False Dawn #2: “Consequence of Love”
Part One of Three: Hunters and Gathers
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
I’ve never been scared of the dark. Of course, there’s always the first time for everything.
A whip crackles against flesh. A strangled scream slices the silence, its force cut by pain.
I blink, and all I see is black, like a void sucking in the light, like when the Skadoian Warrior pulled me into his body.
Yeah…that was gross.
Gradually, my sight adjusts to the shadows, but it looks like I’m seeing through coke bottles. Room’s small, dark, damp—a typical cell but with smooth tiles. My hands wipe away some of the dirt—cobblestones? Okay, this just went from scary to freakin’ mind-blowing.
Where the hell am I?
Another crackle. Another scream.
I’m crouching in the corner, but my sight’s still not what it should be. A blurred body hangs with its hands above his head, chained no doubt. His torturer looks way too much like a ninja to be comforting and saunters around the prisoner, unafraid of losing his prey.
Then, through labored breaths, “Loser…”
I know that voice.
“I can keep this up longer than you.”
Oh. My. God.
The fog still blurs the edge of my vision, but I see him clearly now. Connor with greasy, dirt-brown hair is chained in the middle of the room, his shirt off, chest weeping crimson, his jeans torn and muddy. The ninja is dark-eyed with jet black hair and the cargo pants and jacket of a warrior.
No way—no freakin’ way I’m letting this creep torture my uncle.
“Ral…?” Connor whispers as I stand and tug at the chain around my neck.
The warrior turns to me, his abysmal eyes ready to suck all the light from mine. Normally, I’d be screaming and clawing at the walls but not this time.
Grunting, Connor tugs on the chains over his head and finds the strength to kick, knocking down the warrior.
“No! Run, Ral!”
I will my sword to form in my hand.
The light burns away any shadows and forces me to close my eyes. I try to lunge in the direction of the warrior, to finish anything that’s left, but a weight slams down upon my waist and crushes sections that should never be crushed.
A hand clutches my throat, threatening to tear it from the rest of my body.
“And now you’re dead.”
Lance? Where’d he come from?
Where’s Uncle Connor? And the warrior and—and—
SMOKEY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Through the open car door, the rising sun drowns Lance in its shadows as he straddled my waist, his right hand clutching my throat, his left arm drawn back with his sword—a silver, long blade with golden-feathered hilt. The weapon lingers under my chin, so much so that I lift it to prevent any bloodshed. That intensifies the pain in my lower back, which is crunched against the door handle of the Blazer.
“…what? What the f—?”
He flicks my forehead—flicks! What are we, five?
“No swearing,” Lance admonishes. “You’re not old enough, Page.”
I hate that nickname.
“W—What happened? Connor! Where did he—”
“Connor?” Lance’s eyes soften just a tad, never enough to cry, but just enough where you know he’s hurting. He climbs off me but keeps his sword drawn. “We’re going to get Connor back, Ral. Connor and Addy.”
Addy, my mom.
Pushing my blanket off, I toss it and my pillow into the front seat before opening the door to the cool, morning air. It dries the sweat upon my face and neck, but it still leaves a sticky coat of grime upon my shoulders under my T-shirt. The dew sucks the tremors from my body as it washes my bare feet.
I tell Lance about my dream, and for the longest time, he says nothing. Then, out of nowhere, he sighs and heaves himself to his feet before slamming the door shut. He comes to slap me on the knee.
“Come on. You totally should have heard the door open or at the very least felt my approach.”
“What? You’re concerned about training? We have to find Connor and stop that warrior from—”
I blink, and the sharp pain returns full force to my lower back. Lance trusts his elbow into my shoulder, keeping me pinned to the side of the Blazer. When did I stand?
“Connor’s immortal, Ral. Immortal. That means if I shove my sword through his heart, he’ll live. If I do the same to you, you won’t.”
“Connor has and will survive worse, but I can’t say the same for you. So we have to do what we can, and after the display you just showed today…I’ve got my work cut out for me, Page.”
Did I ever tell you I hate that nickname?
The fog rises from the crevasses of the Smokey Mountain National Park, where we hid last night. Casia’s nowhere to be seen, so I guess she’s doing recon. Lance doesn’t say anything, but he thinks of everything. So I know she’s okay.
Once Lance turns and lifts his sword, I do the same.
I expect him to yell at me to keep focused during a fight. He still lunges, but his attack isn’t what knocks me off balance. “Yeah?”
I deflect with my crossguard. “What’s exactly an Immortal, y’know? What makes Mom and Connor and you...y’know, not dead?”
“Depends upon your own definition of immortality.” Lance jumps over my swipe and kicks me in the shoulders. Hurts but I push on. “In Shinto, kami can mean ancestors and can be worshipped, thus achieving immortality.”
I lunge for his torso. His blade meets mine. “According to Muslims, the immortal soul lives on after death, and it may end up in Jahannam or Hell or Jannah or Paradise.”
