Chapter 4 - Nin-nin-nin!  A sneaking mission

Chapter 4 - Nin-nin-nin! A sneaking mission

A Chapter by TOF_Matt
"

Even without the consent of his partner, Noal sneaks into a Luppitan compuond with his target firmly in mind, but even he has no idea the secrets they have locked there.

"

Threads of Fate


Chapter 4

Nin-nin-nin!  A sneaking mission.


Tracking down the military steamobile was as easy as following the golden thread.  Even in Fortune Town’s exceptionally poor lit streets, it glowed like a beacon.  Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Noal found the vehicle parked outside a sprawling embassy.  Although Fortune Town was a neutral city, they were clearly pressing to make a comfortable stay for their Luppitan guests.  The better the impression, the better chance they had of staying free, he surmised.  So did that make them a slave to none of the nations, or to all of them?


From an alley across the street he studied the villa’s perimeter, his eyes following the natural curvature of the engraved concrete, up and over archways and across great portal windows.  It was as though the building had been plucked from another city entirely, especially when compared to the shacks he’d walked around earlier.  The front was heavily guarded with an iron gate and patrolling guards, not to mention a sprawling yard.  Who knew how many alarms or booby traps were set up end to end?  Noal turned back to the alley and looked at his two arms - one plain, and the other tattooed with the Providence Eye.  He took a deep breath and stepped out of the shadows.  It was time to give that old man back his curse.


As he approached the gate, Noal pulled his cloak over his head.  Two guards out front watched him like hawks the moment he was in view and a dog growled from behind the gate.  Noal swiftly turned ninety degrees, skulking passed the gate and around the corner of the surrounding brick wall.  He kept a keen eye out for chinks in the armor, but as his luck would have it the villa wall must’ve been the only well-maintained structure in the entire city.  He tried gripping the stone but it was too smooth.

Lined up alongside the wall were a number of tall leafless trees, one in particular sporting an un-pruned branch which hung out over the villa’s yard.  Noal quickly scurried up it and then, carefully hugging the limb for dear life, began a slow shimmy over the wall.  He made his way across the branch keeping his eyes on his hands, until he felt he was close, at which point he spotted his landing.


                “GAH!”


Noal nearly lost his grip as he found himself face to face with a hideous maw and dozens of sharp teeth.  It took a few moments for his heart to slow when he realized it was just a stone gargoyle.  He looked left and right to find a number of them sitting on the ledge.  Noal let out a sigh of relief that turned out to be premature. 


Oh no, not now.


Noal looked back to his arm to find the Providence Eye peeking out from under his brace.  Familiar goose bumps stung the back of his neck moments before the branch cracked.  Suddenly, Noal was swinging through the air, the gargoyle’s pointy horns just inches from his crotch.  As the branch continued to splinter, Noal timed his jump as the limb gave way.  He landed just clear of the statue’s horns and right into its outstretched arms as the limb fall past him.  He winced as it hit the ground with an echoing crack.  Noal waited, but there was no response from the Luppitan guards.


Noal chuckled quietly at his good fortune and then, half jokingly, patted the gargoyle on the shoulder.  The entire stone creature lurched forward.  After a brief moment of regret, Noal quickly scrambled over as the entire statue somersaulted forward and plummeted to the ground below, smashing with an echo that could’ve woken the dead.  Lights flared up around the corner of the building, accompanied by hurried shouts. 


Panic stricken, Noal searched for a place to hide.  He glanced at the ground.  One shadow, two shadows, a huge gap and then a third; the full moon made the missing statue obvious.  There was one other shadow though, an undulating rectangle on the floor.  It belonged to a flag high above him.


                “Here goes nothing.”


Noal took a step back, squeezed his eyes shut, and launched off the wall in a leap of faith.  Air sailed past him for a brief second before he slammed into the pole, barely catching hold of it, slipping down at least two feet before screeching to a stop.  Ignoring the friction burns on his hands, he scurried up it like a squirrel, tucking himself behind the flag just as two guards rounded the corner.  There he held for dear life, holding his breath, and doing his best to keep from shivering in the breeze that now stung him like hornets.


Noal watched from his perch as the soldiers shined their lights on the floor, then the wall, instantly noticing his handiwork.  As they stood and debated, Noal pulled himself up just a little more to ensure his own shadow was hidden well behind the flag’s.  The cold night air continued gnawing at his fingers.  Finally, just moments before Noal was sure his frozen hands would break off completely, the guards gave up and headed back for the villa. 


Noal was about to let out another sigh of relief, but stopped himself halfway when he realized what that had done for him before.  It didn’t matter.  He shivered again, but this time not from the cold - how he wished it was from the cold.  Swallowing a curse, Noal held on for dear life as his perch began bucking like a wild horse.  He shimmied down as far as he could moments before The Power brought the entire pole timbering down.  Without much other choice, Noal shifted his weight towards the house, squeezed his eyes shut, and hoped for the best.  The pole clanged into the side of the building and threw him onto the upper balcony.


