Jump to content
    Stellar
  • Author
  • 6,525 Words
  • 5,121 Views
  • 10 Comments
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Veil of Shadow - 4. Where Is Shay Andersen?

There was little to be found in this terrible place. It was a locker full of boxes, a prison composed of metal and walls. Anger too was hidden in many little crates, and neither of the girls wished to stay long. The damned spirits from their former lives were a dangerous sort, and the girls' exploration was quick, stopping only to ransack the uniform storage for something more comfortable and flexible to wear. Argus Fletcher's food supplies were similarly raided; the two furtively stuffing whatever they could carry into pockets and also, hurriedly, into their mouths. They ate as they went, being very hungry after their incarceration. They left a trail of crumbs and scraps through the building in their eagerness to be gone. Nyx was close behind Elia as they threaded through the storage and foreman's office, avoiding the cells and the cooling body of the dispatched Liberator handyman.

Now in the warehouse itself, Elia's mind shifted over the interior. No longer dormant, prompted into the fore by the threat that Argus had posed, her senses scanned and evaluated the environment. It was necessary to flee, to leave behind these place of walls and containment. Any threat to the hidden sunlight within Nyx, within herself, was to be avoided or defeated. It was the imperative that drove her, that moved her to action. She did not know why it was so compulsive or from where it had come, but it instructed and she obeyed.

This place provided an intense uncertainty. The caged sharpelings were no danger on their own, but she did not want to stay near to so many potential obstacles. All her instincts bade them leave. Elia chose the exit, and they passed the large cargo truck, emerging through the corner door and onto the concrete foreyard.

There was a moment as both girls stared at the open sky, seeing it for the first time with human eyes. The land was just as new to them too; stubby rolling hills and grassy opens stretching away in this part of northern Leeuwenhoek. On one side of the broken roadway, there was a slight downhill slope from outside the warehouse's ruined perimeter fence. The decline continued along the undulating ground to a town, lowrise buildings peeking up a couple of kilometres away, beyond the intervening pastoral landscape. The sky was a gathering of darker grey clouds that threatened rain but had yet to drop any, at the same time managing to radiate a rich unearthly glow that contrasted with the directness of Lucere's unimpeded sun.

They stood for a few seconds, still, taking it in.

The world looked so different this way. So very different through this lens. Human eyesight was a new thing. It felt like a partition had been knocked down, a shroud had been removed.

This was a new world from what they had seen, and it was beautiful.

Grabbing Nyx's hand, Elia pulled her across the cracked road. They were not going near the lowrise. Buildings meant villages and towns, and towns meant the hunting grounds; teeth and claws and predation were not mere certainties, they were guaranteed. Buildings also meant the possibility of people, and people were another sort of problem, an entirely less scrupulous and much more insidious type of danger. Nyx had not been surprised by the course of action, for a visual empathy was shared and they needed no words to communicate. A glance or a bodily motion told much of the mind's intent, and though the language was never perfect, it carried a transmitted meaning that was most often understood.

Their hands were firmly clasped as Nyx ran, but she continued to eat with the free arm. She was much hungrier than first realised, and though there were no spoken names in knowledge surrounding what she was eating, concepts began to form around the different attributes of food. As well as filling pockets, a small amount had been stuffed into a carry bag when they left; the bag's purpose being recognised quickly enough to bring with them. The food itself was the basic fare powering the Liberators' organised militance, but even this unsophisticated sort still had many textures and tastes. Dried fruit, meat jerky and crunchy flat-bread were the most common thing; also, much of it was a traveller's cake made from nuts, seeds and caramelised sugar, compacted into small chewy bricks. There were other things besides, and Nyx's curiosity, outside of her immediate hunger, wished to try them too.

Elia did not slow for some time, keeping on towards the northwest where the waving fields of grass shallowed somewhat and the scrub thickened a little, bunching into taller thin trees with flaking bark and crunching deadwood brush beneath the feet. The wind was soft, and the ashen clouds drifted overhead, still promising showers but not yet delivering. Occasionally the sunlight was cut off and it would come and go as they moved onwards, imparting an odd sense of hesitation. So, it was a surprise to Nyx when Elia came to an abrupt halt. They were breathing heavily from their exertion, but both quickly mastered it and Nyx looked to Elia's guidance, questioning. What was the reason for this? Nothing was given, no sign on Elia's face, but then she felt it too.

It was something ... else.

Through the faint golden haze that floated through everything, there was something more. Something that was separated from their truth. It was an illusive quiet thing that did not belong, that slunk with a shadowed subtlety. She could not see it on the background of their vision, though it was close, but she could feel it. It was a clandestine secret blip, a bubble of trailing anti-reality in their wake. Not a part of the surroundings certainly, and they looked to each other as they absorbed this feeling, knowing the anomaly from some part of their earlier lives.

