It was night. With me were Deko guards facing a line of descendants. An odd position considering I should’ve been standing with my own kind. It looked like roll call, but I recognized no one. I stood behind a guard verbally assaulting a man as though the sole reason for me being there was to oversee it. The man on the receiving end of the assault glared ferociously, his eyes taking on a tint of red. He appeared as though he was due to explode. I urged the guard to cease his sadistic attack, but I was brought to my knees by the shaking of the Earth beneath me. The man stomped on the ground, creating waves beneath him that brought every guard to the floor. When I lifted my head, I saw the man on the offensive as he tore out large size rocks and threw them towards us. We scattered along with the descendants that removed themselves from his side. The guard who screamed at the man earlier would be the first victim, crushed by the weight of a fallen boulder. Several of them tried their best to subdue the rebel, and a flurry of guards begin appearing in the sky. Like a swarm, they dived down descending upon the town, their fitted armor the color of crow’s fur in the night. I realized I was wearing the same outfit as them. Finally, a guard charged at the man and stabbed him clear through the stomach with his claw. Afterward, everything went black...
7 days earlier...
I woke up startled, heart racing, gasping for air. It was only a nightmare… a strange one... The smell of lavender percolated through the room that seemed to have a life of its own. Vines of varying hues of green climbed up and down the walls, twining on the furniture. Flowers bloomed along the branches and spiral tendrils dangled, twirling themselves down from the ceiling.
It felt like I had been sleeping for days. I was drained of my energy and wished only to remain in these sheets and this bed, though I hardly recalled exerting myself strenuously the day before. When I turned to my side, I found Diego’s face right next to mine as if he waited for me to wake, his torso leaning on the bed while he kneeled on the floor. He sniffed, then his eyes begin to crack open. His ears wiggled when he saw me.
“You’re awake!” he said. He seemed eager to embrace me but stopped himself. “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I said, wiping my face of sweat. “Just a bad dream. Why are you on the floor?”
“I wanted you to have the bed.”
The bed was more than capable of fitting the two of us, but it’s difficult to dissuade Diego's overly chivalrous nature. He stroked my face gently, as if to prove I was truly there by his side. Then his face became dour.
“Sapphire opened her home for us. Wanted to keep you close till you recovered. What did they to you?”
“Yes! We all lost sight of you at the market. Those damn guards took you outside of Orion.”
“Guards? What happened? Did they do something to me?”
Diego appeared bewildered. “What are you saying? Don’t you remember?”
My face gave him his answer. He frowned. A tendril uncoiled itself between us, daisies blooming along it. Diego looked as if he wanted to rip it apart.
“You have no memory of what happened to you?!”
Sapphire grew more perplexed by my story the further I discussed it. She handed me a cup of warm rose tea that I took small sips of, it’s floral fragrance prospering through the room. She cooked a meal, but my appetite was nonexistent.
She said, “I don’t understand. Can you recall anything?”
I sighed. My hands shook my cup of tea. “Vaguely. According to Diego, Deko’s guards were involved, but I don’t remember being in contact with any of them. What became of me?”
Sapphire bit her lips. Her living room was particularly gloomy. Clouds hovered above us, air dense. The plant life took on a darker tint. The small animals were less active than usual. Diego sat across from me, legs crossed and arms folded, closing his eyes in meditation. Cosmo ate his meal slowly, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation.
“When does your memory begin to fail you?” she asked.
I thought hard, bringing myself back to the market the day before. “I remember assisting Diego with his stand, and a descendant in despair came to me requesting my help.”
I nodded. “He spoke of a conflict occurring between villagers. It’s my duty to aid in these manners, so I couldn’t tell him no but -”
I stopped mid-sentence. Cosmo ceased eating. Diego’s eyes opened.
Sapphire cocked her head. “Are you okay?”
Not even remotely. My world was unraveling before me having finally connected a piece to this disturbing puzzle.
“...I think I was attacked.”
Sapphire’s befuddled appearance withered away, changing into shock. She looked me over, grabbing at my arms, twisting me around, checking my head. Diego lifted himself up.
Cosmo gulped. “A-ttacked?”
Sapphire turned to him. “You shouldn’t be around for this conversation.”
“You heard what I said, Cosmo!”
“Wait,” I interrupted, “he should hear this too. Who knows, this might not be the last time we come across this man.”
“The one you mentioned speaking with at the stand?”