                “Halt!  Who goes there!?” a voice rang out from below.


Noal rolled onto his belly and crawled to the edge.  One of the soldiers whipped his light randomly about the yard, but it seemed he hadn’t been spotted.  Noal breathed a sigh of relief until the falling flagpole zoomed by his peripheral vision.  Noal tried to grab it on reaction, but by then it was well beyond his reach.


                “Uh oh.”


The guard turned and shined his light up an instant before the pole struck him between the eyes.  Noal winced from the impact as his partner waved his own light about in a frenzy.  Panicked cries of “what happened” rang out, but the downed soldier could only moan incomprehensibly.  Noal hadn’t been spotted.  With the utmost sincerity, he whispered an apology they had no chance of hearing, before slithering into an open window.


* * *


The crackle of the fireplace and intermittent clang of silverware were all that broke the otherwise perfect silence of the lavish dinner hall.  Captain Uwei Dalmasacus poked the beans on his plate with his fork.  They were a poor imitation of Luppitan cuisine, slop he already despised compared to the real food he used to have back home.  The hall itself reeked of similar imitation.  Unlike the earthy abodes outside, the villa had been hastily disguised with white walls so freshly painted that he dared not lean on them.  Columns lined each wall with portraits and paintings hung between them, none bearing any thematic correlation.  They did not recount the story of a civilization or even former masters of the estate.  They were mostly outsider pieces, probably stolen, that wound up here by simple chance.  The same could be said for the pottery, sculptures, and other assorted junk sprinkled around the room.  If their hosts were expecting to impress them with this paltry collection, they’d obviously never been to even the smallest gallery in Ganymede City.  Not that any of this mattered of course; Uwei had little use for art.  He looked across the long dining table and watched the princess eat, the fire light dancing off her long angelic hair, accenting the soft curve of her face.  Yet he could only be annoyed.  Escort duty was ill-suited for a man such as him.


When dinner was over the princess bowed politely and returned to her room.  She stepped with the grace of an angel, her hair flowing behind her like a veil held by dancing children, tickling the chins of soldiers and staff who passed by.  Those pouty blue eyes had already hijacked many of his subordinates’ attention.  One such subordinate sidled past her now, smartly shielding his eyes with his hand so as not to be distracted and catch Uwei’s ire.  He came to attention and saluted, not even willing to look Uwei in the eye.


        “Sir, the prisoner’s woken up.  Also, there was a disturbance in the yard earlier.  Apparently one of the stone gargoyles out back fell over and a flagpole broke, knocking out one of the guards.”


           “Any sign of intruders?” Uwei asked.


           “No sir.  The men combed the area but didn’t find anything.  It was probably just the foundation.  This whole city seems to be on the verge of collapse.”


           “Very well.  Step up the interior security just in case.”


           “Very good sir.”


The soldier turned and left as Uwei sipped his tea.  While it was true that Fortune Town was but a strong gust away from imploding, something felt off.  He wasn’t sure how to describe it, but something tickled his inner sense.  He patted the blade at his hip and smiled.


          “Bloc.  What say we go bid a hello to our friend down in the holding cell?  I have some questions I should like to ask him.”


* * *


Noal looked left, then right, in front, then behind, but no matter where he turned he was greeted by the same stretch of white corridor lined with brown doors.  He’d long since lost the golden thread (it had disappeared into a wall the moment he stepped inside) so he was relegated to checking doors randomly.  Unfortunately, it seemed like for every room he checked, three more doors waited for him inside.  After wandering aimlessly for ten minutes all he managed to do was end up right back where he started. 

Noal spotted a staircase and glanced over the railing where two guards were in the midst of a conversation.  They loitered for about a minute before continuing their inane conversation down the hall.  Noal made his way down carefully.  Maybe he’d have better luck on a different floor.


More white corridors.  More doors.  More guards.


Noal sighed his irritation.  Was it him, or had the frequency of patrols increased in the last hour?  He’d toyed with the idea of allowing himself to be captured.  Surely they’d take him to the same place they were holding the tattooed man, right?  How clever would that be?  Not very, he decided, if they decided to execute him on the spot instead.


Noal rounded another corner and an excited shiver run up his spine when he found not another white corridor but a massive oak door.  Unlike the others, this one was elaborately decorated with carvings of snaking vines and roses, book-ended by a pair of fairy statues.  Well, this certainly looked promising.  He put his ear up to the door but was met only with silence; not surprising really as the wood felt like it must have been at least half-a-foot thick.  Whatever was in here was being well protected. 


As he studied the door he noticed a small keyhole.  Putting his eye up to it afforded him his first glimpse inside.  His field of view was limited by the tiny space and if it wasn’t for the full moon leering in from the wide-open balcony on the far side, he probably wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all.  Even then, he could only make out silhouettes; the outlines of a dresser, a few potted plants, some lace curtains, and a massive canopy bed.  This was no dungeon.  Disappointed, Noal just started pulling away when movement inside caught his eye.


Sweet mate of Mother Fate!


