Episode 2: Corruption
5th of Eluviesta
Yumi struggled against her silver chains. She had never thought that silver of all things would keep her bound. Silver, she hissed in her mind, was to keep weaker beings bound. She caught herself thinking those words and shuddered, pushing them out of her mind. Still she struggled, and yet the more she twisted and turned the tighter her bindings became.
Although the battle before her capture, exposure to silver and her struggles hadn't left her too tired, her bindings were too tight to allow her to attack and free herself when a drow underling carefully entered her cell. He struggled with his two burdens as he made his way through the large iron door, a bag and a large, flat piece of white hot iron in his hands. She sneered defiantly, the effect losing some of its intimidation factor because her eyes followed the glowing piece of metal as the drow set down his bag and hefted the iron towards her.
It took everything she had not to scream out in agony when the drow pressed the metal to her face. Flesh sizzled and boiled, the blinding pain receding slightly only when the drow pulled away the iron. Too quickly for her to recover he pressed the metal to another area of the colonist's face watching her body twitch and shudder as she tried to contain her agony. Again he removed the iron, only to reapply it somewhere else. The fifth application of the searing pain was too much for her control and she screamed.
The drow pulled back at the sound, emitted at a higher pitch than a normal human due to her vampiric nature. It was enough of a break from the torture to allow her to focus her mind and she realized that she wasn't as defenseless as it seemed. Elves had sensitive ears, she suddenly recalled, and drow more so than surface elves. She screamed again, intentionally this time, making such a high pitched noise that the drow dropped his iron and ran for the door, retreating as quickly as he was able.
Yumi, stunned, looked to the bag. She manipulated her position so she could investigate the contents of the bag. A few silver coins, a book called 'the Underforge' which the Colonist did not even want to begin contemplating the plot of, and a few painted stones were among the contents. It wasn't as if she had been expecting to find a key, but still Yumi was disappointed by this bag of mundane objects.
The door opened again, and she prepared her scream for the underling. Instead, Dhaune entered. She seemed almost tired, and she was obviously pained to see her former lover in such a state. "Before you say anything, I want you to know that this wasn't my idea. Kidnapping William was, but not you or Ulrich."
"Ulrich? Is he here? Where are you keeping him?!" Yumi demanded.
"I misspoke. Ulrich is not here. I was tasked with finding you. William was to find Ulrich. He did not succeed," Dhaune said. "Emma lath, the things we did to William to make him submit... Those are things no one should have to endure. Join us of your own volition, please. I don't want to see you hurt anymore."
Yumi hissed. "I am far past believing such petty lies and you know it. You have done nothing but hurt me."
"And you have done nothing but hurt yourself!" Dhaune shouted. "Yes, I know that I did you wrong. But I love you, and I always have! Deep down, you love me still. Don't you?" The general got on her knees and held Yumi's face in her hands, careful not to touch the wounds. How had she endured such agony without shedding a single tear? Her hands chilled, and while at first Yumi seemed calm, her eyes suddenly filled with fire, and the skin on her face cracked when her expression became feral. Dhaune shot back, and she nearly knocked over the foot servant that had escorted her. The Colonist looked up in time to lay eyes on Hiroki Ishiyama, her long lost little brother. "By the Destruction Mother. Yumi, you're... You're a vampire!" She cursed herself for not seeing it sooner.
Hiroki's eyes widened and Dhaune looked up at him. Cruelly, she smirked. "You always said she would come for you, da'len. Here she is. Go to her." She stood and pushed the young Nihonjin boy into the cell. He dropped the books and scrolls he carried and turned in a vain attempt to secure his escape as Dhaune slammed the iron door. Slowly, Hiroki turned to look at his sister, whose face had relaxed. There was a long silence.
Yumi finally opened with a joke. "Don't tell Mom and Dad."
Hiroki wasn't really in the mood. "What, that you had an elven lover or that you're a vampire?"
