Chapter 1: A night of storytelling
A small boy looked up at his adoptive parents from where he lay. He knew he was adopted, and couldn’t care less. He loved the odd pair that had claimed him, and he knew they loved him even more. However, what lay before him was a momentous decision. The hardest decision he would probably make all day.
“What story would you like to hear for bedtime” his mother asked, in her strangely accented voice. He knew that she would read him any story he wanted, all from memory. His mother had an exceptional memory, and actually taught at the local school. He had been waiting for story time all day, ever since the idea occurred to him this morning after breakfast. He wanted to learn about how his parents met. He had heard rumors or little pieces from here or there, but he had never heard the whole story. After he got the idea, he simply could not sit still. His mother, who also happened to be his teacher, noticed his excitement, but thought little of it.
By the time dinner rolled around, he couldn’t finish dinner fast enough. Afterwords were chores. He folded his clothes and cleaned up the dishes from dinner. He missed a few spots on the plates, and his clothes were rumpled but they were done. He ran to his room, put on his bright yellow and red flannel pajamas, and jumped into bed. After a few moments, which to his child mind felt like an eternity, his mother and father entered the room. His mother had a bemused expression, while his father’s eyes smiled.
“Now, what’s gotten into you?” His mother asked.
“I know what story I want you to tell me” he said in his most professional voice that he could muster.
“What story would you like to hear for bedtime?” his mother asked, in her strangely accented voice.
“Can I hear the story,” he breathed in, saying the next line as fast as he could “Abouthowyoutwomet!”
His mother tilted her head. “Say again?”
“I want to hear about how you two met!” He repeated.
His mother and father looked at each other, a silent conversation going on between them. After a tense moment, they looked back at him.
“I think I will let your father start this one.” The boy was over excited, he was ecstatic, enlivened, thrilled-
“But first, I think someone forgot to brush his teeth.”
A few moments later and one child with slightly cleaner teeth sat back in bed.
“Well?” He asked, after a second or two. His mother had gone back into her office to grade papers from the day, leaving him alone with the overcoat clad father. From his head to his toes, not a single inch of skin was shone. The only hint that someone existed in it at all was the pair of large green eyes that shone out from under the hat perched on his head, draping his face in shadow, even in the brightest room.
“Hmmm?” The father hummed.
“Oh right. Just thinking about where to start. I figure the best place to start is the beginning. . .”
Our story starts in a small College town-
“School after school. May I continue?”
“Ahem, as I was saying…”
Our story starts in a small college town, where a young adventurous man by the name of Aaron lived. He studied there, hoping to learn the Ancient Arts of Accounting. Now, accounting students are not always known for their physical prowess, but Aaron was a bit different. See, Aaron was the type to work very very hard for a few days of the week, and then spend the rest of the week hiking, spelunking, kayaking, and doing various other very fun activities.
Now, one day after a particularly difficult set of workdays Aaron decided to go on a hike. He wanted to try out a new route that an acquaintance of his had told him about. Normally it is advisable to bring along a friend when hiking a new trail, but Aaron was a bit of a loner type person. He knew many people, but not a single one of them he could consider a close friend. It may sound sad, but it was just the way he liked it. So, when he accidentally wandered off the trail a bit, no one was there to notice where it went. Or, when it started raining, no one was there to grab the tarp as it blew away in the wind. Or, when he found a cave, and no one was there to tell it might be a bad idea.
He was no novice when it came to caves however, as he had spelunked many times in the past. In the mouth of the cave he was shielded from the wind and the rain, but the cave appeared to go a bit further back than originally thought. Since he decided that he would want to know of any other residents of his temporary dwelling, he decided to delve a bit deeper. First he tied a bit of rope he had on him to a small hook-like rock jutting from the top of the cave. The other half he tied around his belt, as he ventured in. He figured that the rope would serve the purpose of keeping him from going too far in, while also allowing him to find his way out, should the cave begin to branch.
Thus, his hike turned into a spelunk, and he dived deep into the cave. There appeared to just be one tunnel that ran a surprisingly long distance back. After about 30 seconds of walking, Aaron noticed the walls beginning to widen. He decided to stick to one side, figuring that following the wall should be safe enough. After about 30 more seconds he lost sight of the other wall, even when he shined his flashlight in its apparent direction. About a minute later, he noticed the ceiling was missing from view, making him wonder just how big this tunnel was. About another minute later, he realised he should've ran out of rope by now.
