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.
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.