GeneforgeChapter 6 Tricia Martin
Chapter 6- First Impressions
"Good morning," a female voice greeted him the moment his eyes opened. For a moment, he thought he heard Carnelian's voice. He remembered seeing her smiling as she spoke to him moments before he lost consciousness. He expected to see her sitting near the small fire across from him. Instead, Anela's weary face smiled back as she poked the fire back to life with a long stick.
"Where are we?" he asked in a groggy voice. Clearing his throat didn't help it sound any better.
"You don't remember?" she asked, sounding none too surprised. He tried to, but the events leading up to his black out were still foggy in his mind. Looking around he saw trees, old and tall, looming above. The fire that did little to keep him warm crackled away in the little nest Anela had built in the dirt. Plants littered the ground beneath the wooden giants. Shrubs, tall grasses, and saplings. At first glance it looked like the grounds of Mennetak. "Sucia Island, do you remember the attack?" she prompted.
Sitting up proved difficult with the stiffness that had settled into his body. It took three tries before he succeeded. The maroon robe that had been draped over him slipped down and revealed he wore little underneath. He checked beneath to verify he still had pants. The elbow of his uninjured arm supported him against the sandy dirt beneath him. Slowly, he began to move his limbs to loosen them up, finding his left arm swollen and painful. The fyora… he remembered the rogue that attacked him on the beach. In an instant, all the memories flooded into his mind. The attack on their sea-Drayk, drowning and Margus' strange words to him, the search through the wreckage, being attacked by the rogue, searching the quarantine facility. Try as he might, however, memory of Anela didn't come to him. He remembered Carnelian.
"Carnelian… where is she? She found me…"
Anela shook her head. "I found you, Andras. You're the only one I've seen still alive." She set her stick down next to her, leaning it against a rock. Her dress was soiled, hanging on her body like rags. Her face looked thinner than he remembered, and was surrounded by curly brown hair that frizzed out in a mess of tangles.
"I saw her," he insisted. He tried to push himself to an upright position, but his body resisted. Too stiff still; he waited.
Anela rose to her feet and walked over to him, kneeling down next to him to help him up. Once he sat upright she settled in next to him, folding her hands in her lap. "You're the only one I've seen alive, Andras," She repeated. "I don't even know or understand how you survived. I saw what happened, I saw the explosion. You should have died. In fact, I thought you did."
He stared at her. He thought she died. She fell into the water during an evasive maneuver, and he didn't think it possible for any of those lost to the sea to make their way to the island. Shapers don't swim, and even for a strong swimmer it would have been an exhausting journey.
"How did you get here?" he asked. With some effort he drew his legs in to sit cross-legged. He cringed and groaned a moment as the body complained the forced posture with pain.
"Well, thankfully I float," she began. "I discovered early on if I lay on my back, I floated on the water's surface. After the explosion, there was an abundance of wood in the water. I drifted… or it drifted… close enough that I could reach it."
"And?" he waited for more, something a little more spectacular or heroic.
"And… I drifted to shore. I walked in the direction I remembered seeing buildings and found this place." She smiled a triumphant smile. "And then, of course, I found you." Her eyes drifted towards his arm. "A rogue, I assume?" He nodded. "Rogue what?"
"Fyora," he answered, feeling stupid to have been injured so badly by such a pathetic creation. It would have felt a little less demeaning to report the injury as the result of an encounter with a glaahk. He glanced down at the bandaged forearm, noticing a generous packing of herbs beneath the wrap. He peeked beneath the material finding a yellowed plant with hair-like consistency. It was familiar.
"Wiry moss," she answered before he could ask.
"Wonderful healing properties," he recalled with a smile. She smiled back and nodded.
"Was lucky to find that," she said, gesturing towards his arm. "You were in a bad way when I found you. It was infected, and you had a terrible fever. All from a Fyora?"
