Author Topic: Chapter 56  (Read 1890 times)

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Online Daen

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Chapter 56
« on: April 12, 2022, 01:39:15 AM »
Chapter 56

For months now, Jaas had been adjusting to her role as advisor and liaison to a revolutionary movement. Her other duties such as being a teacher or researcher had taken a back seat to her responsibilities to the movement itself. She’d grown used to the idea that she might be stuck here in Vasiriah for the rest of her days. It would have been a deeply depressing reality, if she hadn’t already had to fight for her life on several occasions. As it was, the constant distractions had kept her from pondering it too closely.

Now all of that had changed.

This potion of Endu’s might as well have been bottled hope. It represented not only a chance for her to go home again, but it gave a chance to the movement as well—though she apparently had to convince the others of that. It was risky, true, but she’d been taking risks since her first day here—why should today be any different?

“Why in Aquun’s name would I leave now of all times?” Arico asked predictably, back in the Hideaway. “Even if the potion works, and no offense to you, Endu, it might not,” he nodded apologetically to Endu, and she just shrugged in response. “Even so, my place is here.” He apparently didn’t remember that little slip of the tongue he’d made back in the abandoned Fishbowl. Interesting.

“Listen, Arico,” Jaas tried to moderate her tone. “This potion gives us new options that I’d never even considered before, because I didn’t think it would be possible to leave the city! Think about it: if we get out of the city, we can ask for help from my Imbued superiors back at the Bresorian Academy.” She paused as something else occurred to her. “In fact, you can demand aid from them! You’re a citizen of Vasiriah, and the Academy is still technically a vassal state to the Vasiri Empire! Legally, they’d have no choice but to help you!”

She let that sink in as she looked around the room. Most of the people here didn’t understand the gravity of what she was saying, of course, but she could tell they were getting the gist. As was Arico.

He shook his head anyway, though. “Jaas, it’s been over three hundred years since any of those laws were in use. I’ve studied enough of the histories to know how massively the laws here in Patchwork have changed in that time. Can you be sure—I mean absolutely sure—that your superiors will obey them? Even after all this time?”

Jaas bit her lip as she thought about it. He did have a point. Nobody had bothered to change the laws because no one had thought that there were any survivors in the city. Over time, self-interest had become the only real currency in the Academy. They might only assist… if they saw some benefit in it for themselves.

“Besides,” Nemith added in, “even if they were willing to help us, what could they do? They’re all wizards and magicians, right? If they came here to help us, they’d be as helpless as you were when you first arrived! Would you have come here at all, Jaas, if you knew that magic didn’t work inside the city?”

Another good point. “Probably not,” she admitted begrudgingly, “but we don’t need them to come into the city at all. All we need is their help in proving that people can leave the city safely! If we can demonstrate to the citizens here, both stra’tchi and Sustained, that it’s possible to evacuate the city, then the sky’s the limit!”

Again, Jaas was met with mostly surprised looks and blank stares. She hurried to explain. “There are vast tracts of land on the Outside, people! Imagine having all the room you want to plant crops and harvest them. Arico, you asked me once what rain felt like. Or what it was like to be in a thunderstorm—or a snowstorm. How many people all over the city would jump at the chance to leave, and experience those things?”

“The Council claimed that it was impossible to communicate with the Outside,” she continued excitedly. “They even built those grates on the north and south ends of the river to make sure nothing made it in or out accidentally! If we prove that people can leave the city safely, we’ll also prove the Council’s been lying this whole time. It would give hope to the people, and discredit the Council in the process!”

It was clear that Arico was definitely not the only person with a longing to see the Outside. Even in this room, full of mostly former Sustained who weren’t farmers themselves, Jaas could see people’s eyes brighten at the prospect of having more than enough farmland to feed each other, and not just barely enough to keep their own patch fed—especially after the Council’s “Ritual of the Waters” taxation had siphoned off a good portion of their crops. Even Sabra looked intrigued by the possibilities, if she wasn’t misreading his mangled features.

“This is all assuming the potion works, though,” Arico brought her back down to earth, suddenly and jarringly.

“Well… yes,” she said slowly, feeling her breathing steady slightly. She’d gotten a bit ahead of herself there, with all the possibilities. “As soon as Endu’s done, we should go to the edge of the city. I’ll take the first potion, and then you’ll push me through to the other side. If I make it, Lem will revive me and we’ll send a message back saying I’m safe. If not, well at least you’ll know the second potion won’t work.”

Arico and Nemith exchanged a dark look, and Jaas could tell what they were thinking. They certainly wanted more time to test this brew, to see if it was safe, but time was in short supply right now. “How long until the potions are ready?” Arico asked softly.

