This event forces writers out of their comfort zone and into the challenge presented. Every day a new prompt will be available for writers to look at and take up the challenge of. The writer is given 48 hours to complete the prompt. Each entry must have 100 words but can go over. There is a maximum of 1000 words.
This story continues in RPApril Extravaganza 2018 Writing Marathon. Prompts are bold in each entry.
This story continues in RPApril Extravaganza 2018 Writing Marathon. Prompts are bold in each entry.
Day 01: Please have mercy on me
“Please have mercy on me!”
The beggar cowered in the mud as lightning cracked overhead. He stared down at the man, wide eyed and not believing anything he was processing. He had been raised to believe that the world outside the castle had been a utopia for all, that there were no more beggars, that all famine and war had been removed from the world, but the man before him - scarred, missing his left arm below the elbow, and clearly starving without a home - was a clear sign that all he had been taught was a lie.
He felt sick.
The man flinched when he offered the muddy beggar a hand. There was clear hesitation and confusion before the man took his hand and accepted the aid to standing. Before the beggar could even react, he had already placed his heavy, expensive over the man’s bony shoulders, protecting him from the icy rain.
“Do you have a home?” he asked, already suspecting the answer. The beggar shook his head. He placed a comforting hand on the beggar’s back. “Come on. The temple is not far from here. They-”
The man jerked from his touch, scrambling to get away as the cloak fell into the mud. Again, he turned a bewildered, wide eyed gaze onto the beggar as the man blurted out, “Not there. Anywhere but the temple. Please don’t take me there.”
He looked to his companion and his expression must have conveyed his plea for help because his still heavily cloaked companion walked over to the beggar and got down on his level. Words too soft for him to make out over the rain were told to the beggar and he let out a relieved sigh when the beggar visibly relaxed. He scooped up the cloak as his companion helped the beggar to his feet. He followed his companion and beggar through the rain drenched streets, ignoring the looks they were getting.
The inn was dimly lit but warm when they entered from the storm. Running a trembling hand through his hair, he did his best to suppress his shivering as he stood with the beggar near the door as the companion talked with the bartender. He let his gaze wander, taking in the main room as his eyes adjusted to the low light.
There were a number of tables and booths in the main area. It reminded him of how one of the ballrooms would be arranged during large parties, how there would be tables set up in some artistic pattern and only meant for those that wish to sit and chat. Never did all the tables fill the room. There was usually on a small portion of the room taken up but the entire room in the inn was filled with tables, booths lining the walls as two separate fires roared on opposite sides of the large space.
And it wasn’t empty. There were patrons all about and, if he wasn’t mistaken, this inn also passed as a place to just come and eat as well. As his gaze took in a group of suspicious people in one of the far corners, his companion returned, offering, “We have a room.”
He turned his attention on his companion and nodded, placing a hand on the beggar’s back. “Lead the way, please,” he offered politely.
His companion led them up the main flight of stairs and down the left hallway. However, instead of taking one of those rooms, his companion opened another door to reveal another staircase. They started walking and he dutifully followed with the beggar between them. They went up two more floors before the companion stepped out into the hallway and making their way towards one of the rooms. He noted that the room was situated on the back of the building and placed in the hallway where either staircase - whether the main or the one they had just come up - were within equal distance. His companion unlocked the door and stepped in. The beggar followed and he closed the door behind the three of them, locking it. His companion was speaking softly with the beggar again but he paid them no mind. Instead, he went over to the window and looked out. It was hard, with the window being pelted with rain, but it seemed as if beneath there window within a safe distance was a roof they could land on if they needed a quick escape.
“Hard to get to, many ways to get out,” he commented when he heard the shower start up. His companion seemed to materialize beside him and they hummed an affirmation. “Will he be alright?”
His companion nodded. “I bought an outfit from the innkeep. It should fit him just fine.”
He nodded and turned his gaze back out the window.
Day 02: And I'm free falling
40 minutes later, the beggar was stepping out in a new shirt and trousers, his hair a fluffy grey mane about his neck. The beggar walked to his companion and bowed, touching the hem of the cloak they had yet to shed. “Thank you, stranger.”
“Do not thank me,” his companion stated, though there was no visible reaction the beggar’s touch or movement. “It was not my money, nor was it my idea.”
The beggar turned his gaze to him and he found himself blushing under that haunting blue gaze. “Thank you,” the beggar spoke but made no move to approach. Silence hung thick in the air till a knock on the door broke it briefly. His companion went and answered the door, accepting the food that had been ordered. Returning, the companion set the food on the room’s table and turned to both men. “Eat. We’ll talk later.”
His stomach growled loudly and he gave a chuckle of a laugh, grinning. “Sounds good to me. Thank you, Advena.”
“Is that your name?” the beggar asked his companion.
His companion shook their head. “No. It is what he calls me because I do not have a name. It means ‘stranger’ in Latin.”
“'The stranger’,” he corrected as he took a plate. He gave both a soft smile, “though there are some other meanings it can take depending on context just as there are words in our tongue that have multiple meanings.”
The beggar nodded as he also took a plate, though it was not as full as his. “It is fitting.” His companion did not acknowledge the statement. The beggar looked to him. “What is your name, then?”
“Diggory,” he offered easily, though he hesitated to say more. He didn’t want to have what he was known by many.
The beggar either didn’t notice his hesitation or merely respected his need to keep secrets because the man offered his name in turn. “I am Roderick.”
Diggory frowned slightly. “Roderick, if I may ask, why did you not want to go to the temple?”
Roderick shuddered. “I cannot go there. Not again.”
“But why?” he asked, nearly pleading. “I don’t understand. I was always told things were good for all within this kingdom. Why would there be any place that the people fear? Do they mistreat you?”
The man’s haunting blue eyes were on him again and Diggory felt as if his very soul was being judged against some unknown standard. Whatever the man saw or didn’t see, it seemed to ease him and Roderick settled more into his seat, plate still in hand. “I am not surprised that they have kept you in the dark, Prince Diggory.” Diggory blushed bright red and Roderick’s lips twitched towards a smile. “The temples are a place of torture. They are used to not only gather information, but to use those that do not have home or are not of use to the kingdom and give them a use.” The beggar took a shuddering breath. “I used to go to the temple regularly like every upstanding citizen but my eyes were opened to the manipulation somewhere along the way and those of the temple did not appreciate that. At first the reform program was very mild. But, when I started rejecting even the reform and the fundamental teachings, that’s when the true reform began.”
His eyes seemed to glaze over with memory as he spoke. “I was injected with something one day on my way home. At first, there was pain. Searing scorching pain. But, then, there was blessed peace. And I’m free falling.” His face lit up. “I always loved flying. Enjoyed it while in the war all those years ago. But then the bliss of the free fall was over and I suddenly found myself in a room, bound to a table with a light above me, and the true torturing began.”
Roderick shuddered. “They experimented on me, used me as some sort of specimen. I was lucky enough to leave with the most of my sanity and life. Very few in there ever make it out alive.”
Diggory swallowed heavily. “But why are the temples used that way?”
Roderick shrugged, gathering some of his food on his fork. “That would be something to ask whoever is the head of the temples.”
Day 03: But one soul lies anxious, wide awake
They ate in silence. Diggory noticed that Advena didn’t touch the food but he didn’t worry about it. They would eat at some point. As he took Roderick’s cleared plate and placed it on the tray.
“What are you doing outside the castle, Diggory?” Roderick asked.
Diggory stilled, back towards the beggar and his companion. He let his eyes close before taking a breath and turning around, looking to Roderick. “I was curious. We generally have all entertainment brought to the castle but I wanted to see a market during a celebration. I, uh, may have gotten into trouble on the way and ended up way out here. Advena had been with me since the, uh, mess I ended up in.”
The man nodded. “Sounds like you owe Advena quite a bit.”
Diggory looked to his companion, noting that they were turning down one of the beds. “I owe them my life. They’ve saved it at least twice now and that’s only what I’m aware of.”
Roderick looked to the still cloaked figure. “Is that even-”
“You’d both best get some sleep,” Advena spoke. Roderick closed his mouth. “We have had quite the day.”
“Will you be sleeping with us?” Diggory asked, his hope that they would rather obvious. He didn’t miss Roderick frowning.
Advena bowed slightly. “Eventually. Get some rest.”
Roderick moved more onto the bed he was sitting on as Diggory started to shed his outer most layers. The room was warm compared to the past nights sleeping on the ground but Diggory felt more comfortable staying as dressed as he could and still sleep comfortably. Advena exited the room with the tray.
“Where are they going?” Roderick asked.
Diggory shrugged, tucking his knife under his pillow. And putting his other weapons on the floor on the far side of the bed. “Don’t worry too much about Advena. You can trust them.”
“How?” Roderick challenged. “Do you even know what they’re face looks like?”
Diggory smiled gently, sliding beneath the covers. “No, but I still trust them.” He turned the lights off and settled down. “Sleep well, Roderick.”
“You as well, my Prince.”
Silence fell over the room and hours passed but one soul lies anxious, wide awake. The door opens with a soft click before closing with barely a sound. Roderick feigned sleep, listening to the intruder cross the room. He opened his eyes and took in the faint outline of Advena at the table. He watched with bated breath as the stranger reached up and removed their hood.
It took all Roderick had to not gasp.
Long pale hair seemed to glow blue as the heavy cloak dropped free of lithe shoulders revealing an equally lithe body covered in a body suit that was nothing like he had ever seen. It had strips in the fabric that glowed blue, illuminating the entire room in the gentle light.
The stranger turned and Roderick was caught starting into silver blue eyes.
Day 04: I'm jealous of the rain.
He tried to will himself to speak an apology or at least look away, but he was entranced and nothing he attempted came to fruition. Advena blinked at him before reaching down and gathering their cloak. The break in eye contact was the catalyst he didn’t realize he had needed and he rushed in a carefully low voice, “I-I’m sorry. I hadn’t-I was just curious. I didn’t mean to–”
Advena straightened, their expression amused. Roderick was suddenly struck with the thought that this figure was neither male nor female, that this figure was barely even human. Advena blinked at him again, though the soft smile never left. “It is fine, Roderick,” they offered. “There is no harm.”
“But what are you?” he implored, the words rushing passed his lips before he could think twice.
Advena’s movement to drape the cloak over the back of the chair slowed but did not still. When Advena looked at Roderick again, they wore a neutral expression that spoke of mild curiosity. “I am simply me.”
“No family, no history?” Roderick inquired, frowning. Advena shook their head, the pale locks floating with the motion. Roderick equated it with hair moving underwater. It was very disconcerting. “No memories.”
Advena gained an endearing smile. “I have memories but they do not speak of my past all that well. I follow Diggory because I feel compelled to. It does not help that it seems that is what my purpose is either.”
“What do you mean?”
Advena gained a thoughtful look. “I have always been with him. All my memories point to him. I have been only with Diggory.”
Roderick frowned. “How has he not seen your face, then?”
Advena’s expression fell, though they kept a smile on their face, as sad as it was. “He has. Some things are best forgotten, though.”
“You’ve been with him since the castle?”
“I have been with him since he was born.”
Roderick’s mind skidded to a stop as he looked from Advena to Diggory, and back again. There was no way he was that bad of a judge of age. “But you look younger than him,” he choked.
Advena blinked at him. “I do not age.”
It was like ice filled his veins and he couldn’t seem to speak as the pitter patter of the rain on the window suddenly grew louder. Advena’s gaze turned to the covered window before an expression Roderick couldn’t read crossed the strange being’s face. “I’m jealous of the rain.”
The nonsequential question eased some of Roderick’s worry as concern for this strange being surfaced in the chaos of his mind. “How so?” he asked gently.
“The rain is fleeting. It comes and goes and, while some do not care for it while others cherish its presence, it falls without a care, replenishing drinking water and encouraging plant life to grow.” Advena’s expression shut down. “It wreaks havoc during flash flooding or causes landslides and mudslides due to either erosion or decreasing friction between the top layers of earth. But still it remains part of a continuous cycle that keeps all life flourishing. I have never had such a touch on the world and I never will.”
“I doubt that,” Roderick readily countered, but even he doubted his own words.
Advena sent him an appreciative smile. “All I have ever done has been for Diggory and even he does not remember.” Advena did something and the glowing strips started to dim. “Get some rest, Roderick. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
Roderick lost sight of Advena as the darkness settled in thickly and, while he was determined to speak once more, he found himself slowly coming to after having not dreamed. Or, at least, he was fairly certain he hadn’t dreampt.
Day 05: Sometimes I feel like I can rule the world
Diggory smiled at Roderick, seeing the beggar rousing from sleep. “Morning!” he chirped, finishing the lacing of his boot. “Advena’s gone to get breakfast prepped downstairs. They said to join them when you’re up and ready to go.” He gestured to the end of Roderick’s bed. “They even got you additional attire to go with what was purchased yesterday.”
Roderick picked up the odd fabric, frowning at it. Diggory let his smile stay on his face. He had expected that reaction.
“What is this made of?”
Diggory stood up, offering, “Several different materials. It’s mostly cotton but there’s a synthetic blend to it as well as wiring for tech.”
Roderick blinked at him. “Tech? Synthetic?”
Diggory nodded. “I didn’t expect you to really know what those were. A lot of what I’ve known apparently hasn’t made it this far. The city around the castle is thriving in all sorts of things you won’t recognize. That was one of the few things I was surprised about when I arrived here.”
