Myth: of Men and Monsters. Part 1: Echos. S3a
unlike the Pandora Dilemma, I’m writing this pretty much as you’re reading it. I post as soon as I’m done. This is a long one and I’m sorry for that, but this scene is pivotal. I’m not finished with it but I don’t want a 4K word post so I’m cutting it at a point I think will work for the reader. I hope you agree.
Kayle was finished with this dribble. His demeanor changed. It became colder, harsher. He was no longer talking to a friend, he was ordering his lesser. He was forcing his will on a man trained to accept it.
“Not a single one of them survived. There is no boy. There is no one left.”
Something fell back in his second. His fiery, fearful eyes became tearful. His lips moved, softly, with small and understated convulsions.
“A ghost, then…”
Kayle brought his old friend closer, pressing their foreheads together gingerly. It was an old soldier’s tradition. He’d heard the history on the motion of friendship but had long forgotten it. He used it because it brought the other’s attention to him and him alone.
He gave a small smile, holding Yarthiss around the neck for a few moments.
“I think we have taken advantage of the night a little too long.”
Yarthiss breathed a single word.
Kayle turned to Jax, motioning for him to get ready. He smiled when his son stood and lifted his already packed things. He was a good boy. Anyone who knew Kayle, new his son was a wonderful child worthy of praise. He made sure of it.
The tavern had emptied itself during their reverie. Curfew was still in affect for everyone without a badge. While no one would question his famous face, he was still skittish of this new town, this new world. So many ignorant country folk lived within the walls. He could barely take a step without falling victim to one of their many superstitions.
Being out so far after the sun gave way to the moons was one such dark crime of happenstance. Here, it was called the hour of dust. Why, Kayle could never understand. This damn place rarely stopped raining for more than a day. He often joked that it should be called the hour of mud. Any lesser Aelphi would keep that to themselves, but he didn’t mind the incredulous stares. He was used to breaking taboos. He was used to breaking everything.
He pulled his overcoat on, taking great care to keep the medals and accreditations straight and proper. He never got a chance to where it anymore. It was his pride and joy, after Jax. It was an armored coat, adorned with all the commendations he had collected through his rotations of service. He would look at them now with mixed feelings. His younger self had seen the next possible award as a goal, something to look forward to. But, in an age where retirement smashed into him like a rock from the heavens, he came to the realization that he had nothing left to conquer. He had received every citation, every shiny piece of congratulations and appreciation that Obeiron’s forces could offer a man. He was the most proud of the Golden Seal, the most proud and the most saddened. It had been his dream since childhood, since his own father had been collected into the Golden Guard as their leader.
And here, earlier that night, he had found himself with the other Guards. He grinned at the fleetingly recent memories.
“Fah, I want to make a wish at the fountain.”
Kayle’s head came above the waters of introspect. The fountain was the great monument this city had been built upon. It was truly spectacular. They had escaped the ridiculous crowds early in the day by slipping into the building through the back but now they had a chance to see it unhindered. He looked at the sky through a window near the door. Lightning struck the unfinished tower in the North End. The rain hadn’t started yet but it would soon, and hard. He grimaced, but hid the ugly expression when he turned around.
He smiled widely, slyly.
“What wish do you have to make? You have everything you could want.”
He saw his son thinking. He saw his son’s mind working in a way that only children can show; that scrunched-nose, pursed lip expression that they all seemed to have agreed upon to signal their mental distress. Kayle new it wasn’t the wish that mattered. It was the act of seeing the glistening statues again and hearing the clear water cascade down sheets of diamond glass. Jax had taken a job earlier that cycle as a Rignat, a distributor of coins to the poor. Kayle knew he liked being the one to give them the chance at a wish. He knew the thing his son liked the most, though, was being so close to something so great. Watching his boy, he had already decided to go to the monument, damn the rain and what may come. He just wanted to see Jax could come up with. He liked to test him in these little ways. He liked to see how far he’d come and gauge how far he could go.
Jax cleared his throat and answered in a way that was as official as he could make it.
“I want to wish for the health and happiness of our lord.”
Kayle smiled again, wider. He could barely keep his chest from puffing with pride. He opened the door for his little prince, his little warrior-hero in the making.
“That’s a fine answer, but we have to leave soon after that. What will your mother say with me keeping you up so late?”
He closed the door and felt the nip of the oncoming storm. It shook something in him. Rattled a nerve that Yarthiss uncovered. He unfocused, missing his son gliding along the sidewalk with his arms outstretched. The boy made a turn in the street and circled back, finding his father gazing into the starless sky.
