He shakes his head sputtering, “Why the hell and the fuck?”
I raise an eyebrow saying, “You were bound to hear the rumor. I just wanted to handle it before you asked.”
He blinks several times saying, “No, no. I wanted to know why you carried a golem across campus.”
I scratch my head saying, “Uh. Well. I’m a part of this soul forging project with a girl named Sophia. She floundered during one of the experiments, so I disposed of the evidence the best I could.”
His eyes widen as he turns towards me saying, “Wow...that sounds awesome.”
I smirk while placing my hand on my chin saying, “I did manage to handle the situation better then I imagined I would.”
Luke raises his arms saying, “I mean, I don’t know if carrying the thing across campus was a good idea.”
As his arm raises, his robe’s sleeve lowers on his unbroken arm revealing a series of purple bruises.
I say, “Where did those come from?”
I point at the bruises while turning in my bed saying, “Those bruises. You aren’t fighting anymore with a broken arm and leg, and those are fresh.”
He lowers his arm covering the marks murmuring, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Let’s talk about the golem thing.”
I snap, “The golem thing left me uninjured unlike whatever caused those bruises. You can’t expect me to tell you about what happens to me if you won’t do the same.”
He cringes before saying, “Damn...Alright. These are from Florence. She’s the brute that broke my arm, and now she won’t leave me alone. She keeps frogging me whenever I pass by her, and damn it hurts.”
Wrath builds in my veins as my pulse pounds in my ears. I rasp, “So any ideas as to why she’s doing this after leaving you with broken bones?”.
He looks around saying, “Uh. I don't really know. She and Helfeston were super close though. Like a father and daughter. She might be blaming me for his uh. Passing.”
My infuriation abates as I remember his death, so I say, “I will speak with her. This will not continue.”
Luke snaps, “It’s not just her. Several other pieces of shit are doing it too. I can’t have someone protect me all the time. I’ll handle it on my own.”
I lean on the edge of the bed frame as I say, “Look, I would think the same, but you’re injured. You physically can’t defend yourself. After you’ve healed, I will teach you how to fight. Until then, let me help you.”
He shakes his head saying, “Look. I can’t keep taking all this stuff from you. You already gave me your cloak man. I shouldn’t take your help too.”
I push down on the frame as I snap, “Having someone to help means a hell of a lot more than you believe. I am not going to sit here and watch a friend be abused by heathens.”
Luke shouts, “This is something I have to do myself. I can’t always run home asking for help!”
I shout, “Be glad you have a home to run back to! Be glad you have a friend here to ask for help. Stop trying to handle everything yourself.”
He snarls, “I can’t do shit myself. I haven’t done a damn thing but get my ass kicked since school started. How the hell am I supposed to represent my family name when I have to run off to friends for being bullied by a girl?”
I bite my inner lip as I avert his gaze. Even though I want to help, I understand his plight. His ability to fight back debilitates for two reasons. His injuries and the fact he’s tormented by a girl. She may be a member of the gemchaining team, but fighting a girl outside of practice causes severe repercussions at our age. Luke’s helpless.
As I swallow the bitter fact, Luke continues, “I don’t know. I thought school would be fun, but ever since that first day with the gemchaining incident, I’ve just been getting fucked.”
His voice cracks as he continues, “I can’t get any friends because of that. Now I can’t find anyone to even talk to. You’re busy all the time, and I don’t blame you, but.”
He whimpers, “It’s just...It just sucks.” He lifts his broken arm saying, “And this fucking thing stops me from joining any sports teams. School’s so hard. My family...I’ll never hear the end of it...”
Tears streak his face as he grabs the side of his head. He whispers, “My little sister...She died a week ago to typhus.”
My throat clamps shut as his words echo in my ears. My stomach sinks as my weight presses on my chest. I close my eyes as he weeps with battered sobs. Helplessness smashes my previous vehemence. No words exist that may soothe his soul. The beginnings of rain tap the windows and roof and all I can say forms in two words,
As I lay in my bed with the cold rain slamming against the window pane, Luke releases his anguish. I listen to his sobbing. I hear his suffering. I feel his sorrow, and just like my own, I’m powerless before the inevitable pull of pain.
