DARKER THAN THE SHADOWS
By Paul Nathans
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, yes, I'm well-aware that I have PATHWAYS OF FOREBODING to finish. I'm getting to it! Sheesh! I do have SAGA FRONTIER to play, though. Great game, similar to WILD ARMS in the way you are absorbed in it immediately, thus able to live the characters, yet nothing compared to TACTICS, in my opinion. To anyone else who's reading this, don't worry about Spoilers, its the portion in the Instruction Booklet.
Dedications: To Chase Compton, Co-Author of Takkera: Gates of Creator, and who really taught me how to write
To Fritz Fraundorf, writer of The Guardian Amulet Saga and Co-Author of the Guardian Amulet FAQ
To The Athena 'Faniverse' Group: Ryan Stout, Scott Mercure, Scott Iskow, Jewel Faulkner, Shannon Hearn, and the writer of that newbie (sorry, forget your name as of the current time!)
And for this Fanfic, to Elik, who taught me about prose in writing
DARKER THAN THE SHADOWS
One small mouse scurried above on the pipes, hidden from view, concealed in the everlasting gray of the Cell in Despair. It bolted towards a grate in the wall, vanishing; not into shadows, but into darkness.
Where there were shadows all around, there could be room for none.
Below, Emelia Aluna took her first tentative steps into what was to be her new, and last, home, probably for the rest of her life. Blonde hair cascading down her back, matted and in tatters, it showed the signs of emotional turmoil. Troubled eyes gazed around this place, noticing the single cot at the other side of the semicircle room. A blue-and-white-striped shirt and green lower garments did nothing to stop the chill; nor the heat.
In here, there was only grey, darker than the shadows.
"Not such a bad place," she spoke, only to hear her own words, to cut through the gloom that threatened to overwhelm her.
Not a bad name for this place. She wondered how many inhabitants had been claimed by its namesake already. For a High-Security Prison, it certainly didn't show. It didn't show anything, save sorrow.
"I suppose I could get used to it."
For indeed, it was to be her new home. After all, didn't an assassin deserve such a place!?
"Tastes like Cafeteria Food."
The Lunchroom was filled with the chatter of many.
Human, Mystic, Monster, all were alike in Despair.
That name again, doing nothing but to amplify the sadness that came from this place. They all sensed it, it seemed, they spoke barely in whispers. The blue-tiled floors did nothing to shine light upon this place.
Some would leave, yet all were enshrouded in a void.
Emelia sat alone at a table in the upper-right corner of the room, what served as right to one coming through the door, second seat from the top, so as to spread her food out. So as to remain away from the others.
She wasn't like them, at least, not yet. Sadness permeated this place, only she would not give in to it yet. Not yet.
She looked-up as a girl emerged from the entrance, carrying a tray. Not only was the food like ones served in Cafeterias, it was arranged that way. Except for the service; you could order outside, not inside, one at a time. Escape wasn't allowed here, no openings could be used.
No one had ever escaped.
The tawny-haired woman, green-and-white-shirt and red lower garments doing nothing to herald her presence, turned and waved to a purple-haired lady at another table, wearing an orange-and-white-striped-shirt and blue lower garments. They engaged in a short conversation before the tawny-haired one headed towards her.
"Is this seat taken?"
For a moment she wanted to scream. How dare this intruder take away her cloak of sadness!!?? She changed her mind shortly, though, and shook her head, patting the seat to her left.
The lady sat down and arranged her food.
Tense seconds passed, both waiting for the other to acknowledge her companion's present. Finally the tawny-haired lady broke the silence. "My name's Annie," she said politely. "What's yours."
Emelia turned to her, placing the Milk Carton she'd been drinking on the table. "Emelia Aluna," was all she said, before turning her head back.
"Nice name. How'd you end up here?"
All it took was that slight prompting to bring back the memories in a flood of shattered glass, a siren's call causing mists to move-away in her mind.
Shrike was as busy as always.
Emelia walked down one of the southern streets of the northeast district, a shopping bag slung over her back. Her destination was the one-story house near the southern end of the street, the one with the white driveway and the door to the side up a small marble path left of finely-trimmed bushes. Her blue-green shorts billowed in the breeze, hair tossed-back by the faint winds.
Cars moved by, people strolled-about. This was Shrike, third-largest city on the whole Planet of Margmel. Second was Manhattan, First was Koorong.
Emelia's mood did not reflect her light steps, nor her movements, punctuated by the aqua-and-yellow shirt she wore. Ren had promised her once they were wed he'd quite IRPO (Inter-Regional Police Officers) and settle down. They'd been all-set for the wedding, which was to come the following day.
Until he'd found-out about Cube.
What it was, he wouldn't disclose. All he told her was he'd discovered presence of a rumored object near Yorkland and would be back to the house they'd bought to live in after their wedding the following day. He'd missed his ship, so she'd gone to pick him up, only to wish she hadn't.
