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Red walked along the edge of an old, beat up road. Spreading her hands for balance she continued along. Her hands were pale, her face was flushed, and her whole body shook in beat to the dead of winter. Dead trees circled her, and shadows danced about as she trod on the lifeless street.
Red had a humble cerulean scarf wrung around her neck, a single glove on her hand, and her clothes were old and in tatters. Long auburn hair cascaded down her back and swished as she balanced on the brink of the road. Filling the hushed air was the girl's cheerful humming.
Flurries of snowflakes drifted and swirled by, blanketing the girl's head in soft white snow. She shivered and hopped into the middle of the road. It was dark now, and the darker it got, the colder it got. Red had her bare feet which were turning blue; she could feel the cold creeping up her. She sighed and stomped them against the ground to warm them.
Red tightened the scarf around her neck and continued forward. She twirled and hummed as she walked, as if she was oblivious to the fact she was cold and lost. She danced along quietly, lost in thought, and blocked out the conditions around her. The girl stopped in the middle of a step forward. What was that? She heard a creak then a few clicks of footsteps. "Who's there?" She asked in a frightened voice. There was a raspy breath in reply, but no words. Red's breath quickened as she listened to it. She gulped audibly then spoke again. "Please, just go away."
There was a snap, then a growl. Something was lurking in the shadows, something not minifigure. Suddenly a creature dove out in front of Red. All the girl could hear was the sound of the creature in front of her, her own horrified shriek, and the sound of metal.
Red backed in reverse, unaware that she was heading further and further away from safety. There was a soft growl again, which didn't cease. She couldn't tell where the creature was, but all she wished for was to be away from it. The creature, purple, malevolent, and horrid, stood in front of her. He scrutinized the girl, smirked secretly in the cover of night, and dove for her legs to bring her down.
Red felt a stony hand grip her foot and she fought to kick it off. "Help!" She cried, feeling cold tears of fright roll down her face. The creature, and its iron grip, held on as the girl thrashed about, inevitably toppling over to the ground. Nobody can see me, she thought with dread. No one can hear me either.
She slammed into the road, falling right onto her head. Pieces of rock clung to her face as she wriggled to stand back to her feet. A second hand curved around her ankle just above the first one that was hanging on to her foot. "What do you want? I don't have any money!" She howled, almost standing, but tripping when she was pulled down again.
"Hey!" A mini ran by, hearing the girl's screams and cries. He wielded a flashlight, which allowed him to see in the murky night. He pointed the stream of light at the girl and at the monster. The creature was hideous. He had long pointed purple hair, old tattered clothes, a claw for a second hand, and a nasty face with orange glowing eyes. "Gah!" The mini shouted upon seeing the fiend.
"Get it off! Get it off!" Red bellowed while twisting from side to side as the creature started to jerk on her. The man strode quickly to her side, and with his trusty flashlight he smacked the creature on the head to get it to let go. The monster shook his head once and loosened his grip. He then fell backwards, completely letting go of the girl.
"Crazed minis, crazed minis, crazed minis…" The creature muttered as if it were some kind of malicious lullaby. He then slowly crept away, sulking down the street.
Red lifted her hand and flapped it through the air, feeling in front of her. "Is it gone?" She asked, trying to calm her alarmed voice.
The mysterious man with the flashlight kneeled down next to her. Looking off into the distance where the creature had run off to, he said, "I think so." The man had black hair that was well kempt on the top of his head. He had narrow russet eyes that matched the shiny gloves he was wearing.
Red hoisted herself onto her feet, and with her ungloved hand she brushed the pebbles off of her face. She tightened her blue scarf around her neck, and wiped a few tears beneath her jade eyes. "Thank you," she said graciously to the man she knew was in front of her.
The man was silent, staring at the girl. With his left hand he waved it in front of her face. "You can't see can you?"
Red shifted her weight awkwardly. "No. I can see. Why would you think I couldn't?" The girl said, blinking a few times.
The man stood up from where he was kneeling, he then reared back, made a fist, and leaned forward to punch her. Red didn't even flinch. "Some days it's necessary to lie. Others it is not." He chuckled and drew away from her. He let his eye glance up to gaze at the snow gently tumbling from above. "It's too cold to be standing out on these roads. You need to go home."
"No, I like it out here," Red lied, pulling her arms in closer to her body to warm them. The gray ashy road continued to fill with the fluffy icy contents, pouring over the girl's feet and causing her to shiver violently.
"Come on; let's get out of the snow," the man said, wrapping his hand around her shoulder. "What's your name?"
She smiled nervously, "Red."
"Mine's Alan. And what's your favorite color?"
"Red," The girl said, beaming a ray of light in the cold night.
He laughed, "Why is that?"
"I can't see colors, but Red is my name."
"Okay, Red, let's go. There's a nice fire at my house." Alan said, taking her hand and walking down the frosty, shady street.
The outside of Alan's house looked small, but fairly well kept. The roof was carpeted in snow; its side panels were white, adding to the silvery wintery surroundings. A small porch light was left on, now flickering quietly in the muted stillness. A slight breeze blew over the top of the house, adding a little background noise as it whisked over. A wisp of smoke traveled up from the chimney and curved to the side when the wind caught it.
Alan led Red into the house, which was at least a little more impressive, and a lot more welcoming then outside. In the first room there was a golden couch, a hearth, which was lit, and a couple of doors that didn't seem like they went anywhere. Red lead herself to the hearth, and feeling its warmth, she sighed. "Thank you."
Alan shrugged, but then remembering she couldn't see he said, "No problem."
"How did you…" Red started to ask but heard a rugged bump on the front door. There a quick pause then a chorus a knocks.
"Humph..." Alan groaned testily, "Who could be at my door in the middle of the night?" He gazed through a peep-hole and tried to determine who was there.
"Who is there?" Red questioned, closing her eyes in the pleasure of warmth.
"Those…those creatures are back."
Red whirled around, stumbled to the door and pressed her ear against the cold wood. She could hear the croaky gasping of the beast's just outside. Her face turned to stone. "Can they get in?"
Alan looked at her, and then gazed back at the flimsy lock on the door. He snatched her hand and pulled her away from the entrance. "Mary!" He called, "I wasn't going to introduce you yet, but this is my daughter Mary." Alan said looking out as a girl appeared in one of the doorways.
The girl looked frail, skinny arms and legs. Blond hair swirled in curls just down to her shoulders. Bright blue eyes looked from Alan to Red. She wore a bright green jacket with azure pants. "Stables?" Mary suggested; her voice was light and girly.
Alan thought for a second, "Yes, go. Take two horses, and get as far away as you can. I'll be there soon. Take Alena for Red here."
Mary soon was holding Red's hand and dashing through the house. In the background there was a large slam which meant the door had been broken open. Mary led Red through the back door of the house and outside. The snow was falling harder than it was earlier, which meant they had to trudge through a thick layer of cold, freezing ice.
"I can't ride a horse!" Red whispered to the wind pushing past her face.
"Alena will take you easy. Come on!" Mary said back, even though Red was sure she shouldn't have been able to hear her.
Red tripped and her face plunged into the snow. There was a snarling behind her, but she couldn't will herself to get up. Mary was jerking on her hand, screaming as she saw something behind her. Red eventually pushed herself to her feet and, dazed, she followed Mary.
"Alena is already saddled from earlier; all you have to do is hop on!" Mary said, coming out in front of a large stable. It was worn from a lot of uses, a couple of the boards were broken, and a few bars were twisted, but other than that it was in decent condition. Snow superimposed on top of it like it was a mountain; inside it was fairly dry though.
Mary unlocked the door, strode into the barn, and swung one of the metal gates open. "Come here Red!" she called.
"Why?" Red queried, wiping the snow off of her face.
"No, not you. Red Lightning here, the horse." Mary said, watching as a fledgling stallion appeared in front of her, tossing his head. He was masterful and bulky, broad chest, with powerful legs. His coat was a nice bay shade with a crisp black fringe on the tip of his ears and feet. His mane was a deep black and his eyes exhibited spirit and power. He loomed over Mary as she took him out, and threw a leather saddle over his back. "I'll be taking Red, you will be taking Alena. Do you know what we're running from, not that I don't trust Father that there's something out there…" Mary said slipping a brown, dusty halter over Red Lightning's head.
"Some kind of crazy creature," Red said, thinking back to the hoarse gasps she had heard.
Mary mumbled something and secured Red Lightning's halter to a pole, then was gone down the long stretch of a hallway. She came back leading a small docile horse who was wearing a black bridle and a polished black saddle. Her back was a pure white which was hard and muscular. Her belly and legs were a different story though; a mottled smoky-gray contrasted the white. Her eyes were mix-matched, one brown and one a steely blue. With shoed hooves clicking the stable floor, she trotted with Mary until they both reached Red.
"Here, I'll help you up. You said you've never ridden a horse before?" Mary said.
Red's face paled with fear. Just outside the stable doors she could hear the same raspy noises. "We've got to move, Mary."
The girl gawped at Red with her blue eyes. She then clutched Red's gloved hand and drew her towards Alena, who was standing there good-naturedly. I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, Red thought, feeling the top of the saddle.
Mary helped her on and, with a piece of rope; she tied Alena to Red Lightning so they would have to follow each other. Suddenly a purple beast bashed through the side of the building.
"Lightning, go!" Mary shouted and dug her heels into the horse's side to make it go forward. The stallion leaped to the air, reared, and charged forward, taking Red on a wild ride with Alena.
Alena carried Red away from the stables in a hasty canter. Just ahead of them, Mary and her horse were loping along, trying to elude the creatures that were behind them.
"Where are we headed?" Red shouted, barely heard over the horses hammering hooves and huffing breaths.
"Just up here, where we will wait for my father. He has got to come out sometime; I will not bear to see those beasts get him," Mary said, astonishingly gifted to hear her. Mary gently pulled on Red Lightning's reins to sojourn him, and squinted to look. "I don't see Father, but those things aren't chasing us anymore. They must of figured out we were too fast for them. Then again, I can't see much. It's too dark." Red Lightning then shook his head side to side as if he would panic, jostling Mary.
Red fumbled sitting on the top of Alena, searching for the reins she knew the bridle must have somewhere. She wanted to be able to hold onto them, but she couldn't figure out where they were. The snow made her fingers numb, and reins continuously flop around.
"Mist, go on! Go!" Alan's voice was strong and hard as he could be seen riding a horse up towards Red and Mary. The horse twisted and bucked under his firm hand, but Alan rode her forward. The horse was a rather large brown and white pinto, with a light brown mane that tossed around. Following them shortly behind was a small horse than was a light bronzed color with a white mane. It followed, running as swiftly as his lanky legs could carry him.
Several of the beasts were following Alan, screaming at one another with their plans and orders. Every stride they took tainted the fresh snow with purple sludge in the shape of their bony feet. Granted it was hard to tell them apart, but the leader of the group wore a torn, yet fairly clean, golden neckerchief. He always stood in the back, barking his head off with incomprehensible verses.
Alan carried a trifling lamp which produced just enough light to gleam around him in a circle. It glinted off of the metal rings of the horse's bridle and twinkled off the side of the polished saddle. Mary could see him coming to them at a sprint. "Oh! He's coming, let's go!" Mary said; her voice was shaking as she heard the beasts. She leaned forward in the saddle, gripped the horn, and urged Lightning forward.
Red Lightning spun around, tossed his head back with a wild whinny, and charged forward. A moment later he staggered, his knees falling into the snow. Just in front of him was not the open, clean, free field he had thought it was. Four pointy legs, six beady eyes: a colossal spider stood tall in front of Red, looming over him as the horse spooked, and took off in the other direction towards Alan.
Red was juddered forward, and almost flung out of the saddle, had it not been for her stability. Alena was tossing her head back and forth, neighing noisily as Red Lighting was charging away from the spider. Red was perplexed about the whole fiasco; she couldn't see what was happening just in front of her.
Alan's steed could see the two horses headed straight for them, and reared backwards. Meanwhile, the creatures closed in around Alan, staring up at him with their large, beady eyes. The leader grabbed onto the horse's neck and hung on. The horse could feel hands and claw reach up and down her body. Leaving a smudge of purple goo, the creature climbed up towards the horse's face. With wide steely eyes the horse leaped strait into the air, kicking up a large cloud of white snow.
Red Lightning saw the turmoil, and turned around once again, only to confront the spider right behind him. To his side were two of the beasts lingering around, waiting for the utmost moment to bring them down. The horse snorted and continued to turn in a loop to find a way out. Alena froze, staring up at the four-legged spider towering over her. With a swift motion the spider lifted a leg, and bashed it against the poor horse, sending her staggering to her feet.
Red FireField screamed at the top of her lungs, listening to the horrid creatures around her and the shouts of Mary.
"Father!" Mary shrieked, looking for help. More little beasts started to appear around her, slinking out of the darkness. Moonlight glimmered over their heads, giving Mary just enough indication to know where they were. The snow started to pick up pace, drowning Red and Mary's head in freezing snow.
Red could feel herself being tugged on, her neck to be particular. Her scarf. A beast wrapped his hand around her blue scarf, and started to yank on it. He unraveled it from her neck and snatched it from her. "No!" Red reached out and, finding the cloth with her fingers, held onto it. The beast also held on, but pulled on it, upset Red's balance, and pulled her into the snow.
Several hands lifted Red upright, their faces concealed in darkness. They weren't Alan's firm hands or Mary's delicate little fingers. They were stone cold, gripping Red's arms and legs roughly. Four pairs of hands, Red counted, picked her up into the air, like a doll, and started to carry her.
She thrashed wildly, struggling to shake the creatures off of her. "Mary!" She cried out, but paused. Mary shrieked. Red Lighting screeched. Alan yelled after both of them, but was instantly silenced.
They were taken; Red knew it too. Taken…taken or smashed, but she decided to block out that other option. The beasts dropped Red to her knees. The girl pushed her face downwards, fearful of the punishment she will surely receive. A dreadful tear lolled down her face collected at her chin, and dripped to the ground, creating a small hole in the snow.
Her heart raced and, even in the cold weather, her brow was lined with sweat. She couldn't run, her shoulders were held down, but more importantly where would she go? She could try to blindly dash away and hope she didn't hit anything, but where would that leave her? Lost. It just wasn't practical.
There was a moment of shuffling, and a sharp sound of metal. A claw then swiped across Red's face, smacking her into unconsciousness. She fell over, her face hitting the ground hard while her hands hung limply unable to stop her fall.
The room was filled with a horrid scent. Red couldn't quite place it, but it smelled familiar from somewhere.
The small room was lined with plain gray stones, each next to each other. The ceiling was awfully low, probably so she couldn't stand up. There was a tiny window though; it allowed just enough light to pass through so it lit up the stones.
Red shook her head back and forth, trying to clear the fog that weighed down her head. Where am I? She felt around her, pushing her hands against the icy, clammy floors. It couldn't be anywhere decent.
Her hands wound up to her face, which was slick with sweat. She could feel a large raised gash the streaked just below her eye all the way down, cutting her lips, but just stopping at her chin. It burned and stung at the touch, but she couldn't resist tracing it up and down with her finger.
Although she craved looking around, Red was sure no one else was in the room with her. She let out an inevitable moan. "Alan…Mary…." She suddenly wished both of them were there, even in this predicament.
"Awake are you?" A voice echoed around the walls, bouncing through her. It was throaty and rich, fake joy almost.
Red couldn't seem to put words together on her tongue, her mind was still dazed, and the voice was foreign. She was unsure how or why should she answer.
"Fine, fine, no hurry." His voice was full of amusement, which made Red itch to make him stop. The man's faint breaths filled the hushed air, and after a moment of silence it became almost taunting to Red.
"Who are you?" Red said, keeping her voice quiet and sweet. She wasn't sure if he was friend or enemy, so better to keep pleasant until she found out which.
He chortled. "Why it would be easier if you asked who I am not."
"Alright," surely he was playing her, "who are you not?"
"I am not you for one. But I do own you."
His words were simple. His voice was mocking. But the meanings were vile.
"You…" Red started weakly. She wanted to yell at him. She wanted to argue saying 'You do not. You don't own me.' But that would only turn into a foolish childish game of 'I do too, and no you don't.'
"I? I what?" The man mimicked her feeble voice. Red quickly clamped her mouth shut; she wasn't in the position to be arguing. "Wisdom at such a young age, I never thought I'd see it." His calm demeanor was irritating Red. She felt so helpless, sitting on the floor, blind, weak. What infuriated her even more was the fact, she was sure both she and he knew, that even if she was to make a stand, it would end miserably.
"You will be helping me later. Until then, enjoy." In a matter of seconds the man was gone, leaving Red to wonder to herself. Help him? No way, I'm leaving. Red stood up, using the wall for balance, and took a few steps forward slowly. She stretched her arms out so she wouldn't hit anything and continued onward.
The tips of her fingers bumped against slick, cold metal. Metal bars. Disappointed, she sank to the ground. "Someone just get me out of here!" She yelled, desperately. Someone had to be out there right? Minis, someone? Anyone?
"Red?" A familiar voice rang back and forth in Red's ears. A syrupy, girly voice: Mary.
"Mary? Mary!" Red scrambled to her feet, hitting her head on the ceiling, but not caring whatsoever in her haste. "Yes, I'm here!"
"Alright," Her voice had a fringe of pain engraved in it.
There were a couple of clicks, which were promptly followed by the screech of metal. Mary ambled into the room, clutching an oddly shaped key in her hand. She had apparently used that to open the door. Red smiled wearily, aware that when she did the cut on her face hurt.
"Do you know where you are?" Mary asked seating herself next to Red's feet. At first Red was confused, shouldn't they get up and leave? Make a run for it? Fight? Sighing, Red sat down too. She couldn't exactly argue with the girl. Mary was her only guide now.
"No. I don't," Red frowned. What did Mary think? "I can't see, so how would I know where I am?" She was frustrated at the little girl.
"I don't know! Maybe you heard something…or something." Mary shot back.
Red traced the stone floor beneath her, unsure of exactly how to answer. "Look, let's not turn this into a fight." Red leaned back further, "Do you know where we are?"
"Yes," Mary said, her voice becoming lighter than before.
Red waited for a moment, as if Mary was adding a dramatic pause, but Mary didn't say anything else. "And, where are we?" She asked again, this time hoping for an answer.
"Under? Under what?" Red asked irritably. It seemed Mary was skirting around answers.
Suddenly Red's world seemed to crash around her. Now their chances of escaping went for one percent to none. Underground meant she couldn't just run to safety. She was trapped. "Mary! Are you certain?" Red asked franticly, shivering at the thought of being here forever. When that man came back, for sure she was doomed.
"Absolutely and there's no way back up," Mary's lighthearted tone concerned Red.
"No way up?" Red repeated as a question, not really expecting an answer. "How did we get down here then?" She groaned in exasperation loudly, it's impossible.
"Look, I'm against lying, so I can't tell you I don't know." Mary said and simpered, her voice becoming less sweet and light sounding.
Red would have liked to do the things her father had read out of books. Stand there, gape at her, eyes wide with confusion. But that wouldn't help if she couldn't see. Instead she sat there for a moment, puzzled. "So you know how to get out?" she tried to make her voice less begging sounding, but to no avail.
"Not very bright are you?" Mary's sugary, pleasurable voice turned harsh and rough. "I do, of course, know how to get up. But why would I do that when I spent forever luring you down here?"