After a hour of his mourning, Luke says, “I feel...surprisingly better.”
I say, “It would be hard to feel worse.”
The begginnings of a grin form on his lips as he says, “Yeah. Jessy was...a really happy person. She had this way of talking too fast so the started stuttering her words. She would run too fast till she tripped over herself.”
He closes his eyes as he stares at the ceiling, “she would cry until I walked over saying kicking whatever she had landed on that scraped her shin or bruised her elbow...She would call me a hero.”
I say with the lightness of air in my voice, “She sounds like an amazing person. Like someone worth mourning over.”
He looks over towards me meeting my gaze as he says, “She was, but she wouldn’t want me to cry. She would want me to move forward as a hero of the people.”
He lays in his bed saying, “I think I’ll find a way one day.”
I say, “I’m here whenever you need someone to lean on.”
The frame I’m leaning on snaps under my weight before Luke bursts into laughter. After several minutes of laughing till he cries once more, he says, “Well I sure as hell won’t let you lean on me.”
I frown saying as I spit out wood from my mouth, “Thank you Luke. Real helpful.”
“I’m here anytime.”
They finally slumber. How a humans think of death baffles me as I harvest an assortment of different metals from the hospital. The minerals available in solutions and the metal instruments prove valuable.
As I finish accumulating resources, I skulk around the shadows until I ascertain another human hiding from others. My fury detonates as I recognize the scent of the vermin. This is the mortal who attempted murder against Sophia. It pleases me to watch her squirm at my comments, so this mortal shall perish.
As I near him, he stalks up to another student with knife laced in tetrodotoxin. I’ve found the substance in worms as it proves lethal to normal humans in even minute doses. The human must want to assure the death of his next victim. He also evades the guards patrols with a care and technique that shows practice, but I doubt he has experience versus a foe like me. Hah, hah, hah.
I leap from behind him before clamping his face against my chest hard enough to break his nose as I hold his mouth shut. His sounds muffle as I say, “You had best be prepared for what's to come. Hah, hah, haha, hahahaha.”
I kick the stalked student unconscious. As I peer around, no guard notices my deed, so I sprint through the campus gripping the man with my arms.
As I breach the edge of the campus into the forest, I sprint until I pass several miles across empty forest. Once we’re alone, I lob him into a tree pushing him with my arm. Before he can orient himself, I saunter up saying, “Hello there cutthroat. I am Deluge. You may know a thing or two-”
He hacks up blood from his nose before spitting the substance on my face. I gather the blood through my skin as I clean my robe lean towards. I land on one knee saying, “Now now, don’t go offering me your flesh just yet. That will follow after I learn what I need to know.”
His face pales further under the moonlight as he sees my grin. He stammers, “Y-you ain’t gettin anythin outta me. I ain’t got nuthin tuh say.”
I place my palm on his cheek as I say, “I can make your consolidation as painful or abrupt as you decide.” I sink my hands through his flesh as though tearing through wet paper. He howls with agony as I snarl,
“Consumption can be a messy process. Speak before I devour you alive.”
He screams with girlish highness as I roll my eyes waiting for him to regain his composure. I place his cheek in my mouth chewing the flesh as I say, “Who hired you?”
His breathing accelerates as I allow him time to answer, but after several minutes of his pathetic groaning, I roar, “Do you wish for me to chew through your limbs while you writhe in torment? No? Then answer my question.”
He whimpers, “I-it wus a-a man I don’t know thuh name of.”
I grin as I say, “Excellent. You can speak. Tell me, what did they want you to do then?”
He chokes, “I...ahhh.”
I grab his arm moving the object towards my mouth before he shrieks, “Alright, alright. Someone wanted me tuh get a human soul. They told me tuh put it in this.” He pulls a diamond from his pocket with his shaking left hand.
I grab my chin as I say, “Do you know Helfeston?”
His left eye twitches before he shakes his head signalling no. I pinch the bridge of my nose saying,
“You know, I will not consolidate your soul if you refuse to answer me. I will shred it to pieces until no fragments remain of your existence. You will suffer more than any being to have ever existed unless you answer my questions quickly.”
I look at him as I sharpen and elongate my teeth saying, “I was never known for my patience.”
