Her youth had been lost to her, veiled in the mist of ancient times. Terror, flight, imminent death, and a desperate race for survival dominated her earliest memories. Whenever her people had tried to regroup, with progressively fewer relatives and comrades each time, they had been forced to scatter, in order to save their lives.
Once a princess, now a fugitive, she had feared the cycle of combat and escape might never end. As time passed, however, her increasing experience had matched her physical growth, and Arakkane finally took pride in her ability to easily evade, outmaneuver, or overpower any threat.
Unfortunately, her own personal safety meant nothing, once it had dawned on her that she was the last remaining survivor of her kind. At first, she had rejected her nagging suspicions. She’d returned, at great personal danger, to their previous habitats, but the homes were broken, empty shells. She travelled across land, sea, air, and even space, in search of evidence that would contradict the impending extinction of her species, but in the end was forced to accept the bitter truth.
The finality of this realization had enraged her. For the next few decades, pitiless death had followed in her wake, and her reckless violence had put her at risk of discovery – and her own annihilation. Eventually, however, reason had prevailed, and she remembered something that gave her a faint hope.... A tenuous hope, to be sure, but enough to stop her destructive rampage.
From the very last reunion she’d had with members of her own species, she had come away with a gift, which had seemed insignificant enough at the time. Suddenly, though, the possibility overwhelmed her that she might just hold the key to her species’ survival after all, in the small, forgotten sac of fertilized eggs she’d tucked safely away under her armored exoskeleton.
All that remained now was to focus her considerable intelligence on hiding herself and planning for the future. How could she best take advantage of this last opportunity to ensure the continuation of her kind? With that question uppermost in her mind, Arakkane immediately and literally went to ground, concealing all traces of her location. For the next few years, she had stayed hidden, plotting carefully to ensure that the bloodline would continue.
When she finally emerged, she fed ravenously, wiping out several nearby villages in the process, and then put her plan into action. Travelling quickly among many worlds, she deposited her precious fertilized ova, one by one, into the most promising young specimens of all the most powerful species she could find. Wrenching against her inherently protective nature, she’d left each new life alone to incubate while its host reached full maturity, and she had moved on to the next species, the next world.
The predatory instincts of her spawn, once triggered by anger or fear, would take control of whatever personality had previously existed in its host, and the individual resulting from this combination of species would fight for ascendancy in its family, clan, tribe, and nation. Their prolonged lives, extended by the beneficial effects of the venom coursing through their veins, would allow her children the time needed to become the masters of whichever worlds they occupied.
At long last, after more than a century of traveling, the final ovum had been tenderly sealed into its living incubator. With nowhere to go for the time being, Arakkane remained in the vicinity, her greedy black eyes observing its developmental stages from afar. The creature stood on two legs, which left the arms free, but had no tail for improved balance. Its sight and sense of touch was much more limited than many of the others, but its intelligence, once fully matured and assimilated into her genetic patterns, might very well rival or even surpass her own. Like her species, this one seemed to have a strong sense of loyalty to its clan, which she found touching.
Despite her affection for the creature, she did not allow herself to take too much pride in it, for it had no armor, no venom, and no offensive characteristics such as talons, fangs, or horns. With the survival of her species at stake, she could not afford to be partial to this one. She did, however, indulge in a hope that this specimen would prove worthy of having been chosen.
Once this final pupa had matured, merged successfully with its host, and begun its battle for power, she had retraced her journey from the beginning, harvesting the surviving adult offspring whom she had reluctantly abandoned so long ago. She had brought them here, to this deserted moon of rock and sand, to complete her plan.
It was unfortunate that the siblings would be unable to tolerate one another’s competition. They would each be driven to dominate their environment, and having grown up separately, and outside of her maternal influence, they would not recognize any family obligations. She had known this from the start, and it was the only part of the plan that had given her pause. When, however, she contemplated the superior power, deadly intelligence, and single-minded determination sure to reside in the victor’s DNA, her regret lessened. She might have only two children, Arakkane mused, but her grandchildren would be legion, and invincible besides.
Desiring both a female and a male heir, she separated the genders. In two cavernous holes in the bedrock, she gently arranged all the cocoon-like traveling cases, spun meticulously out of her own intricate webbing. The only access to each cave was through a narrow tunnel, and both tunnels met in a forked path which she herself guarded. The two survivors must not meet until their lust for violence had been sated, and she would take no chances that one of them might accidentally make its way into the other’s chamber.