Roderick pulled on the strange vest and Diggory noted that his lack of an actual answer hadn’t been missed. The startled surprise when the vest fit perfectly was pleasing, at least. Diggory looked out the window. “Sometimes I feel like I can rule the world with how primitive everything is. A simple word here or there, a show of power, coming in with armor that cannot be penetrated by what the people have…” His words died off as he got lost in thought. He sighed, looking to Roderick to see fear in the blue gaze upon him. He was glad that it was no longer haunting. He offered a sad smile. “Don’t worry. I have no interest in ruling the world like some dictator. I want a world alliance, one that keeps its own powers in check. I want the expanse of knowledge to be carried out freely and material given readily. I want something close to a utopia, not a concurred planet.”
Roderick slipped the trench coat on, rolling up the sleep of his left arm to just above his stump. “But that doesn’t explain what tech and synthetic is.”
“The definition I am using for synthetic is – and I’m paraphrasing to a point – material created by humans, generally through a chemical process versus the material being of organic origin like cotton or linen,” Diggory explained. “Tech is short for technology and, in this case, is dealing with equipment that does more than it seems in a fashion that will startle you.” Diggory gave a sheepish grin. “That is a horrible definition but I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Roderick pressed his palm over his vest. “So I’m supposed to have additional, what, tools attached to this?”
Diggory shrugged. “In a sense. Until we get the necessary parts and pieces, it’s just used as a locator between you, me, and Advena.”
Roderick gave him a skeptical look. “I can be tracked by this?”
“Only by me and Advena.” He grinned. “Hopefully.” He touched his own vest, stating, “My vest is rather similar to yours, just of a higher caliber. Yours will be fine for what we need it. We can always upgrade it when we reach a larger city.”
Roderick made a face. “You do realize I only got about half of that, right?”
Diggory clapped Roderick on the shoulder. “Of course! Now come on. Advena’s waiting.”
Day 06: I love you 'til the sun dies.
The pair made their way down, easily finding Advena among the surprisingly crowded main room. Advena was once more heavily cloaked but not sitting along as Diggory had expected. There was a rugged gentleman sitting at the table appearing to be conversing with Advena.
Diggory walked over, curious on who the stranger was and what they wanted. He could feel Roderick’s unease.
Advena and the man stood at their approach and Advena spoke first. “This is Hunter. He’ll be taking us to the next town.”
Diggory’s gaze snapped to the man, a smile on his face. “I do hope we are not causing you any trouble with this task.”
Hunter shook his head. “I have been heading to Sunnik from Alkria. It was luck that your companion caught me when they did.”
“Advena’s good at that. Have you two eaten yet?”
Just as the words left Diggory’s mouth, one of the staff brought breakfast to the table. Hunter looked at the food before commenting, “No, we haven’t.” He looked back at Diggory while Roderick sat down. “I will be leaving in an hour. I will meet you three at the south exit from town.”
“You can join us,” Diggory encouraged. “There is plenty here.”
Hunter shook his head. “Another time, perhaps.”
Diggory nodded and watched as Hunter walked away before sitting and partaking of the food.
Within the hour, the trio was waiting by the south road out of town. Hunter came into view on a horse drawn cart, two saddled horses trailing behind.
“I have a horse for you and your cloaked friend,” Hunter told Diggory before looking to Roderick. “Wasn’t sure if you could ride so you’ll ride with me.”
Roderick nodded and climbed up to sit beside Hunter while Advena went to unhitch the other two horses. Diggory’s gaze wandered over Hunter’s cart. “Are you a blacksmith?”
“My brother is,” Hunter corrected. “He doesn’t care for making the trips to those that commission him from out of town.” Hunter grinned. “He also doesn’t care for going to markets to sell wears either so I do it for him. In turn, he watches my kids and keeps me employed.”
Diggory took the reins from Advena. “Older or younger, if I may ask?”
Hunter puffed up with pride. “Younger, by quite a number, and he’s the best around.”
Diggory swung himself into the saddle, the horse stepping sideways before pawing the ground, shaking its mane. Diggory gently pulled at the reins to get the horse to turn and it complied, begrudgingly. “I am looking to replace my knight for a dagger. When we stop next, may I shop your wears?”
“Absolutely.” Hunter righted himself. “Next town’s a day and a half ride so we best be off.”
With a flick of his wrist, the cart jerked forward. Diggory gently heeled the horse’s sides and, though it snorted in distaste, it followed suit. Advena settled their horse at Diggory’s side and the pair kept pace.
The road stayed busy till they were beyond the fields. From one moment to the next, they were alone. When it really came clear they were alone on this leg of the journey, Hunter and Roderick started chatting and really hit it off. The road also narrowed, forcing Advena and Diggory to trail behind the cart.
“I’m so glad that Roderick has made a friend,” Diggory confessed when the two men broke out in roaring laughter. “I was worried he’d end up not having anything to turn to once we left.”
“I doubt he’ll leave before your tale ends, Diggory,” Advena returned. “He’s taken a liking to you as well.”
Diggory gained a wistful look. “You think so?”
“I know so.” Diggory glanced over and caught sight of Advena’s soft smile. Advena’s gaze was on him, gentle and kind. “I love you ‘til the sun dies. I am wholly devoted to you and it has nothing to do with what you are but who you are.” They nodded towards the chatting men. “And I am certain that they in turn will love you as I do.”
Diggory’s expression was sober. “I hope you’re right.”
Day 07: Sing me a song for the ocean to part
They came to a stop at what Diggory realized was an old fork in the road. Hunter looked back at Diggory and Advena, informing them, “If we branch off, we could have a place to hunker down before dark that’s a lot more guarded than the route ahead.”
“Do you usually branch off here?” Diggory asked.
Hunter shrugged. “When I get the chance.”
Diggory nodded. “Then lead the way.”
Hunter nodded and faced forward, snapping the reins in his hand to get the horse moving. He pulled gently, getting the horse to take the offpath, the one that Diggory hadn’t even seen at first. Diggory looked to Advena. “How often do you think this path is taken?”
Advena shook their head. “It probably gets over looked. Old maps label this as the main way to Sunnik when Mortis was still a thriving village. But, since the town suddenly became a ghost town a few years ago, the trail has been used less and less. Not to mention that the other path had been put in around the same time and cut travel time down by two days.”
Diggory blinked. “Seriously?” Advena nodded. He looked towards Hunter, though excitement colored his words. “Are we stopping in Mortis?”
Hunter glanced back, surprised. “Not really. There’s ruins of a home not far ahead and it provides pretty good cover. If you want to see Mortis, we can. I don’t really have much of a schedule to keep.”
Diggory bounced in his saddle as Advena gave him an endearing look while Roderick turned around. He shook his head. “I am not staying in a haunted village. Not a chance.”
Diggory grinned. “We don’t have to stay in it. We can just take this trail to Sunnik.”
Hunter glanced back. “I wasn’t up for that large of a detour but I did say you could see it if you wanted.”
“Please no,” Roderick moaned.
“To Mortis!” Diggory cheered, throwing a hand to the air. His horse snorted, pawing the ground.
“Gods protect us,” Roderick moaned, slouching in his seat.
They came to where Hunter normally hunkered down and Advena and Roderick helped the man set up while Diggory tended to the horses. A soft noise drew Diggory’s attention to the surrounding trees and he stilled, looking to the surrounding trees. If he wasn’t mistaken, it sounded like singing. He made sure the horses were all tethered before heading towards the sound.
It was quite the walk but, eventually, He came across a break in the trees that opened up to a hidden pond. He stopped before the clearing, spotting a ghostly figure standing at the edge. Her words were clearer here.
“Sing me a song for the ocean to part,
To guide my sails true to my destination.
Lead me on to where my heart desires,
Please don’t lead me astray.
Find me a route so true to home that I feel you there.
Sing me a song for the stars to shine,
To illuminate the way I need to go.
Show me just how far I need to go,
Please don’t let me stray.
Find me the point that I can call home.
Sing me a song, sing it to me,
And let me hear it on the winds
No matter how far I go.”
The words hung in the air but she didn’t move, didn’t react, and Diggory didn’t know what to do.
Day 08: Ain't got a care in world, but got plenty of beer.
“Myra, what are you doing out here?”
Diggory shuddered as a phantom of a figure passed through him. The world around bled away to reveal a forest in the bright morning and the two ghostly figures became solid and real. Diggory looked down at himself and rotated his see-through hand. Well this was certainly something. He hadn’t stumbled upon something like this in quite some time. He had forgotten how disconcerting it was to be a ghost in the past. He clenched his fist. He had to be careful. Too long away from what he was supposed to see and there was the risk that he would be trapped in the past. He didn’t understand it - heck, he doubt anyone would - but he knew the rules. Well, most of them. A large number had been trial by error discoveries.
The girl by the lake, still looking pale, turned towards the figure that had passed through Diggory. Her face looked sickly but she smiled warmly to the new arrival. “I needed some air, Remy. I couldn’t stand that stuffy room much longer.”
Remy sighed, his hand careful around her arm. “Come on, I’m taking you back.”
He moved to leave but she didn’t budge and Diggory could see that the man was not about to force her. His touch told Diggory everything he needed. Remy saw Myra as fragile and wanted to do everything to protect her. Diggory frowned. There was possibly more to it as well as Myra covered his hand with hers, looking at him imploringly. “Please, Remy. Another few moments. Please.”
Remy sighed, turning about. “Myra, we can’t. The carriage is here.”
Myra’s expression closed off so quickly, Diggory could have sworn he had blinked. She dropped her hand and raised her head. “Very well.”
She turned and Remy’s grip slipped from her arm as she made her way away from the pond. Remy’s open expression showed the regret and pain he was feeling and Diggory stepped after the girl. Remy quickly followed suit, urging, “I’m sorry, Myra. I hadn’t…I just-”
“You are just doing as you were told,” Myra soothed, offering him a small smile. “It’s alright.” She looked forward again and her expression returned to that hard, cold look that was closed off from the world. “Will you be joining me?”
Remy shook his head as he offered, “I don’t know. It depends on what they permit for you to take with you.”
“If I ask, will you go with me as a servant?” she asked, her words heavy.
Diggory’s heart clenched at that. He knew what that meant for both of them.
“Absolutely,” Remy spoke readily, straightening up. “I will lay my life down for you, Myra. You know that.”
She gave him that small smile again but this one was sad. “I’d rather you live for me, Remy.”
Remy deflated at that but Diggory understood her words. He felt the same way, even. So many devoted themselves to him, claiming they were willing to lay down their lives for him, but all he wanted was for them to live long, happy lives and none of them seemed to understand that.
They approached the house Hunter had stopped at and Diggory blinked at it, bewildered. He had thought it would have been a quaint house in its heyday and, while he wasn’t wrong, he had certainly been off with what he had thought it would look like. He shook his head with a chuckle. Myra and Remy walked up the steps, both vehemently ignoring the carriage stationed outside the home. Diggory noted that it was a horseless carriage, one of the ones he had seen back in his home city. He noticed that neither Remy nor Myra seemed startled by it but he wasn’t sure if that was out of having seen it before or just out of sheer strength of will to not react.
Diggory moved to hurry up the steps after them when something caught his eye. Workers were near what was most likely a barn but what they were wearing seemed odd. He wandered over, catching their conversation.
“Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer,” one of them chortled, holding up a stein. The other two similarly dressed raised their own mugs.
“Easiest pickup we’ve ever done, honestly,” one of the others commented.
“Pity she has to leave all this,” the third offered, morose.
The first hummed but the second tsked at the third. “Come on, man. She’s being brought to Mortis to be a possible new bride. She should be grateful leaving this life style.”
“Her’s may not be as bad as yours,” the third growled back. “She may not even want to go.”
“Doesn’t matter,” the first cut in, halting the argument. “She has been summoned. She has no choice in the matter.”
Day 09: If we can't have it all then nobody will
Diggory stepped away from the men and walked towards where he had seen Myra and Remy disappear. They were right. Those of lower status could not, by law, reject or ignore a summons by those of higher status. Though, it does limit that law to lords and royals. Diggory wondered who exactly had summoned this girl, though, and he got his answer as he stepped through the front door.
“I am ready to leave, Father,” Myra spoke, dressed in something far more elegant than she had been in by the lake and yet it was just as simple. Her father turned to her, a heavy heart showing on his sleeve. They embraced and he spoke words Diggory did not hear. He also didn’t try. His gaze was on the nobility standing in the room.
He knew Mortis’s history, knew who had been ruling when it suddenly became a ghost town, and he was currently looking at him. Lord Loric Embras, a man that, as far as Diggory had known, to have been severe and unforgiving but the expression on Lord Embras’s face spoke otherwise. Diggory suspected he was getting a glimpse of the man beneath the title in this moment.
Lord Embras looked to Remy who was also dressed in finer clothing. “You are her friend, yes?”
Remy bowed. “I am her loyal servant. I will stay with her till the day I die.”
“Good.” All eyes were on him in surprise. Lord Embras didn’t react to their surprise. “She will need all the protection I can afford her and already having someone she can trust at her side makes my job that much easier.”
“So you truly plan on wedding my daughter?” Myra’s father asked, his arm still around his daughter. Next to the clearly battle worn man made Myra look even more sickly that she already looked.
“Yes,” Lord Embras replied simply. He looked to Myra. “If you are willing in three weeks.”
“Three weeks?” Myra asked, confused.
Lord Embras smiled gently and again Diggory caught sight of the man beneath the title. “I will not force you like the rumors like to cause everyone to presume. I would love to have you by my side but I am not about to force you into that position. Three weeks and I will ask you again. If you need more time, that is fine. But if you are still in my home after six months, I will take that as a definitive yes.”
Lord Embras turned, gesturing towards the door. “Then let us depart. You are welcome to visit at any time, Sir.”
