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Chapter 8 - A harsh reality.  The cost of victory.

Chapter 8 - A harsh reality. The cost of victory.

A Chapter by TOF_Matt
"

Bones and bruises will always heal. There are, however, scars that will stay with you forever...

"

Threads of Fate

Chapter 8

A harsh reality.  The cost of victory


Drip " drip


A cool splash on his nose.  It lingered for just a moment, before fingering a soft wet trail down his cheek.  He turned his head slowly and purred, taking in the sensation. 

The next one smacked him right between the eyes.


Noal sprang up, instinctively jerking his arm to wipe his face.  The pain that followed was intense and instantaneous, jolting through his body like an electrical shock.  He fell back to the bed wincing.  As his muscles relaxed, the soft patter of raindrops on canvas filled his senses.  Black blurs hanging above him sharpened into soft shadows against tarp.  Where was he? 


Carefully lifting only his head this time, Noal surveyed his body.  He was wrapped in a warm blanket on a comfortable stretcher-bed, heavily bandaged, but alive.  The bandages in particularly triggered a flood of memories " Captain Uwei stabbing him, Uwei hit by lightning, and the creeping darkness as he looked up at Ella and Cil in panic.  Somehow they must have gotten him to a hospital.  Noal put his head back against the pillow and tried to take in the sound of the rain, but could only focus on the rhythmic hiss of some kind of machine to his side.


Noal turned his head and his blood pressure spiked.  There, in the bed next to him, lay Captain Uwei Dalmasacus.  Noal nearly leapt out of bed until he realized that the captain wasn’t awake.  Was he dead?  No.  Like Noal, he was heavily bandaged, but also attached to some kind of breathing apparatus.  His sword, Ramiel, sat in its sheath leaned up against the table next to him and his blood soaked uniform hung on a nearby coat rack. 


That’s when it hit him.  Of course they couldn’t have gotten away " the city was filled with Luppitan soldiers.  But why would they put him in the same room as their leader?  Oh no.  They weren’t planning on removing one of his organs and putting it in the captain, were they!?  Noal didn’t much like the idea of living on in that man’s body.  The very thought so preoccupied him, that Noal didn’t even notice the slender hand slowly creeping around his waist.


                “Mmm.”


The gears of thought ground as his attention shifted to the odd warmth around his waist and back.  He turned his head and found himself face to face with a sleeping Cil. 


                “GAH.”  Noal’s first reaction was to pull away, but she just pulled him right back. 


Just then, the flap over the tent’s entrance opened and Ella walked in, coffee in hand.  Noal stopped his struggling, only to manage a dumb, wide-eyed stare. Cil rubbed the sleep from her eyes while keeping one arm tightly wrapped around him. 


                “This isn’t what it looks like,” Noal stammered, waving his hands in panic.


                Ella stared back at them both, dumbfounded, before her expression slowly morphed into anger. “How did you…? I was only gone for five minutes!”

She stomped over, slamming her coffee down on a nearby table.  Noal braced himself for a smack over the head, but Ella ignored him and instead grabbed Cil by the collar. 


“I told you, no!”


“Ah!  Let go!  Let go you old hag!”  With each screech, Cil squeezed Noal tighter. 


“What was that!?”


“Ow!  Stop!”


Noal’s own cries were muffled by the women’s bickering as he tried to pull himself free of their human knot.  Eventually, his hands found only air and he toppled over the side of the bed.  The two girls barely noticed.

Suddenly he wasn’t focused on them anymore, but rather on the thumping vibrations in the ground.  Each thud grew more powerful, like approaching footsteps.  He pulled the sheet away from his eyes just in time to see a massive figure open the flap to the tent. 


Lieutenant Bloc.


The three of them stopped in mid-action.  Bloc stared in confusion.  Seizing the opportunity, Noal grabbed Captain Uwei’s sword and, forcing his way through intense pain, lunged.


                “Noal, no wait…!”


Before he could draw the blade was tackled from behind.  Ella’s arms around his waist and Cil’s on his wrists, re-sheathing the blade.  They dragged him back to the bed and held him there.


                “What’re you doing!?”


                “Noal, it’s okay!” Cil shouted.


                “Lieutenant Bloc is the one who saved you!”


Noal choked on his tongue.  What was this nonsense?  The giant didn’t even flinch.  He calmly walked to the side of the bed and, with his gargantuan hand, grabbed the sword and sheath. 


                “You’d best be careful.  A soulblade doesn’t typically allow anyone to wield it but its master,” he warned in a low, droning tone.  “Ramiel would sooner kill you than me.”


