Weird pt IV
Collection: Age of Youth // Weird
Chronicled by Valhel
Streams of mists trickled down the muddy paths of the dark forest. Auric led the way closely followed by Pandora. The floor of the midnight wood was choked with loose stones and grappling roots, and every now and then the mist would conceal a shallow puddle before the two accidentally sloshed through it. Strange insects shone on distant tree trunks, their pale flickering a ward of an unseen path. The lights from Pandora's helm would fall on the occasional revealing invisible sigils and traces of forgotten lore.
"Is this the way?" inquired Pandora.
"Are you afraid of the blind leading the blind?' sneered Auric,'The lightning is not far."
Pandora was even more wary of her companion now, the path seemed to wind further and then closer to their mark unpredictably. Auric had never made his distrust of Pandora secret, but this time he behaved nearly malicious toward her. It would not matter for long, Pandora's game was nearly up, she need only move the final pieces into play and then all of Auric's fears, and her own, would be put to rest.
Ahead a bolt of light flashed through the tangle of branches and thunder peeled through the sky. The lightning was close now.
"You mind telling me what is it you plan to do with the lightning? Some cure, I believe is what you said." Auric's tone was less than sincere as he pressed onward.
"There is a sickness on the land, Auric, and I will burn away the infection." muttered Pandora in response.
"I don't remember there being much of an infection until you showed up.' Auric snapped, 'I guess we're fortunate to have the good doctor arrive just when we all fall ill."
The air in the blighted forest began to thrum, almost as if it had become suddenly waned even thinner. Leaves and limbs rustled overhead and feet could be heard pattering all around. Pandora looked to the side of the trail and spied several red eyes staring in unblinking vigils.
"Those shades, the illness, that showed up when you did. They're not too keen on dragging people off when you're nearby, I've noticed." said Auric.
"Lucky you." said Pandora as she broke her gaze from the shadowy onlookers.
The muddy trail sloped down beneath an arc of mangled roots into a small gulch. The lights within Pandora's helmet began to flicker and Auric dowsed his lantern.
Moonlight glinted off of Auric's shattered mask as he turned toward Pandora, "We're here."
Stepping past him, Pandora examined the clearing. Banks of loose earth walled the gulch in, and roots reached out from there like subterranean creatures grasping at the air. A lone tree, charred by lightning stood opposite Pandora, and the ground between had been burned to glass.
"Auric, bring me that lantern." Pandora commanded.
The rustling of many feet and the hiss of many mouths gathered around the edge of the gulch and the red eyes multiplied their watch.
"Auric?" Pandora spun around but neither Auric nor his lantern was to be seen.
Sparks ignited upon Pandora's wrist and a coil of energy fell as a five cord lash. Auric had betrayed her, and Pandora readied herself for the ambush.
"Auric! You'll look me in the eyes if you strike me!" Pandora shouted.
The woods began to murmur in bizarre tongues and the light of the distant moon twisted into unnatural refractions through the mist.
Pandora relaxed her stance not due to relief, but a helpless fear. Slowly she reached for a revolver at her side. Hundreds of red eyes settled in crowds around the bank of the gulch, their trespass collapsing small sections of the mud. Stretching her fingers to the pommel of the weapon, nearly in hand, she prayed against the dread.
"Cosett..." Pandora whispered. A pale blue light shimmered from her satchel in response before flickering out.
Lightning again struck the tree behind Pandora, she turned and saw the lightning run down the limbs and hollow of the charred thing like water in a fountain. Slowly it carved through the blackened bark, trickling down to root and earth.
Then the murmuring hushed, the air ceased to thrum, the veins of lighting continued to wind down the shattered tree, and all else seemed as dead.
Pandora could sense a presence behind her, something looming beneath the arbor of gnarled roots stretching out of the darkness to greet her.
With all her might Pandora threw her concentration into her temporal mastery, attempting to accelerate her reaction time by manipulating its ebb and flow. This was her gift, her secret ability, an electromagnetic disturbance that would allow her to slip between moments in time, disrupting its continuum. In what should have taken no time at all Pandora turned on her heels toward the writhing gate of the pit. Her hand should have already drawn the revolver and leveled sight should have already guaranteed a sure shot. But Pandora's hand did not move, though she had turned about to face the intruding shadows her hand was held in place at her side, frozen in time.
Something was very wrong. Thoughts raced through Pandora's mind, ...A malfunction...no...