Kayle soon felt a tug on his arm. The tug became harder and harder until he looked down into the life-green orbs staring up at him.
“Are you coming?”
He patted Jax on the head, messing his hair beyond it’s already unkempt position.
“Go on ahead. I’ll meet you there.”
Jax appeared to be readying an argument but Kayle’s steady gaze held it at bay. The boy shrugged. He let his body fall backwards, catching it with short, well timed steps. He shot his arms outward again and, with a smile, was off on another imaginary adventure.
A good boy.
He watched as the small form disappeared past the bend in the road. He waited until he could be sure there would be no immediate return, no instantaneous appearance. He waited the few muscle tensing moments until he could release his hold on himself. He closed his eyes to keep from seeing his own trembling.
His pipe found it’s way to his hand. The flame found it’s way to the herbs. He found his way to keep from overbreathing to his knees.
The smoke fell upwards in multicolored strands. He breathed what came through the stem. It took him a while to get used to the combination his physician had given him. It took even longer to get used to the idea that he needed something to calm him.
It was new, this stress. Generals were supposed to be proud. They were supposed to accept everything that came their way. They weren’t supposed to fear the darkness.
Ever since Althria, that damnable war, things had been stranger. He never knew anxiousness like this. He never knew these nightmares. He certainly never knew nightmares could happen when awake.
The environment wasn’t helping much either. He looked up at the perpetual storm clouds. They hung above the city, blotting out the structures being built to drive them away. It was a problem and had been since they arrived. Some activity in the sky combined with the valuable mineral deposits in the ground created the perfect home for a creature the natives cooked up in their stories. It was a creature that lashed out with light and fire and terror. They called it ‘the hunter’. The Aelphi called it lightning. Kayle just called it annoying.
He wasn’t normally so distracted to keep his gaze to the sky for so long. His remarkable eyes, known for their clarity and harsh blue hue were so often pointed in front of him with determination. Tonight, however, the muddled memories had caused his gaze to wander. With a great jolt, he lost sight of everything. A white hot blade had been stuck into his mind.
The spot of fog hung within the liquid-like vapors covering his sight.
Something else flashed. A memory of blood flowing down a set of stone steps. It wasn’t Aelphi blood, it rarely ever was in his dreams. It was black, and glossy. It always flowed with a purpose, towards him, seeking to consume him. He stepped back as if trying to avoid the dark fluid that wasn’t there. It took advantage of his lost vision. It filled his mind, pouring into the spaces that would normally hold the outside world.
A sound, wispy and ethereal, rose from the blood. It spoke to him in a tongue he just barely remembered, a language on the edge of his understanding. It was guttural. It was animalistic. Kayle’s hands pressed against his regally long, pointed ears.
Somewhere in the corner of a building that couldn’t possibly exist anymore, a young boy sobbed. Years covered his face. Black hair mingled with the dark spots Kayle couldn’t remember.
The general’s body jerked. He heard something crash in an alley. By the time his long blonde hair settled from the quick turn of his head, he could feel the cold metal handle of the sword on his belt. His fingers clenched around it’s reassuring mass, tingling with the activation of the sensors on the wrapping.
It was his orinite blade, the gift that was granted by Obeiron himself. He had gone through hell to get that prize and wasn’t going to go a single day without the rest of the universe knowing it. It gave him great courage when his own would falter. It wasn’t working very well tonight.
He took in another breath from his recently ignored pipe. Exhaling his tension, he focused his thoughts. There was nothing there. He learned it slowly though something within had already known. There was no blood, no child, no sound.
No sound… No child.
Kayle looked up, scanning the street. A twinge of panic set in. He spun around, searching the streets.
Jax… Where’s my son?
He stumbled around the turn towards the fountain, the earlier events lost to him past the chaos.
He walked quickly, looking down every alley until his senses reminded him to check straight ahead. This area was always darker than the rest, shrouded by a half-ring of large storm towers. He strained against the shadows both real and imagined. He searched in spite of the strangling void.
He could have asked himself why there was no light. He should have had the presence of mind to question the crunch of crystal underfoot. Kayle’s mind was on one thing. He saw the tiny figure at the edge of the fountain. He saw his son standing, straight and still, staring into the pool. A single shaft of light orange glow showed the boy but the distance between them hid something else, something vital.
Kayle slowed. He breathed deeper. His composure returned. The cold wave that comes with the realization of sweat was replaced with the warmth of relief. He took a step towards his boy and called his name.
Jax turned slowly. He didn’t move much beyond his torso. In the dimness, Kayle could only see the brilliant green of his son’s eyes. They were wider than he’d ever seen them. He was afraid.