She winced. "Both." Hiroki hid a smile, but it faded. Yumi motioned for him to come closer, but he seemed reluctant to trust a vampire. "I'm so sorry, little brother. I should have come sooner. No one on the surface knows how to enter Maera."
He folded his arms. "Understandably. Only a few elves in Maera know how the gates operate. It has something to do with blood magic. As if you needed another excuse to hate them."
Yumi bit her tongue. Now was not really the time to discuss political correctness. "I'm just so glad to see that you're... well, alright isn't exactly how I'd put it." She felt something clawing inside of her. It felt like... hunger.
Hiroki let his arms fall. "You have no idea what it was like to be down here for all this time!" He cried out. He admitted that Dhaune likely kept him out of the worst of it, but he was still subject to her. She teased, ridiculed and beat him. "I was all alone," he finished.
Yumi shifted. "That's all in the past now. I'm here, and you won't be alone ever again!" She said confidently. "I'm going to get us out of here, if it's the last thing that I do."
Hiroki suddenly started to cry. "What makes you so sure?!" He demanded. He rushed to his sister, wrapping his arms around her. "I waited... and waited for you... but... while I waited… she... grew stronger and... stronger!" He sobbed. "I... am so... afraid that they're... going... to... kill us!"
He was so close. Closer than he'd ever been. She pulled him even closer. "Do not worry little brother." She cooed. "They cannot kill what is already dead."
Hiroki was confused. "...What?" He asked. Before he could pull away, Yumi attacked his neck, sinking her vampiric teeth deep into his veins. His line of sight became blurry and his breathing grew shallow. He slowly lost consciousness, and Yumi gently placed him on the floor. Empowered by his blood, and impatient for his turning to be completed, Yumi pulled the silver chains out of the walls. She ran icy fingers across the place the iron had struck. There was no wound.
Laura looked out over the skyline from her new quarters. She had survived the battle, but so far, she only knew of one other Hero who had shared her good fortune. What of the others?
She looked quickly over her shoulder, as if she had caught someone staring at her. She saw only the servant. "You may go." She dismissed quickly.
"But, Your Highness, I am not finished with your bedtime preparations!" The servant argued.
"I can finish them myself! Leave!" She ordered. The servant curtsied and scurried out of the room. Laura shakily removed her battle robes and replaced them with light, airy sleepwear. She then let the braids out of her hair, her hands shaking as they ran through her fair locks. Laura grabbed the dagger from the bottom drawer of the vanity.
She remembered her interrupted experiment on the ship and considered it again now. She even rationalized it. A new stronger Lyoko demanded a new stronger leader, no? Twisting the blade in her hands, she considered the deed.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the Lyokian doors that led out to the balcony. She slammed the dagger down and turned in shock. Christophe M'Bala waved at her. Hiding a smile, she opened the doors for him. "Am I to assume that the guards wouldn't let you in?"
He laughed. "I'm sure that they would have, but I figured that this was too important to risk being turned away." He closed the doors for the Empress. "Captain LeDuc has Ulrich. He is recovering and should be fine by morning.
Laura let out a sigh of relief. "That's wonderful news!" She said. "But why does Captain LeDuc have him?"
Christophe shrugged. "She's taken a liking to him. Had Heïdi bring him back to the ship." He frowned when he saw the look of expectation on her face. "I'm afraid I don't have news other than that, however. The others are not with us."
She blinked. "Of course. I had hoped... Never you mind. Thank you for informing me." Nervously, she stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. "If you want, I could ask the servants to prepare you a room? I-I don't know how long your walk back to the ship is." She was kicking herself in her mind. She sounded as awkward as she felt. How could she rule a country if she couldn't talk to a boy that she liked?
He blushed and held his cheek. "I... appreciate the offer, Your Majesty, but I promised Emily that I would return as soon as I was able." He could see her heart sink. He smiled and added, "...you know what? I've changed my mind. I think I will stay."
Laura smiled, but she was obviously flustered. "Didn't you just say that she wanted you to report back soon?"
