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793 I Make This Look Easy


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  1. BDANR

    Chapter 5: Escape Part 2

    Thank you for your words, jp ! I'm glad to know my descriptions and characters have been engaging and interesting thus far ^_^!!
  2. I made sure the old man led the way as he brought us to his cellar, smelling of metal and rust. Diamond and water stones laid on a cutting board that stood at the center of the floor next to a grinding machine. Flickers of light came from openings on the edges of the ceiling. Weaponry, mostly worn and damaged, were stuffed in the corner. A makeshift bed covered entirely by beast fur was stored in the back. “It isn’t much,” he said, “we have very few visitors.” I was too distracted by the mustiness in the air to care for excuses. Barken entered with wandering eyes nodding patiently to the old man, trying to put him at ease as though he needed the reassurance. “Feel free to join us upstairs when you’re ready. I’ll let you two get settled.” Rosco left the room. I pressed my ear to the door, waiting for the sound of his footsteps to fade. I moved close to Barken. “What the hell are we doing?” I said. He turned away. “It’s not like we have a lot of options. Rosco seems genuine, and we’re only staying for one night.” “One night is all it takes for these men to expose us! Why did you tell them we were fugitives in the first place?” “I assumed it wouldn't be an issue! We have no one else to depend on.” I sighed. I went through my packs, checking out my belongings. “What are you doing? “We’re going.” Marching towards the door, I turned back to find Barken still in the same position, staring at the floor. “What are you waiting for?” “There isn’t anywhere for us to go. These could be the only allies we have and you’re asking me to walk out on them? I know it’s your instinct to be cautious, but it’s mine to give trust, and I trust them.” I growled. “Why are you so bent on believing Rosco’s word without question?” “Because I’m scared!” He managed to make me at a loss for words. His eyes glistened. “I can’t make you trust Rosco, but I don’t believe he’s our enemy. He didn’t have to tell me that clairsentients were hunted down here. He didn’t have to stop Gage from revealing us to the neku. If he wanted to, Rosco could’ve turned us in himself before bringing us to his home, introducing us to his granddaughter and son. Does this sound like a traitor to you?” I scoffed. “Give them a chance, please. We’ll only stay for the day and I swear, if you still don’t feel right about it, I’ll leave with you.” “...You won’t fight me on it? If I tell you we need to go, will you come with me?” He hesitated, then nodded. His hand massaged his head as he begin checking out the room. I shook mine in disbelief. Did Barken learn nothing from his attack?! His devotion to our own was powerful, but at times, naive. I had the urge to shake some sense into him. And just when I thought I couldn’t let the subject go, ready to provoke another fight to convince him to leave, I saw the tiredness in my love’s golden eyes. The little girl ventured off elsewhere as Barken and I joined Rosco and the sorry waste of space that was Gage. His eyes, left eyebrow pierced in addition to his septum and the several rings on the edge his ears, threw daggers at us as we ate his beast. I’d wipe that scowl off his face if his father hadn’t been present. The meal was largely eaten in silence. Barken practically ate scraps. “You should eat more,” I said. “I need you to have your energy.” “I’m not hungry.” “Your partner is right,” said Rosco. “Best to eat as much as you can. You don’t know when your next meal will be, where you’re going.” Barken sighed, nibbling some more. Gage’s eyes never turned away from us. “You boys are from Orion, right? What’s it like?” Barken and I exchanged confuddled looks. I didn’t see how he expected us to describe a place we could never leave, not with roll call every night. And what do we compare it to, Tygrus? “Orion,” Barken begin, “I’m sure isn’t much different from anywhere else controlled by Deko. Guards are always around, and many of us are subjected to work camps, like Diego. Openly carrying weapons as well as the use of magic are forbidden.” Rosco and Gage looked to one another. “Illegal to carry weaponry and perform magic?” Rosco asked as though something sour was on his tongue. “That’s preposterous! Our weapons and abilities are our birthrights. You all must’ve been driven wild, forced to subdue yourselves in such a way.” I said, “You’re saying I could be sparring with you one of you with the two daggers in my pack and we wouldn’t be arrested?!” “Hell, we’d all be imprisoned if that were the law.” According to the ones who taught us, being