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Chapter 7

 

Revelations II

 

Ariei

Flames move in a flailing dance, casting the whispered prayers of those gathered around the grand fire skyward as rhythmic drums hammer down from the mounted city above. Even watching from afar, within the safety of the emberstrand around me, I can feel a palpable tension in the air.

“Do you think they led those things here?”

I look to my left. Zileih, an emberstrand several years my senior, is eating a ration of nuts and luminescent berries out of a makeshift bag fashioned from leftover scrap material. Despite all of us already having eaten, she’s been going at a slower pace. I don’t blame her- there’s a lot to consider. Food must seem like an afterthought.

“The new eidelion? I’m not sure.”

She narrows her eyes. “Ariei. Don’t tell me you can look at this-” she points at the massive creature standing at the near distance- “and tell me they aren’t in control of them.”

I shrug. “Of course I've thought about it. Maybe they're domesticated where they come from. Some of their technology would be impossible for us to make with our current resources, after all. Maybe things are... different there."

Zileih chuckles, popping another berry into her mouth. "Domesticated. Can you imagine?"

I shake my head. "No. No I can't."

Another emeberstrand, a man with a short black goatee and shaved head, butts his way into the conversation. “What do you mean you can't? If I'd witnessed half the shit you did today, I'd consider myself damn near capable of beleiving anything. Not to pressure you, but I feel like you know more than you or Edom have let on. What were they like?”

Almost naturally, I let the truth of our expedition out. If not Braham’s secret, they deserve to know what was out there.

“They set a trap. There was a naked corpse nailed to a tree- one of ours. Male. When we investigated it, they swarmed in- they were bipedal, similar to a strigara, but larger. The snouts were lengthier, too.”

He looks surprised that I gave him the truth. Zileih prods further.

“How did you know it was a citizen of Ios?”

“I don’t. I just don’t think the Centralians would kill one of their own to create a lure.”

The man chuckles, spitting a seed shell into the blades of grass as they slowly move to absorb it.. “I wouldn’t be so sure. After all, they made a hell of an introduction.”

Zileih shoots him a dirty look. “Be respectful, Carim.”

Carim just laughs more. “Please. This is the single most important moment of our history, and it occured when a group of fucking idiots caused an accident? We didn’t matter a single bit in making it happen- it just came to us in a gift of rockfall and more questions piled on top of the first thousand.”

I nod. “I’ve been running through every single moment of the event since it happened. It’s too convenient.”

Carim grins. “There’s the Edom in you. You’re learning fast.”

Zileih is visibly frustrated. “Listen to yourselves, both of you!” She pulls her hood down in frustration. I’m not quite sure why it was even up in the first place. She's always been a fairly awkward person. “Can we just take a moment to realize what we’ve lost today?! Look at the Centralians. Even they are more respectful to their dead!”

Carim snickers, his tone sarcastic. “Oh, please. Of course I understand to honor those we lose, Zileih. But I think you may be forgetting an important criteria of our role.”

“Come on, Carim. We haven’t even burie-”

He cuts her off. “We are the ones who move forward.”

She turns away from him, staring at the burning ceremony a distance away. “You wouldn’t say that if it was somebody close to you.”

He leans back, his smile fading. He strokes his goatee. “No, I wouldn’t. Thing is, I’ve got nobody left to lose.”

We watch longer, the fire eventually becoming a hypnotic mirage that burns through the night. The maw’s clouds haven’t dared to wander this far yet tonight- I wonder if those living on the creature have some sort of protection mechanism of their own. The figures in the distance stand steady, silent, before eventually returning to the checkpoint to greet my father. As they meet, we stand and move in unison towards them, once again drawing our weapons. He raises his hand, stopping us a short distance behind him.

“Gierant. Has the ceremony concluded?”

Gierant. So that’s his name. The leader responds.

“Yes. I’d like to thank you for allowing the proceedings to occur. That was a privilege we are honored to receive.”

He bows, and the soldiers behind him do as well. Their bizarre mechanical armor whirs and clicks as they move. I’m still not used to being in their vicinity- even knowing what’s beneath, it feels wrong somehow, alien. My father does not return the gesture.

“You and the invading men will be spending your time here in a secure collection of rooms in the emberstrand’s barracks. You will have your dignity and privacy intact, there will simply be guards outside of your door. For those still remaining on your…”

Gierant finishes the sentence, grinning softly. “Loftfort.”

My father shakes his head before continuing. “For those remaining on your loftfort, they will be monitored by a team of recon emberstrand. I’m assuming your people won’t ledger a massive attack under threat of your execution, although I am unsure of your customs.”

Despite the threat, Gierant is fully cooperative. He speaks in a strong, commanding manner.