“They’ve only just started cooking,” Endu said irritably, gesturing to the fire in the middle of the room, above which several glass containers were currently suspended. “It’ll be four hours, at least, before I can even start measuring doses based on body weight! Remember, this has to be just right, or you’ll both die one way or another.”

“I understand. I’ll try not to rush you.” He looked over at Nemith. “That trade request letter I asked you to write. Have you sent it off yet?” It took Jaas a moment to remember what he was talking about. Ah, yes, the hostage exchange: Arico for the Hauld and Durhu.

Nemith shook his head. “I wrote it up just like you wanted, but I didn’t send it. I figured you’d want to look at it first.”

“I will, but don’t send it off just yet,” he said with just the barest trace of a smile. “We might have a better option before us.”

Jaas felt a profound sense of relief at that. Arico finally seemed to be on the path to recovery! As scary as nearly being raped or killed had been, somehow seeing this bastion of optimism and determination acting suicidal had been even worse. She didn’t know if it was anything she’d said or done, though. Perhaps it had been the memorial—or the time taken to deal with the loss they all felt right now. She might never know for sure.


For what seemed like the millionth time, Lem sat cross-legged while staring into a pool of water. Or half a pool, anyway. The mostly spherical hole he’d excavated was intersected by the barriers themselves, half in and half out of the city. He was tempted to slip into the water and soothe his drying skin, but he didn't want to risk destroying the next message container by pushing it into the threads. No, he’d best just sit and wait.

Concern knotted his dorsal clusters and tightened his features slightly. He was used to trading information with Jaas and Arico on a weekly basis, but they’d missed the last scheduled letter exchange. As per their long-agreed-upon protocols, that meant he would come back at the same time every day until he did hear from them. He had suggested pitching a tent here to save time and energy going back and forth, but Jaas had nixed that idea. Technically, all the lands surrounding Vasiriah were still off-limits. The danger he would be arrested for trespassing was minimal because the patrols rarely got this close to the city, but Jaas didn’t want him to risk it. So here he was, at the special hole they’d dug to avoid detection by these… Ascendants they were so worried about. Waiting.

He’d read the letters from both Jaas and Arico with increasing interest and concern. Ever since she’d vanished into that inky blackness, the only sign of her had been those letters, so he’d read them again, and again, and again. Before, his entire career had been assisting Jaas in her research concerning the barriers. Now, his entire life was just serving as a lifeline for her. Sending and receiving letters through the barriers. Translating the Uatoni notes she’d so carefully recorded. Storing everything in a safe place back at the Academy. And worrying himself sick he may never see her again.

The pool rippled in front of him, jolting him out of his morbid thought patterns. Finally—something was coming through! Lem reached into the water and pulled out… a ball. It was large, maybe two hands across. An Ona ball. Lem recognized it from the descriptions he’d been given.

Lem’s breathing quickened and his hearts beat faster against each other. That had been Arico’s pre-arranged signal. An Ona ball meant the next thing coming through would be a person, and not an object! Scrambling to his feet, he waded into the pool and stared into that black abyss carefully.

It was too soon! He had helped their apothecary, Endu, arrange the ingredients to that sleeping potion, but to his knowledge they hadn’t tested it yet. Once again he wondered just what in the gods’ names was going on, on the other side of that barrier.

There. A form was coming through the barriers—a human form. It was Jaas!

He was careful to let her slip completely through the barrier before grabbing her and lifting her out of the water. She was totally out of it, of course—that was how the potion worked. Torn between worry and excitement, Lem carefully placed her on the grass and grabbed for his pack. The antidote was in there somewhere.

He carefully lowered a few drops of it from the glass vial into her open mouth, and then waited tensely. No effect. Was she gone? Gah! Cursing himself, he remembered to massage her throat so the liquid would actually go down. Pescah didn’t have the same kind of gullet that humans did, so it hadn’t occurred to him at first. It was a good thing he’d paid attention while taking those comparative species classes.

Tensely, he waited another few moments, and then Jaas coughed loudly! Expelling a massive breath of relief, Lem lifted her head off the ground carefully as she took a few experimental breaths of her own. It had worked! She was alive!

“Welcome back, milady,” he teased her lightly, as she opened her eyes and winced against the glare.

Jaas coughed a few more times, and focused on his face after a bit. “I knew it would work,” she said weakly, with a smile. She was lying, Lem suspected, but that was a discussion for another time. “We’ve got to tell Arico. He’s waiting for news.”

