Thursday, November 24, 2011

Relay: Episode 10

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope it's a great holiday for you! Please don't fall asleep while reading from all the Turkey. Only two episodes left!

Episode 10
Avery woke to the sweet sound of Julia’s laughter. Before opening his eyes he let her voice pass over and through him. A smile slid across his face. The smile subsided when he did open his eyes and saw the source of her laughter; Wesley leaned in close to her ear muttering something. Avery shifted his weight and grimaced in pain. The last of Lilana’s salve had completely healed the arrow wound. Unfortunately it failed to remove the arrow head lodged underneath. He laid back and felt warm noon sunlight upon his face. After three days of darkness, the river tunnel gushed into a deep ravine. The sky and clouds were all visible through the narrow opening at the top of the ravine high above. The shear cliffs all around prevented them from going anywhere but down stream. Almost a week had now passed since their escape from the ruined city.
In the other boat, Byron sat in the stern dutifully guiding the rudder to keep them off the walls of the ravine. Lilana sat in the middle eating some sort of canned meat they managed to snatch from the metal shed just before escaping. Avery had yet to eat on this trip. The combination of the arrowhead and the rocking boats made him sick and irritable. Wesley made his way to the middle of the boat and began to inspect the lashings holding the two crafts together. Julia sat back and seemed to fall asleep. Avery looked up at Wesley and opened his big fat mouth.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“I’m checking the lashing so Byron and Lilana don’t suddenly float away.” Wesley shook off the rudeness. Avery had been most foul since the arrow wound.
“No mate, I mean with Julia.” Avery sat up. “The flirting and the hand holding; you realize you’re just leading her on, right?”
“I don’t think it’s leading her on when I feel the same way Avery.”
“Prick.” Avery looked him in the eyes. “You know at some point you and Julia will be separated. She saw you on earth. So do her a favor and don’t get attached. It will only make it harder when you’re gone.”
“You’re out of line Avery. For all we know she could have been there too, just not with me at that moment. There is no way to know…”
“Out of line? There is no ‘line’ on the relay, only chaos.” Avery moved again and grunted in pain.
“That’s enough.” Julia said from behind them. Avery’s face went white. “Avery, this subject is none of your business. You think this idea hasn’t crossed my mind?” At this point everyone in the boats turned an ear to listen. “I’ve chosen to take the risk. So please just leave it!” Avery shook his head and climbed into the other boat. He sat at the front and played look out for Byron. Wesley returned to sitting beside Julia. Lilana aimed a questioning shrug of her shoulders at Byron who, used to seeing men fight over his sister, just hoped that was the end of it as he steered the boats around a tight bend in the river.
As the sun began to set that evening, Avery took control of steering from Byron. Wesley and Julia sat in the front of their boat to spot for Avery. Lilana and Byron slept as best as possible in the small life boats. With the suns light gone, the ravine became cold and soon Julia moved as close to Wesley as she could get.
“Do we have any chance to catch Mabry?” She asked him.
“I think so. He does have a weeks lead on us, but he is alone and has to stop to sleep. We don’t.” Wesley put his arm around her for warmth. Avery, watching from the stern, spit into the river and pleaded with unknown deities for tobacco to appear before him. It did not. That night grew into a new day and repeated the cycle. Two weeks quickly passed without incident or sign of Mabry. Around noon at the end of the third week on the river, Byron stood to stretch. He considered jumping in the water to cool off and relieve himself when he spotted another boat. It was pulled up onto a sandy shore; empty. He alerted the others and they slowly guided the boats to this shore and got out. Remnants of a fire still smoked a few feet from the waterline. Byron helped Lilana out of the boat and for the first time noticed her pregnancy showing. Avery inspected the rocks around the area and soon found a path into the ravine wall. They all began to hike up this trail. Avery began seeing foot prints and picked up the pace. He soon went to an all out run. He seemed to feel something the rest of them did not.
Avery soon gapped the others as he ran. The trail wound up and down through the rock. Avery pushed harder until he whizzed under a low hanging wall and arrived in a large open to the sky cavern. At the far end of the chamber sat a relay ring. Walking towards the ring was a man dressed in a dark brown robe; hood up. Avery began to run wildly after him. The man heard his foot steps turned removing his hood as he did.
