6: Crown of Worms

It’s strange what they do to their leaders. What I mean is what they do to their ex-leaders. The fall of a leader outside of death in battle, or a duel for power, is considered to be a shameful thing. Extremely shameful.

And the gangs make a show of it, this shame.

The aftermath of my first glorious tapping into the true power of adrenaline was this. Natasha arrested all of those who survived the combat and actually fought. They assaulted an officer, that’s what she charged them with. Oh, and she’s not a guard any more, she’s the temporary leader of the Solune Agents.

Well, my mother and about sixty percent of the gang got off. There was nothing that could be done. The funny thing is that, as second in command, my mother, Hail, is set to take over from the other leader, the one she captured during the fight.

She’s beaten me to my goal, and she did it while being entirely insane. Natasha offered to get her checked out, but she already has been. There isn’t much we can do. She’s schizophrenic, they think I might develop it too. Whatever. If I do, I wouldn’t mind, mom seems to think it’s a lot of fun. She laughs a lot, right?

That’s not important though.

I watched my mother perform the shaming ceremony, pulling the old leader from the top, from north status to the bottom, west. They’re presented a symbolic crown of worms. I heard originally it was real worms, but right now they mostly use dirt. The leader was sitting on that throne, the same one she was on when I hit her. I watched as my mother, suppressing frantic giggles, strode up to the woman. Hail is a short woman, although average for a Riley.

She put the dirty wooden crown on the old leader’s head. Then, finally, she laughed her lovely laugh, and went on with the speech.

“You know, I didn’t even want to be the leader, but one thing’s for sure,” Hail giggled, “I won’t be as cowardly as you!”

There was some soft cheers from the few people that Hail had managed to befriend.

“Look at that, I’ve become a gang leader just like my older sister! Oh my, the fun we’ll have!”

Hail laughed again, for an absurd amount of time. After a while she ran out of breath, and the laugh became a mixture of inhales, coughs, and more laughter.

I was watching from the back of the room with Natasha, who had stayed to try and catch someone off guard, and to check the legality of this “crown of worms ceremony.” So far my mother hadn’t done anything specifically illegal. Just really rude.

“Does she laugh like she’s mentally ill all the time?” Natasha asked.

“No, but more often than not,” I told her. “At least her laugh is kind on the ears.”

Natasha nodded, “It is quite beautiful. I can understand how she got together with your father.”

“My father…”

Natasha’s gaze snapped to mine. “Who killed your father?”

I stopped. How did she know? I asked her, “How do you know about my father?”

“I’m a studying poet. That’s why I left the guard, to change laws. Your father’s case is still open, he was-”

“I know what happened to him! I know who did it too,” I snarled, “But I won’t be telling you any time soon!”

Natasha, her expressions every glassy, looked only slightly taken aback.

She gazed at my face, studying. She probably figured everything out from my expression using some cop trick or something. Whatever.

“You want to protect whoever killed your father. It must be someone close to you. Perhaps Diesel? Or maybe it was the monster, Alice.”

I felt a ping of rage. Alice was my friend, Natasha was fishing for an answer from me. I gave her nothing. In front of us the crowd roared with laughter. It seemed that Hail had stuck the old leader’s fingers up his own nose. I couldn’t tell you why.

“Listen Alexandre Dirge, I can’t promise anything right now, but once I’m a poet the law will be fair. At least, as fair as I can make it. When that day comes, will you please tell me? Knowing that you have nothing to fear?”

I shook my head, but said, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Can you tell me who’s torture room that was downstairs?” Natasha mercifully changed the subject.

At that moment, someone else rushed in. It was a really posh looking guy, shoulder-length blonde hair that curled with high-class pride. He wore the same black uniform that Natasha and Mariça did.

He said, “Mariça has detained all of the prisoners.”

“Horith?” Natasha seemed surprised to see him.

“Yes?”

“Are you an Agent?”

“I am now,” He said, “I’m actually your second. I’m training to become the next leader, in three or four years.”

“Wow,” Natasha’s face held genuine shock, “Who’s running the night watch?”

“My old Vice-Captain. His name was… Vines? Vormes? I don’t know, something with a V. Good chap, really committed to the task. I likely could have never showed up to work and he would have kept things running smoothly.” Horith said.

Natasha nodded, “I know him. I’m actually the one that made him your Vice-Captain. Seems very reliable.”