“Yes. The man begged me to follow him to the town hall, but I wondered how he even knew it's location.”
Diego asked. “You picked up on him being a foreigner, too?”
“I did. As I said, I’m unable to say no when my services are requested, regardless if I’m asked by a citizen here or not. After all, he was still one of our own. I accompanied him and he led me away from the market to the town hall. When we reached the gates, he insisted the commotion was inside. I heard nothing. The building was still and undisturbed like it always is. That should’ve been my warning to turn back.
“We entered. It was dark inside, all I saw was what had been illuminated by the opened entrance doors. Once he closed them behind us, we were in pitch blackness. Suddenly, a hand grabbed my mouth and an arm wrapped itself around my torso, holding me tight. My yells were muffled, and I couldn’t break free of the stranger’s hold. A red aura took over me. It was like I was choking and I felt my grip loosening. I lost my ability to speak. He had powers that I was unaware of. My body fell limp in his hold, and I would lose consciousness immediately after. The next time I’d come to, I found myself here.
"You see? No guard was present before or during my attack. I promise you, there was no one else with me.”
Cosmo hands gripped his knees, unable to keep a straight face. Sapphire unconsciously tore at the petals of several flowers, their ripped remains scattering across the floor. It looked like it might rain inside. Diego was stoic, his arms folded again in contemplation. It was troubling; I always knew to be cautious around the royal guards, but I never imagined that I would have to watch my back around my own kind.
“The man with the sour stench…”
Our attention went to Cosmo.
“The one Diego confronted yesterday. He’s the one responsible for this, isn’t he?”
“That's right,” confirmed Sapphire.
Cosmo shifted his attention to Diego. “Didn’t you notice it, his smell? It was around your guys’ home.”
“You noticed his scent there?!”
“...He must’ve picked up on it when you both came over yesterday morning,” Diego said as he paced the room. “I discovered it the night before. Whoever that man is, he didn’t attack without knowing where to find us. Barken’s attack must’ve been premeditated.”
Cosmo’s eyes widened. Goosebumps crawled up my arms and shoulders.
Sapphire glanced at me, a troubled look on her face. “But why Barken? What was the man’s goal bringing him to the town hall?”
“Only one way to find out.”
Diego pulled a dagger out of his cloth, examining its edges. Sapphire studied his movements and a draft developed in the room.
He continued, “We find the rogue again. If I track him, I can demand answers.”
Cosmo stood up. “I want to help too! I know his smell now, I can find him!”
“Now hold on,” said Sapphire. “Diego, I understand you are angry. Everyone here wants to protect Barken, believe me. But you can’t go making this into a personal manner - this is a community concern. There’s no telling if this man will attack again. What if there are more like him? We need to warn the others.”
“We don’t have time!” he said. “This man will get away again if we allow him-”
Forceful knocks came from the door. Our eyes shot towards it. Sapphire swiftly begin taking care of any signs of magic that flourished through her home. The clouds above us disintegrated and the plant life dwindled. Critters among us scurried in the shadows. Diego stuffed away his dagger and approached the door. Cosmo fell back. I rose from my seat, eyes trained on the door. Sapphire returned from the bedrooms and gave Diego a nod. He understood and opened the door slowly, cracking it open to see who was on the other side. As he did so, there was a hard budge that pushed him back.
“What do you think you’re-”
Diego stopped when he identified the boisterous visitor and became stupendously subdued. Reluctantly, he pulled open the door. Three guards appeared. They walked themselves in, examining the room and scrutinizing us. I had a twisted expression on my face that I couldn’t hide.
Sapphire stepped forward. “Is there a problem?” she asked curtly.
“...Nothing that concerns you,” said a male guard dismissively. “But it does concern someone who is with you.”
“Are you Barken of House three?” asked another guard, looking at me directly.
The air in my lungs left me.
Diego puffed out his chest. “Who wants to know?”
“...What business do you have with me?” I asked.
Two of the guards nodded to each other. They moved forward. Diego gradually positioned himself in front of me.
“Barken of House three, you are to relinquish yourself to our custody immediately.”
Cosmo gasped. Sapphire’s eyes went from me back to the guards.
“What is the reason for this?” I asked. My feet fell back unconsciously. The guards moved steadily forward.
“You’ve been charged with the crime of illegally using magic. Any resistance on your part will result in an appropriate use of force-”
“WHAT!? On what basis do you accuse me of this crime?”
“We have a witness,” the guard said simply.
