Monday, March 6, 2017

Res Relinquebant

     “Oh, come on,” the bard whined as he stood up from the gaming table where a black stone had just been placed inside a square of his white stones.
     “What?” the old woman innocently asked.
     “Don’t ‘what’ me,” he scolded. Pointing at the Go board, he said, “you can’t do that.”
     “Who says?”
     “The rules.”
     “Oh? Do tell.”
     “You can’t commit suicide,” Bard Kent stated.
     “I beg to differ,” Celatrix Verna replied.
     “’s the rules.”
     “Is this a tactics game?”
     “When a soldier jumps on a bomb, does he commit suicide?”
     “Uh. Yeah,” he closed his good eye, and then reopened it to add, “I guess so.”
     His scrunched up face and pained expression amused her greatly. With effort, she stifled her oncoming outburst saying, “exactly. Thus, in my set of rules, ‘suicide’—as you so indelicately put it—is a perfectly tactical move.”
     “Your rules?” his head tilted left and his expression tightened. “We’ve got different rules? It’s the same damn game.” He sighed as he sat back down and removed her black stone.
     “As you know, every game is as different as our opponents.”
     He shrugged, “I’ve only played three people, counting you.”
     “Ah. Yes. I’ve had a few more partners,” she confessed. “You are by far the youngest.”
     “You’re the oldest,” he blurted. Blushing, he looked at the board in front of him. “Well, you are.”
     “I don’t doubt it,” she patted the table midway up the board. “One doesn’t become Celatrix by remaining young.”

     After maneuvering the security guard into one of the interrogation chairs, Jougs stood back staring at the two unconscious prisoners. He contemplated asking a number of questions regarding the intelligence of maintaining hostages during such a risky operation, but ultimately decided that he’d rather not deal with the Inquisitor’s bullshit. Shaking his aching head and rolling his eyes, he finished tying the bitch up. Definitely time for plan C, he thought. Vorant’ll be a problem. Have to play my cards close. Don’t know how much longer I should wait… Standing up, he found himself face to face with his silent compatriots. Though he felt the urge to shiver, he braced himself against it, and asked, “ready?”

     “That’s it?” Machine asked.
     “Oh. You’re disappointed? Wanted proof that the Virpisces exist?” Locos frowned, adding, “use your head private,” he tapped Machine’s noggin. “We’ve got bigger problems than titan fish people. Iphi save us. This generation...”
     “What? No. It’s not like that!” Machine exclaimed.
     “What’s it like?”
     “My great-grands are from there.”
     Locos stopped walking and really looked at the private. They were roughly the same build, tended toward a similar sense of humor, yet age and mentality separated them like earth from the stars. “Really? From Port Askance?”
     “According to Grams we go all the way back.”
     “Then, what are you asking me for?” Locos asked, resuming their northward plodding.
     “You know how the elders talk,” Machine shrugged. “Somethings are hard to believe. I figured, if you were there, you must have seen,” he nervously glanced around, “the skeletons.”
     “I thought you said it wasn’t about the Virpisces,” Locos replied.
     “It’s not.” He kicked a rock into the tall grass strip in the middle of Old Sea Road, “Grams said her parents were slaughtered as they fled. She said lots of people were...most of the town, in fact.” Chewing his bottom lip and kicking at random pebbles, Machine added, “I just figured with all them dead people, must be lots of skeletons still laying around.”
     “Oh,” Locos said. “Only skeletons I saw were buildings.”
     The two ragged soldiers silently marched up the abandoned road. Though they were exhausted, both kept their heads high, and watched the mountain valley with suspicion. With every step forward the sun fell lower and the fields of tall grasses waved more menacingly. As they rounded a bend in the road, they abruptly stopped, and then dropped to their hunches.
     “You see that?” Locos asked.
     “I sure do, Maser.”
     Four houses sat alongside Old Sea Road, the tiny neighborhood was a testament to lost hope. Two houses were in relatively good condition when compared to their dilapidated neighbors. The first house on the right, a dingy white single story with light blue shutters, appeared vacant but not abandoned. On the left side of the street, the porch of the second house was covered in shiny discs, elaborate chimes, and strange tinkling decorations. An average-sized calico and a giant orange tabby were on their backs sunning themselves on the porch steps. The matron of the home, an elderly woman, participated in her own version of sunning by sleep-rocking in her porch swing.
     “You think she’ll let us in?” Machine asked.
     The master sergeant stopped staring at the oddly adorned porch and raised an eyebrow to Machine. He asked, “who said anything about going in?”
     “No one,” Machine mumbled.
     “Guess no one got around to it yet,” Locos smiled and winked as his stomach rumbled.