“Easy, easy!” He warned, trying to keep her from sitting up too fast. “The antidote still needs time to work, so don’t try standing up or you might fall right on your face. I’ll contact Arico, don’t you worry,” Lem assured her. “You just rest for a moment. From what Endu told me, you’ll be pretty weak for a day or so at least. And a little nauseous,” he added, just as she turned aside and vomited onto the grass. Lem politely looked away as she repeated the process one or two more times, and waited for her to wipe her mouth before standing up.

She punched him weakly in the arm as he rose. Despite his comparatively low bone density, it was still a frail hit, and he looked back in surprise. “That was for keeping me in the dark,” she said hoarsely, but he could tell there wasn’t any real blame behind her expression.

“My apologies, milady,” he bowed in an over-exaggerated motion. “Does Her Pompousness want me to gouge my eyes out right now, or just to cut off my tongue as penance for my heinous crime? I won’t be needing it to explain my actions, of course.”

Jaas rolled her eyes. “I know why you did it, Lem. You should have told me, that’s all.”

“Hopefully I’ll never have to be in that situation again,” he said more somberly. He grabbed the Ona ball and pushed it underwater. It was surprisingly heavy, and went under easily. Arico must have weighted it down with something. Carefully, Lem gave it an underwater shove and it vanished into the barrier.

To his side, Jaas was already sitting up and brushing wet hair out of her face. She’d changed a lot since the last time he’d seen her, and it wasn’t just her hairstyle. She seemed more weathered. As if she’d been carrying a great weight for a long time.

Apparently literally. Her upper body was clearly stronger, and he could see muscle definition in her arms, neck and legs. It was sometimes hard to recognize the signs of exercise in non-pescah people, but with her it was obvious.

Part of Lem was still overwhelmed by all of this. It was actually happening! Jaas had returned, which meant that any day now, the secrecy of this project of theirs would end! She would reveal her actions to the Imbued, and accept whatever accolades or punishments they felt like dealing out. And he would be at her side, he’d decided months ago. She was in there, risking her life day in and day out. How could Lem possibly consider hiding his involvement next to that kind of dedication?

“Arico should have gotten the message by now,” Jaas said softly, coughing once more. “He’ll be here any minute. Be ready.”

Arico was leaving the city too?? That surprised Lem, but he kept quiet and readied himself anyway. Jaas had her reasons, and there was always a method to her apparent madness. Ahead of him, the water rippled again, and a sheep-stomach container floated to the top.

It was no different than the containers they’d used to exchange letters for a long time now. Exchanging a glance with Jaas, Lem snagged it and opened it with practiced ease. Inside, nestled among the hard rocks used as ballast, was a small scrip of paper. Lem used a simple spell to dry his webbed hands, and then retrieved it and held it up for Jaas to see. There was only one thing on the paper. An inkstain.

After a moment Lem finally recognized the stain. It was the exact same shape that he and Jaas had agreed upon earlier. The same shape she was supposed to use as a secret message to him.

“That little bastard!” Jaas exclaimed. She took the paper in her own newly-dried hands and turned it over. There was nothing else on it. “So, everything he told me was a lie? He never intended to leave with me—he was just telling me what I wanted to hear!”

“What are you talking about, Jaas?” Lem asked with increasing confusion. “What is going on here?”

“Arico’s being a stubborn idiot, that’s what’s going on,” Jaas said with obvious worry adding to the outrage in her voice. Her tone didn’t last long, though. “I suppose I knew deep down he wasn’t going to leave,” she admitted with a sigh, after a moment, “not even if we could get help and come back in time. Still, he could have told me the truth. Just like you could have,” she added with another glare at him.

Lem wisely kept his mouth shut. Whatever had happened in Patchwork was clearly disastrous, to force her to take the potion so early, so he was just glad she’d escaped. As to why Arico had lied, Lem had a theory. Maybe Jaas wasn’t willing to admit it to herself yet, but Lem had gotten a very clear impression from the letters he’d read, from both of them. He seriously doubted she would have left if she knew Arico was staying.

It might not have been love—Lem was far from an expert in those matters—but it certainly was loyalty.

Jaas was calming down a bit after her minor outburst. She was back in problem-solving mode again. Gods, Lem had missed her. She always knew what to do, and she was one of the few people like that whom Lem trusted implicitly. “Lem, can you still open portals at great distances?” She asked out of the blue.

“Uh—yes. If I’ve been there before, anyway,” he said, a little startled. “It doesn’t really matter how far away it is. Why?”

“Could you take us back to the Academy, then?” She requested, ignoring his question. “I’d teleport us there myself, but I’m a little out of practice.”