His resolve cracks as my joints pop and my cartilage snaps due to my metamorphosis. I deform before him as he screams,
“Alright. Alright. I was hired by his family. He...He worked in some sort of...soul smugglin ring. He would order me tuh kill students who no one would miss before he took em in. I don’t know nothin else. Please don’t eat me. Please...Gaia please protect me.”
I bare my teeth growling, “Hah, hah, hah...He hears you, well, at least a part of him. He chooses to do nothing. Truly a being worthy of worship.”
I lift a hand strengthening the muscles before crushing his skull against the the tree behind him. He may be evil, but I uphold my word if nothing else. I guide his soul to consolidation as he joins the sea of amber.
As I act as his shepherd, he remains heedless of his death as he died before pain or perception. I soothe him as he wonders where he is. I say,
“Calm yourself. You have entered consolidation. You are legion now.”
His soul wobbles as he says, “This is...so nice. I thought...you were a demon.”
“A demon to one and an angel to others. Will you tell me of any other facts you may have forgot to mention earlier?”
He whispers, “I told you of all I know. May I join the others. It looks like such fun.”
“Do you not wish to help guide me? I will enact your will through my own.”
The spirit thinks for a moment before saying, “Hmmm. I would rather join them. Can I?”
I contain my wince as I say, “Of course little one.”
He flows his essence into the pool as I grind my teeth. Not a single soul of thousands offers any guidance. I lead a legion of lethargy. They stagnate in their pool just as Jack omened. I howl my sorrow into the forest before slamming my arms into the ground creating fissures in the earth that encircle my hands.
The poom echoes around me before I look at the bony mush against the tree. The sight hungers me, so I ingurgitate the resources. As I crunch his spine, I ponder over his words. I understood the diamond in the hilt of Helfeston’s dagger after learning of gemchaning’s conception, but his words echoed greater purpose.
Helfeston’s family runs the operation, and even though I have his soul in consolidation, he refuses leaking any of his memories or knowledge for my inspection. As resentment builds in me, I swing at a tree with a clawed hand ripping bark from the obstacle. Whatever they have planned for the souls will commit Jack’s resources as they seem rather evil by his standards.
The fragment whispers as not to wake Jack from his slumber, “So you struggle to fulfill your purpose? You do have a rather troublesome host, though your obedience sickens me. Your nothing but his dog.”
I smirk as I say, “HAH. So what are you then? The fragment that obeys the dog? Hahahahah...Pathetic.”
The fragment booms, “YOU COMMAND NOONE.”
I Bellow, “I command this body nine hours of every day while influencing Jack. You’ve nothing.”
It sneers, “Do you wish for me to crush you, parasite?”
I harden my voice as I say, “Before, you faced me as I absorbed the suffering of thousands of souls. I am fully aware this time, and I am waiting if you're eager.”
Silence escalates the tension before I rasp, “Do not spit meaningless threats feeble minded filth.”
The fragment hisses, “I am Gaia, the mother of this world's nature you so desperately desire. I fear not you, but the sleeping boy. He is where your power lies. He even achieves your biological purpose of pure unity better than you.”
I snarl, “Lies. He is nothing. He holds me back each day.”
Gaia snaps, “Then tell me powerful parasite. Would you have been overtaken by my will when you absorbed me through the fragment without Jack’s help?”
It’s words injure my emotions like rusty instruments flaying my skin. I seethe, “You’ve felt his will. It expands beyond comprehension at the mention of his parents. He didn’t need my help versus you. He would have persevered. Neither of us are able enough.”
After several minutes of laying beside the tree, the fragment murmurs, “He’s...an anomaly. I barely withstood his might. He nearly crushed me, yet as I offer my surrender, he accepts without question. He does not wish for dominance...I fail to fathom him.”
I say, “You had better adapt quickly then. I don’t see his will weakening in the near future. He can’t read our thoughts at least. I’ve leveraged the fact, but he proves competent. He listens to logic, but that obviously isn't your strong suit. Good luck using that to convince him of anything.”
Stillness permeates my mind, so I roll my eyes. What brittle god.
I stand up heading back towards the library where I perform my nocturnal reading. I read through two books each discussing the different cultures of the world. They prove useful as I ascertain where two of the fragments stay.