Lance’s foot hits my waist; I roll with the force but still slam hard into the wet ground. Mud slides up my left arm. “Jews originally believed in a mortal soul, where the word nephesh, meaning breath in Hebrew, translates to soul, but they now agree with the immortal soul.
“Hindus believe in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth, but you might want to stay away from the Aghoris. They believe eating flesh helps to achieve immortality.”
“I’ve never done it, so I can’t confirm or deny nor do I wish the ability to do so.”
Yeah, I’ll go with that.
“Christians believe they lost physical immortality with Adam and Eve, but those who believe in God will be resurrected after Purgatory.” He speaks without sounding winded, yet I can hardly catch my breath as our swords clang and mine flings halfway across the grove.
Lance smiles evilly as his sword once more licks my chin. “In Daoism, achieving immortality means being an enlightened person, who is known as Xian.”
“What do you believe?”
He blinks, perplexed, and I see my opening. My foot connects with his hand, freeing the sword. I flip over his head and catch the hilt. When Lance whirls, his blade’s hungry tip threatens to satiate its need with his blood.
“What do you believe?” I repeat.
“No…No one has ever asked me that,” Lance recalls, his voice faint. Shrugging, he gathers his bearings before retrieving my sword—Maiden’s Glory. He tosses it effortlessly, and I toss his—Man, is his heavy—and simultaneously, we catch our own.
Instead of engaging, Lance looks off toward the awakened sun. “I guess…I have a longer purgatory than most.”
“You mean sixteen lifetimes,” I scoff, coming to his side. The top of my head only reaches his chin.
He smiles, like the sun grants its light to his face, and he pounces faster than I can defend. His bare feet cup my waist, and before I know it—like most of my fights with Lance—I’m wet from dew and writhing in pain.
“It’s fifteen, thank you very much.”
Black boots stamp the grass flat next to my cheek. “All right, boys. Enough rough housing.”
Lance backs off me and offers a hand, lugging me to my feet. “I’m just training him, Casia. He went scrying last night.”
“Scrying?” She reaches out to push back my bangs, like my mom used to while tucking me in, but her worried eyes never actually look at me. “But that’s not possible…is it?”
“What’s scrying?” I ask.
“We’re way past the impossible.”
“Guys, what’s scrying?”
“But then that would mean…?”
Lance’s eyes grow dark—or darker for his anyway. “Yeah, it would.”
“GUYS!” I finally break through and stand between them. “Will one of you tell me what scrying is and what it means?”
Lance and Casia exchange looks over my head—damn her heels—but Casia finally wraps a comforting arm about my shoulders. “Scrying is what happens when you are able to look upon people you have a close connection to. Your emotions allow you to find them.”
“Do all mortals have this power?”
Lance snorts. “Perishables suck. They have no powers or anything like that. Can’t.”
Casia and I cross our arms. I cock my head to the side. “Ahem.”
“Well…for the most part.”
“I think what Lance is trying to say is: Mortals can’t have these powers, but you’re not a normal mortal, Ral. Your mother’s immortal, and maybe that grants you something here and there. I don’t know.” She clasps my shoulders. “But we’ll find out, okay?”
When Casia’s like this, she just makes me miss Mom even more.
“Good. Now, go get cleaned up. I think I have a lead on Addy and Connor.”
Sunlight never reaches the depths of Skadoia. In fact, light in the traditional sense is a myth told to children born in the shadow’s clutches, like the boogie monster or Bigfoot. Light, itself, only exists as cold, blue fire that burns with the intensity of liquid nitrogen.
For the people, caverns are home, where cities are built about abysses, which suck any form of naturally occurring light before it destroys the shadows and its people. The cities, built by carved stone and diamonds, huddle in the silhouette of the manors, castles, and fortresses of the warriors, who protect them from the Light.
In one such cavern, a castle stretches almost to the ceiling, the blue fire illuminating it so the glow echoes for miles down the paths to the other cities. At this time of the night cycle, the throne room glows the brightest with wax dripping from the metallic candles like quicksilver. Rumor prevails that the candles were formed from the blood of unicorns.
Shrouded by darkness and flanked by two guards blending into the night, the throne allows Lasantra only to see the legs and gloves of her ruler, who does not even grant her the decency of good posture.
It matters little. She lives only to serve, as all those of the caverns do, and she kneels before the throne. “My lord, the defiler maintains that the king will not come.”
Black fog permeates from his fingers, and he disperses it with his hand. “He lies. The king will follow the older. Such is the consequence of love.”
He rises from his throne, but Lasantra stays. “Is there something else?”
“The warrior who questioned Dawson this morning said a person scried into the cell. It was one whom I encountered in Virginia. He and two others are searching for the defilers as well.”
He starts. “Why is this the first I have heard of the incident?”
“He presented himself as Ral Dawson, the son of Adeline. The two others I recognized from prior confrontations—Lance Evans and Casia LaCroux.”
“The Cursed and the Were-Phoenix. Yes…we have had intercourse with both.” He rubs his chin—or what Lasantra could perceive to be one. “Another Were-Phoenix I have no need for. Same with the mortal boy if he is not strong enough to survive. Kill them, but take the Cursed. He can be of some use.”
