Chapter 13 - Squabble
“Bethany! She’s doing it again!”
Bethany didn’t even bother turning around. She didn’t need to; peacekeeping only works if both concerned parties actually want peace.
It started innocently enough; Cristlyn would occasional stumble or get caught in a slight gust. Sometimes, some small object (usually a piece of litter) would bounce off the back of her head. Bethany thought these occurrences strange, as she had no similar impediment. Then, as their walk was punctuated by increasingly loud and frequent swears from Cristlyn, Bethany gradually put the pieces together. Samantha, ever playful and probably still a bit resentful of the sister who barged into her inner sanctum and messed with her things, was a wizard (or a witch, Bethany supposed; she wasn’t sure how titles worked in the wizarding world). Sure enough, she soon caught Sammy flicking her wand at Cristlyn moments before a burst of wind nearly knocked her off her feet.
She’d scolded her youngest sister for the prank, of course; their bodies were hardy, but that was no reason to risk damaging it for the sake of a laugh. Samantha apologized immediately; after a few more minutes, however, it started again. Strangely, nothing ever came her way; perhaps her display of agility made Sammy think it a waste of time better used to wind up Cristlyn.
It wasn’t entirely Sammy’s fault, though Bethany was loathe to admit it. They’d been lost for about an hour, and although Bethany was certain they weren’t going in circles. They were in Rimstak, though exactly where was a bit of a mystery. Rimstak has about eighty-separate districts in Shadeside alone, over a hundred including Shineside. Wherever they were must’ve been fairly unpopulated, at least during the day; they’d only seen a few Rimstakkens since they entered Rimstak, and that was at the border.
They were on Shineside, Bethany knew that much (given that there wasn’t a massive floating continent above them, this was fairly obvious), but beyond that, she had no idea. Her maps of Ronisgald were over two-thousand years old; while she had a vague sense of where the Guildmaster’s workshop was located (based on the old position of Jocelyn’s facility), the maze-like streets made taking a straight-line path impossible.
“Quit it!” Cristlyn said, taking a swat at her sister.
Sighing, Bethany said, “Cristlyn, Samantha, could you please just behave?”
“But she started-“
“I don’t care!” Rubbing her forehead, Bethany said, “Look, there’s no sugar-coating it. We’re lost.”
“We are not lost.” Cristlyn said, “We just need to get to a node, that’s all. They’re supposed to be all over the place, right?”
In fact, they had passed three nodes moments after entering the city. Bethany wanted to take the node, as it would’ve deposited them right at the Guildmaster’s Workshop.
“Unfortunately,” Bethany said, putting her hands on her hips, “Someone just had to go on foot. To enjoy the ambiance of the streets.”
“Yeah,” Bethany said defensively. “Didn’t hear you complaining when we were eating that fried ice-cream about an hour ago.”
Blushing, Bethany said, “It’s been ages since we’ve seen a node, and I have no idea where we are now.”
The three of them glanced around for a few moments. Bethany presumed her sisters were trying to find some sign of where they were.
Samantha raised her wand and pointed down an adjoining street. “There!”
“Did you spot something?” Cristlyn asked, squinting.
“No, but I’m a wizard.”
Cristlyn slowly turned to look at Sammy. “You do realize that’s not a valid reasoning, right, Sammy?”
“If I’m a wizard, maybe I can see into the future!”
“Yes,” Cristlyn said, “And maybe I can shoot peppermint humbugs from my eye sockets.”
“Cristlyn.” Bethany said,.
“What? She’s a wizard, not a fortune teller. It’s not even a legitimate form of magic!”
“Is so!” Sammy said, already sulking.
“It is not!” Cristlyn said, “Studies show that even those proven to have a high chance of foretelling future events are wrong at least twenty-percent of the time.”
“One out of five predictions are incorrect.” Bethany said. “Those aren’t terrible odds.”
Cristlyn snorted. “You aren’t helping, Beth.”
Now in full-on sulk mode, Sammy stomped her foot. “That’s the right way!”
“You have no idea if that’s-“
Bethany stepped between them. Putting her hands on Cristlyn’s shoulders, she said, “Look, it’s as good a direction as any.”
