“Aggressive fear and anger, followed by meditation, and then – let’s just call it joy shall we? You need a graph similar to that,” Fane pointed at the paper in disdain as the group stood around him on the jump deck in the ship. He was stripped down to little more than a pair of spandex shorts, his feet cold on the slick surface of the brilliantly blue, round, half-orb centered at the head of the bridge. Dinner had been just as hurried as lunch.
Preparations were made. It was nearly midnight and he had not had the luxury of rest. He felt drained and wanted to go lie down. But Sophia had gotten it in her head after reviewing her tablet and running calculations on the scan she had ran earlier in the day that Fane was in good enough shape to test out the portal. His skin was dotted with a myriad of metal electrodes. The domed portion of the orb was tied into a massive ring fit snugly to the nose of the craft. By some magic Sophia and her machinists had conjured up what she said was a replica of the portal ring from the base. The orb was supposed to be some kind of massive transponder that would filter Fane’s ability and activate the ring. He was still having a hard time believing it, but there was no denying the fact that most of the European and Asian continents were completely wiped from the map from an interdimensional creature.
He looked up and sighed. Above him, the two story space had been retrofitted from the original plan. A rig was being bolted in to give him space to work. Along one wall was a myriad of equipment spots for aerial work already. Silks, ropes, straps, trapeze swing, and even a hoop were being secured by a rather avid machinist fan of Fane who had claimed dibs on seeing any more performances in exchange for material sourcing. Fane narrowed his eyes at the equipment spots. Those had been machined aweful fast. The machinist was in the midst of turning a proper flange that would integrate with the portal floor and not damage it for a removable pole. The man was even working out the rig system with one of the ships engineers to be lightweight enough to meet the weight requirements.
The machinist had pulled Yeller aside when he found out he was a music major and arranged to take him on his sourcing trips into St. Petersburg to collect a few more precious pieces of equipment. Yeller had shut himself up with the machinist while Fane was getting speckle dotted with electrodes. The rig was going to have a series of spot lights hung into it that all flowed down to a rather extensive dj system – provided the music store in town hadn’t been looted yet. It appeared that Yeller and Fane were turning into the ship’s main form of entertainment. Fane wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about that at the moment – just from one performance that morning.
Nat glanced at Bern who shrugged his shoulders. He had only been given a quick explanation by Corbin that all hands needed to be on deck for a flight drill. They were giving the portal a test run to see if it was possible to open and close it. Yeller returned from the machinist with Sven between them on a stretcher. They eased Sven to the floor. Fane hissed, aware that Sven probably shouldn’t even be up. He was still attached to an IV and a portable monitor. Fane glanced at Sophia, not amused. He was beginning to wonder if she understood that people outside of herself were living, breathing, pain-feeling creatures too.
“That would be ideal. As we’ve noticed, we can’t dope your system with conventional drugs, so I can’t just synthetically force your system to do the thing we need it to do. I think I’m lucky I stuck you with the double dose of the elephant tranc when we first brought you over…and for the scan,” muttered Sophia. “So, we can either try this with you out here or in your head.” She went over to her main terminal and tapped at the keys. Fane couldn’t help the sinking slide of his gut at the whole idea of trying to activate the portal. It was already well into the evening hours. Couldn’t they just do this in the morning? What if another of the Grey Monsters came through? With the portal located where it was, it would become one with the ship.
“Let’s go with the less physically destructive option.” Fane sat down on the floor in front of Sven, trying to be deferential to the wounded member of the group and not make him do too much. The others settled around him. Ishan sat between Bern and Dietrik so that Fane sat dead center in the blue ring. He turned to raise a mischievous eyebrow at Sophia. “Fear and Anger. I take it death is off the table?” he asked. The group glared at him.
“Don’t kill anyone; the cleaning bill is too high as it is!” Sophia shot back as she hurriedly pulled on a thermal jumper and a pair of snowpants and boots.
“How about maiming?” he badgered. Ishan flicked his knee. Fane stuck a tongue out at him.
“Not the time,” Ishan returned the gesture.