“Is there anything else?”
There is, but she stands with regal poise. “No, my lord.”
“You ever wonder why the Secret Service is called Secret?”
Even with her “normal” crimson hair, glowing sea-green eyes, and Caucasian skin, Casia is scary when she’s pissed. “Ral, please. Just get the email off.”
“Seriously, think about it. They’re in plain sight. There is no freakin’ secret.”
Tussling my hair, Lance takes a deep breath. “The Secret Service was the original domestic and counterintelligence agency for the country. They were the spies, hence the ‘secret’ title.”
As if this stool can’t get any more uncomfortable, I glare up from my laptop to furl an eyebrow. “Sometimes, you are just freaky.”
“Yeah and you Perishables are just prizes.”
Connecting to the Internet, especially in public places, takes too long for my taste, which usually leads to riveting conversations like this one, especially when Casia and Lance stand behind me like my own personal Secret Service agents. I can take care of myself, thank you very much.
Casia glances about the Paper Clips Print and Photocopy Place. Three self-serve copies line the glass wall to the left while a counter separates the workers from the customers. I drum my fingers along the counter, and Casia barely keeps her hand out of her purse, which houses her staff. Lance’s hand clutches his car keychain, his hand running up and down the ivy patterned BMW sign. Yeah, that’s his sword’s sheath, like my necklace.
Finally, the Internet connects, and Yahoo! pops up on my computer. A few keystrokes, and I’m into Casia’s email (Werebird@yahoo.com).
“Okay, what am I looking—never mind.”
The one with the subject, “OPEN NOW, BIRDBRAIN!” seizes my attention.
Casia leans over my shoulder and swears as she reads the email.
“September 17, 2009—11:54 A.M., Ral on the computer.—Donnellie.”
“How—How does she know my name?”
“Oh, I’m sure she knows a lot more than that,” Lance grumbles. “Oracles are like that.”
Oracles! I glance down at the time in the right hand corner of the screen. 11:58. Wow, that’s pretty damn—
Bleep! Upon the screen pops an Instant Message. “Psychic reading?”
Casia blows out a loud breath. “Hit it.”
I do, and a second later, I find myself looking at a girl via Webcam hardly older than me, though that’s probably totally wrong. Her black and red dreadlocks remind me of a fanatic hockey fan, but her tight vest and black pants lend the image of a private school student. Her dark skin shines with the glimmer of moonlight, and her silver lavaliere switches shapes between a crane and a swan.
And I think Lance is freaky.
Her smile, she inherited from a used car salesman no doubt. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t the Birdbrain and Dante.”
“Good to see you, too, Donnellie,” Casia sneered.
“Always a pleasure,” Lance adds with disdain.
“You keep my number handy, so you must be masochistic. And this must be your little knave, huh? Charmed, Mr. Dawson.”
Nails on chalkboard, definitely. “Thanks, uh…you, too.”
Casia shoves my face out of the screen. “Donnellie, look. Did you get the info? We’re burning daylight.”
That, for some reason, jars the oracle. “There isn’t much I could perceive from here, but I can tell you the warehouse held Adeline and Connor for only a short period of time.”
“That we could guess. Give us something more concrete.”
“Hold your papillons.” Donnellie narrows her purple eyes. She pulls a book from the shelf behind her, which is decorated with comic book figurines and physic books, and flips to a certain page. “Okay, the river’s water evaporated about here.” She pointed to a circled part of the book—an astrophysics book. As far as I can tell, she’s circled an equation. But Casia—she’s typing away on her Sidekick.
Lance crosses his arms. “That’s all you know.”
“That’s all I can know for certain. Anything else I can say would be conjecture at best.”
“But you’re an oracle!” I spout. “Shouldn’t you know everything for certain?”
“I’m partially clairvoyant and can, at times, predict particular events that might or might not occur by reading patterns, infant. If you want specifics, I’d get a closer clairvoyant to check out the site for you.”
“Can you give us a reference?” Casia asks.
Donnellie rolls her eyes with an exaggerated, exasperated sigh. “He sucks big time and watch out for the accent, but you can call Tony Hiller out of Pigeon Forge. Owns a little palm reading business. Now, put yours up to screen, knave.”
Still stunned from her verbal bitch-slap, I raise my palm, but Casia and Lance seize my hand.
A shift of wind, a whiz of a high-velocity weapon, and an arrow pierces my computer screen. Before it shatters, Lance throws an arm around my neck and tackles me to the ground, his body on top of mine. An explosion reverberates from above, squishing Lance even farther into my back. Small bits of bytes and electronics shower our hair, but I still tilt my head so I can see just what attacked us.
Remember the Skadoian Warriors? Yeah, you seriously never want to meet them, but you know you must be special when one makes an appearance in the daytime.
And in person.
The same man who sucked me into his body now stands over us in flesh, blood, and whatever else warriors are made of with an arrow pointed directly at my face.
“I want a rematch.”
TO BE CONTINUED…