"It's happened again," said Guude.
GUESS WHO'S BACK BITCHES!!!!! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Ahem, for those that don't know me, I am sunsetmondays, salader since early 2013. The Survival saga is my long-running gen-fic series that unfortunately hasn't been updated in nearly a year but I've fallen back into the fandom and it's back (albeit updates are still gonna be sporadic as I'm really busy with school stuff until november. I am still forever excited about my plans for this series. It truly is my baby. And special thanks to silvercheets for the beta job. She is truly fab. And for new saladers interested in starting from the beginning, you can either follow the previous/next links at the bottom of the chapter or head to my journal page for an aggregated list of all my fics.
Chapter 5 - Revelations
Pause and BTC's faces fell. Around them, the sounds of warm chatter and clinking kitchenware in the dining hall came to a halt. Seth glanced around the room. It felt like everyone was holding their breath, no person daring to be the first to break. The tension was more than a little unnerving and Seth could only turn his attention to Guude, waiting for an explanation. Pause and BTC stopped in their tracks, losing what little façade of playful banter they'd managed to upkeep during their walk back.
Only Pause dared to break the silence. "Who?" he asked, voice trembling. Guude shared a pained grimace. His skin, already pale, appeared almost sickly so in the soft light of the hall, and his hair was unscrupulously unkempt. The news had hit him hard. He took an endless moment to respond, still caught in the grip of disbelief.
"Shree. He's dead. A nightman. It… it took him."
"No," Pause whispered, shaking his head in horror. Seth stared blankly, trying to picture the young face he'd only taken passing glances at. He’d barely known the boy, too young to be called a man, had barely spoken a single word to him. It was hard to comprehend that the face he'd just seen yesterday was now gone. Among the mass of grieving faces, Seth was alone, unable to conjure the personal sorrow shared by his fellows. Now, he could only feel the paralysing shock and tendrils of fear that came with the news.
BTC crashed through the sea of emotions, speaking loud and clear, "As much as we'd all like to grieve, I think we all know just how much more important this makes tonight's meeting." He turned to Guude and continued. "I think we want everyone at the meeting tonight. Bare bones staffing. Nobody but those absolutely crucial to the safety of the settlement are to miss out."
Guude nodded and raised his voice to spread the message to the crowd. "Batten down the hatches and seal the gates. Nobody in, nobody out. Those on perimeter rounds tonight, I know we don't normally do this, but you're to stay within the fence. Bring bows if you have to but nobody's to leave. All lights are to remain on. I don't want to see a single patch of unlit ground, you hear. If, for any reason, a mob does get in, don't take it on alone. There's a storm coming—I can feel it—and whatever happens, we better be prepared."
The blond man moved with startling efficiency, becoming cold and reasonable as he swept the solemn Mindcrackers into action. Seth found himself caught in a flurry of activity. Orders rained in from every direction, sending everyone rushing to complete their tasks to prepare the settlement for the night.
As the sun began to set, for the second time Seth was lead to a far corner of the compound. In the flickering torchlight the surrounding fauna was creepier still. Crawling shadows appeared to come alive between looming branches, and the slightest rustle of grass set Seth on edge.
When they approached the thick iron door, Guude placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled out a diamond sword from where it sat hanging from his hip. "I trust that BTC has done a good enough job for you to be able to do at least a bit of damage with this." He handed Seth the sword and continued. "But you're to keep an eye on Nebris tonight. I doubt he'll be much trouble—he never is—but this is just to be safe." Seth nodded and Guude slipped a key into Seth's other hand and nudged him towards the door. With the crunch of footsteps fading behind him, Seth took a deep breath and entered the building.
The musty room remained mostly unchanged since his last visit. Clammy darkness pressed in around him and dust motes flickered in the torchlight. The very air felt trapped in this eight by eight prison. Seth could only imagine how Nebris felt to be kept here all day.
The door shut behind him with a bang, quite in contrast to the soft voice which rumbled from the centre of the room. "I've been expecting you." Goosebumps prickled Seth's skin and he dropped any ounce of sympathy he had begun to conjure in favour of gripping his sword even tighter. Nebris chuckled and raised his head, revealing his glowing violet eyes; they seemed brighter now. Seth shifted from foot to foot, then slowly approached, accidentally kicking aside a discarded wooden bowl as he did so.
"So, you're today's night watch," Nebris said, welcoming him with a feral grin.
Seth steadily circled the man, sword half-raised. "I guess so." He licked his lips and glanced around the room. The walls threatened to close in around him.
"You may as well take a seat," said Nebris. Seth turned to him to see that he'd replaced his unsettling grin with a more casual, cocky smirk. No matter what expression he carried, he could always be likened to a predator, Seth noted. "The noble guards like to sit in that corner," Nebris announced, gesturing towards the far right corner behind him. As he did so, something sharp and metallic jangled: a short, metal chain reaching from a discreet cuff around Nebris' right wrist to a rusted bolt in the centre of the room. Seth couldn't recall seeing it in his last visit and couldn't help but glance around the room again, looking for any other changes he might have missed. Nothing looked out of place.
Seth circled Nebris once more before settling in the corner to the left of the door. Nebris shot him what might have been a scowl before returning to his feral grin. Seth ignored him and began fiddling with his sword. For what little Seth thought he knew, some part of him said that it was a finely crafted piece. While for the most part the sword was undecorated, there was some detail carved into the hilt: what looked like a simple decal of an eye with a vertical pupil that encased a scene of star-like flecks.