Myra’s father nodded, kissing his daughter cheek as Remy took her bag to the carriage. Lord Embras offered his arm to Myra when the girl separated herself from her father. She looked from the offered limb to Lord Embras’s face and Diggory suddenly saw the young woman’s age in her expression. Diggory relaxed. She was old enough to decide this on her own. His time limit was generous if she could handle the tasks placed before her as he knew there would be.
Diggory followed them out and into the carriage. Very little happened on their way to the heart of Mortis. There was small talk shared between Myra and Lord Embras. It seemed they were taking this proposal seriously seeing as the small talk was focused around the pair’s likes and dislikes and perspectives on given topics. Diggory let his gaze drift out the window as they entered Mortis. He frowned.
Something was off.
Lord Embras seemed to notice as well because the chatter died and Remy was moved to Myra’s other side as Lord Embras placed a hand on the pistol holstered on his hip. “Derek, Connor, stay alert,” he spoke. Diggory glanced over, certain that no one else was in the space only to see a communication devise on Lord Embras’s wrist that was normally obscured by his sleeve. Diggory wondered if Lord Embras would get a reply of sorts but, where he had or not, the man covered the devise and looked to Myra. “Stay in here until I say. My men will protect you to the best of their abilities.”
Myra nodded as Remy put an arm around her shoulders. Lord Embras turned his gaze back outside.
They arrived with no issues but they were certainly not alone. A cloaked figure stood on the walkway to the main doors and Lord Embras’s hand gripped the holstered gun.
“Stay close,” he ordered and Myra nodded. Remy looked like he wanted to argue but no words came as the door opened and Lord Embras stepped out. He helped Myra down and Remy climbed out on his own. Tucking Myra’s hand into the nook of his elbow, he led her forward. The figure stepped out of the way but followed behind Lord Embras, placing themself before Remy.
They entered the receiving room and Lord Embras sat Myra in one of the chairs before turning to the stranger, his gaze hard. This is where Lord Embras gained his reputation. “What do you want?”
“Have you made your decision, Lord Embras?” the cloaked figure asked.
“Tell your Master my decision has not changed,” Lord Embras snarled. “He will never get his hands on any of them.”
“If we can’t have it all then nobody will,” the figure warned. Diggory shuddered, getting the distinct feeling that the figure was grinning.
Lord Embras sneered. “I doubt you could do anything.”
“I can’t,” the figure agreed. “But my Master can.”
Diggory’s vision was suddenly filled with a blinding light and he winced, taking a step back.
Day 10: I had my heart set on you.
Diggory rubbed at his eyes, trying to get the spots out of his vision as quickly as he could. There was the sound of a commotion. Sight clearing, he heart twisted to see Remy on the ground with Lord Embras standing from his side. Lord Embras took off at a sprint and Diggory was right behind him.
Diggory had no idea what was going on, let alone what had happened. He couldn’t even piece it together. Too much could have happened and he was left with chasing Lord Embras through the twists and turns of the castle.
They came out a side door, the stranger running with Myra on their shoulder unconscious. Lord Embras seemed to only speed up. Diggory fell behind.
The stranger’s hood caught on a branch as they ducked into the forest. The fabric held and the stranger was jerked back. They lost their footing and fell to the ground. Lord Embras was upon them in seconds and gave a solid kick to the stranger’s head before turning to Myra. He carefully picked her up, holding her close as he put some distance between them and the stranger. He knelt, resting her on the ground and cupped her face. “Myra,” he spoke, his breath still coming short.
Her eyes slowly opened but exhaustion clearly wrote itself on her face. Diggory watched as Lord Embras became Loric, masks carefully placed breaking as he held her close. “Just hand in there, Myra. I’ll get you back to the castle and-”
Her hand came up and cupped his cheek, stilling his words. She had a weak smile on her face as she offered soothingly, “It’s alright. I was never of any real fit health to begin with.”
Diggory swallowed past the lump in his throat, unable to turn his gaze away from this scene. Loric, however, didn’t have such luck as tears slipped down his cheeks. “I can’t let you die, Myra. I can’t. You’re the reason this city has done so well.”
Myra’s smile seemed to grow, though it only got sadder. “Loric.” Loric’s breath caught. “I am not her.” A sob wrenched itself from Loric’s chest and he curled around Myra even more. Myra wasn’t done speaking. “I am simply a recreation of her, a vessel for the magic holding everyone here. You know you cannot hold onto this world much longer.”
“But I can’t lose you,” he croaked out, pressing his face into her hair. “Not again. I can’t lose you again.”
Pain - whether emotional or physical, Diggory couldn’t tell - crossed Myra’s face as she gripped his hair, holding him close. “But you won’t. She’s waiting for you. She’s always been waiting for you.”
Loric pulled away but his head remained bowed. “I can’t keep reliving this, can I?” he asked, voice soft.
Myra smiled gently. “No, you cannot.”
The stranger shattered into glowing particles of blue, green, and purple. Diggory jumped, clasping a hand over his pounding heart from the startle. Loric and Myra didn’t seem to be affected. Beyond the trees, Diggory could see a large amount of the same type of particles rising from the castle and the city beyond. It quickly dawned on Diggory what was going on and he stared at the pair still present. Loric looked at Myra’s face again, running his fingers through her hair. “Will it hurt?”
She gave him an encouraging smile, though it was tired. “No. It’ll be scary at first but you have people waiting for you on the other side. You’ll be just fine.”
Loric nodded as particles started to leave his skin. Diggory shuddered as the particles started to reveal an aged and frail body, one pushed beyond its limits. How long had Loric been trapped in this loop?!
Myra, though, remained whole. Her outfit and appearance, however, did dissipate in a cloud of particles to reveal a suit Diggory was all too familiar with and a face he was certain he knew but just couldn’t place. As the last of the particles separated themselves from Loric, not-Myra sat up and carefully laid the body on the ground, gently encouraging, “Sleep, Loric, and wake in a place you have been denying yourself for so many years.”
Loric’s withered hand raised once more to cup not-Myra’s cheek, his voice rasping out, “Thank you.”
His hand hitting the ground broke reality and Diggory found himself back in his own time. Standing before him was Advena. Feeling so overwhelmed with thoughts and emotions, he was numb, he tried to ask, “Were you….” The rest of the question died on his tongue.
“No,” Advena answered. “The one that was Myra here passed shortly after Loric went to rest. Their crystal burned out shortly there after.”
Diggory tried to frown but he wasn’t sure it transferred to his face. “Crystal?”
Advena did something at their chest to reveal a crystal of the same blue, green, and purple of the particles that Diggory had seen. He stared at it, bewildered. “What is it?” he asked without a thought.
“My life source, in a sense,” Advena offered, covering the crystal again. “The one with Lord Loric Embras was what the stranger had been after.”
Diggory’s eyes became the size of saucers. “When the stranger was talking about having it all, he was talking about your crystals?” His gaze shifted to where he had seen the object. “They’re shards of something whole?”
Advena nodded. “Each is uniquely shaped. No crystal is shaped the same and they all fit together to create a whole structure of some sort.”
Diggory shook his head. “I don’t understand. Why this? Why now? And why tell me all this? Why not keep yourself hidden?”
“I do keep myself hidden,” Advena offered, shrugging. “You cannot recall my face.” Diggory found that he truly could not recall Advena’s face and he was staring at it. “And because I had my heart set on you.”
Diggory’s thoughts came to a stuttering halt. “Come again?” he squeaked.
Day 11: If it makes you happy
Advena offered a small smile, though Diggory thought it was rather emotionless. “I had my heart set on you, or so I was told when I was sent to serve you. I do not know what that had meant but I do know that I find it difficult to refuse you any information.” Advena gestured to the area around them. “After all, you triggered the memory of the crystal still here.”
Diggory tensed. “You mean I haven’t been traveling through time but have been caught up in a sentient crystal?!”
Advena blinked at him. “Is that not what I said?”
Diggory ran a hand through his hair, trying to gather his thoughts. While not being trapped in the past was relieving, being trapped in a crystal seemed even worse. He drew in a shaky breath. “Ok, ok. I can get this. I can understand this.” He looked to Advena, his gaze wild. “I need you to tell me everything about you and what you are as well as the purpose of the others and all your puzzle piece crystals.”
Advena’s normally not overly expressive expression closed off even more. “I don’t think-”
“Please!” Diggory begged. “Please help me understand!”
Advena gave in with a simple, “If it makes you happy.”
“It’ll certainly help,” Diggory assured them.
Advena looked towards where the others were supposed to be. “Find the crystal here and I will tell you on the way back. We have been away long enough and we need to be getting back. I also do not want to repeat myself a second time.”
Diggory frowned. “Do you think it’s safe telling them this as well?”
Advena shrugged. “Roderick is not leaving and while Hunter may move on, he will be a great support.” They gave Diggory a look. “That and I think that Hunter has become rather fond of you as well and will do what he can to help.”
“Help with what?!” Diggory squawked.
Advena gestured where Diggory had watched Loric die. “Help with collecting the missing crystals before the Other gathers them all and uses the construct for something far worse than you could ever imagine.”
Diggory looked at the soil before him. He couldn’t make heads nor tails of any of this but he could feel it in him the urge to dig, to hold the crystal he knew was there close to his chest and keep it safe. He started digging without a second thought.
He hadn’t dug very deep when he came across the crystal. Sure enough, it looked strikingly different from Advena’s. Where Advena’s had looked like a shard that was close to five inches long and sharp at either end, this one looked jagged and roughly broken, a fractured piece of a river smoothed stone. It also only looked like a simple quarts. Diggory’s hand closed around the small object that was able to fit in his fist with ease. A blinding light illuminated from between Diggory’s fingers and Diggory blinked a second set of spots from his vision. He opened his palm to see the crystal was glowing again with the same colors as Advena’s. Diggory looked up at Advena in worry.
What in the world was going on here?
Day 12: Your need is driven on
Diggory clambered to his feet without Advena’s help. In fact, Advena made no attempt to get closer even as Diggory stumbled. When Diggory stood at their side, he took note that Advena shifted farther away from the hand holding the crystal. He frowned.
“When we regroup,” Advena spoke, cutting off his question and starting towards where the others had been. Diggory had no choice but to fall into step behind the other.
Their walk was quiet, silent even. Diggory had yet to release the crystal in his hand into a bag or even a pocket. When they reached the others, he hid it as best he could but Hunter’s gaze was keener than he had anticipated.
“What did you find?” the man asked, approaching. Roderick stepped closer as well, curious though it was clear that he hadn’t seen what Hunter had.
Diggory’s hand clenched tighter around the crystal and Hunter arched an eyebrow at the gesture. “I, uh…”
“He found a crystal,” Advena offered.
Hunter arched an eyebrow while Roderick frowned, his confusion showing on his face. Diggory studied Hunter’s expression, not sure if that look meant that Hunter knew more than he was letting on.
“One of your type of crystals?” Hunter asked.
Advena nodded while Diggory spluttered. “How do you know about those?” Diggory squeaked, his fist going to his chest as if he could protect the crystal best there.
Hunter gestured towards Advena. “I’ve seen their kind before, interacted with them, even. Odd bunch but once you’ve been keyed into the know how, they’re actually rather easy to spot.”
Diggory looked to Advena, floundering. They shrugged. “He isn’t wrong. While many overlook us, if you know what to look for, you can find us rather easily.”
“Doesn’t that make this trip all that much harder?” Diggory asked, glancing between the two of them.
“Trip?” Hunter clarified, looking to Advena.
“He’s going to collect the crystals,” Advena supplied. “He’s keyed into them.”
Hunter nodded as Diggory shook his head. “That does’t answer my question.”
Advena shrugged. “Yes and no. We can un-key people, in a sense, but the challenge was already there. You were just now made aware of it is all.”
Diggory gave them a flat look. Hunter stepped forward, clasping Diggory’s shoulder. “Moot point. Your need is driven on, regardless of how apprehensive you are about it. Your clinging to that thing as if I may take it and break it.”
Diggory looked to Hunter surprised and yet touched. Diggory relaxed, and showed Hunter the crystal fighting the impulse to hide it with all his might. It took everything he had not to smack Roderick’s hand and run off with the crystal when the beggar plucked the crystal from his palm. “I’ve seen these.”
“Not surprised,” Advena spoke. “You would have seen them in the war.”
Roderick hummed, relaxing as he was let into the conversation. “Aw, I remember now. Your kind were sent in to try and mitigate the other forces with all your weird supernatural abilities.”
“Not supernatural,” Advena patiently corrected. “Technology. Weapons that behave as if made of magic when it is only science and bodies that have been enhanced in a similar fashion.”
Diggory frowned at that. “Does that mean you’re part machine?”
Advena tipped their head to the side. “I do not know. All I know is bits of information with no context. This is one of those subjects.”
“So what are you exactly?” Hunter inquired. “Do you know?”
Advena shook their head. “My recollection of events I have participated in begins with my service with Diggory shortly before his breakout of the castle.”
Hunter turned a disapproving look onto the prince. “You want to tell me why you trusted a stranger for this long?”
Diggory threw up his hands, the crystal still clutched to his palm. “Oi! I trust my aunt’s judgment! She would not have sent me off with someone I couldn’t trust.”
Both Hunter and Roderick frowned at that but Roderick was the one to voice the question they shared. “You’re aunt? No parents?”
Diggory shook his head, hands and gaze dropping. “My mom died shortly after my sister was born. My dad died in the war a number of months before that. His death is what caused the end of the war. My uncle, my dad’s brother, saw to that. My aunt, the one that gave Advena to me, is my dad and uncle’s sister. My mom’s side, sadly, is the one with the tyrannic family currently ruling over these lands.”