"I'll apologize to her in the morning." He shrugged. Laura giggled and called a servant to prepare a room. This servant, a young elf of roughly thirteen, flushed at the sight of Christophe, and her face turned red as she looked back to the Empress. "I'll take it that they aren't used to seeing Southerners around here." He said flatly.
She laughed. "I think it's more of the fact that you're in my bedchamber." She said. With sarcasm dripping from her voice she added, "An unmarried woman of status with a dashing rogue in her bedchamber? My, what will the nobility say?"
They laughed together, and they spoke for a long time. Too soon, however, did the servant return and take Christophe away. Laura was alone once more, and as she it had for many days, her solitude led to dark thoughts. Grabbing the dagger to twist in her palm was second nature at this point, as if it had been part of her life forever and not a few days. The blood filled her palm, and for the first time, she was not interrupted. The blood in her hand was warm, and it created songs in her mind. This warmth... this raw untapped power…
It frightened her, and she banished the thoughts from her mind. She watched her reflection, her nervous hazel eyes twitching and filling with fearful tears, her lips quivering as she bit them to calm herself, the shakiness of her arms... Laura threw her battle robes over the mirror and blew out the candles. She then buried herself under her blankets and whimpered until she was too tired to remain awake.
Aelita held onto Jeremie as Edna began preparing the ritual chamber. The Outcast had cursed herself repeatedly for forgetting his other arm, and though her Hahren had decreed it would be a detail that could not be addressed at the moment she could not banish her worry over it. Aelita turned when she felt a tap at her shoulder.
An elven girl from the Uncharted South stood behind her, and Aelita noted she was roughly Milly's age. Her black hair was in dreadlocks, and they were pulled back. "Hahren Edna asked me to give this to you." This girl, whom Edna had called Tamiya, handed her a thick, scary-looking book. The older elf's heart sank when the book did not sing, meaning it was written in the common. Aelita shot a glance at Edna before Tamiya added, "I marked the ritual for you. Be careful, lethallan. No path is darker than when your eyes are shut," She warned.
Aelita blinked before opening to the marked page. Her eyes filled with tears, though she wiped them away as she shot one last glance at Jeremie before leaving the ritual chamber. Odd sat outside, his fingers locked and pressed against his lips. He saw her and stood. "What's wrong?" He asked, "Other than the obvious."
She started to shake, as if the strength in her legs had failed her and she was about to collapse. She hung her head and suppressed tears. She took great interest in her toes, and she shoved the open book at him. "C...can you read this for me?"
"What, too chicken to read it yourself?" Odd teased, but she didn't laugh. Instead she started crying, not as if she was mourning like she had when Jeremie had died or when she was betrayed, but as if she was ashamed. As if her pride had been broken.
In that moment, it all made sense. No one had even seen Aelita read unless it was in the elven language, which spoke to her. Everything she knew she had either experienced or had been taught orally. And they'd all seen Lowel Tyron. He was old fashioned--he likely still abided by the old laws that kept changelings down. Aelita was asking him to read for her because she did not know how to do it herself, and it had taken a lot to do it.
Gently, Odd took the book from her, apologizing for his rude comment. He looked at the ritual outlined there and made a face. This ritual required the heart of a deer, the lungs of a bear and many other macabre ingredients. But that was not the part that bothered him.
This necromantic ritual required sacrifices. Virgin sacrifices. He remembered joking with Aelita about the concept of a virgin sacrifice, and yet, here it was in... dark red and... what was that color, anyway? Pale beige? Stained ivory? It didn't matter. "Aelita, it says we need virgins to sacrifice."
She sighed, wiping away her tears. "Then virgins we will find."
"We can't sacrifice innocent people! Jeremie wouldn't want that!" Odd protested.
"Who said anything about innocents?" Aelita countered. "There are plenty of slaver camps in this area. Some of them specialize in... well, in slaves like they wanted me to be. In those camps, they wouldn't dare damage their 'property' physically. A broken spirit, a girl scared mute? No one minds. Too many scars from lashings, or... or other things..." She rubbed her arms. "That damages the value."
