Excrete trails of soggy static
Scorched puppets, they rip our strings
From shallow graves
A resuscitated pantomime
Excrete trails of soggy static
Scorched puppets, they rip our strings
From shallow graves
A resuscitated pantomime
I push, but it pushes back harder. Tears chap my face as I run through the jungle, pursued by my demons. I hurriedly dash over frozen leaves and snow piles, barreling over cracked boulders and old stumps. The sense of security I had days prior is reduced to an itching feeling of loneliness and regret. Voices that are not my own quarrel in my head; my mind is a verbal battlefield.
Slow down, baby. You don’t need to run anymore.
My heart thumps in my chest, begging for me to stop. With every step, I wish I am spotted by a Tracker or Ranger fleet – anything to end this convoluted race. I can’t help but think of what happened to the general and the other Renegades, what I did to them. It was unconscionable, savagery. I am a monster.
What is unconscionable is the total lack of Fangclush imperials. Bobby and I encountered dozens just in our short journey to this so-called forgotten realm. “Beyond the Courtshyn Lake, the Sentinel’s blood runs thin,” Aaron told us. If only I could concentrate this telekinetic monstrosity lurking within me toward that man’s scarred forehead – I would rip him to shreds, or do whatever it is that I do. The Renegades mentioned I am called the Nuclear Bitch by the soldiers out of Fort Legacy. Sounds kinky.
It does not take me long to clear the forest, and I’m back at the old field, our safe haven. I return to the old shack’s remains. It was the first thing we saw that reminded us of home. And in a world rife with insanity and violence, we took advantage of what we had.
Even though it feels as though I was running for hours, the amber stain in the sky informs me I only ran a thousand yards or so. In the horizon, above the tree line, I make out the tallest tower at Fort Legacy. The fort was known for its intimidating, barbed peaks.
Something comes back to me as clear as the sparkling ripples dancing upon Courtshyn Lake.
“Tell me something…” The lieutenant never seemed tenser. A man in his position should have been overcome with glee, having captured the most wanted criminal in the realm, yet his lips were pursed and his brow pulled together.
A slight beeping comes from a machine behind me. I trace green and yellow cords in the veins in my arm. Mirrors lined the room from wall-to-wall. “What was that?”
“Even in death, you refuse to cooperate.” He chuckled, annoyed. “Do you even know where you are, Lange?”
I mumbled, “Legacy.”
“You heard me, dammit.” I spit in his face and writhe against my restraints.
He flashed a look at a monitor and back to the notebook in his hands. “And do you know why you’re here? Let me –”
“I’m here because I killed her. She was dead before she could call her porcelain goons.”
His face softened. “You Disgraced will never learn what it is to be civilized.” Something inside of him cracked. “Every single one of you sits with your hands at your crotch, chiming your immortality, while everybody else suffers. And you get offended when we start speaking up. You call yourselves the peaceful ones, ha!” He readied a black syringe, his hands trembling.
“And I’d do it all over again,” I retorted. “That bitch killed my family, so it was only fitting that she suffer a similar fate. You humans reproduce like filthy rabbits anyhow. I’m sure you had three other cows loaded the instant her bloody head hit the floor.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Lange.” He propped me back and inserted the syringe. “She wasn’t just human. Sheridyn was a plesmorph – just like you.”
“Lying doesn’t suit you, Lieutenant.”
“Thankfully, Sheridyn provided us with enough information into the special breed, not enough to produce a hard set defense against it, mind you. But give us time. You won’t be a threat for much longer, and then the war will be over. The pathetic rebels will drop to their knees as we humans take back the Earth.”
They already had the Earth; it was the other two realms to which he was referring – and they’d never have those. But I don’t correct him. The injection made my eyes heavy, my chest dropping. Though I tried to stay strong, I whimper. My blood turned to tar, my mind spinning. “It’ll never be enough,” was all I could muster. The humans wouldn’t stop until they drown the realms in their paranoia and terror.
