Smith scuttled along the branch of one lichen covered tree, gathered his still unfamiliar legs together and jumped from the branch to the bough opposite. It wobbled a little but Smith did not pause. He skittered along its length and, digging his sharp legs into the soft, scaled bark made his way down the trunk. He left the ruined, smouldering ogdegre village behind; the sounds of violence fading into the hush of mourning. The ogdegre were not yet ready to think of revenge, but they would, and soon. Smith had to find Madame Fantel. They must be away from here before the ogdegre went looking for them.
Rashari had been captured. Already he was far from Smith and Fantel, in the hands of their enemies. Smith could feel the low thrum of Rashari’s thoughts, churning like a river and weighted down by panic. Rashari feared a return to captivity as he feared nothing else. Smith knew –because Rashari knew – that he could not escape. It was not that he could not fight free; it was that he had been caught at all. The trap snapped closed around them was not dependent on a single kidnapper. It was of a far greater design than that. Smith could feel the long reach of Director TreLawn, distant like a shadow, a ghost haunting the air, but growing closer. Smith knew that Rashari was in grave peril. Even if this was not the work of their great enemy Smith sensed the ghost of the past clinging to the danger in their future.
He was afraid. It was not a pleasant sensation and one he had not experienced in sometime. He hadn’t felt this way since the day he was awoken from hibernation and discovered himself the prisoner of a human intent on destroying him.
Memories of that time assailed him. He could not keep them back as he usually did. He could not deny the fear and the pain of that past existence long since over. He may be a ghost of his former self but ghosts could still be haunted by their past. He remembered the dark, intent gaze of Director TreLawn. He remembered the calculation and thoughtful cruelty lurking therein. Most of all, he remembered the machines. The huge pumps sucking phantasma from the fault line running beneath the Adaline tower and feeding it through massive, clanking pipes. The phantasma alone was more annoyance than anything else. Smith had been Seraphim then and even after a century spent slumbering in his stone no mere shades could truly threaten him.
TreLawn had been clever; he’d planned for this. Ghosts could not hurt a Seraph so he added raw anima, created an environment so volatile and toxic Smith’s spirit had started to dissolve under the torrent of life and death energy. Even now he still remembers the pain of severance as he was drawn, agonisingly slowly, from the confines of the scion stone that had been his home and his prison for longer than mortals could countenance. He remembers, in his nightmares, in the tiny corners of his self that do not belong to Rashari, the sense of dissociation, the terrible weightlessness, as his spirit was ripped from its stone casing, exposed within a glass tank, invaded by anima and poisoned by phantasma. All the while the human’s in white coats had watched, scribbled notes on clipboards, and turned dials on massive machines -hideous, monstrous machines – pumping more poison into his glass prison. Bodiless, rootless, floating and lost, Smith remembers how he had writhed and twisted, drowning in phantasma, and caught in a gale of anima. He had thought that he would dissolve entirely. He had felt himself fading, burning away, with each new wave of agony. He had thought that he would die – He a creature beyond mortality - would be drawn back to the Void. By the end he had almost welcomed it; anything to end that unrelenting torment. Then the boy had come; the human child. The child had stood before his glass coffin with his enemy’s dark eyes dripping tears.
Sebastien; not Rashari; he had not been Rashari then. Just as Smith had not been Smith but Smythion.
“Help me save my father.” The child had said (Sebastien, little ghost, the one he, Smith who is not Smythion anymore, had destroyed in vengeance). “The Djinn will kill him. The Djinn are going to kill everyone.”The child had pleaded, fear in every shaking syllable, pleading as if Symthion could possibly feel anything but savage joy at the promise of his enemy’s destruction.
Release me and I will save him. Smith – no Smythion –had said. Even then, even torn and ragged, fading into the waiting Void he had known the way of these negotiations as the child had not-.as the child could not. Release me from this prison and your father will be safe. The words had been a different sort of poison, a different sort of torment. Smythion longed to destroy the man, Matthias TreLawn, the man this child called father; he who had found Smythion slumbering in his stone cradle safe and sound and brought him out into the light, into this agonising slow destruction. The man who had tortured him with his machines and his clipboards and his poison pumps – oh how Smythion longed to kill him. Yet Smythion was a Seraph, he knew how these things worked. His stone was gone, his anchor torn away. He must have a new home. Where stone had failed him this child’s young flesh would serve very well.
“You promise?”The child had demanded, pouty lips, angry eyes and so very, very afraid for the man he called father, even above himself. “You promise to protect my father? Swear it. Swear it on your stone and...and your soul?”
A binding oath, one whose price was almost more than Smythion was willing to pay. Yet it was also a clumsy one. So much left unsaid. The child did not ask for any quarter for himself. He did not know to do so. Smythion saw his opportunity, his revenge laid out before him in this little lost boy, this innocent victim.
I will promise. But you must promise me something in return. Your father took my home from me; he took that which keeps me whole. I need a new body; a new home. You will give me that. Your father’s survival for mine, those are my terms.
