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Authors: Scott Toney

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BOOK: NovaForge
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Chapter 18

 

Ineal walked slowly as he entered the city. Men with swords and pikes surrounded him. Others with arrows aimed at him from the city’s rooftops. He could not feel the chains on his wrists and arms, but knew that the earth mother had made it so that the men could shackle them there.

“What kind of abomination are you?” A man caked in dirt with a massive gut approached him.

Ineal stopped moving, watching the man and waiting for his next words.
Now that I am here, what do you want of me?
he spoke to the planet’s voice through his mind.

Bring my love to them. Teach them.

The scowling man untangled a whip at his side. “I lead Gest! Why have you come?” the man shouted.

Crack!
The man’s whip spliced his backside.

Pain surged through Ineal, pain he had not thought possible now.

Crack!

Ineal fell to Solaris’s soil. Tears streamed from his eyes as he saw blood dripping from his back. It pooled as it landed.

Forgive them,
the mother’s voice spoke to him.
Forgive them and share what I have given you.

Crack!
The whip tore the flesh of his back, sending globules of blood up in a splay.

Ineal fought the pain. He held a hand up.

“What is he doing?” a female voice asked.

Ineal breathed deeply and then dug his fingers into the soil. He closed his eyes.

Sighs of awe and wonder breathed around him.

“What has he done?”

“I have never seen…”

“Mother, look…” The child’s voice caused him to open his eyes and take in the beauty the planet’s Mother created through him.

A sea of wildflowers bloomed up from the city’s thoroughfares. Trees bearing fruit swayed in the wind. Ineal’s hands pulsed with energy and he could feel the growth blooming as if it were his own body.

A woman came to him, holding out her child. “Save my son. If you can create vegetation then surely you can heal him. He has had the rust sickness since his birth.”

“Can you not see, Maive, that he is a demon?” The man with the whip shoved her and her babe away. “He has come to poison us, to take and destroy what little we have left.”

Ineal felt the chains on his arms and legs leave him, dropping from his physical form and crashing to the ground. He had not been released, but instead was no longer tangible. The people of Gest were startled as he approached the woman and her child. He reached out and touched the baby’s forehead. He looked into the child’s yellow eyes. A purple and red rash covered its skin.

Can I heal him? Can you give me that gift?
he asked the planet’s spirit.

I will not give it to you, but to him. This child will be free to live. Remember, you are but a vessel to share my love.

The rash on the baby’s skin left him completely. The yellow in his eyes changed, a hazel hue replacing in the orbs. Ineal was stunned at the wonder of the healed babe. To create vegetation was one thing, but to heal life…

“You may stay with me.” The baby’s mother spoke while pulling the child close. She looked out to her fellow people. Her eyes were dark with exhaustion. “There can be only good in a man who takes pain from my son. Look, Elias,” she motioned for the man with the whip to come to her. “Look at what this man does for your son. We should not fear him. He is offering us life.”

Chapter 19

 

Julieth lay still in the night, beneath the veranda of tree limbs, their leaves clicking in the wind. The company had decided to remain outside Gest’s walls in hopes of discovering what had become of the albino man.

It is like my home in Kaskal, and yet so different.
The structure she slept in in Kaskal had a roof pocked with holes from wear over time. There was no point in replacing it. It did not rain on Solaris. There was only open sky.
These things, these trees, they are so beautiful,
she thought, reaching out a hand and pressing it firm against the bark of the nearest tree.

What if we didn’t go to try and kill Samuel? This albino can create fruit. What would happen if I tried to remove the essences from my body and instead attempted to convince Ivanus, Bayne and Andral to stay with him, no matter if we remain in Gest or if we leave?
Her arm burned as she watched the scorch markings on it weaving down her arm.
Would it even be possible?

Do you think we would leave you so easily?

A shutter ran through her as she let go of the tree and looked up at the cold stars. Only starlight draped around her through the leaves.
What do you want from me? Haven’t I given enough, knowing that these powers you give me will take my life?