Atop the bed, a body reared up against the moon’s eye.  Although he could only see the silhouette, he knew immediately it was female; definitely female.  Noal swallowed as he pushed his face closer to the keyhole.  The woman sat up, soaking in the moon’s rays, and Noal followed a shimmer of moonlight as it traveled up from her legs to the tip of her chin, tracing every curve like a steamobile on hilly roads.  His eye followed the sheen across her long hair, jetting out behind her before curving smoothly to the small of her back, forming its own crescent moon.  Be it the play of the moon’s energy or his own nervous sweat in his eyes, something about her beauty seemed almost otherworldly. 




























Was it hot in here?  Noal suddenly found himself trembling uncontrollably, pulling at his collar to let some of the steam out.  Yet in his distraction, he almost missed the rhythmic echoes that were steadily growing louder, like the ticking of a clock…

…or the clattering of footsteps.


Yanked from his blissful daze, Noal panicked.  The echoing hallways made it impossible to tell which direction the footsteps were coming from, but they were definitely getting closer.  He was trapped!  Panic began to march over his mind.  His eyes darted about like a fly caught in a glass jar until finally his gaze rested back on the keyhole he’d just been peeping through.  With a quick prayer he grabbed and pulled and miraculously the heavy door actually opened a crack.  Did he dare?  What was the alternative?  It was one thing to be caught for breaking and entering, but to be caught as a peeping tom?


The footsteps were almost on top of him now.  With a short prayer he squeezed his eyes shut and dove inside, pulling the door shut behind him.  Once inside, he pressed himself against it and sat absolutely still.  The footsteps stopped right outside.


                “Whew thanks, thought my bladder was gonna explode,” a muffled voice exclaimed through the heavy doors behind him.


                “Look, just keep quiet about it okay?” a second muffled voice pleaded.  “Next time, find the washroom your own damn self.  The captain’d kill me if he knew we both left our post.”


Noal exhaled a pent up sigh of relief as quietly as he could, then turned his attention to his new surroundings.  Moonlight poured in through the windows, filtering through half-strung silk curtains, giving the antique furniture of oak and bronze an ethereal glow.  They cast long shadows that reached from end to end.  The room smelled strongly of fresh flowers, which were set in vases on either side of a large canopy bed, and something else that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.  Perfume?  Suddenly Noal remembered the woman he’d spied earlier, but a quick sweep with his eyes turned up nothing.  Surely she must’ve noticed him enter.  Where was she hiding?

 

                “The captain?  You mean that kid?  How can you be afraid of that"?” the voices outside continued, completely oblivious to Noal’s presence.


                “Shhhhh-utup!”  The door suddenly thudded against Noal’s back.  “I’m afraid alright.  You’d be too, if you had any good sense.  Didn’t you ever ask yourself how a twenty-something gets to become a captain in this army?  They don’t exactly give away those commendations.”


“Can’t be that hard.”


“Okay, whatever you say.  And how old are you again private?”


            “Okay fine, then how’d he got to be so high and mighty?”


“Word is, he’s some sort of military genius.  A brilliant fighter who can guarantee a victory.”


“Bah, don’t tell me you believe those blown up stories!”


“Maybe, maybe not.  Either way, you seen his dress uniform?  He’s got medals and commendations from here to here!  Funny thing is I hear he’s not even Luppitan.  He was… imported.”


“Imported?  What you mean like some kind of freelancer?  Where from?”


“Well, word is the kid’s from the Phobos colony.  You know, in März country.”

“März??  As in the Republic of März!?  He’s a bloody barbarian!?”


“Shhhh!  Keep it down!  And yes, that’s what the popular rumor says.”


A wave of nausea washed over Noal.  Of all the people, in all the towns, in all the world, Noal just had to pick a fight with a Märzian.


                “The quarantine zone… that’s unbelievable,” the soldier continued.  “How’d they even get him out?  Why they must’ve sent a whole battalion in to get that one little kid.”


“Or more,” the other corrected.  “I hear those Märzians can win a fight even when outnumbered thirty-to-one!  Guess we’re all lucky they got such a contemptible dislike for each other or we might all be working for them by now.  Wanna know the really scary thing, though?  I hear this guy’s a genius, even by Märzian standards.”


The two guards lightened up significantly after that, trading ridiculous anecdotes about the captain’s strength.  “I hear the captain’s so strong, he can slam a revolving door” or “I hear the captain doesn’t get frost bite, he bites the frost,” they’d jest.  Somehow Noal wasn’t laughing though �" quite the contrary, he was about ready to throw up.  Quietly resting his back against the door, he invested himself in deep thought. 


There were few universally accepted laws amongst the six nations, but one of them was a strict policy of live-and-let-live with the Märzians.  The history books referred to them as the “gods of war,” and for good reason.  Every attempted invasion into their territory, whether they were large scale assaults or stealthy intrusions, had ended in complete defeat, usually with crippling losses.  Even Luppita, more than twice as large with easily ten times the manpower of März, didn’t dare to step foot within their borders; at least, not until now apparently.  Suddenly, for the first time tonight, Noal found himself seriously considing giving up his search and going home �" this was bad enough when it was just the Luppitans.  But he’d come so far and risked so much to find the tattooed man, could he really give up now?  What was he to do? 


