[ !! This is a fanfiction remake of the Kingdom Hearts Roleplay, "Anomaly". Characters belong to their representive players. Please feel free to read and comment about the story or characters and et cetera, but please refrain from any sort of criticism or constructive criticism. This is a gift to the people that participated in this project nearly two years ago now, and I'd rather not mar it with people posting that they would have used a different synonym or whatnot. If you spot a spelling or grammatical error, please send me a private message. New chapters will be posted when I have time to write them. I am a busy man, but still, I'll try to get to it. Now, enjoy. !! ]
P R O L O G U E
Three boys moved along the stone-steps, Sean in front, leading them without a single word. Under cover of the deep night, there were few eyes to watch them sneak out of their respective homes and make for the waterfront. There was a decent place that was draped in shadow, away from the golden lamp-lit walks that lined the water's edge. It was an alcove under a bridge, and no one saw them sneak under it. The plan had been hatched earlier in the day, in which Sean and his friends were at school. Between classes, they had come into an argument or more of a boasting match. The subject, of their curiosity, was alcohol. Every child of their age had their own natural curiosity when it came to grown-up matters, but it was a matter of pride and respect when it came to talk what was clearly not out of grasp. Now it was time to own up, and Sean had smuggled something with him as he had lead them further below the bridge. Settling down, they sat in a semi-circle with the water lapping up against the concrete next to them. Reaching into his coat, Sean handled the slender neck of a bottle and procured it, shoving it in the chest of his friend. Forced to take the bottle, the other boy looked down to it tacitly.
"Well?" Sean said, the first to break the silence.
"Well what?" said the boy with the bottle, sporting a bewildred look.
"If your Dad lets you have it whenever you want, then I wanna see you drink it like you do.", he ordered.The two of the exchanged glances while the third boy listened to their voices echo across the water. The three of them came to a silent consensus that they would have to keep their voices down or risk someone above hearing. There were coppicemen that routinely patrolled the waterfont, especially near the park.
"Come on then." coaxed Sean, already aware of his friend's inexperience.At this point they had all become subconsciously aware that they would have to outmatch each other to prove that they weren't chicken. Sean too, even though he sat on the bluffer's throne. He too would have to drink, and he wasn't all too sure he would enjoy the consequences.
Reluctantly pressing the bottle to his lips, playing the part, he soon discovered how bitter his friend's wine was. Washing across his tongue, it was a shocking and foul comparison to the mildly sweet flavor he had been expecting. Nearly gagging, the boy leaned to his right and spat the contents of his mouth into the river, ruing the moment he had accepted the challenge. He cursed and wiped his mouth, standing up. In sharp contrast, Sean yanked the bottle from his friends hand and swallowed a mouthful furiously in defiance of his friend's cowardice.
"Shut up, don't think you're any better 'an me just because you drank a little wine. Besides, you probably put something in it to make me gag."Sean didn't say anything, and only smirked. Looking to the other boy, who had been laughing quietly nearly the whole time, Sean shrugged and started to walk along the concrete wedge between the bridge and the river. When he saw his friend pick up the bottle he left behind, Sean turned back.
"Leave it here; I don't wanna be seen carrying that around."Doing so, they followed him along the bank that was fenced off from the side of the river. They walked over the fragments of dark and smooth rocks that had been laid for aesthetic purpose, as they were approaching the park at the heart of the city. Picking one up, Sean skipped it twice along the water. His friends, thinking they could do better, started skipping stones across the water.
"I heard you like that girl, the older one in the class above us."
"Says who?” Sean added, grimacing.
"Uh... says everyone."
"The girl who sneaks out of Rhetoric just to smoke those woman cigarettes behind the yard-shed?” his other friend added.
"Don't be stupid, I don't like anyone from that class."He wanted to change the subject fast; he had a crush on the girl, but thought he had hid that well enough to lay inconspicuous with the rest of the student body.
"Try to hit that boat; I bet you can't skip out that far."Casually, his friends accepted his challenge. The object they had targeted was a large houseboat that was floating silently along the river. Sean assumed that it was full of yokels from the countryside; there were a lot of them that traveled into the city on the rivers. Taking a ship was a lot easier than going by land over the mountains in an automobile. Everyone inside looked asleep, except for the few lights in the bridge and deck. Each room had a large glass window to look out from, and all the lights had been dimmed and no silhouette could be seen moving about. The boys looked around quickly for anyone on shore that may have been watching them, and found no one. The three boys began to skip rocks out towards the boat, coming up short.
"You can't change the subject Sean; I know that you like her. Her and her goofy friends."Sean ignored him, and skipped another rock, really throwing his arm into it. It skipped four times before it hit a patch of flat water, and sprung into the air. With a dreaded crash, the stone sailed through a window, shattering its pieces into the room inside. Fragments fell into the river as the sound of the stone crashing into other objects followed. Within seconds, all of the lights on the houseboat were lit, and angry yelling echoed throughout. Sean burst into laughter, but even that was short-lived.
"Hey! You three, freeze!” came a voice from the bridge. A coppice man called out to them, pointing his baton directly at Sean.When they turned around, they noticed another closing in from the street to their left
"Run for it!" Sean exclaimed, and they ran.The only way they'd be able to escape is in the park, but the second officer was barreling toward them. They tried to run around, but he caught Sean by the hood as his friends ran past. Swiveling his shoulders, he twisted the fabric out of the officer's hand and ran at full speed towards the path his friends were heading down.
Back on the houseboat, an old grey-haired man emerged out onto the deck. He pulled a silver revolver from his waist and fired it into the sky. Wide-eyed, Sean looked back, and noticed that the coppice man chasing him had looked back to the boat momentarily. This was his only chance to get away, and he took it. Breezing past the large iron and marble gates, there were trees on his left and right now, with thin and dark paths winding through them. He was in the park now, and he veered off the main path and dodged through the trees. Kneeling down in the darkness, they wouldn't be able to see him in the thick of the bushes and trunks even with a torch. He watched the officer run past, trying to catch his breath.
After a good ten minutes had passed, he emerged out onto the path warily. His hooded sweatshirt had the hood hanging by a few threads and covered in blades of dead grass and dirt. He could certainly lie his way into a feasible explanation for this, because he knew he would be asked. But it was time to go home, and he'd have to take his time, to make sure he wasn't being followed. Sean treated it as sort of a game; running behind benches, peering out from behind a tree, pretending he was being hunted for a situation more grave than his current predicament.
Eventually, he got to the large stair that led down from the boulevard where he had left earlier in the evening. Much more somber now, he moped at the realization that his parents would likely be furious at him staying out so late. It must have been close to or a little after midnight. The stars above were clear as crystal. And with that, he took his first heavy-hearted step up toward home.
The wind seemed to pick up as he raised right foot and left foot. The terrace the boulevard was located on was considerably high up. There were three sections of steps with their own landings, and Sean would traverse these every day to travel to school or otherwise. Archways of hand-crafted marble hung over him, and were covered in thin strands of green-gray vine with broad silvery leaves. One-hundred and twenty-six steps, nine arches, he had counted on many occasions.
Emerging upon the first landing, Sean took notice of something peculiar. A dark blotch spread out on the corner of the concrete pavement. He walked over to it, noting that he hadn't seen it on his trip downward. It was like someone had haphazardly spilled black paint. Reaching out with his foot, he dragged the sole of his shoe along the surface. It was dry. He walked over it and then examined his shoes to find nothing. Dismissing it, he decided to waste no more time getting home. At once, he made his way up the second set of stairs and to the next landing, looking to his right and up towards the rooftops of the houses of his block.
It was then that he was thrown off of his feet, landing hard on his chest. The earth below him shook and trembled for a few nightmarish seconds. Rolling on his back, he sat up, rubbing his elbow. At first, he thought it was an earthquake, but it wasn't really possible for them to happen in this area of the world. He stood up turned around, where the entire city was in view from this precipice. There was smoke coming from the waterfront, and at infrequent points upon the cityscape. The large mountains that rose beyond were silent, black, and eternal.
Another huge quake came suddenly, and Sean stumbled to his left and threw his arms around a pillar of the arch to prevent him from falling over. What he observed was horrifying. The earth down at the riverfront split in twain, sending buildings crumbling into the water and down into the abyss. The river itself flowed down into the massive crevasse from both sides, which spit out fire and steam. Far off in the distance there were brilliant flicks of flame that sparked out of the earth. Above the mountain, appeared a large white monolith that sailed toward the city, with smaller white objects buzzing around it or stationary.
Trembling, Sean whirled around to flee home, but as he did he caught something in the corner of his sight. Stepping forward, he saw the large black stain on the lower landing. It seemed to be expanding, somewhat like an inflating bag. It was black and dark violet and rose as if it were a large blister on the ground. It was sickening. Another quake threw him forward and onto his face. Looking down, the "blister" had popped, and black silhouettes emerged from it, scrambling across the ground. He pulled himself up, angry at his body for not moving at the pace of his fear. But already, these shadows were upon him. They swam through the earth, and then began to pull themselves out from it. They were diminutive yet humanoid, and moved with a robotic canter. Before Sean knew it they lunged forward and clung to his limbs, and the heart-pounding feeling of alien tendrils on his skin filled his entire being. Sick looking antennae that protruded from their heads brushed against him, and golden glowing eyes blinked back at him.
Another one, but larger and with more developed features slowly emerged in front of him. Sean kicked and thrust his body wildly, but with all his might, he was unable to pry these alien creatures from his body. The figure in front of him seemed to lean over backwards, in an arc that would have been impossible for any humanoid creature with a legitimate spine. It shot forward and barreled itself into Sean's chest. He screamed out in absolute terror, and then was subsequently winded. It felt as through a freezing cold freight train had just broadsided him. It reached through his body, even though its tendrils did not break the skin. They traveled throughout his nerves and invaded every sort of sensation one could imagine. Then, slowly, a burst of light was plucked from his body. Swallowed and absorbed by the darkness, they abandoned his limp body, which tumbled to the ground, lifeless. They congregated and swirled around the shadow that had absorbed the boy's heart before they dispersed in a flash, off to look for more victims.
There was no sensation, no life, and no thought left in the body that lay on the cold cement. It was a corpse, a husk of the being that had formerly inhabited it; mere matter apart from the atoms around it. In this new silence, the wind gently tossed his hair and ruffled his clothes in vain to play with the once living creature.
The ghostly white objects in the sky began to descend.
These sleek and pale specks, once in plain view, were actually ships. While some strayed along the behemoth, others swiftly sailed down into the city. They moved in a tight formation, and then split off from one another, gliding mere feet above the rooftops.