deprived of using our weapons in public kept us from committing violence toward one another, like wild beasts. Being in Tygrus, you get an idea what they’ve been trying to prevent, seeing so much damage from axes and swords on the doors and walls to homes. You’d assume it was the responsibility of the neku, but it was all the doing of the descendants, fighting amongst each other. “What you both running from, anyway?” asked Gage. I rose an eyebrow. “Are you concerned?” He sneered. “I’m concerned for my pa and my little girl. I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you-” “Gage,” Rosco said his name sternly. “We don’t know them! We don’t know what they’re capable of!” He pushed away his food in disgust. Rosco squeezed his eyes and sighed. “You’re being difficult. If Oneida or myself end up on the run, Ida forbid, would you not want someone to help us? We have to work together. Descendants divided allows Deko to win.” “Work together? Does our brethren watch our back? Protect us? No, they come for our blood, pa, and I’m tired of you endangering us trying to help these men who would have no qualms slitting our throats in our sleep. They’re not worth fighting for, nothing’s worth fighting for. We have dug our own graves, and your bleeding heart only slashes the time we have above ground.” “Gage!” He threw his hands up in frustration. I noted his way too-slender arms. He could be broken like a twig. Barken seemed to tense and I lost my damn appetite. “You’re some piece of work,” I said. The three of them turned their attention to me. Gage’s face contorted. “Diego,” Barken said my name low, trying to stop a fight before it started. I should have apologized in advance, but I’d say he needed to be taken down a notch. “What does that mean?” Gage said. “You slit your own throat when you say there’s nothing worth fighting for. Were you not born to be a warrior?” Gage rose up and postured. “Don’t insult me! You’ve been here for less than a day and you think you know what it’s like? You’ll both get yourself killed.” “...Then why don’t you show him around, Gage,” said Rosco, voice even. He was composed, showed no sign of upset like I was given permission to speak out of line toward his son. Gage’s ears fluttered. “If you feel he’s in over his head, prove it.” Gage bore down on me with this disgusted look, like I was some ball and chain wrapped around his ankle. He doubted my abilities, thought I would be in his way. Good, I wanted to show him I could handle myself better here than he could. He was mistaken to misjudge the Wolf of Orion. The arid air was distinct from Orion. Though it was warmer than usual, the heat didn’t smother, but instead, felt light, like mist. The dry ground cracked and crumbled with every step, giving into the soles of our feet. Plants shaped like spheres and ovals with varying hues of olive, sage, and mint grew throughout. They had needle-like outer skin, painful to touch, sometimes growing ruby red and magenta flowers on their tips. Reptiles slithered and hissed on the ground, crows cried to the sky. There was little interaction among anyone. The few small groups comprised entirely of elementalists who spoke in whispers. Every warrior I saw stood alone. Children were in distinctly large groups and Oneida seemed to gravitate to one, participating in their games. Deko’s guards weren’t present. I was observed by the villagers, analyzed. They smelled my foreignness before looking me in the face, some shoved me wordlessly. One warrior in particular bumped me hard enough in the shoulder to knock me to the side. “Watch where you’re going!” I told one off. “Look ahead, and stop staring,” Gage said to me. He was beside me, head leaned forward, sweeping through with fervor as others made way for him. “They sense you’re on edge. It’s your attitude. They mess with you to test you, it is our way.” I was given instruction like some helpless child. When he turned to me, he gave a cocky smile. My blood boiled. “Where are you taking me?” I asked. Gage took a while to reply. His attention was on the sky. “My father asked me to show you what our home is like. I’m doing just that.” A flower shop came into view that looked to have been deserted for years. At its doorway, I saw a woman with drab garbs and bare feet pacing near the entrance. Her eyes kept turning to the doorway as if anticipating it would swing open, the building would come anew, and the owner would welcome her in with open arms. In contrast, a woman with a blood orange full-length dress and matching headband, the beacon of light in this dingy scene, walked alongside the pacer, holding her child’s hand firmly. The two eyed the woman cautiously, as though she would attack them unprovoked. Children with dried up dirt traveling up their legs and arms roamed