"Luring me!?" Red exclaimed. "M-"Red wasn't sure what to say. Maybe she should get up, and hit her for tricking her. For some reason that didn't seem smart. "Why?" Red asked, being all she could mutter.
"It's easier for you to not know anything. Less complicated, you know," Mary said, stood and walked across the room. "Bye, Red."
"Mary! Don't!" Red shouted at her, a few tears started to stain her pastel cheeks. Red scampered to her feet, and flew towards Mary, all in vain. The door screeched closed, with Mary gone.
"Where's Alan! Surely, you can't trick your father…" Red continued to yell, hoping she still might be there. Yet, she paused. Why should she care about Alan? He's probably sided with Mary. Locking her in here, surely for evil purposes, how could Mary want that? Red pressed her forehead against the wall and held back crying.
Red's eyes fluttered open. Her sleep had been restless and, for an odd reason, they all consisted of Alan. Mostly they didn't make sense, but usually Alan was running. Red couldn't imagine why.
Red rocked her neck back and forth, since it was so stiff, and stood up. Outside of the room were quieted voices. "Do you think…?" "No, it's really…" "Of course." Their words tormented her for the simple reason that they were free and she was not. It seemed they were purposely lowering their voices once they got to what Red wanted to hear. The thought of the little Mary haunted her more though; she had never expected it from such a sweet petite girl. Then there was Alan. Was he a traitor?
Questions led to more questions until her head was spinning in circles, trying to remember what had actually happened and what she had just imagined.
"Slipped the words out of Ophira did you, little, innocent, blind girl?" A familiar man's voice rang through the room, that man.
"No. I don't know an Ophira," Red said, trying to act as blameless as he said she was.
"Ophira. Mary. No difference." The heavy words lolled off the man's tongue and dropped to the floor for they had no meaning to Red. "The problem is," he continued, "you're not innocent."
Red twisted her body around, trying to figure out where the man was. In this chamber she couldn't tell if he was behind her, to the side; he could stand right in front and she couldn't even notice. "What did I do?"
"You are full of questions. But let me just say, you almost ruined my life. My empire, but luckily we still stand. You were so close to getting it. Ophira stepped in though, and saved you from a horrible fate. Believe it or not, she also saved Alan for such corrupt doom. Now your father…he was too much of a hassle. I've got to say the fellow was quite mad, insane even when he died."
His words pounded against Red's ears, the meanings wrapped around her brain like snakes. Deadly snakes. She wanted to say something, but her mouth hung open, unable to produce more than an incomprehensible burble.
"What, how did you think your father was smashed? Oh, you poor girl. Lied to weren't, you? No, your father didn't die in a blast of faulty wiring. That was me. It also caused a suitable side effect of you being blind."
Fuzzy memories of her father rushed into Red's mind. Sylvester, her father, was crouching down in a mine, hundreds of feet below the surface. Red was watching herself run back and forth, like she was separated from her body in the memory. Red was only four then; bright eyes, and a wide smile made up her complexion. Sylvester's face was smothered with dust, glazing him in a grimy black coat. Still, a wide grin was plastered to his face, and his hands were mysteriously behind his back.
The little girl ran her small hands through her hair and skipped towards the man. Sylvester removed the object that was behind him to reveal a bright, long cerulean scarf. He threw it around Red's neck and picked the girl up into the air. Whispering a couple words, he set Red onto the ashy floor and reached up above his head to flip a lamp on.
A spark. A little twirling flame leaped into the air, bounced and landed inside the lamp. It squeezed out the side and fell to the floor. Like a dancer it twisted and fell, landing, leaving just enough time for the father to realize what happened.
The man scooped up the girl in his arms and tossed her away from it, hardly recognizing that the tiny spark would take his life. Bloodshot bursts of vivid colors plumed in Red's vision. Blank.
As Red's memory vanished to the jail she was currently in, she instinctively reached up to feel the thin, soft scarf around her neck. It wasn't there.
"You," Red muttered.
"My name is Ginjiro. Ah yes, it's a silly name; being called 'Good Silver' doesn't fit me, but it is more proper then just 'you'." The man said.
Red took a step forward, following his voice. 'Ginjiro' had ruined her life, her entire life. Now he was going to pay. She launched herself towards him, her fist curled into a little ball and raised above her head. She might have hit him if she had been a second faster, but he danced out of the way.
"Foolish girl!" His voice bellowed through the chamber, his anger rising. Ginjiro then slid out of the room, slamming the door behind him. But the one thing Red did notice is that he never locked it.
Red tapped the door before her. It made a horrid noise, but slowly swung open, signifying her freedom. Well done, Red. Well done. She snuck out of the room, into what seemed like a large hallway, only to bump into something hard in front of her.
"What are you doing?" A gruff, unfamiliar voice choked out. Red paused for a moment of hesitation, but scuttled back away from him. "Get back here!" He called, shouting rather loudly.
Red backed away even further, but in her haste she crashed into something behind her.
"Hello girl," it said, his rancid breath swirling around Red, "Master Ginjiro said you might try to escape." His voice was different from the first one, sweeter sounding. Fake civility. It tormented Red, because in the end it would happen like it did with Ginjiro. She would try to fight, but her one fault, her blindness, would prevent her from it.
An icy, stiff hand glided over her shoulder. "Let's try this again."
Not exactly sure what she was going to do, Red swung her leg backwards, knocking the man behind her over. He crumpled to the ground, a foot stuck in his face. Terror raced through her heart, sending it to a wild beat. Where now?
Red pushed the hair out of her face and dashed down the long hallway. The air was cold and reedy; it seemed like she was floating right through it. The building was shaking under her balance; she never even questioned it.
"Wait!" The gruff voice of the first man echoed around Red, but she didn't stop. "Wait, Red! It's Alan." He wheezed huskily once and took a second before continuing. "Red stop. You're not going to get far!" His voice was different, certainly not regular calm Alan.
Red slowed, but didn't turn around to him. She was ready to take off at a moment's notice. "You're not Alan. If you're going to trick me, try fixing you're voice first." Red's voice grew strong at the end of that sentence. Finally she had the upper hand, she was tired of being deceived, locked up, and controlled. Now she was free, and this creature wasn't about to trick her.
"Red," his voice turned hard, as if he was pleading, "please, I can help. You can help me too." Red didn't answer, but completely stopped to listen to him. "I'm sorry." The man said, standing still at the end of the hall.
What he said surprised Red; she was expecting more. His voice, his words, was the sounds of hopelessness, sadness, and the hollow voice of defeat.
"I'm sorry," he repeated, continuing, "I was blind. Blinder than you are, Red. I never thought Mary…." His voice became unsteady, as if he would cry.
"Mist?" Red asked mysteriously, testing the man if he was Alan.
"Mist? I don't know. Taken along with Alena and Lighting I guess, why?"
"Alan," Red whispered, then again louder. "Alan." Only he could have known the horse's names right? It had to be him. Suddenly Red worried why no one else was here to get them. Ginjiro hadn't returned, neither had his servants.
"Which way?" Red inquired, trying to figure out if there was more than one way away from where they were at.
"Just strait, I think. I saw that man, Ginjiro, head in there. It's the only door I can see," Alan replied.
Red took a few small steps forward, sticking her arms strait in front. "You wouldn't mind walking ahead? My face could use a break."
Alan nodded and stepped forward, forgetting that Red needed a voiced answer. He quickly strode down the hall, limping slightly so his footsteps were uneven. The door he came to was made of sleek, solid metal. "I bet it's locked," Alan groaned, but started to push open the door. Surprisingly the door slid open easy without a protest.
Red and Alan trod into the blazingly lit chamber. The steely hoary stones were replaced with maroon bricks; perfectly placed next to each other, none were cracked and they had no the slightest hint of a scratch on them. Numerous large lights lit the room, causing Alan to draw back from being used to the darkness. It was a rather small room, but the emptiness left it feeling large.
Ginjiro wasn't there. In fact, there were only a couple things sprawled across the floor…
…weapons. Weapons and armor?
"Red," Alan started, "let's take some of these." He leaned over to pick up a sword. "Some of what?" Red asked, mystified.
"What do you- "Alan said, and stopped, his mouth still hanging open. "Um... There are weapons, here have one." He grabbed the sword and inspected it. The blade was long, thin. It was a rich golden color which seemed extremely bright as the light glinted off of it. The handle extended out quite a ways and had four, gorgeous gemstones embedded in it. Three were smaller ruby colored trinkets which were close to the knife-edge. The fourth, however, was lightly rooted at the top of the handle. It was a huge sliver, milky gem.
Alan didn't question the sword, but rather handed it off to Red and started to pick up some other things.
Red swathed her hands around the hilt, feeling the smooth edge of the silver jewel. Red took a step backwards, then another. She shook her head back and forth slowly. What? Her mind was clouded by black clouds of vagueness. Nothingness. Red's knees buckled underneath her and she slid to the ground, unconscious.
"Boy, were you lost. I must say I expected more. Maybe not more, I guess, just faster. I forget. You are clueless; I must enlighten you. I am Leomaris, head of the Council. Council of Many Lights that is. Was head of the council, so it be, but it has fallen to rubbish.
"Red, or FireField as I fancy, you have finally ended here. But might I ask why? I cannot imagine what you would be doing in such a dreadful place." Red could hear a bass voice speaking to her, loud and clear. Her vision was black, blank as usual. She wished she knew where she was, or at least who was talking to her.
"Did I not just mention I am Leomaris?" The voice said again, rumbling loudly.
Had she said that aloud? Red had been sure she had kept her mouth shut. Her face paled until it was completely white; did he just….
"Do you even know where you are?" Leomaris muttered, interrupting her train of thoughts
Red pushed herself to a sitting position. They've put me back in my cell, haven't they? Where's Ginjiro?
"Only a youngling would make an assumption like that. I realize you are blind, but feel around you. It's not the icy confinements of a cell, is it?"
Reluctantly, Red drummed her fingers against the floor. Despite what she expected –Cold, slimy, rough stones- she found her fingers tracing nothing. Nothing was below her, yet she was sitting on it. Fear constricted her limbs; what if she was to fall off if she moved?
"You have discovered where I live. Where I have lived for many years."
"Where are you?" Red managed to say aloud, her voice catching on the last word.
"I have forgotten to allow you to see me. One moment," Leomaris said and hummed frivolously.
A minute passed; nothing. Red waited rather intolerantly for she still was trying to find the ground beneath, which ought to be there. Precipitously, off in the distance of black, there was a figure. It shined lustrously like the sun in the murky area. First Red thought it was her imagination creating such creature, but that was before she realized she was actually looking at it.
The creature was colossal, towering high above her. It had ponderous paws, one of which he held in the air, each with a count of four black claws. Two massive bat-like wings spread out away from his back, floating above him gloriously. The underside of it was a thin-stretched golden leathery membrane. The top, however, was silver with scales that overlapped each other, creating waves of shiny gem-like circles. The rest of his body was similar to his wings. Sprays of silvery-gray scales clouded his form. Leomaris' face was dotted with smaller, lighter colored scales that grew even lesser as they surrounded his eyes. The creature's eyes were the exact color of Red's scarf, now missing. From behind him an elongated tail enfolded around his feet, coiling next to his ankle.
"Now that you can see, I'll bet you're wondering exactly where you are. If you could bet, of course," Leomaris' large maw opened and closed quietly as he spoke.
Hardly choking out the words due to surprise, Red replied, "Yes, of course." She swallowed hard and thought to creep backwards, but, again, was that really smart? In a single bound the dragon could be by her side, and with those claws she would never stand a chance. She couldn't run. Besides, even though she can see, where would she go? The realm around her was stark black.
Red hardly questioned the fact she could see; she merely accepted it as if she was walking in a dream. A dream. Obedient, doing whatever the dream dictated. Absolutely and wholly helpless.
"You are in Vectis, city of nothingness. Not an official term, but still. It's inside a dragon's gem, one that happens to be lodged in a sword. If you have heard of Ginjiro then you would realize he is a truly dreadful man. He has successfully entombed me in here. After years of pondering I have yet to figure out how he did such feat. Question is, have you heard of him?" Leomaris paused, clearly expecting an answer.
Red didn't hear the last few sentences; her mind had drifted off when the gem on the sword was mentioned. She had felt it, and what? Red glanced up, only to find Leomaris' scintillating eyes staring deep into her. He was expecting something, but what?
"Um…sorry?" Red squeaked out, her voice as high pitched as Mary's.
Leomaris laid his ears back a little, and his cerulean eyes narrowed a little, but he didn't say anything. "Ginjiro has imprisoned me here. Do you know who he is?" His voice sounds the same, hopefully not too mad.
"Yes," Red responded, fists clenching into tight little balls. Suddenly she realized all she knew about that man…wasn't much. She knew his name, of course. He had smashed her father, and taken her and locked her up. But what were his motives really? He had said something about not letting her get close to something. Was that it? Besides she didn't know if he was dangerous, or anything. The more she thought she knew, the less she actually did.
"Ah, so you must have heard about the Maelstrom," Leomaris' eyes flash silver for a second while he speaks.
It wasn't exactly a question, but Red felt she had to speak up. "No, I don't. I…I haven't heard of that. What is it?"
"Maelstrom: distorted creatures that are enslaved by Ginjiro. Most of them have gone sincerely insane. There's no real escaping once they work for their 'master'."
It rang like a bell in Red's mind, allowing her a slight smile since she figured it out. "Those were the things that attacked me, right? They took me to Ginjiro… He has to have some reason for that, but what? What could I do to him?" It struck Red that she was rambling on with questions, but they needed answers.
Leomaris let out an unexpected sigh, which gusted around Red with warm air. "He must have gained more minions. You see, Maelstrom Stromlings were originally just Mr. Typhonus' workers. But Ginjiro has since taken them…and corrupted them."
Red felt he had answered none of her questions. "Why does he want me? Why did he smash my father?" Her voice was getting louder and louder, forgetting her fears of the dragon.
"He wants to stop you. It's too late though," Leomaris said, a smile creeping up on him. "He got your father, yes, FireField, but not you. He wants…." Suddenly the dragon stopped, his mouth gaped open. His eyes froze on Red, chilling her with his icy stare. Red blinked once.
He was gone.
"Leomaris!? Leomaris!? Leomaris!?" Red whispered, but her voice increased in volume when he didn't appear. Her voice rang around the room, giving Red only the empty satisfaction of her own voice. The hollow voice she could hear was desperate. Lonely. Scared.
Something was caressing her forehead, and holding her upright. Mary? No, Red instantly discarded that idea. The fingers were too thick and rough. Alan.
Red only realized what she was saying when the sound had resonated around the room and traveled back to her. "Alan! He was about to tell me about Father! How could you?" Her voice was so accusing, it disgusted her.
"Red, I…I didn't…Leomaris?" Alan stammered, the confusion on his face transferring to his voice.
The voice of Alan brought Red back to her senses. "Didn't you see him? Leomaris was right there."
"Red," Alan started in a sympathetic tone, "I didn't see him. No one did. You fainted only a quick minute ago."
Red fumbled with the golden sword despondently trying to figure a way back into the dragon's gem. Tears of exasperation rolled down her cheeks, but she didn't say anything else.
Alan allowed her to scramble with it for a moment before saying, "There's time for that later. Red, we'll take it with us. But we need to get moving." Red tilted her chin up in Alan's direction, clearly upset by it. "Those creatures will surely be back. I'm surprised they haven't figured we've left our cells already. Our luck can only last so long."
"Alright," Red mumbled, rolling to her feet.
"The question is where. There is one door, the one we came in here from, weapons and blank walls? Whoever designed this place must have a purpose. It doesn't go anywhere," Alan whispered aloud, speaking to himself.
He stepped forward, running his hands over a blank wall of bricks. "Well, there's one way to make sure there is nothing behind it." Scanning the floor at his feet quickly, Alan spotted a large hammer. Picking it up by the long handle, which was a slightly rusted piece of metal, he swung it at the wall.
An explosion of red, cracked bricks shattered and flew through the room.
"And now there are two doors."
Alan stumbled through the makeshift entrance and stood bewildered before another long hallway, leading to another single door.
"Well, this is dumb!" Alan said dully, staring at the stretch of floor. "Who makes hallway after hallway leading to rooms with no purpose? I think Ginjiro has gone completely insane." Alan then glanced around, surveying the room. Gray stones covered the floor and wall, the only difference between the two was the walls had candles and windows. However, the windows were dark, surely meaning they were underground and that dirt was pressed against it.
For some reason Alan's words reminded Red of Ginjiro's. 'Now your father…he was too much of a hassle. I've got to say the fellow was quite mad, insane even when he died.' Insane….
Red gripped the golden sword between both of her hands and jogged up to the door on the other side of the room, hoping she was heading as straight as she thought she was. She ran her hands over the smooth, cold metal. "Your right. There has got to be some reason. Maybe there's something important behind this. Like a way to the surface?" Red had calmed her voice now, steadying it.
"Perhaps. But then again, why would they put cells only two hallways from the exit?" Alan replied logically, following Red to the door. He handled his hammer thoughtfully. "Move your fingers." Red quietly complied and slipped her fingers down to her sides.
With an eruption of noise the door screeched open, only half hanging on its hinges. The metal on the door had buckled in, leaving an imprint of Alan's hammer stuck in it.
"Why, good evening," a familiar voice resonated, a touch of friendliness engraved in it, "you have finally arrived. Come in." On the last two words his voice growled. Ginjiro.
Red and Alan stood in the doorway, which led to a wide room, consisting of only a small table, and a small chair. "Ha, yeah…sure," Alan replied, smiled politely, then grabbed Red's hands. He whirled around and dashed back away from the room only to realize there's nowhere really to go.
For half a second Red stood there, just before being dragged off by Alan. Just long enough to hear Ginjiro mutter under his breath. "Where did you get that?"
The abysmal man strides down the hallway, sneering. "Think you can just walk out? Steal my things and leave? Well, you can't."
With a clap of metal that can only be the sound of him drawing a sword, Red raised her own sword to her chest. Yes, stealing. Somehow, even from him, it seems to weaken her. All of my life being good, just to ruin it in a single, swift moment.
Hearing a clang, Red leaped to the side, hoping she was jumping away and not at, her enemy. Red toppled backwards, banging her head through a window. The glass shattered, spraying Red with a shower of sharp projectiles.
"Alan!" Red cried, feeling her feet lift off the floor. The girl tipped back, lost balance, and was hurled out the window.
"Red? Red!" Alan screamed reaching for her foot as it skidded out the window. Alan grabbed the girl's shoe, barely in time before it slipped out of view. Gazing downwards, he didn't see the brown, mucky soil he expected. Instead, hundreds of feet below, the world is sprawled out beneath him. Rocks and trees being barely visible, it looks like peaceful grass that has merged to become what seems like a soft green paint. They weren't underground. Wasn't Mary against lying?
"Red, hang on!" Alan yelled, trying desperately to pull them both back up.
With nothing to feel, Red couldn't tell if she was two feet from the ground, or two hundred. Still, the fear from Alan sped up her own fears and she squirmed wildly.
"Bye," Ginjiro said, laughing menacingly. His voice was deep and-
A boot kicked at Alan, shoving him out the window also. Alan lost his grip on Red and neither of them could help but scream as wind flew past their faces.
A large, rocky cliff. Slabs of reddish-orange stone projected out from the side of an overhang, making it rather impressive. Below was a watery grave, the blue shine swirling with white foam. The sun is low, causing gleams of orange to project over the ocean. The water sparkles with the beauty of sunset. Elegant. Breathtaking. Strangely comforting.