     At the front of her makeshift classroom, Mary Darin lectured the teenagers on the virtues of preparedness. With each word Willem Slaughter focused more deeply on the doodle he had created. The soft scratch of his pen was barely audible under the shrill voice of Ms. Darin which resonated in the converted schoolhouse. The twins, Gerick and Jocelyn Motown, listened in absolute boredom, silently communicating their own plans by speaking with their eyes and a slew of hand signals they’d long ago developed to keep their parents in the dark. During the course of Ms. Darin’s droning, the twins decided to continue their exploration of the underground. In the weeks since their lives had been ripped from them, they’d taken to meandering down different cave paths and sneaking through crevices. The time away from the younger children was a reprieve from the reality of their situation. Plus, there’s nothing quite as enticing as a little after-school exploration. So far they’d located four empty chambers, three routes to the underground river, and three creepy paths that they’d decided to only explore when armed.
     With so few children in her class, Ms. Darin had no issues observing their exchanges. Although she was tempted to yell at them to pay attention, she knew that would not actually help. They’d been through too much. She needed to engage them. From where she stood, she could just barely make out what Willem was drawing. On an impulse she said, “Willem, where did you see that?”
     “Huh?” the teen scratched his beard, tilted his head, and raised his eyebrows.
     Crossing over to the dining table, she tapped his notepad, “how do you know this flag?”
     “Had one,” he muttered.
     “You had one?” she grilled, “of these?”
     “My folks.”
     “Where’d they get it?”
     “I dunno. Gramps said it’s been in our fam forever.”
     “Really?” Ms. Darin asked.
     “That’s what he said.”
     “What else did he tell you?”
     Suddenly more interested in the exchange, the twins had stopped talking to each other in order to listen.
     He shrugged, “I dunno. Stuff.”
     “Did he explain what it represented?”
     “No. I asked once. But. He didn’t say.”
     “It’s the Stellar Explorer’s flag,” she stated. At those words she finally had their undivided attention. “In the Before Times they wanted to travel between stars. The stories say they even had the technology to do it.” She once again tapped his drawing, “six stars for six ships. Do any of you know what caused the Great Global Conflict?”
     Jocelyn raised her hand and Ms. Darin nodded at her. The girl answered, “a diamond planet.”
     “That’s right,” Ms. Darin replied. “They found a diamond planet. No one knew for sure if they’d be able to get to it. Much less if they could harvest the diamonds...”
     “So, like, what happened?” Gerick asked.
     “They fought over resources. Destroyed everything. Made it so no one could go,” Ms. Darin sighed. “Greed.”
     “Ms. Darin, what’s the big circle for?” Jocelyn asked.
     “Some say it represents the Earth. Others say it’s a space station. I think it’s both.”
     “How do you know all this stuff?” Gerick asked.
     Briefly smiling, Ms. Darin answered, “you’d be more surprised by what I don’t know.”
     “What’s that mean?” Willem asked. “And, why’d my family have one?”
     She laughed, “some things everyone knows. Other things no one will ever know.” Turning away from the teens, Ms. Darin added, “and, some things only a chosen few are privileged enough to know.” In that moment, she realized she really was the last bastion for the Mysteries of the Ancients. Decisions had to be made, but they weren’t hers to make. The children of the Servants had become the Servants when Avalona was destroyed. She suddenly called out, “Haeroc! Mapsson! Come.” The two dogs took their time heeding her call. “You three, come here,” she pointed in front of her. When the teens and the Catahoula Curs had moseyed over, she asked, “will you do your duty?”
     The two curs cocked their heads as if thinking about her question, then they both barked a single time. After quickly circling the children and shoving their snouts in questionable places, the two dogs meandered back toward the silver archway leading out of the dining area.
     “Ms. Darin?” Gerick asked.
     “No questions, child,” she ordered. “The time has come for you to learn the Mysteries of the Ancients.”

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