until he conceded by nodding.


I'll...uhh, meet him again to see how he's doing. Eventually.


Please do, Kram. Take care of yourself, okay?


Without another word, Kram waved an affectionate good bye to Tao as he descended back to his secret route into the darkness of the facility. He had to act fast. There was something in Tao's words that made him quite nervous, there had to be something wrong with her or what they were doing to her. Time was running out. He had to think of a way to free the others and conduct his own escape with her. He knew he could only turn his pleas to the one person capable of helping either of them, but he did not know when to strike.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


PRESENT DAY


Dr. Li's metallic hand clawed at the sides of the strange outlandish armour that sealed Kram within. Her annoyed face, coupled with her artificial wheezing, did not make the situation they were in.


"What in Aya's name is this abomination?" she exclaimed as she scratched the armour.


"Sorry I didn't have time to rip him out of this damn tin can myself, doc," Salem grunted from the corner of the room. He was leaning aside from the group of a half a dozen doctors that were examining the Rider suit that encased the Destrillian of darkness.


Dr. Li turned and gave him a welcoming smile. Their relationship throughout the years have become quite...complex to say the least compared to the times in the early days.


"You have done a splendid job, Salem. You need not be so critical of your efforts," she responded through her electronic voice. "You bringing the grasshopper home is most appreciated."


"Yeah, well, the little bastard never did know what was best for him."


"Let's hope he has forwent his petty emotions this time," Dr. Li said as the doctors began to call in several mechanics to torch open the armoured abomination and bring back what was once theirs.



__________________

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Old 01/26/2012   #25
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Various
What I Did Over My Summer Holiday

14 Years Ago
The Shattered Sea



There had been no contact with the team in over twelve hours. It had been the longest Jason Spencer had been without contact with the men on the ground since the excavation had commenced over thirty days ago. It was obvious by the timid glances of the yacht's staff, and the reluctance of the dozen or so soldiers that served as his private security guard, that he was worried, and therefore irritable. They gave the tall, bearded man a wide berth as he sat brooding in the exquisite black leather chair of the sweeping main cabin of Viola Inc's Presidential yacht.

Reverse engineered from military grade technology developed by the company itself, the yacht sat like a gleaming black dagger of naked carbon fibre. The ultimate marriage of comfort, elegance and high technology. But not even the advanced radio equipment that was equipped to it could maintain any sort of consistent signal with the excavation team that were working beyond the turbulent wall of storm clouds on the glassy surface of the Shattering. A deadzone in every right, each little blip of electricity was disrupted going in, and coming out. It took about a dozen outer-atmosphere satellites just to amplify the signal enough to come, thin, weak and constantly laden with white noise, through the speakers inlaid in the sleek table of black glass designed for this very purpose.

It was hard not to feel frustrated, having to sit back on the sidelines whilst the team laboured away at their task. It was not a feeling that Spencer was accustomed to at all. Even as an officer serving in the Artolian military, he could rarely be found far from the combat of the front lines. But in the real world, things were much less simple. A universal agreement between nations forbade any excavation of the Shattering because of the global risks unique to this geographical location. News that Jason Spencer and his family had travelled there was frankly more trouble than it was worth - and not just with the foreign governments and corporations that would see these actions as a breach of international law. There were entities far more dangerous than those that disapproved of trespassing in these waters.

Sleepless green eyes hovered over the barely touched glass of scotch that rested in his hand. He had once been told that it was a danger sign when you were too worried to even finish fine liquor. The edges of his mouth flickered slightly beneath his full beard of jet black hair and the old soldier downed the glass in one.

Outside, Jason Spencer's wife stood tall on the deck of the sleek yacht, her sharp eyes scanning the expanse of choppy water and the glimmering edge of land that lay, just in sight, on the horizon. Eleanor Grey, for her part, was impatient as well. She was a woman who got things done, no fuss and no delay, and even despite the scale of the venture she and her husband were undertaking, a month was longer than she would have liked to spend waiting uselessly for something to happen. Some called Mrs. Grey a control freak; others just called her organized. Whichever one a person sided with, they couldn't deny that when her name was on the bill for a project, it would be seen done swiftly and well.

To Eleanor, a month was neither swift nor well. The fact that she had spent said month on the yacht had done little to soften her - if anything, the inability to do much anything of use contributed to her ire. She blasted a short sigh of annoyance through her well-defined nose, the only outward sign of a loss of composure that she gave.

Her children had not helped matters, either. Although the yacht had made a few stops to refuel and for the gift of proper land under the family's legs again, so much time in so little a space had made the boy and girl stir-crazy, each in their own way. Neither one had reared their heads today, perhaps sensing the air of tension that seemed to have swallowed the yacht like a dense fog.

Her children were good for that, she mused. She had to give them that much. Both Zachary and Persephone had a way of tuning into the radio signals their parents gave off, and responding appropriately. Perhaps it was genetic, or perhaps it was the gift of a whole life spent in close proximity with Eleanor and Jason. Maybe it was both. Regardless, Eleanor knew her son and daughter understood a lot of the things between her and her husband that no outsider could. She could trust them, at least, with that.

She threw a glance behind her, to the slanted, tinted windows of the cabin. She knew she would be unable to see in but she could not stop herself from chancing a look over her shoulder now and again, waiting. As if she would be able to tell, darkened glass or not, when something happened from some shift inside.

No amount of random glances would yield any crop to her. The glass remained as dark and impassive as ever. She left the prow without hesitation, without a single backward glance, descending to the entrance of the cabin at a brisk, professional pace. Eleanor Grey was always like that: no time for the things that didn't matter.

"Enjoy the fresh air?" Jason asked from the long cabin. It served as the main lounge area for the yacht and was primarily used for entertaining large numbers of guests at corporate parties and fundraisers. It seemed haunting and forlorn without such numbers, housing only Jason pouring himself another glass of scotch from a lean, thin bottle on the well-stocked liquor cabinet.

"No." That was all she said for a moment, crisp and clipped. Only the one lifted corner of her lips gave away that she wasn't actually as unhappy as she sounded. She joined her husband on a chair opposite him. "The salt in the air isn't refreshing after this long - it's just briny. It gets in your nose and doesn't leave."

Jason nodded, but didn't respond immediately. It was conversation for conversation's sake. Neither one of them was willing, after all, to discuss the more pressing matter at hand, or their inability to do anything about it.

"Do you want me to get you a drink?"

"Please."

Nodding again, Spencer stood up to return to the liquor cabinet and moved for a bottle of gin. Scotch had never been his wife's drink. It was the little things like this which truly defined their relationship - hugs and kisses and tender caresses were rare, but if you asked one the other's favourite drink, preferred number of pillows, meat-to-vegetable portions, they wouldn't blink an eye.

He handed her the glass of gin (two cubes of ice, as always) and walked to the cabin's window. There was not much to the scenery here. Choppy grey waves crashed against the steep, jagged cliff faces of one of the Shattered Sea's innumerable islands. Everything about this place was hostile.

"Have you seen much of the kids today?"

"Not a whisper." Eleanor drank from her glass, following her husband with her eyes. "They've gone and holed themselves up downstairs. Nothing unusual for them," she added, and then with a hint of amusement so slight that anybody else would have mistaken it for simple exasperation, "I'm sure the peace is appreciated by all."

The beard hid the smile. It was no secret that their two teenage children could be more than a handful if they put their minds to it.

"Maybe we should have dinner with them later? We did promise them a holiday after all."

"What's a holiday to them? Those two look at every day as a holiday, or else every holiday as work." It was also well-known to the couple that their children could not swallow the words "quality family time" without at least a bit of a grimace, as all children their age did. Regardless: "we'll call them to the table at seven."

Jason nodded in approval. Tiring of the scenery, he returned to the comfort of the cabin's quality executive seating and took a sip of the thick amber coloured liquid that dwelt in his glass.

Eleanor took a moment to relax into the back of the chair, allowing her rigid posture to slack just a little. She took another sip of her own glass, mirroring her husband, and as she did she let time slow down around her. She did this on occasion - it was how she dealt with the near-constant overload of responsibility she had. Listen for the ticking of a clock, or the beating of a heart; lengthen the space between them, open it up and step inside and deposit her thoughts in each one like an envelope, and then step back out and let the next one follow. Second by second. Heartbeat by heartbeat.

In this state of contemplation, she took the rare opportunity to properly admire her husband. Being six feet tall herself, Eleanor thought she had been fortunate to find somebody who could make her feel small, when she wanted. Jason Spencer was a giant, and the understated but unmistakable command he held over every person in a room seemed to match that. The only other person she knew who could step into a space and instantly become its centrepiece was herself.

She noticed the tired lines under his eyes, too. "Maybe you ought to join me outside a little more often," she suggested, allowing her voice to lose the clear, business-like tone she used on anybody but her family.

Jason laughed softly at his wife's invitation. It was rare that the two of them were able to commit to spending time together that did not relate to work in some capacity. Even here, far beyond the veil of civilization. It was even more rare to hear such a request coming from his wife, the only person he knew whose fiercely unrelenting professionalism could match his own.

"Maybe when we get to somewhere with a more romantic view, Ellie." There was none of the usual gruffness to his voice when he called her Ellie, a name that Jason privately suspected none of the doting nannies or obnoxious school teachers from her past had ever dared use.

"Understandable. The view is boring after an hour or two," Eleanor replied bluntly. Sometimes her comments were too simple, too to-the-point for people. Even some of her closest associates could be coerced, after a few hours at a bar on a weekend, to say they occasionally thought of her as rude. In reality, though, Jason's wife felt she simply did not have breath to waste on words meant only to flesh out what she was really meaning to say. When said correctly, a point does not need to be prepared for, or softened, or trimmed with pretty, useless speech. It was a quality that Jason found quite refreshing when so much of their world involved dealing with great volumes of people content to bury the meaning of their words beneath heaps of unnecessary jargon and bureaucracy.

"I'm sure the view at ground zero must be quite different." Jason threw her a significant glance. Ground zero was the common terminology for the epicentre of the great inverted spiral that made up the Shattering crater. For all the myth and peril it was steeped in, it was still widely regarded as being one of the planet's great natural wonders.

"I imagine so." She returned his gaze and held it, green on green. "Perhaps one day we might even see it." It was an odd mix, the sentence: half joke, half expression of impatience.

"I'd hope so. I'd take that glassy wasteland over the next two dozen board room meetings and gala events that we'll be dragged along to." There was something innately appealing about exploring the unknown that spoke to the old adventurer in Viola's Vice-President. He finished off the second glass of scotch in a great gulp in his own expression of impatience. Neither one of them had taken well to sitting back and waiting for a situation to unfold that was beyond their control.

This time, Jason managed to eke out a real smile from his wife. Small, but real. And then, once more: "Understandable."


.oOo.


"So why aren't we allowed to go to this Shattering place, again?" the high, youthful voice of the young girl sitting at the end of the table piped up, neatly cutting through the tense silence that hung like a thick, heavy miasma around the dinner table. The young girl didn't address either of her parents, instead choosing to swirl the grapefruit juice in her crystal wineglass with an air of thorough disinterest.

Eleanor looked down her nose at her daughter. Thin, pale, and showing signs of one day being as tall as her mother, Persephone was nothing if a piece of work. She did look quite a lot like her mother, with the same general face shape and the same green eyes as both Eleanor and Jason.