“But you told me not overly long ago that Advena had come to you after you had been in some trouble,” Roderick countered.
Diggory nodded. “And that isn’t a lie. But Advena had also carried a sealed letter and I would stake my life on the letter’s authenticity.”
Day 13: Fight fire with fire
“There’s no need for that,” Hunter spoke up, soothing whatever mess was about to start. “If you trust Advena, that’s enough for me.” Hunter looked to Advena. “I’ve only met a few of yours but each one has been trustworthy and have saved my hide numerous times. It’s about time I repay the favor.”
Advena tipped their head a bit. “You have nothing to repay and if you do, it should not go to me.”
Diggory chuckled, recognizing Advena’s expression for what it was even if he wouldn’t be able to pin down their face. “It’s not monetary. It’s reciprocating an action felt to have been something done beyond what was expected to a point where the other feels as if they owe the one that did the action. Generally, it’s the simple offering to give directions because another had offered up directions in a different town in a seemingly bad situation. Sometimes the acts are larger than that, sometimes much smaller. And the one returning the favor does what they see fits the action bestowed upon them. If someone were to save another’s life, the one saved may see that the only thanks to be given is by word alone. Another could possibly see it as a life debt until they have either lived out their service or have returned the favor in the act of saving their savior’s life.”
“So paying it forward?” Advena clarified.
Diggory blinked while Roderick exclaimed, “You understand that but not repaying a favor?!”
Hunter patted Roderick’s shoulder, focusing on Advena. “In this case, yes. Several of yours risked their lives to help me on two separate occasions. It is only fair that I aid you guys as best I can in your quest to gather all the crystals that need to be found.” Hunter glanced at Diggory. “Am I mistaken to say that you are looking for those that no longer have power in them first?”
Advena nodded. “Those will be the ones at most risk. Those that still have power still - hopefully - have bodies to power.” Advena shook their head. “I only wish I knew more than I do.”
Diggory touched Advena’s shoulder, offering an encouraging smile. “Even if you don’t recall anything more as time goes on, what you already know is a great help regardless of its limits.”
“So what’s the plan?” Roderick asked.
“Fight fire with fire?” Hunter tried. Diggory looked at him as if he had grown a second head. “What? Don’t tell me you haven’t anticipated running into trouble. The Other is still hunting crystals and has been for years, from what I gather, and has a massive head start on you.”
Diggory deflated. Advena touched his arm, gaining his attention. “Even if the Other has a number of crystals, there should still be plenty for us to gather and keep out of reach.” Advena looked to Hunter. “Can we entrust you to house a few?”
Hunter grinned. “I can do even better than that. I know a guy in Sunnik that can whip together something to help you store those things on your travel. He’s a bit of a whacked fellow but he’s good for things to hide things you don’t want found.”
“I hope it’s not something that’ll be overly heavy and bulky,” Diggory voiced, grinning sheepishly when Hunter looked at him. “I don’t think we’ll always have the luxury of a cart.”
Hunter grinned at him. “Trust me, what you’ll get from this guy will be the best thing that has ever happened to you.”
The conversation over, Hunter gestured for Roderick to follow him to tend to something while Advena kept their distance from Diggory.
“Did that clear everything up?” Advena inquired.
“No,” Diggory confessed. “In fact, it only created more questions.” He sighed. “But it doesn’t matter. The most of it will clear itself out as time wears on.” He looked to Advena. “Sunnik is a rather tech heavy city, right?”
Advena nodded. “You will feel quite at home there, if only on a technological familiarity level.”
Diggory looked to where the two men had gone off to, watching as they settled around the fire chatting. “Will whatever Hunter’s guy gives us actually work? Will it stay lightweight for us?”
“I’ve heard rumors of people able to create pocket dimensions,” Advena assured. “If Hunter’s person is truly one of these persons, then what we are given will truly remain light.”
Diggory nodded. “I hope so.”
Day 14: I don't understand why you're so cold.
Night gave way to day and Diggory woke to Advena and Hunter talking softly near the cart. Roderick was still snoring at his back. Moving as quietly as he could, Diggory got up and snuck away. While he was sure Advena would have noticed, he hoped Hunter wouldn’t.
He slipped to the pond that he had first seen the start of the memory and carefully approached its edge. The water was still but he could not see the bottom. The water was murky, clear only in the most shallow of parts. Still, Diggory slipped off his shoes and rolled up his pants before stepping into the water.
He hissed as the icy water. “I don’t understand why you’re so cold,” he growled at the water lapping at his feet.
“Probably because it is simply cold.”
Diggory jumped, turning around as quickly as the icy water permitted. Water splashed up in the motion, sloshing against his legs and dampening the ends of both pant legs. Advena stood not far from the edge of the water, an eyebrow raised. Diggory took that as a sign of amusement. “Hunter come with?” Diggory asked innocently.
Advena shook their head. “He stayed with Roderick to start making breakfast. He wanted me to warn you not to dilly dally or they’ll end up eating your portion.”
Diggory nodded. “Seems fair.” He shifted his stance in the water. “And yourself?”
“I came to make sure you didn’t get yourself lost. Or hurt.”
Diggory turned towards the center of the pond. “Cool.”
With pants already wet from earlier, he went farther into the pond than he had initially intended and found that the floor of the pond fell away from the surface much faster than he had anticipated. Within three steps, the icy water was at his crotch. “Sounds good.”
He took another tentative step forward and couldn’t help the gasp that escaped him.
“What are you doing?” Advena inquired. Diggory was certain he heard derision in those words.
“I am working off a hunch.”
“A hunch?” Advena took a step forward. “On what?”
He smiled back at her. “Care to join me?”
Advena blinked at him before shrugging off their cloak. The blue light from the suit’s tech veins illuminated the area slightly before Advena turned the illumination down till the strips were faintly glowing. They stepped into the water, the suit repelling the water with such ease that it made Diggory jealous.
Advena patted his head. “You were in the middle of following a hunch?”
“Aw, right!” Diggory moved to go to the center only to find that there was no ground to step on. Advena grabbed the back of his shirt before he could go under. He grinned back at them. “Thanks. But we will most likely have to swim now.”
Advena have him a look and released his shirt. He went under with a splash. Diggory came back up quickly, coughing and laughing. “Coming?” he asked, lazily swimming to the center.
Advena kicked off the ground she had been standing on, pushing themself forward with only a ripple in the surface of the water. Diggory shook his head. “I still don’t know how you do that.”
Rolling over, he dived under the surface. He couldn’t see anything with how murky the water was but he didn’t really need to. He made his way down, Advena appearing close enough to be seen. They grabbed his hands and placed them on their shoulders. Diggory nodded and Advena turned their back to him. Diggory held onto Advena’s shoulders and kicked along as Advena provided the majority of the propulsion.
Diggory blinked when the murky suddenly became clear and Diggory looked behind them to see the layer of silt and whatnot. Ahead of them in the clear water was a tunnel that led down before curving. Advena used the walls to propel them farther faster.
By the time Diggory was fighting to keep his breath, Advena broke the surface of an underground lake and Diggory was right behind them, gasping for breath. He coughed a few times as he looked around, Advena increasing her suit’s luminosity. The room took that light and amplified it.
Around them thousands of glow crystals came to life, taking that small amount of light and passing it on. The entire cavern was bathed in the blue light, showing the size and the tunnels that branched off.
“Some hunch,” Advena spoke.
Diggory completely agreed with her. “I had just been under the hunch that Myra may have hid something in the pond or even Lorik. I never expected to find that it led to an underground lake and a possible network of caves.”
Advena frowned, swimming over to the edge of the lake and pulling themself out of the water.
“Advena?” Diggory called after them, confused. He followed nonetheless and pulled himself out just as Advena stopped before a pillar. He walked over, uneasy. “Advena, what it is?”
There, on the column of stone, were carvings that Diggory did not recognize beyond that it was a lot of writing in one area.
Day 15: Forgive me father, I have sinned
Advena reached out, covering part of the strange text. “Forgive me father, I have sinned.”
“Advena?” Diggory tried again, reaching out. His hand hovered over their shoulder, not quite sure if he should touch them or not.
Advena shook their head. “I’m fine, Diggory. It was the first line of text I had read.”
“You understand this?” Diggory clarified.
Advena nodded. “Not sure if I could speak it but I can at speak it in English, translate it orally for ya.”
Diggory gave in to the need to physically comfort his companion and let his hand fall onto their shoulder. “Only if you are comfortable with it.”
Advena looked to Diggory. “I am not uncomfortable. Quite the contrary. I am rather curious on why this was here.”
“As am I.” Diggory’s gaze wandered off. “How about you read it and give me a summary when you’re done with all the translating and I’ll go see if there is anything else here to see.”
Advena nodded, their gaze returning to the pillar before them.
Diggory made his way through the cavern, going from pillar to pillar, wall to wall, taking in the crystals and any markings that were engraved into the stone.
There was quite the amount carved into the stone.
By the time Advena was done reading three sections, Diggory had wandered as far as he dared down two tunnels. He came to Advena’s side when he saw that they had moved onto their fourth section. “Anything?”
Advena shook their head. “Nothing that makes sense, at least. It’s like a part of a story and I can’t seem to tell which order these sections go together.” Advena looked around. “There is still quite the amount of text left and we really should be returning.”
Diggory couldn’t help but agree. “We’ll have to return when we have more time.” He looked to the lake. “Think we’ll have to swim again?”
“Most likely,” Advena spoke. They looked to him. “Are you ok with that?”
Diggory shrugged. “It’ll be easier going back up than it was coming down. That and I’m starving. I’m all for taking the shortest route.”
Advena nodded and returned to the lake, diving in from the edge. Diggory, for his part, sat down on the rim of the lake before slipping into the water. His feet brushed the bottom as he bobbed briefly. Advena swam up to his side and Diggory reached over, grabbing hold of Advena’s shoulders and following Advena beneath the surface of the lake. The trip back was much faster and, when they returned, they were greeted by both Roderick and Hunter standing at the edge of the lake. Hunter sighed in relief as Roderick splashed his way a few feet into the icy pond.
“Are you two alright?” he asked, reaching out to offer Diggory and Advena a hand once they were close enough. “It’s been nearly two hours since we saw you last.”
“Yeah, we just got distracted,” Diggory explained, shivering in the brisk morning air. Advena draped their cloak over his shoulders, seemingly unaffected by the combination of freezing water and open air. But, then, Advena’s suit did repel water and the only thing dripping wet was their hair. “There’s an underground lake that can be reached through this pond that I, uh, stumbled upon when I had been following a hunch.”
“A hunch led you into a pond?” Hunter clarified, disbelief dripping from his words.
“It happens,” Advena commented, leading the way back towards camp. Hunter wrapped an arm around Diggory’s shoulders and let the other on. Roderick took up position on Diggory’s other side.
“We found all sorts of carvings in the cavern walls,” Diggory explained. “Advena could read them without issue but I didn’t even recognize the characters used.”
“Do you know what language it, Advena?” Roderick asked.
Advena shook their head. “I don’t know the name. It reads like English to me.”
“Does it have some sort of connection to what you are?” Hunter suggested.
Advena looked back at him. “It’s possible.”
Hunter sat Diggory down in front of the fire and ladled a stew still hot over the fire into two bowls. He passed the first one to Diggory who took it happily and simply huddled around it for its warmth for a moment. Hunter offered the second bowl to Advena but Advena shook their head, declining. Hunter frowned. “Your counterparts ate and they did so in front of me,” he countered. “You need to eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” Advena assured him.
Hunter wasn’t taking it. “Eat this. Whether you are or not, this is needed and you know it.”
Advena gave in and took the bowl, spooning the food into their mouth at regular intervals. Diggory watched in awe before shaking himself and eating his own stew.
Day 16: Tell me what you want, what you really really want
The meal went uninterrupted and the final pieces were tucked back into the cart. Diggory walked his horse about in a small circle as Advena mounted theirs. Roderick climbed up on the driver’s bench of the cart as Hunter double checked the horse’s harness. Diggory looked to the man, stopping his own horse and prepping to step up into the saddle.
“We good?” he asked, both hands on his saddle.
Hunter nodded, stepping away from the horse. “Yeah.”
The cart touched the road first, followed by Diggory’s horse with Advena’s keeping right along. Roderick and Hunter held a light conversation between themselves as they trekked towards a city that held no life and supposedly hadn’t held true life for years.
The city slowly rose around them as the minutes turned to hours. By the time they reached the heart of the city, it was already midday. Diggory pulled on his reins, bringing his horse to a stop in the middle of what had once been a major intersection of the city. Even with the overgrowth and the forest having started its reclaiming of the city, it was a wonder that so much was still recognizable.
The hairs on the back of Diggory’s neck stood up and he urged his horse to 180. Even with looking down the way they had come did not ease the sudden wariness Diggory had of the place.
“Diggory?” Advena asked, having ridden back to check on him.
“Something’s wrong, Advena,” Diggory uttered. “There’s something stalking us.”
There was movement from their right but even as they turned to react, whatever had moved was suddenly upon them. Diggory was knocked off his horse even as he pulled his knight and gun. The gun was in the middle of charging when he hit the ground and it skidded out of reach. He had been able to keep a hold of the knife as he rolled, putting some distance between his assailant and himself only to collide with another body.
He whipped around, the blade of his knife flickering in the midday sun. The second body dodged but the first was behind him as his foot settled on the ground and he was in the process of redirecting his weight. Something hit him in the back the head and he knew no more.
Awareness came in two forms, the first being dreams and the second being consciousness. The dreams that filled his mind near the end of his time unconscious were not so much dreams as they were bursts of colors and sounds, shapes that had no real form and motion that had no real depth. By the time he groggily awoke, his head was already spinning from the strange dreams he had that held no form beyond chaos.
