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The Resonance of Misko
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TCS.Bookman
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 16, 2012 7:24 am    Post subject: The Resonance of Misko Reply with quote

**Please post any questions, comments, reactions etc in the discussion thread. Do not reply to this thread. Thanks.

The Resonance of Misko


Chapter One: The Nomad Boy


The air was hot and humid, heavy with the smell of wildflowers and grass. The loud critchet of cicadas drowned the world in their harsh songs as the afternoon sun swept over the small meadow, which sat at the base of Akmuo, the city of fallen stone, and separated it from a dense deciduous forest. Its grass was tall and green, white and yellow blossoms weaved into it. A small, bent tree stood against the wind that was constantly spilling down on it, standing against the sun and casting a blotch of shade on the otherwise baking landscape.

Claude leaned against the base of the tree, buck knife in hand, and whittled a small bird from a slice of wood. He paused a moment, wiping a slick layer of sweat from his forehead, before resuming his work. It was a droning task that required little thought on his part, but it kept his mind busy. Tonight they'd be deciding who was going on the expedition to find and destroy Misko. Tonight may be the first step down the road to proving his worth, and drawing their family name from the mud. He was convinced that he would take that step.

A few hours passed easily by. He carved three more birds out of stray pieces of wood he found on the ground – cutting any off the tree would bring one of Misko's owls immediately – before late evening began to set in. He leaned back against the rough bark, just watching the world. It was finally starting to cool. He had to stay on lookout for a while longer before he could return to town. The meeting concerning Misko would be coming much later in the night anyway, perhaps right into the morning.

In the distance, at the edge of the forest, tiny lights glinted through thick leaves. His first impression was that they were fireflies; but he quickly realized that they were too large. A group of nomads. Probably seeking shelter for tonight. He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth in annoyance; he'd been assigned to look out for spotted wolves and nomads, but had hoped that he would see neither tonight. It just further complicated things. The meeting was going to take place late already, since there would be less Watchers at night when they believed everyone was asleep. Now the owls would want to stay up and investigate the newcomers. The discussion concerning Misko might be postponed even until the next day.

He got up. This was his job, though. He had to lead them in.

He slipped his carvings into his bag, picked up his shepherd staff, and made his way towards the group, bell clinging against his waist. From this distance, he could already see at least three owls circling overhead, following the nomads. The owls were pets of Misko. Some could even speak, which was how the people knew of the spirit's existence. Silhouetted against the bright evening sky, blue with spots of stars, he could make out one of the owls straying. They'd seen him, and one was coming to check up and see what he was doing.

As Claude approached, the owl met up and began to circle above him.

“I'm here to guide the nomads to the city,” he said loudly to the owl. “I have no ill intent.”

It circled around him several more times before breaking off and flying back to the group to report to the other Watchers what he was doing. The group stopped; apparently one of their owls could speak. Each person was turned towards him now, lanterns swinging in the wind and throwing dark shadows to their faces.

He waved his staff in the air as a signal to follow him and they began to mill his direction. When the group met with him, no words were spoken. He turned towards the moon and led them in the direction of the hill where Akmuo sat.
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2012 2:55 pm    Post subject: Chapter 1: The Nomad Boy (2) Reply with quote

Claude estimated the walk to be about ten minutes, and the relief from the silence was only that of the bell at Claude's waist and the hiss of grass as breezes slipped by. For the most part, it was uneventful; three owls flying overhead, the large group of around thirty trailing behind him. However, up towards the front, a small boy, about eleven years old or so, caught Claude's eye. He was strange looking, especially for a nomad. Unusually pale and skinny, with an oversized long-sleeve shirt that draped almost down to his knees – Claude couldn't help but also note his clean white-blonde hair and shallow blue eyes. And unlike any other nomad, who was heavily burdened by their belongings and essentials, the boy only carried a small bag slung over his shoulder. It was odd; Claude wasn't sure the child was a nomad at all. Could he be a Lilikoi? There were several reasons why that couldn't be possible, but the child was certainly strange enough.

Even stranger still, however, was the fact that Claude was forced to observe all this out of the corner of his eye – the child was watching him, as if he were the strange one. He only ignored the boy's gaze with a hint of irritation, but it didn't deter the nomad child – or maybe Lilikoi – from staring.

Upon reaching the gate, Claude rapped the wood with his staff several times. There was silence, and the nomads began to shift on their feet in wait. After a couple silent moments, there was the snap of a latch and a loud creak as the heavy door was opened, with Matthew, one of the other native boys, on the other side. Claude ushered the nomads inside, watching the horizon for spotted wolves, but saw none. When each one had gone inside, he entered himself, and Matthew let the door swing back closed.

One of the town leaders quickly came forward, welcoming the nomads and leading them away. Claude untied the bell at his waist, stuffing it into his pocket and finally quieting the annoying ring. His shift was over.

“So you see anything today?” Matthew asked from behind him. Matthew was one of the only boys who wasn't blatantly cruel towards Claude. A slight breath escaped Claude's mouth, and he could feel his shoulders ease.

“No wolves,” he responded. “But there's a really weird nomad boy. You should check him out. I swear he's a Lilikoi.”

Matthew paused, tying some binding ropes that kept the door shut. “They can't leave the Lilikoi forest, though, right?”

“Just go check him out. You'll think the same thing.”

“What's he look like?”

“Just go look.”

“Fine. Will I see you later?”

Claude ran his fingers through his hair. “Uhh. Maybe. I might be tending to the nomads, bringing them food and stuff. Are you going to Damon's house tonight?”

“Yeah.”

“Then yeah, I'll see you later.”