The insult settled in a little deeper. Even a Shaper student saw that as a sorry story. "Not all," he declared in a hurry to reclaim some of his dignity. He glanced down at the garish slice from the peak of his shoulder down to the meat of his bicep. "From the attack," he explained. She cringed at the sight of it. That's what still caused him so much pain when he moved, suggesting the blade that gave it to him bit well into the muscle. The fyora's bite was incidental now that much of the swelling had gone down.
He attempted to stand, having to accept help from a woman to do so.
"Where are my clothes?" he asked. He didn't like the feeling of standing around her without much to offer him modesty.
"You were asleep for three days," she answered as she retrieved his belongings that she had stashed behind a small boulder nearby. She handed him his tunic first. His robe, his belt, everything but his pants had been removed. He didn't want to know how she got most of the things off him, nor why. Once he had the tunic on, he examined it a moment. The black material showed the hard life it had endured while worn by him. His left arm had enormous rips and numerous tears in it, and the frayed edges surrounding the holes were still stiffened by dried blood. It wouldn't be wise to keep the rag long. Even dried blood attracted predators, though not as readily as fresh blood.
"Three days?" he repeated in disbelief.
"Your fever…" she offered as an explanation. "I found tunnel weed and made a broth of that, but without adding whisker plant the potency was poor. I removed most of your clothing and used wet compresses to cool you down, but to be honest I expected the fever would claim you." She held out his belt which he accepted and donned. He didn't like to think of her undressing him, Carnelian would be furious, and took to busying himself with his belt and situation the dagger and the pouch on it. Once he finished with his attire he looked around at the small camp Anela had made. She had collected several of the mugs and bowls from the quarantine compound, some still had water in them. He dashed for one. His mouth longed for the feel of water.
"No!" she knocked the mug out of his hands. He nearly strangled her that moment, but instead he waited with a glaring look for an explanation. "It's sea water!"
"It's what I used to keep you cool. I haven't found fresh water yet. " She pulled a small green fruit out of another mug and presented it to him. "It's the last one. I saved it for you… in case you woke up. It'll help with the thirst."
She was exalted to goddess that moment, if such a being could exist. He took the fruit from her and ate it in three bites. The flesh was tart, but the meat proved sweet and juicy. In the center a large seed hindered his progress, and he tossed that aside and finished the rest. His hands and chin felt sticky. The saltwater Anela deterred him from proved sufficient to wash up with, though now his stomach awakened and wanted more. It would have to wait.
"Have you found the way out?" he asked as he dried his hands off on his robe. She nodded.
"That way," she pointed to the northwest. "I haven't been inside. The door's jammed, I think. It wouldn't open for me."
Andras helped her pack up the few supplies they felt might prove useful later, wrapping them up in her burgundy robe and slinging the resulting sack over his good shoulder. Anela assured him no rogues prowled inside the quarantine grounds, not that she had seen, and so Andras headed northwest at an unworried pace. His shoulder still throbbed, even more now that he had tried to use it on occasion without thinking. If they did meet rogues, they were both in trouble. He was in poor shape to fight anything, even fyoras.
It didn't take long to reach the door she had promised. It resembled the door he encountered at the last facility; a large heavy stone door hidden behind a shadowed entryway with ancient Shaper runes engraved. Again, he recognized "holding" and "passage". This would be the second portion of quarantine. Security tended to be higher here, but no guards stood nearby to block entry or demand clearance papers. He searched for the switch, finding it after Anela pointed it out. He pushed against it, but as she promised it didn't budge.
He examined the switch, noticing around the edges a dark substance. Some sort of sap or tar which had hardened over the years. It didn't appear as though anything nearby could have, by chance, dripped on the switch. Someone had done it on purpose, as though trying to keep the door from being activated. Someone afraid of something that might get out…
He didn't have time to contemplate the reasoning the Shapers might have had for sealing the switch. He gauged it, took a couple steps back, spun around and kicked it. The dark substance crackled and shattered as the large round stone sunk into the wall. Air hissed, and the door slid open, stirring up dust. He looked over at Anela who gave an admiring nod of approval.