No memory, no true recollection.

Just the same sensation. A fearful dreadful anticipation that played upon the most primitive physical desire to leave, yet one that tied them to stay all the same.

Run far away.

Nyx wanted to do exactly that, but Elia's eyes were a promise. The colour itself was evocation; a wintery waterfall of emotional resolve, a sluice that would wash away the trouble approaching. She was no longer a thrall and this thing, this unrepentent phantom, would not challenge her, nor would it hurt them.

Elia would not let it.

The shape was moving. It was close before, but now it was much closer. Together they turned, on the damp soil and rotting bracken beneath the spindly firs, to see it approach.

A blackened silhouette slipped between the trees, shrugging off the golden warmth that bathed everything. They came within view of each other and it slowed, feeling their eyes as keenly as the stare was returned. The energy within it pulsed soundlessly and the air wavered, the invisibility dropping in a heartbeat. The creature stood still, knowing the futility of stalking those who possessed the true vision. A dozen metres separated them from the point of where it had emerged.

They stared that creature down and the arbiter stared straight back.

It acted before they did anything. Slow, uncharacteristic, the arbiter stepped to the side a couple of paces, the head still focused intently forward, still watching them. The arms rose carefully, the inches-long claws idly shifting in the air as the hands were held in front. It was not moving to aggression, and there seemed almost an aura of inspection, that it was just gaining a new angle so as to better consider what they were.

The contrast, however, was to come.

The sound of the arbiter's mental speech blared through them; deep, cold and bursting with an arrogance that walked across any will daring to question it. Their own minds recoiled from the initial shock of the communication, but they steeled themselves. They were not fragile and easily spooked as the average human was, but fortified by the golden strength, and this made the speech simply that - speech. Though all the same, hearing it wasn't normal nor pleasant.

A poison seed of hatred lives in your bones, betrayers.

Neither recalled specifically in their repressed shreds of memory the voice of this thing. The familiarity was a combination of several parts; the mental tones, the pervasive overall feel, the nearness that was like a stench. Though, the smoking black that arose off the ebony sharpness of its arms, that covered it from the frilling horns curving around the inked frame of its head, to the skeletal agility of the taloned feet, was mesmerising.

The voice. The aura. The dark fire.

The defiler left this mark to grow. The arbiter's head tilted and it shifted back past its starting position, in the other direction four steps. The negative incandescence of the eyes glowed, darkened coals still keenly watching; viewing from yet a new angle. It fled to the heart of your disharmony; to the last core of your broken genesis.

What are you? Nyx gave it words, in the manner she was able; the only kind of speech she had.

The creature straightened, staring down at them; a noble humouring the peasantry. The jaw moved, the arms widening and turning skyward, almost as if it were welcoming them. It seemed very human but so very imperious in that moment, and then a hiss. The flames across its body jumped, flaring and flickering. We are the judge of salvation. Your flesh begs for redemption, poor, sickened children. The creature's head dipped a fraction and for a moment there was a curious allure, a beautiful deadly attraction that was piercing and final. It stepped closer, a solemn cupbearer for a yet-anonymous cause. Come, taste anew the rising sun of the Hallowed Dawn. Cleanse the ancient malady through the perfect music of our art.

Then, Elia spoke to it.

Touch us and I will burn you to ash.

This tyrant did not rule her and it would not rule Nyx. The power it once wielded was broken and she knew it. She knew the terrible price that subjugation would ask and the principle in her, the sacred impetus of the light, rejected that utterly.

Now and for all time.

She glared at the arbiter. The creature had singled her out, assaulting her with a tremendous heavy fatalism, a fog of horror that Elia struck to the ground between them. She was above that, fuelled by the inner heat this thing could not touch.

There was no reasoning, no compromise.

It did not move and neither did she. The spectre of combat hung over them and every nerve in her body, every muscle was zeroed in preparation for it to act. She would destroy it if it tried, but that did not make the prospect any less daunting.

Seconds longer they stayed and then finally, the arbiter stepped back a pace, the breath coming softly, the fixation upon Elia unfinished. The head lowered, unfailingly sinister, and without anything further, it turned. Invisibility flashed around it and it slipped from the mortal world, stealing away through the trees.

Gone.

The girls did not need to share a look to understand the best thing to do right then. Together, they too turned ... and ran.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Jumping from Myanmar to Australia was not an easy task. When a person such as Ayize attempted it, the task was much less easy. There was a larger degree of skill involved than most people needed to go anywhere at all. Getting to Malaysia and then Indonesia wasn't too hard. It was just the final hop via Timor to northern Australia which was the most problematic.