Neither of them said anything more as Claude began to crunch down the gravel pathway, towards the central well. He needed to wash his face, and then he'd have to go check on the nomads. As a shepherd and lookout, one of his responsibilities was both leading the nomads to Akmuo and then making sure they were taken care of. Usually he went about his chores in a drone-like trance, but today he was both excited as well as irritated – he might be taking a big step forward, but at the same time, the nomads may have set things back. His brief talk with Matthew had definitely improved his mood, though. He could actually share a calm conversation with the guy. Maybe things would go good tonight, after all.
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 18, 2012 12:03 pm    Post subject: Chapter 1: The Nomad Boy (3) Reply with quote

He trotted down the gravel trailways, taking shortcuts that weaved between crude stone buildings riddled with clover and ivy. The night sky had lost its lustrous blue glow, clouds dimming the moon and covering the stars, offering Claude only a stern darkness. It would have forced most people back onto the main roads, but Claude stayed on his usual route. He had keen night vision, and paired with his familiarity with the area, there was no real need to adjust his course to a lit path.

Making a turn down a slimmer space between buildings, he made out onto a more well-worn road, though still dark. Across the road was his home. His father would be there. He always was. Claude made a brief agitated scowl before approaching the house.

The door creaked in loud protest as he entered. It was dark inside as well, and he could make out the dark outline of his father in the kitchen. Claude rolled his eyes in annoyance, turning left into his room. Half of the space was taken up by a thin bed, and he had to squeeze through the tight doorway just to enter. He snatched the jacket off his windowsill, slung it over his shoulder, and moved back into the entrance room.

“Claude?”

Claude paused, a half-step outside. He sighed and turned back into the house. His father was leaning against the door-less portal between the kitchen and entrance room. Tall and weak-looking, his cheeks had hollows and his skin was spotted and waxy, spread thin across bony fingers. He was a dramatic contrast to his stocky son, who stood firm and flat on his feet before him.

“The meeting is tonight then?” his father whispered.

“Yeah,” Claude said, irritation lining his words. “It is. And I don't think we should be talking about it.” It was true. Owls could be listening...

“I see...”

“That's all then?”

“No,” his father said, casting his eyes to the floor. “I...Claude I just...”

He stopped, searching for the words he needed, but what little patience Claude had was already gone.

“Look me in the face and spit it out.”

An intake of breath could be heard in the silence. His father, with a decisive jerk, shifted his gaze straight into Claude's eyes.

“If they choose you, I just...I just want you to be sure of what you're doing. I want you to be absolutely positive that you want to do what you're going to set out to do. It's...”

“Just because you're my dad it doesn't mean I'm going to be a coward like you. I'm setting things right again, whether you had the guts to do it or not. That's the biggest difference between you and me. I don't hesitate."

Claude didn't wait for a response. In a single swift step, he turned and left, not even closing the door behind him.
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2012 1:46 am    Post subject: Chapter 1: The Nomad Boy (4) Reply with quote

Outside, he saw that in the brief time he lost sight of the sky, it had changed dramatically. The clouds had all been swept away by some unfelt breeze, giving a faint blue luster to his surroundings. He slipped the jacket on, feeling a chill, and started down another narrow trail that lead to the fastest route to the nomad's keep. His father really set him on edge. It wasn't just nerve – it was idiocy to talk about a meeting of that nature when owls could be listening. In fact, now that there was at least some moonlight in the dark back alleys, Claude could see in various nooks and at the tops of the higher roofs the piercing eyes of owls. They were watching him, animal irises and glinting red in the light. He wondered if they knew now, if his father had given the plans away. But he pushed the thought from his mind; something would have happened by now if they'd figured it out. Even so, owls always spooked him. If it would not bring terrible fury on the town, he would set traps all around to kill them. However, as envoys of Misko, even one of them dead would not go unnoticed nor unpunished.

He skirted around several buildings until he was flat against the wall, which was overgrown with plants. No one ever bothered to maintain this area, which allowed various weeds and grasses to run wild. However, it was a surefire way to the nomad's keep, which was just nearby. The biggest downside was all the prickly seeds that caught in his cargo pants each time he passed through the area.

He stopped short, just before a turn around a corner. He had an inexplicable pit in his gut. He peered around the edge, looking for anything suspicious. After a moment, something up ahead caught his attention. Covered by the shadow of the building, he could only see it as a small dark shape; however, with all the foliage, it could easily be hiding a much larger body.

Like a spotted wolf.

He slowly reached for the hatchet at his waist, undoing the leather strap. Spotted wolves were the most dangerous things humans had to face these days. Unnaturally intelligent, with enormous hulking bodies and thick hides, they were hard to keep out and near impossible to kill; paired with their instincts to do nothing but cause death, they were incredibly dangerous animals. This was one of the most secure parts of the wall – and due to such, there wasn't a whole lot of security in the area. If a wolf had really broken through, mass casualties would be sure to result.

The shape began to move. There was no mistaking now. It was approximately the size of a spotted wolf's head. Claude realized that the wolf could have dug through, and was in the process of wiggling through whatever passage it had made, which put it in a vulnerable position.

Decisively, he began to flick his eyes between the dark shape and the ground, carefully placing each step to avoid creating too much noise. He could easily throw his hatchet from this distance, but a wolf would need more than that to die. He would most likely have to hit it several times just to crack the skull.

He surged forward, hatchet at the ready, moving quickly and disregarding stealth. The creature froze, and then the shape seemed to contort in his vision. He wavered in his charge, but kept moving.

Suddenly the shape didn't look right at all. A cast of moonlight filtered over the building, enough to faintly light the shadows of the shape. Claude stumbled a couple more steps forward. This wasn't a spotted wolf. It was...

...It was just a stupid kid.

“Whoa, don't I know you from somewhere?” he heard the boy speak calmly.