You are ours. If you do not listen, then we will kill you quicker and with more pain, so that we can find another more easy to possess.

Julieth sat up, looking at the others sleeping soundly on the desert beneath the trees.
How many of them hear the voices of the essences?

A dark laugh filled her mind.
They all do, whether they know my brethren are separate from them, or they believe my brethren’s words to be their own thoughts and minds.

She ignored the voice, trying to push it to the far reaches of her mind.

You will go with them to the one called Samuel. That is where we desire you to go. You will kill him and destroy his symbiotic essence.

I am my own being, not yours,
she spoke to it, feeling a surge of pain in her gut and cringing, her wings stretching in the wind as red surged through her eyes.

We will leave you for now. Go with them. If you do not, we will see to cause you pain until you do.

The pain left her body in a flash, as if it were never there. She breathed heavily. “I must act, and soon,” she whispered, hoping that vocalizing her thoughts would prevent the essences from hearing them.

“What?” Bayne’s voice came from close by. His form was black as he sat upright, visible before the starlight behind him. “Who are you speaking to?”

“Do you hear the voices of the essences?” She folded her wings behind her and reached out an arm for him to come near. “One of them returned to my thoughts moments ago. They are trying to control me.”

“No.” Bayne sat down beside her, lying down against her legs. “I’ve seen their marks on you.”

“They worry me. They say they are speaking to us all. The voice tonight told me that if I do not go to fight Samuel, then they will kill me and possess someone else.”

“Why would we not kill Samuel?”

Bayne’s childlike voice speaking such words sent a chill through her. She traced her hand on his arm. “What if we stayed with the albino and could be safe? What if we are following Riad to our deaths? The root of health for our world could begin with this albino. He creates trees and fruit at will. Instead of destroying our enemy, what if we could revive and nourish our planet around him until he is gone?”

Bayne sat up. The warmth of his back against her leg left quickly and a cool breeze blew through them. “When has peace solved problems? I am still young, I know that, but I know that wherever there is health, there will soon be pain.”

Julieth reached her hand out and touched his back. “That is not true. You are healthy and always have been.” She watched as his hand reached back and felt the marking his essence forged in the top of his spine.

“The essences saved us. You are like a mother to me, and now they are killing you. They will come for me too. I want to make a difference before they take my life. I want to save our world.”

Julieth breathed a sigh. “But if you do what Riad wants, you may exhaust the abilities given to you by the essences. Your death will quicken.”

Bayne turned to look at her. She could not see his eyes, but somehow sensed a deep darkness within them. “Have you seen Riad’s power? He drives away the darkness from around him. I want that power. I want to control the essence and keep away the death that comes.”

Julieth felt emotion rising in her. Goose bumps ran over her arms.
Where has the boy gone whom I protected in the streets and whom I stole away to safety?
“All power comes with a cost. We are proof of that with our abilities and the price we pay for them.”

Bayne stood, blocking a portion of the starlight from her vision. “You say the essences speak to you and control you? Take power over them. Become their controller. I will not let them have my life.” He walked away slowly, not turning back to her, and lay down to sleep a distance away on the desert near Riad.

Tears streamed from Julieth’s eyes as she looked up through the starlit veranda.
Whatever God controls the universe, protect that boy. He is becoming a man and I fear the forces guiding him.

*

The sound of metal grinding on metal shrilled through her ears as Julieth awoke beneath the shade of the trees and heat of the rising suns. She stood quickly and then soared into the sky. Riad and Bayne were speaking at the edge of the trees and Ivanus and Andral stood below her.

“Are you with the creator and healer?” A deep man’s voice trumpeted from where the doors of Gest opened. “I am Elias! He points beyond our walls to you! He is welcome and you are also desired within Gest’s walls if you wish to join us!”

Riad stood below her now. He looked up. “We need to nourish and heal, and if we can convince the albino to come with us and keep us strong, then we should.” Riad tossed a gun up to her hands. “But we cannot trust them. Keep alert and listen for Ivanus’s warning should he sense problems.”