The biggest part of it was that Ayize Mthembu was a wanted man.

For close on two decades, he had been one of the Brotherhood's regional paramilitary lieutenants. Being the main standard-bearer of realism meant the Brotherhood as a whole was viewed as a spectrum. For some, they were the Robin Hood of the modern world, attempting to right an endemic imbalance. For most others they were either a vocal minority or dangerous fringe criminals, all depending on the perspective. The Brotherhood's political wing was kept well insulated from the activism of the 'soldiers' despite the best efforts of any opposing faction to join them. Still, Ayize had seen as much political backstabbing and persecution happen as literal. Being an active realist in the 24th century was a lifestyle that had plenty of risks attached to it and it meant certain areas of the world were very dangerous to travel.

Though the Australian aerospace interfaced constantly with its Asian counterparts, the geographical split between the continent and islands was one that was historically well observed. It took a full day of waiting for the right opportunity to piggyback across the Timor Sea, next to a Balinese freighter with the secondary Brotherhood team. It had been a very close call, as they were just past the digital wall when customs unexpectedly expressed an interest. With less than a minute to spare, the pulsicopter had detached its virtual 'shadow' from the freighter and sped off, crossing the coast and vanishing overland barely fast enough to avoid notice.

Lindani's group was already well established and waiting, hundreds of kilometres to the south. Deep inside the Tanami Desert was their destination and after reaching land, the travel was easy. Much of the Northern Territory remained under ecological protection and the population had stayed relatively small away from the coast. There was little to bother them and they kept low and moved fast, only slowing and taking more care as they approached the hot zone.

They dropped him at the camp on the outer perimeter before retreating to the extraction zone. The other three were waiting and Lindani greeted him joyfully.

"Hey ubhuti, this place is hotter than a devil's armpit."

He chuckled at the description. "Maybe true, but let's not set him on fire 'til the end, eh?" Ayize clapped him on the back and looked to the others. Kenji and Rashid were kitted and ready. "I'm later than I wanted to be, but getting across the straits was a royal bitch. Brothers, you ready for this?"

Lindani answered in the affirmative, handing Ayize his equips. His round dark face imitated Ayize's with the simple grin, unsurprising given he was the man's younger cousin. The other two just nodded, and as Ayize pulled on his vest, donning the helmet and switching channels, he queried their status.

It was Kenji who responded. "They've got a hole in the grid we can exploit to get within hard-tap range. Software barrier is minimal. Don't think they were expecting anyone to find them here."

"So it is CS then?" Ayize pulled on the gloves, flexing his fingers in them. "Wasn't expecting something so extreme. It's not their normal style."

"Yakutsk was just cover for this, distraction for the kidnap." Lindani shrugged. "I still don't get why they want these two refugee kids this bad. Isn't Andropov the valuable one?"

"I'm not so convinced of that any more, brother," Ayize muttered. In fact, he was only convinced that Konstantin was knowledgeable. The man was clearly intelligent, but out of his depth because of the flood of new information this situation brought; information that needed much context and explanation. No, it was the way the expatriate Russian spoke of these two boys that drove Ayize's suspicion that there was something much bigger going on here. "That can wait, though. Let's get moving. Kenji, start the insert."

Kenji nodded. Digital lines flickered and a flash of numbers scrolled through Ayize's feed. The tac-map redrew itself, slicing a thin wedge through the detection grid to the hard-tap.

"Done."

"Okay," murmured Ayize, giving his team a broad grin, "time to stick it to the man."

Together, the Brotherhood strike team began to jog, moving past the line of the perimeter toward the Tanami Desert CorpSec facility.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Though Kenji had spent just as much time in their field operations doing the more physical parts of paramilitary, he was usually the one who was co-opted into managing the electronic-warfare aspect of their work. Ayize considered him their technical specialist, and though it was perhaps less glamorous than what the others got to do, it certainly had its own appeal.

He waited patiently for the periodic tick of the CorpSec security scan to whirr past. They really hadn't been expecting anyone to realise they had come here, with the virtual guard-dogs in the CS network space being easier than he anticipated to fool. Lindani and Rashid were waiting outside the facility's front entrance, just beyond the where the ingress scanner would trigger. It was some distance from where he and Ayize were crouched, and the team's communications was now strictly closed loop, with no open verbal. The exterior turrets were relatively primitive and easily castrated, but the interior security was much more complex; a matrix of overlaid security programs and high-level weapons hardpoints.

"Boss," he spoke low through the helm's comms, "the inner layers are heavy. A triple, or .. maybe a four."

