Chapter 8: Reprieve
Chapter 8: Reprieve
I suppose it would be redundant to explain how I was the sole survivor as the battleship was pulled into the freezing depths. I expect you could imagine more ways to get out of that than I with the tools I had on hand.
Kael led the group in a sprint away from the bloody ocean. As soon as they were obscured by the trees, they slowed down to a walk. The sun had gone down and everything turned to shadow. The direction of the city they had seen before was more or less obvious and made easier to find when they stumbled across a train track cutting through the woods. The tracks stretched on for a mile until they ran parallel to a road. A few cars zipped by, and everyone was relieved to be back to civilization again. They continued on their way for another few miles and limped into a lively town: shoppers bustled along the sidewalks, patrons visited their favorite restaurants, and vehicles clogged the well-lit streets.
“I’m tapped,” Kael wheezed. “That was too much for me.” Indeed, Kael could feel the corners of his vision blurring and his mind weighing him down. He wanted to eat, he wanted to sleep, and more than anything, he wanted to eat.
Joshua shrugged, staring at his feet while they walked.
“What’s wrong with him?” Gianna asked hollowly. “He not used to people dying?”
Kael grimaced. “The opposite. Just leave him be. He takes these things hard.”
Gianna looked between the two of them, a question in her eyes. Eventually she just shrugged and said, “I don’t get it,” before continuing in silence.
Kael scowled and then racked his brain for something to say; someone had to change the subject. “I’m not sure we can make it to Dania given our current state. As much as I want to find the Book, we need to recoup.” Just give him some direction. That always works.
“Makes sense,” Joshua mumbled.
“Best to stay on the move,” Kael said. “We’ll start making our way home once we know we’re not being followed. We know there’s a train at least.” Lazily, Kael motioned to the train tracks they followed, because he was genuinely worried that Joshua might not have even seen it.-
Joshua and Kael ambled into town looking for said train station. As the minutes trickled away, Gianna eventually asked for directions against their protests. Now, knowing where they were going, they spent all but five minutes to find the place. Once inside, they poured over the arrival and departure times. One last train was slated to leave that night but Kael decided against it.
Gianna stood back in the shadows watching. He seemed to have a destination in mind, which was fine with her. As long as they kept moving.
Finally, Kael chose the earliest train the next morning to the capital on the country’s eastern border. Joshua bought the tickets, and the trio stepped out of the station into the chilly night air assaulting their lungs. A whole lot of time to kill before next morning.
“I am starving,” Kael said. Anything to fill the empty noise. Normally that role was filled by Joshua, but Kael knew better. If they were lucky, Joshua would be himself in the morning. If not. . . . Well, it could be a week or two.
They stomped down the street looking for a way to remedy the situation. Kael stopped on the next street corner and craned his head to look Gianna up and down. Her tattered black robes wouldn’t stand out anymore in this city if they were dyed some obtuse shade of neon.
“You need some new clothes,” Kael said. Those robes make you look like someone who got thrown out of a fantasy convention and then became a hobo. Or maybe you murdered a hobo. I’m not good with words. The point is: you need new clothes.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out two golden coins and handed them to Gianna. “Now go. We’ll be…” Kael looked around and found his mark down the street. “We’ll be over at that cafe,” he pointed in its direction.
Gianna looked down at her clothes and frowned but reached out and grabbed the money without question. “I’ll meet up with you later then,” she said as she skipped off merrily to find something more suitable for normal society.
Kael shook his head having second thoughts. “Do you suppose she knows what normal is?” he asked, turning to Joshua who merely shrugged. Kael placed a hand on Joshua’s shoulder and steered him across the street.
“Do we even have money to buy her clothes?” Joshua asked.
Kael considered this question for an abnormally long time. There had to be something he could use there. And then he found it. “She’ll be safer not dressed like that.” Kael asked, “Or would you rather the assassins find her again?”
“That’s. . . .” Joshua hesitated and smiled faintly. It was fleeting, but it was there. “That’s a good point. Money, food, whatever, we’ll steal what we have to on the way back.”
“And if those Dark Element guys following us have any money, we can take it off their corpses.”