“What...what the hell...” Claude huffed, confused, coming to a complete halt. But his confusion was brief, quickly transforming into wide-eyed fury. “What the hell are you doing back here?” he yelled, moving forward until he could shove the boy right up against the wall. “I almost killed you! Who the hell is stupid enough to be rustling around in a pile of weeds in the middle of the night?! And next to the wall! What the hell?”

“You sure do say hell a lot.”

“Do you even know the situation you're in? Look in my hand! Look...” He waved the hatchet in front of his face. “Look at what I was ready to toss into your tiny little skull!”

The kid made a small noise as if to respond, but Claude interrupted anything he was ready to say. Grabbing the back of the boy's shirt, he dragged him upright and pulled him into a larger patch of dim light, which gave shape to the boy with a pale face and white-blonde hair.

“Hey, you're...you're that nomad kid!” Claude growled. “Why aren't you with the nomads?”

“I was getting some herbs,” the boy squeaked, holding up a handful of leaves. “And Finnian Lloyd Gregor is my name.”

“Fine, Finnian. I'm taking you to your parents then. Come on!”

He grabbed a wad of the boy's hair and tugged him behind, making out towards a lit road.

“Ow ow ow ow! Hey, no! I don't have any parents!” the child protested. “I just tag along with nomads! Most of them there don't even know me!”

“Don't care. You were traveling with them, you're underage, so you're their responsibility.”

“Alexander will kill me!”

“With a hatchet?” Claude smirked.

“Okay, he won't actually kill me, but I'll be in huge trouble!”

“Good.”

They were on an open trail now, which was lit by various lanterns hanging on poles. He stopped, shoving the boy ahead of him. “Walk. Just that building on the left. I'm sick of dragging you.”

“You didn't even have to drag me in the first place!”

“Walk!”

The boy grudgingly started forward, Claude close behind.

“This doorway, just here.”

“I know that,” the boy puffed.

They turned inside a roughly-formed building, packed full of the huge group of nomads. Lanterns hung from ceiling hooks, giving an uneven glow to the room and the people inside, who busied themselves repairing clothing and tools. Sleeping sacks and piles of bloated bags lay haphazard all around, leaving few spaces of the cold cement floor. Claude roughly took the boy's collar in hand again and cleared his throat. People looked up from the various things that required their attention, instead focusing on the boy in Claude's hold. Claude waited a moment for complete silence, and noticed that all the nomads had the same look on their face – contempt? Disapproval?

“Who here is in charge of Finnian?”

“They call me Finny,” the boy hissed, trying to wrestle Claude's hand off with skinny arms. But Claude kept a firm grip, which was barely affected by the child's struggling.

“Well?”

“Finny,” an older man called out. Claude could feel the child's shoulders fall at the sound of his voice.

“Uh, hi Jara,” he smiled weakly.

Claude let Finny go, shoving him forward. As Finny hopped over various sleeping sacks and possessions, Claude made sure to make it clear the trouble he was in.

“The boy was almost killed,” he said. “Keep him in your sight. I don't need blood on my hands.”

The response was unintelligible, but it came with an affirmative nod. Claude stepped out into the night again, but stopped just outside the door, peering in; he saw the man as he clapped Finny lightly across the face, earning a yelp from the child. The man said something else and waved his hand, and Finny picked his way between scattered sleeping sacks back into the corner, where a small shoulder-strap bag was pushed up against the wall next to an unlit lantern. Besides that, the boy seemed to have nothing. Not a sleeping sack, not even a blanket. Besides the dirty clothes he was draped in, he was completely exposed. And even beyond the long-sleeve shirt, it was clear he'd begun to shiver. The cement floor was an unforgiving place, as Claude well knew. He turned away, mind still heavy.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 03, 2012 1:28 am    Post subject: Chapter 2: Shattered (1) Reply with quote

Chapter 2: Shattered


He wasn't entirely sure what possessed him, but in the end, Claude blamed the irrational urge on his responsibilities. It was his job to care for the nomads, and that was that. So by the time Claude arrived at the supply bunker, he was entirely confident in what he was to do.

He was back at the nomad's keep within twenty minutes. Outside the doorway, a woman draped in a blanket was rocking back and forth, calming the tiny cries of a baby. He nodded to her in acknowledgment, but she ignored him. Besides that, only hushed voices and stray crickets broke the night air.

Entering in, most the nomads had already gone to sleep. A group of three sat with their lanterns lit, discussing something or rather, and another man on the far edge was cleaning something made of metal. The rest of the lights had gone out, with a couple wicks still glowing red from being recently extinguished. Holding the bundle under his arm, Claude quietly made his way to the back corner, where Finny was curled in a tight ball against the corner, draped in three dirty shirts, presumably his as they were all long-sleeve. Claude gently grasped the boy's shoulder, shaking him into consciousness.

“I brought you some blankets so you don't freeze to death,” Claude whispered. “Lantern oil, too, so you don't have to stumble around in the dark next time.”

The child rubbed his eyes and sat up, the shirts falling off his side in a pathetic heap. Claude pulled the blanket out from under his arm and set it in Finny's lap. Immediately Finny took it and wrapped it around his shoulders, tucking in his knees and shivering. Claude could tell, even in the dimness, that the boy's eyes were still dull with sleep. He smiled slightly to himself (though, of course, the darkness concealed it) and tugged at the corners of the blanket, nudging it under Finny's legs and making sure there were no spots of open air.

“Thanks,” Finny croaked. “It's pretty cold around here, huh?”

“Only at night,” Claude said. “The day time is just as miserable with heat.”

Finny remained sitting upright, tightly bound in blanket, and Claude knelt for another minute or so before saying: “If you need anything else, just tell someone to ask for me. Yeah?”