Aarons heartbeat began to pick up as that came to him. He forced it back down, thinking that he could just reel it back in. He began reeling.
30 feet. . .
It was at this point that he could see the end of his rope.
Closer inspection revealed that it appeared to have been burnt in two, as if by a torch. Panic began to rise in his throat, but he forced it back down. He followed the wall here, he can follow it back. With his plan in mind, he set off back down the way he came.
A minute passed.
Aaron began picking up his pace.
The exit should've been here.
He should’ve seen it by now.
Where was it?!?!
His heart pounding in his chest as he began sprinting along the wall, eyes frantically searching for something, Anything at all. In his panic he lost sight of the wall. He was running in darkness, his backpack shrugged off, and his flashlight flickering in the darkness. He ran and ran and ran, until eventually even the fit young man that he was felt like he could run no more. He pushed on, blindly running in a direction. He tripped over something on the floor, causing him to throw his flashlight out of sight. He fell, darkness surrounding him, panic clearly setting in as he lay on the smooth stone floor. His muscles ached, his lungs burned, and his mind was a mess of confusion and fear.
Slowly, his heartbeat came down. His muscles reduced themselves to a dull throb, and his mind went comfortably numb.
As he lay there, he came to realise just how tired he was. His eyelids drooped, and slowly he succumbed to a mental darkness known as sleep.
His last thought that ran through his head was
“At least the stone floor is nice and cool. . .”
The child looked at his parent expectantly.
“Well?” He asked, confusion on his face. “Thats enough for tonight. Your mother would have my head if I let you stay up too late.” The man responded. The man bent over and wrapped the child in a warm hug. The mother walked in behind him, hugging the child as well. As much as the child would like to complain, he knew it would do no good.
“Ill tell you more tomorrow night, ok?” The father said.
“Ok!” The child said excitedly.
“Goodnight Carnelian.” Said the mother.
“Sweet dreams.” Said the father.
“Love you.” They said in unison.
“Love you too. Goodnight.” Said Carnelian, as the light in his room turned off, and he quickly felt the warm darkness of sleep take him over as well.
Carnelian woke up early the next day, feeling refreshed, energized, and ready for the day. The young boy, unlike many of his age, was what was known as the dreaded morning person. He took a shower, got his clothes on, brushed his teeth and ran to the kitchen, all in the space of about 10 minutes. His mother was already there, preparing his breakfast. The young boy sniffed the air, letting the aromas wash over his delicate palette.
“Ooooooh,” he sighed happily “Eggs, toast, and ham!” It was one of his favorite dishes for the early morning meal, and his mother knew it. She was currently watching the eggs, which he knew she was waiting for to turn done, but still moist and delicious. She was ,after all, the best cook he knew (The fact that she was the only cook he knew didn’t even occur to him).
“Looks like my little cutie bean finally awoke!” She said. He blushed, responding “Awwww, moooooom. There’s no such thing as a cutie bean!” His mother turned off the flame on the stove, setting down the pan with the eggs on a small oven mitt she had set out in one swift motion. She turned to him, and before he could move, scooped him up in her deceptively strong arms, raising the child into a hug.
“If they don’t exist, then how can I hold the one that’s right in front of me!”
“Moooooooooom!” Carnelian giggled as he was hoisted around the room, being twirled around in his mother's grasp. He struggled to escape her grasp, but it was futile. After a moment, she set him down. While he tried to stifle his little giggles, his mother told him,” go tell your father you're awake. I think he’s out there with the tomato vines. I’ll have breakfast on the table when you get back.”
“Ok!” He said, as he ran off in search of his dad. “Hey, make sure not to run over the herb garden again!” His mother called after him. He slowed his pace a bit, his face getting red again over the memory of the last time he did that. His punishment had been to replant and deweed the ENTIRE garden. He had only hurt a few of the plants, but he did make sure to not do it again. As he walked outside the front door onto the small porch, he looked over the small bit of mountainside he could see. Sure enough, he saw the unmistakeable coat that harbored his father over by the tomato patch.
He made his way down the short path, paying special attention to not run over any small plant or anything. When he made it to the spot he had seen him, he was nowhere to be found.
“Dad? I know you're over here, stop hidin-”
The boy was cut off as he was hoisted into the air for a second time that morning. This time, instead of being drawn into a hug, he was thrown, clear up and above the vines and small fruit trees that littered the ground around their house. He stopped about 20 feet up, and for a moment he simply appreciated the sunrise, as it came over the small town that lay at the foot of the mountain. From his vantage, he could just about see the river that lay to the far east, before gravity grabbed his little legs and began to pull him back down. For about a second he accelerated, before being slowed down to a halt a few inches from the ground. He was set down, and turned to his father.
