Friday, December 25, 2015

Expertus Metuit

     For two days Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis had spent his afternoons silently watching The Inquisitor’s team at work. Generally speaking, he wouldn’t give a second thought to physical coercion as a method of obtaining information. However, after what he’d seen in the chamber hidden under the Heart of the Seven Faeries, he seriously contemplated ordering the Regular Militia to abstain from enhanced interrogations until a full study could be conducted regarding the efficiency of the method. It was definitely something he’d have to bring up at the next meeting of the Antigone Courts. Fortunately, The Inquisitor was a gift from his brother, Typhon the Supreme Guru of Poterit Dan, and as such was not subject to Donian law. Of course, if they were caught by Mercury’s Elite Guard, none of it would matter for they’d all pay in blood.
     The sound proof room was a blessing left by the ancient builders of the Heart of the Seven Faeries. Every Chief Justice since the first, Brandon Boreas, was privy to the sacred knowledge of the Templus de Ambros, which included immense volumes of handwritten notes given to the new Chief Justice upon assumption of the lifelong position. So many secrets, so little time, Adonis chuckled to himself, if all goes well today, we’ll finally have an answer to one of the Kaiser’s secrets. On the other side of the one way mirror, The Inquisitor worked over the old woman. It was obvious that The Inquisitor enjoyed this part of his job. If the sick smirk and glint in the man’s eyes weren’t enough, the pop tent in his pants was proof positive.
     “Scream all you like, honey. Just be glad I decided to do the hard work myself. Your husband could have saved you from all this mess,” The Inquisitor waved his hand around the blood-splattered room. “After all, I gave him the choice. Now, you are paying for it. I have five questions. Simple questions, really. You know them, but I’ll repeat myself again. And, you know how much I hate repetition,” he slid a boning knife out of his tool kit. “Who was the girl? Where did she go? How did she disappear? What was she doing there? Why did she come from the Old Sea Road instead of Avalona?”
     “Don’t,” the hoarse old man whispered, “we’ll tell you. Just don’t touch her again.”
     “See, that’s what I like to hear,” The Inquisitor crossed the room, then knelt in front of the husband, “well? Who was she?”
     “No. Martin, don’t tell him,” the old woman cried out while their daughter shook her gagged head, ‘no.’
     “She’s Mercury’s Messenger,” the old man, Martin, couldn’t look at his wife and daughter, “we never learned her name.” 
     “Where did she go?”
     “I don’t know. Any where she wanted.”
     “That’s not helpful.”
     “It’s the truth. Please, just don’t touch Daphne again,” he begged.
     “How did she disappear?”
     “Mercury’s Bracelet allows the Messenger to go anywhere in the Poterits.”
     “You expect me to believe she has a magic teleportation bracelet?”
     “Please, you have to believe me.”
     “Fine. For now. What was she doing there?”
     “She came for the secret of the Sage Gryphon.”
     “Don’t, Martin,” Daphne pleaded.
     The Inquisitor looked at her, shook his boning knife, and asked, “hich is?”
     “A riddle.”
     “Tell me.”
     “What are some born with but others without; floats when we swim but falls when we’re wet; is kept by some but lost by others; lives with us but never dies?”
     “You’re telling me she came to hear that riddle?”
     “What in Iphi’s name is she supposed to do with it?”
     “I don’t know,” Martin cried, “we only keep the riddle.”
     “Also, not helpful. Okay, so, why’d she come from the Old Sea Road instead of Avalona?”
     “Mercury’s caves are somewhere along the Sovereign Sea. She had to prove herself before she could receive the riddle.”
     “How do you know she proved herself?”
     “She was wearing Mercury’s Bracelet.”
     “Back to the magic fucking bracelet. Do you people really believe this crap you’re feeding me? Do you really think that I believe you?”
     Behind the mirror, Adonis stood absently rubbing the goosebumps that rose on his arms while listening. He thought to himself, first a Gryphon king and now the Messenger with Mercury’s Bracelet? Oh, Iphigenia! There’s no way we’ll gain the support of the people. Typhon, my brother, we have certainty. There can be no empire while history repeats. I must find Rold. Without waiting to hear what else might be revealed, Adonis left the viewing room on a mission. He walked up a set of stairs leading to the hidden entrance in the Heart of the Seven Faeries. Normally, he’d take a few minutes to appreciate the irony of a death chamber underneath the water alter that once provided all of Poterit Don with precious life. Today, he was in no mood for irony.

     “We’ve been walking for hours,” Kent Wheelock whined.
     “Shh,” Bonnie Taylor hissed.
     Kent stopped mid-stride, his arm dangling, piezo-electric flashlight casting small circles of light across the asphalt of the underground road. He bent in half stretching his back; the light nearly touched the ground. Bonnie waited patiently, as a bent over Kent rubbed his aching calves. When the young man caught up to Bonnie, he whispered, “how much longer?”
     “Shh,” Bonnie pointed to the walls.