Red watched it for a moment, taking in the wonderful view. Suddenly, the water darkened, its color swirling with edges of black. It burbled quickly, steam rising from it as if it were in a giant pot, sitting over a fire. The ocean then burst into flames, consumed by red fiery infernos.
"Two miles left, then we should arrive. Lieutenant, please take a cruiser and head to Avant Gardens, I will deal with these recruits."
"Sir," a voice acknowledged.
Red cautiously tapped her fingers against the hard metal beneath her. Had she been asleep? She tried to pull herself to a sitting position, but was instantly pulled back down with her head spinning in circles.
"Commander Bane, I will now take controls and pull into encampment. See to that this one isn't infected with Maelstrom."
"Alright," Bane said and his feet drummed against the floor as he took long strides towards Red.
He placed a hand on Red's and examined her face, which was mangled and cut. "Welcome to the Nexus Force."
"The Nexus Force," Red murmured quietly in response, fearing it was something similar to the Maelstrom. What if they've captured me? Weren't we falling? Am I dead?
Bane's voice was quiet as he stared at the girl, his steely eyes trained on her. He shook his head disapprovingly. "The Nexus Force is here to stop the Maelstrom. You seem to have been attacked by them," Bane said, his voice deep and soothing, similar to Alan's. His eyes traced up and down Red's wound on her face.
"Yes," Red said meekly, rubbing her fingertips together only to realize that the sword was gone; so was Leomaris. She forced herself to get into a sitting position, ignoring the heavy hazy sensation in her head. Laying down her head had felt like it weighed a million pounds, but now it's as light as a feather.
Bane was dressed in an old uniform. Although the suit might have been bright blue when it was bought, or made, it was now a darker color. The ends were frayed and threadbare, and several marks across his chest made it apparent he had fought before. Either that or a wild bear attacked him. His helmet and visor were plastered onto his face and were tightly strapped on, refusing to slip off. The only parts of him that were really visible were a band of his neck where the collar of the uniform ended and the slits of his eyes where the visor was transparent.
"Well, when we found you, you were falling from hundreds of feet in the air, off of nothing." Bane said, implying he was looking for an answer.
"Off of nothing? I fell out a window of a…building." Red replied. It was a building right? Or maybe a castle. Red wasn't exactly sure. It was made of stones, of that she was certain, but that might just be the inside.
"There wasn't anything there," Bane said, letting out a nervous chuckle that was more a release of stress than happiness.
Red waited for a moment, thinking he would continue. "I'm not crazy, you know. It was there. Right there; I was standing in it!"
The man shook his head back and forth, his helmet jiggling loudly. "It's not there. You should just be happy we rescued you. If you didn't notice, we're in a cruiser. We were flying past, you were falling from the sky….We could have drove along, let you fall," Bane said, almost regretfully. Turning around, he started away from her, shaking his head frowningly again.
As Bane's back was turned, Red felt she had to say something. Anything really. "Thank you."
Although Bane curved around to look at Red, his voice was drowned hopelessly in the new revived engine roar. The sound had been dormant earlier, but now fresh thrusters were activated.
A voice came over an intercom. "Commander Bane!" The voice shouted erratically, "the Nexus Force is shooting at us!" With a hysterical second voice, the speaker boomed loudly. "Repeat: The Nexus Force is shooting at us."
Bane glanced up at the ceiling, at the sound of the noisy speakers. His hand snaked up underneath that helmet and covered his eyes. "The Nexus Force is…what?"
A repeating drilling sound on the side of the ship answered Bane. A steel hook ruptured through the metal hull of the cruiser and latched itself onto the inside, barely missing Red's head that was leaned against the wall.
The ship leaned onto one side heavily, being slowly dragged on by the hook. Red braced herself from falling backwards. "What the?" she muttered, moving about dizzily. A box slid across the room and rammed into Red's knees, knocking her to the floor and making her slid on the slippery floor.
"Move everyone out of the supply room! We don't want them crushed by the crates in there," Bane ordered. He stumbled over to the hook embedded in tough, rough metal, and spoke again. "There are just holding us still. What are they going to do? Steve? Any ideas? Why are they attacking us?!"
Steve, a scrawny man who most likely had never had enough to eat a day in his life, shook his head back and forth. He opened his mouth to say more, but was completely bewildered at the Nexus Force's actions. Mustering words up, he said, "I'll get them out of the room, Sir."
Alan scrambled out of the mangled supply room, limping badly. The gait of his strides was odd, composing of a strong step, then a double step as if he were catching himself and about to fall. He clutched onto gray side rails as he stumbled towards Red.
Alan wheezed hard momentarily, pausing, but continuing forward altogether. "What's that?" He asked, stopping. Everyone is the room quieted; the only noise was the grumble of the engine and creaking of the hook against the ship's interior. Like the flip of a switch, there was the overpowering squeal of screeches.
Losing her balance to the ship's off-center gravity, Red tumbled backwards. Hitting her head on the back of the wall, and trying to cover he ears at the same, she couldn't help but wonder. What in the world is that noise?
Bane sank helplessly to his knees, shoving his hands around his ears. There was a pause, the noise ceased, leaving the air deathly silent. "There are shooting a missile at-"Bane barked, but the scream began again.
A whistling, piercing squeal of air, then the missile hit. It rocked the back of the ship, sending it spiraling forward. The hook detached and the cruiser was left to fall, its engines hit and failing.
A flash of picture showed Red her surroundings; a blurry picture of green forest contrasting red fire. Then there was a second image, the same one she saw before: the cliff, hanging over an ocean. The ocean was a calm blue, as formerly, and then spurt into blazes.
"Bane? Alan?" Red questioned, her voice muffled against the ground. Her face was covered with rocks, and her hair was filled with mud and dead leaves. Quiet wind ran around her face, meaning she was outside. She lifted her head up and flipped onto her back.
"Yeah." Red recognized Bane's voice. "You okay?" Bane asked, shaking himself as he stood from the forest floor.
"I guess," Red muttered, feeling her calf which was painful to the touch.
"I guess we crashed in a forest. My crew has got to be in the cruiser still!" Bane leaped forward and strode into the flaming ship, only yards away. Fumes of burning gas leaked out and the ship leaned unnaturally on its side, ready to tip and fall at any moment. Several moments later the Nexus Force man popped out shaking his head. "Everyone's smashed, well, except you, me, Alan, and Theron," Bane said in an emotionless manner. With his brow creased into lines, he motioned for another man to come out of the ship.
The man came out, walking securely, completely unharmed by the events that left his workmates dead. "I've got some supplies; I pulled them out of the ship. They should still work," Theron said, grinning as he yanked a large metal crate out.
"Good. I'm going to go find Alan. It seems he got flung pretty far," Bane murmured, his voice still cold.
With the cracking of sticks and the crunching of leaves, Bane left, leaving Red sitting there. Theron came and sat next to her, completely silent.
"I almost wish I could do that again."
"Do what?" Red replied, becoming impatient for Bane and Alan to come back.
"Fall from a height like that. I mean the crash."
Red was horrified about what she was hearing. "You want to crash again?! All your comrades died in that crash, why you're lucky to be alive," Red said.
Theron was quiet for a second, lost in thought. "No, not that. That's all terrible, though I won't dwell on it. I mean the rush. Maybe I'll get to go skydiving or something someday," he whispered. Theron was an odd man, his eyebrows were dark and bushy, and his mouth was slightly crooked. He seemed aware of this, and kept a gray, green striped helmet glued to his head. His clothes were new looking, a shiny gray color with pockets of emerald. "I guess that's why I joined."
Red waited for him to say more, but he seemed finished. Apparently he's not very good at explaining things. Or he just didn't want to. Red frowned, "Joined what?"
"The Nexus Force; Venture League."
Red's frown went even deeper. "They shot at you," she said simply.
"Well…yes. But I'm sure they have a reason. Trust me, the Nexus Force is good, don't let this incident change your mind." Theron chimed, laying back. "I hope they have a reason," he sighed.
"Theron, where do you think they are?" Red asked, her voice squeaky and scared. Red was sitting in the same spot, listening to the crackling, burning plane as it slowly put itself out. She had asked Theron to go in and get her sword back, which they had taken with them when they rescued her. She now clutched the handle of it tightly.
"I'm not sure, Red. I'm worried too, let's go look for them. It'll be a nice change of scenery." Theron stood with a thud, his large, broad-shouldered body crunching every stick next to him.
"Alright," Red said, standing herself, "but, do you have a weapon?" Red gulped hard. The question had sprung to her many times, troubling her. Was Ginjiro following her? Was he sending his 'Maelstrom' after her?
"Yup." In response he whipped out two small, black pistols from his belt. Although Red couldn't see them, so she had to take his word for it. It's not that she was weaponless herself, she had Leomaris' sword, as she started to think of it as, but it was clumsy in her hands. She wasn't trained with a blade, and she most certainly couldn't see her enemy.
"Oh, good, we thought you guys might have left," Alan's voice rattled uncertainly. Just as the two were able to set off to look for them, Alan appeared, clutching Bane's arms heavily. Bane's hands were wrapped around Alan, supporting him as he limped towards Red.
Theron immediately dashed over to help Bane hold Alan.
"Here, set him down," Bane said gruffly, lowing Alan who seated himself agonizingly.
"Why'd it take that long? How far could you have landed?" Red asked, knowing it was getting dark by the cold chill in her spine.
"Not far really, but I got pretty banged up, and was then dragged away by someone. I woke to find Bane here hovering over me like I was dead or something." Alan grimaced.
"For all I knew, you could've been," Bane commented, and then stretched. Bane's right. He could have been. His face was gashed open, so was his chest, which was probably why he was coughing so much. His ankle was twisted funny beside him: a result from the crash-landing.
"Hey, Red, why don't you start a fire or something," Bane said, rummaging through the large metal supply box.
"Yeah, it's chilly," Theron added, huddling by a tree, wearing only a thin black shirt. His jacket was now draped over Alan to keep him warm, which wasn't working well. His teeth were still chattering, and he was still shivering constantly.
Red gulped, but nodded nonetheless. She stood from her bundle, which was cornered next to Alan, and crouched down to search the floor for branches. Tearing branches from the trees hanging hauntingly above her would have been easier, but she was afraid she would spend the whole night leaping through the air to find firewood that may, or may not be above her head.
Red gathered the sticks in her arms, occasionally jabbing herself with the broken, pointy ends. After what she deemed was enough, she dumped the sticks in front of her in a shambolic pile.
"There," Red said, slightly annoyed how much work it took, "done."
"Yeah," Bane nodded, looking up from the noisy clangs of the bin. "Why don't you light it?" He said, as if it were all too obvious.
Red sucked in air, and opened her mouth for a retort. Of course. She spent all that time, just to be stupid enough and not have a way to light it. "Yeah," Red reluctantly agreed, hanging her head.
Red collapsed to the ground, rubbing her calf which had started to bring new waves of pain. She fingered to the dead branches in front of her that was he firewood. What do I do, rub two sticks together? The girl selected two long branches, which were about a foot long each, and placed them next to each other.
Furiously, she banged them together. To passersby, if there were any, it would be apparent she didn't know what she was doing. For ten minutes or so, Theron let Red fumble about, struggling to make fire, until he finally spoke up.
"I've got matches, you know."
Red's head slowly turned towards the direction of the noise. "Why didn't you tell me that earlier? You've had matches this whole time?"
"Yeah," Theron said nonchalantly, giggling, "here." He tossed a pack of three or four matches to her, which walloped her in the head.
"Okay, don't kill each other. Look what I've got," Bane said, interrupting Red who was holding the side of her head, about to yell at Theron. Bane held out his hands, containing numerous small red pistols, several strange silver packs, a backpack, a few feet of twine, and a bulky red and black shotgun.
"Looks like this was going to be headed off to the Paradox. Oh well, we'll make good use of it now."
Red wasn't even going to question what the 'Paradox' was; she was more interested in what Bane was holding. "What is it?"
"Oh, some weapons and packs of food. So, did you get a fire going?" Bane asked. He frowned, seeing the cold pile of wood. He picked up a pistol, inspected its workings, and pulled the trigger. The gun shot out a range of bullets, piercing the wood, and causing it to catch on fire. "There."
Unfortunately, all Red heard was the booming sound of the gun. She jumped to her feet, startled, and was about to run off.
"It was just me…."
Her fears of Ginjiro were driving her crazy. Red grabbed Leomaris' sword and held it close. Before, however, she was helpless, unprepared. Now she was ready. She wished he would just come out, and whatever the outcome was, they could just get it over. Still, what could he want her for?
She laid next to the warm fire in the dark of night. She could imagine her father talking to her. "Tomorrow will be better, Red. It will always be better."
Tomorrow can't get worse than a plane crash, right?
Red walked forward, the jade grass crunching quietly under her feet. The cliff beside her was taunting, the waves below must be meaning certain death, if she were to fall, that is.
The only trees visible were three; each one had its branches intertwined with the other. It was like a team huddling together, their branches like arms, holding each other up. They formed a small cavern, their leaves making the ceiling, blocking out the sun, and their thick trunks forming sides.
The green leaves. The sun raining down behind it. Something was summoning her. She wasn't sure exactly what.
Red turned, and started to the trees. She blinked once and was suddenly covered in shadows. She was now within the circle of trees, uncertain of how she got there. Ghastly glowing, a large pale orb was sitting at her feet. Warmth wafted from it, surrounding her feet eerily. It certainly wasn't there before, or she would have stepped on it.
It was queer, Red didn't question that she couldn't see a minute ago, and now she could. She never quizzed the fact of how she got by that ocean, nor did she query the abnormal trees.
Red picked the pearl up, rolling it between her hands. "Gah!" The stone was scorching hot, burning both of her hands before she could even drop it. The stone fell to the verdant ground, shattering on impact. The sound was muted, the shards quickly flying through the air, completely hushed.
The girl gasped, and drew he hands up to her face. Tears rolled down her face as she stared at her singed palms.
Like a switch, the lights were gone, the sun disappearing in less than an instant. Terrified, Red backed away. Something in front of her, she realized all too clearly, was breathing heavy, ponderous breaths.
"He-he-hello?" Red stuttered with a rich tone of alarm.
A small orb slowly started to glow. It shined garnet and it floated mere inches from Red's face. The edges swirled with white, creating a creamy red. The center was black and remained quiet, unmoving.
A flash of white cascaded over it, the light disappearing for a second.
"Red. Red? Red!"
"Left, away from that tree, it might fall."
Something was holding Red up, under her neck and knees. Heat pulsed up and down her body; giving her the feeling she was holding the pearl once again. Instinctively she flipped her hands around, trying to rid of the stone, but she wasn't holding it.
Red was jostled, being shaken back and forth. Where am I?
"It's catching up!" Red faintly recognized the voice of Theron. His voice was panicky, and he panted after each word.
What were they running from? The world was dark once again, unlike before on that cliff. Ginjiro? Maelstrom? Was someone holding her?
"Theron?" Red questioned, her voice uncontrollably shaking.
"No time, Red. If we stop, we'll be lit on fire!" Ah. So they were running from fire. They must still be in the forest, so did their little campfire start all this?
"Up ahead! There's a clearing, if we get there, the fire won't be able to reach us!" Bane shouted his expression faraway and distant.
Theron dashed to the clearing, holding Red tightly in his arms, fire spurting behind him. The Daredevil quickly leaped over a large boulder as the heat swarmed around his back. He landed roughly and was barely able to balance himself to stay upright.
Charging forward, Theron's head whacked a loose tree branch, sending his helmet spinning around twice, before being slung off his head. He paused, turning to see his helmet lying on the ground only feet from him. The fire approached rapidly, spitting and hissing as it cracked and charred trees.
He looked back between his helmet, the incoming fiery blaze, and Red, the poor confused girl sitting so helplessly in his arms.
"Ugh, forgive me," Theron muttered, spinning back around and running to the clearing, which was coming more into sight.
The fire caught up, surrounding his helmet, scorching it black. Green stripes of paint slowly peeled off of it, leaving the hat to look forgotten, and destroyed.
Bane held up Alan, letting him lean on his shoulder as they both limped away from the spreading heat. They were slower, and they watched as Theron pulled Red to safety in the blank patches of dirt.
With a crackle of pops, and a loud boom, a tree tipped over. It wobbled for a second, as if deciding whether to fall or not, then toppled to the ground, landing inches from Alan's feet and sending both people staggering back. The whole trunk was on fire, blocking their way from any reasonable path.
The blazes had already reached the other trees making it impossible to get out of it. A cage of fire. The flames slowly reached out and crawled along the plants stuck to the floor. The approached, almost cautiously, to their feet.
"Jump over it!" A voice cried, barely heard over the sizzling of fire. Theron came into view; his arms empty after leaving Red in safety. He was waving his arms wildly, pointing at the fallen tree.
Alan and Bane both looked at each other, considering having to jump through a fireball.
Alan smiled, and Bane shook his head, but they both got down low to jump over it as they started to suffocate from the smoke.
Red waited anxiously after Theron had disappeared in a cloud of smoke. She was starting to catch up with what happened. The cliffs she had seen, the orb, the pearl, were all just in a dream, and she had for some reason not been able to wake up when the fire started.
She was still holding the golden sword; she must have been holding it when she was asleep.
A minute passed, giving no indication of the three returning. Theron, Bane, and Alan were still there, probably trapped. Another agonizing minute passed, and Red willed from them to return.
"Calling for an evacuation! Four people. Track my location using this radio. Unit Fox out."
Theron's voice shot out like a missile.
Alan and Bane leaped out of the flames, wildly sprinting to the clearing, dragging Theron with them as he tried to fumble with a radio.
They almost hit Red as they sped by, collapsing to the dirt, panting. Alan sat drowned on his knees, staring up at the sky as plumes of smoke swirled up. Like a firework show sparks lighted from the smoke and rained down, causing even more clouds of fire to burn. Bane lay with his face pressed against the ground, muttering something softly.
Angrily, Bane spoke up. "Why would you…," He paused to catch his breath, "contact the Nexus Force?"
"There's only one way-"Theron said, but was immediately cut off.
"They shot us down!"
"There's only one way we will get out of here. With some help."
"Section 3-B reporting, your location is noted." The radio squeaked and rumbled, barley communicating. "The Nexus Force will supply one D.A.R.T to retrieve you. Unit Rattlesnake out."
Red raised her eyebrows a bit. It was odd he would spell it out and not just say, 'Dart.' Truthfully, she didn't want to be picked up by this Nexus Force D.A.R.T. First off, the Nexus Force had shot a missile at them, and second anything named after a dart can't be good.
"I don't know why you trust them still," Alan muttered, still staring upwards, his eyes tracing the spirals of black.
"Maybe I do, or maybe I don't, but we're going to die of thirst before the fire dies down enough to move." Theron moved uncomfortably, as if making a point.
"So why do they call it a Dart?" Alan asked, not liking Theron all riled up like that.
"Because of how fast it is. It stands for something too…humph…but I don't remember."
In front of Red was something she wished she could see. No matter how deadly it is, she longed to rest in awe of it. The red flames engulfed the trees, producing an almost blinding glinting light. It roared up to the sky, turning it completely ashen with smoke. The ground under the trees, which was covered in small, vine-like plants, was now lit ablaze. Sparks leaped through the air, flying and twirling until they landed in a new spot, ready to burn what was below.