One of them landed in an area near the park were there were no trees (aside from the ones that hadn't toppled over in the quakes), and steam jettisoned from either side. From below, a hatch opened with a metal ladder descending and planting itself in the earth. The entire area was silent around the ship; whether people were afraid to come out or were already dead was unknown.
Creatures began to descend, and the huddled around the ladder until the last came down. There were four of them, and though they looked like impassive beige outlines, one could see that they were wearing cloaks. Turing away, they looked in all directions, scanning the cityscape, peering towards the horizon.
From the group, one stepped forward and lifted his hands to his hood pulling it downward over his head. His blonde hair shone in the white lights of the ship, and his clear eyes traveled over the wreckage the quake had wrought. His chin was stubbly, and he was rather tall, somewhere in his late teens or early twenties.
"I'm gonna be sick.” he said out of displeasure, though he'd hardly show any weakness in front of others.
"Let's hurry up and find the children, we don't have much time", came a voice from behind the blond-haired man.
"Right." he replied, putting one hand on his hip while the other outstretched before him.A shaft of light shot out from his hand and materialized within two blinks of an eye. He was now holding a lengthy object, a weapon in his right hand. It was a sort of blade: long, sharp, and beautifully blue. What set it apart was a barb of sorts at the end, a metal piece that resembled the white wing of a dove. The weapon's golden guard eclipsed his hand, intricately decorated with silver.
Turning to his comrades, he signaled to all of them. He would go left, another would head for the hill before them, and the other two were to travel along the rift in the park, searching for survivors. At once they split up, hurriedly on their own paths, darting through the shadows and turning through dead city streets.
One of the cloaked figures came upon a stair, the one whom had been sent to the hill. He ran up them quickly with powerful and graceful movements, even jumping up to the first landing without showing any tire. Had he not noticed something slumped in the corner of his eye, he would have moved on and never thought twice about his ascent up to the boulevard.
His steps were light on the concrete as he approached the body splayed so painfully. It was only a child. The man knelt down, carefully turning him over. There was no sign of life, and it appeared as it his very soul had been stolen from his body. The man kneeled and set the boy's body at rest: folding his arms across his chest, straightening out his legs, closing the eyes that could not see anymore. This was but one of millions of casualties in the last hour. The plague of darkness had spread throughout this planet causing it to violently convulse. Even its heart had begun to fade.
A violent earthquake struck, and the fissures already tearing the city in pieces grew wider, molten earth shooting out from below and flying into buildings. Soon, many fires broke out and smoke swept across the sky. The man steadied himself and stood, woefully looking over the boy's corpse. He needed to hurry, and set off up the second set of steps. His gaze was focused upwards, to the corners of the houses that lined the street.
A sudden flash of light burst from above in the remnants of one of the houses.
As the man approached the collapsed ruin that used to be a home, another burst of light struck out, and black smoke rose from within and into the air, dissipating quickly. Stepping over broken beams and shards of glass and plaster, he crept around the corner and saw something move.
A little girl crouching down with her hands covering her eyes sobbed and rocked back and forth. When the man stepped out in front of her she quivered and leaned back, showing her red and distraught face. Shocked, she scooted back against a crumbled wall. She had light brown hair that fell over her shoulders in soot-covered strands, matted and dingy. The man could see limp forms behind her, buried under a mountain of rubble. There were no signs of life at all. He stepped towards her, fragments of rubble crushed under his step. His hands rose to his face and clasped the seams of his hood, pulling it back over his head.
The first things she saw were his eyes, terrible golden eyes, surrounded by deepest black; the eyes of death and darkness. It was as if they seemed to beckon:
“I'm hunger. I'm thirst. Where I bite, I hold till I die, and even after death they must cut out my mouthful from my enemy's body and bury it with me.”
They were focused on her intently, and her heart beat out of her chest. He had brown hair that fell over his forehead in bangs, while the rest spread backwards across his skull. Tufts of creamy-white hair poked out from his temples around triangular ears. As he walked towards her, she clamored back against the wall, petrified. He was close enough to reach out and grab her.
The man knelt down before her.
“We are here to save you.” he said with deep and slightly raspy voice, and his accent was odd.Not nearly convincing enough for the child, she twisted her body to escape his gaze, tucking up her legs in the fetal position. The man could understand this. He closed his eyes.
“You must come with us, there is little time. You are in great danger.”She took a peek at his face with weak and puffy eyes and found it easier to look at him. At that moment a tremor shook the remains of the household, and she buried her face in her knees and screamed in fear. When the shaking subsided, the little girl uncurled, warily looking back at him.
“Please trust me, we mean you no harm.”He gave her his hand, and she stared at it unmoving. Even though she was scared, there was sort of an odd feeling that swirled about her thoughts. Even with the loss of her parents, with the foundations of everything she knew crumbling before her, she felt like this man was… safe. She thought of firemen or police officers she saw on television. She slowly reached out and took her hand.
“What is your name?” He said softly.Again, she was reluctant, but eventually squeaked it out.
“Sarah, my name is Raticus”, he replied.Even in her fear and despair, Sarah managed to inwardly giggle at such an absurd name. She put her hand in his, and he helped her stand up. Sarah was wobbly like a newborn foal from sheer exhaustion, and he picked her up and had her sit on his back with her arms around his neck and legs in his arms. Shocks of cold ran up her body, as she felt herself robotically allow herself to be carried away by someone who was not her mother or father. Nearly squirming at this thought, she looked away and to the crumbled remnants of her home. This provided little solace. Underneath that ruin were the broken bodies of her parents, who she thought couldn’t possibly be dead. They were the people who were warm and alive in their beds, which would get up in the morning and show their smiling faces to her. It wasn’t real. In fact, this was all a dream.
This is what Sarah thought as the alien-man carried her out of her fallen home. This was too much like a nightmare, to implausible to be reality. Her lucid thoughts danced in her mind, and she laid her head on Raticus’s neck as he walked. Nightmares didn’t last forever, and soon she would wake up to a day she would know as real; wake up the people she knew were alive. Dreamily, she watched the smoke plumes rise against the night sky in the shells of homes that remained. How funny, it seemed, to see her neighborhood in utter destruction.
Warm, smoky winds blew towards them, and she stifled a few coughs. The corner playground was still intact, and almost wanted to ask Raticus if he would let her swing for a while. Her sore limbs made her think otherwise; strangely, for a dream, the dull pain seemed so real. On Raticus’s back they meandered through the playground and into the adjacent block, littered with rubble and smoldering fragments of flotsam. The smoke got thicker, and the ground was electric with seismic shifts. There was little warning when the next quake hit.
Raticus nearly doubled over, and Sarah felt the cold bristling on the back of his neck. The ground twenty yards before then shot into the air, like a massive barrier in the path to safety. Boulders of stone coupled with building materials rained about, and to Sarah, it was quite fantastic. He knelt down and covered her head, just to be safe.
The fires had spread to the houses around them, and the radiating heat could be felt throughout the block. Up above them on the precipice that was juxtaposed in the air, tendrils of black smoke curled around the crumbled ledges, coalescing into physically visible darkness. Sarah looked up through the man’s broad shoulders against the smoke and saw it looking down at her. Tiny points of gold bore into her, and she was fearful. The man seemed to sense this, and stood up from her, looking up to where her gaze was caught.
The body of the beast quickly formed with behind it, dark and fierce. When its limbs had formed it sprang them forward, leaping down to the street below with a thunderous thud. The sickly nails that had formed on its four legs scraped on the ground and it roared with a tremor that no animal could muster. A yowl escaped its primitive mouth, nothing alike anything she’d heard before.
Sarah noticed something pulling her, and found that it was Raticus. He got her to her feet and guided her aside quickly. She ducked under an upturned section of the street, groping for metal pipe that was stuck up from the ground.
“Stay here. Cover your eyes”, he advised.Sarah obediently closed her lids and swept her brow of her hair to cover her eyes with her hands. Yet, when he turned from her, she managed to peek a little through her dirty fingers. A moment before he had vanished out of sight it appeared as if he was shining; or rather, as if there was something shining on him. It was a silvery dull light, which lightly splashed on his hair and shoulders.
A commotion burst behind her, and immediately caused her heart to jump. What she heard confused and frightened her. There was the sound of growling, snapping, and bodies hurling against each other. The pulses of the conflict could be felt in the ground, and Sarah tugged her legs and arms into a fetal position. Several minutes passed, and still the loud sounds of battle rang out from behind her.
Her fingers traced along the concrete, clumps of it fell into her hands. Pulling herself over, Sarah slid her cheek against the rubble looking out where she was warned not to.
She suddenly felt cold, as she watched two beastly forms rip and tear at each other with sharp fangs lining each maw. They were dripping with inky darkness and red blood. They tore mercilessly into each body, writhing and pulling them away, taking fur and flesh alike. The smaller beast wrestled away and caught the other by the leg; twisting, it wrought the other down on its back. Pouncing, it tore into the dark creature’s neck, sending ebony torrents shooting into the air. It tossed malevolently, but finally began to wear. A bestial cry rang out into the night, over the rumbling of the fires.
Observing all of this, she felt like she had just been exposed to a blizzard wind. This was far too brutal, far too real to be a dream. This was real. She fell back, scooting back behind the upturned wall of concrete, huddling her face to her knees, morbidly bewildered.
The creature of darkness fell to pieces, dissolving into dust upon its death. Within its fading corpse, the emergence of several orbs of light swam through the air and rubbed against the other beast’s muscled body before disappearing into the night.
Sarah held herself tighter with each heavy pad on the earth towards her. They seemingly resounded as footsteps to her ears, and when a silhouette of a man draped over the ground before her, she looked up. Bending over, a man looked inside, Raticus. He held out his hand to her, and she shrunk back from it with a weak cry.
“It’s safe now, come on out”, he said, coaxing with his expression.
She didn’t budge, and pulled even farther back so that only her legs poked out from the shadows. The man stood up, looking around, before ducking down to see her again.
“There is no time; you must come with me!” He ordered sternly, which was borderline frightening to a small child like her.
In their feet, they felt a now familiar pulse. Raticus lurched forward as the ground began to shake yet again. His left hand wrapped around Sarah’s ankle and tugged, while she screamed in fear. He pulled hard sending her sliding out onto the concrete as the small shelter she put up in collapsed on itself, with clouds of dust swirling in its remains.
Sarah rolled over and looked at her right knee, which had been painfully skinned out of her own stubbornness. She slowly got to her feet, and when Raticus got close, she unfurled her arm to hit him in the chest. He caught it dead in the air with a smack against his palm and held it there. Twisting her arm behind her back, he took hold of her other arm and lifted her over his head and into the position she had been in earlier. Sarah grabbed hold of his neck and as much as she strained, she couldn’t hurt him. Scared to death, she wrenched her knees into his side and struggled, but he held her tight.