“Yeah, well.” Horith shrugged. “So, about this lot?”

He motioned to the crowd. Everyone was laughing along with Hail, but I couldn’t tell why.

“They haven’t done anything.” Natasha said.

“Okay, so we’re okay here?” Horith said.

“No, I want to talk to Alexandre and her mother.”

“Her mother?”

Natasha pointed to my mother.

“Hail Dirge. I’m curious as to what she’s intending to do with her new power. And maybe I can get information on Diesel Dirge.”

Daniel Triumph.

This is the final entry for Broken Teeth. For those who weren’t interest, which according to my stats was most of you, rejoice! I’ll be working on something else in its place. Those who did like it, fear not! I will be redoing this narrative. From the plans I have right now, it seems like a lot will be different, but many of the characters will remain the same.

Capture

5: Terrific Fatal Mania, Annihilation

The instant I jumped out of the manhole in the mansion’s floor, I kicked off the edge of it, launching myself forward. I ducked into the nearest room and saw them. The Plainkind that had been following me, and a brutish woman. Who was that?

I pointed my sword at her, “Did you kill Mhanuel or was it Dezallldwinn?”

She laughed. I realized that this large hall was lined with members of the gang. I did not care in the slightest. It’s funny how it worked like that. I had become an expert at not caring.

“Another one trying to convince me that I am some sort of criminal?” She laughed again, standing from what appeared to be a throne. “Mariça here has already all but failed that task!”

She was on the the other end of the long hall, I guessed about twenty cubits. I scanned the faces before replying and then noticed that the leader was in the wings. He didn’t want to be found out. This woman would take the fall if anything went wrong.

I grabbed Mariça’s arm, something I instantly questioned doing. Too late now. I moved it so that it was lined up with her eyes and the true leader.

“Alright, miss Plainkind, that’s your man. He’s the real leader.”

Mariça growled, like a cat. Not a large one, just a regular town cat.

“Everyone, you see these two fine ladies?” The real leader said, “You will be paid generously if you can hand me their heads.”

Without thinking, I threw the pickaxe across the room. I wasn’t aware that I was strong enough to do something like that. Probably I wasn’t, but my adrenaline had spiked a long time ago. The axehead hit the burly woman, but not the pick. Just the blunt part where the handle attached. She was instantly knocked unconscious.

At this, to my elation, the room fell upon us. I readied my sword, and Mariça lifted two large black swords.

Mariça moved before me, and immediately cleaved an older woman in half, diagonally from the hip to the opposite shoulder. What in the seven true timelines was that? How could she be so strong? And then she did it again, cutting across someones waist, her weapon continuing as if it hadn’t hit anything and then dismembering the victim’s arm.

I watched the two people, now in four parts, knowing that they would live for another seven or eight seconds. Enough time for their brains to realize how dead the rest of their bodies were.

But Mariça didn’t stop. I counted forty people. twenty on each side, and more poured in from the three windows and from the door.

I sneered, and spat coagulated blood from my mouth. It had coated my teeth, which inhibited the pain a bit.

I ran, treating my sword like a javaline [javaline is not a spelling error] and lanced an oncoming man in the abdomen. Then I turned and stabbed out an eye, removed the weapon, and then cut out someone’s cheek. I hacked an arm, getting more and more excited.

An idea popped into my head, but I knew it wasn’t mine. This was someone else’s thought.

“Why not take control of all that adrenaline energy?” Is what it called.

I nodded to the voice in my head. I focused and pumped more adrenaline into my bloodstream, manually. I could feel a change as I siphoned, allowing just enough into my veins to keep me going. It was a wonderfully numb feeling. The feeling of a true, controlled adrenaline rush.

A few of the men looked at me, surprised. The leader of the gang said, “don’t be scared, she’s just controlling her adrenaline rush like a Metch! It doesn’t matter, all the N’Tariel do it! Just kill her!”

But he was wrong, it did matter. I felt like I was glowing.

I ran forward and lunged. My arm shot forward in half the time it normally took, and after I punctured a ribcage, I pulled it back and hit again. I want to make it clear that I had in no way exceeded my natural capabilities. I was simply at a higher level of control. I wanted to stab, and my muscles completed the action as fast as possible.