“Avery!” Mabry sounded almost happy to see him. Avery ignored the greeting and continued the sprint. Mabry held out his hand. The relay behind him began to glow white. Quickly a beam of white light shot out from the relay and pulsed through Mabry. The light rushed through his out stretched arm and began to form a bubble around Mabry. This all happened so fast Avery had no time to stop himself before hitting the bubble. He smashed against the wall of light and it threw him backwards. Avery landed on his back, nose bleeding, head thumping.
“I really wish you’d be civil.” Mabry dropped his hand and the shield dissipated. “You look rough.”
“MABRY!” This scream came from Julia who had just entered the cavern and was running to join them. The others followed. Julia bypassed Avery still on the ground and got right in Mabry’s face. “Where is Alexandria? Where is she!”  Mabry grabbed her arm before it struck his face and began to twist it in hand. Wesley stepped forward to stop it but suddenly could not move. Mabry twisted Julia’s arm behind her back, bringing her to her knees.
“Julia. It has been a while.” He looked at Wesley, still unable to move. Mabry smiled at him before noticing Byron and Lilana. “Byron! No need to freeze you I guess. You never stood up for her before, why would you now?” Byron said nothing. Mabry pulled Julia to her feet. “Are you traveling with this man?” He pointed to Avery still sorting out his thoughts.
“I am. He’s been a great help.” Julia could smell Mabry’s rank breath. “Please, tell me where Alex is!”
“You never were a very good judge of character Julia. I suppose Avery told you little to nothing about himself. I can oblige. Did he tell you he too is, or was, a follower of Ullur, as I am? Did he tell you he worked as my closest confidant for years? He is a murderous, thieving, traitorous, world killer!”
“Can you say any better of yourself?” Julia replied. Mabry smiled to himself.
“No, I can’t. But the only thing you two have in common is a hatred of me.”
“Seemed to be enough up to this point.” Julia wriggled her arm free and moved back to stand with Wesley. “Just tell me where Alex is and we will leave you alone.”
“Alex is safe.” Mabry looked them over. “I can’t say the same for you. Goodbye.” Mabry winked at Julia as the relay began to spew white light once again. The light engulfed Mabry and then in a flash he was gone and the relay sat dormant. Avery climbed to his feet and tired to talk to Julia but she would have none of it.
“Julia please let me explain!” Avery seized Julia’s arm, spinning her around. Wesley separated them and pushed Avery away.
“She doesn’t want to hear it Avery.” He commanded.
“She needs to.” Avery said flatly as he stepped forward again. Wesley pushed him back with more force this time. “Wesley this doesn’t concern you.” Wesley shoved him back once more.
“If it concerns Julia It concerns me!” He stepped into Avery’s face. “She doesn’t want to see you right now so back away!” He pushed Avery, knocking him to the ground. Avery’s face went red with rage. He jumped up and ran at Wesley putting his shoulder forward and slamming into him. Wesley flew backwards and before anyone could catch him, he ran into the relay ring. His midsection leveraged on the ring, flipping him through. The relay flashed and Wesley was gone. Julia stood stunned. Avery approached her but she backed away. She began to cry.
“Julia I… I didn’t mean…” Avery had nothing.
“Tell Byron what we need to know to travel alone. He, Lilana and I will be going forward without you.” Julia walked to the relay and sat beside it. Byron walked up to Avery and put an arm around him.
“Sorry man, she’s the boss.”
“It’s okay Byron.” Avery turned and walked away from where Julia sat. “To keep your clothes just concentrate on them. The moment you pass your hand through the relay is the most important part. Focus on your clothes and you’ll keep them. That’s as simple as I can make it.”
“What about following Mabry?” Byron looked back at Julia who was being comforted by Lilana.
“Now that he knows we are after him, there is no way to track him with the relays. He’s far too powerful.” Avery put out his hand for Byron, who shook it. “Tell her I’m sorry and I can explain.”
“You think I can get through to her?” Byron laughed. “If she listened to a damned thing I said we would be home having never met you.”
“I’m glad she didn’t listen to you.” Avery turned and walked away from the relay and his companions. The pit of his stomach turned. Avery felt sick and alone. A few moments later he saw the tell tale flash of light and when he turned, they were gone.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Relay: Episode 9

