Author Archive

Holy crap, I live!

Posted: September 29, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1 Planning, FYI (Oi! Pay attention!)

So… yeah. Sorry for the dearth of communication around here lately. Aaron pointed out to me how not communicative I’ve been on the site, and I realized that work and school and novel-in-progress have swallowed my life. Whoops.

Couple o’ things: Christina had to pull from the Chaos due to real life shenanigans. Ordinarily, shenanigans would just be annoying, but these are extra-special shenanigans with a side order of whisky, tango, and fuck. (Probably less fuck than might actually be enjoyable, but whatever.) And so we’ll miss Christina from this one! Hopefully she’ll be able to come back for a future story.

Sarah, too, had RL shenanigans, but they were more benign and only resulted in her chapter being delayed a week. I have received assurances of its presence today. (I can’t really be a whip-cracker on this one… you see how long it took me to pull my head out of my ass to make an announcement, yeah?)

I’ll edit the schedule on the front page so that we can try to keep track of who’s next. If you have questions, poke me. I’ll try to respond faster in future. I may or may not respond well to coffee/chocolate/personal assistant bribes… it remains untested.

~Management~

First Chaos – Ninth Chapter – Christina & Kella

Posted: September 2, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1
Previous: Chapter Eight by Kella

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As much as Altair wanted to keep moving until they reached Stonehaven, he recognized that his men needed to rest and eat at some point. And while Misa looked as if she could keep on marching all night, Hadfar and the little one were not faring as well.

In addition to that, he did not want to approach the great Eltari city without a plan. To do so would be madness. His captain had done that, and look what had happened to him. He had been trussed up like some swine as an offering to Rell and the Eltari danced around his corpse, celebrating the death of the Pale One who had tried to steal the secrets of Jymm’s volcano. Altair had no desire to meet the same end; but judging from the glare Misa was giving him, she was reverently praying that something similar or much, much worse would come to pass.

He sighed, and glanced around, keeping his eyes open for a safe spot to stop. Unless… Perhaps they were closer to Stonehaven than he had thought. He glanced at the map on his datapad as they walked, entering in the coordinates his Cyrex gave him for their position. The datapad chirped and gave him an error.

Giving up on the map, Altair turned to Hadfar. “How much further, old friend?”

“I am surprised you do not remember.” The ancient Eltari said, his soft words sounding like a taunt to Altair’s ears.

“If I did remember, I would not be asking you know, would I?” The snarl escaped his lips before he could stop it. The child one of the marines was escorting let out a whimper, but Hadfar didn’t flinch. 

“If you tell him,” Misa glared in their direction as she was led past them. “May the Pale Ones feast on your soul.”

Hadfar did not respond or appear bothered by her insult in the slightest. However, Altair frowned after Eltari woman. His free hand balled at his side; if only there was a way to silence her sharp comments. Images of her face crunching beneath his fist flashed before his eyes, accompanied by a satisfied grunt in the back of his throat. It would be such a release… and it would certainly shut her up.

Altair shook his head sharply, clearing the urge with a concerted effort. Her death would only continue to drive a wedge between him and Tris. 

Perhaps they could jury rig a gag from one of the marine’s stinkiest socks.

He turned back to Hadfar to find the Eltari staring pointedly at his fist. Altair averted his eyes, forcing his fingers to uncurl as he called out to Corporal Jenng. “We’ll stop here. A thirty minute break, and then we’ll start moving again.”

Jenng nodded and relayed the order. Two marines were left watch over their captives, while the others broke open MREs. They chatted amongst themselves as they ate, joking with and teasing each other over this event or that even that had happened back on board the ship. Despite their mask of joviality though, Altair could feel the tension floating just beneath the surface. The men glanced at each other and their captives, their eyes hard, and once or twice this marine or that marine would take offense to something harmless. Thankfully Jenng always called them to order before a fight could erupt. It got damned close, though.

It had been like this before, Altair thought to himself. Everything had been going along just fine, and then the men had started snapping at each other over nothing until they had dissolved into chaos. How he had escaped the madness that first time was beyond him, but he could feel it clawing at his subconscious now, sinking its teeth into his temples.