Pandora's gift allowed her to shift time around her, charging and diffusing temporal energy so that she might slow, speed through, or even step between time. But in this moment, in that very instant, she could do nothing. She strained to grasp the pommel of the revolver, her hand trembling with futile vigor until she relented and looked further into the darkness, surrendering the impression on time.
Filled with dread, Pandora waited for the intruder to manifest. Her gift, like all gifts, are from a gift giver.
Silence strangled all other sounds until a terrible droning of the mind attempted to reconcile the perversion of the sense. And then a whisper, as if it were one within Pandora's own head, slithered out from the deafening void until it was an echoing, booming, voice.
"Long have I slumbered. Dreaming dreams of falling cities and burning tongues."
Pandora felt the compression on time relax around her, violently she drew her weapon but before she could raise the barrel of the revolver there was a terrible flash of light that burst from Pandora's helm. The five lights, the five eyes, of the helmet burned out, robbing Pandora of her artificial vision. Horrified, Pandora dropped her weapon and collapsed to her knees.
"Have you seen what I have seen, my child? A baptism of shadows, a grave above the earth? Have you brought it, have you delivered us to the end?"
Pandora pulled the helmet from her head, a mess of blonde hair falling as a veil over her face, over her blinded eyes, eyes searching for mercy where they could neither find nor see any.
All was darkness about Pandora, but before stood the silhouette of a tall man clothed in shadows. His vague form seemed pulled and crushed, out of focus. The only consistent icon of this terrible visage was a bright and strange silver mask. The bridge sloped down into the shape of a beak, and the eyes of the mask were hollow, skeletal sockets from which a malignant ink oozed dripping down but never reaching the ground.
The figure reached out with a hand of shadow, upon which was claw like ring that lifted Pandora's chin.
"No, Pandora, you have not brought me to this end."
"Plague, I..." stuttered Pandora.
"I gave you such wonderful gifts, child. I gave you sight and what is more,' Plague spoke softly,' I gave vision. Power unobtainable, gift that made time your plaything."
Raising the claw to Pandora's forehead Plague flung her to the ground.
"I foresaw many things, Pandora, many paths and many roads, roads you and I both feared.' said Plague as he paced past Pandora, 'Alone I could do nothing, and so I entrusted you to prepare a way, to take my gifts and clear a path that we might bring an end to all things."
Pandora struggled to stand back up. First one foot, then the next, and finding a shaky balance Pandora drew herself to her full height. Plague had grown in power since their last meeting, since he had given Pandora his gifts over time. Long ago when Pandora had opened that experimental gateway through time it lead her here. And waiting for her was Plague. He counseled her to join his cause. Blinded from combat, Pandora could not see Plague and had assumed him to be another time traveler. He promised gifts, technology beyond even the grasp of her former allies, and above all vision. Accepting, Pandora took Plague's gift, a guide of five stars, five eyes that were fitted into her old helm. These lights cradled power beyond her imagination, gifting her time manipulation, strength to channel electromagnetism at will, and restored sight. It was only after Pandora could see Plague that she realized her error. His faint and ghostly form clung to the shade of the trees, only the silver mask being in true shape and form. Now Plague had gathered enough might to manifest his form, and Pandora feared what retribution such a terrible creature could exact.
"If we are, if I am to see these dreams come to pass, my child, the Halleaux must end.' Plague lectured, 'And if you cannot stop them then I fear that our partnership will come to an end."
Thought she was blind Pandora still could guess where the villain was standing. Upon her gauntlet she could still feel warmth, though her helmet had burned out the electron coil was still ignited.
Pandora roared and swung her body about, tearing air asunder with the whip. The tendrils of light came upon Plague but simply passed through him before striking the earth in harmless fury.
"Pandora, my strength is returning but I cannot yet take on my own body.', Plague spoke, 'But you will be able to help me with that."
"Monster! I want out of this wretched deal!", spat Pandora.
"Foolish girl, I will release you when you have returned what is mine."
Pandora's gauntlet fizzled out and Plague moved his hand over Pandora's eyes. Her irises regained their colour and sight, real sight, returned to her eyes.
"Look now at your failure, Cosett.' spoke Plague as he motioned toward the crackling tree, 'See your demise with your own eyes."
Pandora turned, the lightning that had struck the tree was now slowly leaving its mangled roots and winding through the ground toward Pandora's feet.
"You failed to bring an end to the Resistance, to their Halleaux. Instead you supplanted their leader with a stronger one and brought victory one step closer." said Plague.
The lighting slunk through the mud, creeping closer and closer to Pandora.
"And now I must take my gifts back, for I will require a new champion. In regaining them I hope to complete my body, and here, Pandora, you will lie as a rotting testament to all of your sins."