Episode 9
Wesley knelt beside Quincy’s body. It looked no different from its living form, save the large gash in his throat. Wesley repositioned Quincy’s arms to form an across his body and gently pulled his eye lids shut. Lilana sobbed in fear on Byron’s shoulder. Julia stood quietly next to Avery, who seemed unfazed by the death. The torch, which turned out to be an old florescent beacon, poured harsh artificial light over the events. It provided luminance in a very small radius around them. Beyond its glow the darkness was absolute. Wesley blinked away some tears before standing to speak to Avery.
“What happened?”
“When I landed the light was on. I waited for Lilana like as discussed and when she arrived we swam for the light.” Avery looked at the body. “I got close enough to see the bank of the lake before the light shut off. I double timed it to the shore and felt my way up here. I found the switch to the torch; that’s when I found Quincy’s body, he was already dead.”  Wesley put his hand behind his head and sighed.
“Help me carry him to the water for burial?”
“Don’t you drink and get food out of that lake?” Avery questioned.
“The eels will take care of the body. It’s how we dispose of the dead here.” Wesley took Quincy’s head and Avery his feet. They slowly made their way down the narrow steps of the ruined building to the city floor. They walked the body to the shore and stood on the high embankment they all climbed moments earlier. Wesley did not hesitate to swing the body into the water. He and Avery retreated back to the roof top. Quincy’s body began to sink into the cold water; soon the eels would come to consume it. Wesley sat in shock underneath the torch controls. Everyone one remained quiet to respect his feelings. Avery constantly peered out into the dark city, attempting to see something. It was an utter failure. Lilana, finally calm, sat beside Byron shaking in her cold wet clothes. Julia wanted to say comforting things to Wesley, but she had none.
“Alright Wesley, enough!” Avery stood at Wesley’s feet. “We need to move! What ever killed Quincy is most likely still here.” Wesley just looked up at Avery with disgust. “This is not a safe place. You said so yourself!”
“Wesley,” Julia broke in. “He’s right.” Wesley met Julia’s eyes and shook his head.
“Okay. Yeah, okay.” Wesley pulled himself up. “Down stairs there should be a room with flashlights and a map. The guards use this building to store survival items incase they’d ever get stranded. We need to get those things before we leave.”
“Excellent, take Byron and get them. We will meet you on floor level.” Avery took lead of Julia and Lilana, who followed him into the darkness. Byron slapped Wesley on the shoulder.
“Lead on then!” He said and Wesley walked forward. They stopped on the second level of the building and passed through a dark doorway. Wesley quickly disappeared into the room, Byron soon found himself alone by the door. He noted the extreme silence of this place. A light flashed in his eyes and Wesley returned with the flashlights, three of them.
“The batteries are probably not full. We should only use them when absolutely necessary.” Wesley made for the door. From the darkness behind them the sound of shattering glass sliced through the quiet. Byron nearly jumped into Wesley’s arms.
“What the hell was that?” Byron composed himself and realized he looked ridiculous so close to Wesley. “Sorry, don’t tell Julia?”
“Sure.” Wesley flicked on the flashlight and peered down its beam. There was no pronounced explanation for the sound. “How about we meet up with the others and get moving?” Byron was already out the door and heading down the steps. He attempted to approach the others confidently. Avery saw right through it.
“Please tell me you didn’t shit your bloody pants?”
“Shut up Avery.” Byron said as he stomped by him and took hold of Lilana’s hand tightly. Wesley followed close behind and came to stand beside Julia.
“We are being watched.” He handed Avery a flashlight. “Two of the creatures are watching us; likely the ones who killed Quincy. As long as our numbers are more than theirs we should be okay.” Julia stepped closer to Wesley as she scanned the area. Avery groaned.
“Can we just get going? Where’s that map?” Wesley held out the map to Avery who snatched it from his hands, clicked on the light and studied it. “Seems simple enough, I’m guessing it’s not?”
“A long walk through a dark ruined city? What could go wrong?” Wesley smiled as Julia snickered just a little. “Shall we?” Avery took the lead and they began to walk due south from the lake side building. The light from the beacon remained highly visible. From what they could see of it, the ruined city looked very much like what Julia and Byron knew from Earth. Derelict vehicles sat along the street. There were even signs of a sewer system. Rubble from fallen structures blocked their path occasionally, but for the most part the path was easy treading. Byron stumbled a few times on large rocks in the street, which made Lilana laugh. She laughed ever more when he swore under his breath. He had no idea if she understood him. The fourth time he tripped he actually fell, taking Lilana with him. Avery marched to them and helped her up.
“Do you think you could be more careful?” He grabbed Byron’s hand and pulled him up with much less care than he did for Lilana. “Just pick up your feet, you walk like you’re ice skating.”