     Kent shined his flashlight in the direction the old man pointed; aside from another one of those weird winged eyes he didn’t see anything that warranted quiet. It was the fourth one he’d seen since they started walking that morning. They were a bit different from the ones he’d seen on walls around the Gambling Strip; the wings were softer, the eyes were actually open. Some were different colors or only had one wing with the eye half closed. These were all black and wide eyed with wings spread. “I don’t get it.”
     Bonnie Taylor grabbed Kent by the arm, looked him in his good eye, and angrily said, “shh!”
     The eye blinked. This time Kent saw it. He took a step back. Shined his light on the winged eye, expecting it to blink but it just stared at the opposite wall. Kent whispered, “what the fuck is that?” And, the eye blinked again. Before Kent could say anything else, Bonnie Taylor clamped a hand across the young man’s mouth. The sheer force took Kent by surprise. For a second, they glared at each other. Bonnie shook his head, ‘no.’ This time Kent kept his mouth shut, he contemplated confronting the old man, but decided against it. Obviously, the mountain had secrets that Bonnie Taylor knew; better to ask later.
     They walked in silence for another hour when they came to a second crossroads. From the roof was hung a yellow sign that read “Junction 26.” Bonnie shined his light on each of the walls until he found a signpost, the sign for Divers City read 110 miles. At this rate, Kent thought, if we keep walking, it’ll take…what? Well, hmm…that’s just over five days. For the love of Iphigenia! Opening then quickly closing his mouth, Kent bit his tongue. It would have to wait until they were off this blasted road. Surprisingly, Bonnie turned left, away from the southern route to Divers City, onto Deposit Road headed towards Coal Station which was only 4 miles away. Oh, please, Iphi! Let this be the answer to my prayers. I cain’t handle five more days of this.
     When they reached Coal Station, Kent was flabbergasted. The outside was illuminated by dull yellow and red lights. Soft music came from inside the station. Rather than skirting the place, Bonnie headed towards the main entrance. Upon Bonnie’s opening the main door, Kent was blasted with warm, stale air. Until that moment, Kent hadn’t realized he was cold. A few feet inside, an electric sign flashed arrival and departure times. Is this place still used? Kent wondered, seeing no one around he kept his mouth tightly shut. The old man knew where they were headed; he sauntered passed the sign, ignored the closed ticket booths, and descended down some stairs. They entered a tile tunnel with graffitied odes to lost loves, cartoonish characters, and the winged eyes Kent had seen on the Gambling Strip. The young man badly wanted to stop and look at the ambiguous art, regardless, he followed Bonnie. Every few feet a new tunnel opened up, with hanging chain signs listing gates and their numbers. At the sixth one of these cross tunnels, Gates 11 & 12, Bonnie took a right. The pale white and black tiled tunnel sloped down and curved slightly, the effect was fun house disorientating. As the tunnel opened onto a train platform, Kent drew a sigh of relief, which he instantly regretted when Bonnie climbed down from the platform and began following the tracks into the dark.
     Two minutes later, Bonnie Taylor shoved open a door that read, “Emergency.” The same dull red and yellow lights that illuminated the main station cast everything in an ominous orange glow. Buttons, dials, and levers in metal boxes lined the right wall. The room was full of giant steel gears and other random mechanical contrivances. They weaved through the silent machinery to a door in the middle of the left wall. As they approached the door, they heard voices.
     Bonnie stopped, listening to the chatter, he smiled as if he recognized the speakers. To Kent he whispered, “when we get inside, follow my lead. Do not dispute anything I say to them.”
     “Who are they?” Kent quietly asked.
     “Fellow travelers,” Bonnie replied. “I can’t be sure until we enter. Though, by the giggling, I’d wager it is Carmel and Praline. Not their real names, of course.” Still whispering, Bonnie explained, “down here we don’t use real names. To travelers, I am Shadow Blade. What shall we call you, then? Hmm?” Bonnie did not wait for Kent to answer, “ah, I know. I’ll call you Myth.”
     “I don’t want to be called ‘Myth.’” Kent argued.
     “What do you want to be called, then? Remember, it must not reflect who you really are. That is a secret, a myth. You see?”
     “I don’t know. Uh, maybe, I’m a One-Eyed Jack,” Kent answered.
     “Jack Spade, you shall be,” Bonnie bowed, “pleasure to meet you.”
     “Jack Spade,” Kent let the name roll off his tongue, “I like it.”
     “Remember it. For as long as we travel among others, that is who you will be.” Bonnie ‘Shadow Blade’ Taylor motioned to the door, “time to find out who is home.”
     All the giggling and conversation stopped when Shadow opened the door. Grilled onions and peppers slapped Kent ‘Jack Spade’ Wheelock in the face, his stomach growled. He suddenly cared far less about the people and far more about whatever they were cooking. The room was an enormous efficiency with three bunk beds along the far wall, a kitchenette area including a large dining table, and two doors leading Iphigenia only knew where. Two younger women sat at the table, a third buxom middle-aged woman stood in the kitchenette. All three stared at the two men as they entered.
     “‘Ello, girlies,” Bonnie said, “something smells wonderful.”
     “Shadow!” the youngest, the bob-haired brunette, yelled.
     “Carmel,” Bonnie nodded to each, “Praline. I thought I recognized those giggles.”