I shook as they neared. What have I done? I’ve always been careful not to expose myself. Did this have anything to do with my attack the day before? I wanted to scream that I was being conspired against. That this had to be a mistake! But, I didn’t have the means to defend against this charge. Even if I did, would they care? This was my worst fear come to life.
“Back away from him!” screamed Diego. The guards were undeterred. The balls of my feet touched Sapphire’s pond. “Don’t think we’re imperceptive of your scheme. You’re telling me you all held Barken aboard your ship, threw him off to his death, and he’s guilty one here? He’s the criminal?”
“Diego, don’t,” I pleaded with him. “If you fight, they’ll-”
A guard came for us, swinging his scepter. Diego grabbed me and flung us over the pond, the blow nearly hitting us. The scepter struck the ground, it’s impact uprooting the floor and water.
I screamed this as another guard lunged from behind. Diego snatched me again and pulled me out of harm’s way, the guard’s scepter shattering Sapphire’s pots. Opposite us was Sapphire pushing Cosmo towards the bedrooms. She closed one of the doors and returned alone.
“I deserve to be told the circumstances of my arrest!” I exclaimed.
The sentry who struck us glared. The other two had callous smirks.
“I think you fail to understand your place here,” one of them said. They edged closer, Diego and I were being cornered. “Whether your charge is just or not means nothing to us. We neku merely collect you for whatever crime you’re charged. That is our job.”
“Mindlessness seems to be a common theme with you all,” said Diego. The guard previously speaking regarded him with a snicker. “They’re being purposefully vague, Barken. Don’t give yourself up to them, it’s a trap.”
I believed him. Though this situation escalated further than I had wanted, I was beginning to realize my lack of options here. To fight back was treason, but what was the alternative? What would happen to me? Would I be able to spare punishment for Diego? I caught myself holding him tighter.
“Please, just listen!” I pleaded. “If we can talk, I-”
I was shoved away. A guard’s scepter slashed in between us, missing by inches. Diego launched a fist at our attacker but was blocked. The sentry flung away his scepter and lunged a claw towards him. Diego dodged it and the soldier kept at it, fighting with all six claws. Immersed in their battle, a hand seized my arm.
“I have the suspect,” the guard said, pulling me to the door.
“Let go of me!” I exclaimed, struggling to pry away. The guard squeezed my arm so tight, I lost feeling in my fingers.
Diego dodged a claw from the guard, grabbed his arm, and flung him into the pond. As he neared us, another scepter swung and struck Diego's side, flinging him into the wall. His head and back crashed into it, cracking the wall open. I heard Sapphire yelp.
“No!” I yelled.
Diego laid motionless on the floor. I fought hard to release myself from the guard but kept getting jerked towards the door. As I struggled, the guard became unsteady and fell forward.
He groaned. “Dammit, what the hell is this?!”
His hands were on his leg as he started to panic. His foot sunk to the floor, the ground itself wrapping around his ankles. I turned to Sapphire. She nodded for me to check on Diego. The other guards were distracted by their panicking partner, unaware of Sapphire's hand in this. I took my chance and got away, running for Diego. Another guard charged for me. When I reached him, Diego was slumped into the wall, his eyes closed. The marigold colors that illuminated my palms returned as they neared Diego’s flesh. Before they reached, I felt water drops fall on me. A large shadow cast over Diego and I. I looked to find the guard that was thrown into the pond standing on top of us, his scepter lifted above his head. I froze.
“You’ve already been charged with illegal use of magic,” the guard decided to remind me as though I had forgotten. “You perform anymore and you only make it worse for yourself. You know better than to make that risk, especially with your mutt already in hot water. Do yourself a favor, and come quietly.”
My eyes moved between the guard and Diego. I always believed obedience and staying hidden would keep us safe. Had this happened years ago, even days before, I would’ve taken whatever the guards said as truth, giving no resistance. It was the only surefire way I knew that would protect myself and others. At this moment, I didn’t have my compliance to save me, and it was beginning to look like I couldn’t depend on it anymore.
My palms pressed deep into Diego’s skin. They shined bright, their aura engulfing him. The pain of his injuries traveled through me, the aura like channels traveled up my arms, down my chest, and to my legs. I gritted my teeth. The guard marveled at me. I could see my light dancing in his eyes. He looked at me like discovered treasure.
“Knock him down!” One of the guards barked.
The guard seemed ready to bring down his scepter before I screamed, “Don’t!”.
