Kahasai

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Another late chapter ... Oh, well.

Wraiths of the Moon: Chapter 16

January 30, 2019

FREE WRITING

2
[Links to previous chapters and blurb in footnotes.]

“Tell me the truth, Alger. Who is she?”

“I’ll let her tell you that yourself.”


###

Their words fell away as Vanessa woke. Aches from sleeping in an awkward position made her bones creak when she straightened. Her broken arm gave regular spikes of pain as she moved. She squinted into the bright sunlight streaming through the open window and took a moment to figure out where she was.

Warm smells of porridge pulled her attention toward the kitchen, where Bree and Ren were eating. Alger leaned against a wall, examining one of his guns.

Memories from the previous night sent an uneasy chill into her shoulders. Had she imagined that red halo? Was it a figment of an overworked brain?

Examining Ren, she could see no difference in him.

As she approached the table, Bree was the first to acknowledge her. “Hello, Vanessa. Did you sleep well?”

“I did, thank you,” she lied, looking around for the food.

After Vanessa retrieved her breakfast of cooked oatmeal, Bree cleared the table of the other bowls and replaced them with a sketched picture. She brushed a finger over the uneven lines. “Forgive the roughness; I didn’t expect help. This is the weapon.”

They leaned in close. Alger left his gun to peer over Vanessa’s shoulder.

The detailed, quite skilled drawing was of a large, strange-looking box. It looked like a hundred small squares made up the larger whole. Symbols were drawn on each square. Something that looked like glass was set above the symbols.

“What does it do?” Vanessa asked.

Alger moved the paper so that he wasn’t leaning over Vanessa’s shoulder. His finger traced the symbols; his mouth moved silently as if he was reading something.

Bree watched him, a pained expression drawing lines on her face. “It can weaken or kill anyone within a certain radius. It can also harm only some and not others. It can’t affect the Sun Priests. If the priests decided they didn’t want the angels in the area to be injured, they could make it so that they wouldn’t be touched, but everyone else was.”

“It would instantly stop the riots,” Alger murmured.

Ren spoke up for the first time. “Is it as heavy as it looks?”

“Made completely of steel, so, heavier.” She grimaced.

The measurements beside the box read that it was two feet tall. Handles stuck out from the box, indicating that it was possible to move it.

“It won’t be easy to steal that without someone noticing.”

Vanessa blinked. Steal?

Oh. Why didn’t I realize this was an illegal job sooner?

“It won’t,” Bree agreed. “It takes two people to move it, and they have to be strong.”

“I assume it’s in the Cathedral?”

Bree tilted her head in acknowledgment.

“Where’s the Cathedral?” Vanessa asked.

“You’ve seen it. Remember that giant palace?”

Her good hand shook. “That’s the Cathedral?” It was huge.

“Yep. And we need to sneak in and out.”

“Would it be faster to forgo stealing it and just destroy it?” Ren asked, leaning back into his chair.

“It’d take a lot of power to do that, and it won’t go unnoticed. Destroying something like that will cause something to go kaboom.” She made an exploding action with her hands.

“But, it may be easier to blend in while escaping if we don’t have it,” he said, tilting his head to the side.

Bree folded her arms, brows raised. “Oh, so you’re coming?”

He winced. “I didn’t say that …” He glanced at Vanessa.

“So, you’re not coming? I need an answer within the next hour.” She pulled out another piece of paper, this one a map. She pointed out entries and began outlining her plan.

Vanessa listened in silence, watching the three, rather odd people: a gunslinger witch, a vigilante woman, and an old friend who had become a stranger. Three people she never would’ve thought of existing; three people she certainly would have never considered being in the same room.

She never would’ve thought she’d ever find herself listening in on a plan that involved breaking the law and be willing to not prevent it.

“There’s a problem with your plan,” Alger said, tapping the paper. He seemed completely absorbed in his work. “It requires four people. Not three, and not two.”

“Four?” Bree scrutinized the map. “Where?”

Ren leaned forward and tapped the map. “There. We need someone to distract these guards. You’re going to be unlocking the door and keeping it open, while Alger and I go in and actually get the weapon. Who’s going to be pulling the guards away?”

Bree looked at Vanessa. “Why not her?”

Vanessa was speechless for a moment. “Me?”