He had to continue his work, for reasons he didn't want to tell her. He didn't want to bring her into this, if Trinity found out what he'd discovered his life was as good as over. She'd reminded him of his promise, he'd reminded her that lives were at stake, she'd finally broke-down when he handed her his "no one live is more-important than the billions of others on this Planet!" speech he used when facing-down someone.
She hadn't seen him since they'd come home, she hadn't even said goodbye, nor vice-versa. Now she had to set things straight, she shouldn't have screamed.
She paused halfway up the driveway, thoughts resolving themselves in her mind. 'How should I apologize to him, anyway?' She hadn't considered it really, so she was left with a pin-on-a-Lummox-Tail decision. 'Maybe 'Ren, I'm sorry for what happened yesterday.'?'
She discarded that one with a grimace. Dispite her past as a Fashion Model, she wasn't some petite damsel in distress. Too classy. Waaay too classy.
'Maybe 'Ren, I'm sorry, it was all my fault.'?' No, it hadn't all been her fault. She discarded that one too.
'I guess I'll just show him my wedding dress,' she resolved.
The first thing she noticed that was out-of-place was the unlocked door.
'Why would Ren leave the door unlocked? These are dangerous times especially for IRPO Patrol Officers.' Wonder was replaced by a gnawing fear as she heard static from a Television in the Living Room ahead and to her left.
She rushed in.
The cry of "Ren!!" escaped her lips even as she halted in mid-step, taking-in the scene in the Living Room all at once.
Ren lay prostrate on the floor, in front of the Television, which was even now showing static, blood pooled around him, especially near his head, quite obviously with a bullet hole through it. She may very well have lost her Breakfast, if not for the other abnormality in this room.
All the other furniture was in place, the abnormality was a slim humanoid pointing a Gun at her, an AGUNI-MBX from the looks of it. The slimness was most-likely there from taut muscles, drawn and well-worn, not befitting one with twig-like legs. He wore green pants and a shirt with dark-green suspenders. His hair was either colored dark-green, or was green.
His face, though his face was what was chilled her the most out of any of the humanoid's features. Shrouded by the Mask of a Joker Tarot's Face, cold red eyes seemed to penetrate from beyond, mocking her, shattering her insecurities and giving her a dread that seemed to eat-away at her very essence.
She couldn't muster the strength to speak, the other didn't even speak, just moved to the window, still training the gun on her. It was opened quietly, after the Human/Mystic/Mec/Monster had exited, the velvet curtains were drawn shut again; the window was closed quietly.
It was several minutes before Emelia could even move.
She did lose her Breakfast then, and remained in a kneeling position, new tears streaming down her cheeks for a long time.
Annie's voice broke through the tidal wave of emotions and memories. Emelia blushed briefly, realizing she'd been reciting her woes aloud as the memories came back. A half-hearted glance at her Lunch Tray showed that she hadn't touched her food for the whole time this had happened.
"He had a mask like a face on a Joker Tarot!" she said, attempting to breach the uncomfortable silence. The memories rushed-back again, a tsunami submerging her in shattered hopes; leaving her unnoticed of the brief flash of recognition that crossed the other's eyes.
"Could you repeat that, please?"
The voice of Fuse Lenari was sharp and commanding. This IRPO Patrol Officer had seen more than his share of assassinations, she could tell that by his steely gaze, speaking of hoarse sorrow beyond imaginings. Here in the dark recesses of IRPO Headquarters, sitting across the desk from this man, that gaze seemed menacing, almost self-loathing.
"I said, he/she/it wore a mask that looked like the face on a Joker Tarot," she responded in a whisper. The events of the morning hadn't receded enough to give her the strength to speak in a normal voice. How she'd managed to board a RegionShip to Koorong; followed by a subsequent one to IRPO, she didn't know.
She'd just done so.
"That's interesting? He held an AGUNI-MBX?"
She nodded, exasperation showing. Out of all the Patrol Officers in IRPO, she was stuck with this one.
"And where were you at the time of the shooting?"
"What is that supposed to mean!!??" she shouted, clenching her fists. Similar questions had been handed-off to her earlier, each one strange, questions that wouldn't normally be asked to someone reporting an assassination. "Why am I being asked all these strange questions, anyways!?"
Fuse sighed, brushing back a wisp of stray tan hair, as if resigning himself. "Lady," he began, the manner in which she spoke cutting through her like a Shadow Dagger cut through a Sun Ray ,"The man who you describe reported he saw you arguing with the victim yesterday."
"Ren's one of the best. We were together in the Academy, Graduated together, joined IRPO together. He'd never have been shot unless caught by surprise."
What was he insinuating!? She took several deep breaths, forcing herself to calm down. "Meaning?" she responded again, this time an edge of steel in the question.
"Don't try to deny it!" he snapped. "Why'd you shoot him!?"
Cold froze her bones in place like an Arctic Breath tearing through a place of pure shadows. All her grief and sadness was now replaced by indignation and fear.
