Chrono Continuum Chapter 46
The normal scene should have been prosperous. Spaceships coming and going. Business deals being made, happy couples visiting this scenic world. Some off-worlders marveling at the fact that magic seemed to truly exist in some areas of the world. People of all ages listening to tales written down long ago, of the floating kingdom of Zeal, of the seven heroes, of the wars throughout the ages.
But it wasn't so. And no one knew how it was supposed to be, except one man... And the Almighty one would have no reason to tell everyone else, not when his Kingdom truly ruled the world. And so the world sucked for everyone but the Everlasting, who lived in their man-made paradise, while the off-worlders tried to attack.
It hadn't been more than a few decades since the off-worlders discovered that the fate of this poor planet could affect them as well, if they didn't change things. But it didn't look well. Most of the off-worlders didn't know magic existed until now, and a devastatingly small percentage of them actually knew how to fight it. And furthermore, any technological attack was simply pushed aside, and sometimes mimicked by someone called "Techie".
Still, none of this affect Gaimin much. He'd lived a poor life in the squalor of some abandoned city ruins all his life, and couldn't even imagine what it would be like to live in the Kingdom. So, he lived on what he could. He'd been born rather deformed, mostly in the face, so much so that no one would live around him, and the few people in the ruins who lived decent lives wouldn't hire him. But that face sometimes inspired enough pity that people would give him food, clothes, or money. And he supposed that was good enough for him.
He awoke in the middle of the street. He'd once heard that people used to ride around in metal things on these streets, but that was so long ago that it wasn't a concern. He stood up, scratching his beard. It had been a year since he'd last shaved. Maybe in about two years he'd do it again. It helped hide some of his face. He turned around suddenly, as he felt a cold presence. It wasn't his imagination.
Down the street, he could see a man walking, his cloak billowing out in front of him, for some reason. Then Gaimin realized that the cloak was actually billowing out behind the man, who was walking... backwards. Gaimin was at a loss as to explain how, but it was so. It occurred to him that he might be from the Kingdom. Maybe he'd have food, or magic to make his face normal. He waited for the man to pass him, and called out to him. The man stopped.
"Excuse me, sir," began Gaimin, trying to see a face in the cloak. He couldn't. "Where are you from?" The man didn't respond didn't even look at him. He tried again. "Are you from the Kingdom?" No response. "Do you have magic?"
"Yes," the man answered, in a voice that chilled him to the bone.
"Could you cast a spell on me? Maybe one so that I wouldn't be hungry for a while? I'd give you anything I had to not be hungry." Gaimin had been told magic was bad, but this person couldn't do much worse to him than had already been done.
"You can? Please, do so!"
The hood of the cloak turned to him. "Why should I?"
"I-I'll give you whatever I have... I can find things for you... If you're here on a mission from the Kingdom, I could show you around, help you."
"Agreed. In exchange for your... services, you will never hunger again."
Gaimin nodded, almost jumping with joy. "Yes! Alright. Can you do it now?"
"Yes." And the man threw his cloak back, to reveal his body. But there was nothing there. Nothing but a shadow. And the shadow reached out, and put its hand on Gaimin's face. Gaimin's scream was short, and ended abruptly. The body of the beggar fell to the ground with a thump, as the cloaked figure let it fall.
Reaching up, the hood of the cloak was pulled back, to finally reveal a face. Gaimin's face. The thing that looked like Gaimin looked down at his hands, no longer shadows, but flesh and bones. It would do until he could get a better body, or until this one ran out of life. He looked down at the body before him, now devoid of a soul.
"Talk about a good bargain," the thing remarked, in Gaimin's voice.
Hotwire sighed as she let her back slide down the crate. From the smell, she guessed it was filled with tomatoes. She reflexively reached down to her sack to get a box of cigarettes, but remembered that she'd smoke them all already. Just as well. They would've rotted her teeth eventually, and she was already trying to quit. Not having any might be a problem for a few weeks, until she could get over it. She smiled. Maybe Rakin could heal her of her addiction. Or Dalton.
Just then, the tent flap opened, and in came the wizard himself. "Well, speak of the Devil," Hotwire remarked.
Dalton didn't even bother asking why he might be the topic of conversation, especially when she was alone. He sat down opposite her, sighing as she had done. He looked almost as tired as she felt.
"Well," she asked, "any news?"
Dalton shook his head. "He's still comatose, if that's what you're asking. He hasn't changed since he started breathing again last night." Hotwire lowered her head, but Dalton reached out with his left hand and raised her chin. "Don't worry. If he's anything like his dad, he'll be up and fighting in no time."