They fled under the stars, along the stairs of the quaking city. Sarah found it useless to persist, and her weariness set her limbs slack against the man’s body. At the end of a long stair, he stood on a precipice, overlooking a great many blocks of the city. Down below, he saw something quiver; it was the blonde-haired man’s white arm, getting his attention. Raticus made a motion as if two inquire about the two others, and the blonde-haired man nodded and lowered his head. He was silent for a bit, before descending to the edge of the park to meet him.
“What happened”, Raticus said, while Sarah made no movement.
The blonde-haired man, clean shaven, with bright blue and young eyes replied.
“…I-It was the last quake. They, fell, and…” he looked over Raticus’s shoulder, trying to get a glimpse of the girl, but snapped his attention back to the man’s piercing gaze. “They’re gone.”
There was a sort of weakness that appeared in his muscles that Sarah could feel, and if she had, she probably could have wrenched herself out of his grip and ran for it. However, she doubted she’d get far, with Raticus chasing her. Her stomach turned at the thought of her neck caught in those massive jowls, raining red over her body.
“How could… How could this have happened?”
“It was so sudden; I couldn’t get there in time!”
There was a silence for a good minute; Raticus started walking, with the blonde-haired man behind.
“We have one child; she was all I could find.”
His comrade silently nodded.
Not before long, they made their way to the innards of what remained of the park. Nearly every tree had been felled and some of them lay in half-charred ashen coals. This smoke permeated the air, and the midnight stars were barely visible. The white carapace of the ship four inhabitants had landed in appeared in the haze, and they swiftly boarded though a lift in the center. Sarah opened her eyes when the smoky air filtered out, but they stung and her vision was blurred. There were lights that passed by, and she heard the whooshing of doors ahead and behind her. Her next sensation was that of being jostled from Raticus’s stiff and captive shoulders and on to something soft. She splayed her body out, listless, and she was left alone for a moment. Smoky light filtered through a large porthole to her right; unable to see anything through it, she rolled her head the other way.
The sound of another quake rumbled in her ears, but there was another sound with it, a droning or a sort of whispery hum. Below them the engines had fired, but she had little knowledge of this technology. Her ears popped, and her hands quickly rose to them, the pain subsiding mere moments after.
Her back straightened on the soft surface, which she discovered to be a bed. It was large too, in that she could outstretch each one of her limbs and not touch a corner. When her attention drifted back to the large porthole in ship’s side, she nearly gasped with fear. They were going up. She could see the entire city below her now, a charred remnant of what she had known for the six years of her life. The huge mountain set against the cityscape looked no more like a fat and dark blemish on the earth below her. She shivered uncontrollably as the landscape below her shrank away. It was as if everything she had known was crumbling into dust in her fingers. The dim horizons of her world appeared on all sides. Soon, she could make out all the continents she had been taught by her parents, though there were only four.
Behind her, the door opened. She spun her head around to see Raticus walk in, pace across the floor and pull out a chair on the other end of the room. He was quiet for a while, and didn’t look for her gaze.
“How are you feeling?” He began with, dejectedly raising those eyes of his to hers.
She didn’t answer him.
“The first time I saw space with my own eyes, I became very sick. I was so scared.”Her eyes tracked his movements.
“It took me some time to get used to everything.”She turned her back to him and watched the stars appear before her. A moment passed before he stood, lifting the chair in one hand and sliding if over to her bed. He sat down on it and laid his arm on the sheets. Sarah warily watched it, noticing the rather large gash in his skin.
“Did that hurt you?” she murmured.
“Yes, it did. But I will be fine,” he replied looking down to his fingers. “I suppose you peeked, when I had told you to hide.”She nodded, wanting to believe that she hadn’t.
“There is but one thing I can promise, it is a stranger’s promise, but it will have to do.”Sarah looked from his arm to his face, and it seemed as if had softened infinitely.
“I will always be on your side; I will always protect you. This, I want you to know. I have been waiting to meet you, and I will let no harm come to you, as long as there is strength in my bones.”She curled into a ball, listening intently.
“Did someone you know go away too?” She said, pointing out the slight weakness in his voice.
“Yes.”They were both silent again for a while, and Sarah stole gazes at her ever-shrinking world gaining an infinitesimal distance away. When she finally broke that gaze, she laid her hand next to his, and then he held it in his own. They were strong, warm, good, kind hands; they were living hands.
She leaned forward and whispered something into his ear, and sat back on the bed and began to cry for the first time that night. It was a good cry, a cry that had been bottled up and been waiting to be released. Nearly a half-hour later of consolation and tears, she resigned herself to sleep. She lay down, and he tucked her in and kissed her forehead.
He would stay there the whole night, and when he finally succumbed to sleep himself, Sarah sleepily shuffled her body and curled up to his arm with her head against his breast. The world she knew was now a dead ruin, a husk of once thriving communities and spirited people. A place were mischievous boys spoke of crushes on girls and snuck bottles of wine, where the weekend was the lone bastion of the long school-week, where there was dinner waiting on the kitchen table even if it was broccoli. That was something that was gone; she was birthed into a new bittersweet fantastical dream. However, if her terror and sadness were matched by anything, it was her newfound affection for her new guardian. She had seen just how strong he was; he was invincible, and as he said, he would always keep her safe.
Her sleep was long.
Behind them, the world they left withered into darkness to be spread amongst the limitless void.
A N O M A L Y
A war is beginning.
O N E
A war is beginning.
O N E
The heat of the day clustered in the grass, in a small field adjacent to a country road. Large trees on the other side drooped old and heavy branches over a section of tall grass, casting blobby shadows on the ground below. Birds called and chirped to one another swooping over nests and beside them. Down below a trail of matted grass led in from the road; a pair of feet had treaded through them not much earlier. They were splayed behind the body of a girl who lay on her stomach, humming softly. She had found something in the grass of interest to her and was now rolling it through her fingers with a dreamy gaze. It was a small blue egg, about the size of her thumbnail. It had likely dropped from the nests below into the thicket and abandoned. The girl found it pretty, but to her eyes alone, saw a beautiful blue aura about this object. Whenever she saw it, she felt somewhat strange inside.
Tucking it into her satchel she had set in front of her, she pulled out the rest of the items therein. The first item was a small chunk of fragrant soap. She had found it sitting on a windowsill in the town not far from here. It was dray and fragrant, and when she rolled it through her hands it nearly crumbled, so she took extra care to handle it. The second item was a small glass bottle. This too she had found in the town at an outdoor café near the town’s west gate. It had some sort of sweet water inside it but it tasted quite funny, and she had dumped it out promptly before anyone snapped a look in her direction. She also remembered that there was a small bit of cheese on the table she had taken the bottle from. Reaching down, she felt for the warm and gummy globule that was now her heat-soaked cheese. She broke a piece from it and nibbled on it, and it was salty on her tongue. The girl noticed that she could fit the cheese inside the bottle and immediately popped it inside along with the soap and the egg, and it was very gratifying. Now all she must do to take out her belongings was to take out the bottle. Rolling over on her back, her eyes caught a cricket grab hold of a nearby stalk of grass. She wanted for it to chirp its legs, but it was in no mood. Its large eyes stuck out from each end, and its antennae tapped alternately against the long blade. The girl thought it confusing.
Then there was the sound of heavy footfalls.
She sat up at once, scaring off the cricket. Through the grass she observed a man in heavy armor walking in the direction of the town. She crawled down and along the path she had made for herself when she had slipped through the barbed wire fence and into the grass. From that vantage, she watched him pass. He was tall and brooding and definitely hot; she could see his labored steps and the shine of the perspiration on the small fragment of skin she could see through his helmet. She crouched down lower to remain out of sight; she made herself a shadow unseen. No brash movements, nor breathing, nor thoughts; to remain undetected on all fronts.
And he passed right in front of her, only passing a glance at the flattened grass in the field. It was as if the girl was visible but had no potential to be seen; alike one grain of sand to another in a photograph of a beach. She shot quizzical looks at his back and remained silent. The sun and the earth were warm, and it made her drowsy. But as she withdrew back into the grass she heard rustling, footsteps, and a shout to reclaim her attention. Peering through the blades of grass, she saw the armored man once again but face down in the dirt quivering. There were two forms beside him, a man and a woman. The man had his foot planted on the other’s neck, while the woman stood aside with thin arms crossed over her middle. He was struggling, and made a foppish attempt to wrestle the foot off his neck, grunting in agony at mysterious forces that constricted his movement. It was not long before his limbs sagged to the earth, and his chest did not rise for breath; it was then that the man lifted his foot from the other’s neck and stood smirking at the woman’s side.
“Check the bag next to him”, she ordered hastily.The man mumbled and knelt down, rummaging through the man’s belongings. He knew that she wouldn’t bother with dirtying her hands looting a corpse, and wasn’t in the mood to get in an argument about it. She was as sharp as they came, and in one way, he would have expected to have done it anyway sooner or later.
The girl in the field observed without a sound, just as she had before. She saw that the woman was young and beautiful, with hair of charcoal that spilled in waves down over her shoulders. Her face was like porcelain, even with no visible sign of cosmetics; ruby red lips parted for her words, and similarly colored eyes watched her partner procure something of interest.
“There, that’s it. Give it to me.”Before there was any giving to be done, she took the folded piece of old musty paper from his hand and meticulously unfolded it, careful not to rip at each seam. The man beside her was young as well, with dark hair and striking features; wrapped around him was a cloak of crimson hue, over the dark and plain garb he wore underneath.
“It will do; we’ll enter through the town’s gate with this identification”, she said, folding it back up and placing it in her clothing against her bosom.
“But… what will we do about him, Delilah?”
“Don’t be so simple-minded; just get rid of his body.”He was crouched there for a second, returning her glance. She narrowed her eyes at him, thinking: ‘does he honestly expect me to handle a corpse?’ It was easily readable, and the man set about dragging the armored body into the woods by several yards. Delilah raised her hand to signal him when she could not see the body, summoning the man back to her.
“Alright, let’s get into town before the sun sets, I won’t have us stay out in the night air like a pair of hapless fools.”
“Mm”, replied the young man, still winded from dragging the body away.She started walking again, with her partner holding up the rear. Her gritted teeth signified her frustration at his sluggish strides. Blast him to hell if she would be made to wait for him to catch up.
It wasn’t long before the two had passed over the hill and beyond the girl’s sight. The first hues of sunset were barely visible on the horizon, and give it another three or so hours, and the sun would sink completely below the trees.