He stopped, but then laughed mockingly for having taken heed to my warning at all. Diego’s pain flowed through me again.
“You’ll regret it if you try to stop me.”
He sneered, “I call your bluff, descendant.”
The guard swung his staff, aiming at my head. When it neared it, the scepter caught itself onto the aura that encircled me. I was unharmed. His wide-eyed expression told me he was unaware, one does not disrupt a healing ceremony. He attempted to retrieve his scepter back, yanking it from the aura’s hold. A fiery light engulfed then shot the scepter back, recoiling and smashing into the guard’s face. Pieces of it shattered from the impact. The guard wobbled, then fell down beside me. He lost consciousness.
The guard whose foot was stuck in the ground finally freed himself and faced me.
“Too dangerous to keep alive, huh Sol?” he said, glaring me down.
The other guard still in commission appeared confident, showing off a cocky smile. “Probably right. What's another dead one?”
The men closed in again. My aura was fading and Diego shifted under me. I was losing my protection.
“Barken,” he said.
He was barely conscious. There was no way I could hold my own against these two. They came for me and I braced for their attack.
“Barken, Diego, don’t breathe!”
I thought I heard Sapphire’s voice. Taking heed to her call, I held my breath. Large flowers dangled and fell from the ceiling, spraying and spreading a gas below them. The guards flew in it and gradually slowed to a halt. They mumbled inaudible words to each other as their body movements became sluggish. The two yawned, releasing their scepters that crashed down on the floor below them. The two began getting comfortable on the floor of the room, and in a matter of moments, fell asleep on top of each other.
I still held my breath and looked at Sapphire. She made small hand movements before clouds collected near her ceiling. Rain came down, the gas washing away with it. She let the air soak some more before stopping it.
She exhaled. “Okay.”
I breathed out, Diego following suit. He rose himself off the floor, eyeing the guards and me. They were motionless. Sapphire walked around the room, examining them as well.
She lifted her head. “Cosmo!”
She rushed herself to the bedroom and opened the door. Cosmo appeared on the other side, practically lunging out the doorway. He looked at all of us.
“You’re all alright,” he said.
His eyes came to the guards, his face contorting appropriately.
“How did you both take them down?” Diego asked.
“Sleep gas,” said Sapphire. Diego lifted an eyebrow. “Just some natural sleeping agents enhanced by someone with, say, the ability to enhance pleasing sensations?” Diego eyed me knowingly. I smirked. “You should give us more credit. We’re not just gossiping when we have our early morning get-togethers! Clairsentients and elementalists can make fantastic alchemy.”
Diego nodded. “Impressive you two…” He looked at the broken scepter and the sentry sprawled out, away from the other two. “What about this one?”
I shrugged as though embarrassed. “...He attacked as I healed you. I couldn’t stop him in time, but I guess there was no other choice.” I massaged my shoulders and arms, reflecting on this attack that seemed to come out of nowhere. Dealing with the three guards and coming out of it alive should’ve given me peace. But I predicted our troubles would only get worse. “First it was the attack yesterday. Now this.”
“There must be some plot against you,” said Diego. “These guards were eager to be confrontational, even use deadly force on both of us. There's a reason they pulled out their claws.” He sighed before turning to me. “You’re not safe.”
“He’s right,” Sapphire said, “You can’t stay here. It won’t be long before others come.”
“O-others!?” I stuttered. “Then what do we do? Roll call is tonight! If I don’t turn myself in, they’ll come searching for me. I can’t keep hiding here!”
Diego paced rigorously, throwing his fists. Cosmo’s eyes were set on the passed out guards. Sapphire regarded me solemnly. Her head turned to the pond in the center of her room.
“There is a way,” she said. She walked towards it. Diego glared as I watched her. “Barken, my watering hole is a path to a town far west of here. You dive down deep and you’ll reach a current that will shuttle you there. It’s been used in the past by others who found no choice but to escape from here. However, leaving Orion is risky. The current only heads due west, so if you do leave…”
“...There won’t be a way back,” said Diego. “Especially not as a fugitive.”
Diego came up to me, looking me over. I expected his sadness or his rage, forced to watch me leave and desert them all with no guarantee that I would ever return. It seemed the world was tumbling down on us and I couldn’t bear to look at any of them.
Diego held my hand and turned to Sapphire. “I’ll make sure he’s not alone.”