Noal tried clearing his mind, but found it hard to concentrate due to the small pulsating breezes of warm air tickling the hairs on his neck.  Wait, those weren’t breezes, they were breaths!


                “GAH.”


Noal turned and nearly had a heart attack as he met with a pair of big blue eyes staring intently at him.  They belonged to a young girl, kneeling next to him now.  Noal instinctively flinched away but she leaned in closer.  There was something very familiar about her face.


                “It’s you!” she exclaimed.


                “What was that?” asked a muffled voice from behind the door.


Noal felt a shove in his chest.  He rolled backwards into something soft that toppled over, covering him completely from head to toe.  Noal picked one up of the objects up and realized they were… stuffed bears?  Before he could protest, the heavy oak door opened, spilling light into the cracks of his mound of fake fur.


                “What the"what are you doing up against the door?” one of the guard’s asked.


             “You must bring aid!” the girl exclaimed, her regal tone sophisticated yet simultaneously girlish.  “A stranger walks the villa!” 


Every hair on Noal’s body stood up.


                “What!  Where?”


                “I sent him off… that way, if memory serves!”


Noal, bracing himself for the worst, was as bewildered as the guards when the young lady pointed off down the hallway.


                “Wha… but that’s imposs…,” stumbled one of the guards.


                “I believe him to have lost his way, and I fear I was of little help.  My apologies, I tried to set him right him but I am so unfamiliar with the villa’s halls.  You can still catch him if you act with haste!”


Awkward silence followed for a moment and Noal could only squeeze his eyes shut and pray they took the bait.


                “Ok, I’ll look into this, why don’t you stay with her?” one guard said to the other.


                “Oh good,” she responded.  “Perhaps you can take me to see the captain.  I’m sure he would be happy to lend his hand as well.”


She spoke quickly, combining words in ways Noal had never heard before.  With each one her voice squeaked with genuine exuberance.  Noal shifted himself slightly to peek through a crack in his hiding place.  She was kneeling at the foot of the doorway holding one of the guard’s hands, playfully rubbing her thumb in circles on top of it.  Her limitless blonde hair spilled out behind her and curled on the floor around her white nightgown while rich peach skin glowed in the soft candle light.  Yet despite her angelic features, there was an unexplainably grounded quality to her.  She was the kind of girl Noal wouldn’t be surprised to find her living next door �" at least if he had such a pedestrian place to call home.  One thing was for certain though; this was not the same woman he saw through the keyhole earlier. 


“Uh, yeah… that’s a great idea,” said one of the guards, his tone shifting uncomfortably.  “Say, how about I go search for our lost friend and my colleague here will go inform the captain.  It’s late and I’m sure the princess needs her rest.”

Princess!?


                “Are you certain?” she asked the second guard, her lips curling into a pouting frown.  “I assure you I am good company.”


                “Well, actually I’d love…”


The first soldier elbowed him in the ribs and whispered through his teeth.  “Are you crazy?  If she saw someone then the captain would know that we left our post!  Better we take care of this ourselves.  It was probably just a house-worker.”


His partner was a little slow to catch on.  “Oh… yeah!  Don’t worry, I’ll go tell the captain myself,” he blurted in a garish, unconvincing voice.  “You just get some sleep little miss.”


                “Goodnight princess,” the first soldier said as the light from outside slivered and the chamber door creaked shut.  Muffled voices continued talking behind the door for a few moments, slowly fading away into silence again.  When the coast was clear, Noal broke free of his cuddly prison. 


                “Wow, thanks for that.  I thought I was in deep trouble for a sec…”


The girl was gone again.  He turned back to the bed and his heart skipped a beat for a second time when he found her once again just inches from his face. 


                “Stop doing that!”


Her expression was one of wonder, like he was something she’d never seen before.  He stuttered for a moment, but she said nothing.  With each breath, Noal took in her sweet scent; fresh baby powder, that was the aroma he’d had trouble placing before.  He lost himself in the endless sea of those bright blue eyes. 


                “It is you!  What were you doing out there?” she asked him with a raised eyebrow.


                Noal woke from his daze.  “Who, me?  No, nothing.  I wasn’t doing anything.”  She moved in even closer and lightly brushed his cheek with her fingertips.  Noal burned bright pink, literally forgetting to breathe for a second, until the moment she pulled back and brushed the small bronze flakes between her fingers.  Noal felt around his eye, tracing the very distinct impression of a keyhole on his face.  “Well, that is…  I mean I…”


                The girl just smiled, then offered her hand.  “I am the Princess Priscilla de Mak, second born in the Main House of Cirrus and heir to the city of Lapetus.”

