Scene I: Break The World
Concordia, Void of Chaos. 2021, September
Thunderous footsteps filled the air as a group of four paced themselves along the wastelands of Concordia. Their heads were secured under black helmets and their bodies were dressed in a body suit of black leather. It was hardly the ideal type of thing to wear under the fiery sky above them, but their superior insisted it was necessary.
“Juden!” The youngest member of the group cried out over the thunderous earthquake up ahead.
“What is it, Kuki?” The leader of the group cried; expression masked under their helmet. Their tone was muffled by the sound of their clattering feet against the ground and the duffel bag in their arms hardly made the response a clear one.
“The ground! It’s shattering again!”
A small tut was made on Juden’s behalf when the third member of the group jogged up, muttering under his helmet in Juden’s direction with the simple remark; “I told you we shouldn’t have gone this way!”
Juden had been close to stopping then, ready to bark back at the snarky comment when the ground indeed began to shatter. Juden was the first to stumble forward upon the collision with a grunt of pain, sending the duffel bag forward against the dusty earth.
Kuki had been the first to stumble against the gaping mouth of the Void. As well as being the youngest of the group, she was also the smallest and had faltered when a fiery gust of wind blew her back. She had reached out for nothing, yelping when her foot dipped and she began tumbling back into the abyss.
Juden moved before anyone could think. Their fourth companion, who had yet to make a comment, was busy picking up Juden’s duffel bag and the snarky member of the crew cried out for Kuki when Juden grabbed her wrist, holding her over the edge of the Void.
The abrupt grasp upon her arm caused Kuki’s head to jolt and her helmet flew off. She always managed to keep her peach hair tied into cute little pigtails even under the sweltering headgear she wore, never losing their grip. Her large, tangerine eyes only grew wider when the ground continued to shake.
“Juden!” The snarky member of the group barked. “Pull her up for fuck’s sake! She’s going to fall in!”
“Don’t yell, Kaze!” Kuki whimpered, addressing the snarky man hovering behind Juden. She couldn’t see him, but she could imagine the anger in his face underneath that helmet. She felt the grasp on her wrist beginning to slip from the sweat on their leather suits, making it difficult to get a better grip as her legs kicked and flailed. “Juden! You have to get that duffel bag back to Shoki. You have to!”
“Juden!” Kaze yelled nearby, stepping forward to finally make his move when the ground beneath shattered; creating a trench to halt any further attempts to reach either Juden or Kuki. “Juden! Goddammit… Don’t you fucking let go of her!”
Kuki exhaled loudly, loosening her own hold on Juden’s arm. “Take care of Kaze for me. He needs you.”
“Kuki,” Juden stiffened and jerked forward, having been unable to predict Kuki would add more weight. Her intention was to fall. The motion caused Juden’s hand to slip. “I will. I promise.”
The ground rumbled over Juden’s words, rattling everyone’s bodies. Another gust of fiery wind shot up from the abysmal gap behind Kuki, sending her small pigtails to sway furiously over her head. The sounds of groans followed from the depths below and Kuki could only smile one more time before their hands separated and she fell backwards with all the grace in the world. Her face was the picture-perfect idea of content right up until she was out of sight and far, far away from Juden’s vision.
“We have to move!” Juden called out, wasting no time for idle mourning.
The ground was continuously shaking and tearing itself apart. It would not be the first time they had to escape this kind of narrow encounter, but it was the first time they had lost a member of their squad to the abysmal void beneath Concordia.
Juden moved freely, jumping the trench which had etched itself between them and the stunned Kaze. Once the trench was cleared, Juden grabbed Kaze’s arm and pulled him away before the earth could swallow him up in his time of mourning.
“Mada!” Juden addressed the final member of the squad and held out a hand for the duffel bag. “Come on!”
A small nod was offered on Mada’s behalf and together, the trio moved along the quaking desert; jumping trenches and missing narrow clashes from the crumbling world they left behind. A sharp crack filled their ears when they finally came to a clearing and the ground began to tilt upward. The fiery sky was soon straight ahead, and their balance began to give way; forcing them backwards. The Void wanted to swallow them - or acted like it. The idea had always been the most unsettling part when going out on these runs.
“Don’t stop moving!” Juden ordered before scurrying ahead.
As the ground continued to tilt, sweat ran down their brows and their muscles were screaming for a break. None of them chose to acknowledge their bodies wishes and they jumped off of the tilted ledge once they reached the top and fell through the air before rolling against the level ground with all the elegance of a legless horse. Dust wafted into the air once they finally came to a stop and they moved with groggy actions to look back towards the shattered horizon.
It was always unreal to stare at the parts of the Void that had been destroyed in its own creation. The sky cut off into darkness, as did the ground. There was no shadow or shift in temperature. Everything was black where life had once stood. Staring at it for so long only made the view false.
“How could you do that?!” Kaze’s voice cut through the dwelling silence.
A fist was soon beating down against Juden’s helmet on behalf of Kaze’s short temper. Mada was quick to jump from the ground to restrain Kaze and pull him off before the damage became fatal and Juden cursed, feeling the glass of their helmet break after Kaze’s attacks had ceased. Hurriedly, Juden removed the helmet and tossed it aside.
