- May 8, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 22)
“Fire destroys in a day what took the water and the wind a hundred years to grow.”
– Dynastan Aiguo, 223 A.C.A.
The screeching wail of an animal was followed by the drying taste of grass in her mouth.
Then came the screeching of another animal beside her, screaming as it was manhandled and sheered.
“Baaa! Baaa! Baaaaa!!!”
The animals wouldn’t stop coming, wouldn’t stop screaming, and she couldn’t stop seeing their lives through their eyes. Then in her sleep, she hit her head on the wood of the bed, rather than the wool of her clothes or her sheets.
Her body felt stiffer than ever as it rubbled against the table, and a little point was placed right over her abdomen. She didn’t realize it was a nail until the sound of hammer clinked, and she felt like she had been run through.
This time it was Andy’s own voice that made this harrowed gasp of pain, learning what the wooden board felt like being nailed together.
She clutched at her stomach, looking for a mark, but in the darkness, she couldn’t find one. There wasn’t a hair out of place, not even a little splotch of blood. The moon wasn’t full, but it shined enough light into the Captain’s quarters that she felt comfortable believing that there wasn’t a mark.
“Hurrr,” Andy heard Lucy snore as she breathed in, and, “zzz,” as she breathed out.
Doesn’t snore my ass, Andy thought as she laid back down on the bed she shared with Lucy. It was a king-sized bed, large enough that the Lucy could lay down spread eagle with her butt pointed at Andy, and still have room.
Going back to sleep sounds like ass.
She threw off her blankets and wasn’t careful about making noise, though Lucy didn’t even stir. She just threw on her boots and a coat, then grabbed the bottle she left by the dead candle.
Andy was considerate enough to the crew to not slam the door, but only so much that she walked rather than stomped.
She went to the railing as the ship floated, anchored in the Secan Sea, off the coast of Susanna. She could see the land from so far away, but she was sure that not even a binocular could see them from the shore.
Andy lifted the bottle to her lips, and took small sips, having avoided a hangover so far that night. Fuck this power.
Andy rested her hands on the railing as she decided to just take a few big gulps. As soon as she put it down, and had both hands on the ship’s wood, she soon learned that alcohol was not the solution.
The world blurred as she was pulled into another vision, hearing the sounds of whips and the bangle of chains. No longer was she under the night sky, but a blue and cloudy day.
Andy saw through the many eyes that walked the ship, but unlike when she was asleep, she saw through them all clearly, without a headache. This meant she didn’t miss a thing as people were walked down the plank in chains…
… and Lucy was at the base of the port collecting coins.
Andy quickly found the flag of Krone, the Black Death, sailing over her head, and Lucy dressed in the uniform of a Kronish officer. Less metal, more cloth, same pretentiousness.
But the vision was inconsistent. The vision would vibrate, but the placement was all the same. One moment, there would people just like Lucy–the Endicans–walking down the plank, with Lucy in a Kronish uniform, and then there were Secans and other caucasian people walking down, with Lucy in her pirate uniform. It looked a bit newer than even the Kronish garb she wore, but the hat was the same across both of them.
The hat Lucy wore was a constant that never changed as the world kept shifting and changing until nothing was there at all. Then Andy felt stiff again. This time when she felt the ax cut into her abdomen, she didn’t scream, she just came out of the vision.
Then she took another gulp.
Andy turned her head to acknowledge the assassin who snuck up on her, but said nothing as she looked away.
“Hmm?” he said as he walked closer, finding a place next to her. “Is there a problem?”
Andy turned toward him with this cold, empty look in her eye. “Forgive me, I forgot to be afraid of you.”
“Ah, well then…” Malum mumbled to himself, trying not to audibly sigh under his mask, “is now the time to be drinking?”
Andy raised her bottle to her lips and found it dry. It clanged as she nearly slammed it down on the railing. She snorted and looked out over the sea with this festering rage. “We’re going to be on this ship for a few weeks…” she muttered rather than answer his question.
Malum held up two fingers as he added, “Only two, Lucy says.”
Andy gave him the side-eye. I don’t remember asking.
“Lucy says a lot of things, doesn’t make them true,” she said instead.
“Are you calling her a liar?”
“Eh,” Andy hesitated, as the memories of those people being marched off the boat popped into her head.
Doesn’t have to be what I think it was, but has Lucy earned that benefit of the doubt?
Andy told Malum, “I am definitely saying she’s full of shit, who knows if she knows it.”
Malum leaned over on the railing to be shoulder to shoulder with Andy. “Something bothering you?”
Andy turned to face him and that unchanging mask of his. There was one thing dreadfully human about it: how it covered everything up.
“Do you really care or do you just want to make sure it’s not a problem?” Andy asked him.
“Is there a difference?”
Andy leaned off the railing as she answered, “Yes, it’s the difference between being a friend, and just being a noisy dickhead.” She turned and threw the bottle behind, sending it overboard into the ocean.
“I’m going back to sleep,” she said, as she left Malum there alone.
