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741 Winning The Popularity Contest


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  1. 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?” “They?” “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.” “A man?” 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.” “Mother!” “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. “Behind us!” 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.” I frowned. “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. “Found you.” 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. “Stop!” 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. “Guards!” 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. “NO, DON’T-” 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. “Come in.” 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.
  2. Winter Blues

  3. Sci-fi makes for poor reading!

    Thank you for sparking this discussion. The article poses thought-provoking questions on readers' thoughts when reading sc-fi. And it makes sense! If the reader is focused on the world the author is creating, they're missing out the on the "internal" world of the characters involved (thoughts and motives etc.). Two sc-fi author that comes to mind is Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin. While they're both intentional about creating these well-developed settings, the characters they create and how they interact with each other is arguably one of their greatest strengths and are prominent themes in their work. To ignore these would make you lose out on in so much that is packed in their stories. For other sci-fi authors, this could be somewhat discouraging.
  4. Stripes

    I'm particularly moved by "Stripes" and the desire for freedom that is introduced at the end, creating an entirely new perspective on the poem. You're good at these unexpected turns and detours you take the reader on :P. Wednesday was written well, and you are good at immersing the reader in your story. I'm fond of the way you ended in this one as well, universes without bend and ocean without chart. Pretty and heavy :).
  5. The first line of the poem is striking. You immediately grab the readers attention from that line alone. Your first and second stanzas are written in a way we all could relate. We not only do we get a glimpse of your story and your thoughts at the time, but we can put ourselves in your shoes and reminisce about our own first time, the feelings that came about from it, and the role of curiosity and research during those years. Eloquently done. The third and fourth stanza was heartbreaking, but I think it did well to showcase the real anxiety and exposure you felt from that moment. The fifth and sixth stanza were placed perfectly. I loved the way you described that moment in the fifth stanza and the space imagery you used was a beautiful touch to it. The last stanza was an excellent ending and I feel brings it all to completion.
  6. a winter's tale

    The wording in Sonnet 76 was evocative. Your description of the individual is powerful and I liked your use of heat and touch. Sonnet 75. This line: And what links us can sorrow overthrow. Beautiful. I appreciate how the both of you find resilience and strength being with one another. Thank you for these AC :D! - Bryant
  7. Basualdo

    Thank you for sharing this piece with us. This took a great deal of courage.
  8. Chapter 3: Conspiracy

    Thank you so much, NOSkis :D!! This novel has been so much fun to create and I'm ecstatic to hear that you and others are enjoying it as well. It's a tough story to write and I was afraid that I may be moving a little slow with updates. It's good to hear that's not the case haha. Hopefully, I'll finish writing the next chapter soon. Thank you for reading! - Bryant
  9. Goodbye Daddy

    Passionate, yet tragic. No one should be on the receiving end of that kind of vitriol from a parent, especially not you. You're a beautiful and talented soul bud, and no one can take that away from you. Bryant
  10. Write "She's Gay" on My Headstone

    Lydia, you get *snaps*. I wanted to *snap* to each stanza. You told your truth, and you did so unapologetically and directly. Your fierceness is noted .
  11. VI. The river's son

    You combined your dialogue, action, and description well in this chapter. AND this was an exciting part of the story :P. Good job, sir .
  12. Chapter 3: Conspiracy