aimlessly throughout, their clothing falling off their bone-thin bodies. One child appeared to be requesting something from an adult using an empty metal canister. “Please, you have anything, sir?” he asked. The adult man shrugged and the boy walked away, defeated. He seemed used to disappointment. “How are their children begging on the street?” I asked. “No one in Orion is without food or shelter, we aid those who are without. Elementalists are all around them, anyone could feed them!” “How lucky are we,” Gage said, “to have you around to solve our issues.” The sarcasm that dripped from his tone grated my earlobes. “These children, men, and women you see are what we call the dispensables.” More of these men and women with scraps for clothing appeared around us. The tone of their skins were sickly, their unattended wounds festering. “There are many stories about these people, robbing and killing the ones that shelter and feed them. Some could be true, most fiction. Citizens fear them, but they're the least of their worries. Portions of Tygrus are overrun by thugs pushing their weight around and terrorizing the populace.” “Thugs?” Gage nodded. “No one, not even the neku, addresses them. You see the deserted children? These thugs are the only ones who care for them, offering them food and a place to sleep so long as they work under them. Providing for these children is interpreted as disrespect, so others try to limit their interactions with them. Believe it or not, desperation doesn’t always produce unity among the oppressed. ‘Descendants working together against Deko.’ Tell me brother, would you seek to liberate these foul beings?” The edge in Gage’s voice came out clearly amidst the cacophony of sounds around us. Arguments between citizens, the metal sounds coming from the weaponry they carried, dragging feet. This place was a wasteland. “Off with you, disgusting child.” We heard the commotion as we came forward. An adult woman was speaking roughly to a child, then kicked her away. I felt my hands fidget, angered by the injustice. I flounced towards them, only to have Gage grab me by shoulder. “This is one of those times when you ought to look the other way.” My eyes narrowed. I could’ve beat him down right then and there. Did he not care or was it cowardice? I removed his hand from me and kept on. The young girl wiped herself off on the ground, her face looking rough. I called to the woman, “What the hell is wrong with you? How could you strike a child, what has she done to you?” “Mind your own,” she countered, shooing me away and turning her back. I jerked her around to face me again. She stared in wonder, shocked by my gall. “Just because she is a child doesn’t give you the right to treat her as you please.” “G-get away from me!” Gage was at my back. “You’ll attract attention. Let the woman go.” “Hell I will!” I twisted my head to face him. “You can sit here and watch these people disregard these children, treating them like trash. But I won’t, someone must defend them.” A few descendants witnessed our tiff. They didn’t interfere as they slowly came out of the woodwork becoming spectators. The sadistic oafs among them showed something truly sickening: the thrill of a potential fight. “Did you ignore what I told you earlier? These people can’t intervene-” “Who’re you?” The soft voice came from not too far. Everyone and everything hushed. A woman, joined by a group of other descendants, walked themselves towards us. She had a spear in hand, bald with lime green skin and a two-piece brown armor suit that covered her chest and lower torso. “You’ve done it now,” said Gage. “That woman is Aries, someone you don’t want to cross around these parts.” “Is she one of those thugs you were mentioning?” “Yes, one of the ‘heads.’” Aries said, “Didn’t you hear me?” “I heard you,” I said, facing her. “My name is Diego.” The woman nodded. “You’re not from here, are you?” The others at her side didn’t have their weapons confined to sheaths or their backs, but had them gripped in their hands. I separated myself from Gage and the vile woman I had accosted who melded into the background. Another child aided the little girl who was kicked to the floor. “My goal wasn’t to quarrel with any of you. I address unjustness when I see it.” “Cocky bastard,” said one of Aries’ crew. Aries rose her hand. The crewmember quieted instantly. She removed herself from them, her eyes unwavering as she looked at me. “I commend you for your ‘heroics,’ said Aries. “I hope it was worth your life.” Aries held her spear in both of her hands, weighing it in her palms. She shifted the spear in one arm, then hurled it my way with rapid-fire speed. I moved quickly out of its direction as it pierced into the house behind me. While moving away, my feet slipped on the ground. Water