Finding himself bound on the floor of an unfamiliar room should have banished the grogginess still lingering but it didn’t.
The room was well lit yet scarce of anything that would help dictate what the space was used for. Figures stood about the room but Diggory had a hard time focusing on them. The only ones that came into clarity were his companions all tussled up beside him on the hard floor.
“It would seem our paths finally cross, young Prince,” someone spoke, their voice full of amusement and annoyance. Diggory was rather impressed. One of the figures knelt before him though kept far enough away that their face was blurry enough he would not be able to recognize it once his head cleared. “Tell me, how is the drug treating you? Head still foggy? Still feeling tired?”
Diggory frowned. Drug? He didn’t remember anything pertaining to some foreign substance being forced into his system. But, then, he had been unconscious for a period of time.
The figure grinned. Fear pulsed through Diggory as he took stock of it even in the haze of his brain. He did not care for that grin. Not at all. “Would seem that you’re still in both of those,” the figure commented, sounding pleased. Diggory struggled against his bonds.
The figure before him laughed.
“There is no getting out of those,” the figure chimed, the promise causing Diggory to freeze. The figure came closer but all the exertion was causing his vision to go dark. He wasn’t about to pass out but he was sure on his way to it. The figure got close and grabbed his chin but the black spots had yet to dissipate and, as the figure came into focus, their face remained obscure. “You are too much of a hassle if we let you out.” The figure’s voice dropped low, as if they were speaking privately to Diggory in a crowded room. “Tell me what you want, what you really, really want, young Prince. What desires does your heart hold?”
“Probably nothing that interests you,” Diggory offered with a shrug.
The figure laughed again, dropping him and moving back, not seeming to care as Diggory’s chin clipped the floor. “Try me.”
Day 17: I want it that way
Pain radiated through his jaw. It only made his head swim even more. Whatever they had put in his system was making it hard to think before he acted and the words fell past his lips. “I want peace and prosperity for all. I want to see the world whole again.” He shifted, glaring up at the figure. “I want the world to be rid of people like you.”
He flinched from his own words. He didn’t want anyone to die but he did want the world free of maniacs like the figure before him. No sane person went about attacking and kidnapping other people.
The figure’s words were slowly registering and Diggory couldn’t help he should know who this person was.
“I want it that way too!” the figure pressed almost breathlessly. They settled before Diggory again, capturing his face between their hands and bringing his gaze to the face once again obscured. Diggory winced. The movement made his head pulse painfully. “I want to free the world of pain and suffering, of hate and distrust. But I can’t make this world perfect without the crystals. I need the crystals to rid the world of evil.”
Diggory’s eyes widened in sudden understanding. “The Other.”
The figure grinned again and a shudder rushed down Diggory’s spine. The figure released his head but Diggory was prepared this time. The figure stood up, making a sweeping gesture. “And now he clues in.”
There was a splattering of chuckles and Diggory whipped his head about. He was unable to make out anything and the motion only caused him more pain. Diggory focused back on the Other, unable to hide his fear. The Other’s grin only grew. “What do you want?” Diggory found himself inquiring. It came out far weaker than he had intended.
The Other leaned in close, cupping a hand to the side of their mouth as if they were sharing a deep, dark secret. The grin was still there. “I want your crystal.”
There was a thoughtless twitch against his bonds in an attempt to curl around the crystal in his pocket. The Other’s laughter rang sharp in his ears and, for a moment, bewilderment replaced the fear. Somehow, the Other’s grin grew. “Wrong crystal.”
There, in the back of his mind, he got an inkling of what the Other was insinuating but it was lost in the rapid firing of thoughts as he tried to figure out what other crystal this figure was alluding to. “I don’t….”
The Other gave a huff of a laugh, standing up. “Come now. You’re not that slow, Diggory,” the Other encouraged, speaking his name in a condescending tone.
That little idea in the back of his mind suddenly filled his thoughts and his brain stopped working. He would have known, though. There was no way that he would have been without having known. Right?
The Other laughing drew him from his stuttering thoughts. “You have no idea how satisfying it is to break one of your kinds’ reality, Diggory. It is such a satisfying feeling.”
“Break my…” Diggory felt sick. No! He was human! He wasn’t whatever Advena was! He had grown up, had memories of being with his family as a child. There was no way-
“To be honest,” the Other spoke, their words drifting into Diggory’s clashing thoughts, “you would have most likely slipped through my fingers. I never imagined that he would have made any quite so…human. But, then, that man was always so trusting. He should have known better.”
Diggory tried to focus on the Other but all of this was taking its toll and he was having a hard time staying awake.
The Other turned to him, a smirk on their face. “But it would seem that he did. And it would seem he made you with every weakness as a human. Pathetic really.” The Other reached out, caressing Diggory’s face. “Don’t worry, Diggory. I’ll figure out where your crystal is housed and I will take it, even if I have to use force to do so. Till then, you will be treated with the utmost care.”
Diggory succumbed to the darkness that was attempting to swallow his vision regardless if he was willing. The Other’s laughter cut through the darkness enough that Diggory shuddered. He didn’t want to be vulnerable in such a situation but it wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter.
Day 18: Larger than life
He woke to hands shaking him awake, dragging him upright and sideways.
“Move,” a voice commanded in his ear. Diggory forced his legs to move in some semblance of a run. Whoever had a hold on him led him not so gently about.
“Diggory!” an oh so familiar voice called and he turned, reaching out towards Advena as they collided with his side. They pulled his arm around their shoulders and took a surprising amount of his weight. Advena looked to the one that had grabbed Diggory. “Lead.”
The stranger nodded and slipped away from Diggory to take the lead. A turn this way, a turn that way, and at some point between where he had been kept and whatever their destination was they were joined by a much larger group that had Hunter and Roderick with it. The pair took up either side of the duo and the four were surrounded by these strangers that were helping them escape.
Even though his legs moved for him, Diggory found himself coming out of a haze as the cold night air slapped him in the face, biting any exposed skin. Somewhere along the way, some of the group surrounding them had vanished and a good number that remained were injured. Even his companions sported some sort of injury but Diggory could not recall when they had been attacked. Still, they all kept moving and, by the time they stopped, Diggory was about ready to pass out again.
“Please tell me we do not have to run again,” Diggory nearly begged. “I don’t think I can get my legs to work again.”
Advena helped him sit on the ground. The person that had shaken him awake looked over at him. “We may have to so you’re just going to have to move when we tell you to.”
“Skit,” a buff dude warned.
The newly dubbed Skit sighed, waving the man’s warning off. “Alright, fine. Someone will help you. though, it ought to be a moot point. Where’s transport at?”
“Two minutes out,” some rough looking dude called out. Dude looked like he could rip Diggory to shreds with his bare hands and not even regret the action. “We’ve got hostile company closing in fast from the south. We’d best get moving boss.”
“Any chance transport will reach us first?”
“Only if ya want us dead, boss,” the man replied, sounding almost sorry.
Skit sighed again. “Fine. Tork, get Mr. Noodlelegs over there and keep up.”
The group was starting to get to its feet as the buff dude walked over. He dipped his head, explaining quickly, “I’m going to be carrying you. Sorry.”
Diggory didn’t even get the chance to say anything on the matter. He was up in the man’s arms in the blink of an eye and his made the blood rush to his head. Diggory leaned into the well built torso, willing himself to stay awake this time. He caught sight of Advena keeping pace and realized that the buff dude could really move even when burdened as such. It was rather intimidating.
“One minute to pick up!” came the call from the rough dude.
It looked like they were going to make it without confrontation till the first shot hit a tree. The group scattered, hiding behind trees and rocks to fire back. Advena kept with buff dude and Diggory, taking Diggory from buff dude so that the man could return fire. Diggory’s legs wouldn’t hold him.
There was a ton of noise but Diggory hoped they would be safe enough. A twig snapped to their left before a blade flashed as it slammed into buff dude’s shoulder. The man dropped his gun, falling to a knee in order to place his body between Advena and Diggory.
Another knife was thrown but Advena was already moving out from behind buff dude, drawing Diggory’s knife with the motion. The thrown knife was deflected as Advena charged and rammed into the assailant. There was a brief commotion and then Advena was back, pulling Diggory to his feet. There was a sudden whirring sound and the air rushed violently around them. Diggory covered his face.
Buff dude picked him up in one arm and Diggory actually hung on this time. In the center of all the wind sat a craft Diggory had never seen. Skit was at the door, waving them in. “Hurry up!” they called over the noise.
Buff dude ducked in and Advena followed. Diggory was placed next to Roderick, Hunter nowhere to be seen. Advena sat on Diggory’s other side and Diggory asked, “Where’s Hunter?”
“Here,” the man called, walking over with his hands full of supplied. “Roderick’s wound needs some form of treatment now.”
Advena got up, sliding down beside Hunter at Roderick’s feet. Diggory finally noticed how pale Roderick looked. “I’ll help,” Advena offered.
Skit plopped down in Advena’s seat with a groan as Diggory felt his stomach drop out below him. His gaze snapped to the window on Skit’s other side, watching as the ground disappeared.
“We’ll be able to make out the home craft in a few seconds,” Skit offered. He knew she was watching him but he didn’t care. He was eager.
His jaw hit the floor. There, in the middle of the sky, was this massive ship, multiple times larger than the castle he had lived in. Skit grinned at him, offering, “Welcome to our larger than life home.”
Day 19: You are my sweetest downfall
Their ride touched down in what could only be described as an enormous hangar. He wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t what it was called. Still, there were a large number of crafts parked in the space, some docked even at higher levels. He looked to Skit, asking, “Just how many people are on this thing? What is it?”
Skit shrugged. “It’s home,” she offered, “and it’s home to a lot of people. I don’t know the exact number.”
“Several thousands, at least,” Tork commented, moving to the exit as the craft settled into its designated spot. Rough dude was right behind him.
Diggory looked to the others. Roderick looked like he was in too much pain to care but Hunter had shock written into the surprise in his face. Advena was expressionless as always, though her expression did seem mildly curious this go around. Skit stood up, gesturing to the four of them. “Come on. There’s bound to be a welcoming committee.”
“There is, boss, and ya ain’t gonna like who it is,” rough dude informed her, looking out the window.
Skit pushed him not so gently out of the way and looked out the window herself. She cussed colorfully. “Of course it would be them.” She looked to Diggory and his companions. “Stay close and keep your traps shut. These are people you are going to want to be careful around.”
“What do you mean?” Hunter asked.
Skit grinned but it was sharp. “Not everything up here is sunshine and rainbows.” The door hissed unlock. “We have our own corruption and disorder to deal with.”
She stepped out first, followed by Tork and rough dude. She threw her arms wide, cheerfully exclaiming, “Meric! What such honor! You are my sweetest downfall.”
Diggory felt like gagging her words were so sickly sweet. It seemed the others of the greeting committee agreed if their souring expressions was anything to go by. Well, all but one, the one Skit was approaching. The man gave a tired smile. “Skittle. It certainly has been some time.”
Skit made a face. “I really hate that name, you know. I much prefer Skit.”
The man shrugged. “I really dislike Meric so we are currently at a standstill.”
Skit put her hands on her hips. “Call me Skit and I’ll call you Mercury.”
The man sighed. “I cannot, Skittle. You know this.”
Skit shrugged. “Fair enough, Meric. Where am I taking the land lubbers?”
“You are not taking them anywhere, you wild heathen,” one of the other greeting committee snarled. Skit gave them a flat look as Meric raised a hand for them to silence.
“Would love to see you try and take them from my team, Councilor,” Skit drawled. Tork and rough guy stepped up to either of Skit’s shoulders. The rest of her team situated themselves around Diggory and his companions and Diggory felt gratitude towards them. He honestly wanted to deal with familiar strangers, not be handed off to a new group.
The greeting committee took a collective step forward, all moving to counter her words. Meric was the only one not to move. “Settle down,” he spoke, his words rather soft all things considering. “Skittle has the authorization to escort them no matter your personal opinion on her.” He shot a withering glare at the councilor that had spoken first, cluing Diggory in that the man actually liked Skit, regardless of their verbal battle. Meric looked to Skit. “I will arrange for their stay to be in your district, Skittle. They will be expected in that given med bay within thirty minutes. Enough time to get there with minor sight seeing.”
Skit nodded. “Sounds good.” She looked back and met Diggory’s gaze. “Let’s get moving, then.”
The entire group moved out. They made their way through the area but Skit nor any of her team offered any explanations to what Diggory and his were seeing. By the time they made it to what Diggory presumed to be the med bay, he was rather convinced they were in some sort of space ship. The tech seemed far to advanced for anything simpler. But his mind was reeling. He didn’t know any country that had technology this sophisticated. But, then, he hadn’t known he was the same thing as Advena and he certainly hadn’t known his country was in the state that it truly was. Any information that would have been given to him was possibly inaccurate and the only country not among the stars was his.
Day 20: If there is a higher place to be
“Welcome to med bay,” Skit spoke, gesturing wide. “Here is where you will find medical support of all kinds and then some. It is the place all must go to eventually but avoid as if the plague.”
“A tad ironic, really,” a female spoke, approaching. Whatever she was, she wasn’t human and Diggory gaped. She appeared feline yet she was clearly a biped that was closer to human than to the feline DNA. Orange fur was stripped in brown, a white patch isolating the chin, throat, and, what he could only assume due to her uniform, chest. Her uniform covered her from neck to toe. The only things not covered by fabric was her striped tail and head. “I am Dr. Neuric, one of the doctors here in Med Bay 5. I will be joined by Dr. Jensen shortly to help give each of you your first examination.” Dr. Neuric looked to Skit. “Will any of your team be staying?”