Julieth glanced at Ivanus. “What do you sense now?”

“The albino is in a garden surrounded by children. He has enriched their city with foliage, trees and fruit. They seem to trust him.”

“What is a garden?” she questioned.

“I will show you when we arrive.”

Julieth landed and walked with the others through the massive rusted gates. The contrast she saw struck her, the pure beauty of the foliage blanketing streets and rooftops while the rust-crusted walls encased them within. Eyes peered from windows and doorways as they passed. “Gest’s people seem to fear us,” Julieth spoke in a whisper to Ivanus beside her.

“From what I can
see
that is true. A select few of them appear to be the ones who want us here. They must hold sway over power.”

“We welcome you gladly.” Elias walked behind them and placed a hand on Ivanus’s back. “Your companion has healed my child. You have earned at least a few days’ stay within our city’s walls because of that.”

“Do you have a place that we could rest?” Riad asked.

Elias walked before them, waving his finger in the air. “Come with me. There is a shelter built against the wall this way.”

As they walked, Julieth saw an area of green where the albino sat staring at a patch of yellow flowers nearby. He held out his hand, tilting it in the sunlight and examining a red leaf there.

“I will come soon,” Julieth told Ivanus before walking toward the albino.

As she reached him, the albino held up a hand with another leaf. He did not speak but pressed it into her palm.

“It is funny what little things hold beauty and sway over our lives.” She held up her hand and blew it, watching as it caught the wind and swam about the leaves of trees above.

Chapter 20

 

“Julieth… Julieth, wake up.”

A tentative hand shook her as she slowly opened her eyes. Darkness was around her and moonlight shone through the open doorway of the small rusted structure she had been led to to use. She lain down to rest when the suns were still high. “Who?” she asked, beginning to stand, and then recognizing the man’s face above her. Torn clothes fell around his form and a hood fell over his head. “Ivanus?”

Ivanus held a finger to his lips and she looked around them, assuring herself that there was no one else in the structure. “Put this on and come with me.” He whispered and held out a tattered robe similar to the one he wore. “There is something I need to show you.”

“What? Where are we going?”

Ivanus moved closer to her. “I have seen a man in my
sight
, a man like us with an essence within him, but he is near the end. I have not physically gone to him, but I feel I must and I need someone else by my side. I’m not sure that the people of this city would want us there.”

Julieth took the robe and quickly wrapped it around herself, bracing her wings close to her body and pulling the hood down to shade her face.

Voices came to her ears as she followed Ivanus through the moonlit streets. They emerged from structures around them and couples passing by, but no one came to them or tried to stop their movements.

It was a dilapidated, rust worn shack where they arrived, unguarded or watched. A deep red light shone through holes in its metal walls.

“Can we enter? Is it safe?” she asked lowly.

“He is immobile.” Ivanus pushed the door open slowly and the red light glimmered hauntingly from within.

As she stepped inside, Julieth immediately saw the globule mass in the corner of the room. It barely held human form and its eyes, hollow gold spheres, rolled slowly in her direction. Streams of scorched flesh crisscrossed most of its liquefying skin. The light radiated from an essence marking in his chest. His flesh boiled around the marking, draining in streams of wax-like liquid down his body.

“This is our future.” She took a step toward the dying man, nausea overcoming her. “Can you hear me?”

The mass blinked slowly and then reopened its eyelids.

“Why are you here? Are they holding you against your will?” Julieth asked.

The thing’s chest convulsed, gurgling as it struggled to speak or breathe and then spat vomit from its swollen lips. “I… I am here…” a deep, wet voice blubbered from its mouth. “…as an exchange.”

“What has been exchanged?” Ivanus knelt near the thing.

“Is it an exchange with the essence?” Julieth quickly interjected.