"I don't follow."
"I'm sure we can find virgin slavers in those kinds of camps. Those slavers are more in it for money and mind games than sex." She looked away. Odd wasn't convinced, but he figured she knew more about it than he did, and felt it would be inappropriate to challenge her.
He looked back to the book. "I'll look for the virgins, okay? You find a deer heart, a pair of bear lungs, the wings of a vampire bat, an orc's tusk, the finger of a goblin and... what in Tartarus does this say? ...And the lock made of hair of...? Oh. And a lock of Jeremie's hair."
Strangely, she seemed fine. "I can find most of those in the wight market. You just hurry, okay?" She dug through the bag on her shoulder and handed him a piece of parchment set in stone, a figure of the Creation Father drawn on it. "This will allow you to enter the city once you have them." She murmured that it would've been nice to know that an entry pass to get in, as she would've salvaged the one from Edna's aravel.
As Aelita scurried towards the markets, Odd tried his best to navigate to the front gates. When he reached them, the guards looked rather annoyed that a halfling had wandered into their city, but they saw the pass, and they were obligated to let him in and out.
The forests around Arlathan were dense. Odd used the wolf to listen to the world around him. He heard many of the birds and other animals, but he couldn't hear any human voices. He twisted his face in contemplation as he looked to his feet. "I suppose it couldn't hurt…" The Scout muttered as he unlaced his boots and pulled them off. He wasn't sure that the Creator's Sight was present in a halfling, but he'd try anything once.
He was pleasantly surprised when it worked, though this sight seemed muddled and altogether unclear. He was able to make out a camp of people, and some of the figures were clearer than others. He assumed that these people were elves, and that they were barefoot. This, he decided, was as good a lead as any, so he threw his boots into the backpack and ran towards the figures.
He was paying far too much attention to where the figures were as opposed to what was in front of him, so he crashed into a tree. As he recoiled and regained his bearings, he came to the conclusion that, while he had some form of the Creator's Sight, the trees would not get out of his way as they would for the wilders.
He continued his journey, occasionally stopping to make sure he wasn't getting off-track. Eventually Odd found himself near to the camp, and he ducked behind some bushes and waited. There were eight humans--seven men and one woman--in leather and iron, all carrying weapons. Some even carried spears adept for throwing. They certainly looked like slavers, but Odd had no other reason to suspect them of slavery until an elven woman walked up to one. Odd could see that they were arguing, but then the armored man she'd spoken to slapped her and revealed a whip.
Odd, talented as he was, knew a frontal assault would be suicide. He looked around to spot a high place relatively well hidden, but he jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. He spun around to see Aelita crouching behind him. "You scared me half to death!" He hissed, "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be gathering ingredients!"
"I bought them all! Edna is preparing them now." She whispered. "I figured I might help you. I've got a sled so we can drag the slavers back to the city." Sure enough, there was a sled behind her, and she reassured him that she could get it back to Arlathan.
"No point in arguing." He muttered.
"Is this a slaver camp?" Aelita asked as she, too, hid in the bush.
Nodding, he said, "Looks that way." He waved her in closer. "You create a distraction while I go hide in that tree. I'll signal you when I'm ready."
She nodded, and she didn't wait to hear what the signal was. Odd shrugged and snuck over to a nearby tree.
Aelita marched into the camp, realizing a half second too late that she didn't have a plan. She was spotted by the slavers, and while she was terrified and reliving past agony, she knew that she could not turn away. The slaver leader, a woman with a shaved head and a scar over her eye, seemed maliciously excited to see the Outcast. "Well, well, boys. A volunteer!" She cracked her knuckles. "Clap 'er in irons and see what the brothel will pay for 'er."
Her knees quaking in fear, Aelita took a deep breath and summoned Samahlin--thankfully, Edna had agreed not to take it before Jeremie regained consciousness. She unconsciously took a timid step back, and her stance was weak. Her mouth was dry, but she mustered what was left of her courage and said, "I have to warn you, I am stronger than I look."