    Thank you jp! And you'll soon find out ;).
  13. 8 days before... I held Barken tight that night. Something told me that scent I detected near our home didn’t belong to anyone from around here. My mind wouldn’t sleep. My dagger was close by, an easy reach in case something dared to come near. The wind created a draft in our home. Every sound put me on edge. Eventually, my body would allow me to sleep. At dawn, I wandered around the outskirts of Orion admiring the dark teal horizon that was only beginning to see the sun. The dry steppe that surrounds our land is far reaching with cedar brown barren fields and spots of olive green bush that go on forever. Winds were calmer this morning. The air smelled fresh. Birds with wide, expansive wings soared like the sky was theirs, preying on critters burrowing into the dirt. As I prowled the grounds, I found my own prey. It was a miraculous beast. Its black fur stood out against the bare backdrop, traveling aimlessly. The beast’s thick legs held up it’s wide, expansive torso. Two bone colored horns stuck out its elongated head. I had a great urge to witness its strength. I whistled to the air. It took notice of my call. Its hooves dug into the dirt, ready to charge over. And when it took off, the beast shot at me like a cannon, a whirlwind of dirt in its path. I closed my eyes. Hearing, sense of smell, and taste were magnified. My aura became more pronounced, manifesting in black flames that outlined my body. My eyes opened. My sight, in particular, had become more focused. The beast closed in. I swiftly dodged to the side, it flying past me and nearly knocking me to the floor. Stopping was no issue for it as it slowed to a halt. The beast became engulfed by the column of dust and dirt that it kicked up. I braced for it to come once more. Breaking through the dust, the beast rushed through with its horns pointed in my direction. I stood my ground. I grabbed ahold of the horns as it attempted to skewer me. Its nostrils on the other end of its long stout flared. Its large black eye conveyed one single thought at that moment: To kill. A strong opponent, it attempted to wrestle away from my grip, jerking me in different directions. The beast let itself loose and lunged forward, lancing me in my side. I felt a sharp pain on the right side of my belly. Touching the wound, I noticed blood trickling down. The beast gave me no time to recover as it charged at me again. I dodged and swiftly grabbed the daggers in my cloth. When it’s horns came to strike me again, my daggers collided with them. The handles, designed as tightly coiled black vines, made for an easy grip. It’s wide blades glimmered, emblazoned by my aura. I shoved the beast back, pushing it on its hind legs. It was taken off guard by my strength, it’s two front legs dangling in the air. I jumped up, daggers aimed forward, pointing them towards the beast’s chest. My feet pressed hard into the beast’s belly in an attempt to push it on it’s back, then I shoved my daggers into the beast’s chest. It fell backward to the ground, a heap of dust brushed up after it’s fall. The beast’s limbs went limp. I pulled my daggers out, using the dirt to wipe them. I shoved them back into my cloth, grabbed the beast by its legs, and headed home. Barken was pleased by my catch. The beast’s size provided a meal for us and plenty to share with the others. He was taken aback by the laceration I had on my side. He always said I played too much with my food. He invited Sapphire and Cosmo over to share the meal with us. Sapphire brought nasturtium to eat and calendula for my wound. “It’s huge!” exclaimed Cosmo, marveling at my catch. “Diego, you must train me to conquer these kinds of beasts.” Barken treated and bandaged me up before we had our meal on the floor. “Diego,” said Sapphire, “You spoil Barken too much. Your eyes must’ve been much bigger than your stomach going after something like this!” Barken said, “I told him he should bring it to the market today.” Sapphire sighed. “Do you still plan on going?” “Why wouldn’t I? I never miss the exchange. Nor do you. Something worrying you?” Sapphire started playing with her hair. Cosmo began eating more feverishly like he hadn’t eaten for days. “...Cosmo’s been picking up foreign scents all morning. Possibly outsiders. I don’t feel safe having him wandering around with all the goings-on.” My ears perked up. Dropping the bone he was gnawing on, Cosmo said, “Mother, I don’t want to spend all day trapped inside! I want to go to the market!” Sapphire regarded Cosmo with a stern look. “I’m not letting you out there. It’s best we keep a low profile, at least for the time being…” “What did you smell?” Barken asked. Cosmo directed his attention away from his mother. “I don’t know. It was acrid, a foul stench.” “Sour?” I interrupted. Barken’s eyebrow lifted. “Yes,” he said. “Almost acidic. I doubt it’s anything. Probably came from