The lieutenant left the room and the lights dimmed. Another man’s voice appeared on a speaker above. “This begins the second session. Tell me what you know of the Krysolux and its power.”
It was what gave the Disgraced their luster, their life force, but I did not comply with their requests. I couldn’t.
The truth is hard to swallow: there are parts of my memory that are missing. The memories arrange themselves in a scattered jigsaw puzzle, all solid black with no side pieces. Each one leaves me more lost than before.
Fall into slumber. Return to Elymia, Sophia.
I sprint toward the only place I know will have answers.
I abandon the safe haven and inch closer to a forgotten artery of the Fangclush – I return to Legacy.
“Excuse me?” I ask, pulling out from under his meaty palm.
Tarkin approaches as the old man backs away, obviously offended that I didn’t accept his embrace. And why would I? He literally just appeared from the shadows and put his hand on me. That’s not how I roll. “We heard of your actions back at Fort Legacy.” His raised eyebrows and smirk make me feel like I should know what the hell he’s referring to, but I’m at a loss. “Your face is plastered everywhere. You can’t tell me you don’t know that.”
Another chump chimes in, nodding. “They call you Nuclear Bitch for what you did at Legacy.” They laugh. “You’re fucking famous. Even more so than the general.” He motions toward the old man. By the look of him, I can tell he’s of some prestige – how could I have known I just offended the Renegade leader?
“General, huh?” I offer a smile as a peace offering. Thankfully, he accepts it.
“Sophia, please come with us. I have so much to tell you.” His comforted expression flips. “About the war; about you; about Sheradyn.” He pauses, noticing my failing state, to sit me on the carrier.
I stammer at the thought of her. There’s no way she can still have a part in this. I try to speak, but my parched tongue won’t budge.
“Sir, we need to get her back to the refuge. There’s no telling for how long she’s been in the absorption tube.”
This is all too much. A maelstrom of thoughts concerning Sheradyn, my past, and my alleged past rips through my conscience. And now an absorption tube? Is that what they call the metal crypt? Bright runes burn red on my skin, urging me to do what I know best. Run. It’s all I know, or think I know.
The runes have a voice of their own. It kills the maelstrom.
Recede. Let me guide you.
I feel my eyes grow heavy. I have not slept in weeks. Times that I had to rest, I was up crying my eyes out over losing Bobby. And that damned Sheradyn! Thinking of her drowns me with inescapable fury. Her violet eyes, designer clothes, and that voice. God, that voice.
“Get her sedated, boss.”
“There’s no need for that, Tarkin.”
Their faces begin to blur. My body shakes.
That’s it, Sophia. Forfeit control. Almost there.
I try to hold on to their words, but I’m slipping. With every dazed blink, a cerise cloud behind my eyelid darkens, grows richer, thicker. I feel her coming up my throat, and choking on her tangled hair. I can’t breathe. Crimson becomes me.
“General, we’re losing her! Quit standing there and do something, damnit!”
That’s it, baby girl. I’ll take care of you.
My eyes flutter open to an orchid expanse. Then I see him within the fog. “Bobby!” I yell, but his image fades away. Shadows of my past dance around me, a silhouette ball. My mother, dressed in her beautiful golden gown, is pressed against my father, and they sway with the rhythmic silence. Their blown kisses hit me in tufts, pacifying tranquility.
A flock of glimmering meadow larks and hawks glide past, their songs changing the pace of pirouetting shadows. I giggle at the sight and run to join my family in the mist. But before I can get close, the vapor turns to a violent downpour of galactic tears.
The birds are empty shadows in the sky. Gaiety turns to loneliness, as I am abandoned in a limitless expanse. Within moments, everything fades to reveal a little box.
The box is wrapped in periwinkle ribbon – my favorite color – and it sparkles under the dreamscape’s infinite light. The present is electrically charged, the static tickling me as I hold it in my palm. The lid comes off with ease, and I peer into the case, finding a strand of red hair.