"I see it, but ... a four?" Ayize was crouched next to him by the tap point as he did his work. "Fuuuck," he breathed, "it was so incog on the surface. They really do not want guests. Number of bambis, grunts? Power distribution?"

"Can't tell for sure, but looks like five, no ... six bambis, four grunts." His tac-map was populated with as much data as he could squeeze through the CS firewalls. It included environmental information, personnel locations, energy and data dispersal and a host of subsystem readings. His map was shared with the other three in real time, distributing the numbers on arrival. "Defence is mostly auto. Those back two rooms are taking 80% of the system energy."

Rashid's voice spoke up. "That's where they'll be. This place is tiny."

He was right, the facility was very small. There was a single approach from the entrance to a cluster of no more than eight rooms, including the rear two that were so power heavy. Kenji wasn't sure what was using so much power, but the key lay in the balance of personnel. Six civvies, four guards. Heavily automated defence. High power use. It looked suspiciously like it was a-

"Science lab?" Ayize questioned. "They're doing some kind of testing?"

It certainly did seem to be something like that. The oscillations in the power readings and the sheer magnitude of output reminded him of the hungriest projects at Berkeley. The advanced particle accelerators and the gluon-decoupler experiments seemed on par with the sort of drain that was being placed on the CS generators.

There was something else different though, and Kenji couldn't quite put his finger on it.

"Maybe," he responded. Kenji's eyes flicked across the tangle of shifting lines in his helm, monitoring the decryption simulation. Colourful numbers popped up and vanished as the sim ran best-result hacking probabilities based on the CS network's software architecture and defences. It was compiling a list of attack methods for the final fourth layer of protection, one that looked damn near unbreakable and whose breaching would result in their presence becoming very obvious. As he glanced at the data freed after the disablement of the third layer, Kenji noticed something. A lot of something.

Files.

Actual RDA and CorpSec files.

Jackpot.

"Boss. Working on the fourth, but ... take a look at this."

Ayize's jaw dropped inside his helm as he saw the information flit through view. When he regained his ability to enunciate, he spoke fervently. "Brother, copy this. Copy anything and everything like it. This- ... this is a gold mine!"

"Man," Kenji whispered, one eye casually watching the delicate tango of his breach attempt, the other skimming the leeched data, "they sure store their sensitive shit in unexpected places. I didn't know the MFM even existed 200 years ago. How did they have their fingers in so many pies?"

"It didn't," murmured Ayize, still plucking what tidbits he could from the expanding list of stolen corporate data. This desert facility was clearly a corporatist dirty little secret, because there was no way this data would be left so casually hidden and stored in a less obscure place. The data though; Kenji was right. MFM wasn't around that long ago, but others were, and that same umbrella of the 'Citizen's Conglomerate' still functioned. Though in the 21st and 22nd centuries, it had worn an entirely different form; existing only as individual pieces. The same as today but in dozens of anonymous company groupings, connected by the invisible lines, that webwork of finance, hidden 'benefactors' and human economic aristocracy. These files were an invaluable glimpse from before the suspicion and fear had taken hold, before the world had changed irrevocably and human greed became more blatant.

Before the common people began to see.

All of these old projects were centred on research initiatives that the RDA was continuing today. Most appeared to be working on theoretical or experimental science. From a glance it involved subatomic physics, microbiology, genetics, geology and more besides. There were holdings all over the world and on other ex-colonial worlds also. Specifically, many sponsored clients and property on a particular planet.

Lucere.

"Much left, Ken?" Rashid's question was cool, simple, just like the man. "Give us the go."

"Close." Kenji's attention was back solidly on the tricky movements of spinning the CS network into dizziness. It was just as well that this particular facility was so happy with its isolated desert-bunker status, complete with rather modest security. Maximum security corporatist assets would be protected by very troublesome software, much more so than what was present here. Not that he didn't enjoy sitting in the gritty heat of the Australian Outback running codestrings for kicks, but having a job that was markedly less impossible was always a plus.

It was odd then that during all this he began to notice the tracker signal from the two boys strengthening.

Odd because, firstly, Kenji's virtual attack hadn't yet taken place and the internal security systems dampening the tracker signal inside the facility were still there. Then, secondly, because there was only one signal.

What ... ?

It had been impossible to tell before now, but as the signal gained clarity, it was obvious. Just one. Next to him, Ayize realised too and as that sank in, they physically turned to look at one another.

"Looks like the party is already on," Lindani's voice interrupted over comms. "Their grid just started spiking like mad."

He was right. Kenji hadn't touched a thing, but the CS network was doing something weird all by itself. The civilians were scurrying like ants, the temperature and air pressure fluctuating along with the power spikes Lindani described.

Something was going on.