Noal’s brain struggled to keep up.  Even among high society’s penchant for longwinded titles, hers had to be the most ridiculously overblown he’d ever heard…


                “It’s a pleasure.  I’m…”


                She pointed to his arm and smiled.  “…Noal Kai, the Great Destroyer, Human Hurricane, and ten million platinum man, right?”


…Okay make that the second most overblown.


“Actually, it’s twenty million,” he sighed, dejectedly.  “Look, I didn’t mean to just barge in here…”


She shook his hand vigorously, grinning ear to ear.  It wasn’t quite the type of introduction he was used to. 


                “So, Mr. Hurricane…”


                “Please… just call me Noal,” he replied, as he squirmed uncomfortably.

                “…Won’t you join me for a cup of tea under the moonlight?  I yearn to hear of the places you’ve been and the works you’ve done!” 


                “Uh sure… wait, what?” he asked, completely befuddled.  Her tone was a confusing blend of aristocratic maturity and child-like enthusiasm.  He awkwardly squeezed his hand from her grip and retreated into himself.  “Look, I’m not exactly someone you want to be having tea and crumpets with…”


                “Quite the contrary, I am your biggest fan!”


                “My biggest… what??”


Before he knew it her arm was locked around his, pulling his body tightly to hers, before she led him out to the balcony where a small metal patio set waited.  She forcibly sat him down in a chair, then skipped over to a nearby desk where she pulled out a rather large book. 


                “See?” she said, flipping it open excitedly in front of him.  He fingered through the pages, each one bearing a pasted newspaper clipping.  The headlines read “Entire District Collapses as Authorities Chase Human Hurricane”, “Miracle at Sea?  No Deaths Reported after Great Destroyer is Spotted on Ferry”, and “Is He Real?  Six Bounty Hunters recount their dance with The Demon.”  Noal swallowed and pushed the book away, only to find the princess staring dreamily at him with her elbows on the table and her head in her hands.


                “It’s funny; the stories would have me believe you to be much larger… and older.”


                Noal scoffed.  “I get that a lot.  I guess I’m not exactly what you were expecting.”


                She turned away to hide what Noal could’ve sworn was a wry grin.  “Actually, I rather prefer you as you are now.”


                Noal choked on his own saliva.  “Yes, well, in case you haven’t noticed, these aren’t exactly things to admire,” he stammered, trying to divert the conversation back to the girl’s book.


                “On the contrary; I find your ability to disrupt such institutions without causing even a single death fascinating.”  She was threading her golden hair through the fingers on her left hand now, staring deep into his eyes.  Noal felt lost in them �" they went on further than the night sky.  So enthralled in fantasy was he that he didn’t even notice the moment she stretched out her right arm across the table toward him.  Before he knew it, she was running her fingers across the black lines of the Providence Eye, tickling the hairs on his skin.


“What must it be like to hold power such as this?  He told me that I would be amazed, but I never imagined…”


                 “Wait, when he told you?”


Images of the Luppitan captain punched through his fantasy bubble, knocking him backwards in his chair and onto the floor.  The princess gasped and then reached down to help him, but he was already shuffling backwards back to his feet.  He’d completely forgotten why he was here! 


                “Wait, where are you going?” the princess asked, sadly.


                “I uh… I’m sorry, this was just… a wrong turn.  I… have somewhere I need to be right now!”  Like a bull in a china shop, Noal knocked over every chair and stumbled over every ottoman on his way to the door. “It was nice to meet you,” he uttered as he pulled on the handle and practically spilled outside.  He quickly pushed the door close and exhaled a huge sigh.  If the Luppitan captain knew he was coming tonight, then he had precious little time to waste finding the tattooed man.   


After slapping some sense back into himself, he wobbly made his way back down the hall on gelatin legs, trying desperately not to look back.  Even so, her disappointed face filled his mind’s eye.  He hadn’t exactly handled the situation smoothly; surely a brief conversation to quell her curiosity wouldn’t have hurt.  She might even know something about the tattooed man. 


                *Clunk*


His train of thought was broken by the echo of the chamber door.  Noal turned to find the princess with her hand on the knob smiling apologetically at him.  As she skipped towards him, almost knocking over a potted plant, Noal gritted his teeth and manically shooed her away. 


              “What are you doing!?” he seethed through his teeth.


              “You could have waited you know.  I needed aught but a pair of slippers!”


           “Slip…?  Oh no, I don’t think so,” he said, firmly grabbing her wrist and starting back toward the bedroom chamber.  “Look, I’m sorry but there’s no way that you’re�".”


The echo of voices down the hall interrupted him mid-sentence and two long shadows slipped up from around the corner.  Well that was just perfect, Noal thought.  Begrudgingly, he grabbed the princess’ wrist and darted down an adjacent hallway.  They rounded another corner before Noal stopped to sneak a quick peek.  The shadows had stopped now, presumably outside the princess’ chamber door.


                “Well, that was a big waste of time,” echoed a voice.


                “We’ll just wait until morning and then tell her we found him and sent him on his way.”