“Wait,” the boy said. “Take the lantern oil. I won't use it.”

“Then you're an idiot. Be grateful I take my job so seriously, alright? Now get back to sleep. They'll be running you ragged in the morning.”

“Wait,” the boy said again.

“What is it this time? Don't tell me you don't want the blanket now, either.”

“No. What's your name?”

He paused. “Claude.”

Then he disappeared as the last of the nomads put their lanterns out, slipping out of the building without so much as a sound.
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 08, 2012 2:09 pm    Post subject: Chapter 2: Shattered (2) Reply with quote

For the next two hours, Claude sat in his cramped room and sharpened his hatchet and a select choice of knives. With Finny probably huddled up in his warm new blanket, his mind was at least at ease in one aspect. However, the prospect of the night's discussion still hung heavy like storm clouds. Jara was the head of it – and though he hated Claude, he recognized his skills as tracker and hunter. There was no denying that. Besides, Claude was one of the few who had taken down a spotted wolf himself. He had experience with Misko's monsters. No ignoring that, no matter how much Jara hated him. But that still didn't guarantee Claude a spot in the hunting party.

Finally, a little past midnight, Matthew came for him. Together they quietly slipped out onto the dark road, not a word between them. The mutual, comfortable silence between two friends.

They arrived within a couple of minutes. The meeting was being held in a rough dug-out basement beneath Damon's house. The only entrance was a wide hole beneath the crumbling foundation that, on a normal day, was covered by a rotting pile of wood. But now the wood had been pushed aside, and a faint cast of amber light filtered through.

The two boys got onto the ground and slid inside, a cascade of dirt coming down with them, landing on a floor that had been covered in a thick layer of straw. Only a couple others had shown up already.

Claude and Matthew took their places next to a boy named Cal, who had the prime spot under the air vent. The basement only had three – a metal screen framed by brickwork to prevent collapse, with a limited view out into the night sky. Anyone who had ever spent even an hour in the basement knew how thick and heavy the air got when it was crowded.

One after one, more people trickled in, most older than Claude. Mostly male for some reason, but there were a couple girls. Claude knew most everyone. Such was typical of a small town bent on survival.

Then Jara entered, followed by Damon, and they sat down in the center next to the lantern. Everyone scooted back flat against the wall just to keep their feet from touching. It quieted as they waited, the rhythmic sounds of breathing falling into one another. Already the air was growing heavy and warm, and Claude took deep breaths every time a wind flitted through the vent. He started to fidget with the buckle that strapped the hatchet to his waist, running his fingers along the leather and metal facets.

“We're missing a person,” Damon finally said, “but we have to start. We all know why we're here, but I would like everyone to know that plans have been moved up. We have to leave tonight.”

Mutterings all around.

“Some of you won't be coming,” Jara shot in. “And of those who do, some of you won't be returning. There's no room for cowardice.”

Damon cast Jara a sideways look. “Well, alright then,” he said. “On that jolly note, let's hurry along here. So. Ehm. Shane, Enya, you'll be the main navigators. Toby, Wallace, Allen – trackers. Eric, Mark...”

More names, more titles. Matthew was assigned as a medic, along with a girl named Eclipse. Claude knew he'd be called last, if he was called. He let the names run by, his eyes glancing about the room. And on the other side, behind a vent screen, something was moving around.

A terribly offensive curse ran through his head.

In the pit of the vent on the other side, something was huddled behind the screen. Or rather, someone, as a dirty lock of blonde hair became clear. Finny. The damn brat had followed him.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 09, 2012 12:50 pm    Post subject: Chapter 2: Shattered (3) Reply with quote

Having caught Claude's attention, the child began to mouth something to him, wide-eyed. Maybe some nomad prayer. Nomads were followers of Misko, so hearing this sort of conspiracy was probably frightening to him. They were a bunch of sheep as far as Claude was concerned. He ignored Finny for now. Damon was finishing listing off the hunters. Claude listened for his name.

“Aries, John, Lucio, Jackson, Jara and I will be the slayers. We're going to be the ones in charge of actually killing Misko. But really, everyone in this group will be warriors. Return to your homes and gather your supplies, and meet back at the gate as soon as possible.”

There were a couple quiet moments. Jara stood up, lantern in hand, and people followed his lead, shuffling on the hay floor. Claude finally spoke up.

“Damon, I – ”

“Enough Claude,” Jara snapped quickly, withou pause or hesitation. “I knew you'd say something. So listen. I don't want to hear another word from you, you understand? This group needs unity. You'd only tear it apart. So I'd suggest you be intelligent for once and not further dishonor your family. Accept it.”

It felt as if a slab of ice had been shoved into his chest. Claude couldn't muster up even a short sentence to offset Jara's lash. He quietly simmered, a thousand insults running through his mind. We'll see who's going to kill Misko, yeah?

Finny was waving at him now, frantically. He mouthed to Claude in desperation and, now paying attention, Claude realized that Finny wasn't saying some nomad prayer – it was a single word over and over again.

Owls.


Claude reacted too late, took too long to connect the dots. His father had spoken too loudly. The owls had been listening. They were here. They knew.

One of the boys – Eric – was thrown back from the entrance when a flurry of birds, screeching like demons out of hell, barraged into the room, claws outstretched and animal irses glinting in the light of Jara's lantern.
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2012 8:03 am    Post subject: Chapter 2: Shattered (4) Reply with quote

The onslaught was brutal. A barn owl crashed into Jara's face, screeching in a high rasp something unholy. Jara was thrown back, dropping the lantern and desperately trying to claw the thing off. A great gray, a horned, two other species Claude couldn't name – all tumbled in, clawing and biting.

