First Chaos – Fifth Chapter – Kella

Posted: August 5, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1

Previous: Chapter 4 by Aaron || Next: Chapter 6 by Elise

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“You must get to Stonehaven!” Tris’ voice rose shrilly above the growing panic in the dusty village square. “Grab what you can carry and no more! Men will be here soon!”

Kyri’s world had shrunk to the bleeding stump of Anod’s arm, truncated just above the wrist. Binding it tightly in a torn strip from her own tunic, she forced air painfully in and out of her chest. Her throat tightened and a sudden lump nearly choked her, forcing a hot tear down one cheek; a long tongue scraped in moist sandpaper swipes down its path as Sabra whimpered in her ear, but Kyri couldn’t spare the effort to brush the animal away.

Anod’s remaining hand closed around her wrist. “Kyri,” he choked out, pain distorting his words.

She shook her head, denying him a response even as she struggled to meet his gaze.

“Kyri.” Anod’s eyes hardened like amber as she watched. “We must go.”

“But Gen—”

“Is dead.” The amber melted slightly as she froze in horror, forgetting to breathe. He squeezed her hand with his sole remaining one. “And he would not wish us to join him so soon. Your pet demon was right, and if he continues to be then we must go.”

“He can go hang for the loss of—”

Kyri’s arm was wrenched upward and she followed it with a cry of sharp alarm, reaching for the dagger at her hip. Misa’s eyes, normally placid with Rell’s eternal grace, stormed with a barely-leashed panic as she shook her daughter.

“You heard your brother. Go!” Her mother pointed to the treeline on the outskirts of the village. All around them, neighbors fled like a pack of frightened rabines, scattering as they slipped into foliage with their screams of terror echoing behind them. The Eltari woman in the strange red and silver suit – who claimed to be Kyri’s aunt – stood with her arms pinwheeling in the air as she herded villagers from their fallen loved ones and into the darkened gaps between huts and communal buildings.

Ike was struggling to his feet, blood dripping from his pale face into the dirt; a single thought flitted through the cavernous echo in Kyri’s mind, that at least he bled the right color. He winced as his injured leg gave way beneath him, and he sank to its knee before forcing himself up once more. With a limping shuffle he reached Anod’s side and braced himself against the trunk of the tree her brother rested against.

“Come on.” His gaze remained locked on Anod’s eyes, and not on Geneth’s torn body, lying in blatant accusation less than a quarter-klik away. “There’ll be more, and I’m apparently not the only one who thinks so.” He tossed a wary look at the woman claiming to be Tris, who had stopped directing panicked flights to run over to them.

Tris skidded in the dirt, kicking up a small cloud of dust as she came to a halt behind Kyri. Her boots more like Ike’s than anything Kyri had ever seen in Eltar, with the strange, flexible teeth on the underside and the metal holes that held braided laces lining up her calves. Her silver and red suit clung to her body, making her wild hair appear almost white; her skin was ashen and dewy from the rescue efforts, and she panted as if she’d run several miles.

“What are you still doing here?”

“We cannot leave him,” Kyri protested, wincing as her emphatic gesture to Geneth’s body triggered a wave of pain from her shoulder. Behind her, Anod groaned to his feet with Ike’s assistance, wobbling for a moment before he steadied with a determined shake of his head. “He must be given to Rell!”

Tris shook her head. “There is no time!”

“Then make time!” Kyri hobbled over to her twin’s still form, tears rendering him a hot blur in the morning sun. “I will carry him to wherever you say, and we can send him to Rell when we arrive.” Bending to scoop him up, she cried out sharply as her shoulder and back joined forces to send her to her knees.

Strong hands slipped around her from behind, giving her a firm brace of arms to lean on as Ike raised her from the ground. A grunt rumbled in his throat as he straightened, but he saw her steady before releasing her.

“Help me!” she cried. Clutching his wrist, she searched his eerie blue eyes as he tried to pull away.

“He’s gone, honey.” Ike’s eyes were as ice, and she looked to Anod for support. Her brother refused to meet her gaze.

“As must you be,” Misa said, her voice clear over the few remaining cries and moans in the distance. “I will see Geneth off.”

“Mother, no!”

Ike’s hand slid to grasp Kyri’s wrist as she released his, prepared to fling herself at her mother. Pulling her back against him tightly, he flung an arm around her middle and held her with her arm pinned at her side. She bucked, prepared to smash her head backward into his to force her freedom.