“Yeah, you. Getting guards away from an entrance for a few minutes isn’t that hard. It seems to me that you have the skill set to do it.”

Alger straightened and shook his head. “No. We can’t risk her getting hurt.”

Bree’s gaze hardened. “Oh?”

A heavy silence dropped over the room, riddled with tension. Ren fiddled with the hem of his scarf. Alger scowled at Bree. “It’s not like that.”

Bree folded her arms, straightening in her chair. Her dark eyes were pinched at the edges. “Then what is it like?”

“Bree, give it a rest,” Ren said with an exasperated sigh. His chair creaked. “Vanessa needs to go see the Suns. She can’t be caught helping us.”

Those dark eyes turned on Vanessa. “The Suns? What in the world would you want with them? Or them with you?”

Vanessa’s good hand crept up to the pouch at her throat. The weight of the pebble that carried the moonlight was heavy. The leather rubbed against her skin. “I’m afraid that information is confidential, between the Lunara family, the Suns, and I.”

Behind Bree’s back, Ren's brows lifted toward his hairline. She narrowed her eyes at him.

“If that’s so, then why are these two helping you?” Bree gestured to the two men.

“Vanessa’s an old friend of mine,” Ren said with a half-shrug, as if it were of no importance. “She needed additional assistance, so we recruited Alger.”

It’s almost the truth, Vanessa thought.

“Point is,” Ren added, “she can’t get into trouble with the Sun Priests until after she’s met with the Suns.”

Bree considered Vanessa. “That’s all well and good, but we need a fourth person, and what makes you think the Suns will see her? Their heads are so far in the clouds they don’t even realize that other people have lives and matter.”

Vanessa put on a tight smile. “They will.” Or I'll make them, she silently added.

As if Bree could sense the additional thoughts, a slow, thoughtful smile crossed her face. “Fine, then. I’ll do my best to keep you out of trouble. But I still need a fourth person, and no one else will do the job.”

Vanessa and Bree stared at each other, momentarily ignoring the two men.

“How hard is this job?” Vanessa asked.

A bigger smile spread across Bree’s face. “Your part’s easy, so long you don’t slip up. I have a suspicion you won’t slip.”

“I won’t.”

Bree clapped her hands together. “Good. Now here’s what we’re going to do …”

###

Two hours later found the four allies at the base of the Cathedral. The castle’s high towers swept high far above them. Symbols marked the stone and colored the glass windows. Guards stood at the entrance, from which a steady flow of people came in and out. It wasn’t hard to mingle with the crowd and enter the tall halls of stained glass. Stone columns marked with more symbols glowed as Vanessa walked past.

She nudged Ren. Once she had his attention, she said in a low voice, “Why are the symbols glowing?”

In an equally low voice, keeping his gaze forward, he said, “They’re reacting to the moonlight’s power.”

Her good hand grasped the pouch. Gently, Ren grabbed her wrist and pulled it away. “You have to stop doing that,” he said.

There was a low thrum of voices in the Cathedral. People milled about, murmuring among one another, pausing at the small statues that sat in alcoves to bow. Guards stood at entries and exits. They were stiff-backed, with hands clasped, white tunics marked with a sunburst, a large knife belted to their side, and a gun slung over their shoulder. They didn’t look too different from the Sun Priests.

At first, it had been hard to spot the first one. A crowd gathered around him. Then he stepped onto a podium, and his voice echoed through the room.

“The power of the Sun watches over us all,” he began, hands clasped. He wore long white robes, also marked with a golden sunburst, with a gold hem marked with intricate, small symbols. One long sleeve almost seemed to shimmer as he gestured to the human-sized statue of some sort of creature that rested beside him. “Seek their power, and you shall burn.”

Bree, who walked ahead of them, glowered at the priest. “ ‘Seek their power, and you shall burn,’”  she imitated, and shook her head. “What a hypocrite.”

Alger grunted. “Stop giving them dirty looks; you’re drawing attention to us.”

Bree sighed and stopped glowering at the priests.

It was strange seeing Alger without his floating bags. In the end, there hadn’t been a way to bring his weapons in such short notice. Vanessa was curious to see what Alger did without his bag of guns and ammo. The bird-like mask she had first seen him in had folded into itself and now hid in one of his pockets.