“Hey, moms got breakfast ready.” He said.
“So she does. We should probably hurry along then. Wouldn’t want your food to get cold.”
Father and son walked back up to the little cabin that was their home. It was a little log cabin, built a small ways into the rock of the mountain behind it. It was sturdier than it appeared, and had weathered many a thunderstorm and windy day. They walked inside the small abode, and sure enough two plates had been made, one in front of his seat, and one in front of his mother’s. The boy and his parents took their seats, and the boy thanked his mother for the meal, before they both dug in. They made small talk until they were through with their food.
“You two better be on your way if you wanna make it to the school in time.” The dad said, taking the two empty plates.
“Well, you heard him. Lets get going!” The mother said in reply, picking up her teachers bag, certainly full of old graded papers and new ones to be handed out, and headed out the door.
The pair walked down the path that led to town in relative silence. Suddenly, his mother spoke up.
“We have a ways to go, how about I tell you about the next bit of the story? I understand your father left you on a bit of a cliffhanger last time.”
The boy perked up at hearing this ,”Really? Yeah, I would love to hear it!” He said, excited, to say the least.
“Well, this time, let’s start with someone a little different. . .”
Mary sighed as she walked along the ancient passageway with her family. It wasn’t like she didn’t enjoy outings with them, but history buff she was not. Her caretaker on the other hand seemed to have her calling, and was busy describing the glyphs and symbols on the dusty metal walls.
It was two weeks before she and several of her brothers and sisters shipped off to college to finish training to be in the police and part with their family for the last time. So their caretaker, Millandy, decided it would be nice to have nice big final family outing before then. After all, after the four that left ,the already small family of ten would become even smaller. Millandy was approaching retirement, her hair growing long enough to touch her shoulders, and she would not be getting another batch to look after after this one. She had been a very good Caretaker to Mary and she was almost sad to leave her, but that was the way of life on Artem.
The place Millandy had taken them was a ways out from the city they lived in, and after about an hour’s walk outside the city limits, they reached it. What it was was a small door attached to the wall of a mountain. When they entered however, they found that the door led to an enormous underground complex, filled with corridors lined with symbols, bridges over chasms that seemed to stretch downwards forever, and small rooms that had strange markings covering even the floors. It was down one these corridors that they walked. According to Millandy this building was one of the oldest in the world. It was said to have been built by the makers themselves, and its original purpose had been lost to time.
Millandy droned on and on about the glyphs on the walls, and Mary zoned out, following the small group not paying much attention. Instead, she tried to remember all of the things she would need to know for her placement exams in school. She already knew she was gonna be a Field Tech, that had been decided a long time ago when she had been born. The exams would simply gauge how much more she would need to learn to fulfil that role successfully. She was decent at her studies, but in the end only appeared slightly above average.
Her thoughts were cut short when one of her brothers, a large boy that was shipping out in a year and was about 3 feet taller than her, bumped into her. Being the clutz that she was, she stumbled and she would have fallen over completely had she not been stopped by the ever alert Millandy.
“Tony! Apologize to Mary. You could've hurt her!” Millandy scolded the boy.
“But-” He started to say, but Millandy was having none of it.
“I said apologize.”
Tony heaved a sigh before giving a very reluctant “Sorry Mary.” The look on his face told the real story though, he wasn’t actually sorry, but rather he had a hint of resentment for Mary for getting him in trouble. After a few moments the procession resumed. Mary tuned them out again as they walked along, her thoughts filled with exams and training.
They eventually came upon a large chamber. On the side they entered from there were strange protrusions coming from almost every surface, some of which had smooth faces, whilst others had small circles and lines on them. On the far side of the chamber there was a bridge over a wide gap. The gap appeared pitch black, and there was no safety railing along it. There was a small sign that read “DANGER”.
“Ok, everyone, stay over here. We wouldn’t want anyone falling over there. Now, as you can see, these strange boxes. . .” Millandy continued. Mary was still not listening, but pretended to look interested in one of the smaller protrusions coming from the wall. Tony noticed her absentmindedness and formulated a small plan.
“Hey Mary, sorry about earlier.” He said, putting on his best sorry look.