these scum guards prowling around...” Hmm, Cosmo noticed it too. Deko’s presence couldn’t be more apparent. Even before dawn as I was headed out to hunt, guards were wandering around Orion. What would guards be doing snooping around Barken and I’s home? Cosmo was holding back, he knew something more. I’d press him, but I doubt Sapphire would appreciate me evoking his curiosity. “It’s precisely why I’m keeping this one close,” said Sapphire, her arm over Cosmo. He frowned as he continued eating. “It’s understandable why you’re concerned,” said Barken. “No need to keep Cosmo stuffed indoors. With everyone’s eyes wide open, we can watch out for each other.” I tore off a large piece of meat before saying, “Keep him near me.” “WHAT?” Sapphire exclaimed. “After one of them almost killed you yesterday?! You’re ill-tempered, and there’s no telling where your mouth will get you if those guards push you too hard.” “Diego has always kept Cosmo out of harm’s way,” argued Barken. “You can trust him. Diego would give up his life before anything happens to your son.” Sapphire nodded. “That’s what I fear…” she said, trailing off. Barken edged closer to Sapphire as though he didn’t catch everything she murmured. I heard her quite clearly. That’s what I fear, watching another one of us die. Festivity was in the air. Warriors put on display their selection of beasts, comparing the rewards of their hunt and showing off their prowess. If openly carrying weapons wasn’t a criminal offense, I’d imagine these women and men holding their axes, javelins, and swords alongside them, putting on demonstrations of their physical strength. Elementalists had their veggies and fruits along with spices and herbs, creating potent scents that flourished through the corridor. Sapphire brought her snapdragons, dill, and chicory, their vibrant petals creating rainbows. The children who came to see her flowers were given honeysuckles to taste as they bounced around from stand to stand. Barken and Ramon held hands with the people, offering them counsel and guidance as well as blessing their goods. Cosmo helped me handle my captured beast, bringing its voluptuous body to one of the stands. Villagers passed by, admiring its size. While I stood near the front with my back turned, I felt a body shove into me hard. I spun around quickly, ready to charge. “Nice catch, big dog.” I was happy to see it was Zuri, another warrior who did labor at the same post as myself. Her large hand held my shoulder tight. She was mauve skinned with two boysenberry colored braids that came down her chest. She wore a short sleeve white shirt that cut off before her belly button, and a long, bumblebee yellow skirt. It was unlike her to wear something with frills. “Where’s your catch?” I asked, moreso to compare and gloat. “I have my other managing our stand while I greeted everyone. Nice to be away from the mines and among our people.” Zuri’s lover was a clairsentient named Bebe whom Barken knew well. As small as Orion is, it’s hard not to know who everyone is. “Speaking of others, where is yours? Usually, you keep him close.” I noted Barken across the way, speaking with Bebe. “I’m looking out for him. I’m keeping watch of the little one at the moment.” Cosmo was bartering animatedly with another villager. The villager carried a sack of what appeared to be produce over her shoulder. Zuri smiled at the sight, then noticeably frowned. Villagers were spreading out at the end of the market, replaced by tall figures that forced themselves in the crowd. “Watch him closely. The guards are among us.” Zuri said this before walking off in their direction. The villager bartering with Cosmo had been concluding their transaction when I came towards them. “I tried convincing a friend that I caught the beast with you and they accused me of being a liar,” said Cosmo, handing the villager a portion of my catch. “Do they think I’m inept? I’m tired of this doubting of my abilities!” “I’ll bring you on my next hunt. We’ll find something to show off to your friends.” Cosmo seemed satisfied with this. Barken made his way through the corridor with Ramon no longer at his side. Zuri had joined Bebe at their stand, interacting with the other villagers. Sapphire seemed to have a change in spirit, downplaying her magical abilities as she interacted with customers. One of her eyes was trained on the guards that moved deeper into the crowd. Even I found myself getting tense. “Want to go around a bit?” asked Barken finally reaching us. “I’ll keep watch over your stand. Cosmo and you can go play.” Cosmo ears perked up as he moved away from the stand. “... Okay. I’ll return to relieve you.” The sun was high. A ferocious heat settled in on us. I play wrestled with Cosmo, relieving my angst as well as his. The marketplace doubled in size as time passed us. The clairsentients were regrouping. Elementalists retreated home to replenish any materials