Noal cursed his luck.  There was no way he was going to get her back in there now, so instead he tiptoed the princess further down the hall, cautiously checking doors until he found a vacant laundry room.  Inside, he closed his eyes and counted to five, hoping that when he opened them again he’d be back in his room at the motel.  No such luck.  The princess was still kneeling in front of him, beaming happily.  How could things get any worse?


                “Ok, you stay here and keep quiet, alright?”


                “But I want to come with you!  Please, please, please!”


She grabbed Noal’s arm again, causing every hair on his body to stand up on end.  Looking at her, he found himself drowning in eyes deeper than the sea; there was just no way he could look into them and say no.  Besides, he had a feeling no matter what he answered she’d end up following him anyway.


“Alright look, I guess you might as well come along now, but you can’t let anyone see you, okay?  Just follow me and stay out of sight.”


She nodded with a playful enthusiasm that shook Noal’s confidence.


                “Ok, good.  Now, we’re looking for someone very important,” he continued.  “He’s a big man with a dark beard and tattoo on his".”


                “On his arm,” she interrupted.  “I remember.  He’s the man from this morning.”


                Noal nodded.  “Okay then.  Let’s go.  Quietly.”


Slowly, he opened the door a crack and peeked out.  When the coast was clear he motioned for her to follow.  She made nary a peep behind him.  Unlike the outer halls he’d traversed earlier, these inner ones were only intermittently lit by the dim kerosene lamps spaced out in intervals.  Noal crept from shadow to shadow, like a specter, masking his footsteps on the dark red carpet when he could.  Soon he came upon a fork in the hall, where he peeked around the corner at another pair of guards in casual conversation.  There didn’t seem to be any way around them.


                “Hmm, I think we’ll need to turn around,” Noal whispered.


The princess continued her silence.  For someone who was so hyperactive before, she was surprisingly good at being quiet; a little too good.


                “Princess?”  Noal turned back to find she was completely gone!  “Princess!?” 

Noal hissed loudly, hoping she’d pop out of a dark corner somewhere, but she didn’t.  In fact, she wasn’t in the hallway at all. 


               “Oh no, am I found?” her disembodied voice whispered back, causing Noal to jump nearly a foot.


                “Are you--?  No, you’re--.  Where are you?”


                “Out of sight, just as you asked!” she responded. 


                “I meant out of sight from them!”  Noal paced up and down the hall a few times.  “How are you doing this?”


Suddenly he realized her voice wasn’t coming from in front or behind him, but below him.  Noal crouched down to a ventilation duct where, amazingly, he found the girl’s wide eyes staring at him from behind the grating.


                “W-What are you doing in there!?”


                “I’m sorry,” she replied disappointedly.  “Is this not what you meant by keeping out of sight?”


Suddenly he realized her voice wasn’t coming from in front or behind him, but below him.  Noal crouched down to a ventilation duct where, amazingly, he found the girl’s wide eyes staring at him from behind the grating.


                “W-What are you doing in there!?”


                “I’m sorry,” she replied disappointedly.  “Is this not what you meant by keeping out of sight?”

 


Noal spent the next twenty minutes with proverbial egg on his face as they moved effortlessly through the ventilation system; how had he not found this sooner?  Now if only he could make heads or tails of the maze-like ducts.  The pair spent several pointless minutes tail-chasing under Noal’s lead before he finally conceded to Princess Priscilla, who quickly charted an efficient, safe path to the lower levels.  Despite her misleading demeanor, she was strangely adept at the espionage game; accurately predicting guard rotations, figuring out lines of sight, and generally being far stealthier than Noal could ever hope to be. 


It wasn’t long before the two ended up in a duct above a tiny, very dimly lit concrete hallway.  The princess hung her head upside-down out of an opening to check for patrols, during which time Noal did everything humanly possible to avoid looking up the skirt of her nightgown.  His face flushed red like a tomato.


                “Hey, what’re you"?”


She pulled her head back up and shushed him; the irony of the role reversal wasn’t lost on him.  Using her free hand, she pointed down to the hallway below before somersaulting gracefully out the hole. 


                “Hey!  Where are you going!?”


She landed softly on her feet and was off without even acknowledging him.  Noal scurried along the duct, following her from above.  When he turned the corner he found himself above a small room whose only defining feature was a heavy steel door.  The princess was chatting up the lone guard directly beneath him. 

  

            “…But I must talk to him.  I will be but a minute,” she pouted.


The guard stammered.  “I’m sorry ma’am, but the captain would have my head on a plate.  What are you doing out of your room anyway.  You have any idea what hour it is?”


The princess popped Noal a quick look through the vent, motioning down towards the guard.  Clever girl, he had to give her that.  Noal slowly lifted the grate and set it aside and then positioned himself to flip out and whack the guard in the chin. 

The Power, on the other hand, had a different idea. 