conjured up beneath me, bringing me down on my back and into the puddle. Two warriors rushed over, one with an ax, the other with a sword. My hands felt the water around me. When they reached close, I threw the water toward the axe-wielder, making her stop suddenly while the swordsman charged forward. I pulled out my daggers, recalling immediately that weapon use wasn’t against the law here, and used both to block the sword from coming down on me. “Why do you intervene, Diego?” Aries asked, careless of the fact that I was doing battle with her thugs and was hardly able to focus on her. Her voice had come from the house. I heard metal being yanked, my assumption being that she was retrieving her spear. “Do you plan to feed these children? House them? We’re the best things to happen these ingrates, the only ones keeping them from dying on the streets.” I used my strength to push against the swordsman, lifting myself from the puddle. I thrust hard against him, pushing him to the floor, then the axewoman kicked me back into the puddle. “What alternative do you suggest? Are you in disagreement with our ways? “YES!” I spit out the puddle water that went in my mouth. “They don’t deserve to be treated like trash, regardless of what you do for them. No, I don’t have an alternative, but they sure as hell deserve better than being kicked around asking for food.” The axewoman stood above me and brought down her weapon. I rolled away from the attack and kicked her down to her feet, her axe falling from her hand. I pulled myself up hurriedly, kicking the axe away from her grasp. The swordsman reappeared, swinging his blade horizontally. I jumped back, dodging his wide-reaching swings by inches until one cut grazed against my chest. Gage grunted like he felt my pain for me. The swordsman thrust his weapon at my chest, and I deflected it with my dagger and elbowed his belly. He dropped his sword, then I kneed him in the head. He dropped to the ground motionless. A red-orange glow overcast the scene. My back was burning. Gage screamed, “Watch out!” I turned. A boulder flew towards me, a trail of fire behind it. Fire wrapped around its surface, transforming into a makeshift sun ready to crash into me. I couldn’t see the elementalists who summoned the fireball. I dove to the ground, the smoldering boulder hurling above me. It’s scalding heat seared my back. The boulder made an impact on the home behind me, lighting the entrance on fire. “NO!!!!” The woman who kicked the young girl screamed. The blaze took no time to devour nearly half the house. “YOU’RE DESTROYING MY HOME! PLEASE STOP THIS!” Aries and her crew did nothing, felt nothing. The inferno’s glow reflected in their eyes and you wondered if they were the spawns of Satan himself. I pulled myself up. “You do no one any favors when you take advantage of them for what they lack. You might as well all be under Deko.” A punch collided with the side of my face. It’s brass knuckles stung. I was thrown to the floor again, blood coming from my lips. My hand cradled my jaw, making sure it didn’t dislocate. Above me, the brawler threw another punch. Suddenly, his arm was grabbed. The brawler looked behind him to find Gage. “What are you doing?” he grunted. Gage looked him in the eyes, boldly. “Putting a stop to this.” The boy ceased his attack and backed away a few steps from us. “Are you intervening?” asked Aries, a threatening edge in her tone. “You are Gage, are you not?” “...I am,” he said. Whispers commenced among the onlookers, observing him. “I ask you to excuse this man for his intervening. He doesn’t know our ways, and acted stupidly in defense of the child.” “Stupidly?” I spoke in anger. “I didn’t-” “His indiscretion is my responsibility. Pardon him for his trespass.” The little girl and a few of the children were huddled together in silence, watching us closely. Aries crew looked to her. I heard the woman whose house was burning sobbing in the background, while the onlookers talked amongst themselves. I was shocked to notice the guards had yet to show up. Gage stood calmly facing the thugs. He wasn’t in a defensive posture, wasn’t even remotely guarded in preparation for an unexpected attack that surely could’ve maimed him. It was like he knew they wouldn’t harm him. Aries said to Gage. “Take him out of our sight.” Gage went to me and yanked me up from the ground. “Let’s go,” he said. It didn't feel right. I didn’t even have the chance to assure the children were safe. But my eyes went to the fire that burned behind me. If I continued, who knows how much more damage we’ll cause. I conceded. Gage moved quick, pulling me with him. “Next time he comes around here,” she called to our backs, “his head will end up at the end of my spear.” Sunset was approaching. A surprising coolness took