He made eye contact with Finny. Something snapped, there was a spark of understanding. Everything seemed to slow, the din faded away. Claude didn't think, just moved, heading straight for the vent with long strides. Finny stood up and began to kick the screen, over and over. Dirt was falling, the bricks were coming loose from the broken foundation. People were scrambling around, more owls flew into the room. The entrance was now a death trap. People were falling to the ground, tumbling into one another. Claude kept moving, towards Finny.

The vent fell through. Claude was there. He grabbed onto Finny's outstetched hands, though the boy was too weak to pull him up. He jumped and began to scrabble up with his feet, trying to fit his stocky body through the hole. An owl thudded onto his back, clawing through the shirt, the pinch of skin turning white-hot. With a final push, the owl was shoved off entirely and Claude was out in open air, the nomad boy tugging on his one arm to completely bring him outside.

In one swift movement, Claude stood and grabbed Finny' shirt, dragging him along as he strode down the road and away from the building, eyes steely and emotionless. Finny was yelling something, pleading, but Claude ignored him. They needed to get away from there before owls completely swarmed the place.

They turned a corner, and Finny grabbed hold of Claude arm, scratching him with what was left of his bitten fingernails. “Wait – wait! Where are we going? Aren't you going to help them?”

“Shut up!” Claude hissed, moving even faster. “Be quiet and follow me.”
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 20, 2012 8:53 am    Post subject: Chapter 2: Shattered (5) Reply with quote

The child stopped resisting. They turned more corners, filed through more overgrown alleyways. It was only a couple minutes before they found themselves back at Claude's home. He led the boy inside, quietly opening the door to his room, though only Claude could fit inside. Finny waited in the entrance.

“Did you see that?” Finny whispered. “We have to go back and help them.”

“They can take care of themselves," Claude said through gritted teeth. "They volunteered for that mission, they knew that owls would attack them eventually. This is...just a little sooner than they expected.” He felt a pang of guilt. It was easy enough to say about Jara, even Damon – but Matthew was stuck in there too. “Besides,” he added quickly. “They all saw me get out. They'll be out of there in no time.”

He lifted up his mattress. Underneath was a neat spread of various survival materials – flint and steel, small packs of nuts and dried fruits, some more knives, a folded tarp. He grabbed up a flattened backpack and began stuffing the various supplies inside. “Alright, listen,” he said. “Go back to the nomad's keep. Forget any of this happened. You don't even know me, understand?” Finny didn't reply. Claude didn't seem to notice, just continued to work away, stuffing the various materials inside without second thoughts. After only a minute or so, he slung the backpack over his shoulder. He let the mattress fall and snatched the blanket off it, stuffing it into the largest compartment in the bag. He looked at Finny. “That's the best you can do. Got it? I doubt the owls even noticed you.”

“Wait!” Finny said as Claude pushed him aside and got out of the house. “Just wait. You're going after Misko, right? You're going to find him?”

“Shh!” he said, slapping the boy on the back of the head. After a moment of not being attacked by owls, he whispered: “I told you, just forget about it all. Now scram.”

“I'm coming with you.”

Claude mocked a snicker. “Ha. Yeah. So you can get in my way with your nomad freakishness? No.” He grabbed Finny's collar. “The keep is out that way. Follow the wall out that direction and you'll find yourself somewhere familiar.” He knelt down and started to organize his bag. “They won't notice you were gone and I doubt they'd care if they did.”

“I told you, I'm coming with you! I want to see Misko myself.”

“And I want to kill Misko myself. Isn't that a little bit against your nomad moral crap?”

“I don't care!” Finny insisted. “I won't hold you back, I swear.”

“Little kids shouldn't swear.”

“You can just leave me behind if I don't keep up. I can feed myself and everything. I'm good with plants. And I can get you to Misko a whole lot faster.”

“Yeah,” Claude said. “And how's that?”

“Your group of people. You're trying to beat them there, right? They wouldn't let you go? That's why you're leaving all secret?”

Claude continued to push things around inside the pack, organizing it just right. “Yeah. You're a genius. Get to the point.”

“Well, they don't even know where to start. I do.”

Claude rolled his eyes. “Of course they do. We've been discussing it for weeks. They're going to Kalakai. Large forest, lots of reported phenomena. Very likely Misko is there.” Claude stood up, slinging the pack over his shoulder. “Now that you've entertained me some, I'm outta here. Get back to the nomad's keep already.”

“I've been to Kalakai!” Finny said frantically, tailing the teenager as he began to stroll away. “Misko wouldn't be there, there was tons of old world artifacts! It was a city! It makes no sense for Misko to have started the Second Genesis in a human city!”

Claude slowed a bit.

“Listen, Misko probably started out in an old nature preserve, where he could have lots of space! Start out strong, spread from there. It just makes more sense!”

Claude stopped completely. “And you just thought all this up on your own?”

Finny straightened up. “I've been thinking about it for a long time now. Thought about running away to find Misko myself. But listen! You and me together, we could get there twice as fast!”

Claude shook his head. “Alright then,” Claude said, skepticism dripping from every word, “where do you think a search for Misko should start?”

“Lilikoi forest,” Finny said. “Best starting point.”

“Pfft.” Claude rolled his eyes again. “That makes no sense either. Small forest, and it used to be a human cemetery. I thought you said he'd be in an old world forest?”

“I know,” Finny said, nodding slowly. He paused, carefully considering his wording. “But see, we wouldn't be looking for Misko himself quite yet.”

Claude stared hard at the boy, skeptical but curious. Finny had a gleam in his eye, like he was holding some humorous secret. “What do you mean...?” Claude stopped, eyes growing wide, thoughts tumbling over one another. “Damn," he finally said. "Why the hell didn't I think of that?”

Finny grinned and nodded enthusiastically, happy that Claude got it. “Misko might have a Lilikoi.”