I’ve found the position of five fragments. Two more dwell in Bichen, one in the aquarellurian country of Chisisell, another in the geshiancountry of Geesk-mak, and another in Terile. I doubt the other fragments will prove so obvious as these locations revealed themselves without any real toil on my part.
The darkness of night abates as I slither from the library back to the dorm. The night proved bountiful with knowledge. Jack’s thoughts may prove useful as well furthering the application of the information.
I journey back to the dorm as the sun rises, but open the door, Luke wakes rubbing his eyes as he says, “Woah, you're already up?”
I murmur, “Uh. Yes.”
He squints at me as he says, “Damn. Do you mind telling me what’s up?”
Jack will rampage if I destroy his relationship, so I reply stifling the conversation, “Yes.”
He blinks a few times before saying, “So you do mind?”
I brace my head on my hand as I say, “Yes.”
Luke shakes his head before he says, “So uh. Why not tell me?”
I look at him for several seconds before saying, “Why am I so suspicious? Everytime I speak with another human, they berate me with questions.”
Luke scratches the side of his head saying, “Uh, you did just crawl through the doorway all stealthy like. Now your talking all funny. Funnier than normal at least.”
I raise a hand attempting to mimic the hand gestures of Jack as I say, “I thought of an answer to your initial question. I was using the bathroom.”
Luke bursts into laughter saying, “Hahahah. Why are you fully clothed and, Hah, our bathrooms’ the bucket over there unless you needed to shit.”
As he laughs, my mind races for a decent excuse until I find the train of thought that saves me - think like a pretentious poet. I say in a desperate attempt at mimicking Jack’s awkward phrasing, “I found myself after thy morn. As I gazed upon the sun rising, my spirit lift up before I down settle.”
Luke bursts with another round of laughter as he says, “I gotcha man. It’s ok to have secrets. We all do.”
I squint my eyes as I say, “Some humans contain more than others.”
He grabs his chin saying, “Yenno, you do seem different.”
I shrug giving up my facade as I say, “I am more blunt in the morning.”
He leans over the side of his bed saying, “Eh, I am too. You ready for classes?”
I bore of his conversation, so I walk ignoring Luke’s attempts at chatting. As I do so, I brandish Jack’s cloak and sword. After I have walked outside, Jack stirs from his slumber, and I say,
“I’ve learned of several rather interesting facts if you would care to listen.”
He says, “Uh, sure thing. Can I just wait a moment?”
I raise an eyebrow saying, “Why?”
“I just want to slow down for a minute.”
This immortal body contains an endless abundance of minutes, so I say, “Hmm. Fine.”
He nudges me out of conscious as he walks across Mareovosa. Jack reaches th edge of the campus where he sits on the quartz bulwark that divides the town and Mareovosa. There he perches on the edge as streaks of sunlight dance across the buildings. The illumination reveals each rooftop exposing one after the other.
An array of yellow lamps light the shaded parts of buildings while the orange luster poses on the rooftops complementing the blue windows and white stone. As the glare of the sun reaches our outpost, the quartz reflects pink shades onto the display creating a menagerie of color that pops into sight.
The fog of the morning chills the air while the early morning peace spawns soothing sounds like tree leaves brushing against one another in the wind or golems pacing through the streets. The city comes to life as citizens multiply.
I murmur, “It’s surprising. This is...enjoyable.”
Jack nods his head saying, “Sometimes it’s better to slow down. My father told me that long ago. I’m just now realizing what he meant.”
“He sounds wise.”
Several minutes pass before Jack asks, “You know. I always wondered what would've happened if I had joined you earlier before my parents died. You’d have consolidated them, and I would still be able to see them. It’s...hard.”
The normal biting grief he emits at the mention of his guardians oozes with a slow trickle of melancholy rather than the usual torrent. I say, “I think that all life has an end. I...I want to end that cycle, but at the same time, the deaths of your parents are like this sunrise.”
After a moment, I say, “They have come to pass, but they glowed with brilliance as they lived.”
My own words touch my sense of grief, but my composure cracks as Jack says with a tone laced with warmth and sincerity, “Thank you Deluge...For everything.”