Saturday, January 2, 2016

De Profundis

     When Kent woke up, he found Chondee and Bonnie leaning over the large dining table discussing directions on a beat up map of the underground system. Spread out on the opposite side of the table was the contents of a medkit. Kent’s left eye ached and his head pounded. Out of habit, he raised both hands to his face to wipe the sleep from his eyes, “ow, dammit, that hurts,” he grumbled as his left hand slapped his missing eye. The bandage and the pain reminded him of his recent loss. The young man fought back the urge to scream.
     “Morning,” Kent said, slowly swiveling out of the bunk bed. His stomach rumbled as the smell of fresh breakfast and coffee traveled up his nose.
     “Actually, it’s afternoon,” Chondee pleasantly replied.
     “Yeah, we got a bit of a late start today,” Bonnie said.
     “Where’re the other two?” Kent asked.
     “Early risers. Took off about six this morning,” Chondee answered. “Said they were going north, wanted to see the Bracken Desert.”
     “For Iphi’s sake, why would anyone want to see that shithole?” Kent retorted.
     “Jack,” Bonnie said in a fatherly tone that implied dire consequences.
     Kent wasn’t sure what that tone meant, “what?”
     “Don’t be rude.”
     “It’s okay. That was an automatic response. You been up there, sugar?” Chondee’s question was more statement, “I went up there a few years back. It is a shithole, Bonnie.”
     The old man shrugged. Kent heard her use Bonnie’s real name, and thought it sounded strange, but didn’t quite grasp the significance. He stood up from the bed, lost his balance, and sat back down. “Man, my head hurts. Right here,” he touched the center of his forehead, felt the bump, then said, “what the hell happened? I’ve got a giant knot.”
     Chondee laughed, “you were having some bad dreams. Sat up and knocked yourself out. Don’t worry, we’ve got aspirin. We also found everything we need to change out your bandage. Just stay right there. Ol’ Clara will take care of you.”
     Kent wondered who Clara was, but didn’t really care. If Chondee wanted to doctor him, he was more than willing to stay on the bed. While Kent was waiting for his newly acquired nursemaid to fix him up, Bonnie handed him a steaming cup of coffee.
     “Drink that. You’ll feel better.”
     It took Kent a moment. The last time someone handed him a drink and said he’d feel better, he’d been drugged, lost an eye, and gained a bird. That fucking bird! He hadn’t had any visions since that first crossroads, what’d Bonnie call it? Junction 27. Just thinking about it made him nauseous all over again. When the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach dissipated, Kent swallowed down some of the coffee. It was nearly perfect, just enough milk, the right amount of sugar, but the slightly bitter taste was a bit overwhelming, “what’s in this stuff? Gas?”
     “No!” Bonnie nearly yelled. He glowered at Kent, “you ready for food? Or, should we change out that bandage first?”
     “Calm down,” Chondee said to Bonnie, “the kid’s never been underground before, now has he? Doesn’t know about real coffee, does he?”
     Kent was nervous. But, Bonnie suddenly seemed amused, which served to make Kent even more nervous. This lady knew things about him. Had Bonnie been talking while he slept? “How do you know I’ve never been underground before?”
     “From listening, Jack. I know a lot about you from listening. Last night’s prayer…that was new to you. Everyone down here prays to Mercury. But, you didn’t know what was going on. Now, did you? You know that the Bracken Desert is a ‘shithole’ ‘cause you’ve been there. I know you’re from Poterit Dan ‘cause I listen. You want to blend in? You’re gonna need to listen before you speak. Probably best if you don’t speak at all, until you figure things out. I’m not the only one that can listen and learn. Carmel and Praline were listening, too.”
     Bonnie handed Kent a plate of corned beef hash, “eat up, boyo. Don’t worry. Clara’s one of the few people left in the world that I trust with my life. That’s why I always eat what she cooks.”
     “You eat what I cook, ‘cause your own cooking ain’t fit for animal consumption.”
     That name again, suddenly it dawned on Kent, “wait! Last night you said, ‘don’t use real names.’ Now, this morning she’s calling you ‘Bonnie’ and you’re calling her ‘Clara.’ What gives?”
     “I told you!” Clara/Chondee declared, “you owe me, now pay up!”