Unbearable heat pulsed over her. Several of the sparkles landed near Red, but fizzled as they landed on the dirt patch with nothing to scorch. Any way you put it, it was a forest fire. A field on fire. FireField.
Among the crackling and snapping sounds of trees, there was a faint humming sound, and it was coming their way.
"Stand up, and hold your hand out. It'll come by and grab us," Theron announced, also hearing the buzzing.
Red wearily stuck her ungloved hand out and awaited something to grab her. It didn't sound like a great idea. Just waiting for something to come by and take her.
A gray figure whooshed by before anyone could make out what it was. It skidded forth, barley missing the clearing where the four trapped people were.
The figure became clearer as a trail of rising dust vanished. It had three sections, each connected with a forest green, rippled cord. One segment, decidedly the front, had a long, black row and a panel of flashy, beeping buttons. A driver sat in the giant seat, leaned over heavily, swishing from side to side as he piloted it. Sprawling behind the anomalous machine were two oval pieces. They were oddly strapped to the cord and dangled loosely, floating above with soft blue lights streaming out the back of small slanted vents.
The D.A.R.T swished past, disappearing into the blazes. It moved so quickly the fire didn't have time to catch onto it, so it remained unharmed.
The pilot himself, who was rocked violently as he dodged fiery trees to turn around in a wide circle, was wearing an orange and green suit. He had a small black harness strapped around his chest and back, loaded with little shiny canisters and gadgets.
It made a wide arc, whipping from side to side as it made its way back to Red, Bane, Alan, and Theron.
Theron watched in absolute horror. As the D.A.R.T came to them, the pilot's harness caught on a dangling branch, yanking him off the mechanism and throwing him down to the fire.
The pilot was now invisible, the flames dancing around him, encasing him. He shouted something, and while the words were incomprehensible, they shrieked of terror. Red's eyes grew wide with fear, and her hand shook as it was stretched out to the side of her. She didn't dare asked what happened. She just had to hope it wasn't coming for her.
"Snake!" Theron yelled, his voice shaking uncontrollably. He was about to dash out when the D.A.R.T, which still was working, ricocheted off a tree and was going to crash into him.
Not worse than a plane crash…right? Red wasn't sure.
Orange beams of light projected from the fire bathe Red's stricken face in heat.
She's the only one still standing there, her hand still sticking out stupidly, as if waiting. Not sure what to do, she stands there, tears of panic brimming in her jade eyes. The others are screaming and shouting. They watched what happened. To Red, it was senseless, fearful noise. And it drove her crazy.
Theron cries out loudly, the D.A.R.T flying at him. He pulled his arms around to protect his head, and leaps to the air, hoping he will land away from it.
Bane chased after Theron, letting go of Alan, and dashing to save his friend.
"Hold on Alan!" Theron yelled, his voice rising. A wild hum swept over Red; something attacked her hand, which was still spiked out. For a split second, Red fell to her knees, but was pulled away and lifted up from the ground.
Red choked herself with words, being unable to say anything. Rather, she allowed it to take her.
"Snake? Come on, Snake! Answer me please!" Theron said, calling desperately into the radio. He sat on the long black row, at the front section of the D.A.R.T. In front were Alan and Bane, Bane taking the controls of the machine, trying his hardest to dodge trees. Behind him, Red sat as still as can be, horrified.
The radio responded with a cruel hum, buzzing in the daredevil's hands. Theron cursed and shook the radio as if it would somehow connect again. When it refused to respond, Theron crushed it in his hands, and tossed it to the side.
"Theron?" Alan asked, knowing that, while it was a bad time, they needed his help. He didn't reply, but pushed his hands around his face, and didn't move.
"Theron! Bane can't work this. We are going to crash."
Without a word, the daredevil quietly revealed his face again and takes the controls. Pushing Bane out of the way, he grabbed two small handlebars, and flipped the machine around.
Red felt the D.A.R.T shake under her, the humming noise slowing gained speed. She gripped her face.
None of this should have happened.
That road. She wandered down that road again, dancing in the stark moonlight. Trees off to the side, no longer mattering, and the Maelstrom creature: gone. Wind brushed past her hair, her breath creating a visible huff as it quickly dissipates. Red strode down the street, arms swinging at her sides. Calm.
She wished none of this had happened. It was just too much.
The world was dark around her. It was deathly silent; no fire crackled, nor the hum of the D.A.R.T, not even the sound of wind in her ears.
Am I smashed? Red shifted her weight back and forth as she sat on the ground. She wasn't sure where exactly she was. Usually if she were in a forest or something, she would be able to smell it. The earthy air, the fresh green plants. There were no fragrances here.
The air was cold, and it clung to her every breath. Red's face was flushed in the sudden transition, only a moment ago it was scorching hot, now it felt like snow was about to rain around her.
Please tell me I'm smashed.
"Smash is a lonely, lonely road, FireField."
Only one person would call her FireField. Leomaris.
"Leomaris?" Red questioned, an angry edge taking to her voice.
Suddenly his bulky figure stood loomed above her, his scales more magnificent than ever. They glowed in an invisible light source, showering him in a majestic silver color. His heavy, ponderous breaths filled the room with the sound of it sucking into his lungs.
"Yes," he replied; his mouth moving slowly as if lost in thought.
Red wasn't sure what to ask. What to say. She wanted to yell at him for not answering her about Sylvester, her father, not answering why Ginjiro wants to stop her, but she didn't. She sat there, staring up at the dragon, confused.
"Why am I here now?"
"I felt you were off course. Distracted." His eyes lazily blink as he's speaking.
"Distracted? Distracted? Distracted from what? I didn't have a goal other than to live!" Red boomed.
"That's not your goal!" Leomaris bellowed, severely scaring Red for his voice was so loud, "Why just a minute ago, you wished to be dead. No, you…you have a larger goal."
"You want revenge."
Leomaris' voice lingers in the air, each word ringing true and loud.
Red shook herself and stood as tall as she could to the towering beast. "I don't even know what I'm trying to do myself!"
"Maybe that's the problem."
"Do you do this to everyone?" Red asked, ignoring his last remark.
"Suck them into this barren wasteland, Vectis."
Leomaris pulled his ears back, but didn't comment about how accusing she sounded. "No. Not everyone. You were the only one I was certain I could trust."
Red was shocked. Her face was puzzled, eyebrows furrowed together. "Trust to do what?" She whispered, her voice muffled with hair in her mouth.
Leomaris gulped audibly, and snorted, gusting Red with a sweep of warm air. "To help Ruby."
"Who is Ruby?" Red frowned, it seemed like she didn't know anything at all. Asking these stupid questions constantly.
Leomaris paused, his face suddenly becoming extremely serious. He lashed his twinkling tail back and forth a few times. "You have met her."
Red thought back through thousands of memories, trying to remember if she had heard that name before.
"You haven't heard it, FireField. But you have seen it. I have shown you brief images."
Flashes of the creamy red orb invaded Red's mind, clouding all other thoughts. The cliff, the burning sensation, the pearl, they weren't dreams. They were Leomaris' work. "So you did all that?"
Leomaris set himself up tall, and scratched his ears with his large paw, like a dog would. He adjusted himself carefully before speaking. "To show you. I need you to go to her. Help her."
"I don't understand," Red's face showed nothing more than the confused girl she was, "Why trust me? And why couldn't you just tell me I had to find her in the first place, instead of all these images. And why do I have to help her? Who is she?"
"You are special, Red. You know your limits; your boundaries. Not many people truthfully know. Sure, they might say they aren't good at swimming, or they don't run as fast. But truthfully, they don't know it."
Red felt odd in this situation. Being called special was unusual, and being chosen. She fumbled with words in her head to say something, but Leomaris continued, cutting her off.
"You have limited time in Vectis. I can only draw you here…every once and a while. It zaps my strength to bring you. Now simple pictures…are a whole different thing. The rest will remain a secret. I wish not to worry you, or have yourself smashed before you are ready. I ask you to receive training first. The Nexus Force is a wise choice."
"They tried to smash me!" She responded, utterly exasperated.
Leomaris' voice lowered, as if he is feeling sympathy for the girl. "But they are your only choice."
"Alright. But…if I'm going to train, when should I know to look for Ruby?"
"You will know. Trust me," Leomaris' voice was soothing and something about him made everything okay. "When you are ready, and finished training, you will go to the cliffs. Okay?"
Before the girl could nod, or acknowledge him, Leomaris was gone.
Red jolted upwards, dazed by the softness of the ground below her. She had almost expected to be on the D.A.R.T. Who knows how much time passed while she was in Vectis, last time it was only a quick moment. This time it must have been a while.
Red gripped the cold wavy cloth that was wrapped around her and yanked them off.
"Well, hasty." Bane was sitting across the room, eyeing her as she leaped out of a small bed. He sat on a small stool, the helmet still concealing his face.
Red faced in his general direction, her hands still wrapped tightly around Leomaris' sword. The handle was hot and slick with sweat, but she ignored it. "Bane?" She had thought for sure she was alone.
"Yeah." His voice was solemn and irritated.
She was about to sound like a classic amnesia patient, but she had to ask it anyways. "Where am I?"
"Nexus Force. Not that this means anything to you, but, Base 47. You're in a medical tent." Bane stood up, kicking his wooden stool back as he did. It made a loud rocking sound, but he didn't even twitch.
Bane's reaction was a clear mix of surprise and confusion; his eyes flickered mysteriously through his visor. "I thought this was the last place you would want to be. You're a very confusing little girl."
Red felt her way out of the tent, brushing past another empty bed and pushing open the front flap at the entrance. Hundreds of bustling feet strode out in front of her, blocking her path as they charged forward.
Red waited impatiently for them to pass, and then stepped away from the tent. A sudden thought struck her, and she trembled. "Where's Alan?" She asked. He could be smashed, and until now, it sounded like she couldn't care less.
Bane trailed behind her in an odd fashion. "He's fine. Already up and about, wandering about camp. Yesterday he had some bad moments when we first arrived, but he'll be alright."
Yesterday? That means I've been in Vectis for a day, or longer. Red nodded and heaved a sigh before helping herself to another question. "Theron?"
"I'm not sure. He hid himself in a tree and hasn't come down. Never seen him so upset," Bane replied, the words rolling out heavily. He immediately changed the subject, "So where are you rushing to? Never seen someone leap out like that after a mysterious day in bed."
"Oh, uh, looking for someone to train me. Ya know, to battle? They have got to have someone around here that will do it."
Bane shuddered curiously, but pointed to a green tent off in the distance. It was shaded with dozens of trees, each covering each other, allowing small shadows to dance back and forth through the leaves. Cold wind rustled through the forest colored plants creating a soft melody. Bane twirled his finger in the direction.
Red remained unmoving, but a moment later, frowned. "Well? Any idea?"
Bane rolled his head, muttered something under his breath, but turned the whole girl to the course. "Just keep walking."
Red shivered as a gust hit her. At least it's not snowing. She nodded, however, and started forward.
She quickly flipped around to remember one thing. "Thank you, Bane." She rotated back to where she was headed, though hugely off course after turning around and back again.
"And I thought Theron got lost," Bane muttered, leaped forward, and slung his hand around Red's shoulders. "Just, here, I'll show you to it. Ya know, before you get horribly lost."
Red strode into the tent, her feet lifting like she was a marching soldier. "Anyone here?" The tent was small, the ceiling draping just above their heads. There were six or seven lamps hung in corners, each providing profuse light, even though it was day.
Bane appeared next to her, and, surveying the room with a quick scan, he decided no one was there.
"He's gone, let's go."
"Wait, maybe he'll be back. Besides who is he?" Red questioned, frowning.
"Bah, I'm here." A voice echoed around the soft walls of the tent. "Hello, there."
Red nudged Bane to say something; she had no idea who she was talking to. "Hey, Duke, I got a recruit for you." Bane said.
Duke stepped out from under a lamp, his body flooded with its light. He was wearing almost exactly the same uniform as Bane, only the edges were strait, and the colors: strong. It looked like this was the first time he had worn it. His hair was as decent as his clothes, all slicked back, neatly trimmed. He shoulders were broad, but it might have been because of padding underneath the blue attire.
"Hello, recruit, glad to have you. Have you had any trainin-"Duke started, but was immediately interrupted.
"No, really that's what I came for. I need some training," Red said, her voice strong. She had somewhere she had to go, she was no longer guessing. More than that…she was safe from Ginjiro. Even the thought of him sent shivers up her spine.
"Well then, you've already met your coach," Duke said, gesturing towards Bane with a slight movement of the hand.
Red wouldn't have known it was Bane if he hadn't blown up about it.
"Her? I will not babysit," He said, his words hurried as they flew out.
"Head trainer has his responsibilities, no matter who the recruit."
Red couldn't believe her ears. She was blind, not deaf. If they were going to be like that, couldn't they not do it in front of her? "No matter who the recruit? Hello?! I'm not any weaker than anyone else!" Red roared loudly.
"Stay out of this, it's not about you!" Bane snapped, frowning deeply.
What? Red scowled, not understanding how it could not be about her. She opened her mouth to say more, but Bane clamped her mouth shut with a grubby hand.
"Do you really expect me to train a blind girl?" Bane whined.
"Yes, you know your job. Obtain recruits; train them to be soldiers," Duke started, "Simple. This girl has spirit; she will be a Nexus Force soldier." Duke crossed his arms, letting Bane know the decision was final.
Bane nodded, almost regretfully, and released Red. He looked her over from head to toe and wordlessly left the tent.
Red wiped her face as if disgusted with Bane. "Why Bane?" Red asked, wondering why she had to be put with him. He didn't want to train her. He had never really liked her even.
"He is the best. Follow his teachings to the letter, and watch your back. Though I doubt he'll do anything terrible," Duke said, shaking his head, yet smiling.
Mary stood there, blue eyes gleaming, every hair set into perfect place. She stood with her hands on her hips, slightly leaned over, smiling. Mocking. Red couldn't stand up; something was holding her shoulders to down. Next to her stood Ginjiro, his face clouded by shadows.
Red lowered her face, averting her fuzzy green eyes from the scene. "How could you?" Red whispered carelessly. She was sloppily not paying attention to what she was saying. She didn't care anymore, not one bit.
Ginjiro and Mary glanced at each other, not quite understanding the question, but it didn't matter.
"I'm sure he has his reasons." Mary pushed her hair back over her shoulder and smiled all too nicely.
Red clenched her fists tightly until her fingers turned colors. "How could you do it? What did he do?"
Ginjiro seemed to understand as he smiled at the notion. "Your father…."
The image swirled away from Red, leaping just out of her grasp. "No!" She cried, although not wanting the two, she wanted to hear what he was going to say.
Red slowly peeled herself up, vaguely remembering going to bed. Was that Leomaris' doing? Or was it just a dream? Cold air rushed to Red's skin as she pulled the covers off. It's night still. The whole base must be asleep.
"Good evening," a familiar voice welcomed.
Red jerked uncontrollably, frightened. Again she has thought she was alone. "Alan!" She cried, smiling. She had started to wonder what happened to him after the fire. She turned to face his voice and put on her most accusing voice. "Why is it that every time I go to bed, I wake up with someone sitting across from me?"
Alan sat on the dirt floor, legs crossed as he looked up at the girl. "I guess some people wonder if you're going to wake up," He also said accusingly, but he sure didn't mean it.
Red had no explanation for that. It seemed when Leomaris was showing her things, she couldn't be woken. "So why are you here?"
"I finally found you, it took me all day. I've been searching the entire camp!"
Red shook her head, disappointed. "I wandered all day for you."
"So why did you wake? I sure hope it wasn't me. I was quiet."
Red gulped. She couldn't lie to Alan, but it was his daughter. It's probably a touchy subject.
Alan's face hardened at the mention. "Yeah," He agreed, most likely having constant nightmares of his own about her.
"To me it just doesn't make any sense. I mean, first she tries to help us escape from the Maelstrom, the next; she is claiming she lured us into a trap. Wouldn't it have been more practical to not help us? Wouldn't it have been easier to just let them capture us?"
"Trust me; it's been on my mind for a while," Alan replied quietly.
Silence followed, filling the tent with hushed air. It lingered for a minute before Red changed the subject. "What about Ginjiro?"
"Yeah, what about him?"
"Why us?" Red pushed the hair out of her face.
Again quietness followed.
"He said he wants to stop us. From what though? Stop him maybe? That would be hard because we don't even know what he is doing."
Morning came faster than expected, Alan and Red had spent the whole night talking, discussing rather random and odd things. They more or less were important, but the simple talking was enjoyable to Red.
"You have your training, so I think I'll wander off and find Theron. Do you think he is still up a tree?" Alan asked, slightly amused at the thought. His eyes drifted off, as if thinking about something.
"Probably," Red muttered, grabbing Leomaris' sword which lay under the bed to be hidden. Any soldier would enjoy a sword like that, especially with all the gems and such. She didn't want anyone to take it.
"Alright, see you later, Red," Alan strode out of the tent, slipping something into the girl's hand.
It was a brush.
She felt the spiny points of it and reached up to feel her hair. It was littered with leaves and mud from the crash still. She blushed, but smirked anyways.
Red scrambled clumsily about the Nexus Force base, running into everyone and everything as she tried to find Bane. She mostly was able to stay on her feet, but eventually got knocked down by a recruit who apparently didn't have time for any decent manners.
"Well, you aren't going to get any better in your training by lazing around," Bane's voice boomed over her. He stood around the corner of another, greenish looking tent. He strode over to her, his feet pounding the grassy ground hard, and his helmet bobbling.
"Sorry," Red muttered, picking herself up and dusting off her shirt. What's his problem? First he saved her from falling to her death, and then he yells at her? The world never makes any sense.
"Let's go." Bane's voice was jagged and harsh as he clutched Red and pushed her to a walk.
Sun rained down on the two as Bane marched them to somewhere secretive. It certainly wasn't warm, but it kept Red from shivering. The light made a unique pattern around Red. It showered her in the reflections of the many swords and other metals lingering around camp.
Red came upon a group of four trees, elegantly spread apart allowing the most amount of space to be shaded by their leaves. The ground was plain, sandy dirt without a speck of grass sprouting in it.
"We're here. What do you need training in?" He voice was plain and unemotional, the same voice he had when he found all his crewmate dead.
Leomaris didn't really elaborate on that. Seems the choice was up to her. "Fighting, I guess."
"You guess? Didn't you come with something in mind?"
Red shook her head slowly. "Sword fighting then."
He snatched a sword from his belt that Red didn't even know he had and waits for her to get hers out.
Red grabbed Leomaris' sword and held it in front of her. It quivered as she held it. "No instruction? You're just going to attack me!" She yelped and backed away.
"You'll learn to defend yourself faster," Bane grumbled, advancing towards her.
"You're insane!" Red cried out, about to turn and run.
The man leaped ahead, slashing at the girl which made her stumble away.
"I can't even see you!" She gasped, trying to regain her breath. Her heart thumped wildly against her chest. Bane's going to kill me.
"Use your ears. Nothing is completely silent," Bane instructed, waiting quietly.
Red stopped, lowering her sword and allowing her ears to take over. A bird continually made her job harder, but Bane's breaths were apparent next to the stillness of nature. She lifted her sword, sun glittering over it, and struck to the side.