Skit nodded. “All of us. I want to make sure what injuries we did sustain are tended.”
Dr. Neuric nodded. She gestured to the left into what seemed to be an open space with beds placed in neat order, utilizing the space to the fullest while still allowing a numerous amount of maneuvering space. Skit turned to her team and gestured them about. Tork and the rough dude stayed. Skit turned to Diggory and the others as Dr. Neuric greeted a blue feathered man that looked as if he didn’t have all his ducks in a line, the decorative yellow, green, and blue feathers on the top of his head looking in disarray.
“I trust both doctors with my life,” she informed them. “Do not be afraid to rely on either Dr. Neuric or Dr. Jensen.”
“Will you be close by?” Hunter asked. He glanced around. “No offence to your whole place here but I don’t trust strangers as far as I can throw them.”
Skit smirked. “Wouldn’t have expected anything less. My team and I - well, me and these two gents will wait till your examinations are done. They’re harmless. A poke here and there, possibly an injection or two, but that’s generally it.”
Hunter nodded, seemingly satisfied with that. Diggory certainly was. But as soon as Skit and her two men stepped away, Diggory had his doubts as the two doctors came in and urged them towards private rooms. Diggory and Advena were put in one room while Hunter and Roderick were put into another. Dr. Jensen went with the two men while Dr. Neuric joined Diggory and Advena. An aid came in just as Dr. Neuric was closing the door but she didn’t have the aid leave. Instead, the aid stayed inside the room, sitting in a corner before they were needed, apparently.
“Why are we doubled up?” Advena asked.
Dr. Neuric gave them a kind smile. “Because we figured that you would be more comfortable with another you trust in the room. And we figured it was best to keep those alike together.”
Diggory frowned at that. “Those alike?”
Dr. Neuric blinked at him. “Are you two not of the same species?”
“We don’t know,” Advena spoke first. “I don’t know what I am specifically and, up until just now, I was certain he was a human.”
“The Other spoke of how I was like you, Advena,” Diggory confessed, glancing at them. “He wanted to take my crystal. Not the one in my pocket but the one like yours.”
Advena frowned at him. “You are not like me.” They looked to Dr. Neuric. “Is he?”
Dr. Neuric blinked at them. “You two smell alike but I do not know if that is simply because you two have been close or if you two are of the same species. The other two men smell human, if that helps.”
“I don’t smell human, then?” Diggory clarified, sounding resigned to the answer.
Dr. Neuric shook her head. “No, you don’t.” She seemed to hesitate before adding, “I am sorry that you had believed you were human. This must be difficult for you.”
Diggory shrugged, trying to brush it off but his smile was tight and his shoulders had yet to relax. “If there is a higher place to be, I’d probably have broken my neck when the rug was yanked out from under me. Sadly this isn’t the first reality shattering experience I’ve had in less than a week.”
Dr. Neuric nodded and moved on. “I am going to perform the standard check up every person coming aboard must go through. It will tell me if you are carrying any diseases or have injuries you are unaware of as well as anything you may need to be vaccinated for. We will also do a history scan. It is incomplete but it gives us something of your history at least.”
Both Advena and Diggory nodded.
Day 21: She broke your throne and cut your hair.
The process went smoothly enough. It seemed that Dr. Neuric was rather knowledgeable in dealing with whatever they were. She had no trouble checking Advena over thoroughly, including checking their crystal.
“Do you happen to know what I am?” Advena asked when Dr. Neuric expertly uncovered Advena’s crystal to Advena’s surprise.
Dr. Neuric gave an apologetic smile. “I sadly don’t, my dear, but there are quite a number of your kind on this ship for me to know how to tend to you. If the others know what they are, they never speak of it. They keep to themselves mostly and many attempt to remain anonymous even though we have such the variety of sentient beings on this craft.”
Advena seemed resign to that information, simply nodding and falling quiet again. But when Dr. Neuric turned to Diggory, she seemed to be hesitating more in what she was doing. Diggory glanced at Advena, suddenly concerned. “Dr. Neuric?” Diggory tried.
“I can understand now why you believed you were human for so long,” Dr. Neuric spoke. “You are remarkably human to the point where I’m now questioning if the similar scent was just transferred scent.”
Diggory blinked at her, not daring to hope that it was true. The Other’s words had seeded so much doubt, he dared not to even breathe near the possibility that the words the Other had spoken had been lies and deceit.
She found his crystal in the back of his left hand, the same hand he had picked up Myra’s crystal and reactivated it with. Dead silence fell in the room as Diggory stared at the crystal. It was tiny and perfectly round, close to an inch and a half across. There was no blemish, no mark, yet Diggory could tell that the center was raised no more than an eighth of an inch to create a flattened dome shape with edges Diggory was certain would seem sharp to the touch.
“I’m sorry,” Dr. Neuric’s voice offered, breaking through the lack of thoughts Diggory had. He looked up at her and her regret was very visible. “I just made this very real for you.”
Diggory covered the exposed crystal, giving her a weak smile. “No, it’s better to know where it’s at. Thank you.”
Dr. Neuric uncovered the crystal, hiding it again in a way that Diggory’s mind didn’t keep up with. He was ok with that. She gave his hand a squeeze. “You are human, my dear. In every aspect, you are as human as your two male companions. But for whatever reason, you have one of their crystals in you as well and I do not think it had been active for long.”
Diggory blinked at her, shock rolling through him. Advena spoke up for him, though. “He isn’t what I am,” they clarified.
“Correct.” Dr. Neuric moved over to her aid that was holding a few things. She returned and held the device she had selected up. “Humans and your kind have different electrical fields. It was a recent discovery and it’s not noticeable unless you have the right equipment. This pressed against the inside of the forearm takes a few seconds to register and then give a reading. It’s harmless,” she assured even as Advena and Diggory readily presented their forearms. Dr. Neuric gave them both a fond smile and first placed the device on Advena’s arm. The screen remained dark for a few seconds before the light came aglow. Diggory didn’t understand anything displayed. Dr. Neuric then placed the device on Diggory’s forearm as the screen turned dark again. It took a moment but then the screen turned on and the only thing Diggory could tell was that the reading was different. Dr. Neuric’s eyebrows, though, rose.
“Hm.” She turned and spoke something that Diggory didn’t understand to the helper. The helper nodded and quickly moved about, prepping something. Dr. Neuric looked back at Diggory, a thoughtful frown on her face. “If it is alright with you, I would like to try something. While your readings were indeed different, the reading I had received was not normal for a human and I want to see if it could be the crystal’s energy.”
The helper came back, speaking in that foreign tongue. Dr. Neuric took the few things, responding in kind. Dr. Neuric wrapped a strap around Diggory’s hand, the other around his chest. Both straps had some sort of device on it, the one on his hand over the crystal, the one around his chest resting over his heart. There was a moment where no one moved, the doctor and aid’s gazes on the devices. The pair chattered, cataloging whatever the devises were reading.
“The crystal is changing your physiology,” Dr. Neuric finally informed them. “But into what, I do not know. But, right now, you are still very human.”
Diggory nodded as the aid took the straps off. Dr. Neuric stepped back, letting them stand. She dipped her head slightly. “If it would be alright, while you are staying here, I would like to monitor your change. From what I can tell, it’s not happening very quickly but it is happening.”
Diggory offered a soft smile. “I do not mind. Thank you, Dr. Neuric.” He turned to the aid as Advena opened the door. He bowed slightly towards them, offering, “Thank you.”
The aid returned the gesture but didn’t speak and Diggory and Advena vacated the room.
They stepped into chaos. There, in the middle of it, was Skit and Maric, having some sort of argument. The rest of the chaos the pair couldn’t decipher. Diggory made his way over to Skit, Advena close at his heel.
“She broke your throne and cut your hair,” Maric snarled low, the words barely making it to Diggory’s ears. “You cannot go up against her again.”
Skit sneered. “Don’t care what you think, Maric. We cannot let this happen again.”
“What happened?” Diggory cut in, gaining two sets of angry eyes.
Day 22: You're hot and you're cold
“We’ve been attacked,” Skit snarled. Diggory looked wide eyed at Meric for clarification.
“The ship is not damaged,” Maric assured. “A party on the ground was attacked as was several transports. The attacks were done by an old foe.”
“One that has caused damage before,” Advena speculated.
Skit nodded. “I used to rule over a part of a kingdom a few years back. She came through and annihilated the kingdom I was apart of. In my kingdom, hair held significance. To have mine cut as a ruler by a foe was a sign of conquering. But it was more than that. The entire kingdom not only fell but was never rebuilt. She’s just conquering just to conquer.”
Meric shook his head. “She’s one of three leading the armies of the Other to control the planet. Each have their own way of going about it.”
“Wait, the Other?” Diggory cut in. “You mean to tell me that the Other’s reach is world wide?!”
Meric nodded, his expression grave. Diggory pressed a hand to his face, feeling faint. Meric added, “It’s why we freed you from the Other’s clutches. We know the Other is after crystals and with one of your companions housing a live crystal and you have one in your pocket, there was no hesitation on our part.”
“We couldn’t have been the only reason why you went in there in the first place,” Advena challenged.
“We were looking for the Other’s stash of crystals,” Skit confirmed. “It was sheer luck we happened to do it after you had been captured.”
“Divine intervention,” Meric corrected. “It would have been a futile attempt if the Other had collected another two crystals after we had left.”
Skit hummed in agreeance. “Well, no use sitting around here. You’re two companions are waiting for us in the hall. Come on, I was tasked with showing you guys where you will be staying.”
Skit started for the door after gesturing goodbye to Meric. He reflected the gesture. Diggory and Advena fell into step behind her.
“Will the four of us be in a single room?” Diggory asked.
Skit glanced back at him. “We selected one of the family rooms for you four in case you wanted to stay together till you were comfortable. We also have set aside two doubles and four singles, just to leave options.”
“I don’t think Hunter had intentions of staying,” Advena spoke up.
Skit nodded. “He’s spoken the same thing but he is concerned - as are the rest of us - that the Other will now be after him and his family. We’re organizing a team to go and pick up his family, just in case. Hopefully we beat the Other to them.”
“Here’s to hoping,” Diggory muttered.
“You’re hot and your cold,” Roderick’s voice said, sounding amused.
“What does that even mean?” Hunter challenged, his voice belaying his frustration.
The trio stepped out into the hall to find Roderick and Hunter leaning up against the wall. The pair looked to them as they arrived. Roderick stepped away from the wall first, asking, “Everything alright?”
“Yeah,” Diggory assured him. “What were you two talking about?”
“We were playing a sight game,” Hunter offered. “Roderick was cheating.”
“Was not,” Roderick countered. “There just happened to be two uniforms in the same area and you were closer to one.”
Hunter glared at him but Roderick didn’t react.
Day 23: Have you ever seen the rain?
Skit arched an eyebrow at the two of them. “You two ready to move on?”
Hunter pushed off the wall, grounding out, “Please.”
Skit nodded and led the way. Diggory glanced at the two men. While they seemed annoyed with each other, Diggory saw signs of exhaustion on both their faces. Not that he blamed them. He could feel exhaustion gnawing at his own body but the turmoil of the day was weighing heavily on him. He found his mind spacing out as Skit led the way and by the time they came to a door, Diggory was completely lost.
Skit turned to them. “Stay here and get some rest. Food can be accessed from within the room. I’ll have either myself, Meric, or one of mine drop in within 10 hours to help and this is under the assumption you all are going to crash and not actually require food for the next 10 hours.”
“Like Tork or rough guy?”
Skit stared at him, putting together the context before asking, “Rough guy?”
“The one that counted down to pickup and was with you and Tork when confronting Meric the first time,” Advena commented. They always seemed to be able to understand Diggory’s odd thoughts every now and then.
“Oh! You mean Red.” Skit rubbed the back of her head, grinning. “Guess we didn’t really do much of the way of introductions, huh?”
“Not even a little bit,” Hunter spoke up, sounding pissy.
Skit activated the door and gestured in. “If you need anything, any of these will allow you to access the computer for basic controls such as food and asking for anyone you know. I’ll make sure that the software is aware of the names you guys will use for us more often than not.”
“Red and Tork are like Skit is for Skittle?” Advena clarified.
Skit nodded. “They have longer names or a completely different one in Red’s case. We use nicknames, though, because that is our preference.”
The group filed into the room. Skit stood in the open doorway, urging, “Get some rest and don’t leave without an escort quite yet. The ship is massive and getting lost is a very high possibility. The computer cannot track you everywhere you go.”
The group nodded and Skit stepped back, allowing the door to slide shut. The group spread out.
The space was rather massive. Attached were three rooms and Hunter and Roderick automatically picked the smaller two on the other side of the main space from the larger room. Diggory wandered over to the last room, sticking his head in. There was a rather impressive size bed and plenty of space. He glanced at Advena as they joined him. “You alright sharing a bed?”
Advena nodded. “If you are.”
“I have no qualms with it,” Diggory assured them, walking to the far side and stripping down to what he felt most comfortable in. Advena shed their cloak but stayed in their skin tight suit. Diggory ended up in boxers and pulled the vest back on. It was actually surprisingly soft and he didn’t feel like being completely vulnerable quite yet. He didn’t miss the fact that Advena had left the door wide open as they climbed into the very large bed with him. He burrowed deep into the wonderful covers and blankets that were weighted but seemed to not suffocate. In fact, the bed heated up real quick and Diggory found it suddenly really hard to stay awake as Advena shimmied closer to him.