     “What?” Kent asked. The poor boy was confused and frustrated.
     Bonnie chuckled, “alright. I’ll pay you after we get him to his meeting.”
     “What in Iphi’s name is going on?!” Kent yelled.
     “Bonnie felt that after the tunnels and all your jabbering there was no way you’d learn to listen. I told him, ‘no one becomes the next Bard without being able to listen,’ So, we made a little wager. It seems I just won.”
     “Who said that I’m going to be a bard?” Kent spit.
     “Fintan,” Clara and Bonnie answered simultaneously.
     “How do you know him?”
     “Bonnie, you really didn’t tell him anything did you?”
     A sly smile rose on Bonnie Taylor’s face, “sure didn’t.”
     “Oh, you!” She punched Bonnie in the arm, “that’s cruel.” From off of the table she grabbed some bandages, a tube of ointment, and a couple aspirins. She crossed the room, knelt in front of Kent, and said, “my name is Clara Darin. Down here I go by Chondee. Fintan contacted both of us to get you to safety. Bonnie, Shadow down here, was supposed to bring you to me. He was also supposed to tell you a few things,” she gave Bonnie a dirty look, “which it seems he neglected. It’s my job to bring you to Poterit Don, where we’ll meet with my aunt and her apprentice.” She laid out the bandages on the bed next to Kent, handing him the aspirin, then continued, “I’m sure you have a lot of questions. We’ll be able to answer some of them now. Others may never be answered.”
     Without thinking it through, Kent snapped, “oh, I’ve got some motherfucking questions! Who the hell is Fintan? Why does he think I’m going to be a bard? Why’d he let that dumbass bird eat my eye? Why on earth would you ever agree to do that bastard’s bidding? What in the name of Iphi was with that creepy ass eye on the wall and why’d it blink at us whenever I spoke? Why were all the lights on and music playing at this station? How do you two know each other? And, who else knows about me? Did you tell those girls, after all that crap about not using real names?” He was breathing heavily. Clara wasn’t fazed by the outburst. Whereas Bonnie thought it was the funniest thing he’d seen in a hot minute and couldn’t contain the deep laughter that started in his belly and soon had him crying. While Bonnie teared up, Clara reached for the bandage around Kent’s head. The young man pulled back, his good eye narrowed, “don’t touch me.”
     “That bandage needs to be changed. I’m going to unwrap it,” she pointed to the bandage next to him, “and put that one in its place. You can be mad. Don’t change the facts.”
     “Fine,” he grunted, “but, one of you better start talking.”
     Sniffling and wiping his eyes, Bonnie said, “alright, alright. Fintan is the Bard of Poterit Don, Mercury’s Bard, Keeper of the Gryphon King’s songs. And, he knows that you’re going to be a bard because he’s your father.”
     “That’s bullshit! My father is Rick Orson Wheelock and he’s dead!”
     “Oh, Bonnie. Ricky didn’t tell him,” Clara paused from wrapping the bandages around Kent’s head and eye, she glanced over her shoulder, giving Bonnie that ‘what do we do now’ look.
     “Tell me what?”
     “Ricky isn’t your father,” Bonnie started, “he’s your foster father. He was supposed to tell you when you turned ten. It was his job to make sure you were safe. So that one day, when you were ready, you could become the Bard.”
     Kent fought back the urge to cry, “he died before my 10th birthday. I – I got sent to an orphanage. It was horrible. I haven’t been ‘safe’ since that day. I’ll never be a bard.”
     “I’m sorry, boyo,” Bonnie was all seriousness, “we didn’t know about Ricky. Haven’t seen him in 15 years or more.”
     A sorrow-filled silence over took them. The only audible sounds were their breathing and the swoosh of the bandage as Clara continued to wrap up Kent’s eye. When she finished, she stood up, fixed her jeans, and pulled on the bottom rim of her tan t-shirt. She took the medical supplies back to the table, while contemplating what to do next. Kent fumed and fought back tears, the last thing he wanted was to let these two see him cry.
     The silence was broken as Kent stood up from the bunk bed and said, “I’d appreciate it if one of you would answer the rest of my questions.”
     “I promise,” Clara answered, “come over here and look at this.”