Bane danced out of the way, making Red fall forward with her sword striking air. She staggered to her knees and allowed the golden weapon to roll away from her. "This is impossible, Bane. Please, isn't there another way?" Her voice squeaked at the end of the sentence. She hated that. She wasn't weak, just…it was impossible!
"Follow the movements. I've seen you do it at everything. You're always ready and listening, whether you know it or not. Take up your weapon."
Red reluctantly plucked the sword from the ground and brushed off the silver jewel. She stood, allowing her head to droop. Bane waited, standing in front of her. Red twitched, bringing her sword up to her chest.
She lunged forward, but her attack was easily slid away with a flick of the wrist. She tried to regain her grip and slash at him again, but Bane was all over her. He tapped her on the shoulder with the cold tip of his steel weapon, and then slid the blade over in front of her neck.
"Come on now."
Red frowned, feeling the cold, icy blade lightly touching her skin. She opened her mouth to complain, but quieted herself. Bane wouldn't listen to that.
Bane released Red, taking a few strides backwards before sticking his sword in the dirt. "Come on; see if you can hit me." He held his hands open, as if to show he didn't have any weapons.
Red carefully considered her attack. If she were to leap at him, he would move faster than she could figure out where he was. If she were to swing at the side then he could simple move backwards.
She scowled deeper before carefully inches towards her opponent who was standing impatiently a few feet away. Bane's breathes were light and shallow, probably just so Red couldn't hear him. However, he kept shuffling his hands back and forth.
She snuck over, creeping by slowly, until she was right in his face.
"You can't maneuver your weapon if you're that close," Bane said, sighing, waiting for a fumbled attack.
"Yeah, yeah," Red mumbled, pausing. She held her sword with one hand and with the other swung her elbow into Bane's face.
Bane crumpled down, clutching his nose which had just been brutally abused. Red then followed up, swinging her sword at Bane's back which was exposed.
He wasn't going to fall for that.
Bane whirled around, trapping Red's left hand in his arm which made her drop the sword. He then twisted her wrist until she was forced to the ground, weaponless and defeated. He stood back up, and pulled his hand over his nose.
"I meant hit me with the sword!" He complained, grasping his face. "I think you might have broken my nose."
"Oops," Red murmured, standing up and struggling to find Leomaris' sword.
"Here," Bane said, grabbing the weapon and handing it to Red, "Go home and be here in the morning." His voice was gruff and he sniffed hard while still rubbing his nose gently.
For some reason it started to jerk tears from her eyes. She hadn't really been home in years. Ever. She was poor, her father dead, herself blind. There was no way she could afford somewhere to live. That's why she was wandering the streets in the first place. If her father was alive than they could have afforded somewhere to live, and then Red wouldn't have been captured in the first place, however, he wasn't. Ginjiro smashed him. Every thought she had led somehow back to Ginjiro. He had tied her life in knots, and was cinching it tighter at every turn.
Apparently Bane had continued to talk while she had faded off. "…home, just a tent, so I guess it's odd. It's not really home, it's just I'm here so often."
Red nodded like she was listening and headed down, tears softly rolling down her cheeks as the thought of her father came to mind.
"Alan?" Red questioned, walking gently into their tent. She pushed open the flap of an entrance and sat down on the small platform that the Nexus Force called a bed. After a moment of no replies she spoke again. "If you scare me, then I'll…" She didn't finish.
"Come on, you! Get down!" Alan's voice came from outside, echoing around some trees.
"No, go away," Another voice mumbled irritably.
"Do I have to climb up there to get you or will you get down?" Alan complained loudly, before turning to see Red standing behind him. "Red, Theron just won't come down, please help."
"You too? Go away!" Theron called down. He was lying draped over a tall, thick branch in an array of leaves, which obscured his view. His helmet was still missing and his hair was now covered in spiny leaves and was completely caked with black mud. It was difficult to decipher what color his mop of hair might be.
"Theron? You're going to starve up there," Red shouted upwards, hoping she wasn't making a fool of herself and facing the wrong way.
"Then let me starve," the daredevil protested, shaking his head. He turned onto his other side, making the branch bounce and shake underneath him. Several leaves floated to the ground, twirling in air as they fell.
"Alright, starve, but you're going to break that branch!" Alan warned; wincing as it stirred even more as Theron shifted his weight. "Okay, come down, for me? I don't want to watch you fall."
Theron ignored this. "How is it fair?"
"What's not fair?" Red asked, bewildered by his strange actions.
"How is a life lost for our lives? It's not a fair trade."
Red nudged Alan gently, whispering, "What?"
"Rattlesnake, a pilot, died. Theron apparently knew him," He whispered back in his deep voice. He cleared his throat gruffly before speaking louder. "He saved us, Theron. You're right, it's not fair, but he was smashed, that's what happened. Smashing yourself won't help the situation."
Theron weighed the prospects before carefully sitting up on the branch. It shook back and forth, like the waves of an ocean. "Okay," his voice sounded defeated. Broken. He inched towards the main trunk, carefully making his way over. He grabbed the thick center of the tree, and leaned over to get a better grip.
The branch snapped underneath him.
Red startled as the limb cracked, breaking off from the rest of the tree. She took a few steps backwards, tripping over herself and landing roughly on the ground.
Theron sucked in air as a large gasp as the branch fell out from beneath him and started to tumble down with it. His steely eyes grew wide and the pupils narrowed as he realized he would slam against the ground any second. He fumbled with his hands and stretched them out, narrowly grabbing the coarse, grainy wood of the tree trunk before breaking himself on the hard terrain hanging dangerously below.
"Gah!" He stammered as his hands scraped across the wood, cutting in his palms but keeping him alive. He hung on, arms bear-hugging the tree while his feet dangled uselessly below. "Now that's a way to get down!" He whooped deafeningly, smiling in the rush of adrenaline.
Alan winced again before realizing the crazed daredevil was still okay. "Oh, Theron, get down!" He yelled. Theron worked his way down, using his legs as braces against the side of the tree, and his hands to clamp on. He hopped down the last few feet, barely missing Red who was still sitting rather confused on the ground.
"Eek," He muttered, glancing at his hands. They were inflamed, with splinters sticking out of them in every which way.
Red lay down on her bed, which bounced and creaked under her. She held onto Leomaris' sword, feeling the icy silver gem at the hilt. It was several hours after the got Theron done from the tree, he pulled the splinters out of his hand himself, but it still looks like a porcupine poked him.
Alan was already asleep in the same tent, snoring lightly, but tossing and turning as if something troubled him.
She closed her eyes as the night's cold gripped her and lightly swarmed around her blanket.
A man positioned himself in an old, creaky chair. Red didn't recognize him, but the sound of his voice was rather familiar.
"Good morning, Red," he said, his voice deep and masterful.
Red didn't reply, unsure of exactly who it was. The air hushed around them as his voice vanished. They were both sitting in a stone covered room, the ashy colors flooding her vision. Dust rose from the cracks between the tiles which were elegantly laid next to each other in a circle pattern, each block surrounding another.
The man stood, his chair squealing for mercy as he kicked it back. "I am Zenas," He said, his voice ringing a bell; she knew it from somewhere. Leomaris. But it certainly was not Leomaris; he wasn't a dragon at all. Just an old man in simple attire, who stared at her hungrily.
"Where is she?" The man spoke, beaming warmly as he took a step closer to Red, who was sitting in a chair of her own.
"Who?" Red whispered, to herself more than anyone.
"You know who," Zenas replied crossly.
"But…" Red shook her head back and forth innocently, "But I don't!"
Zenas snorted and stood tall, towering over Red as he seemed to grow taller. His face darkened, becoming more flushed every second. He shoulder's widened, his arms becoming a bright red crimson color.
Red blinked. He was becoming bigger every second, he face growing long, his entire body turning bloodshot. She thought to grab her sword, which was still with her, but it wasn't a good idea.
She blinked again, this time closing her eyes for a long moment, her heart pumping, her nerves screaming, but her mouth firmly shut.
She opened her eyes. A large dragon stood before her, his scales shimming with scarlet. He was taller and longer than Leomaris and his eyes gleamed with the murky shadows of black. Not the friendly and gentle blue eyes Red remembered. It was his voice, but this positively wasn't Leomaris.
She gulped air before stumbling to her feet, but there wasn't anywhere to run; the room was just big enough for her and the beast.
He leaned his massive crimson head in, taking in the look of her face. His scales darkened and continued to turn to a darker ruby red- With a sudden decision; he opened his maw and rolling red flames blasted out.
Red snatched the golden sword from her belt and held it in front of her, only to watch it melt and slowly drip to the floor. The silver gem splattered to the ground, a pile of liquid.
She shuddered, blocking her face with her hands. The fire engulfed her, reminding her of the day her father died.
She was lit in the fiery heat of Zenas and she stood for it, pain searing up and down her entire body. She screamed with all her might, and then collapsed to the floor.
Red continued to scream, bellowing loudly. She sat up in a twist of covers, quieting her own voice. Cold air rushed around her face, which was slick with sticky sweat. Her hand was glued to Leomaris' sword; it was still intact, completely and utterly solid.
"What the!" Alan shouted in a surprised voice, probably waking up after Red was yelling in her sleep. He tried to sling his foot over the side of the bed to get up, but tripped clumsily on the covers. He rolled out of the bed, slipping to the floor with a thump. "Ah!"
Red let her head droop downwards, all of her muscles shaking uncontrollably as fright lashed through her veins. Zenas wasn't real, it was a dream. But all too real.
"What's the problem?" Alan asked, rubbing his fuzzy eyes, trying to clear his head of sleep. He then glanced around uncertainly to determine the issue, but there was nothing there. The sun was simply creeping up over the tent, brushing away the freezing night temperatures. A noisy bird sung loudly overhead, but otherwise, it was the normal shuffling sounds of the base.
Red didn't speak, her mouth gaped open as she panted for breath.
Alan pulled himself awkwardly to his feet and stared at Red who trembled violently. He placed his rough hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Zenas," Red breathed, confirming he wasn't real. Then again, he had Leomaris' voice, and if he was real….
Or she was imagining the whole thing. Nothing was real, she was crazy. Maybe the sword meant nothing; Leomaris wasn't in there, Ruby didn't exist, and she was left with nothing. Nothing. A blank empty life with no father and no hopes.
If it was real, it would be worst. Ginjiro would really be after her, two strange dragons would surround her every move. If it was real, it would end up like it did with Zenas. She would be dead. She needed to train for the worst.
Red stood up, slowly pulling the covers off her. She drew Alan's hand off of her shoulder and shook her head sadly. She then left the tent to find Bane.
"Widen your feet," Bane commanded gruffly. Red shifted her stance, holding the golden sword threateningly in front of her.
"I've decided to put you on a horse so you can learn to use a sword on a moving object while trying to hit a moving object. And since I don't trust you with any of my ships, a horse seems the best choice considering our options."
Red wasn't sure what exactly to say to that other than, "Do you have a horse?"
"No, but we'll borrow two."
Red nodded quietly, remembering her failed attempts at staying on a horse before, and now he wants her to fight on top of one? Crazy….
"Come on," Bane ordered, striding down away from the four trees and downwards, the opposite way they came.
Red scrambled to follow him, using her ears to determine which way he went. She trailed him for several minutes, barely keeping up with his pace. The grass crunched under her shoes noisily as most of it was dead and brown. Gloomy clouds circled viciously overhead, threating to dump its load of icy, fluffy snow.
"Here," Bane instructed, coming upon a large, wooden structure. The building was long and thing, its sides boarded up with rotting planks. The roof seemed sound, but it creaked as wind snuck up underneath it and pulled it upwards. Vines skulked around corners, seemingly waiting to grab someone's leg and yank them down.
Bane slid open the large, auburn doors, both of them, and they clicked apart from each other with a clang. "Here, I guess we'll use the new ones."
"The new what?" Red asked, momentarily confused, but realized the answer before Bane could say it.
"The new horses. We found them wandering around yesterday, seemed frightened, but they were strangely well fed," Bane said, treading down the long, dirt hallway. He grabbed a horse from its stall and led it down to Red.
The mare nickered gently and stood quietly. "Alena?" Red asked, she could hear the sound, and instantly knew the voice. How could she forget the horrifying scream she gave before they were captured?
The gray and white horse stood there good-naturedly and swished her tail.
Alena's mix-matched eyes softened as Red ran her hand up and down the horse's muscular neck. Red felt the mane between her fingers and gently rubbed the top of Alena's neck.
Bane shook his head quietly, but remained to his nature and simply instructed Red. "Hop on, take your sword with you."
Red froze in stone. "Hop on? With no saddle?" She questioned, her heart skipping a beat. She gingerly felt Alena's white soft back. It seemed like it would hold her, but she could hardly stay on with a saddle.
"Yup, I'm going to take a nap in this chair here, and when you figure out how to get on, let me know." He seated himself in a large, blue chair, sinking into the plush fabric.
Red, once again, would have liked to do several things. Stare at him, mouth gaping open perhaps, eyes wide, an annoyed look. She didn't.
Alena nickered calmly, sidestepping towards Red who got knocked back. She scrambled to stay on her feet, and managed it, but she put her hands on her hips in an accusing way.
Alena turned her head to Red and looked on apologetically with those warm eyes. She had no idea Red couldn't see.
Red sighed and placed her hands on the ridge of the horse's back; she pulled her knees up and tried to leap on her. She scowled as her fingers slipped, sending her falling back down.
"Would you like a miniature pony instead?" Bane said sincerely, not even a hint of sarcasm escaping into his voice.
"No," Red growled, not enjoying his mockery. She attempted to place her hands around the horse's neck, in a bear-hug, and climb up from there. She endeavored but failed, Alena's neck drooping too far with Red's weight.
Alena clopped her feet against the hard, stony ground and took a few strides forward, almost dancing while waiting. She looked majestic, standing there, sincere eyes beaming affectionately on everything she looked at with a small twinkle of sunlight in corners. The gloomy weather only allowed trivial glimmers of light to struggle though, but the small spots of light glittered on her mane as it streamed through into the barn.
Red moaned, and came around the other of the horse, passing in front of Alena's face. She stepped on a large wooden bench, which was a few feet away from the horse. Her brow wrinkled as determination crossed past her face.
She leaped from the bench over onto the horse, barely making it far enough with her leg crashing into the mottled gray side of Alena.
The seat toppled over, slamming into the mare's hooves. She startled and dashed out of the barn; Red finally found her balance, but hit her head on the cold metal bar above. The opening was just not tall enough for the both of them to get through....
Alena continued forward, but Red slipped off the back, crumpling to floor with a huge red mark smacked across her face. She groaned and continued to lie on the ground, face up.
"Well, we're not going to take a nap."
Red thought about whining to Bane, complaining that her head was still spinning. It was no use with Bane. She stood, barely able to keep her sense of direction. Her head felt light as she rubbed her forehead and took a step to regain her balance.
Alena tossed her head and stood outside, perplexed by the fact that her back wasn't still carrying a girl. She whinnied, motioning for Red to come over. Snow fell gently around the horse, wrapping her in a silvery, fluffy coating.
"Here, I guess I'll help you on," Bane grumbled, holding Red's shoulder and leading her to Alena, who calmed at their arrival.
Red shivered through her slightly tattered clothes, and gladly accepted Bane's help. He put his hands under her feet and lifted her to the top of Alena's back.
Bane tied a simple piece of twine around Alena's neck and handed the remainder of the rope to Red.
Red shifted her weight awkwardly, the moving, breathing body beneath her also shifting.
"I'd hold that rope if I were you," Bane said, and without waiting for a response, he slapped the horse's hip with his hand. "And get your sword," he called, Alena bounding off.
Red was jolted in every which way, clutching the rope Bane had handed her as if it were her life line. Her faced paled. "How do I know if I'm gonna hit something!?" She cried, wobbling up and down so her voice sounded like she was driving down a rocky road. She pulled her dangling knees up so she was sitting more on top of the horse.
"The horse won't be dumb enough to run itself strait into something. Now get your sword out," Bane instructed, a smile flashing briefly across his stern face, which was hidden underneath his helmet. "I'll make you a deal. If you can get within five feet of hitting me with that then I'll give you a tip on how not to fall off."
"Deal!" She shouted, fumbling with her sword in one hand, and jerking the rope in all sorts of crazy directions with the other. She snatched the sword from her belt, the gem as cold and smooth as ever.
Alena slowed slightly but still ran uncertainly as her rider bobbed in odd ways. Red would sink to one side, overcorrect herself and droop to the other side, pulling Alena off balance at every turn.
"Over here!" Bane yelled, indicating she was heading the wrong way. Red pulled on the rope gently, turning the horse towards Bane's voice. The horse approached Bane gracefully, slowing herself as to not trample over him. Red directed Alena to him, swiping her sword a few feet away, missing the Nexus Force man, but getting within the range Bane had asked for.
Bane remained in an emotionless stance, but nodded approvingly. "Deal's a deal."
Red whooped loudly, tossing her sword to the air in delight. The sword, due to the slick snow falling overhead, slipped out of her hand and she scrambled to grab it before it fell to the ground. She missed the sword, watching it disappearing into a pile of snow, but now she was hanging sideways, the only thing keeping her from hitting her head was that old rope.
She wrapped the rope around her hand and tried to get back on Alena's back, but her feet slipped.
Red fell to the ground with a thump, the rope still tied to her hands and dragging her along.
Red stood out in the large field, Alena grazing peaceful next to her, nosing through the snowy grass. Bane was gone, out to look through papers, and had told her to stand there. Simply stand there.
She didn't question it; it was just easier to do what he said.
Ice crept up her frozen legs and she shivered violently in the cold weather. Snow constricted her shoulders, freezing her muscles stiff. She wiggled over to Alena, and hugged the horse for warmth. Alena's body felt kindly and caressing; she smelled of fresh hay, which actually was a nice scent to Red for some reason.
Red frowned, everything seemed so odd. Waiting out in the slushy snow, waiting on Bane, the night dark and moonless….
It's not night. Is it?
Red peered upwards, not even remotely thinking about the fact she was actually looking at things. The sky was dark, snow falling from nothing, no clouds. The stars tilted on their prefixed hinges in the sky, staring harshly down at her.
Alena lifted her head from the icy grass to nudge Red with her soft snout. The girl vaguely realized she was squeezing Alena with a death-grip.
"There you are," A voice whispered in Red's ear. Frightened, she turned to see who was behind her. She succeeded in only causing Alena to prick her ears up. No one was there.
"You hid well. I thought I could deter you from the Nexus Force." Yes, it was Leomaris' voice, she was sure of it.
Red shuddered, now whether it was from cold or terror, she could not decipher. "Leomaris?" Red questioned timidly, gazing out around her. The barn wasn't there; the two were simply in a vast stretch of land which constantly continued to fill with its fluffy contents.
She squinted; a small speck off in the distance had just barely caught her attention. It was a smudge of purple against the ever continuous white. Raspy, croaking breaths filled her ears.
She let out a breath of exasperation, knowing who it was at that moment. The Maelstrom. Her heart sank and her hopes crashed. Tears welled in her eyes and she stared at the creatures slowly approaching her.
It was quite the group. Hundreds of purple beasts marched their way over, each and every one of them carrying a lamp, shaped like the orange sun. A larger creature was leading them.
His scales were bloodshot, stretching over his back, with darker colors surrounding his eyes. He blinked once and quickened his pace, charging at Red.
Red waited for a second then turned and scrambled onto Alena's back. The horse, with steely eyes and a frightened stare, took off wildly.
