Passengers to the Beyond (Part 1 of 3)
"Oy! Ya sure ya don' wan' the umbrella?"
"No, sir!" Xris bobbed her head in a hurry, Otho was already leaving. "Thank you for the consideration!"
The burly merchant's eyes went wide. He chuckled, shrugged, then went back into his tent.
"Why didn't we show him the parchment?" The girl asked of her master.
"Not required. Xristina, must we relearn all your lessons?" Otho's voice was composed, collected.
Xris adjusted her bracelet. "But, master. I wasn't elaborating this time. I was efficient! Like you said..."
"You ran four paces to reach me. An unnecessary loss of moisture." Otho made a point to look down at his apprentice, his wide brimmed metal hat obscuring his eyes. Intentionally so. "You think that wise?"
"That trinket might free you from this sun's clutches now, but what if you did not have it? What if someone stole it? There is a purpose to my teachings, Xristina. Habits are what separates us from Animals." Otho emphasized his bracelet, hanging by his belt under his robes.
Xris couldn't fathom the lack of perspiration on her master's face, how he managed to control his body so in the desert was beyond her understanding. She accepted this wonder as she did everything else, with a careful eye and a patient heart. She nodded to show she understood.
Otho nodded back. "We have nearly finished our desert track. Soon we shall enter Zerxes, and find my old friend, you know this. Control your impulses - or perish."
The sandy, dry wastes slowly gave way to twigs, brushes, and soon, grass. The pair walked alone in silence, understanding that unrequired talk would needlessly drain energy. They soon found themselves in front of a gigantic gate, with walls that stretched endlessly to either side.
What fool guard would stop a wide-brimmed hat? Yet unknown as these were no such fools. The pair passed weary travelers, haggard soldiers, and hungry mothers alike. All waiting impatiently to enter the sanctuary that was the holy city of Zerxes. None spoke out against the injustice of letting someone through before them - some out of fear, most others, respect.
The climate inside Zerxes was, for lack of a better word, perfect. Lush gardens lined the walls of shops and homes, while small rivers slithered through the city sporadically. As the pair moved, they heard dialects from all over the world and saw colors from every spectrum. Xris caught herself staring several times until she received a sharp look from Otho.
"My friend is a shopkeep down this street." Otho said.
The shopkeep bolted as soon as Otho entered. Xris halted his leave with a deftly throw of her dagger. Hitting the frame of the backdoor the shopkeep was aiming for.
"Otho! My favorite customer! How you been? I -" Otho appeared burrowing his elbow in the shopkeep's sternum. The shopkeep croaked for air that wasn't there, falling to one knee. "Damn banished wide hats..."
"Damned indeed." Otho crouched to be level with the man, he unrolled the parchment. "Does this look familiar?"
The man went for his gun strapped to the bottom of a wooden stool. Otho let Xris crush his arm; the girl was on her toes, quick, decisive, precise; good.
"No..." He moaned through greeted teeth. "You've ruined this child as well... what type of monster would..."
"I was here a year past, asking the same question. Could it be possible you've forgotten about the parchment?" Otho squinted, peering into the frightened man's eyes. "No... Such courage, to lie to one of my kind. Ah, but this is not your first time, you already lied the once."
The man contemplated his next move. After a while of struggling, he cried like a newborn babe arriving into the world. "F-For-Forgive meee."
"Does this look familiar?" Otho proffered the parchment again. It depicted a hexagonal crystal with alien markings that flickered against the rough surface. The fact this shopkeep did not flinch at such an oddity proved he was no layman. "Answer."
"You know I have, damn you! Damn you to the Tenth Hell! Your kind will never -"
"Where?" Otho's tone was indifferent, nonchalant.
A little girl came running from a back entrance. "Hazzel, no!" The shopkeep screamed as Xris appeared before the girl, smiling and taking the little girl's hand in her own.
"Look at me. Me. My apprentice knows prudence." The shopkeep's trembled with frantic eyes, his courage finally leaving him. Otho pointed at the crystal. "Where?"
The shopkeep looked at his daughter, confused and scared. "Gods damn you all!" Xris tried to console her by smiling, but it only made the girl whimper. "The Stuart! Gods forgive me! The Stuart!"
Otho looked into his eyes, nodded. "You will survive." He said, and they were gone. Leaving behind a wailing father and daughter, clutching each other with as much force as love would muster.