The only part of her that seemed to come from her father was her black hair--which at the moment was less a natural, dark-brown sort of black and more of a glossy bottle-black. Persephone had a habit of doing strange, impulsive things, and her latest escapade had been to try and dye her hair the same colour as her mother's, a rich, deep auburn. It had happened with one or two days to spare before the trip to the Shattering, and it had not gone well. The girl had received a scolding that only the likes of Eleanor could give: never aggressive, but completely terrifying all the same.

Her hair had been re-dyed back to black-- and her face, lifted in some strange, eager sort of hopefullness in that one moment before her punishment had come crashing down, had been re-formed into its usual snooty, disdainful pout.

Sometimes Eleanor wondered, from the way Persephone acted, and from the strange, sometimes even disturbing things she did, whether her father hadn't given her something else.

Nobody was answering the girl's question, though, and this made her impatient. Not because she cared much about the answer, but because she was being ignored. "Well?"

"Have you ever heard the stories about what the Shattering is, Persephone?" Eleanor asked after swallowing a decadent little morsel of her Cornish hen. "About what it does?"

Her daughter shrugged, giving no definitive answer either way. Both her parents sighed inwardly. It was a typical response and one which they had entirely expected.

"I've heard a little bit, but not much. It's not an area of study that they encourage at school," a voice piped up from opposite Persephone. Zachary Spencer's voice was the opposite of his sister's melodramatic whine; it was thoughtful, soft, and quietly interested in gathering more knowledge.

If Persephone took after her mother's looks, then there was no doubt that Zack comprised of the best attributes of both parents. From his father, the sixteen year old was tall for his age and with an unruly mop of feathery dark hair that fell over a carelessly good looking face with the thin nose and high cheekbones of his mother. However, it was not in these features that Zack was most like his parents. The studious, diligent and thoroughly secretive atmosphere that seemed to surround him was something so instinctive of his family that there was no doubt as to the identities of his parents.

Even now he kept his inquisitive face thoroughly unreadable. It was not beyond assumption that he already knew a good deal about the Shattering and was merely asking to try and glean whatever secretive knowledge his parents might be privy to. Nevertheless, Eleanor thought with a private smirk, it would be worthwhile to indulge him.

"Recent geological research," she began, "has approximated that the Shattering has been part of Shaledost for seven thousand years. Satellite images, if you've seen them, Zack?" She paused a moment, but he showed no indication of recognition, "Show a large island in the middle of where, geographically, Sobek and Pharos used to be connected. The interesting thing about this island is that, towards the center..." and here she allowed herself a small sip of wine before finishing her sentence, taking enough time to let the suspense grow, but not so much as to seem expectant of a reaction: "it's made entirely of glass."

"Glass?" Persephone's voice perked up slightly as she raised her sharp green eyes to meet her mother's. The first sign of definite interest from the typically difficult twelve year old.

Eleanor nodded slightly, making no outward sign of the satisfaction she felt at finally having begun to captivate even her constantly-aloof daughter's attention. "Now think. What, logically, could have caused that to happen?"

Persephone said nothing, her young mind still reeling from the thought of an entire island made of sparkling glass. Zack however, narrowed his eyes in thought. His eyes were a curiosity, as grey as smoke save for a few flecks of palest green lingering in his left eye.

"A volcano maybe? Or a meteorite impact?" he ventured. "Some kind of large explosion?"

Jason Spencer smirked as he watched the subtle way in which Eleanor's tale had captivated their two children, playing on Zack's instinctive inquisitive nature, and Persephone's child-like wonder at fantastic sights and stories that could have come straight from a fairy tale.

The mother's lips twitched in the inkling of a smile, her approval the reward for her child's efforts. "That's correct. Millennium ago, something went off with enough force to turn an entire continent into glass-- and into the broken bits we're anchored in right now.
"Another curious thing," she added after a small pause, catching the eye of her husband, "is the grain of the glass. Not only did something fuse the desert together, but it had the correct force and velocity to scour a whirlpool into the center." She took another bite of her meal, savouring it like she savoured the moment, and the astonishment she could feel brewing in the air. "A mile-wide whirlpool made of glass. That is what the Shattering is."

"Something," Zack repeated casually. There was no doubting the significance of that word. It was extremely rare that either of his parents were ever completely in the dark about anything. He shrugged, as if to show that he let the comment pass without a second thought. "And that's what your company is doing here? Excav-"

"What do you think did it!?" Zack was cut off by the shrill, excitable outburst from his sister. Who was now staring wide-eyed at her mother's story and leaning so far forward that a lock of her long ebony hair was perilously close to an encounter with the dinner left on her plate.

Eleanor gave her daughter a long look, considering. "I'm sure your father has an idea or two," she said finally, turning her head a little to face Jason.

Jason took a long, measured drink from his glass of red wine. His craggy features taut and thoughtful as he considered what to tell his eager audience.

"If you believe the myths and legends," he began slowly, choosing every word carefully. "There used to be a city built there. A city unlike anything that we have seen since, made of gold and diamonds, marble and ivory. So large that it stretched across the gut of an entire continent." Jason paused for a moment, to drain his wine glass.

"It was a city built by and built for the gods themselves. Their capital city, from which the Kings of the gods would rule over all the humans on the planet.
"Historians and experts in this kind of thing say that the city was destroyed in a great explosion. It was so large that all the surviving documents, carvings and artwork from that era show it as though a second sun is bursting to life right on our planet's surface." He shrugged, letting the suspense hang in the air for a moment.

"Who knows how much of that is really true? We certainly don't expect to find any gods down there. But we know there was a city here, and we know there was an explosion." He spoke directly to Zack, answering the question that his teenage son had been unable to properly ask him earlier.

Both of the children sat in silence, though Persephone's dreamy expression showed that her mind was still fixated on the gaudy splendor and extravagance that it was reported that this city of the gods had once possessed. Zack said nothing, though looked every bit as alert and interested in his own more subtle way.

"We know one more thing, too." Eleanor kept her eyes on her plate, carefully selecting a perfect bite-sized forkful of hen and promptly spearing it before looking up, with a casualness to match her son's, around the table. She had a dreadfully good gauge of how people would react to the way she said something, her children in particular. The tall woman placed the fragrant bite of food into her mouth and chewed it slowly, giving them just enough time, once more, to give her words an exponential impact: "It makes people insane."

"It makes people insane?" Zack repeated slowly, ignoring his sister's feigned expression of confusion in favour of outright asking for more information outright.

Eleanor nodded once, simply. "No scientific record or research has explained why. There is a reason why nobody has excavated the place before now." Her tone was laced with just enough blankness to perhaps worry her children a little that she was disappointed they hadn't thought of this before. "Getting too close to the centre can make people depressed, aggressive, manic-- even suicidal."

Jason was thankful that his wife was being cautious with her explanation as he shovelled another helping of the roast lamb into his mouth. The Shattering had previously recorded an almost 100% fatality rate amongst explorers and would-be excavators, almost all of whom had descended into the most fatal depths of insanity long before their bodies were recovered. If they could be recovered at all. Nevertheless, he remained silent to let Eleanor finish her story.

"Almost every single person ever to go near the Shattering has suffered major psychological and medical complication immediately or soon thereafter." The fact settled at the table like another person; the Spencer family's gaunt guest, pressing and real. "Your father and I have done all we can to ensure the necessary precautions have been taken to deal with this issue, but even so, it's been... an uphill battle." She didn't feel the need to mention that they had lost a handful of people, or the details surrounding their slow degradation. This was intended to educate, and to thrill-- not to outright scare. Still: "That," she finished, looking back at Persephone, "is why we cannot go there."

It was also a wise move, thought Jason, not to ruin the excitement of the evening's tale with the potential political fallout if they were spotted trespassing on the island.

"Can we at least see it?" Persephone insisted, with a characteristic pout.

"I might be able to have a word with the skipper and see if he can take us close by the island tomorrow," Jason compromised with his young daughter. A response that earned him a prompt look of shrewd disapproval from his wife. She was not too keen on having a yacht so filled with advanced electronics, ploughing straight into the planet's most infamous electromagnetic dead zone.

"Thanks daddy!" Persephone chirped up with a broad grin. One large enough to hold off Eleanor's chastising retort till the children had at least left the table.

It took a moment too long for Jason's keen ears to pick up the sound of a radio crackling to life from the open doors to the room just behind the main cabin. Most of the radio equipment was hardwired to go through to the vessel's bridge, but this most sensitive and private of broadcast channels was designed to come through the audio-visual equipment that had been set up in the couple's private study.

Exchanging a significant look with his wife, Jason quickly stood up and excused himself to his two curious children and strode with a barely contained anticipation as to what the radio transmission from the Shattering team would yield. Excitement and dread had whipped themselves into a frenzy in the pit of his stomach, as he sincerely hoped that the team were not about to bring him news of yet more fatalities.

Wasting no time surveying the small, tidy study, the tall Vice-President leant over the video monitor that had been built into one of the far desks and flicked on the switch beneath the red blinking light that signified an incoming message. Plucking the receiver from its cradle on the desk, he raised it to his mouth and watched as the grainy black and white video stream crackled into life.

"Mr. Spencer?" came the voice of one of the team, sounding half-exhilarated, half-frightened, but not insane or suicidal. It was a good sign.

"Speaking, lad. Where are you? Are all of your team still alive?" He spoke urgently; there was no telling when the signal could be interrupted by the notoriously volatile atmosphere that lingered over the Shattering.

"Everyone is safe for the moment, sir," the man on the other end replied, and then, sounding as if the sentence had to blast past a lump of nervous excitement in his throat, "we've-- reached the epicentre of ground zero."

The hooded young man stepped out of view on the monitor, revealing the almost black interior of the Shattering's deep epicentre. Nearly twelve hundred feet below sea level, the glass reflected the bleak, dark lack of sunlight that penetrated this far into the ocean. Jason vaguely became aware that Eleanor had entered the study behind him.

A wave of relief washed over Jason with the news that the team had reached ground zero safely. It was a reassuring thought, that the modifications that Viola had made to the Polar Exploration gear currently worn by the group had been effective in halting whatever dementia had infected their prior excavation efforts.

"Deliver your report," he ordered, but with none of the authoritative harshness typically associated with the command.

"There's--" The signal crackled and spat white noise at the husband and wife, and for a moment or two the screen went dead entirely. Just as they began to worry it might not return, it flickered to life again: "--here. Hello?"

Eleanor snatched the receiver from Jason's hand and held it close to her mouth. "We're here. Hurry up - the connection is going to go any moment."

"Ma'am." There was slightly more of an apprehensive edge to the excavator's voice now that the person on the other end of the line had switched. It hastened his words, though, which was all Mrs. Grey cared about at the moment. "It's this-- sort of... well to be honest we have no idea what it--"

"What does it look like?" Quick, clipped, to the point.

"It's big, from what we can see. Rounded. Smooth. Sort of... silvery. We haven't had time to run proper tests yet but a preliminary scan is showing us nothing."

Whichever member of the crew was tasked with holding the camera twisted it from its current position and directed its vision elsewhere. There was a momentary explosion of static, and the picture lost any sort of focus or quality. When it cleared up, the camera was pointing directly at the strange construct jutting, smooth and distinct from the black glassy wall.