“No worries, Edom. The others understand the conditions well.” He turns to his men, looking at each of them, before turning back. “We simply want to reunite you all with the Pillars, and determine how such a circumstance came to be in the first place.”

My father simply nods, turning back. He looks to Carim and Zileih. They, along with four others, cross the bridge to stand guard, the massive loftfort standing tall above. It groans, its rumbling voice earthy and ancient. Each of the large guns lining the rim is raised skyward. They fire in a final salute, the sound booming and shrill all at once. The remaining emberstrand on the surface gather around the Centralain soldiers as we all move back towards the lift, the gravity around us seeming to grow heavier every second. Emerit raises the bridge. He notices me as I look back, giving me an unenthusiastic but still appreciated salute. Even amongst the day’s events, it makes me smile somewhat.


It doesn’t take long for us to reach headquarters. The two-storied building is built directly into the cavern’s walls. Although its front surface is mostly stone, it is reinforced with steel panels and rivets. An open path lining the front entrance is guarded over by two scouts, their weapons slung over their backs. There are no windows- having such features would allow any criminals or ill-intending conspirators to catch a glimpse of our operations. Instead, despite the linear paneling and a steel double door, there exists no additional detail on the outside. It is built to be entirely functional. A collection of gears is hidden inside the wall, grinding against esperstone circuits to further power the lights and furnaces inside.

My father motions to the guards. They reach behind the wall, turning a wheel to slowly open the front gate. It grinds open, scraping across the ground and sending a cloud of dust upwards. We cross the barrier, the soft click of the gears in the walls welcoming us.

There’s nobody inside.

It only takes a moment for me to regain my composure. Of course there’d be no emberstrand inside- a quarter in our current party, a quarter on the surface, and the other half dealing with the chaos around the city leaves nobody behind. Still, it’s a strange sensation. Having spent so much time here in my youth, I'd never have expected it to be so subtly quiet. There was always laughter, and announcement dialogues, and commotion whenever something went wrong. But now there’s simply nothing- as if everybody just disappeared.

The interior is softly lit by the esperstones, darker than most buildings here due to little outside light from the city beyond. A set of ladders lead to the upper lever at the sides, where the hallways travel further into the building from the center. The main commons area resembles the tavern moreso than a professional meeting space. The tables are old, scratched and worn, the chairs haphazardly placed. Some have been knocked onto their sides from jovial tussles and sudden calls to action- or, occasionally, a lazy refusal to simply replace the chair. A large pot hangs from the ceiling in the center, suspended by chains. Those stationed in the headquarters for the day would eat from the communal stew cooked there, often by whomever managed to walk past the pot at the current time. There are better cooks in the city, of course; it just so happens that it is easier to eat something swift and free from the comfort of your this space.

My father sighs, pulling a chair over and taking a seat. He motions to the group.

“Take them upstairs, to the unoccupied rooms on the right side. Ensure they have full accommodations, water. You all will have food within the hour.”

Giant performs a half-bow. “Thank you, Edom. Truly.”

My father refrains from responding. The group leaves, moving further into the headquarters. I take a seat next to him. I remove my cloak and set my coremag rifle next to me on the ground.

“I know I asked you before, but all you gave was a simple answer. Are you truly alright?”

He looks detached. The hours have clearly taken their toll on him. I wonder if I wear the same gaunt expression he does.

“Ariei, you don’t deserve this.”

It takes me by surprise. He’s normally such a strong-willed man, and after his heartfelt speech from earlier, it’s bizarre to see him change this fast.

“What do you mean by that?”

He leans back. His normally beautiful hair is tousled, unkempt.

“I’ve dragged you down, Ariei. I took away your potential and dragged you into this.”

I pause, taking a moment to wrestle with the meaning of those words. “Father, I-”

“I never truly got to know my parents. They died a few years after I was born from the plague. I grew up alone, working for scraps in the mining operations. The one thing that kept me going was the thought of joining the emberstrand. It was a few years past when Braham reinvigorated the guild with his inventions and strategic mindset. He’d only been eighteen when he started, can you believe it?”

I nod, tense, focused. He continues.

“I’d see them, soaking in the sight of their regal uniforms, their prowess, their undeniable achievements. But far more than that, Ariei, was their knowledge. I was hungry for answers, answers to anything. Why had I been given this life? Why had the plague taken my life, my family from me? What was the purpose of going on living?”

He leans back, stroking his beard.