Red was able to hold on this time as fear constricted her muscles. The beasts were approaching faster than the horse's legs could carry both of them. Zenas leaped up from behind, his wings gliding over the two as he swept by. He landed in the grass in front of Alena, pounding the ground with his tail.
"It might just be easier…" Zenas started to say, but Red didn't listen. She twisted around to find a path away, but she was surrounded. Maelstrom minions encased her every turn, their little lamps shining brightly in each of their terrible faces. The snow behind them was blanketed with purple sludge; their body's oozing with the stuff.
Zenas finished his sentence before sticking his face right up next to Red's and huffing a hot breath on her. Black and purple muck lined his teeth and his breath was rancid.
Alena staggered back, unsure where to go or what to do. The horse looked up at the face of the dragon and froze in place.
Red gripped her sword. The metal was slick and cool against her skin. For some reason it motivated her, just feeling the weapon between her fingers. She nudged Alena with her heels, who disobediently stood there. Red kicked harder, willing that Alena would just take a few steps forward.
The horse unsteadily took a stumbling step forward, unwillingly getting closer to the beast.
Red shifted the sword in her hand, and slashed at Zenas.
It simply nudged his face.
He glowered, his murky eyes almost glowing with rage. He lifted a large paw, which was as big as Red, and swiped it. Red was flung off the horse, flying through the air for a couple of seconds before tumbling to a stop in the cold snow. Her vision was full of white as she franticly tried to stand. She looked over; Alena was on the ground, also struggling to her feet, screeching terrible sounds of fright.
A hard, spiny tail knocked Red to the ground again, slamming against her back.
Shockwaves of agony lanced through her, radiating from the spot a spike had hit. She closed her eyes for a second, hot tears freely streaming out from the pain.
She sniffed and tried once again to stand, or at least turn around to see where Zenas was.
"Still…" Zenas growled, his words muffled by snow passing past Red's ears. He knocked her back down with his paw again.
He was playing with her. If he had wanted her smashed he would have torched her. But why was he playing with her?
She laid face down, listening to his movements as he continuously, ponderously, walked in a ring around her. Just waiting for her to stand. She could trace his footsteps, knowing when he was behind, in front, or to the side of her.
Red twitched her fingers just enough to know if she was still holding Leomaris' sword; it was still there. She held it and murmured to herself about how it was now or never.
Zenas was behind her, a perfect opportunity to move. Red started to get up, waiting for when Zenas would swing his tail. He did, following her exact plans. She rolled to the side, his tail barely grazing her. She pulled herself to her feet and flung her sword in his direction, not able to see because of the ice in her eyes, but his noises were too loud.
It hit him, but as it did before it only made him angrier. He snatched her up in his large paw and dug his black claws into her.
She couldn't even scream.
He tossed Red's limp body back to the ground, snorting. "I'm not sure why you even try beating me." It was Leomaris' voice again, something Red couldn't make sense of.
Red laid there, her body racked with pain. Zenas hadn't countered her though. She had gotten a blow in. However, she just hadn't hit in a good place.
'Follow the movements. I've seen you do it at everything. You're always ready and listening, whether you know it or not.' Bane's words suddenly bounced in her head. That was exactly what she had just done.
Zenas leaned over Red, peering at her. "Time," He said, his maw hardly moving as he whispered.
Red almost wanted to ask why he said that, but she didn't.
He mouthed the word again, his face fading as he stepped back. His gloomy eyes disappeared slowly, dwindling away as if they were nothing. His face followed in pursuit, the light of the Maelstrom's lamps projecting in front of him as he melted away into the shadows.
The creatures each looked at the spot where he had been, where the snow was imprinted with his footprints. Gradually they melted away too, their lamps being put out at the same time, leaving Red with nothing. No light. No sight. Nothing.
Red lay there, consumed by pain. Something soft nudged her shoulder, rolling her onto her side. Like her vision and the monsters, the pain slowly subsided until it was like it never even happened.
Red's hand was sweaty, even as she was collapsed in the snow. It was clung to the hilt of the golden sword.
Red felt it and, paralyzed with fear, tossed the weapon as far away as she could. She huffed a breath then pulled herself to her feet, groaning. Alena nudged her again, pushing her sideways.
"What?" Bane asked, appearing next to her with a large stack of white papers. He glanced at Red's face, which was flushed and littered with tears. He blinked. "What did I miss?"
"Nothing," Red announced, pushing the hair out of her face.
"Okay…" Bane muttered, turning around, and grabbing Alena. "Let's go inside. I have… some other things to teach you." At that moment, a whoosh of air swung past Red's face.
"Ah!" Red yelped, leaping to the side. She balanced on one foot uncertainly before planting herself to the ground. "Bane!" She complained.
"Hi, Red." A new, deep and soothing voice rung around the girl.
"Yep. I'm doing Bane a favor. I never really thanked him for rescuing me, so when I did he asked for some help to train you. Turns out I'm pretty handy with a bow," He said casually, as if he didn't just shoot an arrow at her.
"If I hadn't moved, you might've killed me!" Red said, astonished.
"Ah, but you did move!" Alan chuckled, "Besides, although Bane didn't want to, I put a tennis ball at the end, so it won't hurt all that bad. And I would watch out for Theron, he volunteered, muttering something about his own training…."
Red cautiously felt around her, as if she expected some crazed daredevil to jump out from behind her. "What kind of training is this?"
Alan didn't answer, but rather pulled another arrow out of a black quiver and quickly loaded it. The arrow, painted black with a deadly tip, looked fierce, expect for the bright yellowish green plump ball at the end.
Red grabbed at her sword, as if to deflect it, and then remembered she had flung it away. She scrambled to the side, yelping as the arrow brushed her auburn hair aside.
Red ducked, running off in the direction she thought she might have thrown her sword to. She crouched, waiting for Alan to string him bow again. He did, and she listened for the twang of the arrow banging the string. As it hit the string Red leaped to the air and dashed as far as she could, the projectile missing by a few inches.
Something snagged her foot and she tripped, ice clinging to her face. However, she was elated to realize she had stumbled on her sword.
Alan's feet shuffled against the ice. "Good job," He praised, grabbing another arrow from behind him.
This one smacked her in the forehead, Alan's accuracy overtaking her speed. It stung, but he was right. It didn't hurt all that much. Now if that was real….
Red had to get into this. This was her training. Alan would be Ginjiro one day.
The Maelstrom didn't really matter to Red; it was him that mattered. Leomaris was right. She was after revenge. Red charged after Alan, following the shuffling and scuffing of his feet. She swung the sword out in front viciously, as something swooped in, hollering loudly.
Theron, wearing his gray and green suit, trudged through the snow and leaped on Red, not even slightly concerned about the fact he almost impaled himself with the blade. Theron placed his bandaged hands on her shoulders and held her down on the frosty floor.
"Got'cha!" He whooped, grinning all too brightly for the weather.
"Told you to watch out; Theron is a master football defense player. Only today he prefers tackling little girls," Alan jested, easing the mood.
Red pushed Theron upwards, startled by the fact he had taken her so quickly, even when Alan had warned her that he was coming. The daredevil held firm, holding his grasp on her shoulders.
Red slightly pushed Theron off of her shoulders and squirmed away, out into the freezing snow. Theron must have laughed, but Red didn't hear. She suddenly realized what they were doing was completely wrong.
It struck her like a rock would on her head. Hadn't the Nexus Force just shot at them? Didn't Alan question the fact that Theron still trusted them? Then why is he standing here now, laughing? As if it didn't matter? Red was okay with it, but only because Leomaris had told her, even then she was still weary.
"Why did they shoot at us?" To Red the question seemed odd, out of place. She should have waited for a better time to ask, but it was fresh in her mind; the sensation of hitting the walls of the ship, people she didn't even know, screaming, shouting, the feeling of flying through the air, for, oh so long, then dropping to the ground. Wondering if she was dead.
Theron blinked at her, astonished she would ask. "We never did tell her, did we?" He turned to Alan, who stood there, the bow resting by his side.
"Bane was always around, and I didn't want to be the one to tell him. Either of them."
"The camp we were going to land at was…infected by Maelstrom."
Red lowered her shoulders, her head drooping involuntarily. "So they have found the Nexus Force?" Disappointment leaked into her words.
"One camp, Red. They haven't found us yet! Ginjiro is still puzzled over where we are. Don't worry."
Alan's words were meaningless; the only voice in her mind was one. A single one with a single word that replayed over and over. "Time."
Fake Chapter 67Edit
For two weeks Red showed up at training every day, right on time.
Bane showed her new aspects of fighting at every lesson, teaching her she could fight anybody with or without her sight. He was as gruff and grumbly as always, but he respected Red, or so it seemed.
Alan realized the Nexus Force had his horses, of which he had a love for. His favorite was Mist, then Wisdom's Whisper, the young horse he just couldn't leave behind when they were trying to escape. Alena had become something of Red's horse, and Red Lightning? Theron, although not a big horse guy, enjoyed him for his power and spirit; a perfect match.
Theron still mourned a bit over the pilot's death, and would never mention him, or his name. However he enjoyed playing jokes on Bane, who over the time spent with Theron as a co-pilot, ignored the crazy daredevil.
The Nexus Force planned for a bombing against the Maelstrom, however, they didn't have to. The Maelstrom slowly died away into nothingness. Whatever infected them must have smashed them.
Ginjiro was reported in his castle, and was locked away into a secure Nexus Force prison, sentenced for a life term.
Zenas, never appeared to Red again after that. Neither did Leomaris, they both just left, never to be heard of again.
Red still wished her father was there...but...now that Ginjiro was paying for what he did, it seemed better.
Bane, Theron, Alan, and Red stood together, uniting weapons. The Maelstrom was gone.
For two weeks Red showed up at training every day, haunted by the fact different reoccurring figures haunted her every night. Mary, Ginjiro, Leomaris –Who had now become a terrifying thought since Leomaris showed her dreadful things- Zenas, and even, to the horror of Red, Sylvester. In every picture it was him somewhere.
Bane showed her new aspects of fighting at every lesson, teaching her she could fight anybody with or without her sight. He was as gruff and grumbly as always, but he respected Red, or so it seemed.
Alan realized the Nexus Force had his horses, of which he had a love for. His favorite was Mist, then Wisdom's Whisper, the young horse he just couldn't leave behind when they were trying to escape. Alena had become something of Red's horse, and Red Lightning? Theron, although not a big horse guy, enjoyed him for his power and spirit; a perfect match.
Theron still mourned a bit over the pilot's death, and would never mention him, or his name. However he enjoyed playing jokes on Bane, who over the time spent with Theron as a co-pilot, ignored the crazy daredevil.
Red still puzzled over what the visions were telling her. It was true that the Maelstrom hadn't found their camp yet, but…surely Zenas had to mean something by 'You hid well. I thought I could deter you from the Nexus Force' and 'time'. Was it time until Zenas found them? And what did Leomaris have to do with it, scaring her constantly with the same visions. Every time Zenas would appear, he would attack and, although she got better at dodging and attacking with Bane's lessons, she could never win. Ever. It was Leomaris' voice…was it him, coming after her?
Then again, the whole situation was odd. Alena and her standing out in the snow. The sun lamps, the moonless sky….
It clicked suddenly, sending Red leaping up from her bed, stumbling into Alan and tripping onto his.
The moon was the key.
"Nightmare?" Alan questioned, hardly surprised by the fact that a girl draped was over him, practically flinging herself onto him.
"No…" Red said absently, in a dreamlike fashion, consumed by the thought of what it might mean. A moonlit night with…
No, not moonlit, moonless. A new moon.
"Hey, Alan, what does the moon look like right now?"
"I'm not sure. I can't see out the tent, and I can't get up because you're on top of me," Alan said, frowning ever so slightly. His dark hair was mashed onto his head as he looked up at Red, his eyes fuzzy from sleep.
"Oh," Red muttered under her breath and rolled off of him. She crashed to the floor and waited for Alan to get up. He pushed his way out of tent and peeked out.
"I don't know. Barely there. Why?"
Red gulped audibly and stood from the cold floor. When the sky is moonless, will he strike?
Red stumbled back to her bed, snatching Leomaris' sword from underneath and holding the golden handle to her chest. She rubbed the silver gem involuntarily with the base of her thumb, without much thought.
Her mind rocked violently through the night, unable to find enough peace to get a wink of sleep. Her brain worked tirelessly to find a solution. Every time she thought about the vision, she always came back to three things. The moon, Zenas' words, and the lamps. They were so odd, shining brightly in a round picture of the sun….
The sun…a big, orange, round sun, straight in the sky. Noon?
She sat up slowly, her mind racing, body pumping, ready to spring up at a moment's notice. Two things.
It could either be the noon before the moonless sky, probably today if Alan was correct, or it could be noon after the moonless night. She blinked.
Zenas was after her. "There you are."
Red stirred in her bed for the remainder of night, waiting for the sun to peek out so she could seek Bane. When the sun finally poked its head up, Red flew out of bed and dashed out the door, leaving Alan staring at where she was only a second ago.
Red jogged up to the group of four trees they usually met up at, Bane would normally be standing there, waiting impatiently like it had been all day. But today, was different. He wasn't there.
"Bane? Where are you?" Red called, and then quieted herself. There was a rustling in the leaves above head. She instinctively drew the golden sword and flipped around.
Bane, acting very much like Theron would, leaped down from a low branch in front of the girl and swung his blade at her legs.
Red heard the whipping of the air and danced out of the way. She deflected his move with a twist of her wrist and pulled back defensively. "Bane, not now, I-"
Bane brought his sword like a club down at her head, barely moving in time to avoid Red's counter. "No excuses!"
"But, Bane…." She whimpered, lips quivering.
In a fury of attacks Bane and Red fought each other in their training, swords clanking together viciously to Red's distaste. The sound bounced around the trees, hitting their ears once again. Sunlight dotted them as it struggled through the trees, barley about to reach the ground.
Sweat glistened against both of their foreheads as the day wore on, Red constantly trying to disengage to no avail. She tried backing away, but Bane would come from behind, convinced this was one of her silly excuses to stop.
The morning grew, right until the sun was overhead, but Red didn't notice as she deflected another one of his attacks. She heard the swish of the air and leaped to the side, not even needing her sight as she launched a counterblow.
Bane stopped, whirling around. It came from behind, squeezing through the trees, until it stood tall above Bane and Red. It snuck by, so quiet Red didn't even notice.
The spider and all of its eyes blinked- at once. Purple goo dripped from its fangs, tainting the grass. It raised a pointed leg to the air and, with a screeching cry, aimed for Red's back.
Bane leaped straight into the attack, slicing upwards at the beast as he did so. The spider sent its spear-like weapon into Bane; he attacked it with his sword, and they both fell backwards.
Bane grunted as he staggered backwards, falling to the ground next to the spider beast. He gasped and stared blankly at the sky. Red rushed over to his side, realizing what happened. "Bane?" She asked, kneeling next to him, the Maelstrom spider lying smashed against Bane's body, it looked just like the one that Red Lightning saw. But then again, didn't they all look the same?
"Watch out. There's a spider," He said weakly, his voice croaking. Red cradled his head in her lap, feeling the rough helmet run against her fingers. He glanced down, groaning, the pointed barb still stuck in him. He grimaced and wrapped his hands around it. With a soft cry of pain, he pulled it out of him.
"They've found us. Red, go, before they find you too."
Red shook her head at the notation. She wasn't going to leave him like this, no way. Not after he…took the hit for her. "Bane," She whispered his name for herself, then louder. "Bane, come on, we can get out of here!"
His body started to tense, his hands shaking involuntarily. Some kind of poison? "Ya know, I guess I never really thought about it."
"That's okay," Red replied, not having any idea of what he was talking about. She carelessly wiped the tears from her eyes. Bane was a gruff old trainer, and he didn't even like her. He practically said that right to her face. But…he saved her. Taught her so much.
"No. It's not. I'm sorry. When I complained to Duke, and every other time we've ever talked. I was going to make this up to you. I made this," he said, his breath quickening as he struggled with the pain. He slowly slid his hand into a small pocket and lifted something out of it. He reached up to the girl's face, and clipped it to her ear, and brought it over one eye. "It will let you see black," He started, taking a sharp inhale of breath, "Black and white. I've been working on it, for a while." He paused between each word to catch his breath. "You were my best student anyways, Red. With or without your sight. You can do anything."
He pressed a button softly on the side.
Flashes flooded Red's vision. She suddenly could see an outline her own hands, Bane lying below her, his blue and white helmet resting in her lap. The sunlight was bright white, the rest gray, with outlines of black. She gasped.
She gaped, but she didn't ask how he did it, nor did she continue the subject.
"Alright, Red, you've got to go, before there are more of them." His voice was still strong, holding together, probably for Red more than anything.
"No," she said defiantly, dazed by how terrible to wound looked.
He excruciatingly lifted his hands to his head, and unstrapped that helmet. He laid it to the side. "I'm tired of hiding." There was huge blackened gash lying horizontally across his face, bridging over his nose and to his ear. He had dark black, tangled hair and a small matching beard. "You know Red. Just remember me as who I am."
"Nah, my name's really Soren. I only made Bane up," he sniffed and smiled weakly, digging his fingernails into the palm of his hand to keep himself awake.
Something tapped on the wood of trees behind them, and, for the first time, Red whirled around to see who it was. Several Stromlings were trying to push past through the trees, probably not wanting to come around front.
"Go, Red. Find Alan…and Theron!"
"Not without you!"
He pulled a small blue Imagination pistol from his belt and pressed the tip to her head. He meant it. "Go to the stables! They're closest, and run Red! Run!" He shouted, his body trembling violently.
It felt like it was Alan all over again. Being told to run to the barn, not being able to escape….
Red gently set Soren's head down to the ground and dashed away, not paying attention to where she was going. She stopped slowly, the barn in view. She turned back to see outlines of Bane-Soren blasting down Stromlings, one after one as they tried to follow her. The creatures overran him though, leaping onto him, their swords and claws flashing in and out.
"Red, go, please." Were the only soft words there to his name.
Soren smashed. Only a single tear was shed, not out of agony or fear, but of remorse. His last thoughts were flooded with the regret of never being able to see his child; he wouldn't see his wife ever again either. Hear her laughter. Relish her smiles. Why did he join the Nexus Force?
By the time Red reached the barn, she was sobbing. Hot tears ran miserably down her face as she skidded inside and stared at the black outlines of every detail in the room. Alan was standing there, holding a brush, gazing dumbly at her.
He dropped the rope that was attached to Mist, noticing her flushed cheeks, teary eyes, and a strange piece of machine draped over her head. He flickered.
She opened her mouth, but choked on her own words. The only thing she managed to stutter was, "They're coming." Red then peeked around the building, hoping to spot her horse. She did. Alena was a moving flash of bright, colorless shapes. Since she was white, she didn't have a hint of other features in Red's view other than a couple of gray speckles, and was simply an outlined figure. Red grabbed the same rope she always used and swung open the gate. She didn't bother to grab a saddle; Soren had taught her she didn't need one.
Alan followed in pursuit, not questioning her moves. He grabbed Mist, who was already saddled, and tied her to Red Lightning and Wisdom's Whisper. Alan had such a soft heart. He couldn't leave them behind.
Alan was quick, leaping on Mist, tying the horses together, and getting ready to move. Red was slower, but only slightly. Her newfound vision was extremely helpful; however, she couldn't define distances very well.