Noal’s mouth dropped to the floor at the sound of Bloc’s voice.  For some reason, he’d just assumed the giant was a mute.  The giant carefully set the sword back in its place at Uwei’s side. 


“That was an impressive display.  In all my years serving him, this is the first defeat Captain Uwei’s ever suffered.”


                “Where am I?” Noal asked, cutting straight to the point.


                “A small military camp, not far from where you collapsed.  We rushed you and the captain here shortly after the fight was over.”


“It’s true,” Ella reassured.  “Actually, you can thank the princess here.  She was the one that brought them back.” 


                “That power of yours kept my men and I quite busy,” Bloc continued, pulling up a seat at Noal’s side.  “Though, even then, I must say I was more than surprised on my return to find the captain defeated.  They tell me you used Ramiel’s own power against him?”  Noal nodded.  “Fascinating.  What would give you such an idea?”


                “Let’s just say I have a lot of experience being victimized by my own abilities.” Noal held up his arm to show Bloc the Providence Eye.  “So, what happens now?”


                “We have a steamobile waiting outside for you.  When you’re ready, you and your friends are free to take it wherever you please.”


                “E-Excuse me?  You mean to just let us go?”


                “The captains orders were explicit.  If he should be defeated, I am to let his opponent go free.  The captain is a man of honor, an honor I must respect.”


                “Won’t your superiors be angry?”


                “The captain and I will deal with them.”


                Ella put a hand on Noal’s shoulder.  “It’s over.  We did it, Noal.”


                “What about…,” he trailed off, turning his head toward Cil.


Bloc looked over to Cil, taking a moment to ponder her future. 


                “The girl is free to go with you.”  Noal felt an intense wave of pain blow through his body as Cil jumped between him and Ella, wrapping an arm tightly around each of them.  Bloc just raised a stern eye ridge.  “I caution you to remember though, there is a reason our government wants her so badly, so you’d be wise to be on your guard.  And furthermore, this doesn’t make us allies.  You are still a wanted man and should we ever cross paths again, we will not hesitate to fulfill our military duty.  If anything, I expect Captain Uwei to seek you out more fervently than ever.”


Noal nodded his understanding.  “I’ll be ready.”


Lieutenant Bloc stood up casting a massive shadow on all three of them.


                “My men and I will depart for Ganymede City in three hours.  You’re welcome to stay until then.  After that, I would suggest you avoid Luppitan territory at all costs.” 


With that, he lumbered towards the tent’s entrance where the rain continued to pour.  The young trio was already congratulating each other with smiles and hugs.


                “The Parcae,” Bloc boomed, stopping at the entrance.


                “What?”


                “The Parcae.  It’s a bar, in the port city of Chandra, about three weeks east of here by steamobile.  Technically it’s Luppitan controlled, but due to its proximity to the Fringe it’s largely ignored by the Empire.  The bartender mentioned it during his interrogation and I’ve also received multiple reports of a man there claiming to be the Human Hurricane.”  Noal’s eyes grew bigger than platinum pieces.  However, Bloc wasn’t finished yet.  “Be cautious.  There are dangers out in the Fringe that are beyond even the captain… beyond even you.”


With that, the giant ducked under the flap and out of the tent leaving the trio balled up like siblings on the bed. 


                Ella turned to Noal.  “Trap?”


                “Why would it be?  If he wanted us, he could’ve just taken us now.”


The two put their fingers to their chins as they considered Bloc’s unusually generous tidbit.  At least until another excited squeeze rattled them back to reality.


                “I’ve never seen a port town before!” Ella and Noal simultaneously chuckled at Cil’s youthful enthusiasm.  They could deal with Bloc’s motive later.  For now, this was their moment.  Ella got up from the bed, pulling Cil off with her.  The latter just smiled widely as she let her body hang limp.


“You alright?” Ella asked.


Noal let out a satisfied sigh as a massive wave of relief and justification washed over him.  After all that trouble, he ended up with some useful information after all.


                “See, told you it would work,” he stated matter-of-factly.  “By the way, good call on tying him up.”


                Ella’s face stupefied.  “Good call"?  Wasn’t that your plan all along!?”

                Noal smiled.  “To be honest… no.  But I knew you’d come up with something good.  But next time, not so close.”  He pointed to his chest wound.  “A bit to the left and I’d have been a goner.”


Ella looked about ready to hit him, but Noal just smiled widely. 


                “Hey!  What about me!?” Cil asked, like a left-out little sister.