The thing’s belly rippled as it moved what was once its head. “No… I am its… no, an exchange with…” It spewed bile that rolled down its chest and over the marking. “…with Gest… shelter in trade for…”

A yellow glow swept over its liquefying body, draining it before their eyes until its final remains evaporated into the air. Only an ethereal orb resisted, hovering above the soil where the thing had been. Its light glowed far brighter than the marking had. Julieth could feel it tempting her to touch it and forge it with the others to her form.

Ivanus stepped towards it, reaching into his robe as he moved.

“No,” Julieth gasped.

“Don’t worry, I do not want any essence in me, let alone this one.” Ivanus pulled a black box from his robe.
Click.
He opened it, moving it near the orb before clasping the box closed over where the orb hovered. Julieth noticed another orb within it before Ivanus clicked it shut.

“Where did you get the other essence?”

“In the labyrinth tunnels beneath Kaskal. No one knew, not even Riad. I wasn’t sure if I should share what I had found. These essences will kill us, but they could also be our saviors.”

“Did that man look saved?” Julieth drew her hood tight and headed for the structure’s doorway.

“I do not trust the essences, but the abilities they provide us are undeniable.”

“What do you think it meant, an exchange?”

Ivanus tightened his own hood. “My guess is that they offered him shelter and food in exchange for his essence when he died. I saw them visiting him, checking on him but doing nothing to assist his state. When they discover him gone along with the essence his benefactors will know it has been stolen. They are not the rulers of this place, but I do not know the extent of their sway. If they do not suspect us, then they are fools.”

“We couldn’t let the essence bond with one of their flesh. You have done the right thing.”

They walked slowly through the streets back to their housing, cautious to be unnoted as they moved.

Julieth looked to Ivanus as they neared her doorway. “Protect them. I would not tell the others. Riad might get ideas to use them if he knew.”

“Things will fall as they fall.” Ivanus lifted the hood off his head, his face exposed in the moonlight. “Even seeing the future, we can only walk forward.”

He is handsome
, Julieth realized, looking at the man. How long had it been since she’d felt a man’s touch?
No,
especially now, in this world of almost certain death, there is no sense letting another in.
“The man’s benefactors will look for it tomorrow. Sleep with one eye open.”

Ivanus took a slight bow. “I fear I see the future in my dreams. I will know if they are coming. Good night, Julieth.” He pushed the rusted door closed.

The sound of the door’s metal grinding sent a shiver through her body. She removed her robe, tossing it in a corner of the room and stretching her wings as much as she could in the place. With a sigh, she lay down on the cold earth floor, laying her head on her arm before quickly succumbing to sleep.

--


Julieth,
” a voice called.

She opened her eyes. A vast field of green swayed before her. Trees as tall as mountains stretched up to the heavens.


I am the mother of all things,
” the voice spoke again, echoing around her.

Yellow and white things grew up from the green field as a tempting aroma caused her to smile.


They are flowers. Take one.

Julieth knelt near the closest one, pinching its smooth base with her fingers and plucking it from the earth. She held it before her, tracing its silky petals with her fingertips and then bringing the thing before her to smell. “They are wonderful. Where are they from?”


They used to blossom across much of Solaris, but now there are none.

“They were destroyed by the meteor.”


No, my daughter, they were wounded by the meteor and destroyed by man, by man’s greed, hatred and uncaring.

There was silence for a moment.


Ineal, the albino, is here to heal the world, as a gift from me that your planet’s people are neither worthy of or deserve.

“Then why are you…?”


Because you are my children. Because though I tried, I cannot turn my back on you. When the others leave, remain with him. He will teach you, guide you, and you will be an instrument of his and my own hands. There is no strength or healing in killing, only destruction.

Julieth hadn’t noticed before, but she reached a hand back, stunned to find her wings gone and unmarred skin where the wings had connected. “You have removed my wings.” Her heart raced in nervous awe.


It is only a dream, my child. I will not allow the essences where I am. When you awake, all will be as it was.

“Can they be removed from me when I am awake?”