“Sorry.” Byron smiled at Lilana who was obviously holding back laughter. Avery muttered in a foreign language and return to the lead. Julia slapped Byron on the back of the head and smiled.
“Be good brother.” She whispered. Julia looked back to smile at Wesley. Wesley was not smiling. His eyes were fixed upon a point in the darkness. Julia looked, but saw nothing. Avery noticed they were not moving and spun around to scold them all. Before he could, he also caught a glimpse of what had captured Wesley’s gaze. Marching slowly through the darkness, a large group of creatures made their way toward them. They made no sound. Avery aimed his light at them. The ugly, short creatures wailed. Their heads resembled hairless dogs with long sharp teeth. Their bodies looked like mere skeletons wearing loose grey skin. Avery turned to the others and shouted.
“We need to go!” They all agreed and began to run through the dim, ruined streets. Avery burned his flashlight’s battery so they could move quickly. The road began to fill with more and more rubble as they traveled down it at break neck speeds. Wesley hovered at their rear, occasionally looking back with his flashlight. For now they seemed to be losing the horde, but Wesley knew they were not safe. Avery jumped a large fallen wall and stopped. A fork in the road presented two different paths to follow. Avery couldn’t find this on the map. The group huddled behind him waiting for Wesley to clear the wall. Avery studied the map furiously but could not find this fork. Wesley finally vaulted over the wall and glimpsed the predicament.
“Do you recognize any of this?” Avery asked as he shoved to map into Wesley’s hands.
“No, this is new.” Wesley shook his head. “This road should go straight to the river!” He studied the area. “Dear god they must have moved all the rubble to block out the street!”
“Where does that lead us?” Julia scanned the darkness around them.
“Over!” Avery was already moving. “Come on! The road has to pick back up on the other side of the pile.” They all began to slowly pick their way up the pile of rubble creating the fork. Avery reached the top first. The rubble was piled all the way to the caverns ceiling, leaving a very tight gap to the other side. Avery went to his belly and began to squeeze through the gap. The others followed. Avery rolled out of the gap and stood. He swept his light down the other side. Just as he caught sight of the road again, he heard a whistle as something whizzed by his leg. He knew the sound from countless other worlds with primitive intelligence. Arrows.
“Wesley, Byron! Turn off the lights, they are shooting at us!” Avery commanded in a whispering yell. He helped Julia to her feet and called to the others. “Come on!” Everyone wedged through the gap and began down the other side of the rubble pile. Now Wesley knew where he was and took the lead once they reached street level. Avery followed in back and soon heard arrows splintering as they stuck the ground. Wesley drove hard and soon gapped Julia and Lilana. Byron surged to catch him and slow him down, but only ended up gassing himself. He soon fell behind Julia. The run went on for a good ten minutes before Wesley stopped and waited. When everyone caught up he pointed to a small metal shed positioned next to a large rock wall. They made their way to it, catching their breath as they did. Upon reaching the shed Wesley tugged on the door. It seemed was rusted shut. He enlisted Byron to help pull it open while Avery watched for the oncoming creatures. Soon Avery heard their muttering and sensed arrows being strung.
“Please get that door open!” He shouted, forgoing any hushed voice. “Gentlemen lets go!”
“Just about there!” Wesley said as he managed a good hand hold on the door and began to peel it back from the rusty hold. “Okay! Everyone inside!” Byron ushered Lilana and Julia through the door. Wesley went next followed by Avery. Inside, the shed contained a few old row boats. To the right a large opening in the rock face showed them the river flowing rapidly into more darkness. Avery began to pull the door shut when an arrow flew from out of the darkness and dug into his left shoulder. He made little noise and pulled the door fully shut. Julia screamed when he turned and she saw the arrow sticking out. She ran to Avery and put her hand around the wound.
“Tell me what to do.” Julia said to Avery who had slumped to the floor.
“Wesley, get the boat ready. Do we have any supplies?”
“There should be some in back.” Wesley took Byron and they began to prepare two of the boats.
“Avery!” Julia grabbed his face and held it to face her own “How can I help you!” Before he could answer the metal shed began to shake. A noise that reminded Julia of hail stones hitting a school bus deafened them. The tiny fists of the creatures outside began to tear through the aluminum walls of the shed. Wesley and Byron shoved two boats into the water and held them from being taken by the current. Wesley tried to yell for them, but the noise drown everything out. Wesley took a rope and lashed the two boats together. Julia helped Avery to his feet and loaded him into one of the boats. She got in that boat with him and Wesley jumped in as well. Byron and Lilana got in the other boat and Wesley shoveled them away from the dock just as the creatures crashed through the walls of the shed. They stopped at the bank of the river and shrieked, but did not follow.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Relay: Episode 8