over. Gage took me to the well Barken and I had come from. Mud and dirt were caked on me and blood still dripped from my lips. “Dammit,” Gage said, “had to get yourself into a mess with the thugs, eh? Trying to play hero?” He poured a bucket of water on me. My body was shocked to life. “Fuck! Could you have warned me before-” “You look disgusting. Pa would have my head if I brought you back like this.” His eyes traveled to the cut on my chest, then observed my back. “You heal well, but you’d do better to build tougher skin. I’m sure your other wouldn’t be too happy to see you soiled and pummeled.” “I wasn’t pummeled!” He ignored me and went back to the well. “You took me there. Did you really expect me to do nothing, seeing a child get kicked around mercilessly? I’m not one of you.” Gage threw me a rag. He tugged on a rope, hoisting up another bucket of water under the well’s awning. I hoped to Ida he wouldn’t throw this one on me as well. “No, you aren’t, and you’re lucky I was with you.” I was wiping myself, shivering. A breeze picked up. “How did you stop them, anyway? Old friends of yours?” Gage became silent. He brought the bucket up from the well, carrying it in his arms towards me. “I knew Aries long before she joined that crew, the true dispensables of this forsaken place if you ask me.” He dropped the bucket and looked right at me. “These people, every one of them, are no friends of mine. Those who get close to you only do so to get something out of you. Oneida will find that out for herself when she gets older.” “Do you raise her to believe the world is so bleak?” Gage paused. His stone face shed away to rage that had him shaking as he spoke. “I raise her to be cautious and look out for herself! You all from Orion must’ve lacked that lesson. You make the mistake of worrying about the obvious enemy and pay no mind to the one that’s right under your nose. No one is to be trusted. Pa’s talk of harmony among us is a pipe dream. We will never be one, and I don’t plan to fill my daughter’s head with that utopian nonsense.” He panted, then, realizing how worked up he was, started pacing some. It dawned on me how alike the two of us were, pressured into the impossible task of wanting to keep our loved ones safe in an unpredictable world. Certainly Barken has been on the receiving end of my overprotectiveness more than once, seems Oneida has been on the receiving end of the same. He kept pacing as he continued, “My pa speaks of this grand fight against Deko, one that would be achieved when we descendants finally come together. If you ask me, the fighting that goes on between us is the more imminent problem. Deko didn’t destroy Tygrus. We did.” Gage spent the walk home in silence. We returned to a cooked meal prepared by Rosco who had done some hunting earlier on. Barken had been stuck in the house, telling me had been engaging in mediation. He was in deep thought when I greeted him, paying no mind to the scrapes on my skin when I assured him they were nothing to worry over. The little girl had returned not long after us, bringing in produce for the meal. I hoped she hadn’t seen the scuffle between Aries’ gang and I. “How was your walk with our visitor?” asked Rosco to Gage. Gage and I looked to each other. “It was… uneventful, pa. He came through alright, hmm?” Rosco observed me. He instantly noted the cut on my chest and lip. “Would you agree, young man?” “Y-yes. Gage and I sparred a bit out there, got a few minor cuts.” Gage was narrowing his eyes at me as I spoke. His attention went to his food afterward. “I saw you two,” said Oneida. My heart stopped. Gage spit out his food. “What did you see?” he asked urgently. Rosco and Barken both picked up on his heightened energy. “You two were playing,” she said. Playing? She looked to me before saying, “Sophia says ‘thank you’, for earlier.” “Sophia?” My mind drew a blank. Then I remembered the child who was kicked to the ground by the woman. “Oh, the young girl. If you see her again, let her know that she’s welcome.” Gage’s frown left him. “Good girl, Oneida.” Oneida smiled. I didn’t know how much she saw, but I was fortunate that Gage and Oneida kept secrets. She didn’t reveal much, leaving Gage and I’s excursion hush-hush. Rosco simply shrugged and move don. I took a look outside the window and realized night time had come. Roll call would be occurring in Orion right now, and, oddly enough, the family of three hadn’t moved. Barken finally spoke for the first time that dinner. “To answer your question, from this morning Gage,” he began. Gage lifted his head to look at him. “Diego and I run... because I was accused of illegally using magic. The circumstances of my crime weren’t told to me, and when I demanded to know, I was threatened with death.” Gage’s attention to Barken