“Do you want to know what I am grateful for?” Advena asked him softly, striking up an interesting conversation right off the bat.
He yawned, asking, “What?”
He couldn’t keep his eyes open as she answered, “That I have an answer that I am proud of if someone ever asked me, ‘Have you ever seen the rain?’.”
“And what is your answer?” he groggily asked, losing the one sided battle against sleep.
“I’ve experienced it.”
He fell asleep to that thought in his mind.
Day 24: You float like a feather in a beautiful world.
He woke not knowing what to expect of the new day. It would seem he had slept most of it away as Advena was not in the bed beside him, nor was their cloak anywhere to be seen. Getting up, he slowly dressed and stepped out into the main space. He found Advena on the couch reading a book tucked up in one of the window seats. The view was of an ocean spread out beneath them. It was clear that they were rather high in the sky as a cloud drifted past in the afternoon sun.
What are you reading?“ he asked, leaning against the opposite edge of the window. Advena merely shifts the cover and spine so that he can read them. It wasn’t anything he recognized. "Is it any good?”
Advena shrugged, lowering the book to a more comfortable position. “It’s interesting, at least.”
Diggory nodded and looked about. In the corner where what seemed to be the kitchen area there was a small array of food prepped.
“It’s fresh,” Advena assured. “The tech here is beyond anything you’ve probably seen but the food is still good.”
Diggory nodded once more before wandering over, his stomach growling as he picked up the different scents. He doesn’t touch, though. “We paying for any of this?”
Advena closed their book, meeting his gaze. “As far as I can tell, no. The food takes as much resources to prep and deliver as us breathing.”
Diggory gathered a small plate.“I feel kinda bad and rather relieved to know that we aren’t getting charged for this. How long to Skit or hers drops by.”
“They already did.”
Diggory nearly dropped his plate. “How long ago?”
“About two hours. Skit figured it was best if you rested since it seemed you needed it. By the time they arrived, Roderick and Hunter were up and getting a bit stir crazy.”
“And you weren’t?” he clarified, sitting opposite on the window seat.
Advena shook their head. “I was quite content staying behind till you awoke. Skit and Red had come by to offer a tour if we were up for it. Skit said that Tork and Meric would not have an issue giving us a tour once you awoke and felt like it.”
Diggory munched on his food, thinking. He looked out the window, still astonished at the sight even as his still tired brain didn’t transfer that well into expression. “Where are we?” he asked, going with a different thought.
“Over one of the oceans. I didn’t pay attention to which.”
He looked at them. “Do you know where we are going?”
Advena shook their head and settled ‘with the book once more. Diggory watched the clouds he could see in the refection of the ocean, lazily drifting in the same direction. He fell asleep propped up against the window, plate of food half eaten.
He came to with Advena gently shaking him awake.
Around him was a blanket from the bed. Only reason why he recognized it was because it still smelled of Advena.. Their scent was different enough from his that he was able to tell this had been their portion of the blanket. He wasn’t sure they knew that or cared if they did. He focused on Advena, noting that his plate was gone. “Come one. You’d best sleep in a bed now after a bit more food.”
Diggory followed them to standing but wasn’t so sure about the whole eating thing. What he had eaten earlier had stayed with him rather well. Still, Advena led him back to bed before leaving him be long enough to make a fresh plate of food. By the time they were back - and it was a rather short amount of time - he had gotten the covers situated and had settled under them. He sat up and back against the wall, letting Advena place the plate on his lap. “Are the others back?”
“Their tour wore them both out but Skit assured me that it was to be expected,” Advena confirmed. “Skit also said that I would be the least exhausted out of all of us.”
Diggory frowned. “Why?”
“Some jibbery along the lines of "You float like a feather in a beautiful world”.“ Advena placed their cloak on the chair. "not sure hte intent behind those words, to be honest, let alone the meaning.”
Day 25: Ready or not, here I come!
Diggory didn’t understand the words either so he started to eat as he mulled it over. Advena settled on the bed beside him, picking at his plate from time to time. He didn’t mind. But by the time his plate was half empty, he no longer had an appetite and was too exhausted to even try and keep eating. Advena gave a worried frown, taking the plate and helping him settle into the bed. They ran their hand through his hair, stating, “I am going to go get Dr. Neuric. You are not well.”
Diggory batted their hand away gently. “I’m just tired, Advena.”
Advena ran their hand through his hair one more time before stepping away. “Alright. If you need anything, just call.”
Diggory nodded, already passing out.
When he awoke next, he was being thrown to the floor with Advena’s body pressed flush against his and taking the brunt of the landing. He was alert just as they landed, brain registering the gun fire, though the sound wasn’t quite right. Advena placed a hand square on his back as he laid on his stomach, hands going over his head. He could hear them firing back and knew better than to do more than what Advena directed. Suddenly silence fell. Diggory stayed frozen, almost fearing to even breathe.
“You two alright in here?” came an all too familiar voice and Diggory let out a sigh, relaxing as Advena removed their weight.
“Yeah, thanks to Advena,” Diggory spoke. sitting up. The room looked like it had been shot a few times but, beyond what were probably nothing more than surface damage. “You two alright?”
Roderick was standing in the doorway with an unfamiliar weapon in his hand, Hunter behind him with a sword. Diggory had no idea where the man had gotten it, though it looked like nothing Diggory had seen before. Roderick nodded.
Hunter placed a heavy hand on Roderick’s shoulder, urging, “We have to go. We need to find the others.”
Advena helped him up as he asked, “What’s going on?”
“An assault,” Roderick filled them in, grabbing Diggory’s arm and keeping him close. Advena was pressed against Diggory’s other side as Hunter took the lead. Diggory noted in surprise that Advena’s gun looked like it was morphed from her suit. He was suddenly grateful for having Roderick’s grip on his arm as he wasn’t sure he would have been able to stay upright. It felt like he was in the wackiest dream he had even dreamed and it was a very, very uncomfortable feeling.
The feeling only worsened as they progressed through the ship looking for anyone they recognized. By the time they ran into Skit with Red, Tork, and Meric, Diggory felt like energy was crawling through his skin and it was making him weak. Red was taking his other arm as Tork and Meric flanked Roderick and Advena. Skit joined Hunter, pushing them all into a room and taking up lookout with the sword wielder. “Good! You’re alive! We were afraid we wouldn’t find you.”
“You alright, sweetheart?” Red asked Diggory, frowning. The man pressed a large hand against his forehead before snapping his gaze to Skit. “Boss! Kid ain’t doin’ well!”
Diggory frowned. That was certainly an interesting accent that came about when Red was anxious. He shuddered.
Skit pushed close as the others shifted about, compensating. She pressed her own hand to Diggory’s bare skin, frowning. She snapped her gaze to Red. “Stay with him.” She looked to Advena. “I need you to come with me and Tork.” She whipped her head around. “Meric, you and the other two keep the room secure. I’m going to go find Dr. Neuric. We need her now.”
“Ready or not, here I come!” came a singsong voice. Diggory’s eyes snapped up. Standing in the doorway was the Other with a blade buried in Hunter’s gut and a gun pointed at Advena’s head. The Other gave a vicious grin and Red’s attempt to push Diggory behind him. “You have a few things I want, Diggory.”
Day 26: Somewhere in time I will find you and haunt you again
“Over our dead bodies,” Skit hissed, pointing her weapon at the Other.
The Other’s vicious grin only grew. “As you wish.”
The Other fired off the first shot at Advena as he yanked the blade from Hunter. Hunter went down and Diggory prayed he was still alive. Red was suddenly pushing him backwards as the others leapt forward to cover him. He couldn’t even see Advena to make sure she was alive. Without warning, Red scooped him up - which was a feat considering the man was nearly a head and a half shorter than Diggory - and started running. With him in Red’s arms, it was clear that the man was not going to get very far very quickly but as soon as they were briefly hidden from attack, Red swung him around, forcing him - the much larger and lankier of the two - to ride piggyback. He was certain if he hadn’t been feeling so strange he would have found it hilarious.
Red took off at a sprint and it was clear this was much more ideal for the stout man.
Somehow Diggory missed the fact that the room they had ended up in wasn’t a typical room. Whatever it was normally used for, Diggory couldn’t tell, but there were a ton of tables before they were back in the hallways of the ship. Red maneuvered his way about with great ease, never relinquishing his grip on Diggory even when confronting enemy targets. As they encountered the first target, Diggory passed out.
When he came to, it was to a broad hand on his forehead that was trembling slightly and a soft breeze caressing far more skin than he was comfortable with. With a groan, he opened his eyes only to find that the broad hand had slid over them. He tried to reach up to move the hand but found his arms didn’t work.
“Easy, sweetheart,” Red urged, taking one of his hands and rubbing circles into the back of it. He had to admit, it was soothing. “Dr. Neuric is still working. You just stay still and go back to sleep.”
“Can’t,” he croaked in return, finding that his mind was still too tired to even form more than a word at a time. “The…others.”
“They’ll be here soon, sweetheart. Just rest.”
Diggory frowned. Somehow he managed to ask, “Why d'you call me sweetheart?”
He felt the flinch even through both of Red’s hands. “Sorry. I can stop-”
“No,” Diggory urged, though it didn’t quite sound like he had intended. “I don’t mind. Just….curious.”
He could tell it made Red uncomfortable but for the life of him he didn’t know why. He wished that he could pull off Red’s hand so that he could see the other’s face. It seemed rather expressive and it was the only thing going for him at the moment.
‘I, uh,“ Red started. "It’s a habit I picked up. Seems anyone that ends up important to me gets that nickname.”
He frowned. That didn’t sound like the whole story, let alone even a good explanation. It was vague and too broad. If that were true, wouldn’t he be calling some of the others nicknames as well? Or had Red been using nicknames with the others and he just hasn’t heard them? But that doesn’t explain why Red was calling him sweetheart. It didn’t seem to fit overly well for him.
“Sorry for the delay, Zander,” Dr. Neuric’s voice drifted in. “I had to try and keep from anyone noticing.”
“He isn’t doing well, Doc,” Red pressed, shifting at Diggory’s side. It almost seemed as if the man was leaning over him. “He’s got a fever and he ain’t been moving right.”
There was movement and sound but Diggory couldn’t make heads or tails of it. When it all stilled, Diggory found himself holding his breath right along with Red. Dr. Neuric drew in a shaky breath. “That would be because he is changing much faster than his body can manage properly. I don’t know what is going on and I don’t think-”
There was a loud crash somewhere close and he felt Red’s body get really close to his. Diggory gave the man’s hand a tight squeeze, hoping to convey reassurance. He wasn’t sure it worked.
“'Somewhere in time I will find you and haunt you again,’” the Other’s voice carried out. “I told you that time and time again, Old Man, and look where we are! Your creations ripe for the taking to allow me to fulfill that promise. I am going to ruin your life and I am going to do it with your own creation!”
A manic laugh filled the space and Diggory shifted slightly, gaining Red’s attention. The man pressed his lips to Diggory’s ear and whispered harshly, “Stay still sweetheart.”
“I want to see,” Diggory returned, his whisper breathless yet still as pressing. “Who is the Other talking to.”
There was a pause.
“No one,” came the tight reply.
Day 27: Love is an open door
Diggory didn’t believe him. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Very,” Red assured him. “I’ve got a clear line of sight. He ain’t focusing on anyone specific when he’s yellin’ and no one’s stepped forward to confront him.
Diggory tightened his grip on Red’s hand. "Let me see.”
The hand over his eyes twitched. “I can’t. You need-”
“Red,” Diggory begged. “Please.”
The only noise came from the commotion the Other was creating somewhere Diggory couldn’t see as the silence stretched between the two of them. The longer it lasted, the more Diggory feared that he would be denied again. Surprisingly, Red’s hand slowly withdrew. “Alright, sweetheart. But only for a few moments. You really…”
The rest of Red’s words were just noise as he opened his eyes. At first it was all a single wash with no detailing no nothing to distinguish what he was seeing into different objects. He blinked a few times, discovering that it caused his vision to clear. At first it stayed all the same color, just changing hue or saturation. Eventually he was able to make out color but it was weird, off even. Still, he took in both expressions above him. They were watching him like a hawk but he was more concerned about what was going on than placating them just yet.
He looked to the side but he couldn’t see the Other. Whatever Red had witness had moved on. Heck, Diggory couldn’t even see the Other. An odd white noise made it hard to hear anything either.
He looked down at himself.
They both leapt at him but it was Red that covered his eyes but not before Diggory’s eyes widened in horror at what he saw.
He didn’t fight Red as the man carefully maneuvered Diggory’s head back to the pillow. Diggory could still see his body against the dark palm over his eyes in a weird after image. There, laid out, was a body he was not familiar with, a form that looked foreign and wrong. His vest had looked unharmed but his shirt had been cut haphazardly open. His pants were torn and barely hiding anything. What had been a fit body was now tones and ripe for a fight. Additionally, there was a spiderweb of iridescent veins branching out all over his body. If he had to guess, they came from his crystal.
The most troubling thing was the massive injury he had seen.
He didn’t realized he was hyperventilating till Red leaned in close, offering sweet nothings in a low, soothing voice. Mixed into the nothings, though, were soft commands to breathe. Diggory followed them as best he could and found that the more he tried, the easier it became. Red successfully talked Diggory out of his panic but did not move far. The hand over Diggory’s eyes remained and he was grateful for that. He wasn’t sure if he would have been able to not look again if Red removed his hand.
“Better?” Red asked him.
“Yeah,” Diggory answered. He gave a weak smile. “Thank you.”