It was this damn planet. The thing was cursed. Altair glanced at Hadfar, remembering the promise he had made all those years ago. Perhaps he should break it… He missed Terne. His sister was probably Head Matron of the regional board by now, with three or four little brats that looked just like her. They probably thought he was dead. By all rights, he should be, and this cursed rock along with him.

But then he remembered Tris, and the tension eased. He could not let her planet be destroyed. Not when he had the power to help prevent it.

One of the marines continued to stand while his comrades ate, frowning at the readout his datapad was giving him. “Sir, there is a group of four life forms, possibly Eltari, heading south.” He looked up from the glowing screen. “Permission to intercept?”

Altair hesitated; if the fleeing Eltari knew what had happened to the scout, that would mean Altair and his men could return to the ship. Perhaps Tris was in the group and he could reason with her. But Stonehaven was north by northeast, the opposite direction, and if the scout wasn’t with the southbound group, he’d lose any chance of catching up to him before he reached the city.

He shook his head. “Let them go.”

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The trek to the shuttle was a long one. Tris led them back the way they had come, through the remains of the burnt village, and past the charred remnants of Ike’s own downed vessel. When the smallest of the moons was at its zenith, Tris held out her arm, stopping their progress. Ike would have run smack into her if it hadn’t been for Anod grabbing the back of his uniform and stopping him. Annoyance flared within Ike, and he felt his lip curl as he glared back Anod. Anod simply stared back with golden eyes, in a look that said Ike was welcome to try his luck.

“Are we close?” Ike asked, sighing as he leaned against a nearby tree to catch his breath. Apparently, while the Cyrex had the ability to change his features and fool scans, it had done nothing to heal his wounds. The events of the day had torn his stitches and he could feel them bleeding through his bandages. As a result, he had struggled to keep up with the Eltari during their strenuous hike. He found himself wondering, not for the first time that evening, if Kyri and her kin were actually trying to kill him in some bizarre endurance test.

He frowned to himself as soon as the thought crossed his mind. No, that wasn’t right, he thought to himself, if they had been trying to kill him, they would’ve and could’ve done so long ago. Misa wouldn’t have tried to heal him, or told Kyri to say he was her ginko— no… ginasuran… whatever that was— and help him escape if that was the case.
Tris answered his question with a glare. She held up a finger to her lips, her head cocked as she listened to the forest around them. Satisfied that they were well and truly alone she finally spoke. “Yes, it is just over that ridge.” She crouched and started drawing in the dirt at their feet. “Now, Altair has left four men to guard it…”

“If you expect me to take down four men by myself, you’re crazy, lady.” Ike interrupted her before she could get very far.

“She did not say you would do it alone.” Kyri stared at him with a curious expression on her face. “You will have me and Anod by your side, as well as Tris.”

“Right, a cripple and two women. Fine team we make.”

Anod stepped closer to him. “With one hand, I am still a better fighter than you.”

Ike bared his teeth, a foreign anger swelling before he could contain it. “Care to test that theory now, stumpy?”

“Quiet please!” Tris snapped.

Her sharp tone brought Ike to his senses. He flushed from embarrassment, and ran a hand through his sweat soaked hair, pushing it out of his face. “Sorry,” he muttered, not meeting Anod’s nonplussed gaze.

“As I was saying,” Tris continued. “There are four men guarding the ship. I do not wish to kill them, only stun them…”

“Even after what they did to our village? To Geneth?” Anod demanded in a hiss.

“Yes.” She avoided the younger Eltari’s eyes and continued to sketch out a rough diagram of the shuttle and its surroundings. “I will go in first and distract them.”

“But what if this Altair has told them about you?” Ike watched her, still wondering what her connection to the Ternian captain was. A wave of sadness and regret crashed over her face, but it was quickly covered by an emotionless mask.

“It’s a risk we will have to take. There are rocks here and here that Kyri can hide behind.” Tris pointed at either side of the diagram and glanced up at her niece.

Kyri nodded, clutching her bow and quiver with stiff fingers.