“Always with the violence, and-- wait a second,” Joshua stammered, “do you mean you didn’t finish that guy off from the helicopter?”
“Nah, he managed to pull that pillar of blood around him right before he roasted. The best chunk of metal I’ve ever held, and it couldn’t even do the job.”
Joshua shivered. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“That’s because you’re a pansy,” Kael said.
“That isn’t the correct word to describe me.”
“I was trying not to be offensive.”
Joshua could only roll his eyes. “I’m not scared, just worried. I’m not a Syche, and that’s enough to make anyone nervous. Look around at all these happy people. They would be a little bit disconcerted if they knew people like you or the Element were running around. That’s how I feel: disconcerted.”
Kael gave his shoulders a slight shrug. “Don’t act like you know what those big words mean.”
“Shut up.” Joshua punched Kael lightly on the shoulder.
Ring. The bell chimed as the two boys walked into a café with the lighting dimmed and moody. Behind the counter was a teenager who looked slightly younger than Joshua and Kael. Kael scoped out the room since Joshua had returned to staring at his feet. A family at a far table and two men situated in a booth by the window, he noted. The two men were engaged in some frantic conversation actually, and they were both strange. One had graying black hair despite pushing thirty at most. The other was more distracting. He had wild dirty blond hair that looked knotted. His garb was completely outlandish and made him stand out more than any other factor. An olive green jerkin covered his body, and a belt was wrapped across his torso from his shoulder down to his hip containing pouches, sleeves and whatnot. He wore medium length pants that came down to his shin but were tied down right above his knees by a wrap of cloth. He wore open toed shoes that covered his ankles. To top off everything else, he wore a bright red cloak that draped down his back. He waved his hands energetically as he spoke, despite the man across from him looking deathless serious.
Kael had never seen anyone who looked like that.
Perhaps Gianna wouldn’t stand out in this town. Joshua jabbed Kael in the stomach to keep him from staring and vice versa. The two went up to the counter and ordered the largest, cheapest sandwich and a glass of water each. Joshua also bought the same for Gianna expecting her to show up sooner or later.
Sitting down at the nearest table a ways away from the two at the booth and the opposite end from the family, the two boys inhaled every scrap of food on their plate in less than a minute. Kael sat back in his seat, quiet, while Joshua counted the money they had left with a sigh.
“We are down to three silver Yel excluding the money from Tyré which is really no good here,” Joshua counted out. “That’s not enough. Even with what Gianna brings back.” Joshua’s observation was met with silence as Kael wasn’t paying the slightest attention to him; instead, he was trying to hear what the two men at the booth were discussing, but he could only make out a snippet here and there.
“I want to but with Seriah …” one would say. “. . .at least for her,” the other would say. “. . . that’s without Seriah,” the first returned.
Kael shook himself away from the conversation as Joshua snapped his fingers in front of his face. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
Kael mindlessly wiped crumbs from the table onto the floor. “Oh eavesdropping on those guys over there,” Kael nodded his head. “Something about Seriah.”
“Huh. Well. That is where we are.”
Kael grunt. “We are in Sela not Seriah.”
“Why are they named so similar? That’s just confusing.”
“Point taken.” Kael cleared his throat. “So focusing on the Book, you’re good with the plan right?”
“We ride the train to the Capital tomorrow, make sure we don’t have any following us, and then we head back home.” Joshua shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably and looked around. “Regroup before we head to Dania and the Book.”
“And what do you think of her?”
“Of Gianna?” Joshua considered the question wide eyed. “Hard to say, I expect we’ll find out more tomorrow. Still, a spare Syche to rely on is a rare thing, even if I question her sanity every now and again.” Joshua drummed his fingers on the table in thought. “She has a concussion, I’m sure you noticed.”
“And?” Kael said.
“She was wielding Sychakentic energy just fine on the boat. With a concussion.”
“I think it’s impossible,” Kael answered incredulously. “She wasn’t hurt as bad as we assumed. I couldn’t come close to using my powers with a concussion. She’d have to be an absolute monster to do it.”
“Maybe we should have given her the Osmium then.”
“There’s a limit to how much energy it can hold.”