It certainly was large. Without a clearer picture it was impossible to tell how large, but by squinting the pair could make out it could be room-sized. The surface of the object gave off a strange glint in the darkness; it was perfectly smooth, even glossy, without a single visible warp in the shape to show for thousands of years buried under thousands of tonnes of ground.

"Aim more light at it," Eleanor said to the receiver. Despite a brief flare of crackling, the line held and workers rushed to try and direct the light sources they had more effectively towards the object. "Stop. There."

It could have been stone, or glass, or metal-- or some strange combination of the three. Nothing about the colour, texture or opacity gave any indication. It was a shimmering dark grey, shot through with spider veins of a more milky silver. Like striking gold in a plot of land. On closer inspection, the lines seemed much too exact to be a work of nature. They ran about the surface in a seemingly random fashion, but after getting used to the strangety of the entire object, one could see that they followed very specific patterns. The lines seemed to have some sort of depth to them, some sort of luminosity, but the details were indecipherable and would probably remain that way until someone pressed their nose right up against the thing. Eleanor was tempted to ask just that.

Perhaps not quite that, though. Focused though she was on gleaning every bit of information possible about their new discovery, there was no telling how dangerous the object was. Her team, though deserving a reprimand for their slow progress, were risking enough right now as it was. "Get the camera as close as you can."

Dutifully, the cameraman moved towards the mysterious object. The picture quality predictably disintegrated into a sea of blurs and angry lines of static. When it came back into focus the lens was only inches from the smooth surface of the enigmatic artefact. One of the other-worldly faintly glowing lines that criss-crossed it was present in the edge of the frame. The lights shining on the surface of the thing showed just how glossy it actually was: the surface seemed almost liquid, it was so smooth and unperturbed. Almost not truly there-- because no real object could attain that level of perfection.

Jason said nothing, the realisation that this expedition had yielded more than he could have ever imagined was beginning to dawn on him and it was becoming increasingly hard work to temper his own excitement at the discovery.

"What do you make of it?" he breathed to Eleanor, who could scarcely take her own eyes from the remarkable images displayed on the monitor.

"Thank you," she said into the receiver and to the team on the other end before covering it slowly with one hand. Just as slowly, almost as if she didn't quite want to, she removed her gaze from the screen and looked at her husband.

"I think the stories you told me are turning out to be more true than I thought."
__________________

Disappear with the stars and come back alive.

Last edited by Baldy; 01/26/2012 at 11:15 PM.
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Old 01/29/2012   #26
Rumpelstiltskin
Default

Castiel + Tao
Beauty and the Beast

Viola, Facility 2:


Brennan Armada had been a guard at Viola since the facility first opened, he had watched as bit by bit the facility grew in size to house the experiments that Jason Spencer had sought after. Brennan knew every square inch of the facility and was often asked upon by his superiors to give his insight on security protocols regarding each individual experiment and their "unique" gifts.




At first Brennan had been shocked at finding out the experiments were to be conducted on children, divorced and fatherless himself Brennan always had a soft spot for children. However after watching the experiments battle each other his outlook had quickly changed. The children were no more human than a loaded gun, however they were exponentially more dangerous.




At thirty-six, Brennan stood tall at just under seven foot, he kept himself in shape by exercising every morning before starting his shifts as well as regularly attending combat training whenever possible. His hair was short with specs of grey running through it which his comrades called his "calling card to retirement." Brennan had no intention of retiring however, the money he was paid was more than enough to live a comfortable life but he had his eyes set on larger targets, the facility scientists had all taken note of his skills and with an occasional comment here and there Brennan was sure he could get a recommendation for facility security chief. A fact Brennan was more than open about.




The current security chief had heard wind of Brennan's boasting and had decided to make an example of him to the other guards. Placing him on pick-up duty with the rookie he was to instruct and advise the new guard in how to properly process a new experiment into the facility and to ensure that all security protocols were adequately adhered to.




Brennan looked down to the recruit standing next to him; his name was Tom, or Tim or maybe Brian. He didn't pay that much attention, as the commander chewed him out at the start of his shift all he had seen was red.




"So um, Brennan wasn't it? You been here long" The new recruit asked, breaking the silence between them as the elevator descended through the facility floors.




"Yes" Brennan replied sharply.




"Ummm yeah, so uhhh what exactly did the commander mean by escorting a dangerous experiment? I heard a few of the guys talk earlier and I think they were joking me around by telling me that this place was built just to house kids."




Brennan looked up and down at the new cadet, he already disliked him. Any idiot worth their pay would have known that working within a top secret facility meant that things inside were top secret.




"If you haven't been briefed on the full extent on what is done here at this facility it obviously means your security level isn't high enough. Just shut up keep your mind focused and do EVRYTHING I tell you." Brennan let his voice carry the anger he was currently feeling and the new recruit quickly snapped his mouth shut and stared at the doors to the elevator.




A few minutes passed and Brennan heard the door make it's audible click at securing the locks that meant they had arrived at the proper floor.
Pushing his right foot forward he waited for the door to open before stepping through before the new recruit.




"Hey hey hey if it aint Mr I’m going to be running this place within a year! What brings you down to Frankenstein’s lair?" Brennan heard before he had even exited the lift fully.




Smiling he stared up to the security station that was before him.




"Screw you Emille, you’re just sour because you got caught screwing Michael’s sister and your ass aint ever leaving this station.” Brennan replied before walking to the security station and shaking his colleagues hand.

Emille Sanchez had been at the facility nearly as long as Brennan himself and was one of the few guards to hold a special position. Emille’s job was to assess and record all information on new experiments to ensure that security was tailored to each experiments “unique” ability.

“Heh yeah well it was worth it, that girl had moves that could make a grown man cry.” Emille smiled back at Brennan before turning around and grabbing his clipboard.

Brennan took the seat next to Emille and barely even registered the new recruit entering the security station.

“He-Hey, I’m Kaiden. I just started, it’s nice to meet you!” The new recruit stumbled forward arm outstretched towards Emille.

Brennan caught his arm in mid air and held it there to let the cadet feel his grip. “What did I tell you in the elevator? Sit down and shut the fuck up. Were here to do a job not to piss about.”

Kaiden dropped his arm, rubbing the flesh that was now red from Brennan’s grip. Nodding to Emille he took a seat on the other side from Brennan and remained quiet.
Emille rolled his eyes at Brennan before clearing his throat.

“Today’s experiment is number twenty-nine, it is assumed that his abilities include the manipulation and projection of sound waves. Meaning that the guys on the other side of the door have secured his mouth with a device to stop him from being able to open it let alone use his abilities. Like all experiments were to blahdy blahdy blah, observe the security protocol and blahdy blahdy blah…. Brennan you know the drill. Kid comes through, you secure him from the guards on the other side, they lock the vault you march the kid up to his lab…Think this one is going to………Oh shit. He’s going to Garcia!” Emille’s jaw fell open as he viewed the clipboard, Brennan also stiffened at the name of Penelope Garcia.

“Garcia! They are honestly giving an experiment to her!” Brennan stammered.

Penelope Garcia had been with the facility since day one, she had quickly made a name for herself as being cutthroat and ruthless in her ambitions. Rising from assistant advisor to a fully-fledged facility scientist in under a year.
It was rumoured that she had sucked, fucked and even poisoned her way into her current position and even the guards who provided her support were on edge at the way she viewed human life.

“Shit, kid doesn’t stand a chance. I give him a month tops before she has his brain on a tray ready for dissection” Emille stated coldly.

“Whatever Emille, it’s our job to process the experiment. What Garcia does with it after we drop it off is none of our business.” Brennan said uncomfortably, the images of a child being dissected flew through his mind.

As if sensing their apprehension, the console in front of Emille began to buzz signalling the arrival of the other guard team.

“Well no time to think about it now, ready yourselves boys and remember to keep your side arms ready just in case.” Emille spoke before beginning the procedure to unlock the vault door.

Brennan nodded to Kaiden to move it before standing in front of where the main vault door would open. Brennan's right hand instinctively reached for his sidearm on his right side. It was a higher calibre than the standard issue guns but it would put an experiment down easily enough if needed. Looking towards Kaiden, Brennan noted that the new kid was literally shaking, it seemed as if nerves was getting to him.

“Just stay calm and follow me, keep your eyes on the kid once the guards pass him over then stay behind him all the way to the elevator.”

Kaiden looked to Brennan and nodded to show his understanding.
A few seconds passed and the vault door was finally open, the guards on the other side pushed experiment number twenty nine through the door before nodding to Kaiden and Brennan in succession before turning around and retreating back through the vault door.
Brennan looked down at the child; his skin was deathly pale giving the illusion that the guards had just delivered a ghost let alone a child. The child wore a simple white gown that covered his body down to his knees; his hair was medium length and came down to just above his eyes. Brennan couldn’t help but notice the colour of the child’s eyes, looking in to them Brennan could only compare them to blood and even his hair had the same dark crimson feel to it.
The boys lower jaw was covered in what looked like a human muzzle, Emille had said something about the boys powers coming from his mouth but this seemed a tad extreme.
Other than this though the boy looked “hollow” his eyes showed no emotion and he made no intention of moving other than that when the guards had ushered him through. “What the hell do they do to these kids.”? Brennan wondered.

Clearing his throat Brennan nodded to Kaiden to get behind the child before turning himself around and heading to the elevator. Brennan nodded to Emille as they passed the security station, Emille merely nodded in return before locking the doors behind them with an audible thump.

Brennan could hear the footsteps of the child’s bare feet on the floor as well as that of Kaiden’s. As he neared the elevator he reached up to swipe his access card just before another sound hit him.

“Oh-shi!” Brennan heard before turning around quickly.

The child had tripped seemingly over his own feet and had hit the ground behind him.

“You fucking moron! Why didn’t you catch him! He’s just a kid, he could have hurt himself for fuck sake.” Brennan barked towards Kaiden as he quickly rushed to the child’s side.

Bending down he hooked his hands under the child’s armpits before lifting him to his feet, by the time the child was standing fully Brennan was face to face with him literally inches apart. Brennan cracked a smile at the child before letting go.

“You're ok now, kid. Nothing broken.” Brennan said jokingly.

The child seemed to blink out of a dream and it was then that Brennan noticed the grin on the child’s face. He heard the shot before he even registered the pain, the boy was holding his own gun in his right hand and had it placed against Brennan’s stomach. The once white gown was now splattered with crimson blotches and as Brennan slumped forward the child turned quickly and fired once more, this time hitting his target in the throat.
Brennan was still conscious as he hit the floor, the pain seemed dull though. He watched as Kaiden grasped at his own throat, blood seeping between his fingers as he too fell towards the floor.

Brennan had never felt pain like this before, it seemed as if his stomach were on fire and as he tried to cover the wound with his hands Brennan could feel the wound was much larger than he had expected. “Shot…. with my own gun. What a way to go.” He thought to himself as he struggled to keep himself conscious.
The boy continued firing the gun into Kaiden’s body, he almost seemed to be enjoying the sight of blood pouring out of the poor sap.
Brennan tried to say something but he couldn’t muster the strength, already black spots were appearing in his vision. He could see the puddle beneath his own body begin to leech outward, he was loosing too much blood and he knew it.