Only four episodes left after this one! Here is Episode 1 if you're new and here you can find all the episodes in one place! Enjoy!

Episode 8

The group sat quietly around the fire, watching the dancing flames.  Smoke from the fire smelled slightly sweet caused by the burning seaweed stalks they used for fuel. Nonhumans of all sorts and shapes passed by as they waited. Some of them stopped to welcome the group to the community. Avery was able to understand a few of them, but the majority of the well wishers spoke unknown languages. Byron suggested everyone employ the smile and nod tactic, which seemed to be working until a large green creature took Byron’s smile as a proposition. After a few awkward moments the creature, which they all assumed was female (no one would swear to it) seemed to comprehend the misunderstanding and left, begrudgingly.

Moments later Wesley strolled into their field of vision and sat on an empty chair beside Julia.

“Can everyone swim?” He asked. Julia and Byron shook their heads yes. Avery nodded and spoke to Lilana. She seemed confused for a moment then, without warning said:

“Err, ’es. Yes!” She seemed excited at the accomplishment. She looked at Byron and said, “Iyron?”

“Close enough,” Byron put his arm around her.

“Lovely,” Avery said dryly. “Can we get on with this?”

“Yeah,” Wesley stood. “One of the waterfalls in the main chamber empties into the lake below. From there we will be able to swim to the ruined city, bypassing the guards and the door. It’s going to be dark, wet and cold. Quincy will go first. He swims faster than us and can see well in low light. He’ll make for the city and light a torch so we know which direction to swim when we get to the lake. I have a rope to get us most of the way down. The rest of the trip will be free fall. Think of it like a large rocky water slide.” Wesley smiled at Julia. “Once in the city we will hold up for an hour or so to dry off and get acquainted with the locals. They may not be happy to see us.” Wesley passed around small, three inch blades.

“I’m not sure how effective these will be for self defense.” Avery pressed the small blade against his thumb. Dull.

“If you’d rather fight them hand to hand be my guest.” Wesley turned and looked down the corridor. “Okay, everyone up, it’s time.” They all stood and followed Wesley through the maze of caves and tunnels. Julia was sure they took a different path than earlier. They ended up in the same place; the large waterfall cavern with the circus tent in the middle. They walked slowly around to the opposite side of the cavern where they saw Quincy standing next to a large boulder. Wesley led them to an even larger adjacent rock where they took cover. Wesley walked over to Quincy and shook his hand. They spoke some of the odd gurgling language and hugged before Quincy began to rappel down the hole. Water also rushed down this fissure and looked to make this descent much more challenging than Wesley described.

Wesley moved back to the cover and watched the rope. For a time it moved slightly, back and forth rubbing along the rock ledge. The cavern remained dead quiet. Then at once the tension on the rope let up. Wesley looked at Avery.

“Who’s first?” He whispered.

“I’ll go.” Avery said. “I’ll tread at the bottom. Send Lilana next, I’ll swim with her.” Avery stepped out from behind the rock and took hold of the rope. In moments he was gone. Another tense wait ensued before the rope slacked and it was time for Lilana. Byron walked her to the rope and held her hand as she got in position. She began to tear up; obviously scared.

“Shhh, it’s okay. Avery’s at the bottom and I’ll be right behind.” Byron hugged her and wiped away a tear. She stayed in his arms until Wesley moved forward and urged her to go. Lilana slid down the rope and disappeared into the void. Byron and Wesley moved back to their rocky cover. This wait seemed like forever. The rope swayed back and forth much longer than it had for Quincy or Avery. When the rope did go limp, Wesley gave Byron the signal and he quickly went forth. Julia couldn’t believe how different Byron had been acting since meeting Lilana. She commented to Wesley about how he normally would be whining like a baby about this task at hand. Wesley smiled.