“Sure but you still could of--”
Ring. The door swung open and Gianna walked through dressed much more normal. Casual even. She had jeans, a dark purple shirt, and a long coat like Joshua’s. She didn’t need the coat with her powers. They could have used the money. Kael looked her up and down disapprovingly; Joshua just looked.
And then he waved her over. She pulled up a chair and sat down. She put down a copper and four silver Yel down on the table. Joshua proceeded to slide her food over and she dived right in without the need of any prompt. Kael stared through the window outside as Gianna had her fill, finishing it faster than either of the two boys. Less people walked on the sidewalk outside and fewer cars drove by on the once jammed streets, to be expected as the night progressed. In the little café, the clerk was cleaning up behind the counter getting ready to close up shop. Everything was tranquil now compared to the rest of the day.
“Wash up wif dat?” Gianna asked with a mouth full of food, looking at the two men who’s conversation had developed into a full blown argument.
“Politics or something. Talking about Seriah,” Kael said. He hated nothing more than explaining something a second time just because the person wasn’t in the room.
“Oh!” She held up a finger as a gob of food made its way down her throat. After a small cough she continued, “born and raised there. That’s my home country if I had to pick one.”
“Fascinating,” Kael responded. “With that, we know twice as much about you as we did before.” He looked back and stared at the far wall blankly as Gianna merely shrugged her shoulders.
As soon as Gianna finished with her dinner, a conversation started up about what had passed that day. One of the first things asked of her was about their pursuers. She conceded that she didn’t know who they were personally, and then the words “Dark Element” left her lips, perhaps a bit too loud.
As soon as these words entered the air, everything became unnaturally still in the already quiet cafe. The two men who were engaged in conversation now stared at Gianna slack jawed. The gray haired man in the suit stood up with a very nervous and worried expression. He walked hurriedly to the door, with a dark look on his face, and left in a flurry. His offbeat companion slid out of his seat following him but stopped at the door, looking back at Joshua, Kael, and Gianna sitting at the table. He had a panged expression on his face that quickly shifted through a mode of emotions as he moved back and forth between their table and the door unable to decide which way to go. He clenched his fists and, finally, turned his back and darted out of the door and past the café sprinting after the gray haired man.
“I don’t suppose they left because of the food?” Kael said to himself.
“Nah it was really good,” Gianna said back. “But anything that isn’t grool would be at this point.”
Joshua grabbed his coat and stood up. “I think we should go now.”
“Right with you there,” Kael said. “And from now on, no one says the words ‘Dark Element’ out loud.”
“Well you just did.”
“I was explaining the rules. Now shut up and move.”
They left the restaurant and looked around. Both of the men were nowhere to be found. Joshua had the brilliant idea of walking around the town to make sure they weren’t being followed, but it turned out to be not so brilliant. After an hour or so of traversing the ever quieter streets, they determined that no one was following them. On the other hand, the group couldn’t make out which direction was which. They resolved to head back to the train station to spend the night there, but neither of the three knew where that was located, exactly. Asking directions was out of the question according to both of the boys, not when somebody might be looking for them. They stumbled along until they finally happened upon the closed train station. The two giant moons in the sky were almost directly overhead, and the clock read just after midnight. They walked onto the station platform exhausted, and Joshua, Kael, and Gianna each grabbed their own bench. It had been a long day and all any of them wanted to do was sleep.
“Hey Gianna,” Joshua prompted, “I was thinking. That group that is now after us, how many of them are there?”
“I don’t suppose you could be more specific?” Kael asked.
She yawned. “Hawnnestly, I don’t think the size matters all that much. The main thing is that they are powerful, so much so that size is irrelevant. The Element is on every continent and in every country.”
“Interesting,” mused Joshua. “And here I was thinking that it was some sort of small scale operation.”
“We were going to have a watch anyway,” Kael said. “I’ll go first.” He swung his legs off the bench and stood up. “Gianna you have second. We’ll want our Syches the most rested tomorrow if anything happens.
“Sure,” Gianna said, somewhat. . . angrily?
“I guess that leaves me with the last watch,” Joshua said. “Oh and Gianna.”
“We’ve got a long ride tomorrow so you are going to have plenty of time to answer all of our questions about you and that former group of yours. All of them.”