I could feel them ache already. This was causing physical damage. I vowed to train with controlled adrenaline, to get my body used to it. I was in love with the numbness. I cut through the room just as fast, although not nearly as destructively, as Mariça.

When I glanced at the windows, I realized that people were now leaving, running away. They also weren’t coming in from the door, but I could tell that there was a different reason for that. It seemed that once Natasha had come upstairs, she had neatly subdued and bound anyone who crossed her path. There was a line of perfectly concious and obedient men kneeling before her, arms bound behind their backs. Huh.

I turned back, cutting into an arm. The fighting had died down now. Mariça had also seen her boss, and was suddenly no longer using lethal techniques. She dropped her swords with a thundering clash (were those things a hundred pounds or something?) and began punching. The act sent people flying into and through walls. I just let go of my sword, leaving it inside some woman’s thigh.

The adrenaline wore off. I wasn’t left tired, not in the slightest, but I knew I would have to rest before I did it again.

I noticed my mother had been one of the people in the crowd. She was holding an arm and laughing. I could tell that I was the reason it was bleeding.

“Oh no.”

I ran to her, “Are you okay?”

“Dear Jutt, how wild you’ve become!”

Her voice was deep, like she had been possessed by a man. I was instantly worried about something else. My mother had never been what people call “stable.” I suspected that’s where my condition came from. I inherited it, like a beautiful and unique curse.

I had not calmed down though. That’s not how this worked. I would stay at this heightened level for weeks, maybe months. You could never tell. I would just have to wait and find out.

“Jutt look!”

I realized for the first time that her arm was around a neck, a head was jutting from under her arm. It was the leader, slumped unconscious.

“Jutt, look! I’m the leader now!”

She giggled. It was a lovely, beautifully insane sound.

Daniel Triumph.

4: Broken Teeth.

The following narrative contains scenes of torture, and a pickaxe penetrating a skull. That may sound like a lot of fun for simulated violence lovers like me, but for the rest of my audience, reader discretion is advised.

It seemed that the assumption that Mhanuel had been replaced was correct. The current leader was a sneering, brown haired man in his late twenties. He waved me off immediately.

“Take her to the basement. She’s the problem of Dez, not me. I don’t really care.”

Before I was hauled away, I saw my mother. She was smiling and looking at the back corner of the room, as if some floating creature was telling her a joke. My mother has some sort of metal issue, perhaps more than one, so for all I knew she might really be conversing with a creature. Either way, she did not notice me. I figured it was better this way.

I wasn’t expecting to be thrown into a manhole, but that’s what happened. The “basement” it turned out was actually a catacomb that had been expanded. I was in what appeared to be a really awful waiting room. I could have done my trick back when I had met the leader. I could have jumped over my bound wrists so that I could actually put up a fight. I might have won too, but I was nervous. I didn’t know this new guy, and I noticed his weapon. It looked like a small dart launcher. I didn’t want to take any chances.

I sat down in a chair next to the only other person in the room. It was a man, he looked dead. His arm was missing, and his bare feet lacked most of the toes, seemingly at random. Sitting down caused my head to swim. I realized just how dehydrated I was. I stared up at the manhole and into the mansion as the two men who had escorted me here closed it on me. We were left in dim torchlight, the walls nothing but jagged stone. I saw a door of iron and decided I should try to get information out of the man beside me. Or at least find out if he was dead or not.

“What’s behind that door?”

The man’s face snapped up from its limped position. He stared at me and said, “No, Jutt… How did you manage to get yourself caught up in here?”

I realized that this was Mhanuel. He was probably ten pounds lighter now that his arm was gone.

I shrugged, “Failed a mission. But I’m not worried.”

“You should be.” He said.

I shrugged again.

In seconds, the metal door swung open with a metallic shriek. A short, hooded man stepped out carrying a disembodied arm. He had the look of madness in his eyes that I had only seen on my mother, and very occasionally in my own reflection. But don’t worry. I’m normal most of the time, I swear.

“Oh, good. I was told by Orion that I would be getting some nice flesh soon. But don’t worry, miss! You won’t be losing any of your digits right away.”

I wasn’t actually sure what to say about this. It’s not often that your torturer talks to you so casually about your impending torture.

He continued, “I’ve just thought a really easy way to work with the teeth! Pulling them out has always been a hassle, but I’ve thought of something much easier I want to test on you!”