“Don’t worry about it.” Responded Mary, just wanting to get back to her thoughts.
“Well, I feel bad about it, and noticed that you still hadn’t looked over the side of the gap.”
“The gap?” Queried Mary. I thought we weren’t supposed to go over there. She thought to herself.
“Yeah, well, Millandy told us each to look over it, and well, I didn’t want you getting in trouble or something, so…” He tried his best to look innocent. He wanted to see her walk over there and get in trouble herself. She probably wouldn’t even make it to the edge before Millandy stopped her.
“Well, I guess I should take a quick peek then. Thanks Tony.” Mary replied, before walking in the direction of the bridge.
Tony’s prediction proved to be wrong. She did make it to the edge. When she got there and looked over however, Millandy finally took notice.
“MARY! GET AWAY FROM THERE RIGHT NOW! IT’S NOT SA-” Millandy’s sentence was not finished however. You see, Mary was a bit of a clutz on a good day. She occasionally tripped over herself, and couldn’t dance to save her life. So, when a voice suddenly shouted her name, she attempted to turn towards the voice. As close as she was to the ledge, when she did so, she accidentally placed a foot just an inch too close to the edge.
Millandy looked on in horror as one of her beloved children slowly fell backwards, arms flailing in vain as a piece of the floor broke off. Their eyes met, the terror that Millandy felt was but a shadow in the shear dread held in Mary’s emerald gaze.
And then she was gone. Down and down into the abyss, her scream quickly becoming muffled as she fell.
The next thing Mary knew, she was becoming conscious on a cold metal surface. She opened her eyes to see a small shaft of light, coming from what appeared to be over a hundred feet above. She heard yelling and voices coming from the light. Shadows danced and figures scurried around the light.
Hmmmm, well this is strange. Where am I? She thought to herself. That's when she remembered the fall. Oh the Makers! She cursed her clutzy nature internally.
After a moment of internal debate about just how stupid she is, she decided to look around.
Perhaps there is a way out. A tunnel or something! She thought hopefully. The ground was lit up in a dim red glow, giving the entire space a demented look to it. Her vision only penetrated about 10 feet in any direction, and what she did see did not lighten her mood.
Bits and pieces of various electronics were scattered around here or there, with little puddles of some liquid pooling nearby. Her curiosity forced her closer to one of the puddles. In the dim red light, it almost appeared to be metallic. She dipped a finger into it, feeling its thick viscosity. She lifted it to her nose and sniffed. It reminded her of when she bit her tongue one time after tripping. And her tongue started. . . bleeding.
She backed away quickly, scrambling backwards, whilst attempting to rub the blood off of her finger. She wasn’t watching where she was going and tumbled over an largish object. It was cold, and wet. When she looked down to see what it was, she didn’t quite believe what she saw. It was an arm. Just, an entire arm, dripping with blood. She felt a cold chill on her back. She was frozen to the spot. She couldn’t move at all.
That’s when she heard it. A slow pattern of beeps, slowly getting faster. It was coming from right in front of her, a little ways past the blood. She could see a small light, flashing in time with the beeps. She was shocked out of her trance by a feminine voice. “Self check complete. Minor aesthetic anomalies detected. Functionality not affected. Beginning exterior sweep.” It was a cold voice. No feeling in it at all.
At this point Mary decided it was best to not be right there anymore. She shakily stood up, eyes steady on the light, that now paused its flickering. Suddenly, a dark blue glow came from directly above it.
“Non Authorised personnel detected. This is a level 5 and above clearance only area. You will now be deconstructed.”
The dark blue light lurched forward. Mary decided that now was a good time to run. A whirring noise came from behind her as she ran. She dared not look back, for fear of the strange woman that was surely gaining on her. Now, Mary was not a fast person. She was no athlete for sure, and was even a bit on the chubby side. That said, anyone who fears for their life can sometimes find the strength to move at rather incredible speeds. And move she did. Right into a wall.
The wall was weird though. It didn’t hurt when she ran into it, but rather it felt cushioned. However, she couldn’t continue searching it, as the strange sound loomed closer. She twisted around, her arm accidentally hitting one of the strange markings on the wall. All of a sudden the wall simply disappeared. She fell backwards through it, crawling backwards as fast as she could, as the blue light came within ten feet of her. Just as soon as it had vanished however, the wall reappeared. A faint *clunk* could be heard as whatever was following her ran into the wall as well.