As he tried to cling on to the last seconds of his life Brennan watched as the child dropped the gun and walked towards him. “He must have fired all the bullets,” Brennan thought. The child bent down and took Brennan’s chin in both his tiny hands before snapping his neck like a twig.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Penelope Garcia watched gleefully as her experiment killed both his guards, she had hoped that her ticket to greatness would not be as boring as others in the facility were. It seemed like this one had a flair for killing in fact, something that would come in very handy as she plotted her advancement.

“Hmm I will make Jason very happy with this one” She spoke out loud, her voice sensual and seductive.

Turning off her monitor she walked towards the mirror that was mounted next to her desk, unlike most of the prudes who she worked around; Penelope Garcia liked to use the gifts she had been born with. Dressed in a short mini skirt that by all accounts showed more of her body off than it did cover it and a low cut top that showed off her perky breasts to anyone willing to look, Penelope felt invincible. Reaching into her lab coat that lay across the back of her chair she began touching up her make-up before reaching down under the dress to grab her six inch heels.
The heels made her tower above almost everyone and made her feel superior but on top of that it made most men unable to think as they came eye to eye with her breasts.
“Stupid moronic ingrates” she often thought as men tried to incoherently talk to her.
“None of them are good enough, none of them are powerful enough…. None of them are Jason.” She often thought this to herself, her obsession with power had caused her to idolise her employer and with this new little toy she was certain he would take notice of her more and more in days to come.

“Miss Garcia, the guards have sedated number twenty nine and they are waiting for you in your lab” A voice spoke through her office intercom.

Walking to her desk Penelope reached down and hit a button before replying “Very well, make sure they do not leave even a bruise on his beautiful skin or else I will personally cut the manhood from them. Do I make myself clear?”

“U-understood ma’am” the intercom replied.

“Haha, my dear little Castiel. It’s time I seen just what you can do.”



Viola, Facility 2 – Several Months Later

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Dr. Bradley strode to the site where she was invited to bring her first successful prototype to evaluate with. She was glad that her little one had mingled successfully with one of the Destrillians, namely Hannah Fey. It will no doubt boost morale with her Destrillian as she would rise through the ranks and make an efficient supersoldier for the company. To her right, was a single guard and a meek looking small figure wearing a helmet, it had trouble finding its way by the good doctor's side but with a little hand extended, they both made their way carefully towards the small training room. The dome which was supposed to housed team based training, was not yet prepared at hand so they had to make do with these smaller but efficiently useful large scale rooms, akin to the size of a squash court.


The little figure tugged the doctor as it pointed to its helmet in a discomforting manner, as if begging to have it removed. The doctor simply shook one finger in kindness.


"Not now child, keep in mind you still have to maintain your form while outside your usual pod. It's only been a couple of days since we've allowed you to roam the facility without activating your powers," she said. True, the young subject had only remained within her pod, still having her powers adjusted. Right now she was wearing the helmet with visors in order stabilize her eyesight and prevent unecessary shaking, as ejection from the pod provocked the activation of a small fraction of her speed powers.


"Please? It...It hurts. I just want to get this off," the meek voice of the helmet wearer said in a pained voice. One could tell that it was a young child, a little girl, traces of silver hair can be seen flowing out of the back portion of the helmet.


"In due time, we're to conduct one final test before we meet with Dr. Garcia. I believe we're to be introduced to one of your fellow Destrillians," she said.


"Is it Kram? or Salem? I-I-I don't want to meet them j-j-just yet," the little girl stuttered.


"Heavens no! Not until you've honed yourself well enough to face either! Bear in mind that you've still got ample time, so rest easy okay? This is more or less like an orientation with how you meld well with the others compared to just Ms. Fey," she explained. The helmeted young girl nodded as she idly grabbed her helmet and walked alongside her, with the guard watching them closely from the back. It won't be long before she and her Destrillian were to meet one of the few rarely mentioned outside the well notable young Destrillians, this meeting was a rare occurence.




-------------------------


Castiel awoke much like he did every day, strapped to a table with bright spotlights above him. Each morning Miss Garcia would enter the lab and wake him by powering up the spotlights. She often told him it was to make his senses keener as temporary blindness honed his other senses.

What he didn’t tell her was the fact he was awake often seconds beforehand as his hearing could tell when her ridiculous heels were nearing his chamber.

“Wake up Castiel, it’s time to work.” Miss Garcia spoke.

Castiel could feel his bindings around his hands and feet loosen and as he shrugged each limb out one by one he did his usual mental routine of flexing each finger and toe to ensure his muscles hadn’t gone numb.
Bending his body upwards, Castiel swung his legs over the side before throwing his body off the cold table.

Miss Garcia was there, holding her cup of coffee in one hand and her clipboard in the other. Like every day, she looked like a whore but Castiel never commented. The first time he had awoken he had called her that and it had resulted in high voltage electricity being passed through his body, so now he remained quiet.

“It seems as if today your going to be visited by another one of the experiments. Fear not she holds no real power and you could easily kill her given the right circumstances.” Miss Garcia grinned widely as she talked.

Castiel merely looked at her with his usual dead eyed stare, regardless what this woman said he knew at some point she would force him into fighting this other experiment. Since his awakening she had told him he was a tool for killing and for her own personal gain he was to kill everyone she deemed as a target. Little did she know that to Castiel she was target number one.
After his initial attempt at escaping had failed, Castiel had been more cautious. Biding his time and memorising each segment of the facility he was allowed to travel, in his mind he already had sixty percent of the current floor mapped in his mind and several thoughts on how to gain access to the main exits.

“Snap out of it, child!” Miss Garcia barked before slapping Castiel hard across the face.

The blow did little to cause any pain to Castiel but the same couldn’t be said for Miss Garcia’s hand. Castiel grinned ever so slightly as he watched his captor rub her palm with her other hand, the skin on her palm notably red from her attack.

“Anyway, as I was saying. You are to be introduced to another experiment to see if her powers may be beneficial to your progression. The sooner you develop your beautiful powers the better, remember my child we do this all for Mr Spencer.” Castiel watched as Garcia slipped into one of her usual day dreams the moment she spoke of this “Jason Spencer.” In the whole time Castiel had been in this lab he had never seen any real evidence that this Jason Spencer even existed let alone held any interest in him or Miss Garcia.

“Now lets make you presentable shall we, go behind the curtain and change into the clothing I have left for you. There shall be no training today of your powers, especially since I already have several reports to fill out in relation to your repeated killing of test subjects. Not that I care about their lives, no no no. I just hate the paperwork that comes attached. Now be a good little boy and hurry along, our guests will be here soon.”

Castiel merely turned away and walked to the curtain that acted as his screen for changing, behind it lay a long white t-shirt that covered both his arms and a pair of blue jeans. As per usual Miss Garcia neglected to give him any footwear “Children don’t need shoes.” Rang through his head, repeating the voice of Miss Garcia time and time again. Castiel used to think she was merely afraid he tried to kill her by strangling her with the shoe laces, but maybe it was something closer to vanity that stopped her from allowing him shoes.




---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




The young girl underneath the helmet fidgeted, confused and worrying about what she would do in the sudden exposure to another Destrillian besides the usual company she was accustomed to. Dr. Bradley herself had her doubts as to meeting with Dr. Garcia, rarely did she ever find the company of the seemingly deranged doctor to be a pleasant one. The others were a pack of arguing fools led by the real man behind the entire operation: Malcolm Abaddon. She had already grown accustomed to Kramskov Niet and Salem Locke by their doctors, but felt that meeting them with her own subject's current lack of skill and state would merely bring stress and further inability to cope with her new existence. Out of all the doctors, Bradley realized that only she was empathic towards her subject and caring. No one would wait for the other subject and their doctors like she would, just as she was staying in the large room with her right now.


As her thoughts came to a close, the helmet worn by the little girl flashed green. It appeared that the adjustments and modifications towards her subject's powers had finally set in, indictated by the helmet slowly unsealing itself. Dr. Bradley took the helmet off as shoulder length silver hair rolled down, revealing a pale, young Xi Qinese girl with a notable pink blush underneath her cheeks. One would never realized that she was to be one of the company's leading prototypes, well at least to Dr. Bradley's eyes, she would be.


"He will be joining us soon. Are you ready to meet this young man, Tao?" she asked her subject. She never addressed her by her number, only by her name.


Tao rubbed her eyes as flashes of magenta glowed against their irises, this was the first time since confinement to her pod that she had been exposed outside.


"Y-yes," she said. Dr. Bradley knew that the young Destrillian was lying. She was trembling with cold fear. The good doctor patted her head gently.


"No need to be frightened, he could be just like Hannah right?"


"But what if he - he's like Kram? or or Salem?? I...I -" she said weakly.


"There's nothing to be afraid of, we're not training with him until you get used to his presence," she said firmly. Tao nodded nervously.




Castiel followed Miss garcia as she marched down the corridor. The guard on todays trip was triple of that of yesterday, Castiel noted. In his mind he was counting the steps taken to reach each corner and adding the route to his mind map. The area in which they were heading was one of the few areas to which he hadn't been given access beforehand.


Castiel watched as Miss Garcia pushed researchers and guards alike out of her way, her annoying high heels making their usual click as she took each new step.
"God I want to stab her with those things" he thought to himself, the mental image flashing in his mind making him grin slightly.
The guards on either side of him took noticed and were quick to grip the muzzles of their firearms. "Hmm guess they do learn from their mistakes afterall."


"Ok Castiel, it's time to meet the "other" experiment. Do me proud wont you?" Miss Garcia cooed softly before swiping her access card on the door.


The guard behind Castiel nudged him forward with the butt of his rifle and quickly closed and locked the lab behind them.


Castiel quickly took in his surroundings, the lab was larger than he had expected. There were four people in it in total, two obviously human scientists and another.....thing. As if sensing his curiosity his head began to ache slightly. His right eye twitched in annoyance but other than that Castiel betrayed no other emotion as he walked towards the two strangers who appeared to be waiting for him.


Tao walked forward carefully, taking the initiative and clutching herself, her own form of security back in the day. Dr. Bradley nodded as she turned her back from the little girl, Tao could only glance back with pleading eyes to make her stay to no avail. The doors behind her shut off completely, leaving her alone with the other Destrillian on the opposite side.


She struggled to find the words needed to convey her introduction, his presence and calm, creepy state made her uneasy. All Destrillians besides Hannah were prone to irrational responses that made her cry with fear, a liability she was finding hard to overcome. But now this was a chance to prove that she was worth something stronger than just a meek experiment clinging to her overseer.


"Hello..." she quietly called out.


Castiel cocked his head to the side as he stared at the girl before him, she seemed "different" than most of the others, she even smelled different to them. As he took a step forward the pain behind his eyes grew, wincing slightly he held his right hand against his skull before finally looking at the girl again.


He continued to study her from afar, she didn't seem to be of any danger to him and in a fight he could easily kill her before the guards were able to come through the door. She looked scared though, "I wonder if they told her what I did to those guards." he pondered to himself.


Castiel continued to walk, keeping a distance between him and the girl he walked full circle to get a better look of her. She seemed ordinary going by her appearance but there was something about the pain in his head as he neared her that caused him to be wary. "Maybe she is just like me. I wonder........"