She watched over the elongated cocoons patiently, waiting for her children to awaken.
The female victor emerged first. Her host’s ability to spray poison and spit long trails of swiftly-congealing saliva was a perfect complement to her own inherited instinct to use venom and webbing, so the two species had combined seamlessly. She had defeated the others efficiently, while sustaining very little damage herself.
Her jointed, glossy black limbs, similar in design to Arakkane’s own furry brown ones, skittered quickly up the passageway until her feathery antennae sensed the older female’s presence. Her body froze, antennae and sensitive tongue quivering, until the mother signaled that it was permissible to approach. The young one advanced with renewed confidence, but remained deferential.
Arakkane’s glittering, obsidian eyes looked her over, as the ambient light in the larger tunnel revealed the features of the slightly smaller female. Smooth, iridescently green armor covered her body, and could be released at will to reveal sturdy wings that gave the gift of flight. Multi-faceted eyes, optionally shielded by brilliant, blue metallic lids, saw in all directions. The offspring from this one would be beautiful as well as deadly, Arakkane mused complacently. When a mate was chosen and given the honor of nurturing her daughter’s babies, he would feel no pain, only numbing sleep, as they absorbed his nutrients and grew. Satisfied, she tapped sharply on the rock, and the other female came to her side and lowered to a resting position.
Down the other tunnel, the roars of anger, grunts of pain, and whimpers of fear continued. Blending with smashing rocks and crunching bone, they harmonized into the music of violence, each note vibrating the fine hairs covering Arakkane’s body. Puffs of dust gusted up towards them, escaping the conflict below. Hours passed, and still the females waited.
After a time, they noticed that the battle cries had muted. Muttered curses preceded the whisper of stealthy, slithering scales over sand. A tense silence fell, and Arakkane found she was holding her breath. Soft voices drifted up the tunnel. Although it was an uneasy exchange of clicks and whistles on one side, and alternating guttural and musical tones on the other, she was shocked to hear the unmistakable sound of conversation.
Curiosity piqued, she rose from her station guarding the cavern’s opening, and stepped closer. The young female released a short burst of nervous, chittering sounds, but the mother reached back with one long limb and stroked her shining armor. Reassured, the young one subsided. Arakkane crept down the passageway with the stealthy grace of a panther observing potential prey, and paused as the space widened out and the floor angled downwards.
Before her, in mutually wary battle stances, crouched the last two of her male children. She didn’t spare a glance for the other bodies littered across the floor of the cave, but kept her gaze on the two bipedal survivors. The one angled towards her had a vaguely reptilian form, with an armored head, horned triceps, and poisonous-looking fangs. A serpentine tail whipped back and forth restlessly, clearing random paths over the sandy ground. Its lower legs, however, were thin, bony, and jointed much like her own, which meant they were probably extremely fast, agile, and powerful. Claws like curved knives extended from its forearms, extending its reach. As she watched, the fighter shifted his feet and emitted a string of vigorous clicking sounds, accompanied by several differently-pitched, sharp whistles. The two opponents began to circle each other cautiously.
The other warrior, Arakkane was pleasantly surprised to discover, was the youngest of her offspring, the pupa whom she’d watched grow into maturity. His stance was strong, she noted approvingly, and his eyes flicked around the room, assessing. Her presence at the top of the sloped path was noted and discarded as an irrelevant detail. Somehow, he appeared to know that none of them would intervene on behalf of any other, which rendered potential hostage-taking pointless.
The relatively weak body, while lean and muscular, still lacked any natural weapons or defensive mechanisms. One hand did, however, wield a sharp, lengthy fang, still bloody at the root where it had been wrenched out of a fallen enemy’s jaw. His other arm was shoved into a large, flat, bony piece of armor plating, which had apparently been cracked away from the hide of an owner who could no longer protest its theft. A collar of bones, ripped whole long ago from the ribcage of a defeated foe, circled and protected his throat. Two more matching sets, bleached with age, wrapped around his hips, proclaiming a bloodthirsty disregard for the lives of any who opposed him. Skins from other former victims, now tattered after the recent fighting, still clung to his body.