                “You saved my life twice.  I can’t forget that.”


He hugged her.  Even Ella couldn’t keep her annoyed glare for long; Noal caught the tiniest grin crack her stone face from over Cil’s shoulder.


                “Uh… Cil, you can let go now.”


Ella rolled her eyes then grabbed the princess. 


                “We still have a few hours Noal, we don’t need to leave right away,” Ella reassured him.


He was already out of bed and gathering his things.  “No,” he replied, glancing over at the unconscious captain the next bed over.  “I think I’d really just like to go, right now.”

 


The trio was all smiles and giggles until they stepped outside the medical tent.  They immediately found themselves at the end of a hundred dagger-like stares.  An entire battalion of soldiers, many of them bruised, bandaged and banged up, glowered in pointed silence as Ella and Cil slowly ushered Noal through the still crowd.  Luppitans parted for them like the sea on the bow of a boat.


As Noal stared back at the sea of soldiers, all he could think was how happy the people of Fortune Town would be to see the military leave.  Yet as they cleared the base camp, Noal got his first clear look at the city since the battle.  It was like a bomb had gone off.  Entire houses reduced to rubble, piles of broken wood and concrete lay where people’s homes once stood.  The air was still heavy with dust " he could already feel it forming layers on his skin. 


Up the street, four people tried to pull a tree out of a house window.  Just opposite them, a young couple carefully helped an elderly woman down from the second story of her home, the stairs having collapsed.  The entire roof was gone, exposing her to the pouring rain.  Everywhere, people climbed over mounds of junk, fishing out what personal belongings they could. 


Forget the military.  These people were happy to see him leave. 


Two kids cleaning up around their steamobile ran for cover as they approached.  Others averted their faces as he walked by, afraid to even cross his shadow.  Noal wanted to run after them and apologize, but Ella held him back and just shook her head; an apology wouldn’t do much good.  Fortune Town " the city that surely didn’t have the money to rebuild, was going to have to do just that. 


When they reached the waiting steamobile, Cil and Ella carefully loaded him into the backseat.  Ella started the engine and they were off.  As they pulled away, he kept his eye on the ruins outside and, more so, on the people picking up the pieces.  The fog slowly built up on the windows, turning them into identical silhouettes, eventually blending into the shadow of the debris itself; collateral damage.  This was the consequence of action.  This was the price of his quest and yet it always seemed to be one that others would pay.  Noal looked back at the Providence Eye again.  It seemed no matter what he tried to do, everything always ended in disaster.  Was Captain Uwei right?  Was he really the Human Hurricane, doomed to sweep from city to city like a plague?  Was he a fool to think he could ever be separate from this curse again?  Was this really his destiny? 


Almost by chance, he glanced to Cil staring out the passenger window.  Her overbearingly cute grin was gone, replaced with a beautiful authentic smile that could have lit the sky even through those dreary storm clouds.  The smile of a free woman; a smile filled with hope.  It was a smile that gave him a sense that he’d done something right today, and it reminded him that for the first time in a long time, he too had hope again.  Hope of finding the tattooed man, hope of ridding himself of this curse, and hope of returning to a life that he once had.  But most importantly hope of making amends to the people of Fortune Town and everyone else he’d hurt.


It was destiny, he decided.  Immutable, unchangeable destiny.


And just like that the clouds opened, the rain stopped, and the golden thread shimmered onward in the sunlight of a brand new day.


* * *


High above the city, unbeknownst to anyone, an eagle soared over the wreckage and surveyed the land below.  However, this bird did not flap its wings out of necessity but only out of imitation " they were made of brilliant steel.  From its camera-like eyes it had witnessed everything; from the moment that steamobile broke out of the villa to now as it drove off into the desert.  The creature squawked with mechanical reverberation as it ascended towards a nearby cliff-side.  There, its steel talons roosted upon a massive iron arm.


                “Good.  Good,” a deep, mechanized voice said cooed.


As the sun finally broke through the clouds, it reflected brightly off of the metal plates of the massive armored figure that stood at the cliff’s edge, watching the small steamobile disappear in its dusty wake.


                “Found you.”










































Threads of Fate



© 2011 TOF_Matt


Author's Note

TOF_Matt
This marks the end of the Thread of Fate teaser. I hope you enjoyed it, and as usual I appreciate any and all feedback!

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Added on September 6, 2011
Last Updated on September 6, 2011
Tags: Threads of Fate, tof, Fate, fantasy, steampunk, anime, manga


Author

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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