"I th-think we are," she responded back in telepathy while trying to keep the distance away from him. Why did Dr. Bradley subject her to this seemingly risky venture was beyond her understanding as she felt that she wasn't ready for combat challenges.


"What did you do to the guards?" she pressed on carefully.


Castiel grabbed his head immediately, the pain he felt was unnatural. He had been watching the girl the entire time and she had never opened her mouth. "What the hell did you just do?"


She simply backed away from him, nervous and teary eyed. "I thought you were u-used to speaking with your mind! I'm sorry!" she said.


Castiel rushed forward and grabbed the girl by the throat, he had't planned to attack her until he knew exactly what he was dealing with but this pain was becoming annoying.
"WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO ME!!!" his hand tightening around the girl's throat.


Tao's eyes became extremely teary that they begun streaming down her cheeks, her face became red from the strain that Castiel was putting unto her throat. With all her might, she began letting out a loud scream.


"DR. BRADLEY! HANNAH! A-ANYBODY!! HELP!!" she choked helplessly. The strain was becoming too painful for her to bare, beyond that she could only scream as loud as she could before Castiel would inevitably strangle her to death.


Castiel stared into the eyes of the girl, they were filled with tears. All the anger he had felt seemed to dissapear right then, slowly he loosened his grip before taking a few steps back.


"Im....Im sorry." he stammered.


"St-stay away!!" she yelled as she held her throat. "Dr. Bradley! Help me, please!" she called out to the room. She had to find a method of communication while trying hopelessly to defend herself as she continued crying. Fighting was not her forte, she was never armed with anything, it made her wonder why she was even here to begin with.


"Dr. Braldey!! Help!!" she called out tearfully.


Castiel stared at the entrance to the room, he couldn't afford to be locked up again. Turning his full body towards the door he positioned himself in front of the girl. He took several breaths in before opening his mouth and releasing a shockwave outward.
The soundwave propelled forward with horrific force, the door crumpled into a deformed shape of metal as the circuitry on either side blewup in a shower of sparks.


Turning his attention to the girl Castiel walked several steps forward again stopping just before the girl before sitting down on the ground.


"It's going to take them a long time to get through that door, please just sit. I need to know what...no who you are!" Castiel pleaded.


She backed away to the wall, her heart was pounding with fear. All she wanted to do right now was get as far away from him as possible, tears continued to stream down her face as she tried to repel him.


"just leave me alone..." she whimpered.


Castiel sat and stared at the girl, he knew that the guards would be en-route already. He guessed he had half an hour before they managed to rip apart the door that he had buckled.


"In case you didn't notice, no-one is coming to your rescue. I promise I wont hurt you again if you just answer some questions." Castiel spoke.


"I don't want to die...just let me go...This-this was a mistake, I'm sorry..." she cried.


"Sit down. No-one is going to die......well.......you're not going to anyway."


Castiel stood and closed the distance between him and the girl. Raising his right hand he softly patted the girl on the head and cocked his head with a smile.


"It's ok, I promise. Im sorry about earlier ok? Please just sit with me." Castiel spoke softly.


Tao's eyes stopped tearing up, although she remained nervous to Castiel's approach, she accepted the gesture that he won't be treating her as a hostile individual. Her breathing tensed as she tried to calm herself down and sat down, still glued to the wall.


"Wh-what do you want?"


"Answers......just answers. Firstly, what's your name?"


"Tao...That's what Dr. Bradley addresses me," she said.


"Nice to meet you Tao, my name is Castiel." flashing a grin at her as he spoke.

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Old 03/25/2012   #27
Alex
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Jason Spencer
Origins, part IV


31 YEARS AGO

It hadn’t gone anything like he had planned.
It was all Oberon could think about as he flexed his wrists against the taut ropes that had bound them behind his back. For the hundredth time they failed to give even an inch. He was trapped, and for the first time that he could remember, the gnawing feelings of despair and helplessness were beginning to coil around the rational half of his mind, choking out the constructive thoughts of escape and leaving nothing but a bleak bottomless pit of panic and fear.

He forced himself to remain alert and wary, staving off maddening sense of dread and focusing on analysing the environment. He took in every visible detail, crowding his mind with both the relevant and the irrelevant. Taking stock of the situation was all he could think to do, to overload his senses with information to try and understand the full scope of his surroundings.

Wherever he was being held in was very dark. Whoever had been in charge of boarding up the windows here had done a very thorough job indeed. Only a few errant streams of sickly yellow sunlight had burst through to feebly light the dusty interior of the room, just enough to give Oberon a decent enough impression of his makeshift cell. The walls had been painted a light, pastel colour that was impossible to determine in the gloom (at a guess, Oberon would have said they were beige) though whatever vibrancy they had had long since faded and peeled away in parts, revealing the naked grey brick that lay beneath.

The room was narrow and sparsely furnished, he noted. Save for a few barren looking bookcases and a large, dark desk at the far end of the room that had presumably been too big or heavy to lift out through the door, everything else in the room had long since been looted. The chair he had been tied to was brought in from another part of the building. He knew because one of his captors had disappeared to go bring him one whilst a pair of the others tried to soften him up. It had been frustrating, humiliating, he thought as he instinctively tongued the open cut on his lip. He could have taken either of them in a fair fight. Probably both. Instead he had had to do with head-butting the tall one right in the mouth. The reminder made him smirk in the darkness, in spite of the gash on his head from where the bandit’s front tooth had dislodged itself on contact. The feeling had been savage, raw and painful, but the memory of it was soothing. He took solace in the momentary surge of anger and adrenalin. It kept the fear at bay.

The room smelt of must and decay, Oberon noted as he continued his sensory spot-check, trying to put all thoughts of revenge out of mind, just for the moment. There was something else though, hiding deep amongst the stale aroma of his jail. Despite being unconscious when they had brought him here, he could remember the smell. Blood and ghosts. It had been his first thought upon regaining consciousness. Wherever he was and whatever this place had once been, something truly horrific had happened here. Yeah, he thought, that was significant.

There was very little to hear. No raised voices coming through the boarded up windows and no distant footsteps heading towards the door. They clearly hadn’t decided what to do with him yet. Which was weird. In his experience those gangs of bandits and outlaws who chose to live on the dead, radiation drenched surface of Vaul usually killed their captives outright. Keeping them alive was a waste of resources. So his continued survival was yet another oddity at the tail-end of what had been a fairly odd week, objectively speaking.

A brief gasp of wind rattled the boarded up windows and Oberon bowed his head, allowing a shock of his unruly dark hair to fall forwards over his face. He would be lying if he told himself that it had all gone wrong so quickly. Truthfully, his life had lurched from tragedy to disaster and back again for as long as he could remember. Life had not been a thing to be lived. It had been a thing to survive. And things had only gotten worse since Jason Spencer had absconded into the obscurity of the wastelands two years previously. His only companion and his closest friend had long since gone and torn a great deal of meaning from the life Oberon had known in the process.

He tried not to think about it. But the absence was noticeable all the same - a ragged hole that had been ripped into every aspect of his life that no amount of commitment to work could fill. It had been like mourning the loss of all the children and caretakers at the orphanage that he had lost during the horror of the war and the subsequent nuclear hellfire that had ignited the country. His only family. Gone. Now, his new family was gone too.

Come to think of it, he might have broken a rib during the earlier brawl too. Oberon grunted as he leant forward and felt the stab of pain on his flank. He felt relief, as the sharp pang shattered the introspective sentiment. Now was not the time to be dwelling on Jason Spencer.

SIX DAYS AGO
Undercity-01
Vaul

“The efficiency of the oxygen filtration systems in G-District has dropped again to 35%. If we don’t get the necessary supplies to stop the degradation then that whole district could become uninhabitable by the end of the month,”

Rossiter grunted, not looking up from half a dozen other, more pressing, reports that had been pushed onto his cluttered desk this morning.

“Also, Fuller’s team encountered a substantial iron deposit in the path of their drill site. It’s set back construction of the new pipeline by at least a week,”

Sometimes it was like talking to a wall, Oberon thought to himself. Not that Rossiter wasn’t listening, because he most certainly was. Something that he had picked up from his three month spell as Foreman Rossiter’s deputy was that the man in charge was always listening, always paying attention to every detail, no matter how minute.

“Is there anything else?” Rossiter responded, not looking up from the report on the water recycling system he was currently reading.

Barely a week into his new job as the deputy to the Foreman of the entire Undercity, Oberon had replied to the same question with ‘nothing important’. The scars of the scathing lecture he had received as punishment still had not yet fully healed. Everything was important to Rossiter. When you were responsible for so many, he had said, there was a responsibility to knowing as much as possible about everything. That way you would take nothing for granted, and nothing would ever surprise you.

The words had stuck with the tall, brawny nineteen year-old and he had endeavoured to never put a foot wrong again in the eyes of his superior.

“No, sir, there’s nothing else to report.” Oberon replied with a tone of finality that made the taciturn foreman nod his head in approval.

“Good,” Rossiter confirmed, looking up from the report for the first time, “Looks like it’s going to be a quiet day then,”

“Relatively speaking,” the teenager prompted, staring pointedly at the pile of untidy paperwork that had made its home on the desk. Rossiter gave a snort of laughter that sounded more like a car backfiring.

“True enough,” the foreman’s small, dark eyes lingered on Oberon, as if weighing up some question he had been meaning to ask. “Mind if I ask you something, boy?”

It was always boy. Rossiter rarely called him Oberon and he had to work out whether it was a compliment or because the man was always so busy that he had genuine trouble with names.

“No, sir,” Oberon replied, acutely aware of his shaggy thatch of black hair as it drooped down over his vision, obscuring his eye contact with the foreman. This conversation was going to be awkward, he could already tell, without Rossiter even needing to carry on.

“How have you been holding up?”

The question needed no qualifying, Oberon knew exactly what he was referring to. Jason Spencer had been gone for over two years. A constant companion, a brother in all but bloodline. The void was a constant gaping wound torn into his life, still fresh and unhealed. The demise of their relationship was yet another casualty of the war with Artolia, which despite of being long since over, was still finding new ways to tear apart the lives and livelihoods of those that still lived in Vaul.

“I’m fine,” the lie was told too quickly for Rossiter’s discerning ears, and Oberon knew it.

The foreman shrugged, turning his attention back to his paperwork as Oberon stood awkwardly against the back wall. Torn between wanting desperately to escape the thick, uncomfortable atmosphere of the room, and wondering if Rossiter had given him silent permission to do so.

“Just take care of yourself, okay?” the foreman asked him, his voice cold and stern, “I know the past two years haven’t been easy for you,”

With any luck this conversation would be as awkward for him as it would be for me, Oberon thought spitefully as he resolutely stared at the floor, seemingly transfixed by the patchwork of metal plates that covered the floor.

“I’ve gotten by,” Oberon said stubbornly, only for Rossiter to scoff at the weak answer.

“Anyone can get by, son,--“

“I’m doing fine,” Oberon snarled back at him, a biting edge of anger cutting up through his voice. Rossiter levelled a long, hard look at him before shrugging his shoulders and conceding to the young man’s stubbornness.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then,”

Oberon couldn’t have been happier with the dismissal.

.oOo.