Without warning, the entire duct creaked loudly before the panel underneath him gave way.  Noal slid backwards and then halfway out, catching the other end of the duct with his feet so that his butt hung down the opening in an awkward V shape.  He was a sitting duck!  He squirmed back and forth as the guard struggled to unbuckle his sidearm.  Noal won the race when his legs cleared the opening, causing him to tumble out and flatten the guard.  The two ended up in a heap, the guard knocked out cold and Noal rubbing the base of his head.  The princess rushed to his aid and pulled him up with the utmost concern.  Then she knelt down next to the guard, but sighed in relief when she realized he was just unconscious.


“So this is how the most unpredictable man in the world operates,” she said with just a hint of reverence.


“Yeah, twenty-four hours a day unfortunately.”


Before he knew it she was dusting him off, and then opening the steel door the unconscious man was guarding.  “You’d better hurry.  More guards are bound to be along shortly.  I’ll stay here and keep watch for you.” 


“Wait, what is"?”


She was already pushing him from behind.  Before he could wring an explanation out of her, she dumped the guard’s ring of keys in his hand, shoved him through, and clanged the door shut behind him, plunging him into darkness.

 

Noal found himself standing in a dungeon of about a dozen iron cells.  They were lit only in patches by what moonlight could squeeze through the small crescent windows.  Airborne particles of sand bathed in the moon’s rays like an eerie blue mist.  An awful, unidentifiable stench lingered in the air, forcing him to pull his collar up around his nose.  His breath condensed into puffs and hung in the air; unlike the rooms above, there was no heat here. 


Noal found himself between two rows of cages.  Most of the cell doors were wide open and looked like they hadn’t been used in quite some time.  Each of their interiors was shaped uniquely by sand erosion and some were still half-filled with little hills of it leading up to the barred windows.  The ground crunched beneath his feet.  In retrospect, he was glad that the princess hadn’t followed him.  This was no place for someone like her.


On the far side he spotted a single locked door. 


He approached cautiously and inside he found a man, his arms chained so he hung in a “Y” position.  His head was down but there was no mistaking that beard and haircut.  It was the bartender alright.  All manner of rage flooded Noal’s mind.


                “Hey, you!”


Noal banged on the cage door but the man didn’t respond.  He was a battered and ragged mess, not that he was the picture of civility before.  His shirt was torn to shreds, revealing a chest covered in sores and dirt.  After a few more futile calls, Noal unlocked the door and entered, grabbing the man’s cheeks with his hand and pulling his head up.

 

“Fate have mercy…”


Up close the old man looked ten times worse.  These weren’t just any sores on his chest, but rather they resembled scalds, as if he’d been burnt repeatedly.  Those scalds were mirrored almost perfectly by scalds on his back.  This man hadn’t simply been burned, he’d been pierced.  What kind of weapon left a pair of burn marks but no through-wound? 


                “P-Please, mercy!” the man barked. 


Noal was pressing himself to remain angry, but pity was already washing over that fire.  The bartender’s voice was parched and raspy, his faded eyes darting around in panic, unable to pierce the darkness to see Noal standing right in front of him.  The man breathed quick, fearful breaths that wheezed with each exhale.  Quickly, Noal bent down, unscrewed his canteen and fed it to the prisoner who gulped the water down greedily.


                “Alright enough,” Noal said, taking away the canteen.  The man suckled like a baby pig.


                “That voice… Y-You’re the dishwasher from the bar!  Oh praise Fate!  You gotta get me out of here!  I’m sorry about earlier, I didn’t mean any of it!  I-I’ll make it up to you!  If you can just get me out of here!”


                “You have no idea how long I’ve spent tracking you down, from city to city, state to state.  I’ve lived my entire life waiting for this moment.  Now who are you!?”


                “M-My name is J-Jack!”


                Noal shook him.  “What did you do to the Azrealians!?”


   “Azrae".  I don’t know what you’re talking about!”


                “You’re lying!  You knew about the Human Hurricane.  You said you were involved in the destruction of his home town!” 


                “Oh Mother Fate, I was just exaggerating!  I’ve never even been to Azraelia!  Come on man, we gotta get out of here before he comes back,” the man pleaded.

              

“I’m not lifting a finger until you answer me, so you better start talking!  Maybe you need me to jog your memory!  Six years ago you visited the town of Azraelia in the country of Terra.  The next day that same town was reduced to rubble!  I was the only one left.”  Noal rolled up his sleeve and shoved the Providence Eye into the man’s face.  “When I woke up, I found this on my arm.  What is this!?  Why was it given to me!?”


Noal suddenly found his eyes stinging with tears.  They were a nuisance that he wiped away violently. 


                “Okay, okay, okay!  I’ll level with you,” the prisoner squealed, pulling his neck away from Noal’s sweaty arm.  “Th-There was a guy, came to the bar a couple of months ago.  Told me about the Azraelians and how their city was destroyed.  Said he was the one responsible!  He’s the one you want!”


“Oh well isn’t that convenient!?  Except for one thing!  The golden thread led me right to you!  How do you explain that!?”


The golden thread!  Noal looked down to the golden thread protruding from his chest.  He searched high and low, but the other end was nowhere in sight. 


“Golden thread?  I have no idea what you’re talking about!”