Without ado, Kael took over watch while Joshua and Gianna slept. The rest of the night passed without any incident, but it was tricky. Using his powers at all require immense focus. He was just about an expert and better than most, but he was tired too. He could reach out and search the perimiter for little flickers of life that struck his concious and even that bolder, sharper feeling Syches gave off, but he couldn’t do it for long.
And as the watch switched to Gianna, he was asleep in seconds.
Joshua was woken up in that strange part of night that was definitely night but some wackos called morning. It was dark and cold, and he felt like he hand’t gotten a minute’s worth of rest. He lasted about an hour until he thought that the free bench looked more comfortable than standing. He sat down. Not too long after sitting he got the idea into his head that it would be much more comfortable to guard while lying down. Who would expect the guard to be lying down after all? Genius.
The next thing he heard was, “Get up you lazy bum. I said get up!” Joshua cracked an eye open and adjusted to the light. A fuming Kael stood over him. “Joshua! You fell asleep!” Joshua sat up and yawned, rubbing his eyes.
“All right, calm down. We’re all alive aren’t we?” Joshua yawned.
Kael stared at him with a look daring Joshua to say another word. “That isn’t the point,” Kael hissed.
“Sorry.” Joshua stood up and looked around. He wasn’t sure if he meant it, but it was the sort of thing you had to say.
The morning’s light rained down on the platform. The area was sparsely busy with people about their business. The group sat complacently for over an hour, shaking off the dregs of the night. Joshua asked if he had time to get breakfast, but the answer was obviously no.
Then the train pulled it. It had a sleek bullet-like appearance and metallic sheen. They called Gianna over, who was looking at a bulletin board with irrelevant happenings in the city, and entered the train together.
The furnishings were pleasant. A skinny aisle divided the car in two with a set of padded seats facing each other on each side with a table in the middle. A dark red print carpet inlaid with gold covered the floor, and every set of seats had a large window to go with it. Overhead were stainless steel luggage racks and white lights placed into the ceiling. They moved onto the second car since the first car was too crowded. A mother sat at one of the tables with three of her children, a group of businessmen at another, and an old man sitting by himself. Fewer travelers packed the second car, but they wanted a space to themselves so they kept going. Finally, the eighth and final car was empty, and that was the one that they took. They all threw their coats in a pile on one table and sat down at another- Kael and Joshua on one side with Gianna on the other.
“Gianna,” Joshua got her attention.
“We saved you as you requested so now it’s time for you to keep your end of your bargain and answer whatever questions we ask you.” He said the words plainly. No excitement, no joke. But Kael had to hide a smile all the same. He could always tell how Joshua was doing, and this was a big step up from yesterday.
“Of course,” she answered.
“Want to start or should I Mr. K?”
“After you Mr. J,” Kael answered happily, glad to see Joshua taking control.
Joshua’s face lit up. “Great, question number one. What is your name?”
“Just Gianna,” she answered sounding disgusted.
“Are you telling me you don’t have a middle or even a last name?” Joshua asked, his eyebrows knitted and his eyes squinting.
“That is the message I intended to communicate.” Gianna nodded in affirmation, without completely understanding
Joshua stared at her not sure whether to believe her or not, finally settling for the previous. “And your age?”
“What is your favorite color?”
She had to think about this one. “Fire. I guess?”
Joshua’s questions continued in this manner for the next ten minutes. In that time, many dark and disturbing facts about her were discovered such as her favorite food (gazpacho) or how she was right handed. While the questions may not have gotten any real information from her, she was slowly slipping into ease-- relaxed and not thinking about the troubles life had presented her with recently. Regardless, Joshua eventually ran out of the more light-hearted questions and let Kael ask what they really wanted to know.
“I’ll be the one to ask the hard questions. You are a member of that group, correct?” Kael snapped his fingers trying to come up with the name just outside his reach.
“The Dark Element. And yes for all of my life. That wasn’t a very hard question.”
“Just easing you into it.” He paused. “While the 3rd dynasty ruled Seriah during the 7th Age who served as the Foreign Liaison and Minister of Admiralty?” Gianna looked to Joshua for help who just shrugged. “You promised to answer our questions,” Kael urged.