Most did not last long into the night on the Icy Pearl Isles. The mornings were early, and the work needed doing, but sometimes there was a story that kept everyone up into the hours of the morning. Sometimes there were stories that broke through exhaustion and fear to draw others to sit by people whom they feared.
Lately, the First Disciple of Lapis was that person, because she told stories others couldn’t leave without knowing. There was something behind her words, for as her followers knew, when she told stories, they didn’t sound like they were coming from her.
Some nights, it felt like she was repeating word for word a story being told by someone else who was there.
Into her ear, for her to speak as he remembered, Lapis told the people of the Icy Pearls Isles how their ancestors spanned the ocean.
‘Years ago, when islands covered the Insa, before it was the Neverending Sea, all the fishermen and their boats would sail south together. Before the time of deep-sea mermaids and their shark cousins, God’s fishermen would throw their morning fish scales into the sky and sea to gain his good bounty. The fishermen were taking in the greatest hauls of the season, as the water was calm as can be.
‘Then, without warning, as these things tend to happen, the sky turned black, and the ocean developed waves to topple boats. By the dozens, the ships were capsizing, being crushed between the waves, and those who survived as long as they did were forced to hear the ocean’s pain-filled wails.’
A young man of the Icee interrupted in a whisper, “I couldn’t imagine actually hearing my friends dying.”
Lapis spoke through Astrid in response. ‘And neither did these fishermen, they couldn’t hear it.’
“But you said the ocean wailed?” a child of the Raze asked, a disciple seemingly raising their hand to discipline the second child, even at the risk of the panther’s growl.
Lapis raised Astrid’s hand ever so slightly, in a way strange to others, but clear to her disciples, and the few who knew.
‘I did,’ Lapis told the child, ‘I was being literal. A woman’s monstrous cries drowned out all other noise sitting atop the ocean, for the sea goddess, Thassia, was drowning out all life with her painfilled wails.’
“Why was she crying?” Basta, chief of the Hotun asked, not knowing that he asked a question of God.
‘Why indeed,’ Lapis muttered, looking to the stars, to his clouds from which he used to sit about, ‘why would any warrior woman cry so powerfully that the earth drowns? She had lost her son, whose death brought the storms, her only child, Lapis.’
Some of the Black Legion, who knew these stories all too well, groaned, despite knowing where their feet held them in place.
The Hotun and the Icee listening gave them worrying glares.
But Lapis only smiled, as if as sick of his own name as them. It was not Astrid’s smile, who smirked and grinned with open teeth. Lapis’s smile was quiet, and it did not beam.
It was calming, as was his voice as it spoke over the crackling flames. ‘She cried so much and so hard that the water rose and the storms cracked the world asunder. With her pain and the shaking land of her lover, the earth, her water rose to consume all the Insa Isles and its people. In her grief, she swallowed up nearly all the fishing ships, save one. A small ship of six, who managed to float with the storm, to hide from Thassia’s furies and cries. Only one on the ship died, only one lost their head until Thassia’s tears died, and the sky finished crying.’
“What killed Lapis?” asked a child of the Icee, a child who had never considered that her ancestors spanned a sea with no end. She asked the obvious question in response, a question of identity.
‘The betraying Sun Solicki,’ Lapis said as if he felt little resentment as if he held something back.
‘He slew that which the earth and sea loved because he was so jealous and far away on his hidey throne. He left Lapis to burn and his corpse to rot, to drive forth another war that left Solicki chained to the sky.
‘The days became the same from that day forth, no longer bound to Solicki’s whims and wishes, but vengeance did not sate Thassia. Unsated, Thassia never released the Insa Isles from her depths, leaving it to the sharks and monsters who keep them all underwater now.’
Sigma, without her cloak or her mask, a face that one would wrongly think from Susanna, stepped forward from the fire. She looked like any other legionnaire, but her question asked for too much. “Is that why you hunt for Lapis’s corpse? You believe Lapis will help bring these… isles back?”
As one, together the God and his disciple knew, ‘Nothing will bring them back, they are dead a hundredfold, Mother saw sure to that. No, finding this corpse has nothing to do with saving isles of skeletons. The dead are dead, and we should let them rest.’
The non-disciples turned their gazes to each other, hearing the woman speak as if Lapis herself. Is the mere idea preposterous even to most believers, but an actor being in the mood?
“Why not let Lapis rest?” one of them asked, with this mocking jib in his voice.
Lapis asked, but Astrid did not speak his words then. ‘What I am doing, is not resting.’
Astrid told them instead, “I am but a mortal, how could I have the power to disturb Lapis? Only a monster with power could do that, and I only know of one of those… a story for another time.”
“Mao, turn on the lights, would you?”
With a flip of a switch, the prison cells lit up with rays of light-bearing down from over their heads. Most of the people in the cells winced, but there was one prisoner who never quite got used to it.
Susannan ingenuity at its best.
On his left and right were cells full of people, trapped behind metal bars with electricity flowing between them. Most of the prisoners stayed as far as way as possible to avoid the risk of getting even a little singed.
The few brave enough to come close could see through the blue wave to watch the archmage pass them by in his black hanfu. The blue light before made the gold lining on his formal attire appear almost emerald. Even if they couldn’t see his face, they knew who he was.