“Wipe purenlli sap on your tips, and aim for their legs or arms. Once the first goes down, I will take on the next guard, and Anod and Ike can take on the last two. Try to do it quickly so they have no time to warn Altair. Any questions?”

“Yes,” Ike held up his hand. “Ah… what is purenlli sap?”

Kyri pointed at the tree branches overhead. They hung low, almost brushing the tops of their heads, and were covered with thick bright green leaves that almost glowed in the moonlight. “The sap from a purenlli tree makes you senseless and sleepy.”

“Oh.” He stepped away from the tree, afraid that some of the thick yellow sap he could see clinging to the branches might fall on him. “Well then.”

“Let’s go.” Tris stood and ran the sole of her foot over the diagram, erasing what she had drawn. Tucking her wayward strands of hair into place, she smoothed her dark hands down the front of her tunic. With a sharp breath, she slid into character and stepped from the bushes as Kyri scurried off to take up position.

Anod tugged on Ike’s sleeve with his good hand, gesturing for Ike to follow as he skirted the ridge beneath the cover of green.

The shuttle wasn’t large, only slightly bigger than Ike’s had been, and not that much more impressive. It was certainly an older model; better had come out in the last decade or so, and that wing design was a dead giveaway to Ternian origins. Form over function. Ike rolled his eyes and snorted, drawing a stern glare from Anod. Ike glared back.

“Hold!” came a cry from the shuttle.

“Neurian, it is only me,” Tris replied coolly, her voice carrying in the stillness of the landing site. “Where is the rest of the landing party?”

“Still pursuing the target, ma’am. Let me see your hands.” Neurian was edging closer, rifle drawn.

Tris complied, slowly lifting her arms to give the appearance of locking her fingers behind her head. She took a casual step forward. “Is there a reason you’re pointing a gun at me?”

Neurian’s fellow guards had taken notice, stepping out of the shuttle to see what the fuss was about. Anod held his hand flattened in the air between him and Ike; wait for it…

Neurian shook his head. “S-stay there!”

Tris frowned. “You do not look well, Private. Perhaps you should lie down.”

“I said stay back!” Neurian snapped, beads of sweat dotting his forehead; he was flushed and there was a tremor of something barely controlled in his voice.

Ike could relate.

“I’m warning you…” Neurian’s fingers trembled, and for a moment Ike was afraid their plan would crash before it got off the ground.

Anod rapped him on the shoulder and he followed the pointing fingers to where two guards stood with their backs facing the bushes. Altair’s men were more interested in the growing paranoid protests from the back of the shuttle than their duties.

Tris smiled in the glare of the shuttle’s security light, her hands still raised in surrender. “Neurian, you look unwell. I have several herbs that could help with—”

“No! Keep your primitive witchcraft away from us!” Neurian roared, raising the butt of his gun as if to crash it against Tris’ forehead. The whizz and thwip of an arrow caused him to drop the gun. He cried out in equal shock and alarm, clutching at the shaft embedded in his tricep. Another arrow hissed through the air, catching him in the knee. He screamed, the sound fading within seconds as he slumped to the ground unconscious.

Anod surged forward before the two guards in front of him had a chance to react. With a fluid movement, he hooked his injured arm across one guard’s throat and held firm, bearing the man to the ground beneath him. Ike ducked as the guard’s companion swung his rifle at him. He charged into the other man, dodging swings and closing the gap so the weapon could not be brought to bear. Ike swept the marine’s legs from under him and followed Anod’s example, throwing himself atop the flailing body and wrapping his bare hands around the man’s throat in a crude choking maneuver. Ike’s vision narrowed into an almost claustrophobic tunnel; unable to see or hear anything except the man’s skin purpling in the shadows between Ike’s fingers, the blood rushing through his own ears…

He didn’t notice the man had stopped kicking until Tris hauled him up by the back of his shirt.

“Stun, not kill!” she hissed into his face, giving him a shake before throwing him against Anod. Anod let Ike stumble and catch himself on his own, busy fumbling with the man’s gun and utility belt one-handed.