“Sure thing,” he said patiently, and picked up his pack again in preparation. “Are we gonna meet with the Imbued, at last? Will we finally be telling them what we’ve been up to?”

Jaas shook her head sharply, and then winced and held a hand to her temple. “Ouch. No, not just yet. Arico may be fine with acting like a fool and sacrificing himself like that, but I’m not gonna make it so easy for him. I’ve been thinking up backup plans for two days now, and I think I’ve got a good one.” She grabbed his shoulder and used it to steady herself as Lem carefully opened a portal and connected it with another one back home. “Come on. I’ll tell you what’s been happening on the way, but we have to move. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and not much time.”


On the other side of the paper-thin barrier, Nemith turned to Arico. “Are you sure about this? There’s still time for you to go through. They probably haven’t left yet.”

Arico nodded, with a sick feeling in his stomach. “It’s for the best. She’s done all the good she can do in Patchwork, and she’s much safer out there than sticking around. She probably wants to bite my head off right now, but at least this way she gets to keep hers.”

Sabra leaned in between them. “Can we go now? Sabra doesn’t like being out in the open like this.”

Nemith chuckled, and reached out to both of them. “Sure. We’re done here anyway.”

Arico held up an arm though, before Nemith could move towards the threads. “Let me. We’ve got a stop to make first.”

After a surprised glance at each other, both of his companions trustingly took hold of his arms, and Arico jumped into the threads. It was becoming second nature by now to just pull on them, especially when they were this close. He felt like he was finally starting to understand how his sister felt. No wonder she was so confident in her abilities—she could cut through anything, and vanish from anywhere!

Arico navigated them to another destination, and then opened a window and stepped through it before either of them had a chance to see through it. Into the Deathwatch patch. They weren’t at the usual spot where visitors came and went, but more to the north behind some of the taller stone buildings. Nemith clearly didn’t recognize the area, but Sabra did. He took in a deep breath of surprise, and then focused on Arico. “What is this?” He asked suspiciously.

There was that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach again. “I knew this day would come eventually,” Arico said softly, looking up at his friend. “Ever since you and Jaas came back from the Thornes. I forgave you for lying to us because I’d already come to know what kind of a man you are. What kind of a person all the Thornes are. I’m grateful to know you, Sabra. Still, I have to let you go, just like I had to let Jaas go. At least this time I can say a proper goodbye.”

Sabra had always been much smarter than people thought, and he clearly grasped what was going on. Similarly, his grip on Arico’s arm tightened painfully. As if that could make any difference. Nobody who couldn’t navigate—even someone as strong as Sabra was—could force a navigator to take them through the threads.

As for Nemith, he looked surprised at first, but then resigned as well. He must have known that they couldn’t hide Sabra for long. He was even more recognizable than Jaas or Arico. He’d been spotted by Sustained people while he’d been helping Arico stop the city-wide poisoning, so the Council definitely knew the Deathwatch Monster was still among the living. It was only a matter of time before they sent people to kill him; he was far too public an enemy for them to ignore.

“Little man can’t be serious!” Sabra protested. “Without the dwarves, little man needs as much help as he can get! Don’t just leave Sabra here like this!”

Arico shook his head. “It’s the only way, Sabra. You know this patch like the back of your hand; you’ll be safer here than anywhere else. I don’t know what your sister or the other Thornes have planned, but until they come to get you, this is the best place for you. And you never stopped being a Deathwatcher, after all. If the Council comes after you, Boss Bloodeye will protect you.” He grunted sarcastically. “If you need any protection, that is.”

He slipped his arm free of Sabra’s suddenly weakening grip, and slowly turned back towards the threads. “Don’t do this, little man,” Sabra insisted as they turned away. “Little man! Arico!”

Arico stopped dead, and slowly turned around. The giant was just standing there, hunched over as usual. Just as he had been the first time they’d met.

It was one of those rare moments for Arico. One of those times where no words pass between people, but a great deal is shared all the same. Sabra’s fear and frustration, not for his own fate, but for Arico. Arico’s own willingness to die, of which Sabra was clearly aware by now. Their shared grief that Jaas was gone, no matter how necessary it had been for her to leave. A thousand different hopes and dreams and fears and loves and hatreds—all condensed into a few moments of silence.

Sabra finally looked away. “Good luck, little man,” he said with a tremor in his voice, and with a heave of effort leapt up into the air. Arico caught a glimpse of him as he pulled his weight over the side of a nearby building, and then he was gone.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 03:53:08 AM by Daen »