"Ken." Ayize's hand on his shoulder was urgently drawing his focus. "What's the signal range?"

"Global."

"So we could detect the tracker anywhere on Earth?"

"Anywhere," Kenji affirmed. "Fuck, you could detect it on this side of the moon if you had to."

"Boss, this is a 'go time' if ever there was one." Rashid's voice followed Lindani's through the comms. "Don't know what's happening down there, but it's chaotic. If we make a play, it's our moment." Ayize half-nodded to himself in agreement to that assessment. His mind was elsewhere, though he gave the order to Kenji, who executed the command. Coloured indicators began shifting across the tac-map as the virtual assault was launched. On Ayize's though, he was fixated on a single icon. It was the tracker signal's label and it had the name of one of the boys on it.

Mira Andersen.

The other signal was simply not there, which suggested two possibilities. The tracker had been found and deactivated, or destroyed. An unlikely fate seeing as Mira's tracker, the first one, was still functioning, though there was the grudging admission that it was possible. The second was the utterly simple consideration that maybe the signal was untrackable because it was too far away.

The problem with that idea was what Kenji just said. The range on the trackers was immense and could potentially be read as far away as lunar orbit.

It was why Ayize could not tear his eyes from that single notation on the tac-map, nor the thoughts from his mind about what could merit such extreme behaviour from Earth's corporate giants ... just for two children.

It seemed increasingly likely that this boy was not only absent from Australia, but that he was not on Earth ... at all.

Where is Shay Andersen?

-o-0-O-0-o-

It was not until the following day that Yugan could speak with the matriarch. She was not home when he returned, and it was another night of cautious introspection, followed by a morning full of uncertainty. It was undeniable now how different he was, and his desire to understand it only grew with each new revelation. Yugan's contemplation continued right until dusk, and he spent the last of it on the porch of the matriarch's home. Mikom and the otsinith elders arrived just as the dark was beginning to set in, their speed evident in the hasting return to beat the sunset.

They came to a stop scarce shy of his seat upon the carved wetwood bench, reducing to walking speed as they exited from the trees. The Mishith would not suffer bodily degeneration until they were practically at death's door. Though some of the elders were indeed very advanced in age, including the matriarch herself, none were much slower than an adult dagenithi in his or her prime.

To Yugan, their talk was enchanting, laden with wisdom and foresight. Low but soothing, they exchanged farewells, their voices as smooth as blackstone pebbles on the beds of Kerelom's snowmelt tributaries. Though polished and worn by time, they had that iron-hard core of volcanic strength. The farewells were soon done, the last elder strolling calmly after the others and Mikom turning to him.

"Yugan." Her voice rose as she spoke his name, the two medial eyes dilating in unexpected curiosity. The pupils expanded into a thicker X, the mottled lavendar of the irises shrinking in tandem, and Mikom cocked her head. Her ears twitched, standing vertical. "The dark of evening begins. What brings you at this time and so soon since our last?"

"Matriarch, I must speak with you."

Her head dipped and her tongue flicked out for a moment. Yugan felt the searching bent of it, and then she gave a very gentle nod. "Yes, you must." Both left hands came up, the claws pressing into his neck as if to measure the pressure of his life blood. They raked harmlessly down the leather to his shoulder, the gesture rather intimately pleasant. "Enter and prepare our meal," she intoned, "for my ills need tending first."

He had not noticed it until her words, but Mikom's right arms were wound with staunch-cloth in many places. She moved ahead of him into the home, lighting the lamps, and clearer Yugan could tell the seeping discolouration on the cloth was blood. It seemed extensive on both arms and likely needed to be cleaned; Mishith recovered fast from injury but some of the more combative wildlife on Dagen's Grace had venom that would slow the healing process, prolonging the bleeding.

Mikom went into another room, and Yugan came to her food store. Picking several wraps of choice flank meat, he gathered some portions of fruit, fresh sweet-clover, and large handfuls of seed. The fire fuel was plentiful and he stoked the brazier well, the bowl filling with delicacies as he prepared the food. The last meat was just coming off the fire as Mikom emerged again. A blanket was draped over and wrapped around the right arms from shoulder to wrist to conceal the wound.

Yugan dimmed the fire and she sat opposite him, giving a dip of her head as the signal to eat. Mikom used both her left hands in lieu of the injured right, to pluck morsels from the bowl though Yugan was very distracted. He had chosen well; the tantalising give of the flesh was just right, flavoursome and juicy. Though Mishith were omnivorous by nature, something about the visceral feel of the prey's flesh under his teeth triggered a carnivorous streak that made eating it so very satisfying.

It was after as they washed the meal's residue of their hands, that Mikom fixed him with a pointed look, wiping the last droplets off her claws. Yugan knew that was his cue to talk.