There was no need for her to worry about the night, no stigma of sleeping in anything other than a bed. No schedule to keep, or people waiting for her. And since the couple had struck some chord of interest within her, she decided to follow them to see what would happen. At once, she gathered up her bottle and slipped out onto the road through the barbed wire fence.
It was nearly an hour’s walk until she came to the gate she had slipped past before. A good distance away, she found herself watching a decent line of people backed up against the walled town, waiting to enter. Immediately picking out the two from before, she noticed that Delilah had an unenthused and restless scowl on her face, while the man was turning the folded piece of paper in his fingers.
“Blasted lines, we should have gotten here earlier”, she mumbled under breath, “If only you hadn’t been so slow, Fool.”
“You mean Chaos”, he corrected.
“I won’t be heard calling you by such a silly name; for now at least, you’re the man that paper says you are.”
“Right, right…” Chaos trailed off, glancing over to the trees where they had come from.The girl remained silent and still, afraid she had been spotted. But the man’s attention shifted when the line began to shuffle forward.
“Fancy this, after all this travel, stuck in a line behind hicks, bumpkins, and your usual sort of ne’er do well.”Delilah had no fear of saying this aloud, it’s not like they would match her with words or even might in any case. She stood on a veritable precipice above them, and they might as well be shout compliments of her beauty at her in vain to win her attention.
Several of them glared back at her, and the man in front of her turned his gaze back and rolled his eyes. She expected nothing less of simpletons.The line eventually wore down, and the two approached the small window of the post outside the gate.
“Name”, called the guard.
“Echard Holt”, said Chaos.
“Let’s see your paperwork.”He complied, sliding it under the small crevice between glass and wood. They waited patiently for them to finish expecting the details. The guard, however, poked up an eyebrow when he caught Delilah’s face.
“Who’s she? There’s no record of her on your paperwork, and if she’s got none herself, than none of you is gettin’ in.”
“She is my fiancé, sir. We’re to be married in the harvest season. She comes from outside our borders, and her country does not require her paperwork, so I am afraid I have none for her.”Delilah smiled and curtseyed to the guard at the mention of her relationship to Chaos, though her suddenly pleasant nature masked her fuming rage for Chaos so casually personalizing their relationship for a lie’s sake. She could have found something a lot craftier to say without having to resort to lumping her in with him.
“Very well, then. Be sure to register for new paperwork at the town hall. Open the gates!”Chaos nodded his head while Delilah produced another perfect curtsey before they walked side by side into the town. Seeing her chance, the girl made herself a shadow again and crept along the line of people, slipping past the guards and into alley within. Chaos’s arm found Delilah’s, and as to make a more convincing couple to the few guards that watched them walk down the main street, they walked arm-in-arm to the next less conspicuous block.
“Dearest Echard,” whispered Delilah, “Would you kindly release my arm before it finds itself the nearby gutter?”He released, not for the fear of her empty threats, but mainly to cool her painfully obvious emotions.As they entered the main square, the strange girl followed with an arm inside her satchel, stroking the glass bottle.
-Far past the other side of town, great golden fields rolled over the hills below a barren blue sky. It was hot here as well; the heat rolled off the grass in rumbling plumes. A lone road snaked through this country, less-traveled than others, and for good reason. This road had a long history.
It wasn’t two hundred years back that this road had been used to march hundreds of people to their deaths. A far and distant country had invaded, and under the brutal rule of a savage dictator. Upon the nation’s fall, the noble and elite from the invading country subsequently enslaved its people to produce unending profit. Day after day, the people were sent to work out in the vast open plains harvesting food and materials of all sorts. Blistering temperatures and sheer exhaustion claimed the lives of many, young and old. It was often to see carts of overworked corpses sent to mass burial sites. Though, this was a practice to be halted, when the land the burial sites occupied could be more efficiently used as sallow, and then as wheat crop. Every day, the people would travel this road with their tools to work till their deaths.
Eventually, years later, the people overthrew the oppressive regime’s rule and took their country back. Still the scars of three generations showed through the smiles on people’s faces, now free from the toil of endless enslavement. For the years they had worked on the cursed fields, lost loved ones young and old to heat exhaustion, and ate the bread ground from the wheat that grew over their fellow man’s bodies, they were rewarded with freedom, tranquility, and rest.
No one farms these fields anymore.
Legend has it that when a rare red bloom rises amongst the grasses, an ancestor’s soul has finally crossed over to the afterlife; bereft of the rage it had been bound with for so long.
“Hyaaah!”Black smoke swirled around her body, only to dissipate moments later. She held out her arm, to which a shaft of light glinted and shrank into nothing. She leaned back and swayed her head, letting some of the heat escape from her light brown hair. It was so hot, and there were more heartless than usual. This wasn’t going to be easy traveling. Eyes of violet squinted against the sunlight behind her to see a bright-haired young man following up the rear.
“Ugh, I’m exhausted. Can’t we take a breather, Koinu?”
“Not if we want to get shut out of town, then what will we do?”She had been slightly annoyed with her friend since she had started this mission with her. It seemed like his complaints were his only useful tactic, being that she only found strength from how better she could handle herself in situations like this.
“I bet the grass would feel nice to sleep on”, he randomly stated.Koinu said nothing, and pursed her lips, desiring to get a move on. Still, it would be too reckless to just abandon him, even though the pleasure of which had crossed her mind.
“Xell, I get the weirdest feeling here.”
“There are heartless about.”
“Duh. I mean, it’s not a sort of danger feeling… I don’t really know how to explain it.”Xell finally caught his breath and stepped out in front of her.
“I always knew there was something queer about you”, he said, which caught her attention.
“Excuse me?” she said, looking Xell square in the eye. He grimaced.
“Well, there are lots of rumors about you, I just thought I’d let you know of that.”
“I’m aware, thank you.” an utterance of obvious sarcasm. “We’re far from home, so if you could leave the stupid comments to yourself, maybe we can get to the gates on time.” She started walking again; half-hoping she’d find the words to dismiss him completely.The endless fields on either side of the old road swayed with the light breeze that had thankfully whipped up from the west. The pair had only a mile left on their hike, but it was not left interrupted. Only minutes later, they stopped in their tracks, eyes to the ground ahead.
Puddles of darkness began to form.
“Here they come.” said Koinu.
“Ugh, not again.” said Xell.From the three darkness pools, limbs and tendrils attached to bodies began to crawl out of the earth. Jet-black forms with drooping golden eyes; thin limbs adorned with scythe-like growths, they were hunched and withered apparitions. They swayed and lurched forward, aiming to attack. Koinu extended her hand, and from which a spear of light shot out from her fingertips and materialized into a weapon. It was a slender blade with barbs lining either side. The handle sported a thick handguard, while a chain dangled from the pommel. At the end of it, there was a rather large t-shaped barb larger than the rest; as a whole, the weapon strangely resembled a key.
She leapt forward, ready to strike. However, the first of the beasts was already too close. Springing her legs she leapt into the air, planting her shoe into its face, driving its weak body down into the dust. The one behind it made its way to her, but the keyblade wrought it quickly asunder with a heavy downward slash. Smoke exploded from it, and the husk of the former demon withered away. A small glint of light shot away from it, alike a spark jumping from a campfire. Koinu quickly disposed of the other heartless by driving her keyblade though its body still pinned under her foot. The same effect here too: smoke, followed by a flicker of light. The two of them had already been taught what this means: that flicker of light was more than what it seemed. It was the heart, the soul of a victim that had fallen prey to the darkness.
There was a scuffle behind her, and when she turned, she saw Xell on the ground wrestling with the last heartless that had appeared. The blades on its arms swiped across his body, dangerously close to his face. The young man writhed, trying to free his arm that held his own keyblade pinned against the ground. The barbs raked across his shoulder, and he yelped in pain as his shirt tore and blood was drawn. Koinu bolted to him, tackling the heartless off its balance and ending it with that keyblade.
“Ah-ah” babbled Xell, nearly incoherent.Koinu rolled over, crawling over to him.
“Hold on, hold on.”She slung a small pack off her shoulder and set it down next to her. Procuring a small bottle and quickly uncorking it, Koinu carefully poured it on his shoulder over the small flesh wound and torn clothing. Within moments, the potion had sealed the wound, and neutralized the pain. She rubbed the affected area, and wiped the small amount of blood left on the skin on his pants.
“That… was really close. I let my guard down.”She sat back to give him air and noticed that even in this heat, he was shivering.
“Heh, if my parents were still alive… They’d be livid to see me doing these things.”Koinu had half a mind to scold him, but now she really didn’t think either of them had the spirit for it. She stood up, offering him her hand, which he took. They continued onward towards the now encroaching town, and spoke nothing to each other. The gates were closing, and the two of the burst into a run, waving their hands to the guards ahead. Of course, since they were just children, they graciously let them in without papers.
Off in the distance, three crimson specks rose among the endless golden hills.
-Delilah had her fill of walking. She and Chaos had exhausted their feet through nearly every street of every block of this district. They were obviously searching for something important, but as to what it was passed as muted whispers between the two of them. They passed into another road, their eyes looking down to both ends. Nothing. Delilah sighed and turned around, walking towards a building on the corner; Chaos followed, unsure of what she was doing. She ascended the wooden stairs of a broad front deck, and crossed to the door to push it inward.
The tavern was pretty slow tonight, not that they would know, but it was quite obvious. There were a few blokes sitting at the counter, and others at various tables. She found one a relative distance from them and pulled out a wooden chair with Chaos sitting next to her. Relief was almost immediate when she shifted the weight off of her feet and sat down. Her eyes floated about, falling on a man sitting two tables away. Delilah noted that he was quite handsome, even though she was staring at the back of his head. There was a glint of light below the table he sat at; she leaned her chair back to see it. It was a sort of screen with a face displayed on it. The man stole glances to it, and Delilah knew at once that they were on the same path.
Turning her attention to Chaos, she lightly smirked and got up from her seat.
“Come on now.”
He shot her a confused and annoyed look, to which she quickly dismissed. To be quite honest he was tired of her pulling him this way and that, without regard to what he thought. When Delilah and Chaos sat at the man’s table, he raised an eyebrow to the both of them. She then recognized his face as the man who was standing in line in front of them mere hours before. Her face scrunched up in slight embarrassment, but did her best to turn it into a charming smile. The man looked back down to the table, were a rather primitive looking newspaper was spread out before him.
“Mr. and Mrs. Holt, I presume.”
She could taste his apparent disinterest.
“Ah yes, hmm-hmm. I suppose we pulled that off quite nicely.”