Oberon hadn’t been sure when the decision had to come to him, though if he was forced to hazard a guess he would have put the decision at around about the time he had made the decision to switch his nightly barrage of vodka shots to ones of a particularly fearsome whiskey. He had to concede was still relatively drunk and leaning on the railing of the vast elevator platform that ascended the wide, diagonal mineshaft towards the enormous steel doors to the Undercity. However, if one had decided to ask him this question in a few days time, the reluctant admission would have been that he had decided to do this months ago. Maybe years.

“You’re sure then?” Coffin asked for what had to have been the hundredth time, his raspy voice sounding much louder than normal in the cavernous expanse of the spacious mineshaft.

“Yes. I am damn sure,” Oberon replied, only semi-aware of his companion. His mind was more focusing on the sleepless, nauseous transition from being drunk to being thoroughly hungover. “I should have gone out to find that little bastard as soon as he left,”

Coffin agreed, though he stopped himself from saying anything. He was both genuinely surprised and thoroughly unsurprised that his friend had waited this long before heading out into the wasteland to go and search for Jason Spencer. It seemed like the kind of thing that he should have done as soon as he had run away two years back. But then again, Oberon was as angry, stubborn and bitter about the way their friendship had fallen apart as Coffin had ever seen a man before. It was plain to see that those wounds still had not healed.

“What if you can’t bring him back?” he asked quietly, casting his eyes up to look at the high vaulted roughly-hewn ceiling of cave they were ascending through. He didn’t want to ignite his notoriously tempestuously tempered friend’s anger over the subject.

“Then I’ll knock him out and drag him back,” Oberon replied gravely. He was leaning against the railing of the slow contraption, nursing his forehead with a dirty gloved hand and keeping his eyes tightly closed against the harsh, halogen strip lighting that hung on the ceiling of the elevator trolley.

“What if he’s dead?” Coffin’s voice was scarcely above a whisper and difficult to hear against the whine of machinery. At first, it seemed to the scarred young man that his friend has not heard him. But the subtle whitening of the knuckles on the one hand that gripped the tattered, worn rucksack and the almost imperceptible tensing of the muscles beneath his grimy black jumpsuit suggested that he had indeed heard the question.

Oberon didn’t respond. Truthfully, he had already considered it. Hell, it was probably the most likely outcome. All but the most resourceful people could survive out in the untamed wasteland and in their youth it had always been Oberon that had ensured the survival of the two. Not Jason Spencer.

To think that he had survived all these years without his help was almost absurd to think about. The savage remnants of humanity that scoured the dead surface of Vaul would have found and made short work of the angry, intelligent young man who had forsaken the relative comfort and luxury of the Undercity.

“He’s alive,” Oberon grumbled, more out of defiant optimism than any kind of genuine conviction. Coffin seemed to pick up on this and didn’t follow up with any more questions, leaning casually against the elevator’s railing and looking sympathetically at his weary friend. He had not been the same since Jason Spencer’s dramatic departure years prior, yet it was only now that Coffin could see the physical toll it had taken on his dark-haired friend. The surly exterior and the gaunt, sunken features of his grim face were a reflection of the way his life had changed so dramatically since the last embers of anything he could call a family had been snuffed out.

First the other children and staff at his orphanage, some of which he had had to bury himself. At least that’s what the scarred man had remembered Jason Spencer saying; then this, his closest friend, practically his brother, snatched away by his own heady idealism. Oberon felt a pang of sorrow for his friend, always left abandoned on the shores of solitude.

“Stop yer staring, damn it. You’re giving me the creeps.”

The elevator grated to a halt facing the two enormous, grimy metallic doors that served as the Undercity’s gateway to Vaul’s ravaged landscape. At least twice the height of a man and wide enough to fit in three large diggers or large vehicles side by side for use in the mines that served as the bedrock for the growing metropolis far beneath them.

Wordlessly, Oberon moved to the control panel on the door frame. Devoid of any hi-tech buttons or contraptions, the control panel merely consisted of a large dirty button several times the size of a man's fist. Punching the button hard, he was rewarded with the groaning creak of the poorly maintained machinery as the enormous doors began to open.

"I guess this is it then?" Coffin asked bleakly, scratching the rough skin on the back of his head.

"I'll be coming back." Oberon replied, not turning to look at his friend. His green eyes were entranced by the cloudless dark of the early morning sky. The tone of his voice was thoroughly unreadable and it made Coffin nervous.

"You don't sound very convinced." He replied skeptically. Oberon snorted.

"Jason once said that actions speak louder than words."

As the doors finally opened fully to the indigo sands of the warm, quiet emptiness of the landscape, the pair of young men were momentarily lost for words as they breathed in the scope of the horizon that stretched out before them. Spending most of their time in the tight, cramped labyrinthine system of crisscrossing vaults, shafts and corridors it was easy to lose perspective of just what the outside world looked like.

"Just make sure you get yourself back here alright, with or without Jason. He's made his choices, there's nothing you can do about that now." His raspy voice sounded so much more quiet in the face of Vaul's rocky, unforgiving wasteland. "You can't control everything, Oberon."

"Take care of yourself, Andrew." Oberon called back, snatching up the tattered rucksack from the platform's railing and taking good care to avoid the concerned gaze of his friend as he did so.

"I'll see you when I see you." Without turning back, he crossed the threshold away from the safety and security of his home and onto the soft, loose sand of the desert. He heard the grinding whir of the doors as they began to close to the outside world, but again he did not turn to look back.

Oberon was once again alone.

.oOo.

It was more than a day's worth of angry, petulant storming across the rocky wastes before Oberon was forced to admit that he had simply no idea where to start looking for his friend. Jason Spencer had vanished from the face of the earth just over two years ago, he might not even be in Vaul anymore. He might not even be on the continent of Alvyssia anymore. That first night, Oberon sat himself down amongst the shattered ruins of what had once been a church that had long since blown itself into rubble to consider the possible locations of his old friend.

Under the twin light of the planet's two moons he had spread out the map he had taken from the resource administrator's office in the Undercity and spread it out over a blackened slab of discoloured stone. His initial thought had been that Jason would have headed to familiar territory, his eyes quickly finding the location of Vaul's former capital city, Araketh. Their home for so much of their adolescent life. But he had quickly discounted the idea that Jason would have ever returned there. His friend had never had any real attachment to that place. He was born and raised in Artolia, Vaul was a foreign land to him and Araketh had never been more than a temporary home. It had was his companionship with Oberon that had kept him bound to the remnants of that city, not the city itself.

Artolia had been his second thought, as he examined the distance from the Undercity's location to the Artolian border. Oberon was aware that Jason's family exerted quite a significant influence in the Artolian foreign office and that his parents had both been ambassadors assigned to the Vaul after its complete annihilation in the war and that they had both been killed in an uprising at a POW camp. But it would not have been unreasonable to suspect that he could have made his way back to his homeland through the newly constructed demilitarised zone. He did still have family there. Not that he had ever heard him speak much of them. If his search would take him to Artolia then he would be well and truly stumped.

Oberon turned his attention back to Vaul. It was here, he had decided with a newfound confidence whose source he found it impossible to determine, that he would find his friend. Though it was not his natural home, Vaul had been what had shaped his friend. Carving him into the hard, jagged figure that he had come to know.

Then where was he? Oberon thought, racking his brain for every ounce of information that he had ever known about his old friend. Jason had not been much of a survivalist at first. But he was intelligent and a quick learner, it would not be impossible to suggest that he had survived out in the wilderness for so long. However, Oberon could not come to think of his friend living on his own out away from all forms of civilization. Jason needed civilization, he needed the comforts of his walls and books. He had always been the same.

His parents. The thought came back to him like lightening out of turbulent, overcast sky just as he had begun to feel his tired eyelids getting heavy.

Barring the obvious exception of himself, they were the only people whom Jason had ever felt genuinely attached to.They were his family and the lingering fury over their deaths had given him the impetus to strike out against the haphazardly constructed life that he had come to know in Vaul. The idea crystallised in his mind with an undisputable certainty. Jason had gone to visit the prison camp where his parents were killed.

It was doubtful he would still be there, of course, Oberon reminded himself. working hard to reel in his racing imagination. There was no way that after two years apart he would be able to just waltz into the desolate, haunting remains of an Artolian work camp to find his longtime friend grieving in solitude. The world did not work like that.

But still, it was a start. At the very least he would be able to possibly pick up some clues as to Jason Spencer's next destination and then work out what to do from there.

The plan was not, however, free from all complications. The first and most pressing being that Oberon had never once inquired about the precise location of where this camp had been positioned. It had never seemed like a wise idea to press Jason on the subject.

What he did know was that just about ten years ago he had encountered Jason dragging his own half-dead carcass into Araketh's northern suburbs. He had to have been heading pretty much due south away from the facility he had escaped from. So retracing those steps would be what needed to be done.

The second most pressing concern was that traversing the treacherous, unforgiving landscape of Vaul was hard-going. Even for a young man in prime physical condition, armed with enough clean drinking water and fresh food to last for a whole fortnight, making the overland journey to Araketh was a demanding ordeal.

Vaul had never been picturesque, even before it had been bombed back to prehistory by Artolia's nuclear arsenal. Once a mere unpleasant streak of jagged rock canyons and yellow dusty fields that stretched across the spine of the Alvyssian continent, now Vaul gave off the distinct impression of a dead, alien world. Towering spikes of formiddable stone routinely punctured the fields of short sickly yellow grass and shallow gullies of acrid, polluted water. All of which was set against the backdrop of dark, distant mountain ranges, beyond which a baleful, overcast orange sky sat in impassive judgement.

It took several more days of arduous travelling before Oberon rounded the high crest of a particularly impressive edifice of dark rock to see what remained of the capital city, Araketh. From a distance, it looked almost unchanged from when the two boys had made their own departure from the city. A grey and ivory coloured skeleton, populated by the gutted and threadbare remains of the few remaining skyscrapers, set amongst vast swaths of rubble and destruction.

Probably best to bypass the city entirely, Oberon reasoned to himself. It was likely home to at least a hundred murderous bandits by now. A picture of society at its most primal and barbaric, without the law and order of the Undercity to keep a firm hand on its tiller. There was no risk in provoking an unecessary provokation.

To that end, Oberon waited patiently in the shadow of the rocky cliff face until nightfall before he made his move north. Following the directions of the old and cracked compass that had been a present given to him by Rossiter, he stayed well clear of the city's periphery. laying low and traversing the flat, long-dead farmland until he was heading due north, with the city of Araketh and its nighttime soundtrack of sporadic gunfire to his back.

So it was that Oberon began to travel north, retracing the steps that had led Jason Spencer to him ten years prior. The going began to get easier, he noted. Whether it was the renewed sense of optimism that came with the proximity to his intended destination or the fact that up until the mountains at Vaul's northern extreme, the terrain began to flatten out into rolling expanses of easily crossed dirt plains, he wasn't able to tell. He decided not to linger on the matter, either choice expedited his progress north. Though he was well aware that this was the part of his plan where the pretense of any foundation for his decisions fell away. He was wondering into totally unexplored territory in full knowledge that Jason might not have travelled due south from the camp. It was absolutely possible that he might have led a twisting, meandering journey through Vaul towards his meeting with Oberon. There was simply no way to know for sure.