“The relay has a way of changing people.” Wesley did not smile. He seemed all too introspective. “There, rope is clear, you’re up.” Wesley followed Julia out to the rope. “You good?”

“Yes. Do you want me to wait for you?”

“No, just head for the torch light.” Wesley squeezed her hand and let her go. Julia began to lower herself down the dark hole. Wesley’s face became fainter as she did. Soon she was in total darkness. Cool water from the falls splashed and sprayed her. Her hands began to burn from holding onto the rope even though it felt ice cold. Julia tried to keep a steady pace even though she couldn’t see anything. The sound from the falling water also made it impossible to hear. She bounced off the wall of the cave occasionally; it felt slick. Before she knew it the end of the rope presented itself. She hung there for a while looking down into the black nothing. At this point cold water was fully showering her. Julia looked up and saw the faintest little pin point of light, then she let go of the rope.

Julia did not fall far before hitting the rock wall as it turned slightly horizontally. She slid down this incline very quickly before it vanished beneath her. Julia remained in this free fall for seconds before splashing into the cold, black lake. The sudden fall took her breath away. When Julia realized she was underwater she opened her eyes to try and find the surface. She saw nothing but black. She quickly began to swim in the direction she deemed up. Her muscles and lungs began to burn for lack of oxygen. She continued to frantically swim; desperate for a breath. Finally she found the surface and took in a long gasping breath. For a time all she could do was tread on the water and breath. When air finally began returning to her brain she started looking for the light of the torch. She figured it would be easy to find a light in such darkness, but she failed to find it. Julia cried out for Avery with no answer. She hesitated to swim away from where she landed. A splash erupted behind her. She screamed and swam away until she heard Wesley’s gasping as he surfaced.

“Wesley! Where is the light?” It took him a moment to answer. Julia swam over and grabbed his shirt so not to lose him.

“I can’t see it! Oh shit…” Wesley turned and turned. “I don’t see it, something isn’t right.”

“What do we do?”

“Hold on and let me think.” Wesley, still breathing violently tried to calm himself. Julia suddenly screamed.

“Something just swam past my leg!” She propelled herself into Wesley’s arms.

“You’re going to sink us both!” Then something touched Wesley’s leg. “Oh, holy crap what was that?” Wesley felt another creature swimming around them. “Wait, it’s just the eels!” This idea didn’t make Julia feel any better. The eels continued to swim around them and rub up against them. “They don’t bite, we’ll be okay.” In the distance Wesley spotted a light that just appeared. He made Julia aware and they both began to swim towards it. The eels, unhappy with the movement, left and returned back to their normal patterns. Wesley and Julia had to stop and rest several times to reach the light. The cold water slowing began to nub their bodies. After what seemed like forever Wesley made out the shore line in the distance. That’s when they heard the screams of a woman: Lilana.

Wesley and Julia began to swim as fast as possible. Wesley reached the rocky shore first, with Julia close behind. They pulled themselves out of the water and started climbing the high rock wall to the torch. Wesley saw the torch burning on top of a ruined building. Wesley reached up and found the top of the rock wall. Suddenly a hand offered itself and Wesley took it. Avery helped him and then grabbed Julia and pulled her up. They both caught their breaths for a moment before Avery spoke:

“Quincy is dead.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Relay: Episode 7

Hey everyone! Hope you're all enjoying so far. If this is your first time reading Relay, this link will get you to Episode 1.

Episode 7

Wesley guided Julia, Byron and Lilana all around the cave complex. Creatures of all sorts walked up and down the halls with them. Julia was overwhelmed by the assortment of nonhumans. Suddenly she and her problems felt very tiny. Wesley led them to the market place they’d passed on the way in. Its crowded isles were filled with goods from across the relay worlds. Wesley had no explanation for how they got there. One vendor selling necklaces caught Lilana’s eye and she drug Byron over to it. Julia and Wesley followed. Lilana picked up a beautifully simple twine necklace with a single cut purple stone hanging from it. Byron smiled at her as she tried it on.

“We can’t pay for that.” Byron tried to make her understand.

“Here,” Wesley handed Byron some brown coins. “These should take care of it.” He looked at Julia. “Anything for you?”

“No, thank you.” Julia walked onto the next vendor. “You seem to be doing well.”