They reached the end of the hall. Two guards stood at the entrance to the next hall, which was considerably emptier.

Alger stopped in front of the guards. They did a cursory search for weapons, then waved him inside. Vanessa had to bite her tongue to stop herself from snapping at the guards. Bree seemed ready to break their hands if their hands lingered for too long. She glowered at them, and they quickly allowed her through.

The next hall was similar to the first, with high ceilings from which hung chandeliers, smooth stone columns that glowed with symbols, and large, stained glass windows that sent patches of colored light onto the stone floor.

At a gesture from Bree, they all huddled around a large statue of an angel with white wings, draped in flowing stone clothes.

Bree gestured to a small exit at the far side of the room. “Our first challenge. Get through that door without anyone seeing.”

Like at every other door, two guards stood at the entrance. Commoners also stood in that area, admiring one of the statues.

“I’ll do this one,” Ren said. He once again wore a cowl and a scarf--strangely, no one was paying him any attention. He adjusted the scarf and strode toward the guards. Alger, Bree, and Vanessa followed him shortly after.

As Ren walked, he seemed to disappear. His body faded away, and soon there was nothing left, like how he’d disappeared into the field at the Moon Temple.

The threesome paused near the guards. Bree grabbed Vanessa’s head and turned her so that she was looking at a small statue set into the wall.

Out of the corner of her eye, Vanessa saw the two daggers lift from the guards’ sheaths, and dangle in front of them.
A creature appeared, then, holding the daggers. Something dark and shadowy, twisted with crimson light.

The creature retreated from the guards, and the guards scowled and stepped away from the entrance. “Let it go, punk,” one guard said. “Or you’ll get in trouble.”

The strange creature kept retreating, and the guards kept following, one unholstering a gun.
Bree took Vanessa’s hand and darted for the door, Alger close behind. Within a few minutes, they had slipped to the other side.

“What was that thing?” Vanessa asked. “What did Ren do?”

“Who knows, who cares,” Bree responded. “Let’s go. Ren will catch up.”

They had entered a smaller hall that was considerably less grand than the main one. Vanessa glanced behind her as they hurried down it, and saw Ren slip through the door.

They wound through a series of corridors, Bree leading the way with Alger. Ren took the rear. The formation remained this way until they reached a waypoint of crossing halls and corridors. There, they paused.

From one hall, the sound of voices and heavy boots slapped the ground.

“--been working out more.”

“That’d just make me want to nap. Do you ever rest?”

Their voices drifted closer, bouncing off the stone walls and slitted windows.

As two guards came into sight, Alger touched a finger to the stone and swiftly drew a symbol. The stone glowed, and the air in the halls wavered and warped.

At the center of the junction, the guards froze and spun around.

Ren darted forward. He grabbed one guard by the arm, twisted the arm, and slammed the guard into the other, knocking both of them off their feet.

Bree quickly approached the struggling guards and swiped her fingers across their forehead. At her touch, a symbol disappeared. The struggles of the two guards ceased. She quickly added another symbol to their forehead, a symbol so intricate it was almost its own picture. 

The guards’ faces turned red, then purple. Then they slumped, unconscious.

Bree brushed their foreheads again, and the glowing symbols disappeared.

Alger stepped forward and began undressing one of the guards. Bree jerked her chin. “Let’s go, Vanessa.”

Vanessa followed the other woman down another corridor. As they went, Vanessa’s thoughts kept repeating the plan.

Her part was simple.

Distract the guards by putting up a fuss, and prompt the guards to leave by making sure they escorted her out. Simple. She could even use the real reason she was in Iryna as an excuse as to why she was there.

They can’t knock these two guards out because someone checks on them every ten minutes. We need more than ten minutes to get away.

She tried not to quail when crossing over the … trickier parts of the plan.

The guards were made up almost completely of men, which meant if Bree and Vanessa had stolen some clothing, it wouldn’t have mattered much because they would’ve instantly been recognized as outsiders.

Bree had been planning this theft for some time. She knew when guards left their post and when they arrived. The two guards they had taken down were on their way to replace the guards at the back entrance of the armory.

Ren and Alger had to go through the guards’ lounge to replace the guards, and unlock the door from the inside.

It was simple.