He left and then returned, the limb replaced with a pickaxe. Was he going to knock my teeth in one by one with that? Nope, instead he hacked a chunk out of the wall and then refined one of the smaller pieces. He dropped the pickaxe on the ground and strode over to me, shoving the stone into my mouth.

“Oh yes, this should work out just fine. I’ll have to get a contract with some associates to make moulds in the future. That way I can get all the teeth uniformly. For now, we experiment!”

He grabbed my short hair and pulled my through the iron portal. It was another crudely dug room, but much larger. It contained something that I hadn’t even know existed.

“Isn’t it amazing? Look, this is what the southerners call a ‘battery network!’ I’ve tried hitting people with shocks, but it is so boring compared to just severing fingers.” He sighed, but he wasn’t done yet, “No no, I actually use it to power the machine over there.”

He pointed to what looked like one of those foot-powered wheel grinding stones. Instead of a stone, there was a disc of metal with teeth.

“I’m saving that one for someone famous,” He smiled, “Uses up all the batter, and I really don’t like dealing with acid. Like I said, I specialize with sharp things.”

Finally, I said, “So why the teeth and the rock?”

I was surprised with how understandable my words were, considering there was a stone in my mouth.

He answered, “Well, I like to experiment, you must understand.”

I nodded, as if we were long time friends or something.

Then I decided it was time. He wasn’t going to damage me without a fight. I pushed the rock out with my tongue and then jumped, pulling the ropes under my legs. Then I ran at him. He smiled and shoved a wooden club into my stomach. I vomited mucus and bile, the only things in my stomach. He took my bound arms and hooked them onto a peg at a tall table.

“See how this table comes right up to your chin? Isn’t it wonderful!” It was as if I hadn’t just tried to attack him, as if we were still buddies. “Now comes the fun part!”

He placed my chin on the table. My heart started pounding. I kept telling myself that I didn’t need my teeth. I was so close now, my mother was right here! I just had to get free, take out this fool, and then maybe get Mhanuel to help me out. From the corner of my eyes, I could see the torturer, Dezallldwinn I think his name was, rummaging through tools. On the ground in the corner I saw a large jug of water, likely used to wake up people who fainted. Make sure they felt everything.

“I think I’ll just use my hands. Okay, I have two rules. You have to tell me how it feels, and you have to keep your voice down. I hate screaming.”

I didn’t bother trying to look at him. He grabbed my head in one hand, and then lifted it up. I couldn’t see what he was doing behind me, but I assumed that he had balled both fists up over his head. Then, they slammed down, and half my teeth, the top half, shattered. Sharp pains ran up my face into my brain. I probably would have vomited if I had anything left inside me.

Then, before the pain even faded, he pulled me off the table and the peg and thrust my head into what appeared to be a vice specifically designed for heads. He smiled. Not an evil, sinister, or even insane smile. Just a regular smile, like I had just done him a favour and had promised to do another one free of charge. Is that what this was to him?

Just as the first wave of pain began to recede, he put an uppercut into my jawbone, smashing the rest of my teeth. Funny, it wasn’t so bad the second time. Maybe I was getting used to it. I sneered at my new “friend.” I didn’t really care what he thought at this point. Blood poured from my sneer and splashed I the floor, and a couple of tooth chunks slipped out from my lips. My saliva had become tainted with iron and syrup.

“Perfect! And so quiet! We’re going to get along great Alexandre. And I love that expression! So fitting, so wonderful!”

I let the pain wash over me. I didn’t separate myself from it, I just felt it and accepted it. Blood ran down my lip and dripped onto the floor slowly. Then I realized that my hands weren’t hooked into anything.

“So? How is it?”

He stepped forward and pushed my mouth closed, and another flurry of bolts ran through my face, sending pain signals to my brain.

“Fine if you don’t touch it.”

“Interesting! So you’re saying that I can freely cause the subject pain just by touching their broken teeth!”

I stared into Dezallldwinn’s eyes, tried to push the dehydrated dizziness from my mind, and then rushed forward. He hadn’t tightened the head vice, so nothing was holding me back. I thrust both fists into his neck, and he scrambled back, clutching at his throat with surprise. It was as if a friend had suddenly turned on him. I wondered what it was like to be inside his brain.

I spat bright pink blood on his shoes.

“We’re done here, Dez. You’re time is up. I’ve never killed anyone, but I wouldn’t mind starting.”