Claude couldn't help but smile to himself, but just for a moment. The steely glare quickly returned as he turned the idea over in his head. The entire town was awake now. There was some commotion back at Damon's house, but no surprise there. It'd be easiest to get out of town while everyone was still disoriented and confused. That didn't give them much time.

“So...?” Finny said pleadingly.

“Fine,” Claude snapped. “But don't you dare hold me back.”

“That's great!” Finny squealed, following Claude as he began weaving through the labyrinth of buildings, past chicken coops and piles of stone. “I swear I'll keep up.”

“Yeah,” Claude murmured. “To Lilikoi forest it is.”
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2012 9:19 am    Post subject: Chapter 3: Exodus (2 and 1, since 1 was deleted) Reply with quote

Chapter 3: Exodus


There was a splinter, and a crack; the flash of a ghost, swirled in blue, as the canopy shook and dropped tiny, weightless tears, which hung suspended like fairy lanterns, glowing the color of lightning.

The tree let out a second electric snap and exploded five feet wider in diameter. The meadow spread all around was briefly flattened by a rush of wind centering at the tree, and was pulled back by rebound.

Commotion in a vast sea of leaves. Owls – not ten, or even a formidable twenty, but scores of the creatures, countless, sat in the branches and surrounded what humans knew as the Tree of Eden. And within it, locked behind bark and layers of heartwood, was Misko himself.

“They are coming,” an owl called from the masses. “The ones you spoke of.”

There was a quiet pause, and the glowing blue flowers continued to drift down. Then a long sigh of breath. It was quiet, but could be heard in total clarity as it seemed to reverberate through the branches and echo over the meadow beneath. After a moment, a voice thrumming with power: “So let them come.”

“They look to destroy you,” another owl said.

“We shall see.”

“We can slice them down now while they are weak!” the owl insisted. “It is our job to protect you!”

“It is your job to be my eyes. Let them come.”

The crackling blue magic filled the air as the tree began to expand again, drowning out any protests and showering more flowers down onto the dark meadow beneath.


* * * * *


“Come on, Finnian!” Claude hollered. “I thought you said you could keep up?”

“I told you,” Finny huffed, reaching Claude spot at the top of an incline. “Call me Finny.”

“I don't make a habit of calling strangers by their nicknames,” Claude said. “Guess I'm just formal that way. Now come on, we have a long way to go.”

“But we've been hiking for hours. It's almost morning. Can we take a little break?”

Claude actually considered it. They'd been avoiding trails all night, keeping away from any place where they could bump into travelers, or where owls may be gathered. As a result, they'd been traversing over totally untamed earth, zigzagging around treacherous slopes and thick brambles, sometimes even double-backing. Finny was a nomad; he was used to such traveling. Claude knew that all he really needed was sleep. But Claude, while fit, still wasn't so accustomed to this sort of strain. He wasn't exhausted yet, but had been steadily slowing down the last half hour or so. Taking a rest may be in their best interest; they could start new in a couple of hours, rather than completely depleting all energy until complete exhaustion.

He stopped, clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Yeah,” he said, “I guess. Alright.”

“Wait...seriously? Really really?”

“Yeah,” Claude said, dropping his backpack to the ground. “Get some rest. We'll get moving again in the morning.”

The child grinned and nodded, and threw down his own pack in celebration, raising his arms for a deep yawn. Claude took the time to spread his sleeping sack on the ground; but Finny instead just pulled a blanket from the pack, curled up on the ground and let it rest on top of him.

“You're such a weirdo,” Claude muttered. Finny either didn't hear him or just ignored him. Claude unceremoniously collapsed on his sack. He killed the lantern. Stars, past flocks of leaves, became clear as his eyes adjusted. Finny was asleep immediately, and Claude, despite unease, succumbed shortly after.
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2012 9:40 am    Post subject: Chapter 3: Exodus (3) Reply with quote

Finny awoke to the metallic stench of blood.
He bolted upright, ready to fling himself into a run. Claude sat at the base of a nearby poplar, knife in hand, cleaning the carcass of a particularly fat rabbit. Warily – and a tad dizzy – Finny stood up.

“So you're awake,” Claude said offhand. “I have breakfast. You can get a fire going, can't you?”

Finny eyed Claude and shook his head. “No, I – err.” He stopped and stared at Claude's hands, slick with globs of blood. “That's disgusting.”

Claude took a moment to look up, eyebrows raised. He looked at the rabbit, then back to Finny, and then lifted the half-skinned creature into the air. “That's food.”

“How can you eat that?” Finny gasped.

Claude shrugged, going back to skinning. “I can't. Not yet, anyway. Have to cook it first. Get a fire going. There's flint and steel in my pack.”

“I'm a vegetarian.”

Claude rolled his eyes. “Of course you are,” he muttered. “It's the circle of life, kid. Someday, something's gonna eat me. May be a spotted wolf, may be a worm. Doesn't matter. So start a fire or go eat some leaves or something. Just get out of my hair. I'm hungry and I don't feel like dealing with some nomad speech on the value of life or whatever.”
Finny made as if to say something else, but then changed his mind; instead, he left to go gather some herbs for himself.

He tried to stay near enough, but in the end, he did wander a little ways away. He needed fresh air. The stench of death was enough to make him puke.

After happening upon a small clearing, he contented himself with the plethora of edible plants. Maple trees branched together overhead, sunlight running through leafy fingers and mottling the ground with the pale outlines of morning light. Among the thicket that surrounded were various saplings of chokecherries, small black berries hanging down in tiny cascades under serrated leaves.

As he plucked the ripe cherries off the ground – and a few fresher ones right from the stems – he came ton experience the feeling of being watched. But it was more than that – it was an intense warning and stirred his senses and gave him the urge to flee. Because in truth, he wasn't being watched.