Rolling her eyes, Cristlyn said, “Ugh, Fine. At least when we prove she’s wrong,” She paused to glare at Samantha), “She might shut up about this seer crap.”
Sammy stuck her tongue out at Cristlyn. There was something very off-putting (yet, Bethany couldn’t help but feel, rather endearing) about the way Sammy still acted like a little girl; it was fine when she was projecting a hologram of the same age, but her new body appeared to be the same twenty-something female form used by her sister’s cores; the only difference being the face and the hair. If anything, she was a little taller than the rest (limb length being easily adjustable until the fifth evolution).
“Fine.” Bethany said, motioning to the alleyway. “Sammy, would you like to take the lead?”
“I’m the leader? Yay!” With that, she started skipping down the alleyway.
Cristlyn rolled her eyes and followed, Bethany following behind.
They followed Samantha for the better part of an hour, randomly turning down tight alleyways, climbing through large residential areas, and even tromping through one of the freshener groves.
Bethany was intrigued by the carefully crafted ‘trees’ that were something of a mystery even to the local Rimstakkens; each leave, each acorn, every bit of natural-looking bark was carefully sculpted to look natural, while being one-hundred percent artificial. The sensors of her body, though not as in-depth as those she had access to as the Saybaro’s CIC, could detect that the air around the trees was significantly cleaner. The trees themselves converted standard airborne waist gases and materials into energy, which were then fed back into Rimstak’s power-grid.
The creator of the trees may have been a mystery, but their function was not; the Rimstakkens treated the trees like a national treasure, particularly in the denser areas of the country, and treated the appearance of new trees as a pleasant surprise. There was even an entire group devoted to caring for the trees. Not that the Skyway Repair Corps had much work; the trees were largely self-sufficient, so work usually consisted of cleaning up litter, repairing and replacing broken leaves and twigs, and general landscaping functions. In truth, the SRC were more the gardening type than the technical type. Still, the trees seemed to prosper with their aid, so the SRC was lauded as a helpful volunteer group and its members viewed as selfless and caring.
There were three members of the SRC working on one of the trees as Bethany and her sisters passed. A large panel of bark lay on the ground as the first, a tired-looking Galden wearing mostly denim, carefully checked the inner circuitry of the tree. He was engaged in conversation with his two co-workers. The next SRC member was a woman; at least, Bethany thought she was a woman. She wore coveralls, and her hat blocked most of her face. The remaining member was a woman as well, her shorts and bikini top more suited to the warm day, but Bethany was surprised to recognize her as having demon heritage; in addition to the two short horns twisting through her curly silver hair, she had a long scaly tale poking out of the back of her blue-jean shorts, the tip looking both vaguely heart-shaped and sharp. Half of a heart pendant hung around her neck, polished ivory with a gold setting.
“... showing a twenty-percent decrease in illness.” The man said as he slid the panel back into place. It clicked into place without leaving so much as a seam. As he stood up, he noticed Bethany and her sisters passing. “Oh. Hello there.”
“Good afternoon.” Bethany said, noting that he wore the other half of the heart-pendant, his half ebony with a silver setting. “To your wife and friend as well.”
The demon-woman bowed her head, a surprising kindness in her eyes. “I love your dress. It’s a kimono, isn’t it?”
“Yes, actually.” Bethany said, blushing as the demon-woman walked around her. “It was a gift from Jimmy and Terra.”
“Indeed? Well, it suits you quite well.” Glancing at the man, she said, “What do you think, Alan?”
“You know I’m not going to answer that question, Mel.” Alan said, smiling at his wife.
She chuckled before wrapping her arms around him. “It’s just an aesthetic observation, honey. I think she’s quite lovely; just like a little china doll with really poofy hair.”
Bethany’s face was quite gold now. “T-thanks.” She stammered, The woman in the coveralls nodded as well.
“It’s beautiful.” Bethany said, nodding at the tree. “Amazing construction. Tell me, have they found a way to replicate the technique?”
“Not as of yet.” The man said. It may have been Bethany’s imagination, but she thought his expression looked a little smug as he said this. “Air a little thick around your place?”