He glared at his adversary and shouted menacingly through a matted beard. Arakkane noticed a variety of sharpened teeth woven like beads into the facial hair, and decided the ornamentation was intended to intimidate. She wondered at his shiny scalp, so unlike the clumps of stringy, head-fur she’d observed on most of his species. Perhaps it had distracted him when fighting, and he’d removed it. When he next spoke, the sounds were oddly musical, although the pitch rose and the volume increased throughout his speech. By the time he finished his challenge, he had assumed a threatening posture, the long tooth thrust forward at arm’s length before him.
Without warning, the reptilian warrior swished its tail once through the dust and sprang high into the air, propelled by its insect-like hind legs. The human darted across the space, faster than Arakkane could see, and something flew back through the air, striking the jumper with a solid “thunk.” Soon, clouds of sandy debris filled the cave again, hiding the combatants once more. Despite the choking dust, she remained stationary, the coarse, spiny hairs clustered over her brittle-looking limbs trembling eagerly as she watched blindly for the battle’s conclusion.
A metallic screech suddenly pierced the air, and was cut off just as abruptly. The end of the fight was signaled by the clattering of nerveless limbs collapsing to the cave floor in a final, lifeless sprawl. A sharp snap echoed from the walls, and then all was silent, save the uneven, heavy pant of the victor.
The female held back her breath, waiting to witness the outcome of her planning. Her spherical, jet-black eyes rolled in anticipation, and a bead of venom gathered at the tip of her left fang. Without the battle to stir it up, the roiling, grey dust which had blocked her view began to settle, and gradually, the air in the cave cleared.
Exultation filled her as she beheld her spawn, bloody, bruised, and gloriously alive. He grasped a long, crooked staff which she had not seen before, and then she realized with admiration that it was a trophy – the already stiffening leg of her other son.
Her fangs chattering with excitement, Arakkane envisioned the strategy and cunning of this one, multiplied by the thousands of offspring he would sire. Each single mating, accompanied by a dose of the venom saturating his body, would thoroughly fertilize and anesthetize any female, activating immediate maturation of dozens, if not hundreds, of ova. The resulting zygotes would incubate in their unconscious host until its resources had been exhausted. The pupae would then find their way to other individual hosts, reaching full development within a decade or two. Some species would have found the process mind-numbingly slow. The queen, however had patience on her side.
For a moment, she savored the taste of victory. Her children, leading an army of her grandchildren, some gifted with his intelligence and innovation, others inheriting the female’s physical prowess and beauty – such a combination would all but guarantee their success. In the end, their family would have the most powerful force in all recorded time, and they would go forth and wreak destruction upon the worlds that had despised her people.
Then she brought herself resolutely back to the present. First, they must leave this lifeless moon, and find a suitable home world for each of her two heirs and their respective descendants. Then the process could begin.
The male before her stirred, straightening his posture and eyeing her watchfully. She chittered at him, and his eyes widened, obviously not having expected to hear her voice, or her authority, within his mind. Then understanding dawned, his face cleared, and he bowed respectfully.
She gazed fondly at him for a moment, then turned and moved out of the cave. She beckoned to him with a long, spindly arm. Obediently, he followed, glancing quickly at his sister as he strode out of the passageway. Together, the three of them made their way out of the death-soaked bedrock, and faced their future.
*** THE END ***
(Apologies to the Greek mythical figure Arachne, who became a spider after angering the Goddess Athena.)
Wrote it for an AC contest - it won! *does happy dance & trips over feet*
Here's the pic I chose from the theme options given for the contest (Wrote the story based on the pic)
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief,
it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief,
it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
There's a story buggin' me that may or may not go anywhere...
Here's the first part.
Boy Meets Girl
(gotta change that title later...)
A lone computer screen glowed dimly in one corner of the large, shadowed office. Its faint light reflected along the polished surface of the heavy wooden desk, illuminating slender fingers clicking across a keyboard. The occupant of the swivel chair behind the desk hesitated, then decisively tapped the mouse-less touchpad several times, and the computer beeped softly as it shut down.
The screen darkened, abruptly plunging the room into inky blackness and leaving bright after-images hovering in its place. A sharp intake of breath betrayed surprise at the unmarked passage of time; sunset had long since left the windows dark, and the preoccupied researcher’s colleagues had murmured their goodbyes even earlier, departing before nightfall, and not thinking to turn on the overhead lights. Despite the dark, however, only a moment passed before her sure fingertips found the relevant switch.