they ran out of. This free time was much needed, being able to enjoy myself and not be under Deko’s thumb. I cared less about the guards’ presence. “I have to take you down at least once,” said Cosmo. “We can’t be done until then. It’s the only way!” As we grappled, I observed my stand again to check on Barken, who was speaking with another villager. The man seemed to be giving him a hard time. “You have good discipline,” I said. “This will help you in the long run.” We had a hold of each other’s arms, trying to pull one another to the ground. I used my leg to trip up Cosmo, who fell on his back. “No fair!” As I lifted him up, I checked back again at the stand to find Barken missing from it. A good amount of my beast was still unclaimed. I played with Cosmo some more. He was growing stronger. While it was customary for a child to receive training from a parent, Cosmo would receive training from me. As close-knit as we are on Orion, descendants are never without any form of direction as there is always a warrior, elementalist, or clairsentient that could cultivate the child’s inherited abilities. Sapphire and Barken’s relationship made way for me to step in as his mentor. After grappling with Cosmo some more, I noticed Barken still hadn’t appeared. “Barken knows not to leave the beast unattended. Let’s take a break, Cosmo.” The heat had us both sweating profusely, breathing hard, sticking out our tongues and catching the drops of sweat that fell down our faces. At my stand, Sapphire showed up with her acquired goods. “We’ll be having a wonderful feast tonight, little man,” said Sapphire proudly. “Plenty of beast and veggies for you.” Her attention went to me. “I lost track of Barken. Have you two seen him?” “I was going to ask you the same,” I said. “I’m going to try finding him. Can you wait here?” “Of course.” I separated from Sapphire and Cosmo, attempting to find a less congregated area. The mix of scents and noises were distracting, rendering me incapable of using my senses to their fullest extent. When I found a secluded space, my nose lifted itself in the air. Surely I’d pick up on Barken’s scent. I sucked in the air like a vacuum, frantically moving around to different spots as if it would make a difference. Barken’s scent was always within Orion; I was always able to track him. My inability to do so infuriated me. I returned to the marketplace. Cosmo and Sapphire were parsing out their goods in the back of the stand. When Sapphire noticed me, her face grew pale. “...You couldn’t find him.” was all she said. Cosmo’s eyes darted between Sapphire and myself. He picked up on our worry. “He was just here. No guard came near him, I saw for myself. What could’ve happened?” “I haven’t checked in with the others. Let me see if I hear anything.” I didn’t gather much info. Bebe noted she hadn’t seen Barken since they last spoke with each other at Zuri’s stand. Zuri hadn’t been paying attention to notice Barken having gone missing. “I’ll come with you.” Nothing unusual was noted by the testimonies of the villagers that were near him. Zuri was having a hard time keeping up with me as I barely gave anyone time for small talk. We ventured outward. When I found Ramon, he expressed his concern as well. Barken was supposed to meet him here at this time. This was worrisome. During our discussion, he mentioned seeing a villager talking to Barken. I concluded that would’ve been the last person to see him before he disappeared. “The man seemed very distressed,” said Ramon. He caressed his chin while staring upward. “He started tugging on Barken’s arm, that much I remember. I turned away for a short moment only to find the two gone, leaving behind the remains of a beast with black fur.” “Who was this man?” Zuri asked. “It’s hard for me to say. I know I got a good view of him. For some reason though, I couldn’t identify who he was.” “Hmm...” “I know it may not seem possible, however, I could’ve sworn I never seen that man before. His posture, the way he approached Barken... It was quite strange.” Zuri cocked her head, trying to make sense of Ramon. The mere thought of the statement left me unsure of his genuity. I wondered if the old man might’ve spent too much time in the sun. “There are no outsiders in Orion,” I said. “What you say couldn’t be true.” “I’m quite aware that what I say doesn’t seem right. But I meant what I said. That man could not be from here.” “Would you be able to identify him again?” Zuri asked. “I can try… I know if I saw him again, I could find him.” We were wasting time. I was tired of entertaining this wild goose chase. Then again, what choice did I have? I was no more capable of finding Barken than anybody else. The sun was no longer on top of the sky. Evening was nearing... We reappeared on the market grounds. Stands were beginning to close. The crowd was thinning out, followed by an unsettling emptiness. Sapphire was burning