“I promise,”the child had said, resolute, and oh, how Smith longed to be able to go back and undo what had been wrought that day. How he wished he could escape that bargain. He had known then that he would keep his side of the deal – and damn father and son both in the doing –but he had not known, could not know, that young Sebastien would be just as faithful in his word; this boy who would cleave to Smith even when he too lost his physical anchor, his own body. The boy had become Rashari and remade Smythion in his own image. He had made for him a new body and a new form until Smythion ceased to exist and Smith was born.
It was ironic, truly, how they had saved each other from the Void, and simultaneously destroyed each other in the process. Smythion had destroyed Sebastien and Rashari had returned the favour, shoving what was left of a god’s spirit into a metal toy, building a friendship out of a bond forged in vengeance. Smith loved Rashari, as his friend and his maker, but the ghost of Smythion would always hate him.
Scampering through the undergrowth Smith felt the vibration of footsteps coming his way; the steps were light, fast and sure. Smith jumped up and started climbing the trunk of the nearest tree, clambering up in a spiral until he was about six feet up the trunk. Madame Fantel vaulted over a bramble bush just ahead of him. She was headed straight for the village. Smith could sense the panic in her; she knew Rashari was gone. Her face was pinched, her expression intent but the strain in her eyes said that she knew that no matter how fast she ran she could not run fast enough to turn back time. Smith wondered if failure weighed heavy on her as well.
Jumping lightly he landed in front of her feet. Madame Fantel skidded to a halt before he landed, alerted by the flash of light reflected off his metal body as he moved. She raised her clawed hands defensively and dropped into a predator’s crouch, muscles coiled and ready to spring. Smith bobbed, jouncing his knee joints. He missed flying. No, more than that. He missed the days when he was a god.
Rashari has been taken from us. He told her even though he knew that she would not hear him. He would have to do something about that. There was something not right about Madame Fantel, a flaw in her workings which, while minor, was a nuisance he would sooner do without, especially as Rashari was no longer here to translate. She frowned at him, relaxing out of her predatory stance, but still remaining tense, ready to spring in any direction.
“He is gone, isn’t he?” She asked and Smith wondered if she knew how much could be read in her expression. In answer Smith scuttled closer and bobbed his knee joints again, up, down, up, down. Yes, yes. He is gone and I don’t know if we can get him back.
“It was a trap; a distraction. I was a fool. The djinn was nothing more than a lure to draw me away.” Fantel reached down, scooped Smith up, one hand flat against his metal underbelly. She picked him up, his legs dangling down as he sat in the palm of her hand. “How was he taken? How many were there? Which way did they go?”
Smith quivered in distress. He could not tell her. He knew the answers but she could not hear him. There was a compass in his thoughts and the needle always pointed to Rashari. He knew exactly how many miles away he was and in which direction he was travelling, but it did no good. Even if Madame Fantel could hear him they could not follow. Rashari was not without resources, even now. He had removed the scion stone fragment. The scorpion would come to his aid (although Smith worried that Rashari would wait too long to summon its power, fear of consequences staying his hand and deadening his survival instinct). Smith knew (he hoped) that he had made the right choice when he had abandoned Rashari in the village and escaped into the woods unseen. If it was DeLunde behind this, then it would only make things worse if he was captured too. He was not a catalyst in the way Rashari was, but he had no doubt DeLunde would still jump at the chance to dissect him. DeLunde did not know how he and Rashari had survived in the first place. It was imperative they never find out the truth. If they discovered that it was the ghost and not the soul that mattered most, they would be unstoppable. The only reason DeLunde had not breached the Void and unleashed untold terror on Adlis was that they were going about things in all the wrong ways. Rashari was the catalyst, the scorpion was the weapon, but Smith was the one who actually knew how to make others like them. He could not allow that secret to escape, even if that meant leaving Rashari to his fate.
“Smith?” Fantel raised her hand so that Smith’s many faceted eyes were level with her own. He looked up at her face through fuchsia tinted prisms. “Lead me to him. It is my fault he was captured. I made a vow to guard him. I have failed in this. But I will get him back. I promise.”
No, no. Smith’s spirit writhed inside the metal contraption that was his new home, his new body, a silent moan twisting his thoughts. No promises; no promises! They only ever end in tears.
Alas Fantel could not (would not?) hear him. She set him back down on the ground and rocked back on her haunches, waiting for him to lead her, trusting that his love for Rashari would outweigh all other considerations. She could not know, could not fathom, what love that was, what love and what hate, or how she pushed them all so close to the brink. Because Smith knew, knew, where it was Rashari was going, north and slightly westward, away from the Great Wound but still within Djinn territory: the Adaline fault. A tower full of machines and a coffin made of glass where a deal was struck between a god and child over a decade ago. He could imagine only too well what new horrors would take place inside the tower this time.
It was all happening again; promises to keep and promises to break. Smith, who was not Smythion no matter what he remembered, quivered inside this newest body and started moving, many legs skittering easily over and through the underbrush, his course north and slightly westward, the needle of his compass pointed unerringly in the only direction he knew; toward Rashari and near certain damnation.