He said nothing. The waitress approached the table from afar, and inquired of them what they would order.
“A glass of wine, honey; nothing cheap, but sweet nonetheless.”She turned to Chaos.
“He’ll have a glass of water; don’t want to break the bank.”
“Now now, dearest Echard.”
“Now. Now…”Not in the mood to protest further and make a scene, he nodded, somewhat ashamed that this was becoming a ritual. In fact, he deeply regretted his decision to pretend to be married. If there was only something else he could think of at the time. To make matters worse the waitress returned with a plate of something that smelled divine. She set it in front of him as soon as he folded up the paper.
“Here you go cutie”, she said, which gave Delilah the impression that she was being one-upped.Hah, as if. Not by some toothless backwater wench. She watched the man raise a knife and spoon, admiring his features while Chaos fought the urge to stare at the man’s meal. He quickly excused himself while his ‘fiancé’ was distracted.
Wine glass sitting pretty in her hand, she watched him split the pie crust, with pork gravy oozing from the slice. A sizeable chunk of meat was removed and which quickly found its way to his mouth. Even Delilah found herself stealing glances, to which she would have otherwise found appalling had she eaten something legitimate in the last day or so.
“Nexas.”She swished her wine glass daintily, watching him eat.
“Nexas… are you from around these parts?”
“Nope.” It was followed by a mouthful of potatoes and peas.
“Where do you hail from?” It was followed by a quaint sip of wine.He silently put down his fork and looked to this Delilah; whose expression caught him. She was indeed beautiful: sleek and vibrant ebony locks, dark and inviting eyes, smooth skin, ruby and moist lips. The wine glass found those lips and pressed against them.
“The stars.”She burst out laughing, and her hand found her bosom as if to soothe her fake outburst.
“The stars, correct? Oh Mr. Nexas, we do need to work on that charm of yours.”Delilah decided to court another subject.
“Well, if what you say is correct, then I do declare we have something in common.”He knew what this meant.
“We’re here, that is, me and my faux-husband searching for something quite special. And your eyes tell me we have similar ambitions.”He started eating again, but there was more to pay attention to.
“The girl, right…” he said, anxiously twisting his fork.Outside, Chaos leaned against one of the beams that rose along the porch’s perimeter. His stomach was clearly angry with him for being passive, but it was nothing easily dismissed. It was still quite warm out, and the coolness of the night was something to be desired. The sky was lit with the hues of sunset, and there were more people in the streets that had just come home from work. Through the faces in the crowd, something caught his interest: a boy and a girl jogging down and around the corner. Normally, this would have been of no interest to him, but these two had strange clothing compared to the other children. That, and there was something so off-putting about the way they were handling themselves. Then, he knew.
Walking back into the tavern, he found Delilah and tapped her on the shoulder.
Koinu and Xell were seated on a bench, under a lamp-post yet to be lit. They too were exhausted and hungry, even after sharing a few apples between the two of them. The town was a lot larger than what could be seen from the road, and navigating the districts had turned out to be quite a challenge. Xell looked over to his partner, and couldn't help but notice her fidget while he rested.
“Settle down, you're making me nervous."
“We need to meet up with him soon, I don't want to do poorly just because you wanted to sit on your duffer.“The young man rubbed his eyebrows, leaning forward on his knees.
“Don't be so weird.“She rolled her eyes and looked over her shoulder to him.
“What was with that comment earlier, Xell? I didn't have enough time to acknowledge it while I was saving you from certain death.“
“Psh, I wasn't in trouble.“She crossed her arms over her chest.
-The girl who had been following the “Holts” had abandoned them after an hour of their search. In lieu of that, she had made her way over to the park where the large willow-like trees would provide some relief from the heat. The grass was smooth, and moss grew nearly everywhere soft and spongy. It was a welcome sensation to her feet that had grown weary on the cobblestone. A brook that ran around the perimeter splashed against round and dark rocks.
Nearby a child stood waiting with a man. She was born in this town from parents who came from far away, and at the tender age of eight, was resigned by them to sell goods in the evenings to make ends meet. Many evenings were spent at work instead of play. Within her basket, she poured out a small amount of dried goods into a piece of paper and folded it. Her smile was sunny but painfully forced, and many times she had been scolded for not being bright and pleasant in her duties. The man’s eyes were shut, and a hood draped over his forehead. She handed the paper up to the buyer who replaced it with a gold shilling. The girl’s eyes went wide; this was nearly fifty times what it cost!
“Here you are; that should be enough for a week’s worth. How about you run off and play tonight?”She smiled happily and accepted the money, placing it carefully within her apron pocket. Her small hand rose to her head and pulled the frilly white bonnet from her blonde hair. It went in the basket, and then off she went. The man went thankless, but only in the sense of the spoken word. Spending that much was no problem for him, the money would be useless if he held onto it for too long anyway. The hood over his head was becoming unbearable in this heat, and he resigned to the far end of the park. His eyes opened a crack, just to see where he was going; he had passed off that he was nearly blind to the little girl, and to most of the people that had taken a look at him.
He found a nice shady place under one of the willow-like trees and sat on the soft and springy earth. The hood came down, and he wiped his brow, pushing bangs of brown aside. He opened his eyes, looking upward. Violet and pink petals lined each bloom on the trees, to which there were thousands. Every ten seconds or so, a petal would dislodge and fall slowly to the earth. It was a beautiful sight, but to his eyes, these colors were not discernable.
In one hand he unfolded the paper, and in the other he held a small metal object that had been concealed in his clothing. It was a small golden pipe. In went the herbs he had bought and it was subsequently lit. His dry lips pricked at the draw, to suck air lightly through to produce smoke. Then, he inhaled, with the smoke sliding across his tongue and down his throat. It filled his lungs and soothed them, unlike many other forms of these sorts of herbs. He exhaled through his nose, fragrant smoke rolling across his body and dissipating in the air. His limbs were calm and serene, and the evening was peaceful.
Eyes watched him, the shadow’s eyes. They were focused on the pipe, and the magnificent gold twinkle it cast when the low sun hit it just right. She could smell the smoke mixed with the flower fragrance and it was natural, but pleasing.
“There he is!”
The man was greeted by two young people; they looked hot and tired, but relieved to see him. The shadow retreated back, fearing the threat of her discovery.
“I had started to worry about you both, were you able to get through the gates on time?”
“Yes,” said Koinu “but just barely.”Xell nodded, stooping to catch his breath.
“Was there any trouble along the way?
“Yeah, but… we were fine.”
“So I see. I suppose you both pass with flying colors. Good work. Unfortunately though, I haven’t come across any leads as to our target.”Koinu smiled, and brushed some of her light brown hair from her face, those soft purple eyes falling on him, and intense golden eyes returning that gaze. Here was Raticus, not a day older in ten years.
-There was nothing for her left here, and as she walked down an alley to the adjacent street, she remembered the day’s events that had sparked a wide range of confusing emotions. The sun had sunk below the horizon, but the fierce intensity of the sunset cast a blood-red glow on the entire town. Her right hand outstretched and ran along the brick wall as her other hand rubbed the smooth glass bottle in her satchel. She turned a corner into the road.
A man was staring at her.
She stopped, and stared back, suddenly paralyzed.
“I’ve found her.” Chaos called over his shoulder to Nexas and Delilah who walked up on his left.The three of them stared intently as she stayed frozen in the middle of the street, with people passing all around them, oblivious. She had been found.
“Nira”, spoke a deep and raspy voice from behind her.Her neck slowly craned over her shoulder at the man who knew her name. It was Raticus, with Koinu and Xell standing at either side with their eyes on her as well. Six piercing gazes of the people she had been shadowing through the day; for the first time she felt a true sense of terror.
The gazes lifted from her and then across to each other. The sunset cast a blood-red glow on each face, casting large shadows on everyone, including the distraught Nira.
At that point, she knew that her existence was going to change forever.
T W O
Three ghostly white ships soared across the purple horizon and disappeared into the thick and towering lavender clouds. The sun was setting here too, casting peach and rose colored patterns on the underbellies of the gigantic thunderclouds. The air was mild, yet humid, and the smell of rain was nigh. The violet freshwater sea lapped up against the coast silently, but would grow in intensity throughout the night. On that coast’s east most point there was one distinctive city, visible for hundreds of miles around. This was because it was entirely built into an ancient gargantuan tree. The trunk itself rose nearly five hundred feet in the air, before spreading into limbs with broad branches and broad leaves. Lowtown consisted of small hovels carved out of the sides of massive and dead roots that were exposed above ground. Some had been hollowed out entirely as entrances to the trunk. The interior had been hollowed as well, but not to the point where the tree itself would die. Homes lined around in circular levels known as “blocks”, and dozens of these levels ran up the trunk.
“Hurry up mista, you gotta get goin’.” Came an elderly voice.Already, there was trouble brewing.
Alarm bells rang throughout the city (here in Lowtown too), and people were filing through the hollowed roots to safety. They were headed for the trunk, where the safety of their carved homes lined circular around the hollow innards. It was dim inside, even with many golden and crimson lamps softly glowing every which way.
“Suit yo-self.” The voice again, before it too made its way to the line of people headed inside.The person whom the voice addressed was a man seated on a black varnished chair next to a table. Many-colored ornamental lights strewn over the outdoor café collectively cast a dull red glow on the silver mask concealing his face. The tea next to him had gone cold, and he left a small amount of money next to it as he got up to leave the abandoned establishment. It was time to leave this world with its spicy food and spicier people behind and make for the stars. As the only person about, the man found a solace that only transpired here when the heartless were about and the city’s denizens had taken refuge.
As he stepped out from the alley and down a walkway adjacent to one of the tree’s massive roots, the man stopped in his tracks. Along his line of sight, he could see downward falling glints of silver only indicative of falling rain. Above in the distance, the thunderclouds berthed a glimpse of the heavens. Flecks of light and darkness flew about in frenzy.
His gaze infinitely upward, a fat blob of rain from the leaves high above splattered on the forehead area of his mask, and ran down to his chin, prismatic fragments glistening in each droplet. Shadows began to appear, crawling over the roots and looking for any sign of life. The man extended his arm, from which appeared a shaft of light.
“Keep in strict formation; don’t break up until we get in range!”The three ships broke out of the planet’s atmosphere in full force, headed toward the melee up ahead. A horde of larger obsidian ships held a tight line against them, blocking the way to the fray.
“Alright, just like we practiced. Go through them.”
“Roger.”, was heard from the two others.Without budging, they flew head-on towards the bulking black ships. Points of velvet appeared like sweat drops across their bodies, ready to blast outward at their enemies; enemies that suddenly disappeared from sight. They quivered and convulsed as if they were being rocked about with an unseen force before the three ships emerged from obscurity behind them.