The resulting flood of light left the woman momentarily blinded yet again, and she squinted through a thick fringe of eyelashes as her vision adjusted. The sheaf of papers scattered across her desk were unbearably bright against the dark wood, and she gathered them up, sorting and clipping them together before filing them in one of the cabinets lined up along the wall behind her. After storing the laptop in a locked desk drawer, she reached for the overcoat that hung near the door, beside a small mirror.
She caught a glimpse of her reflection and paused to tuck away behind her ears a few long strands of shiny black hair, which had escaped the barrette clasped firmly at the nape of her neck. She gazed for a moment at the dark smudges below her eyes, and the small vertical line carving itself between her thin brows. The lack of sleep was catching up with her, and if she didn’t take action, she’d make a careless mistake in her work. It was time to try getting groceries delivered, instead of wasting weekend time in the store and on the subway, she decided. She would spend the extra ninety minutes on a power nap this Saturday, which should be just the refresher she needed.
After locking the office door behind her and carefully setting the department’s alarm, she walked out of the heavy glass doors at the front of the building. She waved at the parking lot security guard, who greeted her with a smile. “Working late again, Dr. Yung?” He pronounced her name “Young,” as many Westerners did. “You need to take a day off!” She grinned and asked him about his family before heading towards the subway station.
As the escalator descended into the station’s interior, the whitewashed walls of the remodeled buildings rose past her, nearly as bright as day. The clean platform, the brightly colored posters advertising community events for families and youth, the prominent security cameras, and the presence of one or two uniformed police officers strolling leisurely through the tunnel all contributed to a feeling of safety that once would have been unthinkable in this system of underground transportation. Most of the change could be attributed to the efforts of the Nietch family, with their fathers, sons, cousins, and grandchildren, taking a leading role in the hierarchies of the police force, the government, the charity organizations, and the corporations which undergirded the operation and existence of the city. Crime had dropped precipitously in the past decade, neighborhoods were promoting community projects, downtown was a lively cultural destination, and property taxes had even gone down last year.
Not that property taxes affected her directly, she thought, as she boarded a train that would take her to the vicinity of her apartment complex. She was glad to have a small place just her size, without the upkeep of owning a building and the surrounding land. Her tiny balcony garden of fresh herbs was all the responsibility she wanted to deal with. Sometimes she would leave from the office directly for the airport and not return for days, but at such times, an automatic drip-and-mist system set up by a neighbor would keep the plants in good health. Keeping a pet, even a goldfish, would have been out of the question, due to her unpredictable schedule and inconsistent hours.
By the time she reached her apartment building, sleep was tugging at her arms and legs, making her petite body feel much heavier than it actually was. She trudged up two and a half short flights of stairs to her door, made her way inside and hung up her coat, setting her handbag & briefcase on a dining chair. She forced herself to eat a bit of cold, leftover chicken-and-vegetable stir fry. It was all she could do to drag herself through a pared-down, before-bed routine, but she persisted, for the sake of her future self – the self who would wake up the next morning to face whatever mess she left behind her now. She was about to allow herself to fall into bed when the blinking of the answering machine caught her attention. The little red light was just visible down the hallway, past the living room area on the kitchen counter.
It might be work, she told herself, and grabbed her briefcase on the way to check the machine. They were scrambling to put together a research paper on a year’s worth of work, the results of which had finally become clear. Any delay could put them beyond the reach of the looming deadline for the Research Journal’s next installment, and they were racing to beat a competing institution for the glories of first publication. With this in mind, she listened intently to the beep preceding the message... then her chin drooped to her chest, long hair falling limply past her face, as a nasal voice pierced the air.
“This message is for Karen Yung, Apartment 3C. This weekend, the building is scheduled for some light maintenance and repainting in the stairwells. We’re asking that all tenants please be careful to watch your step and not touch any wet paint. Oh, and you might want to keep the doors to the hallway closed to prevent paint fumes from getting into your apartments. Your cooperation is appreciated... and we apologize for the inconvenience.” She deleted the message and groaned – what about her planned extra sleep-time on Saturday? – and finally collapsed onto the bed, not even bothering to slide between the sheets.