He was being hunted.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 6:34 am    Post subject: Chapter 3: Exodus (4) Reply with quote

Claude struck the top of an incomplete steel loop against a shard of pale stone, cradling the pair in a makeshift bird's nest, trying to catch at least one spark from the dozens that splashed off the violent interaction.

After ten strokes or so, one tiny seed persisted – it landed on a laced strand of dried grass and Claude gently offered a breath to help it along.

“Claude! Claude, help!”

He instinctively glanced up, concentration extinguished with the tiny ember he had neglected for half a second too long. He cursed.

“Claude! Come help, please!”

He clicked his tongue and stood up. The little idiot had better have a really good reason.

He followed the boy's shouts until the heavy brush opened out into a sun-splattered clearance. He glanced about in the silence.

“Claude?”

He looked up. Finny peered at him from a high branch in a tree above, blue eyes dilated in fear. “Did...did you kill it?”

Claude could feel his teeth gritting in his mouth. “Yes, Finnian,” he growled. “I killed the rabbit. Now what did you need?”

“No, not the rabbit. I mean – ”

Something snarled from beyond the brambles. His hatchet was out of its clasp and in his grip before a clock could have ticked off the second. The unseen thing barked something hellish beyond the stand of foliage, high-pitched and long-winded, liked some twisted form of laughter. Claude pinpointed the sound, ready for a charge. There was a pause, a rush of leaves; Claude remained still, firm on his feet.

“Claude, look – ”

Something flashed in the corner of his eye. He turned and dodged left, so closely skimming his life that his arm brushed the scraggly hide of the enormous animal. Just his luck. A god-damned spotted wolf.

It was opposite of him in a flash, staring, the ridge of hair erect on its spine like a mane. Its coat was scarred and rough, splotched with dark brown and gray patches and sliding over its quivering muscles like ice on a hot pan. Its head hung low, powerful shoulders clumped on a hill on its back, shaking in anticipation as it glared at him with beady, black eyes, ears erect like horns. Claude stared in return, ready for attack and also calculating his odds.

The wolf moved first, lunging with yellow fangs. Claude rushed forward – but not at the wolf. At the tree. He scrambled up, Finny moving aside to make room for him on the branch. The wolf snapped at his calves, jaws clamping down on his cargo pants. He kicked back, and a patch of fabric tore away. Before it could lunge again, Claude heaved himself into the high branch beside Finny.

The wolf hovered below, high guttural growls thrumming in their ears. Then, without warning, it leaped into the air. Finny yelped at its teeth sunk into the branch just under his feet, then released, showering down panels of bark. It leaped again, but before it reached full height, Claude slammed the head of his hatchet into the wolf's skull, knocking its jaws away from Finny. Its intelligent but impatient eyes were suddenly alight with an emotion that could only be compared to burning coals. Claude was now its target.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 6:35 am    Post subject: Chapter 3: Exodus (5) Reply with quote

It jumped again, the whites of black eyes flashing angrily at Claude. He whipped the hatchet blade across its nose, sending a thin thread of blood lacing into the air. The creature fell to the ground with a yelp. And it tried again.

Claude cut it across the muzzle. It fell back, hesitating as blood dripped down the short snout. Finny was whimpering – in fear, or at the sight of blood, Claude didn't know. Claude also didn't care. He was bent on survival.

The spotted wolf circled below now, growling and snarling, but hesitating. Claude stared it down, daring it. It stopped under his gaze, then sat on its haunches. With a powerful release, it lunged into the air. Its paws hit the branch, fowl breath in Claude's face. Claude wildly flung the hatchet in its face, cutting above the eye and then slicing into the ear and shoving it back. It fell, and for a terrifying moment, Claude perilously teetered on the branch, nearly flipping backwards onto the ground. Finny gripped his arm desperately and Claude narrowly regained his balance.

The spotted wolf really looked like a wreck now. Blood dribbled into its eye, ran down its face; one ear hung down in a mangled half. It seemed to shake its head, letting out guttural whines. Then, slowly, without looking at them, it turned and padded away into the brush, red spots marking its trail.

Both Claude and Finny sat in the tree for several minutes, adrenaline quivering in their veins, panting in stunned and bewildered silence. Finally, Claude let out a humorless laugh and dropped down onto the ground, patting flakes of bark off his pants.

“Well,” he said. “That was exciting.”

Finny took a couple gulps of air and then scrabbled down the tree. “Will it be okay?” he whimpered.

“What?” Claude huffed incredulously. “Did you see the scars on its pelt? We weren't the first people that thing has tried to kill. And you're frikin' worried if it's okay?”

“It's still a life,” Finny insisted. He took a few steps and studied the specks of fresh blood that shimmered in the late morning light with a queasy fascination. “Maybe really aggressive, but still life,” he added hollowly.

Claude clicked his tongue. “Yeah, well. We're life too, you know. We have as much of a right to survive as that thing. And today the sun was on our side of the earth.” When the child didn't respond, Claude relented some. “But it'll be fine. Those were superficial wounds. Some scars, maybe some trouble murdering people for a while, but it'll heal up pretty quick. Now come on. I don't feel like hanging around here.”

“Right.”

Finny perked up for the time being, and they returned to back to camp only to find that something had gotten there first. Claude's rabbit was gone, and it had pulled several things from both packs. “Damn it,” he swore. “I guess he still got breakfast.”
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 1:31 pm    Post subject: Chapter 4: "Welcome to the Zoo" Reply with quote

Chapter 4: "Welcome to the Zoo"


They packed up all that the wolf had not eaten or soaked in saliva, resulting in the abandonment of a blanket, some clothes and a package of dried meat, among other things. When all had been put away into the lightly torn packs, he and Finny began to plot.