"I don't know what you're talking about!!" she retorted. "I loved him! I was going to marry him! Why would *I* shoot Ren!!??"
Fuse stood up so fast she could still hear the echoing sounds of his brown boots meeting the ground, his palms slapping the desk, an echo looming over what she was already feeling. His muscles stretched taut under his white shirt and blue jeans.
"Why'd you shoot him!!?? In rage, jealousy!!?? For money!!??"
"I did not shoot Ren," she answered.
"Ren's a nice cop, unlike me!" he shouted, grabbing her arms and forcing him to look in his eyes. His voice dropped so low she had to strain her ears to hear it. "I'd shoot you right now if I could," he whispered.
She yanked her arm free. "So you're just going to throw me in jail!? Without any trial at all!!??" She searched his face for any change of emotion, found none.
He settled back in his blue-black chair, eyes still on her. "Lady, the evidence is there. I'm placing you under arrest for assassination."
"Tell it to your Boss!" she responded. "I hope you're fired within the next day or so!" She got up, spinning on her heel, and walked out of the office. She was dimly aware of someone jumping her from behind, twisting her arms behind her back. A hand pressed to her throat, steadily increasing her blood pressure until darkness claimed her.
"So that's it, huh?"
Annie was much closer to her than the undertone of chatter, a clear voice that rang through her head, soothing, in a way. She simply nodded.
"This is what? the 4th, 5th, 6th Time I've been here?" she spoke aloud, taking a bite out of her food. Emelia waited while she pressed her drink to her lips and swallowed, deciding it wouldn't hurt to hear the rest of her story.
"Why?" she voiced.
"I was attacked by a bunch of jerks who turned-out tougher than they looked." Either she was an incredibly-good-actor, or she was telling the truth. Emelia was inclined to believe the former. "I've felt safer in here in my other stays, so I had to beat up a few guards before they threw me in."
Emelia simply nodded. That was true about this place, it was safe. She hadn't needed anybody until she met Ren, she could go on that way for the rest of her life if she had to. It had been two days since the assassination, two days. Part of her was accusing her of forgetting Ren, but the more-prominent part told her Ren wouldn't have wanted her to suffer.
She turned back to her food.
A Prison Guard slammed open the back door and walked in, carrying a microphone. Most stopped their talk to turn to him, she did too, wondering what this was. What was this, a Auditorium, too?
The Guard, tall and lanky, with close-cropped tan-brown hair, wearing the traditional navy-blue garb of the Despair Patrol, plugged in the microphone and held it to his mouth, taking a deep breath.
"Ladies and gentlemen, all races alike, this is the chance you've been waiting for!!" He sounded somewhat like a circus clown superimposed over a foggy valley.
"This is the Warden's favorite pastime," Annie whispered. "Listen."
She didn't even respond, for she was already doing that.
"All you have to do is touch the Freedom Rune hidden deep within the shadows of Despair and you'll be granted a full pardon! Upon our signal this afternoon you'll have 5 Minutes and you're not allowed to beat up any of our Guards!"
He disconnected the microphone and strode out, slamming the door closed as abruptly as he'd opened it. Footsteps were heard receding down the stairs to the right of the door, obviously towards the main prison areas.
Some of the people in the room cracked-up, others started talking in fervent whispers. Whatever the talk was about, the volume of the room had suddenly increased to an excited pitch.
"The Warden's actually encouraging *escape*!!??" What kind of sick jest was this!? Had everyone who served a specific position in the Law gone insane!?
"He knows its impossible," Annie responded. "Only one person ever made it and goodness knows what's happened to him!!"
"Are you going to try?" She didn't know where that had come from, she'd just turned back to the other woman and asked.
"Sure!" she responded. "Why not!?"
Neither of them said an entire thing for the rest of the Lunch Period.
She was sitting in her Cell when the door was opened. A familiar figure slipped inside, followed by another, less-familiar, one.
"Its started!" Annie said quietly, the other lady closing the door behind them.
Emelia gave a curt nod. She'd heard, she wasn't interested.
"Why are you in here?" That question surprised her too, having escaped her mouth before she could stop it.
"We were wondering if you wanted to come with us, instead of alone," Annie answered. "The Freedom Maze can be a pretty large place, curving around the inner-sections of the central and middle sections of Despair. The doors to Cellblocks are closed no will be closed in the next minute. They're open now and guarded by Hermes Mecs. Partnerships are allowed, if there are escape attempts, the two Mecs can usually deal with that. The 5 Minute Statement is a ruse to get people to hurry and wander into the clutches of the Guards, I found that out while scouting-around each time this mission was offered! You could be in the maze for days and starve! So we thought you might want help!"
From a world of shattered dreams to a world of smashed dreams. Why leave when there was nothing left for her?
Did it matter?
"I'll come," she said.
"This is Liza." Annie pointed at the purple-haired girl she'd seen in the Cafeteria earlier. "We're gonna' escape together."