“I don’t think she knows it’s a joke,” Joshua whispered. “Also, what is the 7th Age?”
“I made it up,” Kael whispered back. Straightening himself, he looked Gianna down. “How about you just tell us who is in charge of the Dark Element.”
“Ah, you’re making another joke.” Gianna smiled a crooked, toothy smile.
“Why would you say that?”
Suddenly crestfallen, she bowed her head and mumbled, “Because no one knows the answer.” With Kael and Joshua looking skeptical, she hurried to continue, “I mean, we all know his name. They call him Mellach. But I don’t know of anyone who has ever seen him for certain. Maybe the higher ups but they don’t talk about it if that’s the case.” She paused in thought. “I know of Tyré though! The boss there is normally called Red Ice. Apparently she is the strongest Blood user ever to live. She had a right-hand man too. Big guy. Zagan. He’s her Deputy.” Gianna paused a second looking out the train window. “There are also the Commanders to the far West, but you should stay away from them.” Something on this subject was touching a real nerve with Gianna. “But that ice woman,” she snapped back to it, “she was just in charge of that branch. The Element has four branches, four commanders.”
“You have to know something!” Joshua and Kael demanded together.
“Just silly rumors you hear. That he is actually the dead brought back to life. That he controls all four elements. That he actually controls a fifth element. That he is the King of Taerose or the Apostle of Seriah. Nothing substantial.”
“Being the King of Taerose would be worth a chuckle, but clearly Taerose is involved in some way,” Joshua commented. “The army is working with them.”
“Taerose ordered the hit on the President in Tyré, that was no big secret, but orders would come down from all sorts of clients as far as I know. The Dark Element are mercenaries.”
Drumming on the table with his fingers, Kael scowled. “So how could we get to the guy in charge? You mentioned branches with each of their own heads. They would know?”
“They obviously would,” Joshua interjected, “but I’d be willing to bet Kael’s stamp collection that someone in charge of a bunch of Syches would be a terror to fight, let alone capture.”
“I’m up for it,” Kael said lazily. “But we are a bit busy with the Book and all.”
“Oh, yeah!” Gianna said, the words hanging in the air. “You’ve mentioned a book a few times now. Just what were you two running around in the mountains for anyway?”
Joshua and Kael shifted uncomfortably in their seat not sure whether to tell her, but eventually Joshua spoke. “We are looking for something called the Book of Light. It’s a legend Kael and I have been searching for.”
“You’re looking for a book?” Gianna hesitated. “That’s boring.”
“It brings the dead back to life okay? Honestly, half the time I don’t know what’s going on through that head of yours.”
“It was my idea to find the thing,” Kael said, a hint of pride registering. “You have to dream big if you’re going to have anything at all. So I wanted the biggest legend of all.”
As Gianna’s gaze wandered over to Joshua who squirmed uncomfortably. “I just want what Kael wants,” Joshua said.
“You want adventure,” Kael added. “You want to read a book, watch a movie, and then pretend that’s you.”
“No that’s not-- this is getting dangerously close to talking about our feelings,” Joshua rocked uncomfortably as he spoke. “Let’s just say, my motives are pure, and leave it at that.”
“You two are so strange,” Gianna said much too loud.
The lull in the conversation led to an awkward pause. Without warning, Joshua rammed his body into Kael trying to push him into the aisle.
“What the heck are you doing?” grunted Kael, trying to keep himself from falling over under Joshua’s weight.
“Move!” Joshua whispered in a panic. He put some more force into it and pushed Kael to the ground and followed up by landing on him, pinning him to the floor. Joshua motioned for Gianna to join them but she was already way ahead of him upon seeing what Joshua had seen. She plopped down besides them on her tummy.