“Oye, children,” Dietrik reprimanded. Corbin had stepped Dietrik, Bern, and Ishan aside when the group had been called up to the terminal. They had been given an extensive explanation of what was needed versus the rest of the group. Deck had filled Nat in on some of the details through their private connection when Yeller had gone to pick up Nat. Nat had wrapped Yeller into the conversation, pulling on Cashia’s help. As long as everything was handled carefully, with some luck, the portal would open.
“Ye’r host is about eight years younger then me, kid,” Fane’s teeth gleamed. Ishan shook his head at the teasing note in his boyfriend’s voice, but he could see how the man was leading the glendweller along. Until getting him unsnarled in his void, Ishan would have never placed Fane as much of joker.
“Got you by a couple thousand years, boy,” Dietrik snickered, luring in Fane.
“Really, mutt? Show me.” Fane’s eyes glowed silver as the space began to smell heavily of honey. Sophia dragged on a heavy parka and touch sensitive thermal gloves. Fane held out a hand to Dietrik. “Everyone better hop on,” he smiled as he clasped onto Dietrik’s hand and pulled him into the void.
The group found themselves inside Fane’s chamber. Fane held on to his beloved golden rope, swaying gently with it as he watched the group carefully. Dietrik and Fane stood in the center of the mirror black pool, the water tension keeping them aloft.
Deck and Benj pulled the girls away to the far side of the ring as Cashia and Yeller descended on Ishan and Bern. Nat perched himself up on the brass railing at the edge of the pool to watch while the rest of the glendwellers disbursed themselves evenly around the ring. Dietrik nabbed Fane’s attention.
Dietrik was dressed out in his regalia. He pulled a sword out of its sheath and leveled it at Fane.
Fane smiled wickedly. “Thunderdome much?” he raised an eyebrow and snapped a finger at his thigh and pulled down on his rope. House lights came up to pitch the space into high noon. The rope fell away from the ceiling to shorten into a small handgun that Ishan was unfamiliar with. The space shifted to the surprise of the glendwellers. The space widened and elongated to fit a couple concrete fire practice buildings. The black pool shifted it’s texture for the first time from it’s glossy liquid or frozen state to black sand and cracked asphalt. Rusted fire escapes perched precariously to the building. Fane’s normal tight leggings and shoulder crop top he maintained in his void shifted. He stood ready in the field in urban combat military fatigues. He peeled his overshirt off, leaving him in a tucked in white t-shirt, his cargos, and his boots. He pulled his hair up into a high bun, slipping a pencil in to hold it in place.
“Done preaning, pretty boy?” Dietrik snarled, edging for a fight.
Fane regarded him with half interest as he patted down his pockets, accounting for all of his tools of trade. He shrugged and pursed his lips. “Ready when you are, oh king,” Fane joked with a light bow toward’s Dietrik’s red cape. Dietrik leveled a steely gaze at the jester. Fane glanced up and smiled maliciously, his eyes going black and silver as he sprang backward into a back hand spring and dropped a red hot knife from one of his pockets into his waiting hand. With the movement a distraction, Dietrik almost missed the knife sailing toward him. Sylvi stepped in front of him, her blade clipping the edge of the knife, sending it spinning on the asphalt where it embedded itself with a melting hiss.
Fane landed on his feet and span out with his left foot, his body hiding his hand, a set of stars whistled toward Sylvi and Dietrik. Sven pushed Dietrik back, coming up to block with his wife. Their eyes glowed, pinning down Fane. “Might wanna give the Shaman room, ‘oh king’,” Sven hissed at Dietrik, keeping his eyes ever present on Fane.
Dietrik sniffed and took a couple steps back. Fane raised an eyebrow at the two warriors in front of him. He could smell blood on the glendwellers now. He turned and ducked as a blade flew past his ear. He glanced behind him. Heinrich was standing a distance behind him. He had been quieter then the others. As Fane twisted, he tried to pin down the rest of the group outside the ring. Sibor, Tereza, and Anastasia sat up in a set of seats happily. Cashia stood next to Yeller, Bern, and Ishan on the other side of the ring. “Is that all of you?” he asked, standing up to his full height, which he was still the shortest of the group save for Zola and Sun Hee.