“Mao,” the archmage called to his older servant, who followed behind him with his head bowed.
“Yes, Master Hùn?” Mao responded, looking at the back of his master’s long flowing head of hair. Even with his topknot it still flowed past his shoulders.
“I’m not walking all this way, past the filth and the wretched, to speak to a corpse, am I?”
“Not as far as I’ve been informed, Master,” Mao said, attempting to leave it as it were, then Hùn looked at him over his shoulder. Mao shuddered and elaborated, “Yes, yes, um, he appears to be in good health, tortured but not dying as far as I’ve been told.”
“Yes, as far as you’ve been told, you said that.”
Mao huffed as he worried over his master’s tone. “Master, is there-”
“Thank you, Mao, let us walk in silence.”
How is this the best Quánxiào can produce? If the old guild isn’t careful, they’ll be replaced once I’m gone. Surely, there must have been a cute little number with this man’s skill. Something nice to look at during all my long hours of work for our country.
You’d think they’d want to make me happy.
Archmage Hùnxiě and his servant walked past many a prisoner in silence. Some tried to call to him at their shocking peril but most avoided his eye as if he was going to look at him. Better to avoid his attention lest they want to be the next volunteer on his table.
Yes, I see the word has spread, we’ll replicate Krone’s mutations, or we’ll rid ourselves of Sicaron’s prison population. Whichever comes first.
The reason the archmage was there was trapped behind a door, separated from the rest of the prisoners. It would be stupid to let a spy anywhere near people who can talk.
“I no longer have need of your presence, Mao, see to it that the flyers went to the presses. Everyone in Sicaron needs to know that a Black Legion spy was in our midst and that we have him for execution.”
“When will the execution be?” Mao asked as if it was his place.
Hùnxiě gave him a look of pity. “Whenever I’m done with him, when else? Now run along.”
Hùnxiě waved him off as he bowed, and listened for the old man’s feet to start tapping away. Then he waved his hand over the door in a specific pattern, one that caused symbols on the steel to light up before sliding open.
The archmage let the light shine on the shadow chained to the wall. He walked in and let it shut behind him. The moment they were in darkness, lines in the floor glowed this bright blue that lit the bottom half of Hùnxiě’s face.
With the flip of his hand, the shadow’s mask fell to the floor. One of Aris, the Goddess of Peace, the one of ceramic skin. Her eyes were white, opposite of Eritusi’s black, but no less empty.
“With your bruises, your face hides your identity better than a mask,” Hùnxiě taunted him, as his one good eye followed the archmage. Hùnxiě slowly walked to him, speaking a full sentence with a step. “You can barely even tell your Susannan, but that’s fine. That way none will question how you could be a traitor.”
The shadow spit towards the archmage’s feet. With his swollen lip, he nearly spit on himself, but the archmage still took the message personally.
Archmage Hùnxiě showed the shadow why he held his title by revealing a blue orb from inside his sleeve. It was this metal orb with metallic paint that was so perfectly smooth, the best craftsmen across all of Krone couldn’t make something that looked like it.
Then he pressed a button, and let it drop to the ground. It landed with a thud and rolled towards the shadow.
“Typical prisoner behavior,” Hùnxiě said before the orb turned on and electrified the man. Hùnxiě was quiet as the shadow let out a shrill scream.
“It’s an old prototype!” he called out over the noise the shadow was making. “We have smaller ones now, better to throw!” He mocked throwing a ball as the shadow began to lose his voice from screaming.
Then the orb stopped and began to smoke from the button Hùnxiě pressed. “Hmm,” the archmage mumbled, with a sullen look on his face. “The newer models last longer, but they’re still difficult to produce. Who knows if the war will be over by the time we can mass produce them.”
Hùnxiě walked closer to him and waited to see if the shadow would respond. Whether he responded with words or silence, it didn’t matter, it was an answer of sorts either way.
But then the shadow went to spit again but ended up just spitting on himself.
“Now that’s just sad,” Hùnxiě mocked him, chuckling into his hand. “If that’s how you’re going to behave, we can continue with the punishment.”
Hùnxiě opened his arms and showed the shadow all the old prototypes he had hanging from his arms. Balls of electricity, serrated knives that would move back and forth, and little cans of flame. “Truly, I’ve been looking for a way to get rid of these.”
The shadow only looked up at him with his one good eye and half of a good lip, and spit on himself in defiance.
“Hmm,” Hùnxiě muttered, before he let loose another electric ball, and listened to the man scream.
“Are you impressed with the fruits of our labor?” he asked the shadow, who did little more than wheeze without his voice. “Do the great minds of Susanna not astound with their creations?!”
Hùnxiě kneeled down and pressed the button again on this orb, turning off the electric torture that atrophied the shadow’s muscles. Being chained to the wall had already started doing a bit of that, but the electric ball certainly sped up the process.
“This can continue all day and all night,” the archmage warned him, “or you can answer my questions, and find yourself a swift, merciful execution. “I want to know everything about the assassin whose blade kills in a single strike.”