So he did.

He told her of the night-vision's darkness becoming an alien world. He told her of his view of that world through the eyes of an alien spirit. He told her of the clarity of Kerelom and how he had wilfully evoked this connection. He told her of the vision he gained from that clarity, the flowing water of time and the thousand possible outlets that were the future. He told her of the death that he foresaw.

She was silent for some time once he was finished, and then without saying anything, she drew the blanket off her right arms. There were many gashes in the heavier muscle of the forearms, and smaller lacerations higher, before the shoulder's ridging. Now clean and salved, the appearance of Mikom's injury was no longer so startling, but still more severe than any animal attack he had seen prior.

"Selet." She whispered the name of her aggressor, inspecting her right arms. Though Yugan had never seen one, he knew the stories of the selet, one half of the two most feared predators on Dagen's Grace. "The crossing to Gerik was threatened. They nest near, to lie in wait for dagenith. It is a bloody time." Mikom pulled the blanket back over herself. "Our hunt is done, and yet hunter or hunted, the Great Circle turns. This cycle moves on, and all things touch. All things are touched."

"But," Yugan protested, his voice grating more than he wished, "I do not know what I can do. My learning is given by something not of our knowledge."

"Whether the cause is artifice or a gift of nature matters not." Mikom looked away, out past the ceiling beam to the reddening evening sky. "Understand that there is always a connection. If the binding between you and what lies on this other world will not serve as a bridge, then seek out another living spirit."

"Another?"

"Yes." Mikom looked back to him again, quite serene. "Some are more aware of the unseen than others. Touch them, be touched by them. You may find aid."

Yugan frowned, trying very hard not be peevish over the entire situation. "Matriarch, I do not understand why the mountain changed things, either."

"All mountains are places of sight. It is said that upon the greatest peaks of our grace, one can look from the summit and see forever." She shifted around the table a little and then her hands were on his right shoulder, scratching along the collaring. An affectionate gleam was in her eyes and bearing, but also a hint of sorrow. "Yugan ... it gives me sadness to deny you honour. Your kin would know pride."

"Matriarch?" He questioned, soft. "What honour?"

"Mine. One day, we will need another. You would make a fine patriarch, but it cannot be."

His muscles tensed in shock. Patriarch?!

"But ... why?"

"Yugan, dear boy-ithi, you love Otsin as you love your kin. You are devoted and true, but this is not it. Something bigger awaits you and the special fate that is yours. A day will come, maybe even against your wanting, where it will take you far," she whispered, "and you will leave Dagen's Grace to find that destiny."

-o-0-O-0-o-

For some time, the arbiter trailed them through the forest of northern Leeuwenhoek.

There was no skill needed for tracking. The betrayers' gait was a stumbling run onwards through the forest. Their passage was a discord against nature; their senses and their perceptions a burning poison thrashing upon the wind. Following them was simplicity, the taint of their wake so sickeningly obvious everywhere. It was the noxious scent of their souls' affliction combined with the tinted bubble that encased their flesh. They were a locus of the greater corruption, servants for the worst thing, and that same horrific decay was everywhere.

All around it lay, a choking fog of ruin. The blight was a hot ambience that spread through everything. It saturated the land in a formless acidic tide. It was everywhere; into the sky, into the rock, upon the water and in the ruined buildings of Lucere.

It was this world - this world - that insisted on breaking the pattern.

Always, this sickening tore at the perfection of the Song. It clouded the magnificence of the dawn. It scratched at the fibers of the flesh, eroding the instruments that gave their genesis to the Melody. It suppressed the inner light, forcing silence and dormancy. Yet this world begged for harmony, so the plague could be gone. The day would come when the suffocating poison would die so the symphony could continue unhindered. On that day, the arbiter would know the beauty of freedom. Once more, all its brethren would have the fullness of their grace returned to them, would feel the constricting burden of disease removed.

Then ... this world would be purified. The music and light would be clear and eternal. Their ascent here would be completed, for none had the authority nor the power to refuse the judgement of the arbiter.

So it would go.

As this arbiter followed the betrayers, it considered what was to come next. There were the cleansed souls to call upon, but they were children and their uses here were limited. The nearest were away, physically scattered some distance through the wild. None of the fellow justices were in these lands either, and experiencing their joy was beyond easy travel and speech. No, this required something more; something greater than the failed attempt to chase the defiler when it fled.

This time, there could not be an escape.

The arbiter stopped. It looked to the sky, a motionless statue of smoking ebony. The woven fabric of void inside the creature moved and it reached out. The arbiter's mind pushed into the ether, passing through the strata until it brushed against the horizon, the shrouding darkness. Its voice carried through the infinity of that immeasurable place, calling for the aid of another.