Outside on the platform, looking completely out of place, strode the large Deputy Commander and his three grunts. They were getting a lot of strange looks as they examined the platform. Two guards on the station platform stood warily away and watched them not sure what to do. One called for backup. In truth, the only reason there hadn’t been an altercation was that they had the hoods off, their faces exposed to everyone around; plus, they hadn’t committed any crimes-- per se. Their leader, Zagan, walked back and forth through the station glaring at everybody. One of his associates strode alongside. This man was young. He was older than Kael or Joshua, but only by a little and seemed cheerful. At the bulletin board that Gianna examined earlier were the other two members of the hit squad. One was the bald Lieutenant who was clutching his chest, struggling to breathe. The other member was a dark skinned, middle aged woman who was examining the arrival and departure times.
“Would you get off, or at least tell me what’s going on?” Kael demanded as he tried to squirm free of Joshua who was still on top of him.
“It’s our friend from yesterday, and he has brought company,” whispered Joshua.
“Captain Beasley?” Kael answered bewildered.
“No you idiot, the guy that almost killed us,” Joshua snapped back.
Kael tried even harder to get up now so Gianna also jumped on him, keeping him pinned to the floor.
There was a click as the door to the car opened. All three of them stopped the wrestling match and looked up. The gray haired man from the café stood in the doorway. He gazed down at the tangled mess on the floor. With a blank expression on his face, he scratched his chin and shook his head. With no more a reaction than this, he turned around and left, the door slamming shut behind him. Kael saw his opportunity and threw off Joshua and Gianna while they were distracted. He sprang to his feet and bounded to the window.
“Gone!” Kael cried dismayed.
Joshua stumbled to his feet and helped Gianna up. “What are you thinking?” yelled Joshua. “You are going to get us killed.”
“Will you relax, I can take those guys!” Kael said. “Gianna, how high ranking were those guys in the organization?”
“I just mentioned him a moment ago, that was Zagan Mvolic, the Red Ice’s number two. He is second in command of all Oceanic forces. The bald one was the Lieutenant from the base, but you’ve got me on the other two.”
Joshua listened to her in shock. “Kael, he is obviously very powerful so please don’t push it,” Joshua pleaded. Just think of it this way, it wouldn’t be a fair fight. You would be fighting him along with his three men. And maybe even that guy who just walked in here.”
Joshua stumbled to his feet and offered a hand to help Gianna who stood on her own while staring at Joshua’s hand as if it was something grotesque.
“Fine,” Kael grunted. “You’re lucky I haven’t quite recovered yet. And malnourished,” he threw in. He looked like he was about to say something else but the whistle of the train sounded. The train jerked to life, picking up speed. In five minute’s time, the door opened again and the train conductor collected Joshua, Kael, and Gianna’s tickets.
Kael didn’t seem too interested in talking so Gianna spoke with Joshua. “So what’s your guys’s story? Are you related or something?”
“Brothers,” Joshua answered. “Surely we already told you that?”
“I might’a heard it from you? A lot has been going on and it’s hard to keep track.” She paused and brought her hands together over her heart, her eyes wide looking back and forth between the two brothers. “Anyway, she said,” snapping back to normal. “How old are you two?”
“We’re both seventeen. I’m actually two months older than Kael.” Gianna’s face contorted trying to work out the numbers here. “Half brothers,” Joshua added.
The train was now out of the city, traveling along the track that their group had followed into town the previous night. On the left, the sea lapsed gently against the silver sands. On the right forested hills rolled up and down gently.
Gianna sat silently for a time, and seeing as Gianna had nothing left to ask, Joshua reached into his pocket and pulled out a match held it between his fingers, staring intently at the phosphorous tip.
“What are you doing?” Gianna asked.
“He does that in his free time,” Kael answered for him. “Blood, Metal, Electricity, and Combustion. He’s absurdly proud of being normal, except the times where he does. . . this.”
“You’re darn skippy,” Joshua blurted, and now all I need is some water. I’m going to head up to another car and try to find a fork: with an outlet that covers Metal and Electricity.”
Gianna scratched her chin and looked around the room. “So it was your dad that was a Syche or your mother? It would be unlikely for two parents with the genes to have a child who wasn’t a Syche.”
“On our mothers’ side. Our dad never had anything special about him other than being the world’s biggest--”
“Uh guys,” Joshua’s voice came from the end of the car.
The door to the car stood open with Zagan’s massive frame blocking the way into the next car, his black, bottomless eyes staring down at Joshua in contempt.