“So, when I came of age, I started training. I studied so hard that I’d barely sleep for weeks at a time. I entered the fighting pits underage- both for extra cino and to hone my fighting ability. After just a few years I'd worked my way up the recruit ranks. It felt like an endless struggle to reach it but, at the age of nineteen, I made it to the top ranks. I was selected. I should have been the happiest man on earth, but instead all I could feel was a cold confirmation. I was at the point I wanted to be for the furthering of my dream. It wasn’t a sensation of success, no, it was a sensation of truly beginning”

My father was never one to divulge his past. It was always hidden from sight, tucked away within the subterranean depths of his psyche. So to have him express so much, to open up in a moment of crisis, is shocking to say the least. He stands, walking towards the pot. He kicks the small gears underneath, starting the persistent motion mechanism as they grind against each other. The friction triggers the esperstone tube going to the pot, transferring warmth and starting to cook the perpetual stew within. He stirs it, staring down. I think of saying something, but it feels wrong somehow. I want to let him express what he wants to express.

“So, I went on my introductory incursion with Braham. The man was ragged, rough. It was years before we truly became friends. Then came the first outreach- that was it. That was when we grew closer. Not just him, but everybody became close- I became a hero of the people. I never wanted that, and it changed my life. Braham? He only appreciated me because of my physical worth to the guild. Your mother? She only wanted to court me for the selfish reasons I fed her.”

“Stop.” I stand straight, furious. “How dare you throw those around you away, even in a moment of crisis. Do you think I don’t feel it- that I don’t feel your frustration? Why must you drag me into it?”

His expression remains steadfast in its worn exterior. “She wed me, Ariei, out of the promise of heroism. I’d tell her of my dreams every day- of our future life on the surface, of how the other humans must live. She held onto that future, day after day, year after year. When we had Elias, she was thrilled. She tried to join the emberstrand, but I told her not to. Elias needed her- I refused to let him have the same childhood I had. He was a promise, too, a glimpse of our future. Then came you. Your mother grew more weary of this life, our ragged existence, me being gone so often. But that dream always held its weight. When it came time for Elias to begin training, your mother and I encouraged him. He was a physical manifestation of our hope, somebody to carry on the legacy- but, of course, he had reservations. He was afraid of the surface, afraid of leaving you alone without a brother to guide you. It took a few days, but then, one night, you encouraged him, told him he had to do it. Our corruption of Elias wasn’t enough, he’d grown enough to see past it. But you were so young, childish like us.”

It takes a moment for me to grasp what he’s saying. Of course it was my fault, I’ve always known it was. And yet here he is, trying pathetically to take the blame away from me. Or is he pinning it on me after all?

"Childish like you?"

He chuckles. “Exactly. You were a child, and, despite the wisdom we should have possessed, we had the same thought process. So we filled you with traits of ourselves.” He lifts the spoon from the pot, taking a slow sip.

“Do you remember, when Elias passed, how you’d bring flowers from the vastinroots to protect me? You’d always mention they were his favorites.”

I nod, my voice shaky. “Y-yes. I remember.”

“When your mother snuck her way to the surface, I had no idea what to think, what the purpose of that action was. Obviously it was a form of suicide. But now, after so many years, I think I know. Her dream, the dream I forced onto her, had begun to decay over the years. It truly died when Elias did the same.”

“What are you saying?”

“I think she went to the surface to truly see the fabled land I promised her all those years ago. She didn’t care if it was the end. She wanted to know- to see even a mere glimpse of what we worked so hard for. In the end, I fed her a dream. It killed her, Ariei. And what did I do? Oh, I grieved, of course. I did, you did, the entire fucking civilization did. It shook our entire foundation. And what did I do? Did I stop, Ariei?”

“Father, please-”

“NO. I never did. I just dragged you into it too. And now we have the answer. I have the answer I spent my entire life building up to, that I sacrificed my wife for, that I sacrificed your brother for, and Braham, and very nearly you, as well.”

I shake my head. “Why are you torturing yourself like this? It was an important discovery.”

“Because no dream, no discovery, is worth that. I did this to Silia, to Elias, to Visia, and, in the end, I did this to you. I’m so sorry, Ariei.”

For a moment, I'm not sure how to respond. It takes me a moment to see the tears that trail down his worn face. I’m frozen where I stand, constantly running his words through my head. I’m angry, angry that he is bringing this down on me. And yet, I feel a sense of sympathy. My father’s confidence was always a façade built to masquerade years of pain, and it has finally burst. I move forward and wrap my arms around the husk of a man.

“You didn’t hurt anybody, father. You just had the same dream that affects everybody here.”

He wraps his arms around me, as well. He begins to cry.

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About the author

Eric Matheson

  • United States

Bio: Hi everybody! My name is Eric Matheson. I'm a weird fantasy/horror writer from the frozen nightmare dimension of Ohio.

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