“Zachander rewards faithful service.” Wesley joined her at the other vendor as Lilana hugged Byron over the necklace.

“So how does this work? Is he a dictator?” Julia moved her hand across some fabric being sold by a very odd looking yellow alien.

“Zachander is elected by the tribes. He holds final authority over every decision made here; the tribe’s have the muscle to keep him in power if outsiders resist.” Wesley walked forward. “They also reserve the right to kick him out if he gets too greedy. I came into his service a year ago when I arrived. There aren’t enough humans here to have any real tribal power so I sought protection from Zachander. That’s how I met Quincy. We were sorted into the same tent and have been solid friends ever since.”

“It sounds like Zachander can get away with just about whatever he wants, as long as he doesn’t cross the tribes.” Julia looked back to see Byron and Lilana following slowly behind; Lilana fawning all over Byron.

“True, but he doesn’t. He is one of the fairest beings I have ever met. His priority is the protection of this community.” Wesley bought a drink from a stand and offered it to Julia.

“Protection from what?” Julia took the drink and had a sip. The taste of the sea weed was evident, but masked by a much sweeter after tang than the beer.

“The former residents of these caves,” Wesley got his own drink. “They were driven into the ruined city centuries ago and remain our main threat here. They are the reason you must speak with Zachander before traveling to the relay. To get to the relay you have to pass through the city.”

“Is this going to be a problem?” Julia sipped her drink. Wesley downed his drink fast and pretended not to hear to question. Quincy rounded a corner and Wesley quickly waved him over.

“Quincy has offered to cook dinner for us tonight. A treat indeed!” Wesley put an arm around the fish man and smiled. Quincy shrugged him off and spoke more of his gobbity gook language. “No man not yet. He’s asked if I showed you the wind generators. Quincy helped repair them a few months ago and has developed a big head since. We can go there tomorrow.” Wesley laughed as Quincy spoke to Julia. “Ha! Julia, he said he thinks you are too pretty for me!”

“Well he may be right.” Julia laughed with them. Later that night Quincy served Julia, Byron, Lilana and Wesley a meal of eel and bread which was far better then the food they’d had the night before. They stayed up late after dinner, returning to their tent long after Avery had retired. Avery seemed not to notice their arrival. The next day Wesley took them to see the wind generators. This hike took most of the day. A long tunnel cut through the roof of the caves and lead all the way to the top of the cliffs. There everyone strapped into harnesses to keep from blowing away in the intense wind. The generators stood hundreds of feet high with their blades spinning rapidly in the high altitude breeze. All the power in the caves originated from these generators.

The grandeur of the wind generators was followed by a brief jaunt through the upper caves. They used them for storage of goods scavenged from the ruined city deep below. After that they ate a small lunch at a local restaurant before traveling to the catacombs. The catacombs, Wesley explained, were a large network of smaller caves that the tribes used for housing. Unlike the large commons cavern full of tents they had been staying in, the catacombs felt much more homely with most of the dwellings having solid doors in place of tent flaps. Here Julia felt much more on display. In the commons creatures of all sorts walked about, but in the catacombs they were segregated by species, making Julia and friends stick out. Wesley moved them quickly out of the catacombs and back to the market place for dinner. After dinner they returned to their tent to sleep.

Wesley arrived early the next morning and got everyone up and moving. They ate very little before setting off down a corridor they had not traveled down before. This corridor was much wider than most. Julia heard the sound of rushing water as they traveled down this passageway. Soon Quincy joined them from an adjoining corridor and began to strike conversation with Wesley.

The corridor soon opened into a large cavern with waterfalls gushing from the walls. The water crashed down through naturally cut holes in the floor and fell into the abyssal darkness of the caves below. To fall down one would most certainly lead to becoming lost in the darkness, or death upon impact. At the center of this giant room the residents had erected a large tent. To Julia it looked very much like a circus tent from old cartoons. It was stitched together with many mismatched pieces of cloth. Two sizable light bulbs hung from the entrance. Everyone but Quincy stopped at the light bulbs. Quincy went inside to announce their arrival. Wesley stood by the door and gave a few brief instructions.

“It’s best if just one of you speaks. I’m guessing Avery wants that honor. I should also note that Zachander is a Quitarian.” Wesley paused to note Avery’s disgust. “So… Don’t back talk him and don’t stare his forehead. When he is speaking be quiet, he has this thing about being interrupted.”