Once inside he summoned the light crystals once again. A faint glow erupted from the ground, taking a couple minutes before they could see well enough to move about. Rather than walking into branching hallways, they stepped into a large depthless room. Andras walked blindly until he reached the back wall and called to life more crystals. In the dim light he could make three tables with books on each. Against the walls were several evenly distributed book shelves with heavy volumes weighing down their planks. One had given up the battle and collapsed, leaving broken books and loose pages scattered across the floor.
"Strange, isn't it?" Anela called from the opposite side of the large room. Her voice echoed off the walls. He turned.
"They would leave all their books here," she answered. She pulled one off the shelf, cradling it one arm as she flipped through the pages. "They look to be records of those passing through here. There are quite a few." She replaced the book and retrieved a light crystal from the floor. Held in her hands it afforded more light to read by. She stopped by the table and book to the far left. Andras mimicked her by taking his own crystal and approaching the far right book.
He expected when he opened it that he would find a ledger of those who had come through here, but instead it read like a spell book. He flipped a few more pages, skimming the words. The script was old fashioned, highly slanted and difficult to read but after extensive investigation he concluded it to be a detailed account of how to shape a fyora. How appropriate.
"Care to shape something?" he asked. She dismissed him. "Not a book you'd expect Shapers to leave lying about," he mused aloud. Mages were blinded or put to death if they read a book of this magnitude without a Shaper giving it to them. These weren't secrets left in the open. He thumbed through further. More shaping instructions… cryoas, roamers, clawbugs. He was tempted to take the book with him. Maybe it would have use to him later.
"This book has spells in it," Anela exclaimed as she made it to the second book. He smiled to himself. Yes, didn't he just say that? "What is it doing here?"
"Good question," he answered, closing the heavy volume in front of him.
"They must have left in a terrible hurry," she pondered with a sigh. Her hand rested on the book in a loving manner. He hadn't seen her look at anything with such adoration since sharing the boat with her.
"Unless they never got out." It was a grim thought. Andras looked around the room, finding much of the disarray here that he saw in the last building. Very unlike Shapers.
"Wouldn't there be skeletons about?" She looked around, too, visibly concerned by the thought.
"Depends on what happened to them. We haven't looked around much. There could be." She shuddered. "Which begs the question… should we be trying so hard to get in?" Perhaps not, but Andras knew what waited the other direction- rogues and ocean. Perhaps if they kept looking in that direction they would find food and fresh water, but he couldn't wait that long. His best hope for resources lay beyond this facility, even if the biggest threat did too.
"Do you think they were trying to keep something in?" she asked in a meek voice.
He shrugged, which hurt. "Perhaps." Quarantine facilities are built to keep things out, not in. It would have been a desperate effort.
He urged them forward, stating they could come back to the books later when they had ample food and water in their bellies, but now there were few things that ranked higher on his priority list. Carnelian would have been one, if there were anything he could do for her now other than hope somewhere somehow she still lived.
If she was alive now, and he kept telling himself she was, what would she be doing? Would she be sitting at some make-shift encampment with a meager fire, scrounging for food? Who was with her? Maybe Luke or Zalex also survived. Carnelian knew her plants well, but if they were to encounter rogues he feared the worst. Zalex showed he had some skill back on the boat, but the other two would be bait.
He didn't like thinking her fate could rest on Zalex. Even in his sorry condition, he would rather it be his burden.
The compound was large, and the halls branching from the large room formed a maze. The dust on the floor helped keep track of where they had been. If they saw footprints, they had been there before. Nothing else stirred here. They found more holding cells, yet another with a dusty skeleton in it. Anela shrieked when she saw that. Andras chuckled to himself.
At the end of one of the halls they spied a door with an unusual glow emitting from it. It didn't glow a dull pale yellow like the light crystals, but a bright blue. They glanced at one another, and then hurried to it. Andras' first thought was an essence pool. They put off a similar light, though it seemed an odd place to keep one. A normal arrangement would find an essence pool in the heart of a well-protected Shaping hall. Not to mention, he doubted one would last through so much neglect. They were delicate.