Suddenly, the fleet of darkness erupted in flame and cast a shockwave outward that skimmed across the outer atmosphere of the planet. Cheers emerged from the pilots as they sped ahead, anxious to join the main battle.
“All units, ready Thunder-G.”From each of the slender ships extruded a large metal rod, focused on points of darkness visible against the bleak blackness of space. They trembled and vibrated with a kinetic energy, producing sparks of deep blue along the entire length.
“Fire!”At once, all three ships simultaneously discharged a magnificent bolt of electricity into the cluster, which promptly burst into a magnificent flame that spread in all directions. Raucous cheering could be heard amongst the three pilots, and it was heard over a relay system aboard the largest white ship that drifted amongst the others. It was a leviathan. It was taller than it was wide, and what it lacked in aerodynamics, its firepower made up for that nicely. It was symmetrical, yet shaped somewhat like a shell, with points extruding near the top to erect invisible barriers around its body.
“Excellent, now fall back along our flank.”A young man spoke into the relay system to the three pilots, but added more when he got a look from the man next to him.
“Fall back at once.”He stood back and turned to the great panel that was set into the wall around the circular room. Straight ahead, the two of them observed the dark ships huddling in the distance, preparing to mount a counteroffensive.
“The Ultima-G; juice ‘er up.”
“Prepare to fire.”Around them at the perimeter of the bridge, was a small depression inhabited by people seated in front of consoles. They were focused on every little factor in battle, whether it fuel, shields, artillery, defenses, etc. They relayed information to one another quickly and efficiently, as well as informing the two men above of the current situation.
“Thirty seconds to ready!” One of them called.At the bottom of the Nautilus, the white shell split in neat fourths to reveal a mortar. It was slowly gathering energy, and a bright blue haze swirled about it, even though there was no air. A focal point of bright light glimmered with a stark intensity to the dull stars behind it.
“Mr. Nightingale, you haven’t seen this puppy in action, or so they told me.”
“No, sir.” Nightingale replied, quite aware.
“Just sit back and watch the show.”The other man made his way to the center of the room. He was tall and wore silver coat over his uniform; his hair was blond and seemed to be tinged an orange hue on the bangs that sloppily fell over his forehead. Before him appeared a sort of projection of a glyph; it was transparent, and resembled something alike a hologram. However, when the man put his hand into the center, his fingers wrapped around the small ribbons of light. It could somewhat interact with his movements. With said ribbons in hand, he began to pull them back, much like a bow to an arrow. With this, the cannon below synchronized the coordinates to aim at.
“The Ultima-G has charged, sir”, said a voice from below.
“Firing at will”, the man proclaimed, with a growing smirk.When he released his grip, the ribbons snapped forward and subsequently the cannon was fired. From that cannon burst a tremendous ray of light that snaked though the blackness, splitting into ribbons that converged en masse on the ships of darkness. Completely engulfed, they exploded immediately, and the blast radius tossed every ship in the area about with the exception of the Nautilus.
“Enemy units destroyed… Forty, fifty… All of them.”The man lowered his arm and turned to the other, who wore an expression of dismay.
“That’s how it’s done, Mr. Nightingale.”
Delilah’s head swiveled to allow her locks to glide over her exposed shoulder. She started walking towards Nira with a smile on her face, but its demeanor was sickeningly sweet. Chaos was walking with her as well, with a face of stone, examining the three that stood apart from them.
“Stop right there”, said Raticus.Delilah ignored him and seized Nira’s arm at once, sending waves of fear through her body.
“He said stop!”Aside from Raticus, Koinu had called her keyblade to her hand. She reeled back and threw it towards Delilah, who pulled Nira aside to address it. Her hand swashed the air, with an aura of darkness trailing behind it; when she clenched her hand, it solidified into a weapon. It was a keyblade, but one not born of light. She raised it into the air with her right hand and caught the other, forcing it down to the ground. Koinu grunted, flicking her wrist to catch the shaft of light that was her keyblade. One could do this easily, for the keyblade was bound to its wielder. Nira took advantage of Delilah’s lowered attention and wrestled from her grip, breaking into the alley she had emerged from moments before. But they were on her, quicker than she expected. The woman with the long black hair and her partner were catching up, and soon she found her other arm painfully wrenched behind her back. Nira yelped and struggled, but the woman held her tightly in place.
"That's enough!"When the attention came due, Delilah craned her head towards Raticus, ebony locks spilling over her shoulder. The faint remnants of the sunset spilled over her porcelain venure, lighting her eyes with his matched intensity. Her keyblade rose to Nira's neck, and a barb on the shaft pressed along the girl's neck.
"Make your move, darling."Nexas stepped into the alley behind the three pursuing his new partner; his eyes shot through them and into Delilah's intentions. She shot him a glance, deciding at once to impress him.
"Chaos, you know what to do.", she uttered.The young man's face was devoid of any emotion up until this point, weary from running around all day and slowly apathetic to Delilah's sudden charisma. However, her words caught him so funny that his thumbs rose to his mouth in a sudden gasp; his hands huddled under his chin as if he had been struck dumb. Nexas observed his behavior with a raised brow; this young man had been silent in the meeting at the tavern, and Nexas had completely dismissed him, but there was something off-putting about this sudden change in manneurism.
"I waited... so long. I really really did. Thank you."His smile spread from ear to ear, and his teeth were grinding against his fingernails. As if not to disappoint her, he gleefully turned to the group aside from them. His jaw was clenched harder, and teeth clicked sadistically with the pressure. Raticus watched him intently and his limbs were of stone, his nostrils quivered, try as they might to discern what danger may come from the air it was not plausible.
Just as if it would seem that Chaos's jaw would crush in on itself, his teeth parted to reveal something glimmering inside. It was blood red, and clearly visible; reaching inside as if it were a prize, he held it out to them. Raticus braced, as did Xell and Koinu behind him. Nira had no strength left to struggle, and emotions swirled about inside her, overwhelming any sense of rational thought. Delilah took advantage of this and held her tight; her lithe frame was certainly deceiving. Chaos admired it, and it pulsed along with his heartbeat; he brushed bangs of deep brown from his eyes for an unfettered view.
"...Wha-", Xell began to speak, before Chaos released his grip.The crimson sphere fell down to the ground, but not lightly. Any onlooker would have expected the marble-like object to simply smack against the brick and roll aside, but that is not even close to what happened. At the point of impact, the ground split in half with a deafening crack. With the exception of Chaos himself, everyone in a block's radius was sent sprawling to the earth. Delilah maintained her grasp, and dug her sharp nails into Nira's neck; the resulting shriek went unnoticed as the sphere sank deeper into the earth. The structures beside them rattled and shook, but gaining a footing was near impossible with the relentless tremors.
Raticus braced himself against the wall to his left, looking over his shoulder; he suddenly felt the brick wall against his body come loose and weaken. His head craned upward, to watch in dismay as the tops of the two structures they stood between collapsed in on themselves, raining dust and debris into the alley. Raticus turned to Koinu and Xell, who were also stumbling about, trying to maintain their balance.
“Get out! Get out!” he called to them.His words were deaf on their ears, for as soon as had opened his lips to speak, did another large tremor strike. The rift in the earth grew exponentially with a deafening crack. Koinu felt the ground give way under her feet, and scrambled back in terror, sliding against the earth. Raticus grabbed her at the collar where he could reach and lifted her up, nearly stumbling himself. The two buildings between them swayed and then cracked sharply. The two of them lurched forward; breaking through a weak brick wall as the remnants finally gave way and collapsed into the alley.
All throughout the town there were screams of panic, fear, and pain, wailing into the newborn night. The stars twinkled in the sky, but soon became hazy, as wispy black clouds converged from the horizons.
Shouldering the weight of a collapsed roof and then some, Raticus pushed upward, overturning the mass of rubble that had fallen on them, gasping and coughing for air. He felt under his right thigh and maneuvered his fingers into his trouser pocket. Once inside he fished around for a small device, promptly pushing a button that replied with a beep. Koinu pulled up on his shoulders and slid herself out from underneath him; she crawled out onto the rubble, using a mangled weather vane as leverage. She choked and spat the dust from her mouth and lay still for a while, trying to catch her breath. She noticed her left knee was covered in dust-covered blood; she pulled it up to her chest painlessly to discover a small cut.
“Just a scratch.” She managed to choke out before bursting into a coughing fit.Raticus heard her, but soon turned his attention to his right; he got up on his knees and knelt over the edge of the chasm that had ripped the town in half. It was nearly twenty feet wide and descended into darkness. And what Raticus had feared had happened was realized. Near the bottom, if you were to squint your eyes hard, you would be able to see a massive waste of buildings that had collapsed along the fault line. Rising from it was the stench of death, so horrid that Raticus never shared this thought with Koinu afterward. Amongst that wreckage was the body of the boy they were traveling with, invisible from their vantage point, but perceivably visible.
Koinu tried to call out to him, in the hope he would reply, but her throat was physically incapable of shouting. She fumbled to the edge, peering down with careful attention to her footing. He was gone; it seemed in the blink of an eye he was standing next to her, and now his body was lying at the bottom of a pit. She shivered, and fell backwards out of weariness. Raticus shook his head, before getting to his feet. They ambled over the wreckage until they hobbled out onto the street. A wooden door to their right burst into splinters, and Nexas climbed out, dusting off his clothing with an apathetic demeanor. He couldn’t have seen this one coming; most certainly, he had underestimated Delilah and her partner. He knew the magnitude of their actions, and knew what was to come; but before that, he would have the girl.
Down the block, not far off, a large orb of ebony pulsed against the last remnants of starlight. The smoky clouds completely eclipsed the sky in darkness, and it became quite dim. Purple waves of a soft glow parted, and from the cocoon-like object stepped Delilah with Nira in her grasp. Chaos emerged from the shadows in the night, ears piqued to the sound of laborious screams.
Nexas brushed past Koinu and Raticus, with the girl’s eyes trained his back. He was looking Delilah square in the eye as he approached, but she simply returned it with nary the charm or charisma she had at their meeting. Nira could only watch helplessly as Nexas approached her and tore her arm from Delilah’s grasp. Her feet skirted along the ground and she twisted against him. Delilah narrowed her eyes at him, and dissolved it into a coy stare over his shoulder. Almost on cue, he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek before shoving her backwards with his free arm. She reeled back, falling into the distracted Chaos who fell into the orb of darkness they had emerged from moments ago. It flickered out quickly, along with any trace of the pair.