didn’t sway. Oneida was looking intently at him, didn’t show concern or alarm from the subject being discussed. “I understand you’re hesitance, giving us your trust when you’ve been given many reasons not to. One of our own had done harm to me as well, possibly even concocted this scheme that forced us on the run.” “Another descendant?” asked Rosco. “That’s...unfortunate to hear.” Barken shrugged. “I thought it’d be impossible, being attacked by someone just like me. He was a foreigner… like Diego and I. You learn fast not to assume everyone, everywhere is safe. Diego has told me this over and over, but I can’t forego my faith. I believe in our people.” Rosco shook his head sadly. “All we have is each other. This isn’t the world we wanted you children to inherit, us elders. It’s why we keep fighting, it’s the only way for us to be free! You come to our home, seeing us scrap with one another, dying meaninglessly at the hands of the overseers, and unfortunately, by others like us. Every death is a death too many. The one you witnessed this morning had been the second one in only a few days time. To what end?” Barken’s eyes widened, his demeanor shifting. “A few days? Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, was this murder committed during roll call?” He hesitated. “Yes, an innocent at that.” Barken gaped, looking like he could be sick. I didn’t understand. Gage looked visibly perturbed, watching Barken intensely. Rosco said, “How do you know this? You two have only just arrived here.” Barken ignored the question and pressed on. “There was a guard screaming at the descendant who was killed, correct? Who was behind him, someone who looked to be observing the scene? A bystander?” “I wouldn’t be able to remember these minute details even if I tried. These guards are hardly memorable.” Barken deflated. Was he not telling me something? This bizarre line of questioning didn’t have an apparent end. Rosco looked like he couldn’t make heads or tails of it himself. “The princess.” Gage’s low tone interrupted the silence. “Xandra... She had been there that night.” “Princess?” I said. “Deko’s only child,” said Rosco. “What does she have to do with this?” Barken said, “I would explain if I was able. Last night, I dreamed memories of this woman witnessing the murder of the descendant you speak of. I’ve never met her, and I’ve never been in Tygrus before today. The only way I’d dream of her memories is if I -” He froze. It was as though something in him clicked. “Could this mean - Diego, my lapse in memory, my attack. It must be connected to the princess of Deko somehow!” “Don’t get ahead of yourself, ” I said. “You hardly any memory of the day you were captured.” “But that’s precisely my point! What else could explain me knowing of these things? You heard Rosco, a man died here exactly as I described without being anywhere near the incident. I don’t dream the memories of people I’ve never made contact with.” “Are you suggesting you performed a healing ritual on a neku? You were unconscious the entire time, Barken. What you describe is improbable and senseless. What reason would you have to do something like that?” “Hmm,” hummed Rosco. “Pa?” Gage said in a questioning tone. “What he describes isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. That story was common with clairsentients here, before they disappeared. Captures, no memory of what happened, unexplained visions. Something tells me your run-in with the neku this morning wasn’t an unsystematic event. Whatever happened between you and the one they call Xandra may have put a target on your back, young one.” “Why would these guards capture and kill clairsentients performing healing ceremonies for their own?” Barken asked. “... Because they fear you may have memories that you aren’t supposed to have, that would be detrimental to them. If you’re recalling memories of the princess, my, you have information from one of the closest people to Deko!” Was this all true? Why would these guards target Barken specifically? Or was he chosen at random? Why would a descendant assist with this scheme? Rosco provided us some much-needed clarity to better understand our predicament. Barken’s protection was more necessary than ever, and, if all this were true, he was better off dead than alive in the guards’ eyes. “What can we do?” I asked. “We can’t stay here and we don’t know where to go next. I hate to admit, but I’m not sure how prepared the two of us are to be fugitives, especially if these guards are after Barken because of his connection to the princess.” Rosco seemed concerned, but Gage formed a smirk as though something I said was entertaining. “There better be a reason for that smug smile on your face.” He gave a small laugh. “You underestimate us. We'll train you.”
  3. BDANR