I gaped at him. “You don’t have to do this. What I’m doing is dangerous, they’ll come for you too! Listen to what you’re saying-”
“Don’t try to dissuade me. I can never desert you.”
I turned to the three guards lying about in Sapphire’s cottage. “What about them?”
“...We’ll take care of them.” Cosmo said this as he approached us. “Mother and I have moved larger things.”
Sapphire nodded. “The sleeping gas contains amnesiac properties, our specialty when Barken and I first concocted it. We’ll dump them somewhere discreet. Once they wake, they’ll have forgotten what happened and you both will have a chance to escape. We’ll have to hurry before the others take notice of their absence.”
Sapphire packed flowers and herbs in a bag for us to use. She wrapped and hid the trio of guards in shrubbery for transport. Cosmo couldn’t relinquish his hold of Diego and I. We foregone a last trip home knowing the sentries were likely patrolling all over Orion.
Our time neared. We shed tears as the two embraced us tight. Sapphire sent us off with a kiss. From her lips, a strong wind blew and entered our mouths. As I inhaled, I felt my lungs expand beyond a capacity it never had once been before.
“That should be enough air for you to make it to the other side,” she said. “You must not hesitate to reach the end so you don’t run out of breath.”
We both nodded. When we came to the pond, I took note of its depth. My face met Sapphire and Cosmo.
“Thank you, Sapphire, my sister,” I said. “And thank you, Cosmo. I hope one day I’ll see you two again.”
Diego and I looked to each other before jumping into the turquoise pond. The water wrapped around us like a blanket, the frigid cold sinking into our bones. Bubbles floated to the surface, passing us as we dived further down. Our surroundings were illuminated though I didn’t know where the light came from. The pond had a cavernous appearance, corallite walls engraved on its edges. Small fish passed through dark openings and chasms. Traveling deeper, light became scarce. Finally, a dark hole appeared at the end. Diego and I locked eyes. We grabbed each other’s hands and moved steadily toward it. As I came closer, my head and torso stretched, then my arms. Suddenly, my hand was torn from Diego as I got pulled into the darkness. I tried to grab for him to no avail, sucked into the undercurrent.
My body was flailing wildly, thrown around in several directions by the rapidly moving waters. I could hardly direct my path and saw nothing while immersed in blackness and water. All I could depend on was the breath in my lungs that seemed to be running out. My chest burned, throat tightening. I panicked, I was going to drown!
Eventually, I’d hit land. My body tumbled into the shadows and rolled over hard ground. I was choking from the water, then heard a splash near me, something large coming my way. I recognized it as Diego from his coughing.
“You’re okay?” I asked.
When attempting to stand, my head hit the jagged rock above me. I came down to all fours, my hands feeling the area around me as I used Diego’s coughing to locate him. The dirt on the cavern floor clung to my soaked skin. The turquoise pond became a river flowing beside me, it’s mysterious dim glow being the only light present in the cavern.
He squeezed my hand as he took in large breaths to recover. I checked our surroundings. The cavern didn’t show any obvious exits. Had we been in better circumstances, I’d have asked Sapphire for more details. I turned to the river and I heard water gushing on one end, my assumption being that it was the end of the undercurrent that brought us here. If we followed the river, it was my hope that an exit would come up.
“Follow me,” I said.
The gushing water behind us died out. Moments became minutes. Maybe hours. Time was more difficult to track. I feared that we were on an endless path that had no finish. Diego and I crawled on our bellies through the shadows using the river’s light as our sole guide. I began to wonder if we would see the sun again.
“I see an opening,” said Diego.
I looked where I thought was forward and saw what he was referring to. As we neared it, I was taken through a flashback, immersed in water and swimming through an opening containing blinding light. It was an exit I had seen when I held Sapphire’s palms a couple of days ago like she had gone through this very path once before. Diego and I submerged ourselves once more in the river and came out on the other side.
We broke through the surface, wading in the water of what seemed to be a well. The cavern’s existence had dissolved before us. There was no turning back. Around us and above us was gray brick wall on all sides. The well’s opening on top was covered by a wooden awning that let in some natural light. Diego tried gripping and climbing the wall to no avail, slippery green moss overlaying its exterior.
“Might take some creative maneuvering,” he said.
He pulled out his daggers and thrust them into the wall. It fit snugly into the cracks as fragments of brick and cement splintered off and fell into the water.
He hauled himself up. “Grab onto me.”