With the immediate threat no longer so immediate, she decided to take a look around. The room was a rather small one, only about ten feet by ten feet. It was lit by the same dim red glow as before, but it lacked the pools of blood and electronics. There were shelves scattered along the walls. The shelves were stacked with various boxes and such. She looked in one, but it appeared to be empty. In the middle of the room was a large square shaped podium of sorts. It almost appeared to be a desk, if made for someone even shorter than she. The desk held only a single item, placed in the middle. It was a small oval shaped thing, that at closer inspection appeared to be made of some sort of metal. Before she could examine it longer, a beeping sound could be heard from the door.
“Accessing containment area.” The frigid voice said, as the wall disappeared once again. Mary shoved the strange object into one of her cargo pockets. She looked around for somewhere to run but the room had only one apparent entrance, and it was being blocked by the strangest thing she had ever seen. It was short, only a few feet tall, and had long ,black, arching legs. It had six of them, three on each side of a rectangular body. The body itself featured a small round blue light, that seemed to watch Mary, with an unrelenting vision.
It slowly crept forward, the blue light scanning Mary up and down. Mary was certain that this strange creature was going to pounce on her any minute and tear her limbs off. It focused on her pocket, where she had put the small object.
“Level 12 personnel paired with level 2 personnel. Level 2 personnel allowed.”
The blue light shut off, the strange creature standing completely still.
Mary stood there, still as could be for what felt like an eternity. Still, the creature did not stir.
She waved her hand at the small creature.
Slowly, slowly, she made her way around the frozen beast. Once past, she made her way along the wall until she came across what appeared to be a door. The door led to a spiral staircase. Her heart leapt for joy. She hurriedly made her way up the steps, the stairs seeming to go on forever. Eventually, the lights started to grow brighter, moving away from the dark red glow, to a much friendlier light yellow. After what felt like an eternity, she reached the top of the stairs. Muffled voices could be heard behind another wall. The wall had two symbols on it. Remembering what happened at the last door, she tried pressing the lower one first.
Next she tried the upper one. The wall disappeared, revealing a sight that brought her to tears.
“Millandy!” She cried out, running over to her caretaker and wrapping her arms around the woman. Millandy just stood there stunned, along with everyone else, including several new people she didn’t recognize. Realization dawned on Millandy’s face, and soon she broke down to tears, returning the hug full force.
After everyone calmed down a bit, one of the new people came over to the two. It was at this point that Mary saw the patch on the man’s breast:
‘Buck City Police Force’ it read, having a small insignia of two fists over a shield behind the text. The name tag next to it identified the person as ‘Officer Chan Mikeals’. He asked her a few questions about what she saw. She relayed everything she could, and after they were done, they all just left.
It was at this point that she realised just how scratched up she was. She had bruises and scrapes all along her arms and legs. Her feet were sore, and her entire body ached. She wanted nothing more than to sit down and rest for a bit. Unfortunately, they still had a walk back to the city ahead of them.
A little over an hour later, and everyone had returned to their home inside Buck City. It was almost dark by the time they arrived, and all of the people in the building prepared for a trip to the night church. Everyone except Mary and Tony. Apparently, someone told Millandy about Tony persuading Mary to go over to the edge, thus keeping Mary out of trouble. Tony on the other hand had been punished with six weeks of ‘boot camp’, in which he would do nothing ‘fun’ and would spend his weeks only helping others accomplish tasks, such as chores or other such things. Mary on the other hand, was physically exhausted, and decided that the best thing to do would be to sit down somewhere and wait out the night. Nobody could blame her, and everyone slowly shuffled out of the house, leaving only Mary and Tony. Tony opted out of talking, and instead went into the next room over, where he began folding laundry for the group.
Just as Mary had sat down, she noticed the strange bulge in her pocket, and was reminded of the small object she had picked up from the temple. She took it out and looked at it under the better lighting in the room. It appeared to be a completely smooth stone. So smooth, she had some trouble holding it. Suddenly, she felt the strangest sensation. It felt like she was suddenly very dizzy, but at the same time her vision focused and unfocused rapidly. The combined senses would have made her nauseous, but it only lasted for a second. Well, that was wierd-
“Hello? Does this thing work?” A voice said out of nowhere.
“And would you look at that! We are at school.” The mother told her intrigued son.
“Awwwwwww. Why do you and dad always stop, RIGHT when something happens?” Carnelian complained.
“Well, how else would we keep you interested?” She replied, before stepping in the building.