“So which route should we take then?” Claude asked as Finny sketched out a rough map of the area in the dirt. It showed Akmuo, then the forest they were in just nearby; there were two lines indicating a valley with a lake at the end to the northeast. As his finger traced around the border of Marsai, though, Finny stopped and his eyes drifted upwards. Claude flipped his head around and followed the boy's stare. He searched the canopy for several moments. Nestled between two branches, rusty feathers almost perfectly blended into its frame of bark, sat an owl with eyes of obsidian. Having been seen, it cocked its head.

“It's a spotted owl,” Finny whispered in awe. “Those are really rare.”

Claude stared at the owl. He felt itchy under its black gaze. He considered the situation, then nodded his head. “We're traveling to Trabuco,” Claude explained slowly, carefully. “Is there something needed of us?”

Something about the owl unsettled Claude. All owls did, of course, but the blackness of the eyes in this one, the fluidity of its feathers on bark, the fact that it had so clearly been spying on them – something almost unheard of with owls – all spooked him and set his nerves on edge. What if Misko...knew? Could that owl have followed them from Akmuo?

When it didn't respond, Claude turned back to Finny's unfinished map. “Come on,” he said. “It's not a talking one. Just figure out the route.”

“But – ”

“Shut it. We just have to get moving, all right? Figure out which way we're going.”

Finny did as told and, finishing his scribble, outlined all possible ways to get to Lilikoi forest.

“I suggest the road through Goblin Valley,” Finny said. “It's longer in distance, but hiking over Trabuco Mesa will take twice the time.”

“I wouldn't go that way.”

Claude spun around, but the owl was no longer in its crook. Finny pointed for him to the right, where the owl now perched in a tree closer.

“Why not?” Claude said. The owl just blinked.

Finny took the words to heart and studied his map carefully, adding a mark here and there, trying to think of any obstacles he may have missed. And the longer he studied it, the more his soft face scrunched in confusion.

He addressed the owl: “The valley's only got one obstacle, and even that's mostly just overgrowth. There's more fresh water and easier trail. But Trabuco Mesa has all sorts of – ”

“I would take the longer way,” it said. Claude regarded it skeptically.

“Finnian,” he said, not taking his eyes from the owl. “You say the Trabuco route is longer and more dangerous?”

“Yeah,” Finny said carefully. “But – ”

“And the valley has more resources and is less treacherous?”

“Yes, but Claude – ”

“Then,” Claude growled at the owl. “I'll trust your judgment, Finnian. Let's go.”

“Claude, maybe we should listen to it,” Finny said. “Owls only help – ”

“Only help nomads,” Claude cut in, whispering until he realized the owl could probably hear him anyway. “You're not a Miskan anymore. I never was. So new rule number one: never listen to the owls. They'll only turn you around or worse. Now come on.”

He took Finny's shoulder as they began forward. Claude took one last cautious glance at where the owl had been, but was disturbed to find that it had disappeared. And worse, he could have sworn he heard its voice, flat and almost perfect, as it muttered something. The sound echoed in his head, but it took several moments for his brain to catch up and understand what it had said.

“It is your own terrible death.”
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 3:49 pm    Post subject: Chapter 4: "Welcome to the Zoo" (2) Reply with quote

As they traveled, it did not take long for the high slopes to rise at their sides as they descended down into Goblin Valley. The rough ground was strewn with the remnants of roads and plaster buildings, now collapsed flat into the earth and covered in fine layers of moss and plates of lichin that looked like scales. In general, the terrain was green a warty – it was to this that the valley owed its name. As Finny predicted, their path came to collide with a steady stream that cut straight through and maintained a fairly level path. Claude, though alert, didn't catch any more glances of the owl, but he suspected Finny knew where it was. He didn't ask, though. Maybe it was best he couldn't see it.

The whole affair with the owl was far darker than the surface revealed. As they hiked, Claude explored the situation thoroughly. Its “warning” was merely a setup to get him and Finny to take the other route; the thing that concerned him was why. And he knew why. It was trying to keep them away from Misko in one way or another. Maybe hoping they'd be slowed down or injured while hiking up Trabuco, but that wasn't likely. If Misko wanted them stopped, he'd want them dead, and he wouldn't leave it to the chance of the environment. Misko was a nature spirit. If he and Finny went up Trabuco, Claude realized, they'd be walking right onto a stage set for their ultimate demise. What concerned Claude was the likelihood that going up Trabuco would have only made it easier for them to be killed. It didn't mean Misko still couldn't do it. Claude knew he was plenty capable. The owl was the giveaway that Misko knew about them – and so from that point on, neither he nor Finny could ever act on the assumption of safety.

So then why send an owl in the first place? In a way, it only gave him and Finny the advantage since now they could sacrifice stealth and assumption of surprise and trade for speed and caution. Either Misko couldn't kill them if they went through the Goblin Valley, or Misko didn't know their intentions and the owl was genuinely trying to help. There was no other reasons to interfere. Claude didn't buy either explanation.

Despite this, he briefly considered the good side of things and weighed the new advantages of their situation. If he and Finny had been followed from Akmuo, that meant that any hunting party from Akmuo would be followed, too. They were level on that end. Misko could even be surrounding Akmuo with packs of spotted wolves to keep people in. Claude couldn't be certain, but if that was the case, then they were definitely in the green. If not, they'd still be going to Kalakai first which slowed them down tremendously. Plus, smaller groups travel faster than bigger ones. So far they were only at a disadvantage when it came to the endgame, where it would only be him and Finny to confront Misko. Scratch that, he thought, considering the scrawny boy in front of him. Really only me.

But there was plenty of time to figure that out. First they had to get to Marsai.
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