“Four glendwellers against one Shaman should be enough,” Dietrik called back as he unclasped his cloak and tossed it out to the sands.
“Never enough glendwellers before,” Cashia muttered, unimpressed with the display.
Fane pursed his lips for a second in thought and nodded. He pushed a hand into one of his pockets on his cargos. The others rushed him. He threw what was in his hand down into the sand. A burst of noxious smoke overtook the area as the wolves dove in. Ishan almost missed Fane’s shadow as he jump climbed the window ledges of one of the fire buildings and slid readily into one of the rooms, going belly flat to the floor and ducking down. The other four turned to the cardinal points as the smoke cleared. Fane tossed another smoke grenade out of the window along with a flash bang that went off above the wolves heads, momentarily blinding them. Fane jumped into the midst of blind wolves and slashed out with a pair of knives, nicking Heinrich and Sven in the back before sliding between Sylvi’s legs. He tucked and rolled away, throwing another knife that hit her in the shoulder. He gained his feet and made a low run for the side of the building where he mounted the fire escape to the roof before the wolves even knew what had happened.
This was the first time Ishan got to watch his bodyguard in true action. With the shot tests and when he went after the baron, for the most part, Fane had kept out of sight. Ishan was finding it remarkable to watch him work, though he could sense a level of frustration as Fane put a handicap on himself. There was no bloodlust. He moved about the field quietly, springing from shadow to shadow as knives thunked and sputtered at asphalt and sand. Predicting the glendweller’s movements was too easy. They were competent, but something was amiss.
Cashia bent his head down to catch Ishan’s eye. Nat glanced backward at Ishan and winked. Ishan returned the gesture, trying to keep his heart and his emotions evenly neutral. Bern sat down on the step near the railing. Nat got up from the bar and walked behind Bern and sat down so that they were leaning back to back. Yeller squatted down behind Bern and hid himself behind his bulk as best as he could.
Fane looked down from his perch as the wolves scattered amongst the building’s ground floors. They didn’t have much in the way of long range weaponry, but they were good at dodging and hiding. He was enjoying a rather amusing game of tag for all intents and purposes. They would be good to train with.
He cleared his jump and tumbled into a third story window, one floor above Dietrik. He muffled his landing to the best of his ability and dodged through the room to the outer fire escape where he slid through the back window. Dietrik was peeking out of the front window, trying to spot his prey. Fane crept up to him and jumped, full body tackling him, wrapping him in a headlock. “Do you yield?” Fane hissed quietly in Dietrik’s ear, low enough that he knew the others wouldn’t hear him. Dietrik struggled momentarily. A muffled cry, deep from below the sands and asphalt echoed in the void. A chill crept down Fane’s spine and the space turned humid and misty. “Shit.” He pulled Dietrik up with him as he peered out the window.
His heart stuttered hard in his chest as his vision tunneled. Ishan knelt on the steps of the theater. His kurta and shawl were tossed haphazardly on a chair. His juti were missing. His arms were bound dragonfly style behind his back, the ropes laced in intricate diamonds from his wrists to his shoulders. His hair fell over his shoulder and chest, glistening under the stage lights. His ankles were bound up into the dragonfly knots, securing his position. Yeller and Cashia stood behind him, smiling up at Fane maliciously. Cashia had a hand over Ishan’s mouth, muffling him. Nat had disappeared up to the edge of the auditorium and was laying quietly out of sight, all of his ropes now being used on Ishan. It was the only way Yeller had let them go along with this hairbrained idea. This was playing with fire.