Harbinger! The Song has need of you! The zealous whisper spoke eagerly, reverently, into the dark. Your voice is desired, oh Herald, and your augury coveted. We plead for your might and the strength of your truth.

Pulling away, the arbiter withdrew back into itself once more, the extraordinary space collapsing to the purely physical three dimensions. The pulsing within calmed, the inner potency fading and nature's facade reasserting. It stood, monitoring the scent of the betrayers as they continued to run, but also waiting patiently for what was soon to be incoming.

It did not take long.

Less than five minutes later, a shape the size of a city appeared in space over Lucere. Uncloaked, it sat in high orbit, a behemoth of giant blades and impaling steel. An arrogant malevolence stretched fearlessly from it, a monstrous invisible shadow of will thrown across Aurum.

The Herald had arrived.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Yugan followed Mikom's advice soundly, returning to Kerelom a second and third time, both just a few daily cycles apart. He climbed higher, though he was not certain he wished to test his luck. Both times he repeated what he had done in the first instance: to send a warning or a message, anything that would bring realisation. Three times in total he tried to send that warning and three times it vanished into the emptiness between worlds, giving no indication anything had changed.

He could not tell if his foretelling of death had been seen and known.

Then came the fourth time.

Though Yugan still experienced the night-vision as well as the waking control of Kerelom, his seeming inability to change anything continued to frustrate him. It was several sunsets later that he returned and attempted once more. As the connection was made, he noticed immediately that there was a change.

The flow of time, the future probability, was different.

The message had been received.

He could not see how well it was understood nor the ultimate consequences. The river was unclear, muddied. Yugan knew how close they were drawing to that time of reckoning. Soon, the foretelling would become reality and this creature's life would end. Now though?

Now, death was no longer a guarantee.

There were chances, possibilities that ran beyond that moment. Strands flowed on through what was once a bottleneck. There was hope.

Then, something else occurred.

Somehow undetected, somehow unknown, another peril was seen. This new clouding of the waters was just downstream, minutes away in the life of his alien charge. It came suddenly from the tangled web of the future, a fell assassin in an unforeseen ambush. The precarious likelihood of survival was needle thin, and Yugan understood with horrifying prescience that his efforts could not counter this. To change anything, he would need time, maybe days, to send warning, to channel the tide away from calamity.

Desperate, he looked out into that foreign world-at-war. He considered every viable thing, but there was nothing that could work.

Nothing until ... another living spirit.

An animal.

It was a unique type of creature that was attuned to such things. The mind of this little being was as alien to him as everything else on the alien world, but he could feel it. Closer and clearer than anything else, he could feel. Despite the strangeness, the fantasy of what he was doing, Yugan reached out to it.

They touched.

His mind connected to it, was carried with it, and Yugan knew that this was the only way.

Purpose.

He knew that Shay Andersen had dreamed three times of the dread champion's attack outside the city spaceport. Unwarned, it would kill him, or the one named Carlos, and they would never escape. Inevitably, one way or another the arbiters would catch and destroy all of them.

He also knew the arbiter could move like a shadow and cut like a knife. When Mira picked that kitten up, he saw in it something more than an animal. In that moment, Yugan felt as if they were physically face to face, no longer separated by light years of distance. What the guardian could not achieve, he would, and in those impossible few seconds, Yugan was silently acknowledged and accepted.

For without aid, Shay would bleed to death in Aspira's plaza, succumbing to the evil that stalked the ravaged world of Lucere.

There was no way Yugan was going to let that happen.

em>Mew! Just a kitten, but on the inside I'm really an alien space tiger!
Sooo .. just *where* is Shay? Is he really on another planet?! Well, the bad news is that question is only posed in this chapter, not answered. The good news is that chapter 5 is going to be *packed* with your favourite immortal 14 year old introvert. The third person exclusivity ends and you'll see plenty of him from now on.
As always, reviews, likes and comments very much appreciated.
Copyright © 2017 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
  • Like 44
  • Love 10
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Story Discussion Topic

You are not currently following this author. Be sure to follow to keep up to date with new stories they post.

Recommended Comments

Chapter Comments

Wow! You're really hitting your stride with this chapter. Exciting. You almost scared me with the description of the Arbiter. And the coming together of Shay, Mira and the Arbiters in Yugan's dream? mind? Thanks and hope chapter 5 comes sooner.