For the first time, the other spoke-up. "Annie and I have done this before, traveled around the area. We basically know where not to go, and the only probable place to go! I'll fill you in just in case we're separated." She took a deep breath.
"This is the Third Floor of Despair. We'll start below these Cellblocks, which are shaped like Spider-Webs, starting at the Central Area. The Lunchroom is pure-center, a staircase leads up from the Laundry Area up past the First Floor to it. On the other side is one leading down to the Rest and Recreation Chambers for the Police Personnel here, with a separate exit, obviously on ground floor, first floor. Pipes are placed between the floors and walls, there's a drop-off down to the First Floor between the East and West Cellblocks, where we are. Others have to take the elevators down to the recreation area, up, past the Lunchroom, south of which is where the main prison hallways are accessed from this maze; they're also accessed at several points from the Rest and Recreational Area. This may mean we're in the clear, but I doubt it. There's a window leading to the Mec Rooms south of the Locker Area we'll drop into, which is directly south of the lunchroom. West is the main entrance, it'll be locked and guarded on the outside, obviously, same as the Back Entrance from the Fire Escape at the Upper Cellblocks in the back of this prison. There's a Laundry Dropoff near the Locker, a trap, don't take it unless you want to find out where they discard any Monsters that revert to their less-evolved senses during the escapes.
"We'll be taking another group of pipes past the elevator that leads to the Upper Six CellBlocks, it stops near the FireEscape, but is rendered inactive unless there's any emergencies. It should take us to one of the ledges in the open CellBlocks, Southeast Ones, that extend from Floor Three to Basement 2, and around to the Laundromat Hallways. We'll have to pass through the Laundromat Room, which is just east of the way to the Lunchroom, but we won't end up with the laundry and in risk of being cornered. Ignore the elevator, it takes you up to the MecArea and we'll have to backtrack. In the Laundry Room there's a sewer pipe that connects to the Northwest Open Area, and one Human-Sized Conveyor Velt that moves back to the room with the one-way MecElevator, a trap. Down south, back in the Central Area is a Laser Maze, the only area not checked, so its our destination! From there, we'll be doing some more searching, I guess!"
Emelia's head spun. "I'll just follow you two."
Annie placed her hand on a Laser Knife, she noticed alarmingly, that was strapped in a Heating Sheath, to her left hip. Annie simply gave her a glance that just confused her even more.
"I guess that settles it, then!" Liza's words were no-longer-rushed, but calm, and deliberate. "We're outta' here!!"
"How?" Emelia asked.
Annie just motioned for her to stand up. She did, and watched as Liza walked over to her cot and snapped it shut, arms straining, moving it aside quickly. She saw why in a second, it could've tilted halfway-down the human-sized pipe there, and been stuck, causing some difficulty. An Automatic Covering hung-down, obviously only opened when this nice little 'game' took place.
Annie just grinned and jumped in; Liza following right after.
Emelia swallowed, closed her eyes, and jumped.
The first thing she was aware of was the hollow sound in the area, along with the smooth metal below her feet. Gray; perpetual gray lined the pipe they were in. Annie was holding her Laser Knife in a hand, pointing north.
Emelia swallowed, following her, looking around as she waited for her eyes to adjust, noticing how this fit Despair easily. The whole place, save the Cafeteria and the Rest and Recreation Areas she'd glimpsed, was gray. The Rest and Recreation Areas were given a light-tan floor, lighter than the dark-brown cobblestone floor that only amplified the oblivion in the main hallways. Even her few glimpses of the Outer CellBlocks showed but a light-blue-green railing at the sides of the ledges, along with aqua and blue-green doors common to the Non-CellBlock Areas. They contrasted with this place, yet did nothing but amplify it even more. There were now shadows here.
So intent was she on her thoughts that she didn't notice when the floor dropped-away beneath her, sending her screaming down a steep pipe. Something light-pink loomed in front of her, rearing-up. She gasped again and threw a punch at the thing, knocking it back, scrambling to her feet before she saw what it was.
It was light-purple-pink, with no face, just a mass of moving goo. It seemed to cringe inwardly before rearing up again, unleashing bubbles of some strange solvent into her face. She moved back, trying to bat the substance away, clenching her eyes at the stinging, crying out again.
There was the sharp crack of a Laser Knife cutting through something, and a brief burst that sounded like explosive bubbles, before her hands were gently taken-away from her eyes by Liza.
"That's the reason for being allowed to use Equipment. Down in Basement 3, that Locked Elevator goes there, they breed these things and space them around the area. They can't take lives, they're too weak to do that, but they serve as a surprise."
"What ?" This was crazier than she had imagined.
"Yes, I forgot to mention the Elevator goes down there too! Its just a circular room with capsules only the Warden can enter, and a locked door leading to a central area. I've seen it in pictures in the Newspapers here, only the Warden and some scientists know the code to enter. Oh, and that the Ledges in the OuterCellBlock only link some Cells, except in some places, the main entrances are outside those entrances into the Open CellBlock."