Kyri rose from where she bent over the last guard at the back of the shuttle, removing her fingers from his pulse point and wiping her hand on her trousers.

Tris nodded curtly and grabbed Ike by the elbow. “All right. Into the shuttle, flyboy. The sooner you leave this planet, the better.”

“’Flyboy’?” Ike blinked at her as she jostled him up the small ramp and into the empty pilot’s seat.

She huffed and sealed the door behind Anod and Kyri as they cautiously entered the craft. “Live among them for long enough, you learn the language.”

 

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Previous: Chapter Eight by Kella

Blame aliens. (I do.)

Posted: September 2, 2013 by Kella in Uncategorized

Aliens are so much more exciting to blame than work-related stress and migraines, in any case.

 

Christina and I are collaborating on this chapter, but because of personal life batshittery, t’will be late. (As in, I’m typing it up in the morning, when I can see straight, ‘late’.)

 

I know, I know. “Get your shit together, Tyrone…”

/sigh

Scheduling

Posted: August 30, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1 Planning, FYI (Oi! Pay attention!)

To try to smooth out some of the bumps in the road, I’m going to be creating a little schedule box for the main page, so authors can look ahead to see when they’re next supposed to be writing and make advance arrangements if need be.

It’ll still be pretty chaotic though. Guaran-damned-teed.

If you’re an author and you know you’ve got schedule restrictions at any point in the next few weeks, please email me.

First Chaos – Eighth Chapter – Kella

Posted: August 27, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1

Author’s Note:  Please forgive the lateness!

Previous: Chapter Seven by Kymele || Next: Chapter Nine by Christina & Kella

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Tris stopped to fill her water pouch from the stream, shielding it from reflecting the dusk’s glow with her free hand. If Altair was still Altair, she could reason with him. But if he wasn’t… there was no sense in giving Jenng and his men clues for their hunt. She closed her eyes for a moment and prayed to a god in which she had lost faith years ago.

Let him come to his senses…

Even as she whispered her hope to the forest, she wasn’t sure what it would mean if he had. The screams and fire flooded her memory, and Misa’s deadened eyes set Tris’ fingers trembling so that it took three tries to screw the cap back onto her canteen. Ten years. Ten years since she had seen that kind of violence, that cavalier assignment of death.

If Altair was truly lost to her, she needed to know. Needed to plan. The cargo left behind on his ship was too precious, too crucial to the future of the Eltari. If Altair was capable of such atrocity, had she and her great-grandfather entrusted their fate to the wrong man? Granted, they hadn’t exactly been flush with choice, but had she truly been so blinded by love for all these years that she had willingly tied her own fate, and that of her people, to a monster? In the wrong hands, those eggs in Altair’s cargo hold could spell the very end of Eltar.

She was so engrossed in her fear that it took a moment to realize she hadn’t heard the night birds calling for some time. Holding her breath, she scurried into the underbrush as the faint crush of twigs and desiccated leaves under military boots drew nearer.

“They can’t have gone far,” Altair’s voice rumbled from behind her. Splashes punctuated his words as his men crossed to the opposite bank. Tris peered through the brush, biting her lip to keep from crying out in relieved protest as Misa’s robes fluttered past; her sister was alive, but captive.

One of Jenng’s men carried a small child in his arms and, behind him, another soldier forcibly supported an elderly man by his withered upper arm. The old man slipped at the edge of the small river, crying out in pain as the soldier’s surer footing kept the prisoner’s arm from following him to his knees. He half-dangled as the soldier tried to wrangle him back onto his feet.

Tris stifled a gasp as the old man’s profile stood out in the rising light of the triple moons. Hadfar. He was still alive? That he had survived the destruction surrounding Tris’ initial departure was shock enough, but she hadn’t seen any indication of his presence in the village. There had been no sigils marking him as a reigning elder, and that was a lifetime appointment. It would be sacrilege for him to give up a position of such honor.

Then again, given where Tris had been for the last ten years, sacrilege would appear to be a hereditary inclination.