    Called To The Gates

    I've been meaning to read this story from you for sometime. I liked it's pace and how you left the reader trying to guess what happened next. The musical references gave me a bit of nostalgia as well ;). Thank you for this read :)!
  4. BDANR

    Chapter 14: I saw you in a dream

    Thank you, asamvav! I didn't think about what voice I was conveying, but "delicate satin" is quite the compliment and nice to hear :).
  5. BDANR

    Chapter 14: I saw you in a dream

    Thank you, mollyhousemouse!
  6. BDANR

    Chapter 14: I saw you in a dream

    Thank you, timmy!
  7. BDANR

    Chapter 14: I saw you in a dream

    Thank you! Recalling the dream, seeing my friend appear before me with his lifeless skin was a chilling scene. Even after over a decade, I can never forget it, the clearest image I have of it. The elegy worked perfectly with what I was going for. Much gratitude for having introduced me to the form :).
  8. BDANR

    Chapter 14: I saw you in a dream

    Thank you, Parker. Those are the precise feelings I hoped to evoke: the rage and hurt we all felt having lost a peer of ours. It was a difficult, confusing time for us, though I am glad to have conveyed this story in a way that you all could empathize. Appreciate you reading :).
  9. I saw you in a dream, skin blue Making jokes to offset our pain Did you know that you had been slain By a man with conscious past due We were in fields of emerald green Looking back on days that had passed Times when we thought our youth would last Till death befell us, unforeseen Middle school kids grapple your loss Gone are our days of innocence Pondering our own existence Asking of God, what was the cause Filled to the brim with cheap liqueur The man still tried to drive his car Onto the highway not too far Neglecting the pain that’s in store In due time, we began to cope Instead of being led astray Your memory lives on today Collective grief gave rise to hope
  10. BDANR


    This was one of those poems I had to read multiple times. I don't want to assume anything, but I had the impression that this was a love poem to self. An ode to one living and being resilient when it's tempting to abandon oneself after suffering great pain. Please correct me if my interpretation is wrong! Even so, I'd have to agree with AC: this was touching and another demonstration of your gift for poetry. Sending love , Bryant
  11. 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 accused and killed. Chillingly, it was the man I’d seen in my nightmare the previous night. Were Diego and I currently 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. She was 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.
  12. BDANR

    Winter Blues

  13. BDANR

    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.
  14. BDANR


    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 :).
  15. 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.

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