"Not that!" Emelia snapped, getting to her feet. She shook her head. This truly was crazy. "Why are they here!?"
"They're trained to stay at critical areas, it seems, probably as obstacles." That was Annie. "That's all I know!" she shouted at seeing Emelia's look. "Honest!!"
Emelia sighed again. "Where now?"
Annie ran her fingers over the edges of the vertical pipe. "Not up," she stated. "Too smooth, its lucky no one broke their necks descending." Emelia bristled. "Obviously around and up the ladders. I've wondered before where that drop-off leads to, now I know." She turned.
"Uh, if you don't mind, I'd like to Equip some of this gear." Again the strange voice. She was supposed to be alone wanted to be alone! She still found herself asking for a Backpack, finding-out what was carried amongst the two, and placing some Healing Vials in, as well as putting-on what could serve as armor.
Crazier and crazier! In the advanced areas of Margmel you weren't supposed to need Equipment like this!
The void of shadows just mocked her.
Annie jumped through the hole in the wall, landing in the Locker Room. Before Emelia could protest, Liza had grabbed her and thrown them both down. No sooner had they landed than the door clicked. Annie shoved open a locker and jumped in.
"Hurry, in here!" she shouted.
Liza shoved her in and followed, quietly closing the door, holding her breath, like Annie was. Without knowing, Emelia was holding her breath as well, listening to the footsteps proceeding to the other end of the chamber and back. The door was closed, and Liza opened the locker.
"Don't do that!" was all she said, before spinning and striding towards the benches. Oblivion the locker it chilled her. She retreated into a corner of the room, shivering.
Emelia didn't answer, just clenched her fists. Her elbow jutted back into the wall, causing a panel to swing open. It impacted with something hard, and she spun around.
"Light Bazooka," Annie spoke, removing it and handing it to her.
The door clicked again. Once again she was herded in a locker, waiting as footsteps moved nearer, scouting the room, and receded again. This time when she burst out she spun. "Didn't I tell you not to do that!!??"
"Did you want to be caught!?" Liza responded tartly. "Trust us, we won't hurt you! We're not trying to hurt you!"
-"Trust us, Emelia We're your friends, Emelia "-
"NO!" she snapped. "You won't make me a monster! Not like not like those things we had to harm, maybe even slay, just for being there!!"
She spun, not noticing she still clutched the Light Bazooka, and bolted, slamming open the door and bolting out, not even hearing the cries behind her.
Won't let you stop it who do you think I am you don't rule my life!!
We don't want to hurt you hurt you hurt you
She tripped, falling to the ground, searing pains tearing through her knees. She gasped and staggered up and to the side, crashing into a doorway which opened, sending her down a chute, bouncing off clothes, boxes, stacks of towels, crashing in a heap at the bottom.
'Old laundry laundry chute ' She looked up. Strange flying things, insects buzzing around the room outside of the three Laundromat Cells; she was in the central one. Ignoring the pain in her knees she bolted out, running blindly, opening the door, the flying creatures buzzing and squawking after her. Mecs patrolling in front primitive monsters behind her she bolted again, turning the corner, into another room, up onto a pedestal which took her up into a small square room the size of the one below. She staggered off the elevator and collapsed, backing-up against the wall nearby and placing her arms near an opened chest.
The elevator descended.
Trust us, Emelia we're your friends, Emelia
'Stop it!!' The voices from her past, those lying, manipulative voices that had 'guided' her into her life as a Fashion Model when she was orphaned, that had kept her closed-in, telling her false lies
Trust us, Emelia we're your friends, Emelia
until she'd finally left.
The elevator rose again. She looked-up, hoping it was a Guard come to take her back to her Cell, away from this nightmare the solitude she hadn't felt this miserable since before she'd met Ren
"What happened, Emelia?"
She didn't answer, just flipped open the unlocked chest nearby and placed her elbows on it, looking down into its depths, hoping to lose herself there.
Instead she lifted the Shell Shield inside and slung it over her left shoulder.
"You're hurt." Annie pointed at her legs.
She looked down to see the scrapes there, now noticing the throbbing pain all over her body from the falls. "I can handle it," was all she said. "Let's go!"
This time she followed them. They passed the Mec security, climbed above the Cafeteria, into another maze of pipes. All those voices in her mind those lying voices,
'Stop, please!' she begged.
An orange starfish with a gaping maw and pink fringes lunged-up at Annie. She spun and slashed through the mouth of the Xeno, neatly slicing it in half.
Why do you want to leave? We took you in, you ungrateful little- you have nothing to fear from us don't worry, Emelia
They'd kept her in, lied to her
She followed them, just followed them they were peering in a CellBlock with a skeleton inside, they reversed directions.