I wrapped myself around him as he steadily hauled us up. Diego’s slick skin was hard to hold on to. A wind howled through the opening and brought the well to life. When we reached the top, my eyes took time to get reacquainted with the sun. We were in a secluded area within a town. I saw no descendants or guards, thankfully. We stepped out onto concrete pavement, though I’ve only known concrete as building material for homes. The dwellings surrounding us had sheets that fluttered in the wind replacing walls and ceilings. A covering came loose and I saw charred remains underneath. Throughout were broken open partitions and doors, the markings of axes, swords, and other weapons. One home had a part of it blown out from what looks like a large column of water forced through the wall.
Grunting and battle cries sounded in the distance. Diego and I tried ascertaining its origins, passing through the apparently empty corridor. Down the path, we found two descendants wrestling each other on the ground.
Someone tried pulling the aggressor off. Other descendants begin spectating the scene, coming from building entryways and creating a half circle around them.
“Get em’!” One of them cheered. Others followed suit. It was a strange sight to see villagers openly encouraging violent confrontation. One of the fighter’s golden brass knuckles had beads of scarlet on its end, beads becoming clumps each time they made contact with the injured descendant's face. Blood spilled onto the pavement. He grabbed the descendant who tried to separate them and pushed her away.
I lunged for them before hearing behind me, “No Barken.” I halted to Diego’s call. “You’re in hiding! Or have you forgotten?”
I kissed my teeth. My stomach turned having to stand by when I had the chance to intervene.
Most of the crowd dispersed immediately. Diego grabbed me and took me to the side of a building, allowing us to spy on the scene from a distance. The neku casually inserted themselves in the mayhem. Once jovial faces were replaced with disgruntlement or a lack of concern, and I wondered if the change of heart came from the guards' presence or their interruption of the fight.
“Get off me!” One of them exclaimed.
The aggressor was merciless, seated on top and hammering down on the man under him. Then he froze randomly, his fists elevated. He eyed the guards near him, his iris and pupils faded to white.
“He’s not in the right mind,” I said. Which begged the question, where were the clairsentients?
The blank-eyed man wasted no time before going after the sentries, leaving his victim curled up in the street. I only blinked before seeing the descendant hurled into the air, one of the guards having swung their scepter at him. He recovered, landing on his two feet and sliding against the ground. He lunged for them again, showing no signs of being hurt. The guards got into battle stances, readying their weapons. The descendant moved quickly, dodging past one of the guard’s swings, then another. His torso contorted, bending and reshaping to maneuver around the scepters targeting his flesh. I was astonished by his movements, smooth like cream, effortless in its execution. No one from Orion moved like this man. He smashed a fist into one of the sentry’s heads, then used a high kick knocking the other to the ground. The neku on the ground held its chest while the other tended to his jaw. Despite the descendant’s state, he fought the guards with relative ease like a calculated assassin.
His descendant victim was out of sight and out of mind, gradually composing himself. He wiped the blood that dripped from him and watched his attacker saunter over to the fallen guard. Then his face showed his horror. I was too late to notice the reason behind it.
I held in a yelp. Diego was a stone, frozen in time. Blood fell from the blank-eyed man’s mouth and his eye color returned to him, bloodshot. He looked below at his chest, a claw protruding out of it, extending from the sentry who took a punch to the jaw. The descendant’s skin paled watching the life in him leave. The claw slowly retreated back, and the man fell to his knees before collapsing face down. The crowd was long gone. The descendant who had been defending himself previously trembled, his fingernails digging into the ground.
“What have you done?!” he said.
He struggled on all fours towards the fallen man as his knees scraped against the pavement. When he reached him, he turned him over and examined him. The two neku regrouped, not expressing regret, sorrow, or, if they were true sadists, triumph. We collectively took in the guards’ indifference to our brother’s murder and it seemed like a part of each of us had died. They observed the two descendants, then walked off.
I couldn’t take it. I ran to the man with Diego calling behind me. My sole agenda was to save the man anyway I could. The descendant looking over him turned to find me coming near. As I grew closer, I noticed his face had swollen, defensive marks crawling up his arms. I crouched near him as he held the man’s hand.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen. Please, don’t die...”
It was now or never. I concentrated, palms illuminating. He observed them with a bizarre expression plastered on his face. I pressed my palms into the fallen descendant’s arm and a stabbing pain took over.