“They’re gone.” Nexas said, letting Nira fall to her knees.She cradled her wrists in her lap and rubbed them affectionately. She could have made a run for it, but mountainous piles of rubble encircled the group, and it was pitch black except for a few silhouettes illuminated by distant fires. Something pricked on her ears, and she slowly turned her gaze to the distance. Screams had begun to rain through the darkness, and it wasn’t just those trapped under their homes. A great wave of shrieks and cries rose from the street next to them.
“Heartless.” Raticus said.
“Correct.” Nexas added. “That kid you saw before just killed this planet.”Koinu tried to peer through the darkness to where they stood, but it was easier to just listen. Raticus spoke again.
“...Such power, and pulled right from his own body.”
“Wait a minute? He killed this planet? You mean this world is going to die just like that?” Koinu interjected.Nira lurched back and scooted along the ground. Mere yards in front of her; she had seen those golden yellow eyes emerge from the ground, bobbing and swaying.
“Yes. This world is doomed.” Nexas replied.There were more heartless than ever now, and they could be seen swirling about in the distance chasing the screams that rang out in the night. There was nothing that could be done; in one fell swoop Chaos had struck the heart of the planet, and now it was consumed with heartless and left to atrophy. A dull hum could be heard in the distance, and it grew louder with each passing second. Nira shot fearful glances into the sky, and Raticus stepped forward and revealed a device he had been holding in his hand. The hum came from directly above them and then a beam of light shot to the earth. There was a moment of silence between the four, until Raticus spoke.
“Come on then.”He stepped into the light and faded from their view. Koinu followed him, and Nexas stood hesitant for a moment. There were no other options of escape, even if he had to jeopardize losing the girl.
“Get up, if you don’t want to die.” He said before passing into the stream of light.Nira rocked back and forth, stroking the bottle within her clothing. She didn’t want to leave; she didn’t want to go with these strange people, to be acknowledged by them or to be perceived. A whirlwind of thoughts spun about in her head when a bloodcurdling scream rang out close by. Scrambling to her feet, she dizzily made her way to the light. They were so very close, and very frightening; her shaking hands reached out and were engulfed by the light. It didn’t hurt, to her surprise and soon she could see the innards of a ship fading into sight around her. Her arms wrapped around her chest and she spun around to see the other three next to her.
Raticus opened the hatch to a larger chamber and then walked down a narrow hallway to the bridge. It wasn’t large by any means, but it didn’t need to be. He took a seat in the captain’s chair, with his hands sliding along the panel in front of him. He poked a few buttons after taking a moment to remember how to operate the ship. It was all so elaborate; technology that had once intimidated him. The engine was a dull rumble that could barely be heard over the stillness in the room. As it began to movie, the motion was absorbed by a special component in the ship; no matter how fast they traveled, a constant gravitational force was maintained throughout her body.
“The cabin is in the back.”He was talking to Nexas who stood solemnly near the screens that lined circular around the bridge; they displayed the dark smoky air that engulfed the ship. Nexas turned and left, but not before Raticus spoke to him again.
“You will not touch the girl as long as you are on my ship.”He was leaning forward; features lit by the fluorescent icons that floated above the panel. Nexas snorted and turned, leaving the bridge and making his way down the hall. Raticus sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He discarded the dusty cloak he wore, tossing it aside in a heap. Wearing a dark woolen shirt and what appeared to be leather armor with pauldrons on his shoulders, he leaned back in the chair and kicked his feet up, softly stealing glances at the back of Koinu's head. She was pressed up against the illuminated panes; her eyes scanned the plumes of charcoal that the ship pleated, unable to see the ground below. It had been mere hours ago that Xell was sitting beside her on the bench, and now he was gone, at the bottom of a chasm. Her head drooped, with dusty locks of hair sliding over her shoulder.
Nira had found the quarters and slid around the door that opened for her, which she eyed with suspicion. She sat down on the bunk beside her, one of a dozen; her fingers slipped into her pocket and rubbed against the cold glass bottle, her digits sensing for the imperfections in its form. Nexas broke her concentration as he followed her into the room, sitting down on the bed beside her. His face was devoid of expression, and his stare terrified her. She made herself a shadow once more, creeping across the floor to another bunk; to her suprise, she found his eyes fixated on hers locking her attention. Flustered, she rolled onto her back to break from his gaze to find the safety of the wall. Pulling herself into a fetal position, she wrapped herself in her cloak as if it would protect her from his stares.
"Look...", Koinu said.Raticus saw through the panels before them the massive fields that the two had traversed earlier that day; there wasn't a single sign of the rolling waves of golden wheat, but in their place were squirming forms of darkness. They were hunched over, digging into the earth with clods of dirt spraying every which way. Every so often, they would get a glimpse of a flickering light, but it was soon consumed and extinguished. Koinu felt her limbs twitch and shiver. Her distant memories melding with the present ones, it became all too real. Turning away, she walked out of the bridge at once, swimming in confusing emotions. Raticus didn't say a word as she left.
He pressed another icon that floated around his ankles before he stood and made his way to where she had been standing. They were breaking through the thick layer of darkness that choked the atmosphere, and soft rumbles vibrated through the ship's body. As soon as the turbulence subsided, the stars flushed across each display, bright and varied. He knew full well that one less star would illuminate the diverse sky, and lamented.
T H R E E
It was a morning worth remembering; a picturesque sunrise strewn with hues of peach and pink, and the faint remnant of the previous night’s chill. At this altitude a soft wind blew in from the northwest, cool and calm. It had been nearly three days since the ordeal, and Delilah found herself running over the events in her head again. The breeze tousled her dark curls, sending them skittering over her shoulders and her sweeping her bangs aside. It was a lovely view, from the top of the cathedral; she reckoned that she must be nearly three-and-a-half hundred feet up, with the great city laid out before her and the bell tower underneath. The cathedral had a name, one which she could not remember though she had heard it briefly when she had arrived. Through the corridors of darkness, they had found a path that would lead them back to another world.
In the corner of Delilah’s eyes she saw a shadow move amongst the gargoyles. She turned to see Chaos emerge from behind the archway, moving towards her. He raised his hand to his brow to make out her image silhouetted by the sun.
“It’s been three days, Delilah. What are we going to do now?”
“Must you ask again, Chaos?”
“I must.”She wanted to ignore him outright, and out of disdain for his questions she replied:
“So, what’s your real name?” she said with a toxically coy smile.Chaos didn’t appreciate her dodging the issue at hand yet again. Ever since they had arrived in this world early in the evening before, he had noticed that she had little on her mind, little concern for what had happened on that last world. Had it been something that man at the tavern had said to her? He knew they had formulated some sort of plan in his absence, but what had resulted was nothing less than disastrous. It had taken them so long to find the girl, and to see her slip out from under their grasp so quickly made him spiteful at Delilah for her passive attitude. She just sat there, playing with him, and he muttered something under his breath.
“Take a look to your left.” She murmured after a long-enjoyed respite.To his left, brushing aside the ebony locks blown in front of his face, he saw the rising sun spilling over the rooftops and lighting the distant fog near the river on fire. He couldn’t see anything at first, but when his eyes focused well enough he could make out the clouds being displaced in a thin line parallel to the horizon.
“Is that them?”
“Yes, they have a cloaking device aboard that ship as to not disturb other worlds with gummi technology.” She replied.Chaos turned aside and vaulted over the craning neck of a draconic gargoyle.
“Delilah, are you going to play your silly games or will we take her this time.”He hesitated.
“You’re smitten with him, aren’t you?”She lolled her head back and shot him a stare.
“When we elope you can spend the rest of your days here in this city, stranded.” she teased, fighting back a spark of rage. “There’s one thing you’ve failed to understand that I’ve come to know in my vast experience; and that is that the more complicated a relationship becomes, the easier it is to manipulate. That girl is deathly afraid of us as it is, so we must in essence become the lesser of two evils. It’s well within her means to simply escape from us, so it must appear as if we are saving her and shielding her from those who wish to use her.”Chaos still had his doubts.
“You mean that man and the two-er-one young one, the girl.” he said.
“Yes, yes. They won’t know what to do with her. That girl isn’t someone you can just keep bottled up, and the fact that they’ve come here isn’t going to help them much. In fact, why they didn’t just make for the front is anyone’s guess. Even though they were followed, we were faster, and it gives us an advantage. So please, the whining isn’t going to make the situation uncomplicated.”
“Well,” said Chaos in a hotly, “If you hadn’t been so stubborn and told me your plans you wouldn’t have me so skeptical.”
“That’s right, it was my fault you left the tavern in the middle of the conversation to do whatever it was that you were doing.”
He snorted and grimaced. “Just drop it.”She nodded, stopping short of a victory sneer and gazing back out to the ship.
“It looks as if they will settle in the avenue over there; it doesn’t look like there’s anywhere else they could land.”
“I’m going down to the streets,” Chaos announced, “We can get lost in the crowd and find a way to separate them. That and I can hear someone coming up the stairway from below. I think for now it’ll do us some good to split up. I’ll be back here at midday, Delilah.”He didn’t give her the pleasure of a witty retort this time. Chaos backed to the ledge and dropped off it, plunging a good fifty feet down to a small outcropping on the cathedral’s face as if it were merely a step down a flight of stairs. In a series of jumps he had already made his way to the street, batting his eyes around for any in return. The coast was clear. Descending the stairs in to the main court, he began to meander through the festival goers. Plucking a sombrero from the back of a gypsy caravan, he donned it and wrapped his cloak around himself. Now, this might have seemed conspicuous otherwise, but today was a day when many people were dressed in gaudy and extravagant costumes. Fitting in wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.
Chaos looked over his shoulder to the cathedral and Delilah was gone.
The ship settled down into an alley, maneuvering carefully between structures and alighting ten feet above the ground; there it began to hover, but just as silent as ever. Its cloaking structure was still operating at full force and still in the air it was indiscernible from the immediate surroundings. Therefore, if anyone should just happen to walk through this way, they wouldn’t find themselves heading straight into a wall of invisible metal.
Inside, Koinu was bent over, looking out a small porthole. She marveled as they sank through the icy clouds of the world’s upper atmosphere and down into the city. Now she was staring at a wall of marble, dim and unremarkable. She turned to her right and stepped into the small hall that led to the bridge. Raticus looked over his shoulder and stood up.
“We will get ready to disembark, so make sure you have everything you need.”Her eyes were partly glazed over, harkening back to the events of two days ago.
“I sent word early this morning about Xell; I haven’t heard back from Harve yet, but I would assume they would know by now.”
“Oh, I see.” She replied more dejected than before.
“Did you know him prior to this mission?”