As Oberon lay down for his fifth night's sleep he tried to displace those thoughts from his mind and dispel any sense of tiredness from his aching limbs. If he allowed himself to surrender to this level of doubt and uncertainty then there was no way any progress would be made. Belief that Jason, even all those years ago, would have been stupid enough to swan across country in search of help. He would have headed in a straight line, the guaranteed shortest path to any destination.

It just felt right. Oberon thought as he jammed his eyes shut against the overcast night sky. That would have been the decision that Jason would have made. He had to keep heading straight.

On day six, Oberon awoke to a shock. The pressure of a heavy, leather work boot pressing down on his throat.

"What should we do with him?" the voice above him sneered. Clearly the owner of the boot. Oberon said nothing. The weight of the man on top of him was preventing him from moving his head at all, he had no idea how many bandits had found him. Listening to them would be the only way to determine their number and threat level.

"Gut him. Looks like he could have some useful gear." The booming, heavily Southlander accented voice of a second gang member commanded. He spoke with authority that made Oberon feel uneasy as his hands scrabbled in the dirt, pretending to be looking for a weapon. A plan formulating in his mind.

"Hold still, shitstain!" a third voice called, lashing out with a kick to his side. Oberon gave a feigned grunt on pain, much to the harsh laughter of his captors. The kick had some weight behind it, but not nearly enough to injure a young man of Oberon's size and physique.

"Nothing but a fuckin' pup, ain't ya?" The first voice barked again, "Someone hand me my knife."

Three men. That's all. He heard the slippery scrape of metal being drawn across old leather and knew that he was out of time.

"Now hold still, boy,"

Hold still, he did not. With astonishing speed, Oberon's clenched fist snapped up across his body to painfully impact the knee of his aggressor just below the kneecap so that it snapped upwards with a hideous crack. The pressure was off his throat almost instantaneously and Oberon wasted no time in standing up to his full and considerable height, forcing the limp, wimpering bandit off him and rolling to the floor.

It was all instinct from here. Instinct born out of dozens of fights against bandits and vagabonds in Araketh, prize fights in the grimy pits of the Undercity illuminated by filthy halogen lamps. Oberon had been a fighter his entire life. The first day he had met Jason he had killed a man without thinking twice.

The big southlander threw a tremendous overhand right that he rolled under with ease, sliding inside the southern giant's reach and delivering a pair of short powerful punches into his taut mid-section. It was said by the Undercity's veterans from the war against Artolia that fighting in a war changes you forever, completely removing your moral centre. They might have been right, but that statement was too limited. It in no way accounted for the bleak, clinical apathy that came with seeing so many friends and guardians from the orphanage die. Incinerated by shell blasts, gunned down by Artolian stormtroopers, dying in wretching bloody spasms as their ravaged bodies succumbed to radiation poisoning.

Oberon caught the glint of another knife to his left as the third man tried to take him in the flank. Grabbing hold of the Southlander by his wrist and swinging a right hand hard up into his temple, the dazed bandit fell to the side, dragged by Oberon's firm grip on his wrist straight into the path of his companion's knife.

"Shit!" The final one called in alarm, instantly releasing his grip on the blade embedded in his companion.

With a colossal effort, Oberon kicked the burly Southlander hard in the gut and right onto his back, leaving a clear, unobstructed path inbetween him and the final bandit.

"Look man, I didn't want any trouble!" Oberon glared at the bandit. He was much scrawnier than the first two, dressed in lumpy oversized clothes that made his gaunt, pale face appear comically undersized.

Oberon's glare made him wince. The frustration and the rage of the past few days fruitless searching had all but been extinguished in the quick, punishingly brutal beating he had delivered to this wayward gang. There was no need to finish this. These guys were already finished.

He caught a movement in the large, watery blue eyes of his opponent and watched as they kept nervously flickering off to the side.

"The hell to you think you're looking at?" Oberon asked, his voice still hoarse and raspy from the attempt to crush his windpipe.

"Nothing!" Yelped the bandit unconvincingly.

Oberon never got the chance to turn to find out for himself. The force of the blow to the back of his head was so much that he had blacked out before his mind had a chance to even register the pain.

By the time his body hit the floor, it registered nothing at all.

.oOo.

"Looks like you fell asleep again."

The words seemed to snapped Oberon's head up. At first he thought that the lingering headache was starting to give him brain damage, for the room he was in was definitely darker and murkier than it had been before. It took a few moments for him to realise that his senses were all working fine, but that it was probably just night time outside the heavily boarded up windows though.

Something else was different though. His eyes strained against the darkness and sure enough, a figure seemed present. Sitting behind the desk, arms folded against the darkness and face hidden by a shaggy wreath of dark hair.

"Yeah, that can happen when you club someone over the back of the head." Oberon responded with a weary growl. If anything the headache had only increased in intensity since his small nap. Though it had helped clarify a few things. Knocking a few errant pieces of the puzzle into place.

"This is the Artolian prison camp, right?"

"Right." The stranger responded. His features almost completely hidden in the inpenetrable darkness.

"Why did you bring me here?"

Oberon could just make out the image of a pair of broad shoulders shrugging. "It's the only cover around these parts for miles around."

"Thats not what I meant."

"I know."

This was infuriating. Whoever his captor was was being infuriatingly evasive.

"So why have you kept me alive," Oberon growled, rephrasing his question in a way that allowed whoever it was a lot less room to dodge the question.

"Because," the voice of the bandit leader, or whoever, began to grow in intensity in a way that made the hairs on the back of Oberon's neck stand up.

"I want to know why you've come here, Oberon."

In the silence that followed there was an almost audible click as the last pieces of the puzzle rattled into place in Oberon's mind. His eyes grew accustom to the gloom enough to make out the familiar sharp features of his old friend, now grown hollow and hostile in their years apart, but still utterly unmistakeable.

"Jason?" Oberon asked, fully aware that he was sounding like an imbecile as a flood of relief and confusion began to pour into his senses.

"Answer the damn question." Jason Spencer's command rang loud in the confines of the dusty room. It was harsh and authoritiative. The kind of voice that had become accustomed to giving orders.

"What are you doing here? What the fuck are you doing?" Oberon's own voice, still sore and raspy, rose to the challenge as the initial relief gave way to anger. Though he could not tell for certain, he was sure that the sudden bark of disobedience had checked Jason. He wasn't used to his authority being directly challenged. The bandits out in these parts were soft, pliable and easily swayed by a dominant will. Oberon counted himself as none of these things. Much less so as a serrated edge of anger tore through him.

Had the bandits who had attacked him the previous day been working for Jason Spencer?

The silence seemed to go on for a long time and Oberon could tell that Jason was pondering whether or not to raise the challenge further.

"You want to know what I've been doing whilst you were hiding in your damn cave?" the voice was so cold and angry that it unnerved Oberon, as his eyes became so used to the darkness that he was able to pick out the vivid green orbs of the man he had once called his closest friend.

"Fine. I'll tell you,"
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Old 03/26/2012   #28
Omega
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Niresti



It was night in the village. Most had retired to the the comfort of their homes, warm and safe. Only a handful still walked the streets, unconcernedly making their way toward their destination, which, for most, was home. But not for one man; he made his way to the village kreshna - the household of the village headman - and, while it certainly was where he had grown up, it was not, in any way, a place he considered home. Indeed, it was far more significant in that it meant he was headed into battle. He stopped for but a brief moment at the threshhold, taking it all in - the smell of dinner cooking, which radiated from the dwelling, sending his stomach a grim reminder of when he last ate; the velvet luster of the night sky, shimmering with its myriad stars like tiny gems; the gentle sigh of the wind.

So came Radnar Miara to the abode of his ancestors.

"Avash natel, brother," he said quietly as gently closed the door, turning to hang his cloak on one of the pegs nearby.

"Kalari na," came the familiar reply, spoken from the depths of one of the chairs in the darkened room.

"Shall we get into it now, then?"

"Drawing it out further will do none of us any good, Radnar." Thila Miara, chief of Entua, last bastion of the Niresti of all Damascus, rose from his seat, drawing himself to his rather impressive full height, towering over his brother as he did with all others in the village - and with good reason, being nearly seven feet in height, wide and muscular. His skin, like rich cinnamon, had begun to show the signs of a life filled with worry, and his hair had long since begun losing its fight with the greying of age. Careworn as he was, his eyes, a curious steely grey, were still filled with great warmth and caring. Now, though, those eyes eyes, as well as his voice, were markedly more stern than usual. He resembled, in many ways, an old bear that had woken from winter hibernation, huge and alert and somewhat grouchy.

Radnar paid no mind to this, being used to his brother's attempts to display his dominance. "It's what they would have wanted. We pray to them to help us find peace, to guide us through our lives - to ease our sufferings, and to share in our joy. I only seek to honor their wishes." He spread his hands, shrugging slightly, his longer hair, flecked with spots of grey, cascading down his back. He was smaller and leaner than Thila, his countenance decidedly more than a little leonine.

"So you would have us abandon them, then - their teachings? Our way of life?" Thila snorted. "Your intentions are good, brother, but your means are suspect."

Radnar arched an eyebrow. "Suspect? How can my devotion to the Old Ones be called into question?"

Thila studied his face as he answered. "They are very clear; man would do best not to try to raise themselves to the level of gods. Do you remember this teaching, brother?"

"Yes."

"And do you not agree that such is precisely their aim?"

"I do."

"Then why?"

Here, Radnar couldn't help but smile. "They also teach us to gently guide others to the truth, do they not? 'Guidance lies not in force, but in freedom.' I think we both know that what happened at that place was...uncalled for."

Thila frowned. "Yes, this is true. But how is it that you feel the appropriate response is to go to them and aid them in their work?" He shook his head. "Does that not make you accomplice to their plotting?"

Radnar raised his eyebrows. "Not at all. The idea is that we can share information about our cultures only by working with them, for then they will be dissuaded from their present course. The river's path does not bend without a push first," he said.

"I fail to see how it makes you any different from they."

Radnar's eyes narrowed. "The difference is clear. I do not wish to reach beyond the realm of man, but rather to uplift our culture, our people, our livelihoods! Think of the benefit that this will have to us all!" He gestured fervently toward the window overlooking the village square. "These people want for nothing only because this is all that they know! Is it so wrong to want to integrate them with the outside world in such a way that allows them to carry their heads high, knowing that they have begun to help the world with realizing the true nature of mankind itself?!"

"Integrate them into the outside world," Thila repeated, levelling his eyes at his younger brother and folding his massive arms across his chest. "The outside world is nothing but the crucible of man's sin. No Radnar, I would not subject my people to that," his voice heavy with disapproval.

"Our people have learnt to be proud of themselves, their heritage, without any influence from outsiders. I see no reason to change that now."

"It has nothing to do with pride, brother. It's about doing what's best for our people!"

"Diluting our way of life, the ways of our ancestors, ways that have served our kind well for thousands upon thousands of years. Ways that have never led us astray. Ways that keep our people strong. You would risk the foundations of our way of life by sharing them with the world beyond our walls. A world that indulges weakness and encourages hubris." Thila spoke gravely and steadily. He had had the time to pick and choose his words carefully.

"Our people have endured for so long by keeping their feet on the ground, Radnar. You would do well to remember that."

"And perhaps if we were more flexible, things would be different and we would not be boxed into this tiny corner of Damascus," Radnar replied, a slight bite entering his tone.