Misa stepped forward and placed a hand on her daughter’s cheek. “This is my home. I am too weary to run, and Geneth must not be left outside of Rell’s paradise. I may yet be able to send whoever comes on a fool’s errand. If we each hurry, we can still do what must be done before it is too late.” Her eyes flicked up to stare over Kyri’s head at Ike. “You will see her safe.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Assuming she’ll let me,” Ike said, his voice tensed. Kyri twisted to see the muscles in his jaw twitching as he nodded to her mother; his expression bore the weight of her sacrifice.

Tris’ gaze was dark. “He should not come with us! Altair and his men are looking for him. He will only place us in more danger. It is because of him our Geneth is dead.”

“I thought you said it was your fault,” Anod snapped.

“And you.” Misa turned to Tris, who was shaking her head in denial. “The answers you owe me I leave to my surviving children. Be well, little sister.” She pulled Tris forward by the back of her neck, made awkward by Tris’ superior height, and planted a firm kiss on her forehead. Tris took a moment to catch her balance as Misa abruptly released her to sweep Kyri and Anod into her embrace. Misa’s eyes were ablaze and her voice iron. “Avenge us.”

Kyri blinked. Instinctively, she knew there was no other path, but to hear her mother say it…  “But Rell—”

“Will understand.” Anod said firmly as he met their mother’s gaze. He awkwardly turned Kyri toward the woods behind their house and gave her a gentle shove. Tris followed, casting distrustful glances at Ike as she helped Anod into the green cover on unsteady legs.

Kyri dug in her heels to catch one last glimpse of her mother. The image of Misa bent over her son’s lifeless body stayed burned into Kyri’s vision even as hands grabbed her once more and the forest swallowed her whole.

***

“Spread out, Corporal,” Altair said, flicking a cautious hand at Jenng as they neared the edge of the village. “I want survivors.”

Jenng looked at him in guarded skepticism but kept his mouth shut. Altair never could figure out if they’d started making marines smarter after he’d left the academy himself, or if Jenng had simply chosen discretion as the better part of his own valor. In the ten years he’d been serving aboard Altair’s ship – and standing planetside, it was especially odd to think of the ship as his, even after the passage of so much time – he’d yet to directly question any of Altair’s orders. At least not publicly.

He should have damned well questioned the last one, audience or no.

Pushing through the fronds that provided a natural barrier, Altair’s boots crunched loudly against the sudden, dry soil of Tris’ village. On first glance, from this angle, it looked like any other rustic encampment. The houses had braided and woven roofs over rough-hewn walls. Vegetable patches gave off fragrant aromas around him, mingled with the foreboding scents of blood and smoke the further Altair ventured.

A cluster of simple huts to his right howled in an eerie chorus as wind whistled through the open doors and windows. Bodies of men and women littered the front gardens, some in pieces, most apparently caught by complete surprise. As his gut clenched, Altair forced himself to rationally analyze the damage; blaster burns carved ragged holes in thatched roofs and wooden walls, with smoldering embers dotting the dirt. A long, ragged slash left one building half-collapsed atop six or seven Eltari.

Behind Altair, one of his marines wretched loudly into a fern. Altair wished he could join him.

Covering his nose and mouth, he continued to assess the aftermath of his impulsive order. This was not his mission. His mission had been to protect the Eltari way of life at all costs… but this? What had gotten into him? Level two protocols, surely, would have been sufficient to contain the Council scout. Had Altair taken a moment to think, he could have come to a more rational decision that would have dispensed with the scout and prevented cultural contamination… The scout wouldn’t be long gone, as he so obviously was now, and Tris wouldn’t be missing.

No, not missing. She left him. After ten years she had left him…

To save her people, a small voice suggested in the back of his mind, almost as if afraid to speak against the roiling tension threatening to spill over. And what of your own actions? Every time you set foot on this planet, someone dies.

Why did it have to be her goddamned village?

Would it really have been a better decision otherwise?

His fingers itched for a face to give the voice, if only so that he could put his fist through it. Balling his fists, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, resisting the impulse to choke on the acrid taste of gore on the air. It clung to his tastebuds and the back of his throat like a fine residue. Confusion and recrimination continued to wage their private war within him as he fought against his gag reflex. Captains did not vomit in ferns alongside their crew.