sage as she paced around the space with Bebe at her side. Cosmo squinted at his mother, sneezing and scrunching up his nose whenever the smoke blew his way. He gave the impression of keeping his distance from the two. Zuri, Ramon, and I interrupted their stroll. “Any sign of him?” asked Bebe. “No,” I said. “Our Elder claims to have seen a man with Barken sometime before he disappeared.” “Are we sure this has nothing to do with the Deko Guards?” Zuri inquired. “I’m sure of it,” said Sapphire, waving around her sage. “The guards’ never left my sight. If one of them accosted Barken, I would’ve surely been witness to it.” “Then all we have is Ramon’s word,” I said, unable to hide my lack of confidence. “We’re still investigating. I’ll do my best to inform you if something comes up.” Sapphire frowned. She separated herself from the group and returned her focus to cleansing the area. She spoke low, praying for Barken’s return. I told Bebe what Ramon had seen. Ramon seemed occupied scrutinizing the dwindling crowd among us. “If what Ramon says is true,” said Bebe, “Either someone in Orion is not who they claim to be, or one of our own is responsible for our friend’s disappearance.” “You believe him?” asked Zuri. Bebe glared at her. Zuri nodded. “You know that’s not what I mean. Do you believe an outsider is among us?” “...I’ve never had a reason to disbelieve Ramon, and I certainly don’t now.” “I think that’s him!” Ramon interrupted excitedly. I scanned the area. A wide-eyed villager seemed to be watching us from the distance, moving away swiftly when he noticed me. “The man with skin like mine and orange irises?” I asked. “Yes! It's most definitely him!” And before Ramon could finish, I ran towards him. The spooked man seemed to think he’d be able to escape from me. He pushed in between a couple, ran into a stand, and started exiting the market grounds. He was no warrior. I caught up to him quick. I grabbed him by his arm and he gasped. He tried to yank his arm away like he didn’t care if it ripped off. Ramon’s assertion was correct, this man did not live here. “Who are you?” I demanded. “Where do you come from?” The man kept breathing hard. His eyeballs rapidly moved around while making intelligible words. “Have you seen a clairsentient with umber skin? Copper bracelets? Green loincloth?” The man stopped struggling. He began shaking as I held him. I unleashed his arm and made him face me. “Dammit, you answer me or I’ll-” The man didn’t even look me in my face. I tried pinpointing the end of his stare. His attention was directed at the three guards. I bore down on him. “You gape at them like you expect them to save you. I’ll let you go if you tell me what I need to know.” Tears formed in his eyes. “I don’t mean to deceive you, my brother.” Brother? I loosened my grip on him. Zuri came up slowly behind us. What was that smell… The sour stench? He said, “I was only doing what I was told, I-” “Told?! What were you told? By whom?” The man started sobbing. He kept directing his attention to the guards. I had all the evidence I needed. Releasing him, I marched through the market towards the trio of bumbling overseers. I was in luck, there wasn’t a crowd. A hand grabbed my shoulder hard. “What do you think you’re doing?” Zuri asked, trying to hold me back. “Getting clarification.” We were closing the distance on them. Sapphire was still praying when she noticed what direction I was moving. She froze. Cosmo came to speak to her, but realizing he wasn’t being paid attention to, observed where his mother’s attention lied. He stepped towards my direction before being jerked back. When Bebe discovered me, she had a horrified expression. She pointed Ramon to my direction and the two rushed toward me. “Hey!” I screamed. The guards lifted their heads, staring dumbly at me. Zuri yanked me hard enough so I wouldn’t make contact with the three. “Got something to say, mutt?” a male guard said, gripping his scepter with his two hands. Zuri kept holding me back, her arm encircling my torso. “Diego, don’t-” “You all have communication with each other, don’t you? Tell me where Barken is.” The guards looked among one another. He said, “Who the hell is-” “HOUSE THREE! BARKEN FROM HOUSE THREE! TELL ME WHERE HE IS!” My scream echoed through the vicinity. I was seeing red. Bebe and Ramon were on the sidelines and I couldn’t get out of Zuri’s hold. “You have mouths. Open them!” “Diego, stand down,” pleaded Ramon. “You think you can demand anything from us?” A female guard said. “He must be stupider than he appears.” I spat, “Tell me that without the fucking scepter in your hand.” Bebe called out to me. “Diego, no!” “GIVE ME BACK, BARKEN!” And without warning, a scepter swung at us. Zuri pushed me hard, catapulting me into the air. I thought I heard bones breaking. My back crashed into the ground, scraping against the dirt. Bebe screamed. I lifted myself up to find her running