The next morning, she took a few moments to refresh herself with a cup of tea on her balcony. The astringent flavor of the green tea blended with the pungent scents of her garden – basil, mint, chives, and rosemary – to give her a brisk aromatherapy session that sharpened her senses and gave her a boost of energy. That boost was a good thing, she reflected later on that afternoon, because the entire day had been a Friday to make you weep for the weekend. At the end of it, however, the research paper was very nearly complete, having been proofread and edited to exhaustion. Some background information still needed the supporting citations to lend authority to their claims, but the data had been analyzed thoroughly and should prove to be truly groundbreaking.
She had considered working through her days off to complete the final details, despite the likely detrimental effect on her health, but in the end had capitulated to her own boss, who insisted that she stay home and relax over the weekend. After all, he insisted, only a little footwork remained to be done – a bit of running around at the library which could easily be done by an intern or two – and if that’s not what interns were for, why then, he couldn’t imagine why the corporation bothered to take them on in the first place.
As she rode home on the subway, having been mildly surprised to see the sun still up when she emerged from the building much earlier than usual, she recalled her plan to order groceries and have them delivered. As soon as she got home, she would inventory her pantry and refrigerator, then make a menu and a list for the week. After that it would just be a matter of getting online and clicking through the grocery website. And then – sweet slumber, at least until the delivery boy arrived! Her thin lips curved involuntarily into a smile, anticipating her extended nap, and she decided, for just this once, to skip the bedtime routine & go straight to dreamland.
Her nap -- !
The funny thing about naps, she mused to herself in bed early the next morning, is that they tend to work better if the surroundings are, well, quiet. Outdoors, a soft, erratic tapping on her window announced a light rain. Numerous clankings and rattlings reached her from the other side of the apartment door, punctuated emphatically by the occasional four-letter word. Even the phone was a traitor to her well-laid plans, ringing loudly to inform her that due to the rain, her grocery delivery would be delayed until mid-afternoon. She pulled the comforter over her head and muffled most of the sound. She would try to get at least a little sleep before the groceries arrived.
Before she knew it, she was back at work, but they had lost the electronic copy of the research paper. She was running, running to the mail slot, to send a hard copy by “snail mail.” The mail slot was stuck, so she banged on it to force it open. The slot stubbornly remained shut, and then she knew that they had missed the deadline. She had lost the funding for her research, and they would shut down the department now. No, worse, the building would be demolished. She stared out a window in shock, as a wrecking ball swung towards her. It crashed into the wall... swung away... crashed into the wall again... kept crashing, and banging, and hammering, and yelling at her.... Mrs. Yung! Mrs. Yung! Karen Yung! Are you there? Hello?
The muffled noises became clearer as she emerged from her nightmare and struggled out from under the heavy comforter. “Mrs. Yung?” The voice from the dream continued, accompanied by an intermittent, but persistent pounding. “Hello? It’s Swift Mart delivery service... Is anyone home?” For a moment, she sat on the edge of the bed, legs dangling over the side, her mind lost in confusion. Then her eyes widened in recognition and she jumped up to grab her robe. She ran into the living room, wondering in a panic, Was it already 3 p.m.? Could she really have slept that long?
Her train of thought was cut short by a sharp stab of pain, as her foot came down on top of something hard and unstable in the middle of the floor. Her ankle gave way, and her body yielded to gravity. She yelled – or screamed, she wasn’t sure which – as her legs buckled under her, and the pounding on the door abruptly ceased. A second of silence passed, a long, stretched-out second, filled with pain roaring in her ears and darkening her vision. Then her apartment door crashed inwards, frame splintering around the locks and hinges, and it flew around into the wall, doorknob punching a hole into the plaster.
Someone burst into the room behind the door, and her mind formed a dizzied impression of a wild-haired young man, partly-crouched, leading with his shoulder as if he had barreled through the doorway like a football player going after the quarterback [linebacker crashing through a line of blocks?]. He glanced towards where she lay on the floor, then his head whipped from side to side, and his clenched fists came up in front of his face, as if preparing to defend against an attack. He breathed deeply but evenly, seeming not at all winded by the effort of turning her door into toothpicks.
Her own breath, on the other hand, was coming in shallow, jagged gasps that teetered on the edge of hyperventilation. She was still tumbled in a heap from her fall, both hands gripping her throbbing ankle, which she had drawn up in front of her body as the door disintegrated. Her eyes, black with shock and fright, stared at the intruder through a curtain of long, tangled hair, and she struggled to take in enough air to regain her voice.