     “You always had good timing,” the buxom woman said, “now, I’m glad I made so much. Hungry?”
     “Yes!” Kent answered.
     “And, who might you be?” she chewed her bottom lip while measuring him.
     “This is Jack Spade,” Bonnie said, “my nephew.”
     Praline shook her shoulder length blonde hair, “he doesn’t look a bit like you.”
     Bonnie laughed, “takes after his mother. Got his height from my brother.”
     Kent watched, wondering how long they’d known each other, and how many others knew about these underground hideaways. All this time, he’d thought Bonnie was some sort of clairvoyant mountain man, yet here were three women that obviously knew these roads as well as the old man.  
     “Chondee, what’d you make?”
     “Sit down and find out,” the buxom woman responded. She turned to the table, plates heaped with food lined her arms. “Let me put this down and I’ll grab you boys something to drink and some silverware.”
     Without needing a second invitation, Kent sat himself down across from Praline. Bonnie took the seat across from Carmel, while Chondee delivered the dishes with practiced ease. Kent’s stomach growled when he saw three grilled chicken kebobs with a side of spiced rice.
     As Kent reached out a hand to pick up one of the kebobs, Bonnie grabbed his hand and whispered, “boyo, that’s no way to act in front of the ladies.”
     “What do you mean?” Kent asked.
     “So hungry he forgot his manners. Apologies,” Bonnie bowed his head, “we’ve been at it for days.”
     “No worries,” Chondee replied. “Carmel, do the honors, if you will.”
     One by one they all took each other’s hands, closed their eyes, and bowed their heads, a confused Kent followed suit.
     “We thank thee, Mercury,” Carmel began, “for the food, the company, and the chance to rest in this place of safety. We ask that you continue to watch over us, bless our travels, and keep us from harm in the days to come. As above…”
     “So below,” Praline, Chondee, and Bonnie responded simultaneously.
     “So below,” Kent chimed, a bit late.
     Once the women picked up their forks, Kent took a chance and grabbed the kebob he’d originally started for. He ate in silence, wondering why they prayed to Mercury and not Iphigenia, after all, they were under her mountain. Carmel and Praline chatted about the road, told Bonnie about all they’d seen since they last met, and rambled about where they wanted to go next. Chondee focused on her food with a slight smile, she enjoyed listening to the young women.
     As they finished dinner, Bonnie showed Kent the free racks, told the young man to rest while he could. They would continue their journey in the morning. Exhausted and full, Kent decided his many questions would hold since there were things he just wasn’t comfortable asking in front of strangers. While Kent hobbled to the bunk beds, the girls pulled out a double deck of playing cards. Chondee cleaned up as Carmel dealt. Before the first round was over, Kent was snoring.
     “What happened to his eye?” Praline whispered.
     “Hunting accident a couple of days ago. Chondee, is that medkit still in the bathroom? He’ll need that bandage changed when he wakes up.”
     “As far as I know,” she said. “But, it’s been months since I last staid here.”
     Suddenly, Kent’s arms began to move erratically. “I don’t know anything. Leave me alone,” he cried out from his sleep. He rolled over, sat bolt upright, smacked his head against the top bunk, and then hurled next to the bed. Without actually gaining consciousness, Kent lay back down and immediately began snoring again.
     “Sweet Mercury,” Chondee exclaimed, “Shadow, something is not right with that boy. What’s Jack been through?”
     “I really don’t know,” Bonnie shrugged.
     “Well, I’ll tell you this much,” Chondee chided, “you’d better let him rest a few days. He’s in no shape to keep traveling. I know you, Shadow. You move too far and too fast for someone in his condition.”
     “He’ll get rest. But, it won’t be here.” Bonnie excused himself from the table, in search of cleaning supplies, “we’ve got somewhere to be and two days to get there.”
     “Well,” Praline said, “we just came north on the 7 line. The track is clear all the way to Divers City. I don’t know how far south you’re going, but Digger’s Station is stock piled. That’s where some of tonight’s grub came from.”
     “Good to know,” Bonnie stretched, “I’ll keep that in mind. We were thinking about taking the 9 down towards Junction 15. Any word on that track?”
     “When we were at Digger’s Station,” Carmel answered, “old Jameson said that the 9 was clear all the way to Merced. I suppose that means Junction 15 is clear, too.”
     “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow,” Bonnie said.
     “Shadow!” Chondee scolded, “that boy can’t do it! Look at him. It’s too far.”
     “Can’t be helped. We’ve got to be somewhere.”
     Chondee sat back in her chair, arms crossed, eyes squinted, “you’re just going to have to be late. I’m not going to let you kill him.”
     Bonnie looked up from cleaning Kent’s bedside mess, “he’s my nephew!”  Kent mumbled, tossed, and turned, but did not wake. 
     “So? You want to see him dead?!”
     “You know the answer to that!”
     Carmel and Praline listened, watched the two bicker, and dealt another hand. They’d seen it happen before; in fact, every time Chondee and Shadow met up, the arguing would eventually begin. It was almost better entertainment than cards…almost.

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