Fane’s blood ran cold and fire burned beneath his skin as the bellow built. The glendwellers looked up, startled, when the buildings crumbled around them. The sand bubbled and foamed. Fane hadn’t let go of Dietrik yet as they found balance on the roiling black ring. Sven, Sylvi, and Heinrich scrambled for the seating. The lights dimmed out and the seating slowly evaporate as a hard beat echoed in the chamber disturbingly. All that was left was a ghost light that barely illuminated the space in pale uneven greys. The banners fell away with a twange. “You’d better be lettin’ my leannan go,” Fane demanded quietly, his voice no louder than a whisper. Cold frost pushed out of his pores as his clothing shifted. He was left in a pair of threadbare boxer briefs that were rust stained in splotches. His skin was lacerated and burned and gouged freshly where his scars had healed. He was unhealthily gaunt in appearance. His hair was shorn short and ragged. The scent of hollow death and rotten foulbrood permeated the chamber. The humidity in the air began to freeze into floating ice crystals.
Dietrik pushed his shift as his heart raced and his chest constricted. He pressed sharp claws into Fane’s forearm. It had been a very long time since he had felt bloodlust like this. He tried to get the man to unhand him, his grip atrociously tight at his jugular. Dietrik drew blood, but Fane didn’t even notice the wounds. His gaze was flat and still on Ishan and Cashia.
A sharp cry from below the water had everyone’s attention save Fane’s turning down to look into the black depth. Short bursts of images flashed in greyscale around the cavern, the only spots of color red. Iron nails in skin, butcher knives slicing, blood across an open palm, nails pulled from finger beds. Translucent images of men and women in varying states of terror and death ghosted under the torture. Ishan was close to puking when an envelope flashed up in the cavern, a pair of eyeballs the same shade as Fane’s looking up into the void. Fane didn’t take his gaze off of Ishan for a second as he released Dietrik, spinning him out violently to the edge of the ring where Sven and Sylvi were waiting. He started walking toward Cashia, his footsteps freezing on the pool’s surface. Dietrik scrambled for the edge of the quickly disappearing ring. Ants and maggots roiled across the images in waves of whitish grey and dark grey. “You wanted Fear and Anger, Sophia?” Fane seethed at the cavern. The others ducked at the intense promise of death in it. His voice echoed off the walls and dripped into the pool like acid.
Cashia released Ishan hurriedly as the waves broke and whiplike tentacles protruded from the inky surface. Images continued to flash across the cavern, almost too fast to process, all gruesome and painful. Ishan caught his niece’s bodyguard Zahar in the fire, part of his head missing. He watched the death masks of almost forty men and the bloodied and bruised face of the baron flash through the overlay of torture.
The glendwellers had not met Fane’s monsters yet. A deep bellow and sharp cracking howl reverberated down their spines. Cashia bent down behind Ishan as Fane continued walking toward them and quickly pulled the ropes free. Fane was unaware of the memories flashing around them or the thick, heavy beat of his heart rushing through the chamber. Cashia caught Fane’s slug sharp on the jaw and went sprawling back on the steps as Ishan pulled the slack out of the rope and freed his wrists of the starting knot.
“Don’t fucking use him as bait in my space. I want instructions on shibari, I’ll ask you out in the real world, damn it,” Fane spat as he pulled the last knot off of Ishan’s wrist. The crying and screeching was flaying all of their nerves raw.
“We were trying-”Ishan began to apologize.
“I love you, Prince. Right now I am not happy. I can feel every person’s emotion in here. Only reason the glendwellers were too easy. I know you were in on this. This place may be safe at a certain level, but what you did in here went over a line. That thing,” Fane pointed at the tentacles that were growing in number and size, “I don’t control here and it will eat you,” Fane whispered as he bound up the ball of rope and tossed it up over the last few seats that were hiding Nat.
Fane turned to Yeller and Bern with barely contained seething rage. “Get the group together and either get out or keep them safe. Keep them the fuck out of my way,” his eyes glowed black and silver. He stepped down from the last remaining stair into the expanding black void toward the monster. His brands were angry red and incised white with brown crisped edges like they had just been set. Blood dropped from his finger tips slowly with every step into the pool, while blood from other lacerations pooled and balled out to float around his skin like Dietrik’s cloak. Ishan sat back, terrified. He knew now though that the beast was just barely contained under that black pool. Having freed Fane of the hooks and wires hadn’t freed him of the monster. He still had demons he was fighting. Fane could play above and on the pool as long as his emotions were in a good place, but this had opened up too many raw wounds.