Suddenly, the scape turns black, and I scream. Furious cackling shatters the sky, and red hair falls endlessly from the gorge. I feel a bulge form under my eye, and I pull loose long strands of hair. With every terrified scratch and tug, it continues to flow.
My stomach erupts scorched hair into my esophagus, burning strands snared between my teeth. It rips my tongue backwards, down my throat. I feel a pair of cold hands around my neck. The ground begins to fall in pieces into an ashen abyss. A pair of violet eyes beckons me forward, and I fall. The gravity of Sheradyn’s voice pins me to the wall, which was swiftly spiraling down to an obsidian snare.
“Bring me back!” My muffled screams fill the chamber. “Take me back now!” At last, the shadows subside, and I escape through the darkness.
I come to in the middle of the jungle. Instantly, I survey my body, scratching. My voice is hoarse and my body aches, but the red runes are gone. “General –” My voice is exhausted. But the scene in which I am placed needs no words.
Corpses lie scattered about, scorched beyond recognition. I recognize Tarkin from his old cloak, and the man beside him must be the general – the Renegades, each of them, all dead. A miasmic smog drowns the forest, filling it with the putrid stench of blood and shit.
Runes similar to my own cover the ground. The portion of sky directly above my spot in the jungle is cracked and stained amber. Among the Renegade and Pale bodies are also those of birds and other wildlife. Black blood oozes from a crevasse. The land has been poisoned… Surely, I couldn’t.
My fingers trickle with newfound passion, and a flurry of conflicting memories and words flood my mind. So, I run. I run as fast as I fucking can. Not even the bloody tears in my eyes and an infected shoulder can slow me down.
I won’t deny them their humanity like they did to us. They labeled us Disgraced, as if they have any ounce of grace themselves. For thousands of years, my kind took part in a grand charade; in our mind we became human. But deep within, we knew we’d have to face the truth someday.
We speak the same language as the humans, walk the same; we eat just as they eat. We were the neighbors who greeted the newcomers with a cupcake basket the moment they moved in next door. But the similarities weren’t enough. We were trapped, beautiful angels forced to live a filthy pig pen, controlled by savages. They treated us like monsters, so we became monsters.
While we share space, we Disgraced are further separated by our luster. Some exhibit their luster outwardly in the form of a physical attribute, while others are more inwardly focused and thus are infinitely more intelligent. Inwardly-focused Disgraced are more apt to survive in these tumultuous times; it’s just the other side that has a hard time blending in.
“So what do you think we’re going to get for bringing in this witch?” The voices echo in my metal chamber.
“Lovers and gold, my friend; lovers and gold.”
“Both of you shut the fuck up! Unless you want to join it,” Eric snaps.
It. That’s all we are to them now, and it’s sickening. Thousands more are brought to the Pale every day, placed in shackles and fed to the Stolks.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time, before the Pale, in which I believed I had feelings for the pathetic shrew. With Eric’s blonde hair and chiseled chin, he would be a total catch if he wasn’t bat-shit crazy.
The rugged road brings me back home. I can still visualize the look on Daisy’s face when I told her I knew her secret, that I caught her kissing Daphne Varlin in the graveyard. She was horrorstruck, until I told her next time to find somewhere a little more romantic, and she might just have a partner for life. It didn’t take a scholar to see they were in love, but in our small town the only thing worse than being Disgraced was a homosexual. Not a second goes by that I don’t wish they would’ve turned me and not Daisy. She was so pure.
Suddenly, we stop moving. “Renegades! In the hills!” The men mumble and I hear them bunch outside the globe. Then there is a charged hum, different than the Sizzlers. The last time I heard this sound was the night Bobby and I were ambushed.
We don’t have a name for it, but its hum is the sound of nightmares. It’s a weapon capable of harnessing luster – the humans’ way of leveling the field.
“Stay away!” I yell, slapping the cold steel wall, as if that’ll do anything.
The fight ensues, but I remain blind within my spherical prison.
“There!” one of them shouts, launching the weapon. The piercing shrill of the gun amplifies within the cooker; my right eardrum bursts, the force blowing the orb and me off the carrier. The door hinge pops slightly, allowing enough of a hole for me to spectate.