The head slaver laughed, but she stopped when she heard a wolf howl. "I thought you said you'd fought off all of the animals." She said to one of them, who defended himself from the small stone she threw at him. Suddenly, the head slaver was pounced upon by a feral-looking Odd. He hit her until she fell unconscious while Aelita fought off the others. Mostly she tried to cause non-lethal injuries on the slavers to incapacitate them, though the Outcast noted that a stone she threw at one of them that crushed his face and likely killed him instantly.
Overall, the fight was unexciting and anti-climactic. These slavers had plenty of bark, but their bite was limited. Odd shook the wolf spirit out as best he could before patting Aelita's shoulder. "Good idea, acting helpless. They didn't even see me coming." He complimented, and she grinned in an unspecific way. "I'll check the slavers. You go help the slaves."
She nodded, shrinking Samahlin and approaching the slaves, who had cowered near the supply crates. She offered her hand to them, and one of the oldest girls, about fourteen, took her hand. The Outcast helped her to her feet, and the other girls followed her lead. "Who sent you? Why did you come here?" The girl asked.
Aelita opened her mouth to explain, but she thought better of it. "That's not important. Are you hurt?"
The slave girl looked at the others. "No more than usual."
Odd approached. "How many of these do you want to take back with us?" He asked.
"I don't know exactly. Two or three, just to be safe." Aelita said before a glimmer of gold in her peripheral vision caught her attention. She quieted one of the whimpering girls before she cautiously walked towards this strange bit of gold. It came from inside of a crate, one of the boards having cracked. She pulled it open and revealed a box of glass vials holding a glowing liquid almost like liquid gold, but when she touched it; it was cold, as if it was sucking the heat from her body. On one of the boards was a word painted in bright red letters. "Odd, what does this say?" She called out reluctantly.
Tearing himself away from the ropes he was tying, the Scout walked over to where her voice had come from. He, too, was confused by this strange liquid, but he read the board. "It says 'amber'."
"It doesn't look like any kind of amber I've ever seen." She said. She picked up the crate and carried it to the sled. "I'll have Edna look at it when we get back."
Odd, almost afraid of this liquid, was in no position to disagree. "So, do you have everything you need?" She nodded, and he looked to the slavers that were unnecessary. "What do you want to do with them?"
"Why are you asking me?"
"You're the ex-slave here."
She shot him a lopsided grin. "Technically, so are you."
"My experience pales in comparison to yours."
Aelita examined the four slavers that Odd had tied up. She spotted a mace one of them had dropped and picked it up. She carried it to the slave girl who had trusted the duo first. The young girl backed away from it, her brown eyes filled with apprehension. "What are you doing?" She asked, her voice shaking.
"I am asking you to do as I did when I was in your shoes." She pushed the mace closer to her. "You see this weapon. Take it."
"B-but I don't know how to fight!"
"You don't have to. This is a matter of revenge, not war."
The girl was still frightened, but it didn't seem to be directed at Aelita. She reached out and grabbed the mace timidly, and she struggled under its weight when the Outcast removed her hands. Aelita summoned a spectral deer and attached it to the sled.
The newly freed slaves watched the duo as they rode away. One of the slavers ordered them to release him. The girl looked at him, and in that moment, she mustered all of her strength to bring the mace onto his skull, shattering it and splattering her with his blood. There was a silence afterward, and the other slaves screamed viciously as they grabbed weapons and sent their tormentors down to their deaths.
The closer it came to the event of Jeremie's resurrection, the less sure Odd became of Aelita's actions. He knew why she was doing it, and he knew that nothing would dissuade her. Yet as he looked at the slavers he could not help but pity them. Evil as they were, they were still locked in cages and afraid for their lives. Part of him thought they deserved no less, while the other part of him thought it would be better to kill them. He didn't know if these were his own feelings or the wolf's influence. If it was the wolf, he had no way of knowing which part was which.