Fane reached out from either side of him and drew in the crystalline snowflakes, mixing them with the orbs of blood floating around him, directing their sharp edges toward the creature. The creature cried out at the millions of microscopic cuts. It lashed out, snaring one of Fane’s legs. Fane flung the handgun out from his hand. A thin rusted wire slipped out of the darkness where the gun had gone off to snarl around his arm.
He pulled on it until he knew he was secured to it. He pulled from the void the knife Ishan had given him. He shifted his feet into a low spread and up with a spin, the blade and the wire flashing in the ghost light. His shadow played within those of the tentacles as the beat of Fane’s heart slowed in the space and the temperature plummeted. Ishan watched in quiet awe as Fane ducked and dodged the movement of the creature, keeping the creature’s full attention. He rolled and pulled, looping the wire around a tentacle and pulling tight to sever the appendage, the wire burning and cutting into his own flesh. The creature cried out and reached for him, acid splashing on his skin as he barely missed a grasping tentacle, the reversed barbs tearing at his chest. He slashed up and opened the appendage. The monster pulled the injury back into the abyss. Fane pulled himself out of the rat’s nest of wiggling toxicity and took a running leap to invert himself on the wire above the creature. He bit down on his blade and fought to unwrap his wrist with the circular movement of the wire. He took in a series of climbing beats to take up the slack of the line, the wire cutting with ever new turn he made. He secured his ankles as he tightened his spin over the pool.
At the top of the climb he took the blade from his mouth and lept, letting the rope spin him down into the depth of the pool. Ishan’s heart stopped as Fane disappeared into the black. He moved to rush to the ring, but Cashia held him back. “Think he’s angry now, you go near that thing and he will annihilate every one of us without mercy for not keeping you safe,” cautioned Cashia.
They waited as the screaming in the cavern continued to beat at their senses. The tentacles flicked and splashed great showers of foul smelling liquid as it struggled with Fane. Acid and blood bubbled up to the surface, coating the tension in swirling eddies of red and grey rainbows. It’s thrashing became more fierce and the sound built in pitch. When they thought they couldn’t take the tension and Ishan was beginning to worry that Fane was running out of air, a pressure bubble burst from under the pool’s water tension.
The group fell back in the bridge of the ship. The glowing blue ring was frozen over with a thick sheet of ice. A fine pink mist floated a foot off the ground around them. The connection orb hummed eagerly underneath them. They looked around in surprise. Fane stayed bowed over his crossed legs, his arms pulled up tight to his chest, his skin and hair freezing under a thin layer of slowly pinkening ice as the temperature continued to fall. Finally, when the cold was enough to burn the lungs the temperature stopped plummeting and the fog settled to the floor and surfaces softly in a fine layer.
Fane took in a deep breath; his sigh-out smoked in the frost. The area smelled heavily of copper, honey, and brood. The cracking of the ice on his back as he stretched up to stand startled the group back a scant inch. Ishan flinched, ducking his head. Fane looked down at him, at his reaction with horror and pity lacing his burning silver-on-black eyes. He bent down over Ishan and kissed his forehead lightly. “I can be angry at the situation and everyone’s actions, love, but I will never hurt you. Give me time to warm up. They’ll keep you safe,” he reassured quietly, his eyes flashing to Dietrik.
Dietrik nodded once, gulping. After seeing what the Shaman faced, he was going to more then readily bow to him as leader. For the many wars and dead bodies he had come across in his lifetime, the Shaman had him beat.
Ishan caught the flash of bruising sucker marks and many lines of bleeding cuts wrapped around Fane’s wrist and across his legs and ankles in that second that he had been trying to hide. Fane straightened up and walked away, aware that he was going to have a very long drawn out conversation with his prince later. He left behind bloody footprints.
He turned at the door of the bridge, all eyes on him as his skin began to thaw. “Find a different way, Sophia. That was too damn close, and I’m not risking their lives or mine like that again,” he defined his boundary and left.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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