Dezallldwinn was beyond offended. He drew a long, thin sword with siderings.

He sighed, “I don’t want to hurt you, Alexandre. I really don’t. I want to keep you around as long as you can last, I really do.”

I stepped back and bumped into the vice, and then I stepped to the left and moved back again, edging towards the door. Dez cut at me, but missed. I had the feeling that he wasn’t all that good at armed combat. Or unarmed combat. The presence of the weapon was only really an issue because my hands were still bound. Maybe I could get him to cut the ropes with his sword?

I tried, edging back. It didn’t work, his sword was unbelievably dull. I was more angry than I was scared. This man was so stupid, so weak, but I couldn’t fight him properly!

And I couldn’t close my mouth. It turned out that the pain was worse after the act then during it. My own face was the source of the pain. Could you even fix teeth? No, I might have to get them all pulled out.

I heard the door open behind me. Damn! I must have been too loud, and now the man had backup. I turned and saw that Dezallldwinn was not the one who’s backup had arrived. It was Mhanuel. He was holding the pickaxe by the head and handing it to me.

“Don’t you dare-” Dezallldwinn’s piercing scream was interrupted by a shard of metal piercing his cheekbone and entering his brain.

I didn’t actually hit him that hard, and so the axe didn’t get too deep, but I could tell by his suddenly vacant and mildly surprised gaze that I must have punctured something important.

I let go and the pickaxe clattered to the ground. I stepped back and stared. I might have stared until I passed out. My limbs were shaking, and I fell to the ground, seizuring.

Broken Teeth table of contents.

 

2: Architecture

2: Architecture

I followed them down the hole. When I had proposed the plan to Orion, he had smirked. He was almost immediately all in, and that made me incredibly nervous.

“But if this fails…”

He had grabbed me by the cheeks, feeling my jaw through the skin. His fingers were uncharacteristically soft, seeing as he was essentially a bandit leader.

“I actually hope you fail, then I can just have you become an offering to Dezallldwinn.”

I didn’t need my teeth, so I didn’t really care. I just wished he would let go of my face soon.

If I could save my mother before… Before she got any worse, this will have been worth it, teeth or no teeth.

“Don’t worry, I’ve mapped it all out.”

He just smiled. It was a disgusting and sinister smile, as if he expected that my plan would fail no matter how much I planned or hard I tried. He was hoping that my hole wouldn’t lead anywhere so that he could send me of to be punished.

“It won’t fail, alight?”

That’s what I had said, but now I wasn’t so sure. This could either bring me to third or even second command, but if something went wrong, well, I’d be in the same position as Laila. Tortured and at the bottom of the ladder.

*

I was at the back, even Laila was ahead of me. I was fit, but I was still far behind all the mercenaries. Contrary to what people think, it’s not that hard for a woman to build muscle. Even more important, in my opinion, is technique. Once weapons enter the equation, strength becomes less important and I hadn’t seen anyone who was a better thrust fencer than I was. Or a better fighter in general. They had all had some skill, yes, but no polish.

The only person I wasn’t sure of was Orion. I had never seen him even touch a sword. He didn’t have to.

We reached the ruins.

I took out the map I’d made of the ruins and checked the distance. I squared my distance in my head; I had the squares memorized up to sixteen. Then I added. Forty six. That’s between six and seven. Okay.

“Okay, just Northwest for about seven kilocubits. Maybe longer. I didn’t have time to map out a straight path. No one comes down here.”

“Can you please state that in leagues, genius? Not all of us are scientists.” It was a woman named Ferrule. She had never liked me, as if she thought I was competing with her for something, but I never figured out what.

“It’s about three leagues.” That meant about three hours, less since we were marching.

We had had to dig our way in. That was the gamble, that’s why I would have to pay for it with my teeth. We spent five days digging. You can imagine my relief when the hole bottomed out and opened. It was a relief.

We followed my plan and headed northwest. I tried to keep ahead, to lead, but these people, this gang wasn’t going to follow me. There were a lot of us, maybe fourteen. That’s half the gang. I always ended up in the middle, where my rank suggested I should be. If I didn’t try to keep up, I would get sucked into the back of the crowd.