“Sir!”

Altair turned toward the source of the cry, jogging across the dusty, abandoned square to the opposite edge of town. The smoke was much thicker here, tickling his nose and the corners of his eyes. As he neared the marine, the boy pointed a hesitant finger before cautiously raising his pulse rifle. Ten years ago, the young man had been a fresh-eyed fifteen-year-old, eager to get to the academy on Terne Prime. His mother had been so proud.

Ten years later, the kid had a field promotion for lack of better options, and condemnation to a vessel under a doomed command. Yet another benefit of the last decision Altair had made on this world.

What the hell was it about this planet, he wondered, that upended his life whenever he set foot upon it?

“Hold, son.” Altair placed a hand on the muzzle of the gun, pressing it down toward the dirt. He coughed reflexively, the taste on his tongue changing to accommodate the pungency of burning flesh.

An Eltari woman, wrapped in rose-and-white colored gauze robes, stood before a great pyre with her arms raised to the heavens. Smoke plumed upward from a burning body in thick clouds, iridescent sparks catching in the midday sun. Her chanting alternated between low and high volume, from slow mutterings to outright explosions of wrenching grief, punctuated by ululating cries.

Altair stood in mute, reverent transfixion, his hand frozen on the muzzle of the rifle he’d forced down. After several moments, the woman’s hands and head lowered. Only the crackling and popping from the pyre remained to charge the air.

Slowly gathering herself, the woman brushed dark hands over her clothing before turning to face her observers.

“Thank you.” She didn’t elaborate. She didn’t have to.

Altair nodded, straightening to a neutral posture. He saw Jenng approach from the periphery of his vision, the rifles of his men at a cautious ready; Altair gave a slight shake of his head.

The woman’s eyes, simultaneously calm and haunted, never strayed from Altair. “Are you here to finish what you have begun? I am all that remains.”

“We both know that’s not true,” Altair heard himself saying, then hastily corrected. “What happened here was a gross misunderstanding…”

“Indeed. My son takes your regrets with him to Rell’s side.” Her voice cut through Altair like a psyblade. In the glare of daylight, the lines stood out in stark relief on her face, though she couldn’t have been much older than Tris. She stood as poised as one of the statues in the Hall of Matrons back home, only perhaps with pointier ears than any Matron Altair had ever seen rendered in stone.

Altair’s gaze flicked over to the pyre, and he swallowed. “You have my condolences.”

“I would have your heart on a spit.”

The men near Altair shifted uneasily, some darting glances toward him to see if it was time to aim their guns again.

Altair shook his head at them, inclining his head to the Eltari woman in respect. “Again, my deepest regrets. We’re looking for…”

“I know whom you seek. You will not find him here.”

“Evidently,” Altair replied, his patience gradually seeping into the ether. “But if you could tell us where to find him, we will gladly leave you in peace.”

He felt Jenng’s eyes on him, but ignored the man. Altair wasn’t sure whether he could keep his word as it was, and acknowledging that to Jenng was one more sin on lengthening list… one he wasn’t quite ready to commit. The destruction and murder done at his own command today was an end to itself; there was no way to track every Eltari who had fled. Containment was now moot. The best they could hope for was to find the scout before he made too much noise at a major settlement. Or worse, got the attention of the local Ternian government.

“I doubt that very much,” the woman replied coolly, as if tapping into a hidden telepathic resource Altair didn’t believe Eltari possessed. “And even had I knowledge of your prey’s whereabouts, I would not surrender him to you.”

They stood there, locked in a silent battle of wills. Altair’s irritation crackled along the underside of his skin, the itch to punch something growing with each second that passed. He breathed heavily through his nose, desperate to tamp down the foreign urges. This was not who he was, and hadn’t been for years… Not since Tris.

Clearing his throat to head off the tightening, he shook his head and sighed. “Yes, you will. Jenng, bring her. Send word to have your men meet up with us when they’ve finished clearing the wreckage.”

Pretending interest in a copse of trees a klik away, Altair turned his back on the piercing amber eyes and menacing reserve as Jenng and his squad closed in.

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Previous: Chapter 4 by Aaron || Next: Chapter 6 by Elise
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Comments
  1. Finally ready this chapter. I really like the description you have to everything and how you described the mourning/funeral ceremony. Very fitting and much better than anything I had envisioned.

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