Pandora was frozen in fear as she watched the ground. The lightning crackled and slithered through the mud and dead leaves until at last it had reached Pandora.
"It's all fun and games, child, until someone loses an eye."
Plague vanished into the darkness and the rustle of the watching shades crept back into the night. Pandora scrambled for ideas, unsure if it was by eldritch power of by sheer terror that her feet could not move.
In a final desperate plea, Pandora muttered to herself, "Cosett..."
Lightning erupted from the earth and struck down Pandora. Unconscious, she fell face first into the mud as the lightning slowly receded.
Visions possessed Pandora as her mind fled reality and traversed the wilds of memory. Over and over her mind played out the fateful battle that had cost Pandora everything. The mortars, the poisonous fumes, and the shells of friends that were left behind. The Authority forces had wiped out everyone that Pandora had cared for, but it was the Resistance that had handed it all over to be taken. Valjean's pride had brought ruin upon them all. Then...darkness. If there was a way, a chance that could change the outcome of that horrid day, she must find it. Pandora recalled the hidden experiments of the Resistance, the tampering with time travel and the abandoned cache where the temporal gate may yet still be. In the imagined shadows of her memory Pandora relived every stumble, every scrape as she blindly clawed her way through the rubble to find a hidden door.
Beneath the world, and the decaying streets Pandora found the vault. Latch lifted the weighted locks slammed, releasing the iron door. Within Pandora found the gate, the portal to another time, a time where she might prevent the needless slaughter of innocents, a time where she might save her friends.
Memory brought back to mind the frantic examination of the gate to activate it, difficult to do in the dark, let alone as blind. Suddenly there was a loud snap, and a hiss of arcing energy, the gate had sparked to life on its own. And on her own Pandora walked through to the other side.
Next Pandora could hear birds chirping, and could feel sunlight on her hands.
This is no memory
Pandora opened her eyes and could see. She could see the leaves on the damp earth, the light filtering down through the trees, and skull before her face. Startled, Pandora leapt to her feet and instinctively drew herself between moments. The skull had a twig protruding from its left socket.
"It's all fun and games..." said Pandora under her breath.
Turning, Pandora saw four copper orbs in lanterns resting within the hollow of the charred tree at the other end of the gulch.
"I did it! The Watchers helped!" spoke a cheery voice.
Pandora smiled and withdrew a small illuminated device from her coat pocket, "Thank you, Cosett."
The small round object changed the hue of the central light from white to pink, "I'm glad you're safe. The Watchers were able to collect those vestiges of light you hid."
"I'm glad too." nodded Pandora as she placed Cosett back in her pocket, before looking back at the lanterns.
Pandora had created five copper orbs and filled them with traces of Plague's gift, power over time, and, most importantly, vision. Five vessels of light and sickness, but only four were present. For a moment Pandora wondered what became of the fifth light before picking her helm up out of the mud and replacing it upon her head. But something seemed strange, of the five lights in her helmet, the five "eyes", only four has rekindled their light.
From behind a twig snapped and Pandora slowed the flow of time to a total halt. Turning about Pandora came face to face with the Wolf and Sentinel.
A muffled voice came from Pandora's pocket, "I know these two, they helped find your lights! There are others as well, they helped me gather valuable things for you, look!"
Pandora opened her satchel and inside rested Haven's lost temporal device, their last functioning time jump apparatus.
Pandora withdrew the metallic gyre to study it and then turned back to the frozen hunters.
"They were kind.' said Cosett softly, 'They worked with the Watchers to save you. It was them that placed the lights in your lanterns."
Pandora pondered the future. Plague was free and would almost certainly destroy her if he ever found out she was still alive. The only way Pandora foresaw avoiding that fate was to accomplish what she set out to do when she opened that hidden vault so long ago, stop the Resistance. Perhaps then Plague would have mercy. But then again, here were two of her enemies who had fought to set her free. The Wolf had followed her for years seeking to arrest Pandora's schemes. And the Sentinel who had betrayed her to Marius upon the Mountain. Pandora could not forgive them their trespasses, but she couldn't quite let herself not repay their kindness.
Without another thought Pandora took the Wolf's hand and there placed the temporal gyre before briskly walking away. As she departed Pandora saw Clandestine watching the scene from a distance behind a tree. Pandora looked up to the sun-gilded trees noting that Plague must have left the forest with his shades.
Pandora lifted Cosett again from her coat pocket.
"So,' queried the cheery illuminated device, 'what comes next?"
To be continued in Nightfires...
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