Without answering, Noal grabbed the prisoner’s arm and turned it around.  In their first encounter, Noal had thought the tattoo was of an eye, just like his.  Rolling the prisoner’s sleeve up now, the reality of the situation hit him like a truck.  It was actually a tattoo of a snake’s head.


This was the wrong guy; Noal had made a terrible mistake.


The man started coughing up blood and convulsing onto the floor.  Noal’s rage was instantly gone, like someone had flipped over a switch.  Now all that filled him was panic as he watched this man agonize in his chains.


 “P-Please.  Help me!” the man yelled.


“H-Hold on!”


Noal fumbled through the keys on the ring.  There was nothing he could do for him here, his only chance was to get him out of the complex.  The keys jingled violently as Noal’s hands shook from the shock.  The bartender was clutching at him now. 


                “M-My tattoo… got it… after I saw his.  Thought it was… pretty bitchin…”

The man slumped, the breath taken out of his lungs.  Noal shook him violently and shouted into his ear but the bartender gave no response.  Noal could only stare for a moment, his mouth agape at the sight before him.  As his blood pressure fell, he transformed from back from Noal the avenger into Noal the man, and at the precise moment he crossed that threshold, he threw up. 


Claxons suddenly blared from outside the prison door and Noal’s eyes grew wide in realization.  Stupid, stupid!  Wobbly as he was, he staggered to his feet and made a break for the door. 

It was a trap.


Threads of Fate



© 2011 TOF_Matt


Author's Note

TOF_Matt
It's a bit of a longer chapter. But my hopes is that it's not a "slow" chapter. As always, please let me know what you think in that regard (as well as any other critique of course).

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It's not slow, but I did feel the section where the captain's voice took over was awkward. It wasn't the fact that you chose to do it (i think it adds some variety actually,) it just seemed a little overdone, I think you also could have skipped a lot of dialogue with the two guards if you had fit some of the information they discuss into that section instead. Priscilla (great name btw) and Noal's interaction was pretty good, you got across how unnerving interacting with her would be, though I think it could be made a little smoother.
It's pretty fun to read, because rather than shamefacedly engaging in standard tropes and normal fantasy set ups (like hiding from guards, or even when she introduces herself) you draw attention to it and preemptively make fun of it.
I'm interested to see what you do with it.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.




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Still loving the thrill ride of adventure. I love long stories by the way.

Posted 8 Years Ago


You're describing Noal's actions so cinematically that I can clearly see them. Great job! I love the humor with the gargoyle!

I think you should only use the line "Trapped between a rock and a hard place" if Noal has his back pressed up against a wall. Then he'd truly be between a rock (the wall) and a "hard place", if you catch my drift. Otherwise, take it out, because you definitely don't need a cliché in there - your writing is way too strong for it.

One of my biggest problems with your story is the many different pronunciation each name can have. This doesn't take away from the story (I spent 4 years calling Hermione Granger "Hermy-won"), I still want to know the exact pronunciation. For instance, März is the German word for March (the month, not the music), and it's pronounced "Mairz". But if you don't use the umlaut or know about it (many created words forget that the umlaut actually changes the sound of the vowel from long to short, which is important in a language like German, which features only long vowels). So, I mean, it's not the most important piece of editing advice, and it's more of a personal preference, but if there's any way you can slip in pronunciations (which is remarkably hard, I've discovered), I think it would help. Feel free to completely disregard this, however.

Are they…making Chuck Norris jokes about Captain Uwei?! I love it!!!

"Somehow Noal wasn't laughing though, quite the contrary, he was about ready to throw up." The first comma should be a semicolon, I think.

Girl-next-door quality. This doesn't fit with the setting, and that phrase is, in my opinion, so American that it just doesn't make sense here.

"As his blood pressure fell, he transformed from back from Noal the avenger into Noal the man…" Delete the first from.

Yes, long and daunting at first, but totally worth the read. I love the cliffhanger! Great job!

-Lou


Posted 8 Years Ago


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It's not slow, but I did feel the section where the captain's voice took over was awkward. It wasn't the fact that you chose to do it (i think it adds some variety actually,) it just seemed a little overdone, I think you also could have skipped a lot of dialogue with the two guards if you had fit some of the information they discuss into that section instead. Priscilla (great name btw) and Noal's interaction was pretty good, you got across how unnerving interacting with her would be, though I think it could be made a little smoother.
It's pretty fun to read, because rather than shamefacedly engaging in standard tropes and normal fantasy set ups (like hiding from guards, or even when she introduces herself) you draw attention to it and preemptively make fun of it.
I'm interested to see what you do with it.

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.


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Added on July 11, 2011
Last Updated on August 14, 2011
Tags: Threads of Fate, tof, Fate, fantasy, steampunk, anime, manga
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TOF_Matt
TOF_Matt

Canada



About
Matthew Chan grew up in the harsh Tundra of Ontario, Canada, braving freezing temperatures, taming wandering polar bears, and helping the local populace battle the occasional giant ice spider - in ot.. more..

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