As we walked, I stared around the ruins. It was a high-ceilinged cave. There were no stalagmites here, because everything was dry. The sea, cubits above, washed into a desert, the shores of the desert city of the Djeb. This place had a lot of dusty stone buildings, most of them were three or four stories high, and it seemed that the buildings were still in good condition. As if only a year or two had passed since the place was vacated, instead of two or three thousand.

My goal was to tunnel back up under the Imperial treasury. It would be the greatest jackpot that the crew had ever hit, ever. And so, once we hit the place, we stopped. I told them to stop, but most people ignored me. I was alone in the building for a long time.

It didn’t have stairs, it didn’t even have ladders. I really wished that the crowd following me would stop talking. I wanted to take it all in. Did the Djeb people live here once, before it sank into the sands? What happened?

Eventually everyone else realized that I had gone into one of the dusty buildings and one by one, two by two I could hear them searching for me. I was, after all, the only person who knew where they were supposed to be going. They were shouting and minutes passed. I secretly hoped that they would give up and abandon me. They had abandoned people for less before.

And then, they seemed to quiet down in an unnatural way, as if someone had pulled them far away. They were still shouting, some at the top of their voice, but it had become so quiet that I couldn’t hear the individual words they used. Everything began to blend together.

There was suddenly a white tree with orange leaves in this stone building, planted in the ground. I knew it had not been there before. Had it grown in the short seconds that I had turned away? Anything was possible when it came to plants, I knew that from experience. I wondered, had this building been constructed around the tree, or was the tree planted here to be used instead of stairs?

I I noticed someone had begun climbing down the tree from a hole in the ceiling. It was amazing, seeing this humanoid form move so naturally. Stairs now seemed like some sort of abomination in comparison. The person was a beautiful denizen of the ancient city, a woman around my age, no older then twenty-two. She dropped to the ground and stared passed me. She seemed happy to see whatever was behind me. I turned to follow her gaze. Outside, I could here the gang milling about, but they were faded and ghost-like, as if the universe had decided that for this small moment in time, they didn’t matter as much as I did. I turned to see that the denizen was looking at a man, just as beautiful as she was. They certainly were not Djeben, not as the people of the Djeb are now anyway.

The two people had silvery-blonde hair that reached to their breast. They wore nothing above the hips, likely due to the heat. They didn’t seem to be biologically capable of tanning, instead their skin had become chaulky, like it was covered in a thick protective powder. I could tell that it worked fine against the sun, but it deadened the senses. I realized that it was dead, these powder outer layers. You can’t really burn dead skin, and I suspected that that’s what it was. It was all their dead skin, stuck on somehow. That’s why they were so careful to cover their genital region, to make sure the sun never touched it. I covered my mouth with my hands.

I figured I must be seeing some sort of vision of the past. That meant that the woman couldn’t actually see me since I was still in the present. I expected her to walk right through me to greet the man. But, she didn’t. She stopped, and looked up to me. She could not have been more than three and a half cubits high, half a cubit shorter than me. She smiled and blushed at me, pink hues quietly escaping the powder white husks of her cheeks.

The woman reached out to touch me. I flinched. She remained steady. I looked away, and saw that the man was near me now as well. They both touched my face, each put the back of their fingers on a separate cheek. Their chaulky fingers were surprisingly soft. I had no idea what was happening. Was this some kind of ritual?

“Illa non est ex hoc tempore,” the man stated.

The woman tilted her head back and forth a couple times. I was not familiar with this motion. Was it a nod?

The man had spoken the ancient and dead Latin. I didn’t know how to speak it myself, but I knew that it was the root of the language the Metch spoke centuries ago, before everything got replaced by the Solune Standard.

The woman said, “Et erit opus nostrum auxilium. Monitus.”

The man nodded. If he nodded, then what had that that head shake meant?

They moved their hands to my shoulders, and pulled, putting weight on me. They leaned forward, swinging on me. It was an odd feeling, but they countered each others weight quite well. Their other hands touched, fingers interlocking, and they kissed, letting go of my shoulder. I was certain that this was another ritual, like a three person handshake, but I’m not expert on ancient civilization, so I wasn’t sure.

They finished their display and turned to me, mirroring each other.

“Adria,” The woman stared at me, and pointed her thumb to her chest.

That was her name, I was certain.

“Agusto,” The man pointed his thumb to his chest as well.

I made the exact same motion and said, “Aleksandre.”

They moved, hands becoming a blur, and then both of their thumbs were on my forehead. In unison, they shouted, “Almeda!”