As night befell Zerxes, the city became alive with hundreds of different colored globes. They decorated the streets and alleys alike, some floated in the rivers, others hung from the walls. They gave the city... a fairy-like quality. Xris knew to not be impressed, their quest had reached a tipping point.
"Why did we let them live, master?" She asked as they approached the manor of Zerxes's Stuart. "That man wasted a year of your pursuit."
"Our pursuit, Xristina. If you do not think you are one of us, you will never be." The apprentice nodded sharply. "You will soon discover that a year means nothing to us, while his life means everything to him and this so-called 'city'." She nodded again. "Besides, our reputation has been tarnished enough. If he gets out of line, I will personally see to his judgement. This is one of your duties as a Reaper as well."
The Stuart's Manor overlooked the city. Perched atop the waterfall that sprouted the many legged rivers throughout Zerxes. At night, it shone most majestically with every color imaginable.
This particular night the Manor hosted a ball dedicated to the Stuart's eldest nephew. Everyone who was anyone participated in the festivities, and they were well and truly drunk on themselves and their wealth. One who was not drunk was the Stuart himself, who after a long while of entertaining his nephew, went up to his study to take a break from the enthusiasm of the young.
To his dismay, he found two Reapers waiting for him.
The Stuart tried to leave the room to no avail. Xris held his jaw in a death grip, while her finger pressed against his lips. "Shhhh. Comply and no one gets hurt. Mmm?" She said it so sweetly the Stuart nearly threw up then and there.
"Stuart of Zerxes." Otho began, walking slowly for emphasis. "Have you seen this crystal?"
At the sight of the parchment the Stuart heaved all over Xris's hand. The apprentice did not flinch, only shook his head to remove the spittle.
"How? Who?" Another heave, but this one empty. "I, I feel..."
"Tell us and we shall leave without -"
The door opened. "Uncle! No running away tonight! Come on -" The nephew stood in the entrance, first confused, then - petrified.
"Sit down, son." Otho said in his fact-of-the-matter tone. "We do not want a massacre, do we, Stuart?"
"Jon! Sit!" The Stuart's composure seemed to have returned with his nephew.
"Uncle you said if we ever encounter them that we should run at all costs even if -"
"Damn it, boy! Sit!"
The nephew closed the door, took a seat, his movements careful. "Don't hurt him, please."
"Stuart, the Crystal." Otho pressed.
The Stuart allowed himself but a moment's hesitation. "Bottom drawer. Key's in my pocket."
Xris turned her surprise to Otho. "Best secrets are hidden in plain sight. I told you thus." She nodded, retrieving the key and throwing it to her master.
The bottom drawer opened to reveal the sought after hexagonal crystal. It's markings shining with purposeful intent. Otho took it as if picking a flower, and not something he had been searching for a decade with three different apprentices. It did not matter. He finally found it, and along the way found a worthy apprentice as well.
"Let him go, Xristina." She did. "Take the nephew." Xris appeared next to the confused youth, causing him to topple over and squeak. "Stuart, you understand, yes?"
"Of course I do!" The Stuart practically spit the words out, his tone one of vile intent. "If he does not return, I shall -"
"You shall do nothing." Otho said. "But he will return. You have my word."
"The word of a banished!" Fright had returned to the Stuart's face, he turned to his nephew. "Do as they say! Follow your training!" He looked to Otho. "I'll be waiting..."
The Stuart blinked and found himself alone in his study.
Jon blinked, and found himself on the top of the city walls. "Gods be good!" He swayed, disoriented. Xris steadied him with a hand and smile. "So the stories are true..."
"Every one." She said, nodding to the sky.
Jon turned to witness legend. A huge triangle-shaped monstrosity hung in the air unlike anything in the world. Anything in this world. "Doesn't anyone see? Guards! Doesn't...anyone, what is this..."
"They do not see, Stuart's nephew." Otho stepped to the edge of the wall. "They cannot."
Jon heard the thing vibrating, and soon felt the same vibration against his skin. Next thing he knew, he was inside...something. The walls shone metallic and bright and grey. He slid to the floor, his skin cold from touching the metal.
"See to the boy, Xris."
Otho approached the ship's bridge, the holy city of Zerxes but a collaboration of dots before him. With a wave of his hand a pedestal arose from the floor. He approached it reverently, letting the crystal fall from his hand. It floated above the pedestal, its marking dimming for the first time.
"So it begins..."
The ship vibrated.
Then disappeared from the sky.
Not much to say about this one without revealing what is to come. 😁
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