Sunday, October 16, 2011

Crux: Revelation 8

Bastion was a lot larger than Arlo expected. She glanced across its streets and buildings that ran up and down the coast, and she would have compared it to San Francisco, if she knew what that was. The people here, if they could be called that, seemed to enjoy their main occupation, that of collecting flotsam and junk that drifted near their city, and use it to build random structures. Using all sorts of materials gave Bastion a somewhat festive look because they didn’t seem to care much about painting their constructions after they managed to raise them. From the terrace of the tallest and, let’s say, richest house of all, she watched with genuine curiosity the impressive number of residents going about their business. The building process didn’t seem to pause very long and she suspected it never will – almost all the races considered unnatural ended up here sooner or later. Unless a vampire was particularly bloody during his existence on Earth, she would most likely settle in Bastion at one point in town. And, Andrew knew, there were a lot of bloodsuckers on his planet alone. He shared a look with Arlo and shrugged slightly.
“Normally I’d welcome you myself” came the calm words in a low tone. A giant man, with skin so dark it seemed like tree bark, stepped onto the balcony and scanned the group of four. “Yet you proved quite troublesome. One dead, three badly injured. I do not condone this behaviour in my city” he added in the same undisturbed voice and took a seat in a straw chair.
Thomas watched Nom carefully, his orange eyes locking with the intense black orbs of this self-proclaimed ruler. In fractions of seconds, he could tell a lot of things about their host and most of them would be pretty dire. He noticed, of course, the ancient collar made of bone and fang of a large predator, the hunter demeanour and regal posture. He wore simple linen clothes though and his long curly hair was tied in a ponytail with a piece of string, but most noticeable was the fact that Nom walked barefoot. Thomas took a stepped forward and bowed his head, while the Andrew, Arlo and Tesla just watched him with mild surprise.
“We apologize for this inconvenience, sir” he said politely. “My friends and I were just passing through and, while we regret the outcome of our actions, the incident could not be avoided. My friend” Thomas added motioning slightly towards the mage “was being harassed by your people. He merely defended himself when they turned to violence. I believe the witnesses in the establishment can confirm that.”
Nom laughed and scratched his chin, while looking at Thomas benevolently. He stood up, three inches above him, and measured him from head to toe.
“You’re quite the speaker, aren’t you? You seem rather versed in the fine art of conversation. What were you before you died, human? A peace messenger or an ambassador perhaps?” Nom asked amused. “It’s not often that I have the opportunity to meet such folk, I must admit.”
“Neither, sir” Thomas confessed bowing his head. “I was simply raised and educated in this manner. My father insisted on it and, as it seems, it was worth the effort. And I must say that I am also pleasantly surprised to be able to establish a common ground by conversation alone-“
“Who said anything about conversation alone?” the giant asked, leaning down at him and bringing his thick eyebrows together in a scowl. “You must face the trials of the Ring of Blood for you transgression and only then – if you manage to survive, that is – I will consider letting you walk away!”
Thomas froze and felt his heart jump up his throat. He choked on the feeling and barely managing to swallow the shock, and jumped as Nom slammed a hammer-sized hand on his shoulder.
“I’m just jesting, friend!” he bellowed and patted him gently, laughing the way thunder would if the universe knew any good jokes to tell it. “Oh, the look on your face is priceless!” He coughed politely and wiped a tear, then motioned them to sit on the scattered velvet pillows that lay around. “Please, don’t stand. I want to hear all about you. I’m sorry for playing games with you four, but we rarely have humans, Nephalem and Meka come visit us, let alone huddled up in such a colourful group such as yourselves! My name is Nom and I do, indeed lead this bunch of miscreants, but it’s only because they asked me to. I should think it’s my age that gave them the impression I am capable of such a position…” he added and reached a hand to his chest.
They sat around and spoke for a short while, while Nom shared wine with them and his own story from when he was alive, insisting that no matter how pressing the matters, they just had to accept his hospitality. None dared to say otherwise. The group learned that he was indeed one of the oldest Bastians, possibly the first, from when the earth was so young that villages barely contained more than a couple of hundred men. He was a shape-shifter by birth and surprised no one when he confessed his form was that of the lion. Andrew decided he shared a lot of characteristics with Rene, the oldest Incubus he knew, but decided to keep that to himself.