Long, ebony hair fell over Juden’s pale face and ran down the breastplate of her leather suit. Striking, electric-green-coloured eyes pierced through the dark locks and full lips pulled back with annoyance, creasing the thick scar against her right cheek.
“She asked me to do it!” Without the helmet, Juden’s voice was lighter – albeit cracked around the edges. “She begged me with her eyes to just let her go!”
“You could have saved her!” Kaze barked, shoving Mada off. His own helmet was removed with annoyance and he tossed the damned thing aside. Bleach-blond hair stuck up in random places and cold straw-coloured eyes narrowed as he flashed snaggled teeth together. “You could have pulled her back and we could have all gotten out together!”
“I had no choice!” Juden shrieked. “She sacrificed her life so we could get the duffel bag back to base!”
Kaze’s lips twitched. He stepped up to his superior, invading her personal space to the point their foreheads were nearly toughing. He may have been shorter by a few inches; but his rage was higher than the fiery sky above. His gloved hands were balled into tight fists, ready and prepared to deal a punch to Juden’s scarred cheek.
“We have to get back to base.” Juden whispered harshly, glaring into Kaze’s bright eyes. “If we don’t, then Kuki’s death would have been for nothing.”
Kaze’s breathing grew heavier with each word that fell past Juden’s lips. He was ready to snap at any moment with a course of words to badmouth Juden and everything she had chosen to do during their run, but he said nothing; much to both Juden and Mada’s surprise.
Instead, Kaze stepped away with slow movements. His eyes were cold when he faced Mada and snagged the duffel bag from his arms. He slung the strap over his shoulder and made his way towards the endless distance, leaving their journey back to Shoki a silent one.
The sky was turning purple by the time they reached their destination. Their heels slapped against the paves attached into the long, winding train tracks as familiar outlines of their fallen kingdom, Shoki, lay ahead.
Juden was thankful the silence had begun to shift when the faint calls, cries and laughter seeped out from the confines of their hometown. It was peaceful here, just as long as they kept their walls up and prayed the Void would spare them another day.
“Open the gates!” Came the routine cry from the guards above Shoki’s wall.
The metal doors were reeled back for the squad to step on through. The scents of dust and thick air was replaced with the pleasant aroma of baking food and flowers. The latter being because the florist was stationed just in front of the gates and a young man with lilac eyes raised his head as Juden led her crew over Shoki’s threshold.
“Good evening, where’s-”
“Please, don’t, Hanzai.” Juden spoke up, dismissing the florist’s obvious remark on Kuki’s absence. She said nothing more as she walked along, keeping her head down while they made their way through town and over to the looming castle in the distance.
Since The King had been taken, many changes were made to Shoki. Mayor Shicho had taken over with all the qualities of a strict and skilled leader. No-one had been unhappy with his decision and advice; most saw it as a blessing compared to their previous ruler’s reign of terror and threat. Shicho kept things peaceful while his son, Taiyo, had been put in charge of raising the younger groups of Sorcerers for more strenuous purpose, labelling his squads as chosen soldiers.
Taiyo led these squads with precision and fairness. Those he managed were all volunteers; some Sorcerers simply chose a docile life within Concordia and no-one was quick to judge their decisions. The Void was built for a docile life away from Dabblers, after all. Alas, once the Void started to shatter all those years ago, Taiyo – and his partner, Tsuki – were quick to act.
Projeckt Mirai. Yuugen’s success and aims for a brilliant future within Concordia had been managed by The Chairman and The Glutton before they died. They had collaborated on bringing supplies to the Void, encouraging lost Sorcerers and their Familiars to Shoki’s sanctuary. They had also been tampering with the Void’s access through the barrier. The Glutton had designed the frequency tablets while The Chairman had built them – they were scattered throughout the void, waiting to be found by Juden and her squad. If they could gather all of the equipment back to base, they could theoretically get back to the Dabbler world before Concordia crumbled around them forever.
“Juden Furu, here to report.” Juden spoke into a small screen attached to the castle wall. She waited patiently for the voice recognition to load and unlock the door in front of her before she stepped on through.
Years ago, the door led to the castle’s gardens thanks to a powerful spell on behalf of The King’s Sorcerer. Now the spell had been rerouted and led them underground where their base was safely tucked away; out of sight, out of mind. It left the castle as nothing but a mirage – no one ever went in or out without access. It was a corpse; blocked behind its high walls with the reminder of Shoki’s previous ruler and all he had done.
Juden’s footsteps were heavy against the metal staircase she trailed down. If she were in her full mind, she would have taken note on how her arms were aching from carrying that duffel bag all day. Her muscles were still screaming at her just to stop and take a knee.
The room she descended into was large and circular. There was a group of people towards the back, standing beside a wide computer screen and talking amongst themselves around a water cooler. The centre of the room was fitted with a large metal pillar coming down from the ceiling and straight to the floor, holding everything up.