Bree paused by a door and peered out. Sunlight shone down onto her dark hair, making it almost seem red in the light. She pushed the door all the way open and gestured for Vanessa to move.

The courtyard beyond was dusty and packed with dirt. Two towers rose up to either side of them, casting a shadow over their heads. Four walls surrounded them, with a small door across the way.

“Quickly,” Bree hissed. “I can’t cast a spell so close to the guards.” She jerked a chin to an open doorway at the base of the tower they had just left. Through it, Vanessa could see men and a few women sitting over tables, sharpening weapons, absently throwing knives, changing from normal clothes into uniforms, and generally preparing for the day.

Bree led the way along the wall. Vanessa trailed a hand along the stone surface, dirt and pebbles sticking to her fingers. Though she wanted to just run across the open area and be done with it, she moved carefully, trying to will herself into invisibility. Her limbs began to shake as she turned along the wall, now directly across from the open doorway.

There was a crash, then a few shouts.

“Oye! No rough housing inside!”

Bree grabbed Vanessa’s hand and pulled her along. They turned along the next wall, their destination close.

They were halfway to the door they wanted when a couple of brawny men stumbled from the door, glowering at each other. A moment later, a half dozen more men appeared, watching the first two with a look of anticipation.

Vanessa froze, as did Bree.

All it would take was for one of them to turn … 

Bree tugged Vanessa’s hand, continued leading the way to the door. There, she quickly drew a symbol on the lock. It sprung open. She pulled the door open and shoved Vanessa around the corner.

The other side was a narrow street, blocked by a wall. Bree turned right, down the hall, and quickly passed a few locked doors.

Ahead of them, a pair of guards stood at another door. They turned, and Vanessa’s heart stopped. It wasn’t a face she recognized.

“Stop!” the guard barked. “What are you doing here?”

Bree muttered a curse and slowed.

The two guards left the door and approached, scowling at them. The shorter guard repeated his question. “State your purpose: what are you doing here?”

Bree offered a grimace. “We got lost. Hey, there’s something wrong with your nose. Let me fix it.” With that, she stepped forward. Her fist smashed into the shorter guard’s nose. There was a crunch. The guard let out a short scream and stumbled back.

“Hey!” The taller guard reached forward to grab Bree. Bree sidestepped him and sent a solid punch to his ear. He reeled, spun, and elbowed her in the cheekbone. She stumbled back, into the shorter guard. He wrapped one arm around her neck and the other around her elbows, blood gushing from his nose.

I have to do something, Vanessa thought desperately. Her broken arm throbbed at the thought.

Bree bucked her body and kicked the taller guard away. She slammed the back of her head into the already-bleeding nose of the shorter guard. He screamed.

With a twist and a kick, Bree freed herself of the guard. She attacked the taller guard. She grabbed his punch, twisted his arm and pushed him away. There was a short, and loud crack!

The door the guards had been guarding opened, and a familiar copper-haired face appeared. His eyes widened. He pushed the door farther open and allowed Alger to stride past. The gunslinger witch drew a symbol in the air as he walked. Wind buffeted down the narrow passage.

The two guards, one on the ground with a broken arm, the other holding his face, started gasping for air, faces reddening.

“Not the most discreet,” Alger grumbled.

“You were late,” Bree retorted. She stepped over the two guards and ignored them.

Vanessa watched, horrified, as the two men went unconscious.

“Come on,” Alger called over his shoulder. “You’re lucky that fight started out in the courtyard, otherwise they may have heard you.

Vanessa nodded dumbly, and carefully stepped over the two guards, stomach churning as she took in the weirdly shaped arm and bloody face.

Ren carefully closed the door behind them, making sure it remained unlocked.

Darkness fell.

Vanessa blinked, eyes adjusting to the lack of light.

The armory had shelves upon shelves of weapons. Guns, swords, spears. It carried enough weapons to … well, stock an army. For what enemy?

Ren tapped Vanessa’s shoulder. “Your turn,” he whispered. “It’s easy: remember that.”

“Right.” She straightened. Easy. She sucked in a break, patted down her dusty dress, and strode forward.

Her turn.


###


The day shone stiff through the trees, sending a harsh light into Kistal’s eyes. It was an effort to stay awake. Changing her usual nocturnal schedule had not helped her healing process.