She had to wonder what had befallen the poor Human or Mystic or Monster. She was reminded of the image of Mecs rolling around the Lunchroom, gathering food and compressing it, along with stacking trays, the color of the Cell seemed to represent that place so much that pour soul hadn't been lost and starved before being discovered unless it locked itself in.
A hand fell on her shoulder, and she looked up at Annie. The girl flashed a brief, reassuring, smile. "Let's try the other way now."
The two beasts in the Locked Elevator fell swiftly, their leashes dropped by the Sprite, a Female Mystic who'd somehow tamed them.
It twirled a long halberd and lunged at Liza, slashing her across the stomach. She dimly felt herself cock the Light Bazooka, something with a name befitting to it and unleash a shell of incandescent energy.
The thing didn't even have a chance to scream, it crashed into the wall, the parts of it that weren't burnt, save for a few parts, fallen apart.
She paled, backing up, bumping into a chain. Annie silently removed a Cure from her Backpack, zipping it up against once having done so, and administered its contents to the still-wounded Liza, who was up now, but clutching her stomach. "Stay away from me!!" she snapped.
This time the tension in the air could almost be felt
ungrateful little freak!
"Let's just go!" she whispered.
A single tear fell, unheeded. She'd just taken a life, and that made her all Fuse said she was. A life, even if it was only a commonly-despised Mystic 'Most decent people know they're just misunderstood.'
Annie forced herself to keep going, to trod through this empty room filled with useless spotlights. As much as she detested taking lives Aquatic Beasts, Insects, Bird Beasts, Mecs, destroyed, and for no other reason than they'd gotten in their way. In the MecStorage Room Liza had simply Suplexed each Mec, doing sufficient damage to each CPU but not permanent damage, in the case that would disqualify them.
Except the CancerMec, so named because it resembled a CancerCrab of legend. That thing thought of them as escaped monsters, hostile because of their actions it was them or it, she'd performed a concentrated stabbing maneuver commonly known as a Hard Slash, simply cutting through circuitry, giving Liza the chance to Suplex it on the wounded side, causing it to detonate.
It had only gotten-off one shot.
Emelia hadn't even noticed.
And she hadn't noticed as they'd wandered these hallways. She was sinking even-deeper into the shadows. A lost one, she could sense the truth in her eyes, her heart went out to her. She glanced back, but received no acknowledgment the gesture was noticed.
She'd known Annie for quite a while, Emelia, though, was someone she thought needed her help.
How long had she been like that, attempting to care for those who were suffering? How long?
One unnoticed glance at Emelia was all she'd needed to perform to know she'd retreated farther-in towards the void away from shadows that belonged to Despair. To know it had claimed another victim, one weakened already, and easy one. She hadn't doubted her story when it was heard from Annie
maybe if they got out of here a certain friend of theirs would be interested in her story. She didn't know, couldn't truly figure out that she'd become party to a vast conspiracy.
'Yet maybe Emelia only needs help you can't drag her into this just because she got a first clear look at him our fight is ours alone '
What got her in here in the first place. A simple bar brawl at Koorong in the Restaurant she served in, she'd defended someone about to get shot, had ended up breaking that person's legs. Two months here, the same as Annie.
That didn't matter at this time. What was foremost in her mind now was Emelia
She was so lost.
Emelia surveyed the two figures in front of her, focusing her eyes on them. She couldn't tell what they were like, their motives were so mysterious she doubted Ren could've figured them out
'He's gone! Forget him, at least for now!'
One was cheerful, optimistic, the other kind. Yet they were taking lives without being provoked, silencing monsters that could be other escapees, intelligent ones, without knowing. Who were these people?
Annie was the optimistic one, the one who used blades, Liza simply used her fists. Annie, at least, she had some insight to but Liza Liza glanced back at her, causing her to narrow her eyes for a moment.
She didn't even know why she was in prison.
No, she could tell, her attitude clearly-showed she'd somehow ended up in a fight. Yet beyond that, beyond her kind attitude
Who were they really?
"This is it!" Annie announced, twisting a knob on the side of her InfraScope Helmet that she'd just placed on. "Let's get moving!"
Two more bird-creatures, gone. Why was she
She didn't know what would happen if she triggered the Motion Detectors, didn't care. Here it truly was darker than the shadows. Blue-gray posts stuck up from the ground to form the Motion Detectors. Other than that, there was nothing in this place. Nothing but oblivion.
She focused on the two women in front of her, following them for reasons she didn't know. No, she did know. She knew she didn't care where she was, therefore she followed them.
There were Beasts in the room on the other side of what Annie had named the Laser Maze, traveling in groups. Maybe it was the strong breeze coming from the room above, or maybe it was the fact they'd emerged from a pitch-dark room into a lighter room, but she was suddenly awake again.
She could see Liza jump forwards and slide under one of the things, throwing it into the wall. Annie, dispatching the other of this group, spun towards it, thrusting at it hard, the impact of the Laser Knife so strong that the energies that formed it crackled, rippling outwards. The thing fell.