Computer screens and transparent images flickered against the pillar with bright blue text and faint, white traces of images and information stored on each and every location Juden and her squad had travelled to collect The Chairman’s devices. Around the base of the pillar ran a makeshift desk covered in notes and foreign gadgets that beeped, flashed, and stored information on USB sticks and hard drives - all retaining information on the Void and everything it was. Every document written by none other than Okui.
“Furu,” Taiyo’s voice called out, catching the squad’s attention. “How was the mission?”
Juden shook her head and raised her eyes to stare up at her captain’s face. In all truth, he was not much older than she was and had a habit of slipping up, allowing his stern mask to crack and reveal his weakness from time to time. She supposed everyone did at some point.
“We lost Kuki, sir.”
From behind Taiyo, Tsuki sat at the foot of the pillar, manning the desk. His long, blond hair was braided over his shoulder and he whirled on his swivel chair, catlike eyes widening when he stood up and pushed past Taiyo with a shaky breath. He flicked his pen towards Juden, terror in his face.
“Kuki? Oh, no. And Kaze? How is faring?”
Before Juden could deliver a reply, Kaze was descending behind her. He remained quiet as he walked over to a set of small, plastic baskets sitting on a conveyer belt and dumped the duffel bag down. He made no attempts to look at Juden, Taiyo or Tsuki before making his way towards one of the LED-lit corridors off to the side.
“I’ll take care of him.” Tsuki sighed, dumping his pen on his desk. He nudged Taiyo before running down the steps and off to the corridor. “You tend to the Sorcerers.”
“Be careful with yourself!” Taiyo blurted over his shoulder and was given a careless wave from Tsuki in response before he vanished.
Mada snuck in behind Juden at long last, finally helmet-free to reveal dark grey locks of hair over his droopy, copper eyes as he bent his head to shine the top of his helmet with the wrist of his sleeve. More times than not he appeared the most normal out of his squad and it would probably be true if not for his perpetual silence and the three, thick scars running across his lips.
“Taizai,” Taiyo spoke up, gaining Mada’s attention. “Furu, you’re both with me.”
Silently, the duo followed their captain down the steps into the room and on through the LED-lit corridor Kaze and Tsuki had taken moments before. They passed other Sorcerers dressed in leather, adorning helmets with preparation to meet the fiery skies outside. Tsuki claimed their outfits were designed to combat the radiation in the air on the edge of the Void where the sky fell, and the ground crumbled. Exposure could be dangerous and Juden made a mental note to visit the infirmary before she went home; just to check her radiation levels after losing her helmet at Kaze's fist.
“Was the loss today absolutely necessary?” Taiyo spoke up once he had led the young Sorcerers into his office.
There was no desk in the room, Taiyo hated the idea of looking too authority-led and instead had a side table beside a leather recliner where he sat. Across from him was a long sofa which Mada fell against unceremoniously and Juden perched herself on the arm, keeping her eyes on the polished floorboards beneath them.
“Yes, sir.” Juden grunted. “The Void was collapsing and she… asked me to leave her. She wanted us to get back here with The Chairman’s equipment.”
Taiyo turned to Mada. “Is this true?”
Mada replied with a slow nod, face remaining blunt, almost pouting thanks to the scars on his lips.
“Very well,” Taiyo grunted, reaching for the notebook on his side table. He grabbed the pen from his breast pocket, clicked it once and began writing. “Give me a debrief of the whole mission; start to finish.”
The infirmary wasn’t far from Taiyo’s office so Juden was content as she dragged her heels; thankful the sky was turning dark outside which meant the corridors were empty and everyone was fleeing back to their dorms, houses, and families for supper.
Mada had no intention of visiting the infirmary and had parted ways with Juden to slink away back up to Shoki. He and Kaze shared an apartment just below Juden in a dorm complex building near the Inn. There was nothing of importance in that tiny room other than her worn-out switchblade. All Juden could think about was the microwave meal waiting for her in the community fridge in the single kitchen everyone used in the complex. She had always made sure to label her food – some people tended to pick and choose regardless of whether they bought it or not.
Sighing loudly, Juden slipped through the infirmary, tapping her knuckles against the open door. Her vision was covered by curtain dividers and she chewed the inside of her cheek, heel tapping on the floor. There was probably someone getting medical treatment and she considered coming back later when she heard the doctor’s apprentice laugh.
“Coming in,” Juden rolled her eyes, pushing the dividers back.
There sat the doctor with his arm up on the infirmary bed, allowing his apprentice to practice drawing blood. It looked like she had been trying for a while – considering how many plasters were covering the doc’s already-scarred arms. Juden mentally cringed.
“Sorry to interrupt, doc.” Juden muttered. “I had some radiation exposure out in the wasteland; was hoping you could give me the all clear.”
“Of course, Juden.” The doctor pulled away from his apprentice and stood, tucking back his long purple hair and rolled his sleeves down. His single eye twinkled when he looked back at his apprentice. “Heishi, keep the venepuncture set out. You can take Juden’s blood for her radiation tests.”
Heishi smirked, her chestnut pixie cut batting her cheeks when she turned back to Juden. “What are you waiting for? You heard doctor Hahen, come take a seat, Juden.”