After a while of chilling silence, Seth finally put his sword down, the diamond clanking against hard stone. Nebris eyed him curiously, his stock-standard grin turning to an inquisitive pout. "It seems strange to have the new guy put on guard duty. Normally one of the more experienced guys are down here 'protecting' me," Nebris mused, "so what exactly has been happening out there for you to land the job, hmm?"
It was dangerous to take the bait—Seth knew that well and clear—but despite fair warning from many that Nebris was a charlatan in action and was not to be communed with, Seth sighed and thought up an appropriate response. The man surely knew what was going on and was most likely fishing for leverage, but Seth made an attempt to humour him. "There's an important meeting happening tonight. Just about everyone has been called in."
Nebris raised an eyebrow and reclined on the stone floor. "What's it about?"
Seth laughed cynically. "Like they'd tell me." Whilst there was reason behind this, it was still true. Even during the flurry after Guude's announcement, no-one had let him in on what exactly was going on. "But," he continued, "from what I've gathered, there has been some sort of important discovery—some sort of big lead."
Nebris' expression remained unreadable as he appeared to ponder the statement. The man had a poker face like a brick wall. Even the smug "I know something that you don't" gleam in his eyes failed to reveal anything. Seth shivered. They were right: Nebris was not to be trusted.
Nebris leaned forward again and rested his chin in the palm of his hand. His eyes flickered towards Seth's sword, looking thoughtful as he spoke. "Ah, yes. I think I know what meeting you're talking about. Weren't they planning on delaying it until they had more info?" He shook his head. "Never mind. That's not important. What is, is that this meeting is happening tonight and surprisingly, enough people have been called in for you to end up stuck here. I think you know more than you're telling me…
The man was definitely fishing for secrets, Seth decided. He had couple of choices now: play along and feed the man answers he was bound to already know, or play hard to get and try and worm out some answers of his own. After all, he didn't exactly find it fair to be kept entirely in the dark about most of the goings on. He gave Nebris his own innocently duplicitous smile and said, "how about a trade: a question for a question. You can't be the one to get all the fun around here."
"Sounds fair to me," Nebris nodded.
Too easy. Seth eyed him again, carefully deliberating his words. He really didn't have anything to give away, and Nebris surely had to know that. "H-"
Nebris was quick to interrupt. "Where are you keeping the key- No, don't answer that," he said, sending Seth a conspiratorial glance, his voice full of mirth. "But seriously, why the rush for the meeting? Why not wait to invite little old me?"
The man was like a snake: every part wicked humour and cunning, but what did he have to gain from asking that? Of all the things he could have asked…
"What?" Nebris interjected. "No need to look at me like that. I'm not all Mr. Evil Bad Guy all the time. Innocent, see?" He held up his hands, the heavy chain scraping against the concrete.
Seth clasped and unclasped his hands. Wind whistled faintly under the door. "A nightman. It attacked."
Nebris shot up, eyes lighting the space before him like rich violet torches. "I told them," he said, voice nothing but a hoarse whisper. "I told them, but they didn't listen." Outside, leaves rustled against the footpath and the trees shivered with the setting sun. The very air seemed to hum.
"A storm's coming," he said. Shadows trembled in the corners of the room. The earth rumbled as an ear-splitting crack filled the sky with brilliant lightning. Then, it was gone. Nebris’ grin turned lazy, seemingly unaware of what had transpired. "Your turn."
A thunderous drumming of rain began to drown out his thoughts.
"One question," Nebris reminded.
He took a deep breath. There was nothing that could possibly go wrong. "What on earth is going on here?!"
~ ~ ~
The rain poured relentlessly around them, but under the shelter of the community hall, the meeting continued. Everyone gathered around the crackling hearth, listening as Guude's voice echoed along the stone walls. Beyond the confines of the compound, thunder growled and the storm raged. The night churned like pitch, seemingly endless.
"As you've all heard, the other night one of us made an important discovery. I know rumours have been circling, and the circumstances of this meeting are grim ones, but what Pyro found just over a week ago is groundbreaking. We've been looking, and looking, and I think we've finally done it. I think we've found what we've been searching for." Guude was met with silence, every eye on him. Thoughts of Shree still raged with turmoil in the back his mind—in everyone's minds. But he knew, if left unchecked, the ache and the sorrow would weigh him down like a ball of lead. And this breakthrough: it could fix everything. No more nightmen, no more death, no more answers.
The only thing he ever wanted was answers.
Pyro, beckoned forward, took his place on the podium. His hands lingered in his jacket pockets and his eyes flicked over the crowd. "What I- What I found," he began, "was a portal. I was out heading north and scouting for caves when I found it: this hollow rectangle of obsidian. At first I thought it was just another lava pool formation, but it popped and it burbled. There was this purple… this purple stuff inside it. Like a pane of glass made out of weird, purple water. I touched it. It was warm. It was…" Pyro lingered on his words, trying to describe the indescribable. "It was incredible."
In a sweep of green, Guude stepped forward, recapturing their attention. "I think this is it. This portal - it's got to be our way out of here. I can feel it. For so long I've had so many questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What is this place? But this has to be it. Finally, answers. In this sombre time we will mourn, but we will also celebrate. The end is coming. Not all is lost. We will survive!"
Thunder cracked. Lightning arced across the sky. Rain poured across the plain, blanketing the world in a sheet of watery white. Shadows flickered and flashed, faster than the blink of an eye. And in the distance, violet peered through the night.
This was just the beginning.
~ ~ ~