Then they shoved their thumbs into my cranium. The digits became white powder, and suddenly my mind went hot and numb, as if I had drunken syrups.

I knew that they had sacrificed something mental in addition to the physical loss. They each kissed a cheek of mine, and then they pranced to the tree. I watched, and I knew that they wanted me to follow. I knew that I was now connected to them. Entirely mystified, I followed.

They grabbed the tree and climbed, as if they were lemurs. I could not, my fingers simply passed through the branches.

“Vaha non!” I said, truly disappointed. I could no longer see the couple at this point, and I was beginning to feel abandoned.

They peeked down the hole, and beckoned.

I heard the man say gently, “noli commoveri, adolescentula.”

He was telling me not to worry. I knew I still had to follow him, but I couldn’t jump the necessary six cubits.

“I need a rope!” I said. I had the vague feeling that I had spoken a different language.

One of the faded gang members had wondered in by now, and was staring at me. He obliged, and I threw it up the hole. The woman caught it and disappeared.

Agusto assured me that she would return saying, “noli commoveri, ego reddam primum.”

I was surprised that he had refereed to her as “I.” They must be very close if they considered themselves to be one person.

The rope tugged, and I started to climb. I truly wished that the tree had not died. The numb parts of my brain had become very sad about the entire ordeal.

At the top, I realized that the rope had been tied around what appeared to be a bench, carved out of the stone floor. I realized- No, I didn’t realize. I knew. I knew that this entire building was once a large stone hill. These people carved into a part of the landscape and turned it into homes, planted trees. It was beautiful.

They climbed the tree a floor higher, I threw up the rope, they tied it, and I followed. It was as if, or rather, I knew that I was in two time periods at once and that, to a lesser extent, so was this pair. I wondered where the rest of their people were. Had they left? Maybe this was just their personal home, and no one else was around because no one else resided here.

We continued this process over many floors. No one from the faded, ghostly gang followed me up. On the fourth and final floor, I stopped and gasped. There was an old man and a child. The old man nodded at the pair and then turned. He lifted a small wooden box out of a stone crate, also carved out of the ground. He handed it to me.

The old man’s skin was hard, like dried white clay. He said, “Hanc inimicum.”

I nodded. I didn’t know why he had referred to the gang as my enemies, but I obliged. I didn’t open the box. The small group in front of me started fading, and the crew began to get loud gradually, inorganically.

I desperately called out to Adria and Agusto. I pointed to myself with my ring finger, for I knew that this was the correct finger. I said, “Riley!”

They again mirrored each other, pointing and saying, “Methos,” and then they faded away.

“Seriously Alexandre, how did you do that? And what the hell are you saying?”

It was Laila. He was shouting up the hole from four floors down.

Someone else shouted, “Yeah, are you possessed? Talking in tongues?”

“Quid? I mean, what?” I had been talking Latin out loud, and they had heard my voice echoing through the structure.

I sighed. Then I thought, or rather, I knew that I was now partially possessed. The hot, chaulky parts of my brain were filled with little pieces of information. Information that I couldn’t yet understand, but would as it attached to other nodes in my brain. I would decipher the chaulky brain matter slowly, possibly faster in my sleep.

I was suddenly very happy about this odd form of possession. I was greatful for the new resource. I knew it was a gift, not a threat. I looked down at the small wooden box. It had not faded away. Neither had the chest, which was full of ancient golden coins.

I brought everything down. The rope was long enough that I could simply climb to the bottom. I left it there, hoping that I might return in the future, although I had an odd suspicion that I would not.

“Is that it?” Ferrule asked.

“What do you mean?” I had a lot of gold in my money pouch now, “Look at all this!”

“Those are worthless Methos coins. They’re made of stone and bits of metal. They’re worth is about the same as a rock.”

I had an uncomfortable feeling. From the expression on Laila’s face I could tell that Ferrule was right. I could only hope that the box I had hidden in my bag would be enough to save my poor face.

Daniel Triumph.

Involuntary Arbitration, 1: Jump

1: Jump

“It was a mess, an absolute mess. Wasted hours, people slacking off, criminal acts done right under our noses. I cut hours but not pay. I increased productivity. I even added temporary and part time positions. But I can do no more here, and so I am stepping down as Captain of the guard to pursue other ventures. I am moving on, and I hope you will forgive me for it.”