“I’ve got him.” Altair’s commanding tone halted the brief flailing as the captain rushed forward to lift Hadfar with surprising care. “Catch up with the others, Wilcox. Keep scanning for human life. We’ll be along shortly.”

The younger man nodded and splashed off.

“Altair,” Hadfar gasped, clinging to the captain’s uniform sleeve. “Altair, I am too old. I cannot continue.”

“Nonsense,” Altair said as he attempted to sling the old man’s arm across his own shoulders. “I have seen you perform incredible feats, old friend. This is nothing.”

“Old friend.” Hadfar’s tone was bitter. “You destroyed my village and killed one of my kin.” His feet didn’t move when Altair’s did, tugging his benevolent captor back as if by a short lead. The two men stared at each other, Hadfar’s gaze glittering, Altair’s face hidden from Tris’ view by the angle at which they stood. “Why do you do these things, Altair? We made a vow…”

“I have not broken mine.” Altair’s back stiffened as Hadfar barked a disdainful, humorless laugh. “What I do, I do for the protection of Eltar, this world. I did not mean for… I cannot make amends, and I will not promise any. But if that scout makes it to Stonehaven…”

“Will you destroy the Eltari to see them saved, then? How much more blood will you spill for the sake of one man?”

Altair’s sudden growl of frustration startled Hadfar, who wobbled on his feet. With a sigh, Altair eased the man to the large rock nearby.

“I should not have been so hasty in my orders,” Altair admitted in a low voice. Tris tensed, straining to hear the words but desperate not to disturb the tiny branches poking into her face and hands. Now that Altair had turned, Tris could see the lines of guilt in the pale shadows across his face. “I merely wanted to prevent further contamination. I mean,” he raked fingers through his hair, greying streaks shimmering in the moonlight, “haven’t we done enough to this world and its people?”

“Not by half, it would seem.” Her great-grandfather’s voice was colder than Tris could remember it ever being. “If this scout makes it to Stonehaven, what do you fear? That one man with a short-range comm unit and a medbag will undo decades of preparation? You and your men trampling unchecked through Eltar will do far more damage.”

“I’m trying to save this world! That one man is Council. You may not remember them, but once they get the scent of profitability… They’re like roaches. One means thousands to follow.” Altair hunched his shoulders and crouched to meet Hadfar eye-to-eye. “You were the one who warned me about what could happen… if they think the project is at risk… It’s why we’ve been standing guard for ten goddamned years!”

“And if we’re all dead before the RELL can decide our fate on its own?”

“We’ve each had to make difficult decisions to keep this planet viable.” Altair held his hands palms up, pleading. “Help me, Hadfar. You have the means.”

“I have already given you the greatest treasure this planet has to offer, and Tris to go with it.” Hadfar shifted on his rock and kneaded a stitch in his side. “Has she made any progress in all this time?”

“Some. We were getting close, I think, when… But even if I find her now…” Altair rubbed his face and shook his head, lifting it so that the glow of the moons caressed his tired features as they crested over the treeline.

Hadfar was silent for a moment. When he spoke again, Tris nearly missed the words beneath the sound of the burbling stream. “How long has it been since you and your team landed?”

“Midday, at least.”

“You must be gone by tomorrow’s nightfall, or history will repeat.”

“I can’t leave without containing that scout—“

“Altair…”

“—And I won’t leave without Tris.”

“It is not she who is at risk for staying. This world was built for our kind, not yours. I would think your memory better than that.”

Altair grunted and stood, throwing a hand skyward in exasperation. “How can I remember consequences never explained to me? You never told me what caused that mess in the first place!”

“Because it was out of your control. As it is now.” Hadfar shook his head, a tremulous, jerky motion that threatened to tilt him off his perch. “If you wish to fulfill your vow, Altair, you must do so from orbit. You and your crew hold our fate in your hands, as you have since you first came here. Without those eggs…”

“You’ll get your damned eggs,” Altair snapped, his eyes sparking for a second as the light in them shifted. His chin jerked down and he flexed his hands at his sides. “I will complete my mission. My captain will not have died in vain. And I will honor my vow; I will not leave you defenseless.”