Emelia was aware one from the other group had come at her, a huge bee of sorts. She didn't know how, but she was grabbing onto it, performing the same type of Suplex Liza had used. She'd copied some of her moves when necessary, yet this
All that remained was a red-furred wolf with a white mane. It seemed to hiss and dart forwards, trying to clamp its fangs down on her chest, tear into her heart. She tried to duck, dodged a slash with a paw and slammed into the wall, its claws inches from her. Both Annie and Liza were moving towards the leaping hound; they wouldn't reach it in time, though
She fumbled with the Light Bazooka
it discharged, the thing flew backwards, propelled by the energy blast, slamming into the wall, caught by the explosion, scorched, tatters of flesh all that remained to fall to the ground.
The sign: 2 Shells Left, flashed briefly on the screen above the trigger, yet she didn't notice.
She'd done it again.
She was aware of Annie unzipping a compartment in the Backpack she wore and administering a Cure Potion to her wound. It stung for a few seconds before closing, but that was at the edges of her perception.
Liza's voice. It cut through her, washing-away the darkness, seeming to cut through her heart. It removed the shadows as quickly as the succession of moves performed while pinned in front of that hound took place.
She drew herself taut and didn't answer.
Annie sighed and moved to the door across from them, peering through. Soon after, she turned. "Storage Basement," she announced. "There's stairs on the other side, probably leading-up into the main area. It looks as if it continues around to where the Locked Elevator would be."
"Then we go up there," Liza stated matter-of-factly, pointing at the portal-like entrance through which the wind was coming.
They both glanced at Emelia, then at themselves. It stung to realize what they were probably thinking
poor girl, look at her poor Emelia
and then merged with those other voices
poor Emelia, you don't yet seem to understand poor Emelia, you have nowhere else to go
She drew herself up taut, again, muscles so rigid for one brief instant she felt like a statue locked in place. She turned towards the ladder leading up to the balcony in front of the entrance, moving there determinedly.
Towards the 'Portal Entrance.'
The gusts of wind that hit her were strong enough to blow her across the room and pin her there, almost certainly would have, too, if she hadn't been fast-enough to get a firm hold on the ground. She grabbed onto the edge of the door in case her legs gave way, waiting for the others.
They weren't far behind, Annie was the least-infected, just covered her eyes as she sought a firm stand, Liza simply strained forwards, moving into the long hall in front of them, before leaning against the wall.
"There looks like an incline up here!!" she called.
Annie followed, still shielding her eyes, as did Emelia.
The force of the wind inside the hallway was even-stronger, created by the huge whirling fan at the end of the hallway. Liza marched forwards, heading for the incline that could be seen to their right in this silver-gray ventilation duct, kneeling down.
"It views into a circular room," she announced as soon as the others made their way up to where she was. Annie crouched down and looked in beside her, Emelia simply huddled in front of the fan, clothes flapping in the breeze.
"There's a short ledge on the other side. Beyond it, a steep drop, probably to the floor of the Third Basement!" Annie put in. She moved up, trying to gaze to the side of the ledge. "Typical Despair floor, looks like an opening below, probably sealed, only obvious on this side. Door Frame cover same as usual, blue tile pedestal in the center of the room with silver-gray rails, some large silver stone in the center." She looked up, turning towards her. "This must be it!"
Liza reached in her pocket and pulled-out a simple lock-pick, placing it in an opening at the right side of the Grate Slits while Annie moved back to stand beside the other, also ignoring the wind. Her InfraScope was off, taken off when they'd exited the 'Laser Maze.' Her clothes, too, flapped in the wind.
After a long silence in which only the wind, a twisting lock-pick, the whirring of the fan, and the flapping of clothes, were heard, Liza spoke again. "Can't get it just yet! I'll keep trying!"
Annie turned towards Emelia, perhaps to say something, perhaps to study her. Probably because of the silence so-acutely broken. Emelia tensed.
A skittering noise interrupted them.
Liza moved-away from the Grate after glancing at its origin, while Annie's eyes widened. A hand immediately went to her Laser Knife, Emelia felt her own clench around the Light Bazooka.
"Oh my gosh!!" Liza moved into a fighting-stance as the thing approached.
It had red-orange-and-purple scales, twelve legs on each side of its centipede-like back, all purple, as well as four large, purple, spear-like arms attached to shoulder-like places in the section of it that was reared-up. It filled half the area, bent back and forward like a snake, towering to just their height at this time. If it grew, it could easily be four times their height. It leered at them with a blue-light-purple face, its single, large, eye seeming to laugh at them as much as its gaze.
"Roufas didn't tell us about *this*!!!!!" That was Annie.
The thing attacked before Emelia could even begin to wonder who Roufas was.
It sliced downwards with its 'arms,' charging forwards and coiling its tail at the same time, slashing into Annie and sending her crashing back into the fan like a bundle of tattered sheets.