After what must have been only a few seconds, the young man seemed to realize that no threat was imminent, and he relaxed his stance, suddenly standing quite tall and still. His sideways gaze slid down towards her slowly, taking in her injured foot and the obstacle on the floor, and then his head turned towards her as well, with what seemed to her to be considerable reluctance. His eyes met hers briefly, and then his head dropped in embarrassment.
“Uh, are you okay?” His boyish face reddened as he realized that she was obviously not okay, and he stammered in haste to make amends. “I, uh, was waiting for you to... I mean, you were supposed to be here to... That is, when you didn’t answer the door, I was a little concerned, and then when you screamed, I just thought...” His voice faded to a whisper and he swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing violently. “I didn’t mean to just barge in like that,” he managed to say. “I’m sorry about the door. I can fix... replace it... if you want.” He fell silent, waiting for a response, and his gaze darted nervously to her face.
She bit off the retorts that threatened to spill from her dry lips, sat up a little bit, and pushed her hair from her face with still-trembling fingers. “Do me a favor, and move that chair over here,” she said neutrally, gesturing to a straight-backed piece of furniture unscathed by the door’s demolition. The young man almost fell over his own feet as he scrambled to comply. While he was distracted, she grabbed the robe that had fallen from her arms, and wrapped it protectively around her torso. At least she hadn’t been wearing anything revealing. Well, not too revealing, she amended, realizing that her sleep shirt was bunched up rather high around her thighs. She tried to put her weight on her good leg, so she could get into the chair unaided, but in the end found it was necessary to accept his nervously offered help, which consisted of stiff arms, averted eyes, and large, awkwardly placed hands.
Finally, she was seated on the chair, swelling ankle resting on another chair and chilled with bags of frozen peas and corn. “So, this is your idea of a speedy delivery,” she began, and he immediately started to stammer out another halting apology. “No, stop,” she interrupted. “I accept your apology! I appreciate your concern for a first-time customer,” she added wryly. “It’s too bad you ruined my door, but as long as you really do fix it, then it’s not like I’m going to press charges or anything.” The young man – for really underneath that flyaway hair, innocent eyes, and dimpled chin, his lean, muscular frame was that of a grown man – paled at the mention of pressing charges. Truly, he must not have given even a thought to the possible consequences of breaking into the home of a complete stranger.
(... intended to be a continuation of something that has gone before - part of a larger story ...)
The door slides open to what looks like a kind of large courtyard.
Cherry blossoms drift past me, their sweet scent filling the air on their way down to the steps at my feet. Smooth, grey stones line a path as it curves away from me and follows the edge of a small pond, where shy orange fish hide under floating lily pads. Nearby, other pathways trail into the courtyard from a number of other homes, a few of which share the rice-paper look of this one.
Further away, flat-topped adobe structures are surrounded by cacti, while in a different direction, the swaying tops of dark pines tower over sharply peaked, whitewashed houses with cheerful "gingerbread" trim. Far down another path, I can just make out the shape of a dog leaping playfully around someone raking red and gold leaves into fat piles.
There are other people in the immediate area, some pausing to peer at the fish or admire the flower gardens, some striding briskly with solitary purpose, and others strolling together, deep in conversation. The faint shouts of children in an unseen game blend with murmuring voices, rustling leaves, barking, splashing, and a variety of other noises to create a surprisingly pleasant, almost musical, background sound effect.
My breathing has slowed, the muscles in my arms have relaxed, and my clenched jaw is loosening. Tension seeps out of my body, and the roller-coaster my mind has been on for the past few days is decelerating. A breeze cools my face, and I automatically close my eyes and inhale deeply. "What ... what is this place?" I wonder.
"It doesn't matter what you call it," replies my host, his quiet voice so near that it startles me. Had I spoken aloud? I'd thought that question was just in my head.
He stands in the doorway, his expression unshuttered for once, an odd look of combined yearning and satisfaction reflected in his widened eyes. It's anticipation, I realize, tinged with resignation; the expectant confidence of one who is eager to receive a promised gift, but knows he must wait for quite a long time before unwrapping it. Something brushes my ankle lightly, and I twitch aside nervously from the cat. It twines itself affectionately about the man's legs then stretches its front paws up, past the hem of his long jacket and bats at his hand. He blinks and bends down to gently gather the animal up into his arms. The cat bumps its head to the bottom of his unshaven jaw, purring loudly, and for a long moment the man turns his face down silently towards his sleek companion.