“If you stay past tomorrow, you will not remember these promises,” Hadfar insisted. “You felt it when you landed. It is why you have been acting so rashly.” He coughed, the force of it shaking his brittle frame, and leaned forward, a dark silhouette against the moons. “It is why you and your well-armed men will kill us all.”

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“Get up.”

Ike blinked groggily as Tris kicked him once more in the leg. “Wha…?” The knife pointed inches from his nose rendered him instantly alert. “Whoa! What’s going on?”

Kyri shifted in the crook of his arm, moaning at some retreating nightmare. She’d spent their brief respite in Tris’ absence kicking and flailing. Anod and Ike had taken her comfort in shifts, assuring her safety and soothing her back to slow, even breathing each time. Ike could only hope that when she woke this time, she’d be assuring his safety.

“Get. Up.” Tris repeated, taking a cautious step backward to bump against the confines of their hiding place. Ike carefully withdrew his arm from beneath Kyri’s head, holding his hand up in surrender. He darted a glance around the cramped confines. Anod was sitting on the other side of Kyri, observing this development with a neutral expression. The wounded Eltari met Ike’s eyes with a steady gaze and said nothing.

“Outside.” The knifepoint flicked toward the door and withdrew another couple of inches so that Ike could comply. “Leave the comm.”

The canopy of the giant tree obscured most of the moons’ light, the tiny flashes through the leaves sparking Tris’ eyes like fire. Her knife glinted in the shifting dark, and Ike had a wild half-lucid second to wonder why she carried such a primitive weapon. She dressed like she’d just touched down from space. Still, the damned thing looked pretty sharp.

“Are you going to kill me now?” Good. His voice didn’t shake. Maybe he could die with a shred of dignity.

“That depends on your answers.”

“You haven’t asked any questions.” Ike swallowed as the flickering moonlight danced along the blade and decided maybe bravado had its place. “What do you want to know?”

Tris didn’t respond right away. Her breath was heavy, like she’d run several miles over mountainous terrain, but her shadow stood tall and strong. “Why did you come here?”

Ike sighed. “I was just doing my job, lady. A few scans from orbit, a report, then on to the next system. Wouldn’t even be on this rock if that privateer ship hadn’t shot me down. I’d have happily been on my way.” He rubbed his naked wrist.

Tris’ gaze flicked down to observe his movements. “Altair and his men want to kill you. They will be within scanning range within moments. Convince me why I should not simply deliver you to them.”

Ike’s eyes widened and he spread his hands in his best non-threatening gesture, hoping that its impact wasn’t lost in the darkness. “I’ve done nothing but help you and your family since I got here!” Catching himself, he lowered his voice. “I don’t want to be here any more than you want me here, and I want to die even less. I can be useful. Or, if you don’t want me around, let me go and I’ll hide out somewhere until I can find a way home.”

Tris snorted. “I should leave you to the lema cats.”

A wave of anger rose up inside him and he lashed out before he could stop himself. “I didn’t ask for any of this! You and this Altair guy want to kill each other, fine by me, sister. Only leave me out of it. But if you’re gonna kill me, you’ve got one shot with that knife, so you’d better make it count.”

Tris opened her mouth, closing it again as they both heard branches breaking less than a klik away. She turned her head to look around the base of the tree for a second, whirling back to face Ike before he could make a play for her weapon.

“You will help us?” she whispered. “Whatever form that takes?”

“Yes, of course,” Ike bit out. “Not like I’m flush with options.”

Another branch snapped, this one closer and accompanied by men’s voices.

Tris appeared to come to a quick decision and lowered the knife. “Back inside.”

Closing the gnarled bark door behind them, Tris grabbed the Cyrex from Anod’s curious fingers. Kyri frowned at Ike as he flopped down next to her.

“What—?”

“Hush,” Tris rasped, fildding with Ike’s bracelet until a tiny port flipped open on the side. She ran her thumb over the tip of her knife and pressed it into the small hole. Lights strobed along the surface, followed by a muffled beep. She tossed the device back to Ike. “Hurry. Put it on.”