Aelita meticulously stirred the vile-smelling slop in her cauldron as Edna watched. Tamiya had finished prepping Jeremie's corpse and was using her magic to allow the starlight in. Edna murmured that a new moon as opposed to a full moon would increase their chances of successful resurrection, but Odd couldn't help but think that it was silly superstition. "Da'len, are you sure you know how the ritual will proceed?"
"I'm positive," The Outcast said, adding under her breath, "You've only explained it to me five times."
Edna continued preparations, conjuring runes and muttering incantations. Suddenly there was an explosion of black smoke from the cauldron, knocking Aelita back and frightening the others. "I thought you said we had more time!" Tamiya shouted.
"Not the time!" Edna shouted back. "Don't be afraid, Aelita!" She urged as she forced Odd and Tamiya out, slamming the door.
Aelita was then alone as the concoction transformed into smoke, swirling towards the starlight. She rapidly cut herself, the scent of her blood drawing the smoke back. The smoke followed her as she danced, luring it into runes. The runes activated, trapping the unholy mist in its clutches.
Using the combined energies of the mists and the spirit Hunger, Aelita sundered the Veil. It created a deafening noise and knocked her off of her feet again, and the vortex of ethereal energy pushed against her. She forced herself up and dragged her body back to the altar where the ritual began before trapping her feet in earth to secure her footing. She looked at the slaver leader and grabbed hold of her blood.
The slaver screamed as Aelita's magic clawed at her. The Outcast pulled the blood closer, forcing the slaver against the iron bars. When she could come no closer, the blood ripped out of her skin. She gave out a deafening scream, almost louder than the sundered Veil. With her blood in her control, Aelita offered it to the tear, and despite the screams and thunderous sound of the torn Veil, she commanded, "Bring me his soul!"
The tear absorbed the blood and mist, and in return, a bright light was given off. But as it grew closer to the corpse of the Wise Man, it grew to be tainted, impurity soaking into him. Panicking, Aelita grabbed the blood of one of the other slavers and ripped it from him, offering it, too, to the tear. Instead of asking for a soul, she asked for a spirit to remove the taint.
The thunderous sounds clapped once more, and then it stopped. The tear was still present, but the darkness reaching for Jeremie slowed almost to a stop, and a crystal clear blue light swirled around it. The darkness and the swirling light reached Jeremie at the same time, and then there was nothing. It had ended as suddenly as it began. The tear closed itself by absorbing the final slaver's soul, leaving behind a desiccated corpse. Aelita released the earthen trap on her feet, and she ran to Jeremie's side.
At first she saw nothing, no change in him that showed whether or not he was alive. Devastated, she started to cry, and she felt her arm and her face burn. She looked to the vallaslin on her arm. Starting at her wrist, it had begun to glow an ominous-looking red. She was afraid of what it meant, but her terror was soon redirected as Jeremie's eyes snapped open. He started to cough, and the wound where his arm was gone begun to bleed profusely.
Quickly, Aelita placed her hand on his forehead and lulled him to sleep. As he slept, she tried to hold back his blood, but she'd used so much of her magic that it became increasingly difficult even to stay awake. Her nose started to bleed. Looking towards the great mahogany doors, she shouted, "Help! Help!"
The doors opened, and Edna rushed in, followed soon by Tamiya. Edna looked from her former apprentice to the now-living corpse, and she pulled Aelita away. "Tamiya, take her to the infirmary!"
"Ma nuvenin, hahren," Tamiya said as she led Aelita away. She fought against her, shouting for Edna to let her stay, but she was weak, and Tamiya was stronger than she looked. Edna summoned a crystal, and then a small amount of electricity. The electricity carved runes into the crystal, and the leader of the Aloten clan held it near the wound. The blood bonded to the crystal, and with a wave of her hand, roots began to grow and take form as an arm. She waited until the fingers had formed to use healing magic to finish the bond.
Having no choice but to wait, Edna closed the doors and meditated as she waited for the Wise Man to wake.