"Annie!!" Liza's cry sang through the air, unneeded, unnecessary, for she was back on her feet before the wind could hinder her movements, thrusting forwards. The thing shifted posture, slashing at the other two women. Liza chopped at its arms, leaving the thing wide-open for a shot from the remaining one's Light Bazooka.
She aimed and fired, watching as the shell cut into the 'insect's' side, causing it to give-out a shriek-roar, part of it flying backwards, crashing into the Grate, scraping it. A clanging noise could be heard on the other side of the Grate as it arose, letting-out another shriek.
Supersonic green waves tore into each. Emelia covered her ears, clutching them, as her whole body seemed to be torn into by these waves of green that seemed to come from everywhere. The high-pitched shrieking drove her to her knees, as she clutched her chest and coiled backwards not even the wind seemed to hold such force against her, all she wanted to do was cling to nothing in this void blind couldn't see so much pain so much pain!!!!!
The winds behind her, trying to drag her forth, a constant stream of energy at ultrasonic level, making her dizzy, her brain couldn't focus her elbow banged into the Light Bazooka, it fell, she could hear it skitter away on the winds that would throw her away if she wasn't recoiling so hard
and still the pain!!!!!
And then it was gone, the wind there again.
Liza had darted forwards, had a firm hold on the beast's front section, was flipping it backwards, into a well-aimed thrust from Annie's sword, one that penetrated a new wound.
She must've hit the trigger on the Light Bazooka, discharging its last shell, the thrust from the Laser Knife seemed to vibrate into the thing, it writhed, the gun, caught in its tail, was hurled into the niche in the vent to crash there, still.
The thing lashed-out in desperation, knocking Annie back, spinning and kicking up huge clouds of dust in their faces, dust that had gathered on the floor of the Duct, not blown-away. For a moment its face could be seen, before it, too, turned away. There was skittering
once again, silence, save for the wind, wind they'd grown accustomed to now and would only fall prey to if they jumped with it, came. Silence, and gloom.
"Looks like that thing broke through the grate for us!" Liza bent down and picked-up her Lockpick, spared the fate of what its target had been because the target had folded-in on it partially, entrapping it. She handed the still-panting Annie the nearby Light Bazooka before she glanced down.
"That stone's probably the Freedom Rune!" she stated. "Now we just need to touch this thing and we're outta' here!"
Assuming the Warden wasn't joking.
Emelia didn't know, didn't care; she found herself moving towards Annie, looking at her wound critically. She appeared to have only had the wind knocked out of her briefly, if there was a cut there, even a small one, it remained unseen to her eyes.
She handed her the Light Bazooka. "You dropped your weapon, I think."
For the third time, the quiet around her, the enclosure of darkness she'd fallen in, was torn away. And the weapon being handed to her, a smile on her face, the fact she'd felt like she was about to perish for the second time, she suddenly realized
She gave a sharp intake of breath and backed-up.
"What's wrong, Emelia?" That was Liza again. She moved towards her, a comforting smile on her face. She looked at the weapon, at the other two.
Trust us, Emelia we're your friends, Emelia
'No, stop it!'
What's wrong, Emelia? we need you, Emelia we care for you, Emelia
Ungrateful brat! care for Why'd you shoot him!! What's wrong We're your friends your friends your -
"*STOP IT!!!!!*" Her hands rose to her head, clutching it. Annie grabbed for them, trying to look in her eyes
'Leave me alone!!!!!'
She tore free and slapped the tawny-haired woman across the arm as hard as she could.
Annie stepped back, clutching her right arm, a look of surprise on her face.
That was what broke the dam.
All the pent-up emotions suddenly came rushing out of her in a flurry of sobs. She was aware of Annie holding her, rocking her, Liza stroking her back and her hair, trying to comfort her.
her whole life
Finally she stood up.
"I I'm sorry!" She managed to choke out a smile. "I just !"
"We understand!" Liza responded, flashing her a reassuring smile again Annie did too and for once; sooner than she thought she'd be able to after that day, towards people she never though she could trust; she knew the smiles were sincere.
"Annie told me your story. Its only normal." She smiled again. "What now?"
"Now " answered Emelia, extending her hands, the left one grabbed by Liza and the right one grabbed by Annie ," we get out of here!"
She smiled as the two led her towards the grate, one she'd only have to duck through; she smiled as they drew her through the gate
and out of this gloom darker than the shadows, towards a new, happy, place in her life.
COPYRIGHT: All characters Copyright Square Corporation. No infringement intended. Oh, and the following beginnings of a song from LUNAR: ETERNAL BLUE, one which just felt like it fit here, is Copyright Working Designs Corporation. No infringement is intended there, either.
When I was alone as one,
My eyes were as blind, I know.
Sky brilliant with blue elegance,
I couldn't behold.
When I was alone as one,
My heart was as ice, so cold.
Wind whispering sweet melodies,
I could not behold.
Paul Nathans' Fanfiction