Red rode out the front of the stable, partially dazed by how fast her sight was moving, and partially dazed because she was sure it couldn't have happened.
The Maelstrom had spotted her after losing her tracks, and began to charge up, weapons swung wildly over their heads.
Alan followed, nudging Mist forwards, and making the other horses follow them. He unstrapped his bow from his chest and grabbed an arrow.
Red undid Leomaris' sword from her belt and held it low, diving straight into the fray….
Alena skirted past several larger creatures. The ground seemed to fill with them; it started with one and every second the number of creatures grew larger until the ground was a swarming sea of purple and black with flashes of daunting silver weapons.
Red sliced her sword at a few of them, mostly just the ones who would pull Alena off course. They were clearly after her, and not Alan, so he could pick off a few of them with his bow.
Red leaped down the hill, clinging to Alena desperately, if she were to fall off, she would picked apart by the horrible creatures. Alena elongated her neck and strides, galloping as fast as she could to safety.
Wait, where's Theron? Red approached the camp, passing the four trees where Bane- Seron had always trained. She looked away, not even wanting to know if he was still there. She outran the beasts, bounding around some tents and stopping for Alan to catch up. The Stromlings were a little ways off now.
"Where is Theron? Should we find him? Or do you think he's figured it out and gotten away?" Alan asked, trying to rein in Mist who was stomping and tossing her head in distress.
"I'm not sure," Red replied, glancing around. The Stromlings were starting to catch up faster than Red had thought. Then again…they seemed much farther away than they were.
"Let's go!" Alan warned, kicking Mist forward.
Red followed, almost reluctantly; there was Maelstrom at every turn, some followed in pursuit, others piled up on other Nexus Force recruits.
The recruits were so helpless. They didn't even know what hit them by the time they were struck down, smashed. If only she could've warned Soren….No. She would call him Bane. That was his name, to her.
"Alan?" A voice questioned from a far ways off in the distance, the sound raspy and unpleasant. A familiar daredevil showed himself from a tree directly above Red, watching intently as several Stromlings were trying to blast the tree down. The Stromlings snarled as they turned to face Red. The girl swung her sword in her hands, just baiting them to run after her.
This was so different to her. The blade was a weapon. A good strong weapon. Fearless and fierce, she could fight with it.
She could fight, but not when she attacked everyone's attention, even Zenas'.
Zenas appeared as a dark blur as he whooshed across the sky. He glittered in the late afternoon sun, causing the Stromlings to worry about in distress as he approached closer every second. His wings flapped effortlessly as a streak of red as he flew towards Red.
Red froze, her muscles tensing against Alena. Her face was sickened and starting to drain of blood.
The Maelstrom also seemed to be stuck in place before they all broke down and ran away, even as they were attacking the Nexus Force.
Alan stared at his scattering enemies with a perplexed look plastered to his face. "Yay?"
Theron leaned out from his tree, watching a purple sea dash away to the other side of the camp. His face was funny looking when he was confused. Bushy eyebrows mashed together, mop of hair slightly moved.
The horses seemed anxious, pausing to look both ways, prancing tirelessly from side to side. Red Lightning let out a squeal and tried to run once or twice.
Theron leapt his way slowly down the tree until he landed on the ground, muttering something about being glad he chose a thicker tree this time. But Red didn't hear. All her terrified body could do was point a single finger at the beast in the sky.
Alan turned, his eyes tracing her finger. "A bird? Wait…." He twisted again in his saddle to look carefully at Red, probably wondering how she noticed.
"That's not a bird," Theron stated flatly, cupping his hands around his eyes like binoculars. Red studied Theron quickly; he wasn't as she imagined. Taller. Stronger. Slightly like Bane. Ouch.
"Zenas," she breathed, eyeing the gray figure against the white sky.
"Zenas? What?" Theron and Alan chimed at the same time; swiftly glancing at each other for the moment was awkward.
Theron climbed on Red Lightning, who didn't take pleasure to this arrangement, and tried to get a better view. "It's gone." Red's head whipped from side to side, relying on her new vision to spot him. Theron was right, he was gone.
"Back you fools!" A cry called, its voice menacing and snarling. Zenas appeared cascading down from the side, scaring the entire group of Maelstrom back who had ran away only a moment ago.
It only made sense when Red spotted his maw moving. This wasn't Leomaris' voice, yet it was Zenas.
The Maelstrom started to clamber on back, wearily grabbing their weapons. Zenas scared them more than Red.
The beast swooped down, landing in the tree Theron had hid in. It practically shook all the leaves off as he lowered himself to the ground. He folded his wings, brushed himself off of dirt, and peered into Red's eyes.
Theron let out what might have been a yelp at seeing the huge dragon.
Zenas gulped a mouthful of air, and Red was the first to react, turning around and banging her legs against Alena to get the horrified horse to move. "Alan!" Red called, waiting for him to move too. He didn't have to. Mist followed without instruction, taking Wisdom's Whisper and Red Lightning with his passenger along too.
This is how it's going to end. I will never win – in my fake, fabricated battles with him he always wins. I will be torched, smacked to the ground while everyone tries to flee. After all the misery in my life, does it have to be this way? Red was clinging to Alena, urging the horse on as they dodged random tents, passing several hoards of Maelstrom as they made their way towards a small, isolated, distant forest.
Zenas took a few moments to take chase, huffing angrily and stomping before crouching to take flight. He arched his wings back, leaped to the air and flapped them before he fell back down. Several times he pulled ahead of the group, but never attacked them, not yet. The Maelstrom was following at a galloping pace, sometimes catching up, but being pushed to the side before they could cause any real damage.
Red ducked as she passed a tree, and frantically dragged Alena into the forestry landscape. Mist followed soon after.
"Over the river!" Alan shouted, and Theron cried approval.
The wide river wound through the trees, dipping several feet down from the side of the land, creating a moving pool of very deep water. It was swirled with muddy dirt and it was green from plants invading it, but jumping it wouldn't be much of a problem.
Red Lighting bounded forward, throwing his head down and snorting as he landed roughly across from the water. His head was being towed by the rope attached to him. Mist charged over too, but left Wisdom's Whisper and Alena there, whinnying and crying for help as several beasts approached.
Red stared blankly, dumbly at the water before her. Would it be better to drown or get smashed heartlessly by Zenas? Drown.
Alena hesitated, a sharp claw banging up against her as it reached for Red. She dove over, hurling herself as fast as she dare go. Her front hoofs clicked land, and she brought her hind legs up but they wouldn't. She was barely holding on by her front legs, the rest of her lay drenched in freezing water.
Red slipped into the water, gently sliding off of Alena's white back. She felt the liquid lap around her and freeze her veins. Swimming? What was it like? She started to sink, crying desperately for help before gliding down and whining as water rushed into her plastic lungs.
Warm sheets covered Red's body, surrounding her in a cloud of warm cloth. Music slowly ticked in the background, sun streamed through a small window. The room was blue with small decorations of elegant purple swirling in the corners. White shelves lined one wall, pictures filled another. She slowly lifted her hand to feel her face. As she pulled it out from under the covers it was flushed with freezing air. She felt her face with a brush from her fingers. The gash was gone, completely smooth across her cheek. The mechanism that allowed her to see had also disappeared, her last gift from Bane – never to be seen again. But she didn't have a need for it. Bright colors filled her vision, surprising her from the moment ago black and white stillness.
Tears rolled down her puffy cheeks.
She soon found herself helplessly sobbing; the only comfort was something grasping her hand, holding it close, warming it was a hot breath. Someone's warm hand caressed her forehead and stroked her soft, auburn hair.
"Tomorrow will be better, Red. It will always be better," it said, his grip growing tighter.
Suddenly a flood washed over her, an icy cold breath of wind poured on her face. And something grabbed her hand and pulled it into the air.
Red gasped as she was yanked out of the icy water and pulled onto land by a strong hand. She choked, spitting out water, but was relieved to see it was Theron who got her out, and not someone else.
The Maelstrom waited at the other side of the river, growling and snarling like prowling wolves, unable to receive their prey. They tried pushing each other in, but no one would cross the water. "Cowards!" They sneered in their raspy voices which echoed through the forest.
"We've got to keep moving. I doubt some water will stop a flying beast," Alan said, gently plucking Red up from the ground. She stood, shivering in small quakes. Her brown hair was mashed to her head; her lips stuck together, her eyes wide.
Though shivering, wet and cold, Red rode Alena silently through the forest, not sure exactly where to go. Zenas hadn't found them, but Red highly doubted that. He knew where they were, but didn't come after them.
The horse's muscles felt tense under Red, like she was going to bolt or something. Red patted Alena's neck and glanced around, the shift of her head making her surroundings even more confusing. Trees that were supposed to be yards away appeared in the blink of an eye, and Red had to count herself lucky that she was riding a horse that wouldn't walk straight into a pole. Just like Bane said. In a mixture flurry of fuzzy grey and black lines she could tell the difference between land and sky, trees and flat land, but something was lacking. Her perception of depth was completely gone.
Theron cautiously lifted his two pistols from his belt and scanned the area for a few seconds before slapping them back on. "I don't think we're being followed. What now? Do stay here and wait, do we keep moving forward, or do we head back and find Bane?"
The question sucked the air out of Red's lungs. It had been haunting her for when she would have to tell them about Bane.
"We don't go back. Bane's dead," Red declared, her voice so emotionless and blank that both Alan and Theron turned to her, trying to determine if she was teasing or not. But Red's not one for jokes.
The three traveled on, forward through the dense forest, clambering glumly over fallen logs. No one spoke of it, but it was noticed that if Bane was there, then they wouldn't have a horse with an empty saddle.
Red spent her time, while trotting through and away from the Nexus Force camp, fidgeting with the gift Bane gave her. Her sight. She pulled the head piece off, stunned herself by the lack of movement once again, and then snapped it back on, wondering how it wasn't affected by the water.
Alan twisted in his saddle to glare at Theron who was making a ruckus while twirling his pistol on his finger.
"What? I'm itching for some revenge," Theron said defensively. That sounded so much like Red. Wanting revenge…for her father, and now Bane too. He flipped his head back and ran his hand through his coarse hair.
"Well, you're not going to get any if you're eaten by a dragon," Alan stated blankly, shaking his head in despair. The sun glimmered over his dark hair in bright, speckled spots. The corners of his mouth were pressed in a tight frown.
"Not if we attack it first! Come on, Alan. We've got long ranged weapons!" Theron said, peeking over at Alan's bow resting neatly on his lap.
"Good luck," Alan muttered; his voice defeated and empty. Empty of hope.
Red listened to the conversation without any interest, wondering if Zenas was Leomaris. It confused to the point of making her head spin in wild circles before settling back to normal, with no results. First Zenas has Leomaris' voice. Now he really comes after her. Different voice. That should make sense, right?
But it doesn't.
As day wore on into night, Red rested her head on the soft neck of Alena, and the rock of each step lulled her into sleep. An uneasy one.
A frigid cold clung to Red, stiffening her bones. She glanced down, instantly knowing where she was considering there was nothing but a dull black under her feet, even with Bane's gadget on.
"Leomaris!" She demanded, forcing her voice as loud as it would go. "Come out here!" A nasty edge crept into her words. He was Zenas. He had attacked her.
"Harsh," his voice echoed around her curiously, even though the room was without walls.
With a flash of gold, and a swirl of blue, his eyes appeared out of the shadows, less than two inches in front of her face. Red yelped, jumping backwards, startled. She instinctively fumbled for her sword, before remembering she was in Vectis, and didn't have it. His body slowly materialized all the way down to his thick feet, and then extended to the tail. Overly hot breath descended on Red.
"Why did you?" Red asked in the strongest commanding voice she could muster.
"Did I what?" Leomaris replied, twitching his ears in disgust to her voice.
He blinked, a blaze of gold surrounding his striking blue eyes. "I never…" Red wouldn't have it. She wasn't even going to give him a chance to say anything. "You never?" Red breathed, not believing a word said by the monster. "You never ordered the Maelstrom to kill Bane? You never attacked me? Doubt it. I don't even know why you would call me here."
His face contorted in anger, but his words remained gentle. "No I didn't."
"It was your voice!" Red shouted accusingly, pointing her finger at him.
Leomaris, looking offended, recoiled from her charges and slinked backwards. He drew himself as tall as he could, snorted, and slowly vaporized. Gone.
But he didn't put her back in the real world.
Red glanced around, her heart beating at a wild pace. She was left in the city of nothingness, with Leomaris, angry and enraged, lurking about. With no way out. "Leomaris?" Her voice squeaked out. So much for bravery.
"You are distracted." His voice rang around her, spurting from all directions. She whirled to find him, but he was hidden, not even a shadow to show his company.
Red looked down at the ground, feeling eyes watching her face turn to a grimace. "I don't know what you mean."
"You have lost you limits," Leomaris snarled, his every word growling with rage.
Limits? Red reached up and fingered the machinery touching her ear and side of her face. Is that what he meant? Something nicked her hand and she stumbled backwards, feeling as if Zenas was attacking her again and again in those horrible visions. But no, he wasn't hitting her.
"I showed you that. As a hint."
Red winced as she remembered that Leomaris was reading her thoughts. "You showed me Zenas. Right. But it was you! Your voice!" She wasn't accusing so much now as she was pointing out the points that don't add up.
"Images are one thing. Words are another. I showed you Zenas, so you could prepare for the attack." He paused, the faint sound of thumping, and then he spoke again. "I used him, but my voice. When he really attacked you, you could hear his real voice."
"Then why…in those visions did you make him attack me? Again and again…I woke up every time, gasping in pain. Did you want that?" Red stuttered.
A warm breath startled Red from behind, barely touching her neck. He hesitated. "I wanted you to know it wasn't a joke. He could harm you. That you could never win against him, and to run."
Red felt quieted by the thought. Leomaris wasn't Zenas, but was telling her when the attack was. Her accusations sounded so…deplorable right about now, knowing he only meant good. She started to apologize, but Leomaris switched the subject before she could even begin.
"Ruby waits." His voice wasn't calm, but it didn't sound so angry.
"Right. I guess I've finished my training," She couldn't help but feel a pang of pain for Bane, "and go to the cliffs? How am I supposed to help her? And get there?"
"Yes, just tell her she must find the Imagination Nexus. And I am quite positive you will find your way." Leomaris' muzzle floated around her face, before leaving Red.
"What's the…?" Her voice was cut off as white hairs engulfed her vision as her face was laid against Alena's neck. "Imagination Nexus…" She finished weakly, startling Theron who had also been asleep. He stirred and looked at Red curiously.
"What?" He mumbled, his voice garbled as he wiped his eyes from his snooze.
Red raised her head up, and brushed her hair out of her face. She wanted to flood everything on him, just release it from her shoulders, but the only thing she could say was, "Do you have a map?"
"Yes, well maybe," Theron said, patting his coat pockets to look for stray papers. He pulled out one, read it to himself, blushed for seemingly without reason, and grabbed another scrap of paper. "Here we go." He hesitated before passing it to her. "Umm…tell me where we need to go and I'll find it."
Red scowled and snatched it from him. She gazed at it blankly. What did all those little symbols mean? The lines against the ocean and land made no sense considering she couldn't tell which was which in her black and white environment and the words at the tops seemed like a jumble of useless objects. She huffed and hurled it back to Theron with a sigh of displeasure. "Just…where's the ocean, and where's the land?"
Theron shook his head, but pointed to two different spots. He named them, and again asked her where they needed to go. Truthfully, she had no idea. What kind of clue was just a picture of some cliffs? "Some…some cliffs near some water." He blinked blankly. "Uh…" Theron glared at the map, like it wasn't giving him the answer. He ran his fingers through his muddled hair, making it look worse than it did before, and mashed a grimy finger over a spot on the paper. "The only place I can think of is here." Apparently he didn't bother naming it.
"Alan." Theron announced, startling Alan to the point where he slipped off Mist, fell to the ground, and whipped up his bow in a daze of sleep. He aimed the weapon dully without an arrow, and struggled to find his target, only to find Mist lashing her head about in bewilderment.
"What?" He muttered, similarly to the way Theron did. His dusty russet eyes darted from side to side as if looking for an enemy.
"Red has somewhere to go we need to go," Theron announced in a 'matter-of-fact' manner.
Red patted Alena vacantly before seeing that everyone was staring at her for an explanation.
"Let's just go. Not like anything…else to do," Alan stated, rubbing his face with the base of his thumb. Cracking some sticks with his noisy feet, Alan clambered back up onto Mist who neighed in response. He kicked her forward, and Theron followed.
Red wavered, but permitted Alena to trail behind them.
Red bolted to a sitting position, startled that she fell asleep. Faint orange blankets swayed in the sky, blending with rosy pink to create the flag that signified morning. The sun poked its enormous head around as if checking to make sure night was gone before it popped up.
She yawned, knocking her knees together. Her eyes widened as she realized not just that she wasn't on Alena anymore, but the fact, something she didn't immediately recognize, her world was blank. Her hands jumped to her face and she fingered her ear.
Red brushed her fingers against the leafy ground, franticly searching for it. She yanked it up from the ground, glad that the machine was right next to her. She clipped it around her face and gazed around. Small, almost dead, campfire. Theron curled up next to it like a cat. Alan leaned against a tree, holding on tightly to the reins of three horses, slightly dozing, but still awake. He suddenly lurched, bringing his head up to glance over Red. His eyes fluttered to Red to a moment, and then quickly back up. He stealthily started to unstrap his bow over his shoulder, wincing when it rubbed against the tree with a scraping sound.
As Red watched Alan, she got the frightening feeling that something – someone was hanging right above her. She reached around for Leomaris' sword, rummaging through the crackling leaves for it. She snatched up the cold, icy hilt, just as a smaller hand grabbed it too.
"Gah!" Red shrieked, pulling away and dropping the weapon. She stumbled backwards on her hands and barely missed the fire.
The other girl stared back at Red, her tiny hands swathing around the sword. She was dressed a stiff black jacket that was held around her shoulders and her fingers were gloved in the same material. In the stark moonlight and tiny flames, she seemed one with the darkness, her face the only thing elsewise. Her straight black hair added the effect of night.
Red opened her mouth to say something, but her silent, almost eerie effect cut her off. Luckily Alan came to the rescue, having a finally loaded bow. He slowly approached the girl, pointing the arrow at her chest. "What are you doing?"
The small girl looked up at him with her small, silvery eyes; they then darted back down to the weapon threating her. She held the sword out with a frown.
Alan took it from her and passed it to Red. "You were…trying to steal this?"
She scowled and glared at Alan, who returned the look. "I'm sorry. I'm just…I need the money…." She stared longingly at the jewels decorating the sword.
Red winced, feeling as if the words had just punched her in the chest. She remembered saying almost exactly the same thing to a merchant after her father died, only her voice sounded wimpier, not as strong and powerful as this girl's.
"Alright, alright," Alan said, lowering his bow and slinging it over his shoulder. "Best not to kill each other."
The girl delicately nodded. "Best," She agreed.
It wasn't until everything had gone quiet that Theron started to stir. He didn't wake to Red's shriek, or the slamming against the fire, but when it had become unnervingly quiet, the daredevil looked like he tried to leap in four or five different directions at once, shouting as if awaking from some terrible nightmare. "Rattlesnake!" He yelped, falling back on his two hands. His face suddenly became serious as he tried to correct himself as everyone was staring at him. He blinked and scratched the back of his head, his eyes tracing the trees above. Surely he'd like to climb one right now. His eyes locked onto the girl and he whipped out his pistols from his belt, on high alert from his nightmare.