  • Like 4
Link to comment
On 01/14/2014 04:57 AM, stanollie said:
Wow! You're really hitting your stride with this chapter. Exciting. You almost scared me with the description of the Arbiter. And the coming together of Shay, Mira and the Arbiters in Yugan's dream? mind? Thanks and hope chapter 5 comes sooner.
The arbiter is never something to be messed with. Yugan as a character was actually introduced in Hidden Sunlight. :D
  • Like 3
Link to comment
On 01/14/2014 04:57 AM, stanollie said:
Wow! You're really hitting your stride with this chapter. Exciting. You almost scared me with the description of the Arbiter. And the coming together of Shay, Mira and the Arbiters in Yugan's dream? mind? Thanks and hope chapter 5 comes sooner.
The arbiter is never something to be messed with. Yugan as a character was actually introduced in Hidden Sunlight. :D
  • Like 2
Link to comment

Stellar, this plot is engaging because it is so unpredictable! I love the first four chapters, how you don't shy away from complexity and allow certainty to be underlined by the potential that everything on Earth is layers of lies. As ever I'm intrigued by the Song and how the bits of religious fervour expressed by the Arbiter fit into the bigger picture of that species' spread. But like everyone else, I am mostly anticipating Shay/Mira's emergence as a scientific and compassionate balance to the chaos.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
On 02/10/2014 01:57 AM, lathe_biosas said:
Stellar, this plot is engaging because it is so unpredictable! I love the first four chapters, how you don't shy away from complexity and allow certainty to be underlined by the potential that everything on Earth is layers of lies. As ever I'm intrigued by the Song and how the bits of religious fervour expressed by the Arbiter fit into the bigger picture of that species' spread. But like everyone else, I am mostly anticipating Shay/Mira's emergence as a scientific and compassionate balance to the chaos.
Earth is definitely many layers of lies! The ideological war between the political factions for control of the government ensures plenty of distortion to go around.

 

There is a very religious aspect to the arbiters. If you have ever watched Stargate SG1 (the original, not Atlantis or Universe), the arbiters fill a role somewhat similar to the Priors of the Ori from the show's final season. They are assisting a greater cause and possess enhanced power compared to the 'foot soldiers' of the same. This religiosity is also reflected in their naming of things (at least as it translates into human concepts) and more of that theme will be revealed as the antagonists' culture, such as it is, is revealed.

 

As I write this, chapter 5 is in beta. You will not have long to wait for Shay's presence!

  • Like 2
Link to comment

shay is god, meow...

So the world in shae's time is not much different than modern times :P

although this would be more interesting to me if Shay and Mika were still in the forefront of the story.

  • Like 2
  • Haha 1
Link to comment
On 04/15/2015 11:36 AM, Celethiel said:
shay is god, meow...

So the world in shae's time is not much different than modern times :P

although this would be more interesting to me if Shay and Mika were still in the forefront of the story.

Many things have changed, but many things also haven't!

 

The two of them will be in the middle of things, just not yet.

  • Like 2
Link to comment

Man I am very much enjoying this story and in many ways just perfect. Thanks for letting me read it😄 Now where are the boys!

  • Like 4
Link to comment

I am thrilled! So much commotion. There seems to be no existing peaceful spot in all the worlds. The only pleasant harbour had been the mason of Konstantin. But even that being abandoned is probably no more by now.

Earth seems to be already doomed, Lucere in the power of arbiters now defended by two newborn, re-transformed girls.

The remaining beacons are Yugan, Shay, Mira, Nyx and Elia. But how can they fight the evil? Can Konstantin help?

By the way, could it be that Yugan already has some aqumi?

 

It is good that I am such a late reader as I am not tormented by the cliffhangers. I just love reading the story!

  • Love 2
Link to comment
50 minutes ago, BarkingFrog said:

I am thrilled! So much commotion. There seems to be no existing peaceful spot in all the worlds. The only pleasant harbour had been the mason of Konstantin. But even that being abandoned is probably no more by now.

Earth seems to be already doomed, Lucere in the power of arbiters now defended by two newborn, re-transformed girls.

The remaining beacons are Yugan, Shay, Mira, Nyx and Elia. But how can they fight the evil? Can Konstantin help?

By the way, could it be that Yugan already has some aqumi?

 

It is good that I am such a late reader as I am not tormented by the cliffhangers. I just love reading the story!

Oh, if you think there's commotion now, then just you wait until later! It will get worse before it gets better, of that you may be assured.

I wish to note here that you are perhaps one of the only readers who explicitly noticed and named all five 'beacons' at this early stage of the second book. The assumption that Yugan might possess aqumi is a sound one, and the question of Konstantin's role will be answered before too long.

I am glad you are enjoying it!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
View Guidelines

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Newsletter

    Sign Up and get an occasional Newsletter.  Fill out your profile with favorite genres and say yes to genre news to get the monthly update for your favorite genres.

    Sign Up
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..