“Not really. No, actually. This was the first time.”
“Unfortunately, this… is a more common occurrence away from home.”
“Will you be alright?”
“Yeah, I’m already doing better. I really need to stretch my legs though.”
“Let’s get ready, then.”
“Okay.”She leaned back and stood up, steadying herself against the wall and heading to the storage area. After several days of being in motion, to be at a standstill was a little off-putting for her senses. There wasn’t much she really needed; her keyblade as it was called could be called any time and carried on her person. She did however; find a pair of trousers that may more befit the setting than her denim jeans. Koinu didn’t want to waste too much time changing, and their quarters were occupied by the man and the strange girl so she slipped them over her jeans. There was a cloth poncho that was about her size too and it slipped easily on; it felt nice against her skin, but the color was a murky olive color. It was probably for the best if her goal was to remain inconspicuous.
She returned to the bridge, trying to soften a few wrinkles for appearance’s sake. There, Raticus had a thicker poncho that was made of wool, and he looked rather uncomfortable in it. It had a hood through, and she noticed it covered his ears well enough.
“Your eyes.” she remarked noticing that they stuck out significantly.
“Hm… Oh. Yes. Well, there’s not much I can to about it, unlike our last stop. I could always pretend I’m blind, though I can’t smell or hear a wall in front of me.”Koinu thought a moment and pulled at a bit of excess fabric on the inside liner of her poncho; it ripped loose pretty easily as the stitching was pretty rushed.
“Here, just tie this around your head and poke some holes or something.”Raticus reluctantly did so, adjusting it momentarily so that the small holes could fit over his eyes.
“This is probably not the best idea we’ve had, but it’ll work for now.” He said, noticeably uncomfortable. “Just have to find a staff of sorts when I get outside.”Koinu thought he would look entertainingly silly with a walking cane, and if she hadn’t been in such a melancholy in regard to recent events, she wouldn’t be over teasing him about it.
“Unfortunately, my appearance isn’t welcomed on worlds like these. It is all the more reason to be safe rather than sorry afterward.” He huffed, feeling a little hot.Raticus turned back and walked towards the cabin, opening the door. There, he saw Nexas look back at him with a somewhat odd expression. Nira was curled up in the corner bunk, eyeing the both of them like a stray cat.
“We will have you remain here in the ship until we can bring you home; it is unsafe outside, and we need to stop here in order to carry on with our mission. We cannot remain in contact at all until we return, and the ship’s controls are locked. This is only for your safety. In a few hours we will return to the ship and plot a course to the home front.”Nexas nodded convincingly.
Raticus peered through the holes in the cloth at Nira, as frozen as ever, maintaining a safe distance. She hadn’t said a word this entire time, and holed away from them as far as was humanly possible. Her eyes inspected them, noting mannerisms, features, and clothes, and sounds. There was nothing he could really tell her at this point, much less illicit a response other than an unpleasant squeak. With a solemn turn and Koinu peering around his shoulder, he shut the door and locked it.
“I hate doing this to them,” he murmured, “but we can’t risk anything happening.”Koinu nodded softly in mutual agreement.
Raticus opened the hatch to the ship slowly and then lowered himself down to the ground and Koinu was next. They hurried as to remain inconspicuous as just about any prying eyes would be stricken off guard to see to people emerge from nothing. Once safely on the ground, the pair headed to the immediate street corner and surveyed the surroundings. A bustling city square splayed before a gigantic cathedral is what they saw, brimming with the celebration of some sort of festival. Bright colors were splayed in every corner and the mood was somewhat electric.
Through the pinholes in the cloth, Raticus looked to Koinu, noticing an interest percolate across her face.
“I will go to the cathedral, and you can stay here if you’d like.”
“No, that’s fine. I’ll go with you.” She replied.
“Nonsense, I think I’ll manage; besides, we need to keep an eye out for anyone pursuing us, and for that, you’ll need to blend into the crowd.”
“Oh-alright, I can do that,” she started “How long before we meet up?”
“Two hours and I will be here waiting.” He said.
“Right, I’ll meet you then.”And then he was gone.
Koinu walked out into the street with the bright mid-morning sun splashed over everyone’s faces. She knew perfectly well why Raticus had asked her to do this, and as much as she didn’t like being protected or coddled, it just felt like she needed some fresh air. Or it was that she wanted to forget about Xell and everything that went wrong.
At first, she swam through the crowds, stealing glances at the gaudy costumes people were wearing. The scent of food was light in the air and only grew heavier as she traversed the square. Roast mutton, chicken, and pig; tarts, biscuits, and cheeses of kinds she had never seen before. She nearly approached a cart when she froze for a moment and turned, remembering that she had no money, at least not this world’s version of it. Defeated, Koinu resigned to a bench to avert her gaze from appetizing distractions. It would have been nice to have some real homemade food instead of the packaged items on the ship. Music had been streaming in from all directions over the course of her visit, but one song in particular had caught her attention. She stood and hovered in place for a moment, detecting the direction it was coming from, and made her way to it. What she saw was a slender man with marionettes singing and entertaining troop of children and as Koinu approached, she began to pick up the lyrics of his song:
Listen, they're beautiful, no?
So many colors of sound, so many changing moods
Because you know, they don't ring all by themselves
Up there, high, high in the dark bell tower
lives the mysterious bell ringer.
Who is this creature
What is he?
How did he come to be there?
Hush, and Clopin will tell you
It is a tale, a tale of a man and a monster.
So many colors of sound, so many changing moods
Because you know, they don't ring all by themselves
Up there, high, high in the dark bell tower
lives the mysterious bell ringer.
Who is this creature
What is he?
How did he come to be there?
Hush, and Clopin will tell you
It is a tale, a tale of a man and a monster.
Four frightened gypsies slid silently under
The docks near Notre Dame
But a trap had been laid for the gypsies
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure whose clutches
Were iron as much as the bells
Judge Claude Frollo longed
To purge the world
Of vice and sin
And he saw corruption
The docks near Notre Dame
But a trap had been laid for the gypsies
And they gazed up in fear and alarm
At a figure whose clutches
Were iron as much as the bells
Judge Claude Frollo longed
To purge the world
Of vice and sin
And he saw corruption
“A baby? A monster!”, exclaimed the gypsy musing a bit of dialogue into his song.
“Stop! Cried the Archdeacon!”
“This is an unholy daemon. I'm sending it back to hell, where it belongs.”
And for one time in his live
Of power and control
Frollo felt a twinge of fear
For his immortal soul
Of power and control
Frollo felt a twinge of fear
For his immortal soul
“Anywhere, just so he's kept locked away, where no one else can see. The bell tower, perhaps. And who knows, our Lord works in mysterious ways. Even this foul creature may yet prove one day to be of use to me.”
"And Frollo gave the child a cruel name
A name that means half-formed, Quasimodo
Now here is a riddle to guess if you can
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
Who is the monster and who is the man?"
A name that means half-formed, Quasimodo
Now here is a riddle to guess if you can
Sing the bells of Notre Dame
Who is the monster and who is the man?"
"Sing the bells of Notre Dame."It was charming, but nothing more than a peddled story. Koinu looked up to the towers of the cathedral, where she saw the faint outlines of the copper bells hung there. The tiny crowd around her was dispersing, moving towards the main attraction off to her left somewhere. After hanging back, she began to meander towards a large stage that had been constructed near a fountain. Dancers and lute-players began parading above, showering petals and song upon the people.
-High up in the cathedral of Notre Dame stood a figure ghostly white; his pale complexion clouded the small vertical window he gazed out from. A wicked sneer grew across his lips and the fires of rage could be seen in his eyes. Reflected in them were the gypsy performers, wallowing the faithful in gluttony, and lust, and sin. His hands clenched together, and he brought them to his lips and murmured a prayer. When he opened his eyes again, they focused down below on a gypsy performer; and at once he gasped. So beautiful was she that he bit his tongue and sucked it, oblivious to the sting of pain it caused. Ebony colored hair spilled over her shoulders, her skin was dark and alive, and the way she moved…
Spinning away from the window Judge Claude Frollo reeled to his wash basin and splashed his face with water.
“Heavens, is this what ails me?” he hoarsely whispered with beads of water falling from his face. “No, by that woman… A gypsy…”There came a slight creak at this door, and a soft rap on the plate.
“Judge Frollo sir, I've come to see you.”
“Yes! Now off with you, I will be ready soon enough!” he barked not wanting to be seen in such a state.Frollo was left in silence, and in that moment he dashed back to the window to catch just another glimpse. He saw a larger number of people dancing on stage now, and cursed that it was far more difficult to make her out from the other simpletons. But, he found her again to his delight. And such beautiful eyes as well, oh she was irresistible.
At that moment he slammed his fists against the wall, writhing in his own conflicted feelings. These gypsies must be done away with, all of them. Casting spells upon the townspeople, upon himself, to be compelled to turn away with the church? Donning his cap, he gritted his teeth and left his chamber, to find another
man waiting in the hall.
He was blonde with fair skin, blue eyes and somewhat of a dopey look on his face as he turned to the Judge. Frollo narrowed his eyes on him and pursed his lips thinly to utter his name. By his attire he was a man of the sword, a knight more or less. The extent of his virtues was unknown to Lord Frollo.
“Phoebus, I presume.”
“Yes, m’lord.” he replied, standing at attention.
“The threat of gypsy crime in this city must be dissuaded, for all of my gatherings point to an overthrow of government and church society to these pagan swine. I have reason to believe that they gather in the sewers to the south. It is a place known as the… eh… Court of Miracles.”
“The Court of Miracles, sir?” said Phoebus.
“Yes, once we crush the rat’s nest, the rats will all scatter until they have all been eliminated.”
“Correct, captain. I do trust you will be able to carry out this plan, for I’d hate to see your superb record tarnished by insubordinate behavior.”
“Not at all, Lord Frollo.” Phoebus chimed in. “I will have my men make it their primary duty.”
“Very good.”, Frollo remarked. “Now, if you will accompany, I must attend to this peasant festival… have you ever been to one captain?”
“No sir, not at all…” he replied.
“Well,” Frollo commented with a smirk, “this shall be quite the education.”They crossed from the high archway and descended down a large marble staircase. As they descended they passed the hall that led to where rows and rows of pews were empty except for a few bleak souls. As they exited through the ornate double doors in the back, one of them slipped off to the side between the glows of dim candlelight. It was a figure cloaked in a dust-colored poncho, and he made his way up the staircase without drawing the attention of the judge, the knight or the clergy. There was something here he aimed to obtain, and only by getting up into the higher reaches of the cathedral would he be able to obtain it.
(to be continued)