Then a wide, laughing smile appears beneath the hat. "My goodness, I've been daydreaming again, haven't I? Please forgive me; I shouldn't waste your time like that!"
I glare at him, suspicious that he’s teasing me, but I can't read him; his eyes are hidden once again. He points out the path I am to take and cheerfully reminds me not to get sidetracked.
"Here is a timer." He hands me a softball-sized globe made of some clear, acrylic-like material, which seems to be divided into inner sections shaped like alternating spiraling teardrops.
"You must hold the ball in your hand, and the energy from your body will activate the various substances inside it, changing the color of each chamber as time passes." I turn the sphere in my fingers, trying to see into its shadowy depths. "You should walk along the path until the first section has turned blue. By then you will be at the house you are to visit. You may stay there until the next section finishes turning green, but then you must return here, while the third chamber fills with yellow. It is urgent that you are back in this house before the fourth chamber turns color."
"Blue," I repeat, memorizing. "Green... yellow. Huh. Kind of like traffic lights.... Is the fourth color red, then?"
He gives a surprised start. "Why so it is! How did you know?" I must have a blank look on my face, because he continues, "When I designed it, I chose my favorite color to be the final one. There's no way you could know that, so I'm impressed. You must be a very good guesser!"
I fight off the increasing feeling that he is making fun of me. I suppose it’s likely that traffic lights mean very little in the neighborhoods he usually inhabits, after all.
“Are you all set?” he asks. “Remember: stay on the path so you don’t get lost, keep holding the timer in your hand so it continues to react to your body’s energy, and be back here by the time the third section finishes turning yellow.”
He pauses, studying me. “I can’t go after you, you know. This door frame is as far as I can go in this world. You’ll have to return on your own, so don’t get into any trouble! ... Well, time to be on your way, then. See you soon!”
And without quite knowing how it happened, I am standing on the bottom step, one foot poised above the sandy path, and the rice-paper door has slid firmly shut behind me. The timing globe in my palm is cool to the touch, but a hint of blue swirls sluggishly beneath the surface. Sand crunches beneath my feet as I take one step, then another... and I am on my way.
OK, the timer is so he gets back in time for dinner b/c the cook will be mad if dinner gets cold waiting for someone to arrive. Red is b/c of KU’s sword’s attack color.
Acknowledgements & Thanks to C. S. Lewis for imagining the wood between the worlds in “The Magician’s Nephew”, to L. Frank Baum who authored, and the filmmakers who adapted, “The Wizard of Oz” with its yellow brick road, and to all the teachers who drill “show, don’t tell” into our brains – it’s more fun that way.
place to edit stuff - move along, there's nothing to see here, people
I said, there's nothing to see here.
rp arrival to Rukongai nope transition to soul society
As she walked along the dusty Rukongai street, playing Pied Piper to a ragtag, straggling group of starving children, Iranora reminisced. It had been decades ago, but sometimes the memories were clear as ever....
~ ~ ~
(and yet, this, she did not remember ...)
Darkness enveloped her.
Eleanor was barely aware of anything, but of one thing she was certain.
It was Dark.
And her name was Eleanor, she realized.
*Well, that makes two things,* she thought in confusion.
Perhaps it was night-time. Had she been sleeping? She couldn't remember. She tried to remember, and vague impressions skidded through her mind ...
... tall, multi-story houses ... Victorian dresses with tiny waists and full skirts ... the gleam of gold through wet, dark, river mud ... the sharp smell of shoe polish ... small, warm arms and soft kisses ... the terrible smell of smoke where none should be ... a tormented howling ... and tears - through it all, always, tears ...
Then a dragon of the Orient appeared in the distance. It rushed up to her with all the unchecked speed of a runaway stagecoach, and as it neared, she saw that it was the dark, green color of the shady depths in a redwood forest.
The creature opened up its terrible, icy jaws, and in a blast of freezing air, devoured the images floating before her.
Then it turned its terrifying eyes, spinning snowflakes of reflective quicksilver, on her. A snakelike tongue flickered out towards her interrogatively. A cool, remote voice pierced her consciousness.
Would it not be better to forget?
Was not the pain too great, the sorrow too overwhelming?
Surely Oblivion would be preferable ...