north. Sapphire held Cosmo. Cosmo’s eyes were wide. Zuri was lying on the ground, her body was twisted unnaturally as she laid there. A braid swayed in the wind. Heads were going to roll. I used my arms to jump to my feet and sprinted the guards way. They watched me coming. I was ready to pull out my daggers when a guard called out, “Get your hands away from her!” I halted. I found Bebe who was crouched at Zuri’s side, her palms glowing as they hovered above Zuri. The female guard briskly moved towards the two. “You know the law, Ida Dynasty whore.” “Fuck you!” screamed Bebe as her palms moved closer to Zuri. “Don’t, Bebe!” Ramon called for her. Bebe’s eyes glittered with tears. “Ramon!” “You know the consequences. We can’t lose you.” Bebe’s fists hit the ground. Distraction. I charged at the two male guards, my fists itching to break into their faces. “DIEGO!” Ramon yelled at me. I jumped in the air, my fists held back. The guard I targeted swung his scepter at me. I dodged it, jumping onto it and about to break his neck before he said, “Touch me, and he dies.” I froze. A leg came to my face and struck me hard, neck twisting. I flung wildly towards Bebe and Zuri. My body skidded on the ground, my shoulder and head grinding against the dirt. I was wracked with pain, I could barely move. Ramon ran to my side. “Gentle, my child, gentle.” One hand held my head, the other cradling my stomach as he lifted my torso up. The guard I nearly attacked was sniggering while the female guard re-joined the other two, smirking superiorly. Sapphire and Bebe assisted in bringing Zuri out of harm’s way. Cosmo was standing away from the scene, lips trembling. A small crowd of descendants surrounded the scene. They stood idly by. I heard a ship above us. It hovered in the air, it’s wide, dark lavender shape blocking out the sky. We all watched it. A door beneath the ship opened up. Something was pushed out that I couldn’t identify. Seeing its arms swaying, I realized it was a descendant. And when I saw it more closely- “Barken!” Ramon appeared shocked to life. “What was that-” I tried standing but fell back down. “It’s Barken! Barken’s falling! Someone catch him, please!” “I got him.” A male warrior came onto the scene, separating himself from the crowd. Barken kept tumbling to Earth. My heart stopped. The male warrior watched him fall, going to the spot he expected him to land. Barken landed right in his arms. His head fell back, arms dangling. Those guards had a death wish. Expecting to find them still in the same spot, ogling us like vermin, the three had disappeared. The large ship above us started taking off. And the three guards flew into the opened door they flung Barken out of. Then it occurred to me. Vigorously I started scanning the area around us, seeing if he was still present. The outsider, he was the one with the sour smell! What was he doing around our home? What is his relationship with the Deko guards? It didn’t seem I’d get any answers today: He had vanished as well. “Barken!” It was Sapphire I heard. Ramon helped lift me up as she ran towards him. The crowd seemed to be holding their breaths. Please, Ida, don’t let him be… “He’s alive,” said the male warrior. My hand grabbed for my chest and I breathed a sigh of relief. Barken’s okay, at least physically. The small crowd approached the male warrior. Ramon put my arm around him and helped me move closer. “He’s exhausted but unharmed,” said a voice. “My son and I can take him home,” said Sapphire, her voice trembling. She called out, “Cosmo, come here son.” When we reached the edge of the gathering, Ramon announced, “Please, make way.” They created an opening for us. Ramon brought me to Barken. Sapphire stared sadly at him, her hands caressing his face. I scrutinized that same face, his lips, his nose, motionless though I heard him breathing. He lied in the warrior’s arms as if he was sleeping. “Zuri will be okay.” Sapphire was speaking to me. “Bebe was given assistance taking her home. They’ll be alright.” I nodded to her. “Thank you.” Darkness fell over Orion as night time come. The quiescence created a modicum of peace. A villager handed Sapphire her sack of goods before we left home, with Ramon still holding me up, and Cosmo carrying Barken. The remaining clairsentients calmed the crowd, immersing themselves in song, singing in response to Barken’s safe return. In the end, I couldn’t get the damn faces of those guards out of my head. I could’ve killed them. I could’ve killed them all!
  14. Chapter 2

    I liked the flow of this piece and the way you describe the sub's relationship to the dom. Nicely done :)!
  15. I Was an Empire

    I'm already picturing this piece as if it was being told orally. The rhythm, the metaphors. I'm in love with the images you created for us. An engaging and powerful piece. Thank you for sharing, Lydia :D!

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