“Her Majesty Sir Natasha Glass Rhye has spoken.” A tall man said, gesturing at the speaker.

The crowd clamoured. Natasha was speaking at the primary venue for both artistic and governmental exhibitions.

Natasha herself was a beautiful but plain woman. She had been the Captain for only two years, and even now she wore the pale grey jumpsuit that was her uniform. The thick embroidered ribbon on her arm showed her rank. Natasha kept her hair shoulder length as a sign of devotion to her occupation, and even now she was considering letting it grow. She had dark hazel eyes, too yellow to be considered brown, and her face was long and stern, fitting of her authoritative position.

By now the crowd’s clamour had agreed upon one thing. They were shouting something in unison, and Natasha tuned her ears in attempt to decipher it.

“What now? What now!” They chanted.

Natasha smiled, a rare occurrence for her. She said, “I will take the next few months off, my long accumulated and neglected vacation days. Afterwards, I will begin the education and qualification process to become a certified poet and then a magistrate.”

Poets had a duel function in the Solune kingdom. A regular poet was a jack of all mental tasks. A certified poet used their wide knowledge base to help overcome disputes as a third party. In this kingdom, qualified poets also functioned as lawyers. A magistrate is one who manages and writes laws.

The citizens of Murdock cheered and clapped. Natasha bowed, turned, and stripped off her jumpsuit. Her baton clattered on the wooden stage. Everyone became silent as she turned back to them, dressed in a frilly white top and pale green knee-shorts.

Natasha wore plain-clothes quite well, and from the sounds of the respectful clapping, it seemed everyone else agreed. She bowed, and then jumped off the stage and sat down in the crowd next to her sister, Chloe and her mother, Gwenhime. The tall man beckoned at someone else, another woman in guard’s clothing.

This woman wore black plate armour over her uniform. She had heavily tanned skin. Her hair was a bright sandy strawberry blonde. The crowd cheered again, much much louder than before. The guard waved from her podium at a short dark haired man in the crowd, who waved back bashfully.

“Vice-Captain Alice May Däwngale will take Natasha’s now vacant post.” The tall man said. He took Natasha’s uniform from the ground and tore the ribbon off. It was velcro, so this was neither difficult nor violent. He stood and walked to Alice then took her ribbon off and replaced it.

When the ceremony was done, Alice shouted, “Three cheers for the new city guard Captain!”

The citizens obliged her.

The tall man, still standing beside her, told Alice the following, “Your primary task is now to find a Vice-Captain,” he winked and then continued, “You wouldn’t want us to have to pull Finch out of his Academic work would you?”

He hadn’t spoken loud enough for everyone to hear. There was, of course, no microphones here, and all speech-makers had to use stage voices. Finch, the short dark haired man, had heard. He blushed.

“No, of course not!” Alice jumped, a bad habit of hers. She was so heavy that the stage shook and creaked.

“You have one month, dear Plainkind.”

“Yes, your majesty!” She said. Alice then turned to the crowd, “The King has informed me that I am to find a new Vice-Captain within the month!”

She pointed to the guards sitting near the back. All of them were there except the four currently on patrol. Even the night watch watched her with tired interest.

“You had better show me your best selves so that I don’t have a hard time deciding!” She hopped again, and again the wooden stage took nearly three-hundred pounds of force. The Plainkind people were very heavy as they were primarily comprised of thick bones, thick skin, dense muscles, and even weighty brains.

Natasha watched her excitable ex-Vice-Captain with vague amusement. Alice had a way of lightening up nearly any situation, and Natasha would miss her company.

Hours later, her father, the King, approached her. He said, “You will have to run the Solune Agents for a term. I know you were intending to rest before you began your studies, but there are oddities amiss and they must be dealt with. I would myself but as you know the East Metch are trying to push democracy upon our Kingdom and I will not have it.”

Natasha nodded. This was her duty as Prince.

“It will make for a fine transition.” She said.

The King nodded and apologized, then left.

The Solune Agents, mused Natasha. They were the secret agents, or secret police of the Solune Kingdom. They weren’t a secret to the Solune, but to everyone else. Natasha had always been impressed that an entire population could keep such a grand secret.

“What an adventure this will be,” She said. Then she promised herself that after this she really would take a much needed vacation.

The next chapter will soon follow,

Daniel Triumph.