Ike did, puzzled until he heard the familiar artificial voice inside his mind.

//Genetic profile uploaded… Extrapolation complete. Engage camouflage mode now?”//

“Yes,” Ike whispered, unsure what he was agreeing to, but certain he wouldn’t like the alternative.

“Yes, what?” Kyri whispered back, then gasped. She scuttled back from Ike as if burned, colliding with an equally shocked Anod.

Ike had never done this before – never knew it could be done, for that matter – and now he knew why. He sucked in air through clenched teeth as his skin lit up in a furious itch. Looking down, he watched his hands darken, the fingers thinning and stretching until they resembled Anod’s. Searing pain shot through the tips of his ears and he bit the inside of his cheek to stifle an unmanly yelp.

Anod’s face was a picture, and Ike might have laughed if Tris hadn’t immediately put a finger to her closed lips. She looked to the door and doused the lamp by her feet, plunging the room into darkness.

The noises outside the tree were much louder now. Voices called to each other, muffled by the thick walls.

“They’re gone, sir! The readings, they’ve just… stopped!”

“Spread out. Look for a body.”

Ike held his breath, his newly-pointed ears pricked to listen as the soldiers shuffled around mere paces from his sanctuary. Kyri inhaled sharply as a dull thud sounded against the door. Ike reached out and threaded his long fingers through hers, squeezing gently. She slowly released her breath and squeezed back.

Every muscle in his body was tensed to flee. Ike tried to ignore the Cyrex chirping its warnings in his brain about his adrenal system and potential for cardiac arrhythmia. The only way to shut it up was to remove it, and that would be an instant death sentence. Just as the damned thing was beginning to make him weigh the risks in earnest, the sounds outside changed.

“Nothing, sir.”

“Impossible. Run the scans again.”

“I have, sir. Twice. No signs of human life within a three-klick radius. Some natives, but no humans, alive or dead.”

“He’s obviously still on the move. Must have gotten transportation somehow. We press on.”

“Should I call for the shuttle, sir?” A different, gruffer voice.

“No, Jenng. Leave it. Can’t risk it panicking the townspeople, touching down so close. We’ll form a strategy on the way. Move out.”

“Sir. You heard the captain!”

Footfalls in the distance, then nothing. Ike slowly released Kyri’s hand, flexing his own to encourage blood flow. He was turning to her to make sure she was okay when the scream from outside stopped him cold.

Tris!” The captain’s voice was flooded with emotion. “Tris, godsdammit!”

Ike’s gaze flew to Tris, or rather the dark corner where she had been sitting. She didn’t move, barely breathed. Long moments ticked by. Finally, muffled cracking and shuffling indicated the captain had left to join his men.

Tris coaxed the tiny lamp to flame again. Her eyes were haunted as they lifted to meet Ike’s. Anod and Kyri stared open-mouthed at her.

“Well, honey,” Ike drawled. “Seems like you’ve got some explaining of your own left to do…”

Tris stiffened and rubbed a hand over her face. “Not now. We need to move.”

“They are heading to Stonehaven!” Kyri hissed. “And their leader calls your name!” She looked at Anod. “We have to warn them!”

“Our plans have changed. We are not going to Stonehaven.”

They all looked at Tris, who was packing her kit.

“Then where…?” Anod began.

Tris ignored him, pinning Ike with a look. “You are still willing to help then?”

Ike lifted his hand along with one eyebrow. “Whatever form that takes, huh?” He sighed.  “I already know I’m going to regret this. Fine. Where are we going?”

“I have to get something important from the ship in orbit.” Tris gave Ike a ghost of a half-smile. “You are a pilot, yes?”

“A pilot without a shuttle,” Ike grumbled.

The smile widened. “Fortunately for us, I know where we can find one.”

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Previous: Chapter Seven by Kymele || Next: Chapter Nine by Christina & Kella

Slight Delay

Posted: August 25, 2013 by Kella in Uncategorized

War is hell. 

Work is war.

So is a preschooler.

Chapter Eight is forthcoming, but will be slightly delayed.

Thank you for your patience.

 

~Management 

 

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