An image of him and the assaulted descendant manifested before me. A deal was struck between the two, an agreement which promised the fallen descendant smuggled weaponry from a location outside Deko territory. The transaction was taking longer than predicted, and the neku caught wind of the scheme. An innocent would end up being targeted, and killed. Chillingly, it was the man I’d seen in my nightmare the previous night. Were Diego and I in the city my dream took place? How and why was I dreaming of an event I was nowhere near? The fallen descendant was overcome with guilt and blamed his partner for the innocent’s killing. This would trigger his altered state that led to this assault.
My vision would abruptly stop. I was returned to the present, the man’s skin cold to my touch. The defending descendant beside him could only stare at his partner in disbelief. I wanted to touch him.
“Grandfather, is that…?”
It was the voice of a child. I looked above to find a young girl staring back at me piercing red irises on her small face, lime green skinned with long hair colored like hematite, a blue circlet holding her hair back. An old man stood beside her. Diego approached from behind. I shut the eyes of the departed descendant, asking Ida to bring his soul home. The grave risks this journey would take us seemed to only lengthen.
After spending a great of effort persuading Diego to trust them, the old man, Rosco, invited us to accompany him and his granddaughter to their home. It was his suggestion we keep indoors, particularly as outsiders to their town, Tygrus. Rosco is an umber skinned man, bald like myself but notably well built. He could’ve been a combination of Diego and I put together. His voice was characteristically commanding as though he’d been sought out to make difficult decisions and relay orders. He had to have been an elder warrior.
Inside their cottage was the skins and furs of beasts put up on display like trophies on the wall. After entering, the young girl immediately went to the corner of the room where I saw a selection of three weapons. She grabbed the axe and observed it in her hands. She held it with such mastery and care I assumed it must belong to her.
“Rest yourselves,” said Rosco. “My son will return with food soon.”
I didn’t know if I could stomach a meal. Witnessing the murder of the descendant and another the night before lingered in my mind. Diego was constantly scowling at the old man and remained indifferent to the young girl.
“Oneida, put that thing down!” A man with a heavy drawl pushed through the door, carrying a beast on his back. He ignored Diego and I. “You have no use for that thing. Put it back before you-”
Finally, the man saw us and stopped in his tracks, dropping his catch in the front door.
“Who’re you?! Pa, who are the-”
“They’re travelers, Gage,” said Rosco. “No need for alarm.”
“Outsiders!?” Gage began peering outdoors, his mauve skin beginning to flush. “What are they doing here? They need to be reported the authorities!”
“These two are on the run. You report them, you could get them in serious trouble, especially the healer.”
I didn't understand, why would my clairsentient abilities put me more at risk?
“We’re going to get ourselves in trouble keeping them around! Are you trying to have the neku bust down our doors!?”
“...You know those guards have other things to worry about. We can have them stay in the cellar downstairs.”
Gage grunted frustratingly. “Ahh Pa...”
He seemed to temporarily yield to his father as he picked back up his beast and brought it to the center of the room. Diego no longer eyed the old man with as much suspicion, his replacement being Gage.
“Sir?” I said. Rosco turned to me. “Why would it make a difference if I were a healer?”
Gage sighed. Oneida took her focus off the axe and looked to her grandfather, his face serious.
“There’s a reason why I proposed you two stay indoors,” he explained, “particularly you. Your partner, if stealthy, might be able to move around under the radar. However, there are no living healers in Tygrus.”
My puzzled look gave Rosco a reason to continue, though his pained expression added to my unease.
“For as long as I can remember, clairsentients have been hunted down by the neku here. Realizing their ability to cultivate and restore community, the guards saw them as a threat. One by one they begin to disappear until none were left. As a result, we’re one of the few places where clairsentients are non-existent, creating a breeding ground for distrust and violence. You can understand my son’s trepidation. If we can’t trust our neighbors, how does one trust someone he’s never met? You don’t come to Tygrus to seek asylum, this is an outlaw state. To get what you want… you use any means necessary.”
The community’s reaction to the fight earlier was making sense. If this town posed this kind of danger, why would Sapphire send us here?
“As Gage has stated, keeping you both here puts everyone in this home in danger, including my son's child. For that reason, it would be best if you both find out an exit plan soon. Your own descendant brothers and sisters will have no issues taking advantage of your precarious situation, and I’d hate to see you two young ones get yourselves into some serious trouble here. You can stay, for tonight.”
We understood, and so begin the starting point of Diego and I’s lives as fugitives of the Deko empire.