One large wing stretched out and cast a shadow over the ground far below. It ached with the movement; she ached in general, actually. Keeping hidden, staying awake at odd hours, and tailing Jek and Delera was taking its toll.

It didn’t help that, instead of heading toward Iryna, Jek and Delera had taken a detour to the Moon Temple.

The wooded hills were just as peaceful, and blood-stained, as they had been when Kistal had left it. Though it was daytime, the moon wraiths began to writhe as she approached the stone formation.

Now, she hid in the top of one of the giant trees, well hidden from scent and sight, though she was quite close to the two new allies.

Leefa, the small pygmy owl, were her eyes. Leefa watched from a low branch, her small body hidden by the leaves.

Jek stood at the center of the temple, on the symbol of the moon. His gaze roamed the columns, searching the names and their secrets. Crouched by the stairs, Delera’s lips moved as she read the symbols that were obscured there.

“Why did you want to wait until dusk to kill Kistal?” Jek suddenly asked.

Kistal peered through the leaves. To Leefa who sat below her, she thought, Look at that; they’re talking about me.

The owl shifted her position, and Delera’s tattooed face came into view. “I thought it would be ironic, killing Lady Dusk at dusk.”

“Nothing else?”

“It’s said that that’s the best time to sacrifice a Guardian of Dark. Why?”

Jek turned, his feet tapping over the stone floor as he went to Delera and crouched in front of her. “You wouldn’t twist the truth on me, would you?”

There was a flicker in Delera’s pale eyes. “When it’s necessary, yes, I would.”

Blue met pale white.

Kistal crossed her legs got herself comfortable. Go on, Jek, she silently urged. Use that temper on the annoying angel. We both know you want to.

A second passed. Then another.

Jek uttered one word. “Move.”

To Kistal’s mild surprise, and disappointment, Delera did as she was told.

Jek crouched over the steps and peered down at the symbols. The engravings were faint, worn down by centuries of weather.

He reached down, fingers brushing a few of the markings. Then he growled; it was a sound so deep it shook the branches of the trees around him.

The symbols of the steps glowed. Like a newly made waterfall, the symbols on the steps lit up in blue, winding down the hill and up onto the stone floor. The constellations of the floor emitted a soft light, leaving only the moon ashen.

Kistal jerked upright. Her jaw slacked open.

She had only seen those symbols once before.

Dread settled into her stomach.

Jek straightened, eyes bright with excitement. “That’s how you do it, angel,” he said.

Kistal closed her eyes, then lifted her wings. The large feathers caught the air and lifted her up, away from the trees, away from the temple. It no longer mattered she was there to listen in to their conversation.

Finding Vanessa Lunara was her top priority.

Behind her, the few owls followed, coming close enough to listen to her message.

“Tell Ren to keep on the lookout--he can’t trust anyone with an ounce of greed in them. Jek and Delera know.”

Once the owls heard her message, they beat their wings and sped away.

Kistal flew down low, casting a dark shadow over the hills and rivers, pained gold eyes trained on the faraway glint of Iryna. When she was far enough away from the Moon Temple, she let out a series of curses that echoed over the valleys.

Brains don’t suit Jek at all, she thought grimly.

Too many centuries had passed for her to count since she had seen that glowing scripture. Never had she forgotten even a word of it: the words were burned into memory, a final command from the God of the Moon.

For the first time in centuries, a true, deep-seated fear for what was to come gnawed at her gut as the final words of the decree, and the cursed understanding of it, echoed through her mind.

“The God of the Moon has shattered. What remains is but a powerful ghost. They cannot be restored; only their power reborn. Rebirth requires a sacrificial end to all that remains of the Old Power.

“Once the Old Power has been sacrificed, they who took action will become the new God of the Moon.”

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  • January 30, 2019 - 3:14pm (Now Viewing)

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2 Comments
  • Kahasai

    I don't know how/why I didn't respond to your comment earlier. *exasperated forehead slap*

    THank you sO mUcH! That's ... wow, thank you! :))))))))


    10 months ago
  • Quille

    OOH!!!!!!!!! I can't wait to see more :DDD
    I'm loving this story so far and you should totally publish it as a book sometime. It would more than likely make the best-seller list :)


    10 months ago