She nodded, smiling, but her expression soon changed, into one of fear. "Dalton," she asked, pointing "what is that?"
He looked down on the ground before him and gasped. There, in the dust, lay a human finger. The end wasn't bleeding, but simply looked black, as if ink ran in its veins. Dalton recognized that color all too well. Lifting up his other hand, he confirmed what he had thought. Between the middle finger and the tiny finger of his right hand, was a black stump, where the fourth finger should have been. "Damn," he whispered, "it's starting."
"What is," Hotwire asked, grossed out (to say the least) by the four-fingered hand.
"I guess you could call it Hell Rot. I assume you know the origin of the Hellbound?" Hotwire nodded. "Well, I was one of them, although you could say I was the exception to the norm, when it came to them. I'd never really died in the first place. I'm lucky the Almighty One brought me back. Because I hadn't died, the Almighty One never had complete control over me, like he did over the others. And as a result, I escaped. Still, he had brought me back, and there was a price to pay. I couldn't survive without him. If he doesn't restore me, or any of the other Hellbound periodically, we begin to fall apart."
"So, you left the Kingdom, knowing you would die as a result."
He smiled self-consciously. "Well, I was hoping that I could cure myself of it after the war was over. Sadly, I don't think I'll survive that long."
Hotwire's expression was serious. "How long have you got?"
"I'd say... a few weeks. But it will get to a point where I'll be useless. This stuff won't kill me. But, I'll eventually just be a head, unless someone else kills me." He got up. "I've got... thinking to do. Please excuse me." He paused. "Oh, and I'd burn that finger. It'll cause disease if left there." And he walked out.
Reaching over, she gingerly picked up the severed digit with a thumb and forefinger, got up, and walked outside. She walked over to the closest campfire, and threw it in. Almost immediately, it caught aflame. It burned a strange dark green color, and green smoke started coming from the fire. Hotwire decided to stay away from that smoke, and hoped others would be smart enough to.
When she came back into the tent, she found Lauren sitting in Dalton's spot. Hotwire considered telling her that just a moment ago, a walking dead man had been sitting there. Nah. She sat down opposite the brunette, nodding a greeting. Lauren didn't return it, looking off in thought. Hotwire was about to ask her if anything had happened to Rakin, but figured that Lauren wouldn't be here if so. She'd be there, so the first thing Rakin saw would be her, like a bird hatching from a shell, and thinking of the first thing it saw as its mother. Although she guessed that Lauren wanted to be identified as something very different from a mother.
"What do you think of the King," Lauren asked, abruptly.
"Excuse me," Hotwire asked, snapping out of her thoughts.
"What do you think of the King?"
"The King," Hotwire repeated, "I don't know. Anything specific you want my opinion on?"
"Isn't he handsome?"
"Uh... I guess. A bit too old for my taste. But he looks a lot like Rakin. And I can see the affect that would have on you, Lauren."
"And strong," she continued, ignoring Hotwire completely. "That must be how Rakin got to be so fit."
"And charismatic. All of his men follow his word to the letter. I think they'd die for him."
"Do you think that kind of leadership ability is hereditary?"
"Maybe. It seems to have passed on to Rakin."
"You're right. He's so much like his father."
"I think maybe you mean his father's so much like him. I don't like the look in your eyes. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were falling in love with the King in the absence of Rakin."
"Love?" She shook her head. "No, no. But, he's so strong, and handsome, and intelligent..."
"And married," Hotwire stated firmly.
"Hm?" Lauren was shaken out of her dream-like state.
"He's married, and far too loyal and honest to..." She tried to calm down. Maybe it was just fantasy on Lauren's part, and not any real plans. "He's all of those things you said, but more importantly, he's one of the few people who can help save the world. Concentrate on that Lauren."
"Yes," Lauren said, dreamily. "You're right. He is married. And he's so loyal, he wouldn't refuse his wife anything."
Lauren abruptly stood up, and walked out of the tent. Hotwire wondered if Lauren had heard a word she didn't want to hear. Probably not. But Hotwire was too tired to deal with that... with that... Calm down there, girl. Maybe she's simply in denial of this whole situation. Maybe that's why she's throwing herself at Rakin. And there was no reason to get upset about her sudden infatuation with the King. Even if anything did happen, and Lauren tried something, the King could handle himself. Couldn't he?
The Reaper is always a step behind me...
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