“Of course.” There was a very loud commotion not far from them. Red was practically laying on top of him, even if the man was keeping space between their bodies. Red growled. “Dr. Neuric, we need to move him. Now!”
“Not until I secure the injury better,” Dr. Neuric countered. There was some shuffling and Diggory frowned when Red seemed to tense. “Love is an open door. You’d best be careful who all you let you see how smitten you are.”
There was some low grumbling. Smitten? Did Red like someone? Oh, he hoped it was Skit. He didn’t know them very well but they seemed like they would make a good couple. But what if Red didn’t swing that way. Tork, then? That seemed a whole lot more likely than Red and Skit, for whatever reason. Maybe-
His train of thought was derailed harshly by searing pain. He fought against the hands suddenly on him, trying to hold him down. He wanted to scream, to cry, but a second hand pressed against his face, covering his mouth and muffling the sounds trying to escape his throat.
Day 28: Trying to forget
Tears streamed down the sides of his face, wetting Red’s hand in the process. Diggory fought with wall he had, trying to get away from the pain eating away at his side. Energy flashed through him and the searing pain went to an unrelenting burning through his veins.
The scream he released was not containable.
He must have passed out because he was coming to in complete darkness. He felt exhausted but the danger of the situation had not left yet. He shifted, finding that moving his body was easier than it had been the first time he had awoken. It still wasn’t easy but it was nice to actually move. He pushed himself up, his head pounding every time his heart beat. He pressed the heel of his left hand against his eye in hopes to alleviate some of the pressure.
It didn’t do anything.
He dropped his hand and took stock of himself. His skin was unblemished and porcelain white, a drastic contrast from the golden tan he had come to be used to. He ran his hand over where the large wound had been. There wasn’t even a scar. Instead, a spiderweb of markings illuminated as his ran his hand over the area, the back of his hand glowing as well. The light spread and the markings spread and became apparent. Whatever had happened to him left him with a full body tattoo of sorts and the ability to make them visible or not. The nice thing about making them visible was that the room was bathed in the blue light, allowing him to see with ease, not that he hadn’t been able to see to begin with. It would seem he now had access to different forms of sight. He looked about as the pounding in his head slowly subsided.
The place was a mess. It was like a bomb had gone off. There was a 20 foot radius around him clear of debris. He carefully pushed himself to his feet and found that his legs held him fairly well, all things considering.
Beyond the radius he found that the place was a disaster zone. Parts of the ceiling and above floors had collapsed, walls were nonexistent, and there were at least two spots where the floor had collapsed into the lower floors.
He spotted Red first.
He made his way over, feeling a strange disconnect from everything. As he approached, he became aware of Red’s situation. The man was clearly unconscious still, if he was even alive. A faint, strange feeling brushed his heart but he paid it no mind as he started to figure out the best course of action to take. Red was pinned under a beam and several large pieces of debris. Only way he had known it was Red at all was because Red had yet to change out of his jacket and it wasn’t one commonly worn on the ship.
He started moving the rubble from who he assumed was Red. Now that he thought about it, he would not be surprised to find it was someone else.
Turned out to be, in fact, someone else and they were dead. Still, Diggory reached down and picked them up, carrying them over to where he had woken up at and placed the person in the center. He went back to searching. Minutes turned to hours and he found more and more people but not once did he come across Red nor Dr. Neuric.
A cable sparked overhead. He was certain he was beyond the area they had been in. It was clear this was a new room even if it was just as destroyed as the place he had just stepped from. He took his time, being careful. If his speculation was not incorrect, he should be coming across Red’s body. So far, there were no survivors.
Something out of the corner of his eye drew his attention. He turned and changed direction, finding that he had indeed caught sight of a foot. The number of severed limbs he had found was to be expected and, while he was anticipating finding a severed limb once more, he would be pleased to find a body still attached.
It was Red.
Diggory was far more careful with him than he had been with anyone else. He pulled the last bit of rubble off of him.
Diggory closed his eyes, letting out a tight sigh. A piece of sheet metal had buried itself into Red’s back and there was no way that the man had survived this long with it in. Reaching forward, he was able to confirm with a touch.
There was no sign of life.
Diggory picked up the body with utmost care. He carried it back to the other bodies he had amassed, carefully placing Red near the center. It would seem he was still numb from the situation because looking upon his dead friend brought nothing forward. Even if he hadn’t known Red very well, he had thought he had cared about the stout man.
Having found Red, though, left finding Dr. Neuric. Diggory was not expecting to find her alive. All that he had found so far were dead and the numbers were clearly starting to stack against him.
He paused in the middle of climbing over a chuck of ceiling. He frowned, glancing back. It was like he was trying to forget something, or was trying to remember something he had forgotten. It was an odd sensation to say the least.
Day 29: I remember a song, like in a dream
Diggory came across his first survivor but it wasn’t someone he recognized. The young woman was awake but very confused. He assumed she had a concussion at minimum. He knelt beside where she had situated herself, meeting her gaze. “I am Diggory. I have been looking for survivors and you are the first one I have come across. If you will permit me, I will carry you to where I started, where the gathered deceased are at. You will not see them.”
She looked at him in a daze and, after a moment, nodded consent. He slipped his arms under her and found she was even lighter than the majority of bodies he had carried. True to his word, he placed her down against a chuck of ceiling that blocked her view completely of all the prone bodies. As soon as she was seated, he touched her head carefully, offering softly, “I am going to go look for others. Rest here and try not to move. I will be back shortly.”
She watched him and, again, it took a moment before she nodded. Diggory stood and moved on.
He found four more bodies before he found Dr. Neuric.
She was alive.
He carefully roused her, watching as her eyes fluttered open.
“Dr. Neuric,” he spoke, gaining the doctor’s attention. As soon as she focused on him, she tried to get away only to flinch and hiss as she recoils. He reached out and she flinched again but his touch was gentle and she relaxed. Her skin felt warm against his hand and he belatedly noted that the other survivor had felt warm as well. Somehow they were both warmer than him but he didn’t feel cold. “Your arm is broken,” he surmised. He pressed his left hand over where he knew the fracture was at and his hand glowed. He felt her twitch in his hold but his grip was firm. The light lasted only long enough to come to full brightness and then die down. He released the doctor’s arm. “How does it feel now?”
She stretched her arm about, testing it. She looked at him with an owlish stare. “Wh…how?”
Diggory shook his head. “I do not know the specifics, Dr. Neuric. I just know what I can do now as I come across the challenges that require my new skills.” He tipped his head to the side, watching her expression. “I am afraid I do not remember much. I feel as if I have forgotten many things yet I hold a lot of knowledge. Accessing it has been something else, though.”
Dr. Neuric nodded, taking in his appearance. He had yet to diminish his glowing markings, finding that he took comfort in their glow even as he had no need for their soft light. “How many survived?”
“One other beyond yourself that I have found,” Diggory informed her, offering her a hand. She took it and he pulled her to her shaking legs. “I have not gone beyond this area due to having the need to find you and Red, of which only you are alive. Red was dead when I found him.”
Dr. Neuric pressed a shaking hand to her mouth, paling. “Dear heavens above,” she muttered against her hand. She lowered it, looking him straight in the eye. “Who is the other survivor?”
Diggory shook his head. “I don’t know her name but she may have a concussion, thus why I am pleased that you are mostly unharmed. I do not have the knowledge to tend to her.”
Dr. Neuric nodded, looking determined. “Lead the way, Diggory.”
He did as he was told, taking her the safest yet quickest route he could right to the girl. Dr. Neuric ran ahead when they came into view, sliding to her knees beside the girl and checking her. Diggory stopped where he was at, leaving him too far to hear the conversation. The girl seemed to come to life at the sight of Dr. Neuric so either the girl was related in some way or the doctor was well known and loved. He cared not to hear their conversation and turned away.
Diggory turned, finding Dr. Neuric standing with the girl leaning heavily on her. “Diggory, I need you to help me get her to an exit. We need to get out of here so that we can find the others.”
Diggory nodded and walked over. He picked the girl up as he had done before and looked to the doctor. He found her startled gaze on him. “I do not know the ship, Dr. Neuric,” he spoke, bringing her out of her daze. “I will rely on you to lead the way.”
Dr. Neuric nodded and started walking. “This way.”
It was a good two hours later before they found their way outside. It was dark and the lands around them were wild, but the weather was clear and warm. Diggory put the girl down beneath a tree at the doctor’s directing and turned to face the ship. He couldn’t see either end this close to the ship’s side. He looked back at the two women. “Dr. Neuric, I am going to see if I cannot find any tracks leading away from the ship.”
Dr. Neuric pointed towards the tail of the vessel. “Start in that direction, Diggory. The main impact would have been at the front.”
Diggory nodded and turned but the next words he had caught made him stop dead in his tracks.
“I remember a song, like in a dream,” the girl spoke. He heard Dr. Neuric kneel beside her. “A voice crying out at first only to weave words in a way that made me want to cry, to cheer, to sing right along with words that I didn’t know, didn’t understand. I can’t remember the words but I remember the song.”
Diggory turned, looking at Dr. Neuric specifically. “Doctor.” She looked at him, her expression tired. “What happened back there?”
Day 30: But in the end, It doesn't even matter
Dr. Neuric didn’t look at him and Diggory wondered if she even could. Whatever had happened had made her uneasy around him and the past handful of hours hadn’t changed that. Still, she spoke, “You went through a forceful change, one that happened to coincide with the ship going down. But in the end, It doesn’t even matter. We need to find others. We have no weapons, no way of defending ourselves, and you are still too newly changed to be able to handle much more action.”
Diggory frowned at that. “I feel fine, doctor.”
“Are you aware that your left leg was sliced on our way out and that you took on my fracture?”
He blinked at her and looked down. Sure enough, there was a massive cut on his calf, one that should have made the leg useless to walk on yet he was still going not feeling any pain, not even after looking at it. Even his arm, he could feel the fracture as he ran his fingers over his arm but there was no pain to it. He looked up at the doctor, mildly confused. “How?”
Dr. Neuric shook her head. “Whatever you were changing into, the process was either interrupted or incomplete. No form would make itself painless on purpose.” Her eyes narrowed. “Diggory, what do you feel when you think about Zander’s passing?”
Diggory’s head tipped to the side as he thought about it. There was an odd sensation at the pit of his stomach but, beyond that, “Nothing, really. I know I should feel some sort of grief but there isn’t any.”
Dr. Neuric’s eyes closed. “Diggory.” She opened them again. “I need you to take Sasha and get as far from here as you can. Settle in a town till things blow over. Stay put. I’ll send others your way as soon as-”
The ground beneath their feet quaked before it broke apart and shifted violently. The piece Diggory was on shoved upwards and he was forced to dig into the surface as it pitched backwards in the same motion. The section Dr. Neuric and Sasha were on shuddered and sank. Diggory counted it as a blessing.
“Diggory~!” an oh so familiar voice sang out. The chunk of earth he was on stilled, now a wall he was clinging to. He turned his head and looked to the Other, finding that the man had something peculiar wrapped around his left arm and shoulder. He frowned. One of the pieces flashed and Diggory suddenly realized they were crystals. The piece that had flashed was Advena’s.
Unadulterated fury flooded his veins and the markings on his skin suddenly illuminated at full force. He became a blinding beacon of light.
He kicked hard off the surface he had been clinging to. Bringing the hand with the crystal about, all the energy in his markings flooded his palm, collecting there until he could collect no more, and he released it in a blazing beam that was aimed rather well for a first go.
The Other, lost his right arm halfway through the forearm and lost his right leg above the knee with the left foot.
The Other didn’t even flinch.
Diggory’s eyes widened in understanding.
Sparks were flying from the joints he had cut, the areas around the slices white hot and melting.
The Other was either a cyborg or an android.
Diggory was going with the latter. He wasn’t sure why but he was going with the latter as he brought all that energy to his palm again.
Something slammed into his side, throwing him into the side of the ship. He lost hold on the energy and the shot fired sideways and upwards, doing little damage to distant trees and lands. The Other buried the crystal coated arm near his head and Diggory glared at him, suddenly concerned for the drained feeling now clawing at his body.
“Pity your first shot wasn’t quite on the mark,” the Other drawled, grinning. “It will take a lot more than that to stop me.”
Diggory frowned. “You’re flying.”
The Other laughed. “Slow as ever, Diggory!” The Other yanked his hand from the sheet metal and displayed it for Diggory. “This grants quite a bit. I’m able to negate gravity on myself and others as I see fit. I can also do this.”
For the first time since he had woken up, excruciating pain tore through him, ripping a scream from his throat and causing his body to wither in agony. When it stopped, Diggory was panting, his body twitching from the onslaught. He had to fight to even stay conscious so he was surprised when words left his lips between gasping breaths. “What…..did you…..do?”
“I stole a good amount of your energy,” the Other offered, shrugging. He gave a vicious grin. “Hurts, doesn’t it? The nice thing about taking it from an unwilling party.”
Diggory gave him a flat look, not believing the man had just said that. He wrapped his hand around the remaining wrist, gripping at the crystals beneath his touch as if to cling to a life line. They glowed brighter. Before the Other could even pull away, Diggory poured all he had into the crystals beneath his touch.
The Other screamed.
It could have been seconds, it could have been hours, but when the Other fell away, all the crystals on the Other’s arm had shattered. Diggory, still tucked into the plating where he had made a dent, was too numb to even move. He could see cracks all over his crystal, pieces already flaking off, but emotions were returning and he sobbed. He cried for those that he had found, he cried for Red, for the others that he didn’t know if they were alive or dead. He cried for Advena who had been such a close and wonderful companion that knew so little about themselves and would now never know.
He cried because he had failed them all.
His crystal shattered.