Behind the door they did not find an essence pool as he had hoped, but a strange glowing canister. It had a metal frame encasing a glass core. Inside a substance that glowed bright blue… purified essence if he guessed right. He had never seen so much.
"What is it?" Anela asked. He had hoped she knew the answer. He knelt down in front of it, his eyes scanning over the smooth glass sides and engraved metal cap on top.
"Essence, I would guess," he answered her. Essence wasn't much use to Shapers that couldn't shape yet, except it offered healing properties that Andras needed. He reached a hand out to pick it up, looking over at Anela who seemed to agree. He should take it.
How exactly does it open?
As soon as his palm touched the center on top the glass broke and the glowing liquid splattered onto the ground. His first instinct was to try to scoop up and salvage what he could with his hands, but before he could touch it the liquid began to evaporate into a luminescent blue haze. It drifted up into his face until he breathed it in through his nostrils. The moment he took in a lungful of the vapor he felt something change. A strange, electric sensation spread through his body, the markings on the backs of his hands glowed. His heart started to pound, he could barely breathe. Something began to build within him, like something struggling to be free of the confines of his body. He fought to contain it, his survival depended on it, as he felt himself lifted off his knees. Stop, he screamed inside his head. Stop!
The feeling left him abruptly and his body dropped limp to the ground. His eyes could see only darkness but his ears could hear Anela calling his name and soon he could feel her touching his arm. It was his injured arm, and the moment she shook it he grimaced in pain. It didn't feel any better. The essence hadn't worked.
"What happened?" she asked him again. He pushed up with his good arm, still cradling the other against his body. She stared down at him curiously.
"Can't get enough of that?" Anela asked, trying to don a reassuring smile.
"What?" It took a moment before he realized what she spoke of. The essence… it felt exactly like what happened during the Awakening ceremony when the purified essence touched him. The realization made him shudder.
"What did the professors say last time?" He stood, again with her help. His pride took a beating every time she had to assist him.
"Nothing I didn't know already. Nobody knows what happened. It feels… odd."
"I don't know what kind of Shaper you'll make if you can't tolerate the touch of essence." Her remark stung, but he didn't show it on his face. Instead, he gave a subtle nod of agreement. True. No Shaper would be worth anything without being able to use essence. But he had touched essence before, the kind Shapers used to make their creations, and nothing ever happened. Purified essence seemed to be the culprit. Every time he touched that he had another episode.
Anela could have the next canister, should they find more.
Inside a small storage room Anela let out a sound of excitement. Andras dashed over to see what it was.
"Look, pods!" In her hands she held small brown pods, most were crumbling but a couple looked viable still. "I don't know if it'll be potent enough. They're not meant to last this long, but you should try it, Andras." She handed him one of the lighter color ones, but he stared at it in his hands. "You eat it."
He was leery of eating something like this, especially after what had just happened with the canister, but he obeyed and placed it in his mouth, biting down. It tasted like a mushroom, having a similar texture on the outside. The inside held a sour liquid. His face wrinkled with dislike.
"Sour?" she asked. He nodded. "Spit it out."
He didn't need to be asked twice. She handed him the last one that looked usable. Again he ate that one, but it didn't taste as bad as the first (or he was just used to it now). In a moment he felt warmth radiate into his extremities and concentrate in his injured shoulder. The sensation escalated until it was uncomfortable and he winced in discomfort, but a moment later it was gone and his shoulder felt much better.
"How is it?"
He moved his arm in a circular motion. It still felt tight and uncomfortable but it was much better than before. On his hands he noticed the smaller cuts were gone or almost healed, but the larger gashes were still present albeit smaller.
"It's far from full potency," she explained, noticing his hands as well. "But hopefully it helped." He nodded. Yes, it felt good to move his arm again.