"Like those before me, I have had to make sacrifices to ensure the survival of our way of life." Thila's reply was quiet and defensive, clearly acknowledging his dissatisfaction with the current status of the Niresti people but refusing to concede even an inch of this argument to his brother.

"Then what is the problem with doing something that doesn't involve sacrifice but still benefits us?"

"It is not the material sacrifice that worries me. Our people could lose much more than just our land, brother." The response was weary, spoken in the voice of a man who had given the argument much thought himself. Too much thought.

"There's nothing for us left to lose, Thila," Radnar said softly, a certain sadness coming to his eyes. "And after all that I've given up, you think that I don't know what the risks are?"

"I do not doubt your dedication, or your loyalties, my brother," Thila replied earnestly, a dark look crossing over his craggy features. "I only question your judgement."

Radnar's eyes narrowed to slits, his voice like ice. "Meaning?"

"After what happened to Telran, I...I get concerned that you're beginning to lose perspective..." he let his voice trail off, his concerns hanging in the air like a thick fog.

"My perspective is the one that gave the Eldest his great prodigy!" Radnar growled in reply. "I know what I'm doing, Thila. And how dare you," he roared, "how DARE you bring up my son like that?! Now you've gone too far, brother! You question my judgment, yet I'm the one arguing that we proceed with something that poses no risk and gives us everything to gain! If anything, I'm cursed with the ability to do the math!"

"You are blind to the risk, Radnar. You see only what you wish to see." Thila replied, solemnly. "How can you expect me to consider a future for our people through such limited vision?"

"Exactly! Your vision is too limited - you sit blind to the possibilities while opportunity knocks." Radnar, still furious, shrugged as he turned to leave. "Do as you wish; it's clear no words of mine will change the path you've chosen to walk," he said, stalking toward the door.

"Radnar!" Thila barked, raising his voice for the first time throughout their encounter and causing his brother to halt in his tracks.

"Our people must walk the same path, it is what gives us our strength, it is what keeps us together. It is at the heart of what it means to be Niresti." He paused, his voice had become much more quiet as he cast his weary eyes out of the window and gave a long sigh.

"I do not wish for you to stray from our path. What would you have me do, my brother?"

There was a brief pause before Radnar replied. "Just trust me," he said, without turning around.

"There is no man amongst our tribe whom I trust more."

"Thank you, brother," replied Radnar, as he returned himself to the chilly night air.



=====



The fire crackled as the Eldest gazed into the flames leaping inside the krasth. The ancient tool of divination was once more being put through its paces, as it had done so many times before for each of the Eldest past. The soft snaps and pops of the flickering fire were lost on him, his eyes gazing into nothingness as he attended to his silent vigil. The dancing tongues burned lower and lower, and then, as swiftly as they had begun, went out. It was then that the old man moved, reaching for the stone basin that was as old as the hills themselves, placing it now on the table with sat otherwise empty amongst the other implements of augury.

Settling into his seat, the Eldest leaned forward to peruse and the contemplate the wisdom that the Ancestors had seen fit to give him. His leg shifted restlessly, betraying, though he was ashamed to admit it - for, as Eldest, was it not his role to be calm and imperturbable as Kali'na? - his anxiety and, frankly, nervousness. He sighed deeply, closing his eyes in thought. The omens he had glimpsed of late in the krasth, and the other mystic artifacts, left him with a deep sense of foreboding, for, subtle and fleeting as the signs might be, they hinted at...something. Something which loomed on the horizon, awaiting the coming dawn in the wings of shadow. It started simply at first, as all things did: hints about events which might affect the tribe indirectly; but slowly, almost imperceptibly, these signs began to herald a steadily approaching change. And now, the flames had begun to point to something more, something...uncertain.

Something darker.

A soft knock upon the wooden door broke into his reverie. "Come in, child," he said, opening his eyes and returning their gaze to the krasth. A young woman entered, removing the hood of the cloak she wore, which marked her as Second of Entua. She tucked a lock of her glossy black hair behind her ear, where it fell in soft curls around a fringe that somehow managed to be at once wild yet carefully maintained. Her eyes were locked upon her mentor, chocolate brown orbs absorbing the sight of the old man at work. He gestured for her to take a seat.

"Something the matter, Bonrican?" she asked, worry clear upon her face. Somehow, the tattoo that snaked its way up her neck and along the left side of her face like an angry burn made her look even more concerned. The old man chuckled softly.

"You know, you're the only one that even knows that to be my name, child. It's almost like you're trying to make up for the years of it not being said." She smiled at his attempt at redirection, but they both knew she hadn't forgotten her question. He sighed deeply, leaning back in his seat.

"Something is coming. They have not seen fit to show me what yet, but there is definitely some...event...that looms just over the horizon. I can't even say what its nature is, other than that it does not bode well for our people. Its approach is very slow, but it is clear that it will come here, casting a shadow over all we know, like a great and terrilbe stormcloud as it unleashes its wrath." He paused for a moment before glancing over at his young charge. "If something were to happen to me..."

"No!" she cried, horrified, on her feet in an instant. "No! Nothing's going to happen to you, Bon! I won't let it!" Her eyes hardened with resolve, blazing with a fierce determination. "I won't."

Bonrican smiled wryly, gazing at his protege affectionately. "My dear, if that's what the Ancestors wish, then that is what will be; you know that." She deflated visibly, sagging under the knowledge she so greatly wished to ignore, sinking back down into the seat next to him. "It's all right; I've led a good, long life, and I am proud to have you as my Second," he said, gently lifting her chin with his hand to look in her eyes. She could see in his that he meant every word. And that's when the tears gently began to flow.

"B-but I'm not ready," she said shakily, her voice of the verge of breaking.

His answering smile was loving, that of a proud father for his daughter. "None of us are ever ready for the final test, Ne'Kiran," he said softly, "but it has always been this way. You may not see it, but you have the makings of a good and wise Eldest, child."

"Not as good as you," she mumbled, staring at the floor lest the tears burst forth in strength. Bonrican chuckled.

"No, you're right," he replied. "Better." She looked up at him quizzically. "You will be the shepherd of our people, as I have, though you will guide them, their hearts and souls, better than ever I could," he said seriously. "I have seen it."

"I...Ihavetogo," she said in a rush, leaping to her feet and rushing out of the room before her mentor could reply. A few seconds later, he heard the sound of the front door slamming, and he sighed. She needed time to herself; he had taken the news in much the same way when his own master had the same talk with him. He frowned, wishing he hadn't upset her, but knew that there was no way that it wouldn't have. We're more alike than she thinks. He felt guilty, all the same, that he hadn't told her that this great, ominous event would be the end of his life, but couldn't bear the thought of breaking that news. Not now.

He returned his gaze to the krasth. Hopefully, he could at least find a way for his death to have purpose.



=====



Radnar fumed. How dare he bring up Telran like that!

After the argument with his brother, he had returned home to find everything quiet. No one stirred, as his aide had clearly decided that waiting up was not in his best interests. Radnar couldn't blame him - the odds that his temper would be flaring were certainly high (and exactly what had happened) - but he was still, somehow, rather irritated by it, as he now had no one to vent his spleen upon.

It wasn't as though Radnar hadn't seen it coming. He'd endured such statements on occasion for years after what he'd done, but even so, he'd yet to regret that choice. His son Telran would have been a disgrace to the name Miara, and the Ancestors, and Radnar simply would not have that. Better that he be made useful somewhere else and Radnar profit from it.

Radnar was a man for whom the word sacrifice held no fear. He was dedicated to furthering the best interests of the Niresti, and felt that sometimes, the cost of making things better had to be high, because nothing came free in life, especially not advancements and prosperity. There was no one that was not expendable for the cause. And he wished that Thila would see that, because while he loved his brother, he hated that his vision was so narrow, so shortsighted.

A soft knock rapped at the door.

He rose to his feet, making his way from the sitting room to the front door, which he answered without hesitation. He knew that knock.

Perhaps not everyone was expendable...

"Ah, it's you, Ne'Kiran. What brings you here this late?" he asked as he ushered her in, closing the door behind her.

"I've just had a talk with my the Eldest," she sniffed, wiping the still-falling tears from her eyes. She looked up at Radnar meaningfully, and he nodded.

"Ah." He knew what that meant. He gestured toward the sitting room. "Would you care for some tea?" She nodded, eyes cast down at the floor, moving slowly, as if in a trance. She sank into her usual seat, still staring downward.

"So what happened?" he asked as he poured them both tea at the tiny drink cart sitting just outside the kitchen. She sniffed once, hard.

"H-he told me that s-something bad is going to happen," she sobbed. "And that he m-might..."

"I see," said Radnar with a frown. Had the time already come? And so soon? "I can see why you'd be upset," he nodded. "How much time?"

She'd managed to regain control of herself now, answering with, "He doesn't know." She wiped the tearstains from a cheek. "He said that there's something coming - something big. But he doesn't know when. He says it's coming very slowly." She stared into Radnar's eyes. "I don't want him to die."

Radnar's eyes filled with compassion. "I know, Ne'Kiran. Neither do I. But when the Ancestors call us home, it's just...our time to go. You know that." He chuckled. "Better than I do, even." She laughed weakly in reply, a choking sound that was entirely undercut by how upset she was.

"But...I'm not ready yet," she said seriously. "I'm not." Her eyes were alight with that same determination again. "I would do anything to keep him from dying," she said, very seriously, as she burned Radnar with the fierceness of her resolve.

This gave Radnar pause. A pause which grew into a very large, very loud silence between the two as he turned a thought over in his mind that he had had many times before. Now, there was only justification. But could he really suggest it? What was the right thing to do? The Eldest had clearly accepted his death, but his pupil had not, would not take the death of her beloved mentor without trying to save him.

Hmmm...

"You know, Ne'Kiran...I went to see Thila earlier." She stared at him quizzically, uncertain as to how that had anything to do with the subject. "We had a bit of an argument," he continued, "about an issue with Volsung. He's decided to leave it in my care, and so I think we will continue on.

"We have come to terms," he explained. "What we've done is had a talk with them, and they're willing to work with us. They're studying the human body...trying to make it better, but without resorting to the kinds of things that the other branches elsewhere have been getting up to. You know what I'm referring to, yes?" he asked; she nodded in reply. "Good." He leaned forward. "They're trying to help mankind reach their full potential, and we have a duty to see that they do not try to overstep their goals and reach into the realm of the gods. And all that we have to do is work with them, and watch them." He gazed at her appraisingly. "I don't know what will happen...what kind of results they will have...but do you think that, maybe, it might allow you to prevent the Eldest's death?"

Ne'Kiran froze. "Are...are you serious?!" she shouted, now on the edge of her seat. There was no question in her mind as to her response. "If it has even the tiniest chance of helping me save him, I'll do it!" Radnar nodded.

"All right, settle down," he said, settling back into his chair. He knew it was right, but still had a sickening feeling in his stomach that this was utterly wrong. Perhaps this is what it meant to make impossible decisions. When he thought of what Thila would say, he pushed it away. This was what was right for their people. "I'll set it up with them and let you know when everything is ready. All you have to do is stay true to your resolve." His fingertips grazed her chin, fixing her eyes with his own. "You can do that, can't you?"

Her eyes shone with emotion.

"Yes, Father."
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Last edited by Omega; 03/26/2012 at 07:58 PM.
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