The girl didn't startle, frown, or even twitch her emotionless mask. She simply stared at him with those silver eyes, as if waiting for him to make a move. "How did you live?" She said, gazing towards Red especially.
"From the attack?" Alan piped up, saving Red or Theron from having to answer. "We just…escaped. Were you there?" An edge of suspicion crept into his voice.
"Yeah, sure. Just hanging around," The girl stated, taking turns to look at all three. "And I think," she paused and extended her hand, revealing a bright, shiny red apple, "we'd do better as a team."
No one could really argue with her, she was loaded with food in a small pack, and they were starving.
"Sit down then. What's your name?" Alan asked, plopping down himself next to the fire to warm his hands. He flung a stick into the pit, and flames twirled around it, engulfing it.
The girl grinned and sat down, like this was going just her way. "Senkara," She replied, a superior tone in her voice. She then turned to Red, who was still startled and holding onto Leomaris' sword so hard it turned her knuckles white. "Sorry 'bout that."
Red nodded and scooted backwards away from the growing fire which projected dancing shadows on Theron's blank face; he was still holding his pistols upwards at where the girl had been standing. He slowly lowered them, but didn't strap them back onto his belt.
Alan mumbled each of their names, as he absently fiddled with a long stick. His mind was elsewhere. He tied the horses to a tree, adjusted his shirt, and leaned against his tree again. "I assume the Maelstrom is all still looking for us, eh?"
Theron nodded, even though the subject had taken an abrupt change. "I guess. Doubt they would give up so easily."
"Better get some sleep then. Even you." Alan extended his hand between both Red and Senkara. Now whether he meant one or the other, or even both, Red couldn't be sure. Though she thought she caught a twinkle in Senkara's eye.
Red slowly rested her head to the side, allowing a groan to escape her lips. "Are we there yet?" She asked, watching Alena's feet trot across the ground in a fascinating pattern. Her head felt lightheaded and drowsy though, probably from lack of sleep, but then again…. Red gently pulled Bane's machine off of her head, feeling relief swirl around her. She'd put it on later, but for now, a break. She handed it to Senkara for safekeeping, since she was the one with the pack anyways, and she didn't trust Theron with it. He'd probably lose it.
"No," Theron replied gruffly, leaning back on Red Lightning, even though he didn't like it and threatened to throw him off at any second.
Senkara relaxed on top of Wisdom's Whisper, her scrawny frame fitting perfectly on the young, tan horse. She fiddled with something in her hands, but followed her newfound teammates along. She seemed different in the bright glistening day, her effect of night gone. But she still had a demanding voice and a strong head.
"How about now?" Red asked once again, receiving a moan from everyone. "Patience. You wanted to go here anyways!" Alan exclaimed. He turned and gave an exasperated look to Red; though he frowned when he remembered she couldn't see.
"I didn't expect it to take this long!" She waited another couple of seconds. "Are we there?"
"Oh, I don't know…no!" Theron shouted, putting emphasis on the word 'no.'
"Wait! There it is!" Red leaped up in an abundance of energy and pointed as if to make her argument.
Alan, Senkara, and Theron all leaned forward with interested expressions, trying to peer about to see something that wasn't there. "Where?" Senkara questioned.
"Right there!" Red cried again, pointing to an entirely new direction. They were surrounded by an empty, blank plain with dabs of tall grass tickling their feet, and not a single tree in sight. They had left the forest hours ago.
Alan was the first to catch on, and he smiled and leaned backwards. She couldn't see. Like she would know where it was. Senkara soon caught on also, but Theron kept whipping his head from side to side to find their mysterious destination. It wasn't until he looked back with bewildered look that Alan burst out with a chuckle.
"Why trick me, Red? Why?" Theron said, snorting and glowering at the same time.
Red shrugged, not knowing why she felt so playful and careless today even though last night her sword had almost been stolen, and Zenas was after her. It was a long road, but maybe if she found Ruby it would be over. She could go home. The thought struck her suddenly, and she knew she didn't want that. She didn't want to go home, she didn't even have one, and she just wanted to get her revenge against Ginjiro for her father. And that she would.
Theron, despite being slightly gullible and embarrassed at the moment, stopped Alan's laughter with a suddenly sober face. The daredevil slammed his hand into Alan's chest to get him to stop. He raised a gloved finger and pointed off into the distance ahead, where several orange eyes were gleaming.
All of the eyes, as if knowing they were spotted, blinked at once in a flood of purple. Red snatched her sword up, and held it in front of herself, not exactly knowing which way there were going to come from. The earth stilled itself, and even passing birds stopping chirping. Blades of grass ruffled in the wind, their scratchy sidings banging against each other. It was as if the world stopped, their noises ceased, just them, the creatures, and…what was that?
With a clack of weapons, one creature stood up fully out of the thick grasses and stared at Theron with wide, angry eyes. He suddenly gained two or three feet in height as something below him stood up also. Legs wrapped around the beast, the Maelstrom Stromling sat upon a creature, riding it just like they were riding on their horses. But it wasn't a horse. It was much smaller and bone white with ridges running aross its scruffy head. It had lean and tall hind legs, but the rest of its body sloped forward, giving his rump an odd look.
Alena's ears flattened to the back of her head in silent annoyance and she shook her small head. Red Lightning seemed to go completely berserk, leaping forwards then sideways at the sight of the strange beast. He tossed his head, leaped straight into the air and Theron flew upwards, his mouth gaping open as he realized he wasn't going to land back on the horse. The daredevil was flung to the ground and the horse paced back and forth, watching the creatures with his spirited eyes.
Alan grabbed his bow and notched an arrow slowly, as if not to disturb his own horse. He raised it past his shoulder and aimed, perhaps meaning to strike the mounted creature right in the head, but something else happened. Two other creatures stood; apparently they had been crouching just low enough, and let their mounts snarl.
Alan wasn't exactly sure who to hit. They were all just standing there peacefully enough.
Red heard the gruff snarls and rasps of the beasts and faced forward, ready for them to charge after her. Her heart raced, thumping loudly in her head. Man…she hoped the others couldn't hear it.
The creatures stood there, nipping each other with their large teeth while they waited for Red to make a move. She just sat there, not wanting to startle the beasts and speak, but wishing she could ask Senkara for her sight back.
The creatures stomped and snarled at each other impatiently, tossing their bony heads to their air and revealing their razor sharp fangs. It wasn't until a few minutes had passed that the mounts gave up on listening to their master's 'wait' orders and charged forward. Their feet pounded the ground in a roaring thunder that reminded Red of the way horse's hooves sounded against hard concrete.
Red had just enough time to whisper for Alan to release his string when they were upon her.
Red was jerked forward as Alena spooked and reared upwards, front hooves flailing wildly as a beast crouched low and snarled next to her. Red snatched up her sword and waited, leaning down low to not get thrown by the enraged horse.
Mist and Wisdom's Whisper has similar reactions, but Red Lightning rather challenged the beast by tossing his head, neighing loudly.
Red listened to the affair, and wished they would quiet, if only so she could hear where she was going to be attacked from…. Red instinctively slashed her weapon out to the side, hearing the pleasing sound of it banging against the leaping beast. It fell back to the ground, whimpering like a dog who had been caught guilty for stealing food, then snarled before crouching low into the grass.
Red Lightning stomped the ground, viscously trying to find the wolf/horse like creatures with his hooves. Ears completely flattened to the back of his head, he almost squished Theron who was scrambling back on all fours, stuck on the ground. Red Lightning stepped on his hand, but only briefly before charging forward once again. Theron whipped out his guns, but found one of them was squished and crackled beyond repair, and the other was...missing?
Theron frantically searched the frozen, grassy ground for his missing weapon, but the overlapping strands of plants and shiny dew drops made it rather impossible. While two beasts busied themselves among growling and snarling at Red and Alan who posed weapons at the cruel mounts, a third locked his eye upon Theron, who looked up to see the bony creature thumping towards him. His mouth gaped open in an exasperated gasp as he yanked himself to his feet. He turned to dash away, but it was clear that the beast would be at his feet in seconds. The daredevil wildly whirled towards his opponent and crazily leaped towards him, fist flying out like the way he tackled Red. Master football player. The creature yelped at the sight of the insane man coming at him, all of its confidence gone and having to take a defensive side. His defensive side happened to be flinging his rider into a pile of mud, and turning tail. Theron pumped his fist as the beast turned and ran a few yards away, whimpering like he was wounded, and then letting out a loud cry. One monster had its teeth around Alan's bow, yanking it out of his hands; its rider was gone, fallen to the ground with an arrow. The second was crouching around Red, stooping to strike, but both beasts turned to their screeching fellow without a moment's hesitation. The both dropped what they were doing and started to slink to their teammate who was now approaching Theron with a mighty bellow.
Red slashed beside her feet, hearing the whoosh, but no other noises. She had expected it to make contact with the creature, or at least send it backwards. Now there was nothing, nothing but the empty sound of heavy marching and a lighter pounding of scrambling feet. "Theron!" Alan's voice rocketed out, forcing Red to hunker down. With a twang and a yelp of someone's pain, Red could hear Theron struggling against the ground. She slid down from Alena and rushed forward, trusting her ears to lead her feet. She materialized behind the creatures, almost tripping over one who lay still beneath the waving grass. She lifted her blade and crept up next to them, listening as they grabbed Theron's foot from underneath him when he tried to bat them off with his fists. Like a bird taking wing, Red silently leaped up and sliced from behind, smacking one of the fiends squarely in the head. Leomaris' sword vibrated for a second, and Red drew it away as the beast howled a high pitched wail. It sunk to the ground, releasing Theron's foot. The other monster turned to Red with a heartbroken moan. Its eyes narrowed to thin lines as it crouched.
"Red! I don't have any arrows left! Watch out- I mean- just move!" Alan called, stuttering and out of breath. Without a moment's hesitation, she bounded back, taking care to not cut herself with her own blade. Less than two steps later, sharp claws etched agony down her leg as the beast snatched her and threw her body to the ground. Red cried out. She couldn't help it. The monster was now standing on her, its face roaring mightily into Red's. Warm breath descended on Red's frozen face and a sharp tooth just barely scratched her cheek. The weight suddenly tumbled off of her shoulders and collapsed next to her. Red flew forward, running straight into Alena as she tried to get away from the creature. But no, it already lay dead. "Would you like this?" Senkara asked without a hint of fright or concern. She pushed something into Red's hands and she instinctively felt it was Bane's gift. Red clipped it on and regarded the three fallen beasts and their riders. Her gaze fell to a wooden stick protruding the beast that had trapped her and she wondered who could have done it. The answer was clear when Senkara flew down from Wisdom's Whisper's back and retrieved her spear.
"Where did you learn that?" Theron asked, pulling himself up from the ground and leaning over to inspect his foot. "Ah man, he dented the shoe…" He muttered under his breath. "Just picked it up," Senkara replied, swinging her leg back up onto her wild horse who was prancing back and forth. She twirled her blank wooden weapon, and then slowly folded it, as if savoring the moment. It snapped into a thin sliver and she put it in her clothes. Red cocked her head slightly, but shook the feeling aside as she clasp her sword back to her belt.
"Why do you think they were after us?" Her voice sounded a little too innocent for one who just defeated Stromlings. The word sent shivers spiraling down her spine and spreading cruelty across her chest. It had never really struck her before. Had she smashed those Stromlings? Maybe. But those were just mindless beings following their master. Besides, she didn't hit them that hard….but that beast. She did, she defeated him. Even without a rider it had let out a heartbroken cry when its teammate fell. It wasn't mindless…. Red looked up and shuddered as she realized that Theron was staring intently at her, as if reading her thoughts.
"What?" Red spluttered. "I said, 'They're after us because we're probably the only ones who escaped the base.' Then you just stared at me like I'm dumb or something," Theron said, shaking his head sadly.
"Oh," Red sighed distantly, desperately fighting herself to keep her gaze above the fallen beasts. She patted Alena's soft neck and buried her face into it, her vision filled with flecks of white.
Red then looked up and opened her mouth wide to say something, but Senkara cut her off.
"No, Red, we aren't there yet."
Something poked Red, hitting a sore spot on her shoulder. She ignored it; the dream was too sweet.
Her father lifted a pot of something and set it on a cherry red table. The aromas made Red's mouth water as it wafted from the plate. The room was splashed with red, covering the walls, encasing as a dark maroon in the dish. Something about it made her feel welcome.
Sylvester's face broke into a smile as he set a white plate in front of Red and seated himself next to her. He caressed her hand and ran his fingers down the back of her hair, laughing. He-
"Red!" Theron's voice shouted, his heavy hand pushing on her. She jerked upwards at the noise, but turned to only see the daredevil's face less than inches from hers. "Ya know, if I can't wake you up, and there's another fire, there's no chance I'm carrying you." Theron grinned and pulled away from her, leaning back on Red Lightning. The horse neighed noisily at the improper seating of his rider.
"What?" Red asked, rubbing her eyes to hide her anger. Why had he woken her? The first good dream in…how long?
"I'm not sure where we arrived, but we can't go any further," Alan said, turning back to peer into the now darkened sky.
"No further?" Red exclaimed, leaping up from Alena's back and sliding to the ground, only to feel Theron grab a fistful of the back of her shirt. She yelped as she realized she was only less than a foot from a long drop to an endless black void.
"I wouldn't unless you want to take a swim," Senkara said curtly as Theron dragged Red away from the ledge.
Red looked down at the ever so slightly moving mass of black. "Anyone have a light?"
Alan shrugged. "Sorry, Red, I left my flashlight back on that street," He said, slumping his shoulders.
Theron, however, was pulling random strings and wires out of his coat trying to find a light.
Senkara and Theron both hauled a flashlight or penlight out at exactly the same time, holding them to the air.
Senkara gave a slight giggle and tucked the small light back in her cloak, motioning to Theron. The daredevil gave the huge flashlight, who knows how it got put in that flimsy jacket, to Red and she aimed it off the cliff.
Deep blue waves swirled about rocks before crashing up the cliff, white foam dancing as it flew through the air, only to land back in the monstrous puddle. The small sliver of the moon lightly topped the surface while Red's light created a large beam that crowned the water.
Red jerked backwards, expecting it to bubble and steam and burst into flames, but it never came. Just water splashing against the dim reddish-orange slabs of rock. She shined her light backwards past the horses and instantly recognized the three trees, their branches wrapped around each other in a group hug. Her flashlight's light scattered among the leaves, creating the shadowy effect as if the sun was lit from behind it.
To the cliffs.
She ran her hand along the, cool, rough wood on one of the trees, and peeked inside the protective barrier of the branches. The wood seemed four or five times bigger than she had remembered, but then again, her perception might be distorted. Inside, just like before, surrounded in a nest of thick luxurious green grass, the white, creamy pearl lay there.
She shined her light in, watching it sparkle off of the orb. Just as everything else was, the pearl was five times its original size, and it wasn't glowing. She crouched next to it, putting her hand just above it, as if expecting it to scorch her fingers once again. Gently, Red lowered the back of her fist to the stone, but it was cold, chilling her instantly in the freezing night.
She leaned the flashlight against a tree and snatched up the pearl, examining it. It was perfectly round at the top, but concealed where it was lying in the grass, was a large missing section of the rock. She tapped the hard, smooth outside of it, and could only just recognize the sound of hollowness.
She had almost imagined a middle-aged lady to pop out and ask her about the Imagination Nexus, then leave, relieving Red of everything Leomaris wanted. But no, why we he have had her train then? Ruby was supposed to be here. Something was wrong.
Red stood up, setting down the broken gem. "Ruby?"
Suddenly, a warm breath descended down the back of her neck, much too warm to be Alena. There was a crackle and shattering of glass as her flashlight mysteriously broke, the light quickly switching off. Red's mouth dropped wide open. Just as before, the lights had quickly left, and now there was that red, radiant orb floating in front of her face.
The orb recoiled and turned, a second one appearing as it shifted. "How do you know my name?" There was a faint scratchy sound, as if something clawing a tree. The two orbs blinked together in a flash of white and it became apparent that the orbs were eyes, and the creature before her was to be rather large.
"A friend told me."
The eyes soften, but at the sound of Senkara and Alan coming in to find Red, they glare. "Red? Ouch!" There was a faint sound of Alan's head smacking a loose branch and someone shuffling through something. A sudden beam flickered on, and everyone stood muddled in the dim light of Senkara's small flashlight.
Now lit up in the flash, the creature wasn't standing there like Red had expected, but was dangling from a tree above head, her entire body stretched out on the limbs. All that was currently visible was a rough, hanging white neck, and a massive head, upside down, of course.
Red didn't even flinch. Ruby was almost like Leomaris, only with a skinnier snout and bright white scales. The top of her head came to a crest, with small, dark red horns protruding from the sides. Her glossy eyes reflected her name, and truthfully, although Red had expected a human, it wasn't surprising that she was a dragon. Leomaris. Zenas. Ruby.
Theron then ambled in, seeing lights flash through the trees. He clambered off of Red Lightning, who hungrily attacked the grass, and popped his head inside, examining the situation. His eyes bulged, he instinctively tried to adjust his helmet -which, of course, wasn't there- and then whipped out his only, non-broken gun, holding it boldly into the air, as if threatening the colossal creature.
Ruby's head whipped around to see the brave, foolish daredevil. Slowly, she unfolded herself from the trees above, unwinding her body out of the branches. Her claws struck the ground in dug into the soft soil as she dropped her long neck next to Theron.
The daredevil's eyes grew even wider, being much too large for his face. His voice squeaked like a mouse, and his trembling fingers dropped his weapon to the ground.
Red didn't say anything, which was dumb because Ruby might just roast him. She crept closer and touched the dragon's ridged back. Her ears laid back and she turned to the girl, eyes brimming with confusion, not anger. She wasn't irritated with her intruders, but puzzled.
"A friend….He told me to tell you…to find the Imagination Nexus."
"Find the what?" Ruby asked, raising her long, thick tail.
Red's gaze fell to the black and white, fluffy looking ground. "I was kind of hoping you would know."
"The Imagination Nexus? That's…Wait? You don't know?" Theron, now recovered from his scare, said, standing next to Alan and Senkara who stood motionless.
Both dragon and girl stared up or down at Theron, who started at the sudden attention.
"No. Care to continue?" Alan asked, stepping backwards and slinging his bow over his shoulder.
"It's the treasure of the Nexus Force! Scientists found that it is almost the exact opposite of the creatures we're facing, why it's…." Theron shook his head in despair, as if he couldn't believe none of them knew what it was, even though he was the only who was really in the Nexus Force.
"It's not hard to find. Why, it's huge! Right in Nexus Tower. But I'm not sure why you'd need it. You can't touch it anyways." The daredevil shrugged his shoulders and fingered his jacket absently.
"Can't touch it? Why not?" Senkara asked, not severely interested but instead trying to get her light to shine brighter. She gave up, and shoved the penlight into Theron's hands.
"Well, one, it's protected so heavily by guards you'd have to want jail, or worse, to try. And two, it pushes you back from touching it. Like a force field or something," Theron said, rubbing his chin like a professor.
Ruby's eyes widened, and then narrowed to small slits, her face looking blank against the dim flashlight. "If I can't touch it, and I already know where it is, why try to find it?"