It is a full-blown ambush. For every Pale soldier there are at least three Renegades. Whips of cobalt energy clap through the air, electrocuting a few soldiers. Eric is right in the middle of them, safe under a special, plasmic shield, blasting them with the super weapon. I watch seven Renegades melt under one shot. But more come from the mountain. It’s as if Eric kicked an anthill, and now he has to deal with the ants.
I shove a finger through the hole in an attempt to loosen the door, to no avail. Luster pulses throughout my body, itching to join the fight. If I can escape and have time to focus, I can obliterate them all in one swipe. I can be free.
Eric disappears from my sight and things quieten down. A foot obscures my peeping hole. “Hey!” I shout. “I’m stuck in here! Help! Please!” I’ve never sounded so desperate in my life.
Something rips the door out and brings me out in a single swoop. A fist of boulders sinks into my flesh and tosses me into the air.
Angry, carmine streams of light flow from my palms and grip the trees, allowing me to softly fall back to the ground. Inside, I am aching to go total-psycho on these dudes, but I can’t risk the energy loss knocking me out for hours like last time. The runes are already forming on my body; I can feel them burn into my clothes. I’m a ticking time bomb.
“Who the hell are you?” The man wears a tattered coat, his long hair loose against his shoulders. The others are in position, ready for retaliation should I turn out to be as crazy as I appear.
One of them comes from behind and pats my back, reminding me of the Sizzler bolt that was still lodged in there. “Stand down, Tarkin. This is Sophia.” The group erupts in gasps and whispers. Then, the man turns to me. “It’s nice to finally put a face to the legend, I must say,” he says, chuckling.
I have no idea what the fuck this dude has been smoking, but I want some of it.
My feet trample the freshly-fallen snow as I sprint across the field. Every step sends my body quivering, my mind shouting for me to stop and just let them take me. I can’t go on forever, I know that. Capture is inevitable, but I’ll be damned if I made it easy for the bastards.
Scarlet bursts crack and pop against the tree line. Sizzler bolts zip and shatter in the air beside me, my face chapped from the bullets’ mini explosions.
I spy two Fangclush guards running for the gate. They think I want to hijack one of the copters, but I’m no fool; perhaps if Bobby were with me, that would be an option, with his experience with the Glaritor equipment. I have better chances of surviving in the jungle.
Another explosion, it was Raina’s shack, recalling the time we all sat at her bar making small talk just before the invasion. That was the evening Bobby proposed. If only I had said yes.
There had to be at least seven of them on my trail, and from the charge in the air, more were coming. I barrel over a short barricade and run into the jungle. Aside from the frantic huffs and Sizzler shots, I hear a pack of Stolks howling.
Distracted, I tumble over a frozen stump and fall face-first into a boulder. Before I have to react, a Sizzler splices my shoulder and I slump in the snow, frozen. In moments, I am surrounded by an army of glistening soldiers. Despite my pain, I don’t utter a sound. I can’t.
The packmaster approaches me and removes his visor. It’s Eric. He still sports the gnarly burn I gave him last time we met. “Told you I’d find you,” he spits, motioning for the others forward. “Put her in the tank before the bolt wears off.” Then, to a sluggish responder: “Now!”
This was not the Eric I grew up with, the younger boy whose family I ate brunch with every Sunday. He was forever changed by the Pale. “Go to hell,” he adds, before two beefy men hurled me into a metal globe. Oh, Eric, I’m already there.
After a few minutes, the paralysis wears off and I am finally able to wipe the blood and soot from my eyes. Rage boils inside me; I see a light flicker in my skin, but I extinguish it. If I were to use my power now, I’ll just end up frying myself in this meat cooker. Instead, I lay my shattered head against the cold steel and dream of the bubbling tar I am going to reduce Eric to the second he opens this dark crypt. For the first time since the takeover, I smile.
The knife goes in
Slices with ease
Smells of cheddar cheese