Quincy stuck his head out the tent and gurgled something to Wesley, who then pulled the flap open and ushered them all inside. The same large light bulbs ran around the interior of the tent casting strange, long shadows off of everything. In the center sat Zachander. He stood to greet them. Quitarian’s were bipedal like just about every other creature Julia had seen thus far and generally man like. He had deep black, white-less eyes that reflected no light. As she gave him a once over she noticed the color pattern on his forehead Wesley had warned about.

“Sis,” Byron leaned in and whispered. “That guy’s forehead looks like a butterfly!”

“Shut up!” Julia whispered back at Byron and stamped on his foot.

“Welcome friends!” Zachander said as he held out his hand to embraced Avery. “It is always good to see new faces. What has brought you here?”

“Thank you for your hospitality.” Avery spoke in a much different tone and voice than Julia had ever heard from him before. It seemed, refined. “I have actually been following a great criminal. I have tracked him here.”

“Following a criminal you say? You don’t look like Vanguard.” Zachander sat.

“I was. He is responsible for my unwarranted expulsion from the order. Capturing him would certainly clear my name.” Avery sat in a chair opposite Zachander. Julia looked at Wesley who was looking back at her. He seemed pleased with himself for his accurate appraisal of Avery.

“And what is this criminal’s name?”

“I don’t know what alias he’s using these days, but in the past he has gone by Parthor, Arthur Teasley and most recently Mabry Sager.” As Julia heard the name roll from Avery’s lips she was overwhelmed with emotions. Many she did not understand, but the anger, she understood that plain as day. Byron held her hand and instantly regretted it as she squeezed down. They both worked hard to remain quiet in accordance with Wesley’s instructions.

“A man of your species or there abouts did pass through a week ago. He called himself Mabry.” Zachander called to one of his assistants.

“Did he travel with a young girl?” Julia asked and stepped forward before realizing it.

“You’re out of turn miss.” Zachander took some papers his assistant brought forward. His black voided eyes pressed into her. “But he traveled alone.”

“Forgive her Zachander.” Avery said as he gave Julia a questioning look. “She doesn’t seem to understand the rules.” Zachander seemed to let it go. “Did he make for the relay?”

“He did. He came to me and I granted him access to the lost city. His presence in the city begrudged its inhabitants. They began attacking the gates not long after he departed. I had the city sealed off for the time being.” Zachander looked at Julia and then to Avery. “You wish to pass into the city to find the relay. I know this. Many wish this. But it is too dangerous. The gates almost fell after the last attack. I cannot risk the safety of this place again.”

“Zachander, I beg you. I have not been so close to him in years.” Avery was very sincere.

“I’m sorry. This colony is my responsibility. We will make you quite comfortable and when it is safe to leave you will be allowed. I foresee some of you will like it here enough by that time, you may decide to stay.” Avery knew when to stop talking. Julia did not.

“You bastard! You have to let us go!” Julia held back by Byron and Wesley began to sob. “Please!”

“I cannot.” With that Zachander stood and embraced Avery. His endless eyes torn through Julia once more before he turned and left the tent. Avery looked to Julia and frowned at her behavior.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Mabry Sager is my step father!” Julia raged. “He has my sister and we must get to him!”

“There are many reasons we must get to him.” Avery forcefully took Julia by the arms and held her close. “But there are rules to be followed. Getting in the good graces of a man like Zachander would have helped us. Now, it could be months before we get through that door.” Avery let Julia go and gave Byron a quick pat on the back. “We will just have to look for another way to the relay.”

“Avery!” Wesley walked to the group followed by Quincy. “Maybe we can help. Zachander won’t like it, but since we’re coming with you, who cares?”

“You’re coming with us?” Julia whipped the tears from her eyes.

“I knew it the moment I saw you, Julia.” Wesley put an arm around her. “You and Byron gave me hope I can get home. So, follow Quincy back to your tents, get rest, get food. In a few hours I’ll be along to explain and get us on our way. It will not be easy.” Wesley looked at Liana. “She will be a hindrance.”

“We aren’t leaving her if that’s what you mean.” Byron spoke up.

“I never suggested it.” Wesley said as he made for the exit.

“Can you give me any idea what your plan is?” Avery asked. Wesley smiled and walked away. The group stood silent, only the sound of the waterfalls outside disturbed the quiet.