In time, there is a way. I will leave you now. Remain with Ineal. Follow his guidance and Solaris may be saved.

The thing’s connection left her quickly and darkness fell on the land. “Where are you?” she called out. “Return to me!”

Wind swept over her, lifting her up above the land as she watched the flowers and field shrivel and die. The giant trees around her cracked, sending booms and waves of reverberation through her. Fire raged on the earth, charring the husks of the trees and filling her lungs with soot and ash.

--
             

Julieth awoke in a cold sweat, her hands throbbing as she looked to where they were. The tracks of clawing hands were dug in the ground.

“I will not be calm!” a male voice shouted outside her door. “You know as I do that the essence was meant to save us! What are we to do now, rely on this foreign man? Just because you trust him, does not mean we all do!”

“Please calm yourself, Salv. We do not know it was them, and the albino has done nothing to lose our trust.” Julieth recognized the voice as Elias’.

“And none of them has done anything to earn it! They will return the essence, or my clan will take all their essences from them!”

Julieth stood quickly, heading to her door.
This will not end well,
she thought.
If they attack us, Riad will make sure they pay.
Sunlight shone brightly in her eyes, causing her to squint as she opened the door to see Elias fending off six men with swords and axes by waving his arms in the air. He was slowly being backed up to the structures she and her companions had been given to use.

“What essence?” she called out, startling all of the men and causing them to look to her. “If there is another essence than the ones we possess, in Gest, then we have no knowledge of it. Why would you not tell us of something like this?”

“She lies!” a burly man with a disheveled beard, Salv, shouted with hatred at her.

Elias stood his ground. “And if she does, what will you do then? They have power and strength that we do not. You were going to use the essence’s abilities to raid other colonies so that we could provide our people with food. Look around you. The albino has provided us with fruit, real fruit, not the substance of the food re-producers. My wife has shown me the wisdom of believing in this miracle. My son is healed.”

“They have done nothing for me!” Salv stomped forward away from his clan. He held a sword at Elias’s jugular, forcing the man out of his way before passing him, intent on attacking Julieth.

“Stop this,” Julieth pled. “You don’t know what you are doing. Even if you had this essence, you would only be cursing yourself to death. The essences are a curse, not a gift.”

Riad stepped out of a structure nearby with Bayne and Andral at his side. “What are we being accused of?” He leveled his gun, static electricity charging through the crowd as its end burned with neon-blue light.

Salv spat in Riad’s direction, lifting his sword and charging as a boom from Riad’s gun wrenched Julieth’s insides with dread.

The charge from Riad’s weapon hovered as a sphere in mid-air before Salv.

It stood as an impassable wall and before any could speak the albino stepped out of the crowd. He held his hands outward toward the spinning light, sweat beading on his forehead. He walked forward, touching it.

In an instant the light was gone.

Before Salv could react, the albino reached out and touched his sword, causing it to turn to sand and blow away in the wind.

Julieth felt something rising in her, a voice that was hers and yet she did not know how it came to her. “Leave us alone, Salv. Go back to your home and we will forget this. We do not want trouble from you.”

Riad sent another charge to the tip of his gun. “Please return when your protector,” Riad eyed the albino, “is not by your side. I’ll strengthen my charge. Next time, you will not live through your arrogance. And when you find this essence, I demand it be brought to me. You obviously do not possess the mental capacity to partner with it.”

The crowd dispersed and Julieth spoke with Riad and the boys briefly before approaching Elias and assuring him they meant his people no trouble.

As Elias left she went to Ivanus’s door, pushing it open to see him sit up in his cot and yawn. “Some protector you are, seer of all things.” She laughed, pushing a strand of hair away from her eyes. “Oh great watchman.”

“What… what happened? I just woke…”

“Don’t worry. All is well. Go back to bed.” She watched Ivanus fall back in his cot before she left his structure. She allowed herself a grin before walking out in the streets.

BOOK: NovaForge
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