“No, but the tree in front of the Saybaro’s getting old; we’ve done what we can, but it’s simply nearing the end of its life. A tree like this would be a nice replacement when that happens.”
“The Saybaro?” The man asked, sounding a little surprised. “So you’re from Wenapaj?”
“Yes.” Bethany bowed politely. “Bethany Sakamota, of the Saybaro.”
“Bethany? The CIC’s name is Bethany, isn’t it?” The man said, shaking her hand.
“Er, yes. These are my sisters ...” She turned to Cristlyn and Samantha, only to find them gone.
“The blonde and the red-head?” The demon-woman asked, glancing down the road. “They were with you? They didn’t bother stopping.”
“Of course not.’ Bethany said, rubbing her temple.
The touch of a hand against her hair made her look up suddenly. The woman in the coveralls pulled her gloved hand back quickly. “I’m sorry.” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “I ... like what you’ve done with your hair.”
“Thank you.” Bethany said, her cheeks again golden.
“Will you be okay? Without your sisters, I mean.”
“It’s okay.” Bethany said, feeling oddly comforted by the woman’s concern. “We’re all heading to the same place. I’m sure Cristlyn and Sammy will figure out their way.” Hopefully before murdering each other, she added to herself. “We’re here to see our sister, Jocelyn.”
“As in CIC Jocelyn, I take it?” Alan said, rubbing his chin. “You’re quite a ways from the Guildmaster’s Workshop. What brings you this far from home anyway? Did CIC Bethany send you?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Bethany said. “A ... member of our family has gone missing. We’re trying to find her.”
A look of sympathy fell over the demon woman’s face. “I’m sorry to hear that. Still, if she’s Glyche as well, I’m sure Jocelyn will be able to help you.”
“Indeed.” Alan said. “Do you need help finding the Guildmaster’s workshop?”
Before Bethany could answer, someone with a surprisingly loud voice called out, “Ah! There you are being! I am looking for you and your sisters for nearly an hour!”
Bethany turned to see a Rimstakken woman with curly red hair tied in an untidy pony-tail. Her face was instantly recognizable to any who lived in the Saybaro, particularly Bethany.
“Uncle Ann!” Bethany said, hurrying toward Jimmy’s former guardian. “Thank the Creator, am I glad to see you!”
“And I am being delighted to be seeing you, CIC Bethany ... or perhaps, just Bethany now?”
“Pardon me?” The man said, sounding a little alarmed. “You’re CIC Bethany?”
“I was.” Bethany admitted. “But we found a workaround.”
“To look for your missing family member.” The man said. “I must admit, that’s quite noble of you. Do you mind if I ask who has gone missing?”
“My apologies.” Bethany said, “I don’t want to alarm anyone; a control matrix was left in her place, but should they know the CIC has gone missing-“
“I understand completely.” Alan said. “Can I assume that Cristlyn and Samantha are also their respective CICs?”
“Yes.” Bethany said.
“And this missing family member; she’s also likely in a core unit frame?”
In truth, the idea had not occurred to her; they’d taken the core units to go search for Angela; perhaps someone had put Angela into a core unit to kidnap her as well. Perhaps someone else had come up with their own prototype core specifically for the intention of imprisoning the Ronisgald CIC. The idea was terrifying; it was one thing to kidnap mother; in a body, she could be tortured, or exposed to any number of unpleasant scenarios. The world of sensation, a blessing to Bethany, could become a curse in the right circumstances.
“It is likely.” Bethany said, making a note to mention it to her sisters. “If so, we need to recover her before any harm comes to her.”
“I agree completely.” Alan said, glancing at his companions. “Look, it isn’t much, but I’ll make sure the SRC keeps an eye out for her.”
“Thank you, Mister Alan,” Bethany said. “I’m not sure if she’s anywhere near Rimstak, but as Jimmy says, never say no to a friendly hand.”
“Wise words.” Alan said. “Good luck, Miss Sakamota. Annabelle.”
“And you as well, Alan. Come along, Bethany; you have had a long trip, and are no doubt being exhausted.”
Nodding, Bethany waved goodbye to the demon-woman and the worker in the coveralls and cap before allowing Uncle Ann to lead her away.