Eleanor tried to flinch away, but couldn't move. She had no body, no arms or legs, no muscles with which she could have moved arms or legs, had she possessed them. The dragon's cold tongue tasted her spirit, and comprehended her response.
You dare to reject the gift we offer? You arrogant, scale-less worm, you wish to suffer needlessly, and starve us in the bargain. You do not deserve to make this decision - I will make it for you!
The creature stretched its mouth open to consume her. Its shining fangs were clear, dagger-like icicles, and its breath chilled her soul. With no mouth of her own to open, Eleanor screamed soundlessly in her mind.
Suddenly, an arid blast of heated air whooshed past her and slammed into her tormenter. The icicle fangs began to melt and drip, and beads of moisture condensed on the edges of the beast's scales and claws.
The next moment, something long and pale flashed into Eleanor's vision. It crashed into the dragon, shattering icicles and sending moisture exploding outward in a humid fog. Was this a rescue? or something worse ... ?
Do shut up, said a new voice, warm and bright. You have no authority to withhold this choice. If she wants to suffer, let it be so. What concern is it of ours?
The fog cloud cleared, and Eleanor would have gasped, if she could. Not one, but TWO dragons now appeared before her. Of equal size, they circled each other guardedly. At least their attention was on each other now, and not on her. The second dragon was palest green, the color of ruffled tree lichens she'd seen in forests somewhere.
The dark dragon growled.
You know it is our right to swallow up the unpleasant dreams of these worthless larvae. They leave their contaminated pasts behind to nourish us, as they continue on their journey to purification! Even you, Brother, cannot deny -
What I deny, drawled the pale dragon, is that you will suffer any malnourishment by allowing this poor creature's visions to escape your insatiable gullet.
His eyes, molten pools of lava and gold, focused on Eleanor, and her heart melted in terror. Which would be worse, she wondered helplessly, to be eaten by a dragon of fire, or one of ice? After an agonizingly long moment, he returned his attention to the other creature.
Is it my imagination, Sister, or has your girth increased to even greater proportions since the last time we met?
The dark dragon bellowed in rage and charged at her brother, spitting a small blizzard of hail before her. He laughed when the ice melted on contact with his pale skin, and he ducked under her lower jaw, racing beneath her. His body skimmed along hers until he reached her tail, which, with an agile twist of his neck, he grasped firmly in his mouth.
Howling in frustration, his sister whipped her own body around to escape, but all she did was come within reach of the tip of the pale dragon's tail. She sank her fangs into the scaly flesh, and the two creatures chased each other in a green spiral of light and dark.
Eleanor watched them until the spinning made her dizzy, but even then - having no eyes - she couldn't look away. Then the dragons seemed to move faster, and faster, until a subtle, vibrating resonance began to emanate from their movement. Soon Eleanor felt she would break apart from the high frequency, yet still the dragons chased each other.
Until, without warning, they shattered, spraying tiny, pulverized fragments of frost and steam across everything, and sending Eleanor back ... into the Dark.
~ ~ ~
A child's giggle awoke her, and she remembered nothing.
Fine... it's just something I'm working on...
BANKAI - unknown
Approved by Moriku
(yamainu = extinct japanese wolf, or wild/rabid dog)
the wolf cubs mature into wild powerful wolves
in bankai the hilt of the blade splits open, revealing a signature - "oba-sensei" (Old Woman Teacher). The original long blade splits into two short swords, one held in each hand. The "shadow swords" from Shikai now appear to be the work of two wolf paws, rather than one.
The wolf cubs mature into wild, almost rabid, adult wolves. They can leap very high, but not fly. Their bite leaches spiritual energy at a faster rate. They can bite into and tear apart spiritual armor or bindings. They can fight at a distance from Arina or by her side.
They either fight the enemy she faces directly, from different angles, or else help defend other people or fight against multiple enemies.
Each separate part of the split Zanpakuto would be proportionately weaker than the original but their sum total (when used separately) would be equal to if not somewhat greater than when used as a single united weapon.
When they are present as two or more, the wolves, natural runners, can race around her to protect her, at higher speeds creating a "wall" of fur and fang which temporarily serves as a protective "den" in which she can heal, prepare an attack, or meditate with her Zan spirit. No attack would be possible at this time, and it would use spirit energy.
She learns to expend spirit energy in order to bind the parts into a single, long katana when necessary. Her preference is one strong wolf, one long katana, and one hand free to cast magic.