“Ah, so that’s what you’re after…” Nom finally said when hearing the stories of Arlo and Andrew. “I had forgotten all about the Nilithar and your prophecy”. His appearance changed slightly, speaking with a hint of concern in his voice. “We decided that we will not get involved in your wars a long time ago. We like it here and we exist undisturbed.”
“No offence meant, dear sir,” Thomas interjected. “But that sounds like an apology. We have not come here for your assistance in this conflict. They seek transportation and we just need to find that fabled human. None of us are judging, I assure you.”
“Speak for yourself” Andrew muttered. “In my opinion, a lot of blood shed could have been avoided if you just acted. That is what I think” he added, while Arlo watched him with concern in her eyes and Thomas just disapproved of his intervention.
“…You may think what you like” Nom spoke frowning slightly. “But we owe nothing to either side. Nephalem business is Nephalem business and that’s it. Bastians do not cross their borders, they do not cross ours. Some of us have lived centuries in the dark and we just want to enjoy our eternity in peace. There’s nothing that would dissuade us into marching to war” he added and stood up, hinting that it was time for them to leave. “You must be in a hurry, friends, so I will not take more of your time. You two especially” he added, nodding at Thomas and the mage. “I hope you find your way and, as for you, half-angel, Meka, I shall arrange transportation over the water. From the other side, you should reach Genesis in hours, if the Calendar is on your side.”
“We thank you for your hospitality and your help, lord Nom” Arlo said and bowed sincerely. “I personally hope we could meet again, in more peaceful times.”
“As do I” Tesla contributed. “Your citizens seem rather fascinating to me. I would very much enjoy learning more about them.”
Nom flashed his calm and polite smile and nodded: “You’re welcome here anytime. Best of luck in your endeavours!”
Arlo, Tesla and Thomas turned and descended the white stone steps that led to the street, without noticing that their wizard companion remained behind for a few moments more. Andrew leaned close to Nom and whispered some words, then nodded with a slight frown on herself and added: “Consider that”. He turned and followed the rest towards the harbour.
Nom watched them go, arms folded to his chest, lost in thought. The mage was rather short in comparison and not as well-built as his friend, while the Meka was a… Meka and the half-angel was obviously a skilled fighter. Out of all four, he seemed like the weakest, yet, thinking back, Nom realized that he was the only one who had shown no fear in his presence. Throughout their conversation, he didn’t hesitate to combat the leader or Bastion nor did he try in any way to slide through the chat like the other man. He still maintained a decent level of respect and all of that puzzled Nom for quite some time after their departure. Andrew’s last glance and expression were meant to give birth to a mental debate and the giant werelion leader began struggling with the few words that were whispered to him.
As they reached the docks and realized that their captain was Ash, with Mona the punk vampire in tow, they hesitated. Their boat looked like something that would never float, yet they were assured it worked “like a charm!” by the muscle-packed Ash. The couple of men decided that it would be best to tag along for some time. After all, Arlo and Tesla were on Nilithar business as well. But mostly, the mage found a keen interest in the way the Meka functioned… Right after he lost interest in heaving his stomach out overboard.
“How can you always get so sick at sea? I swear, if you throw up again when we get back on the ‘Sea Hunt’, I will throw you overboard myself!” Thomas warned, while holding his head up, then looked at the passing forms under the clear water. “Those poor fishes down there…”
“Oh, those ain’t fish, mate!” Ash said absently, steering the pile of rust and junk. “Those be merfolk.”
“That’s great!” Thomas exclaimed as the mage bent over the railing, for another short concert of disgusting sounds. “That’s just great! You just puked on some mermaid’s face, you twit!”
“Thomas…” Andrew grunted, looking up at his friend through teary eyes. “If you don’t shut up, I’ll turn you into a turtle, shove you overboard and throw up on you!”
“Are they always like that?” Mona asked Arlo, watching the show slightly annoyed.
“I wouldn’t know” she replied dryly. “And hope to Heaven I don’t have to find out.”

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