     Kent carefully took the few steps to the table where he stared down at a tattered old map. There were squares, circles, and triangles marking various places, points of interest, and Iphi only knew what else. Holes were evenly spaced along the fold lines and corners. A rainbow assortment of lines zig-zagged all over the map.  
     “What is it?”
     “A map of the underground,” Bonnie answered. “You see the triangles?”
     “Yeah,” Kent said.
     “Those are the…” Bonnie paused, “how did you put it? The ‘creepy ass’ eyes with wings. They’re actually called Mercury’s Eyes. I don’t really know how they work, but I know the ones down here respond to voices. If the tales are right, then only the Messenger can access them, but I don’t like them watching me. It’s as you said, ‘creepy.’ The circles are Junctions off main roads,” he pointed to two, “we crossed Junctions 26 and 27, here and here. This one is 15,” he put his finger on the map, “maybe you recall me telling the girls about it? That’s not where we’re going, either. I just said that for their sake. This purple one is the 7 line that they said was clear to Divers City. I’ll take that one down. You and Clara are going to take the orange 5 line,” the two lines ran side by side all the way down to a square where they abruptly went in opposite directions. “That square is Digger’s Station. You see here,” he pointed four squares up, “this is Coal Station, where we’re at now. All the main stations are automated. Some system the Ancients set up in the Before. I wouldn’t trust those arrival and departure signs, if I were you,” Bonnie chuckled.
     “If they’re going to the same place, why take different ones? And, what do you mean the Ancients set this up?”
     “The 7 line is faster,” Clara answered, “they look the same, I know. But, you’ve gotta understand, this map is from Before. The mountains have moved, settled in some places, collapsed in others. The 5 line hasn’t been cleared in ages. We’ll be able to take it most of the way. When we get to the blockage, we’ll have to squeeze through. On the other side, the traveling will get easier.”
     “That doesn’t answer my questions.”
     “I’ve got to make sure that Digger’s Station is secure before you get there,” Bonnie interjected. “The girls said that Jameson was there. They aren’t what you’d call trustworthy, unless you trust flames in methane deposits. So, I’ll take the route they said was clear. You two will take the route we know is not. Clara knows a couple of short cuts that aren’t on the map. You’ll be fine. This whole underground system was set up by the Ancients in the Before. The only reason we even have this map is because Clara found a sealed room full of them. Every few years she goes back and grabs another, then seals the room up again. Crazy lady won’t even tell me where it is. Says there’s no point being a woman if she can’t keep secrets from a man. We’re not staying at Digger’s Station. Just gonna top up the supplies a bit. We’ve got to get you topside to her auntie. And, preferably get you there today.”
     “I thought Divers City was over 100 miles away. We can’t travel that far on foot in a day.”
     “Who said we were traveling by foot?” Clara giggled.   
     “How else would we travel?” Kent asked.
     Bonnie and Clara both started laughing.
     “I don’t see what’s so funny!” Kent barked.
     “This is a map of an underground rail system,” through the laughing fit, Bonnie finally answered. “We’ll travel by rail.”
     “If we can go by rail, why’d we walk so damn far?”
     “Only way to get here from that shack,” Bonnie said. He continued, “some of the lines are clear. But, like Clara said earlier, some have collapsed. Most of the ones in the north haven’t been used regularly in over 100 years. Of course, most of the underground roads up there are still passable, so, I took you through some of them instead. This whole mountain range is full of rails and roads built by the Ancients. Way I understand it, a good bit of their world was underground, including quite a few cities. The roads and rails just connected it all together. I told you those fools in Poterit Dan don’t teach any more. I guess you’re wishing you’d taken me up on that history lesson,” Bonnie smiled at Kent.
     “Okay, boys,” Clara interrupted, “we’ve got to pack up some supplies, map out the last bit of our route, and get moving if we want to make it down there today. How do you feel, Jack?”
     “My name is Kent. Kent Oliver Wheelock. And, I feel like shit.”
     Bonnie and Clara grinned at each other; the boy was finally learning who he could trust.

     It took the better part of the afternoon for Clara Darin and Kent Wheelock to travel the 5 line. When they made it to Digger’s Station, they found Bonnie Taylor alone and waiting with three backpacks full of supplies. His trip down the 7 line had only taken two hours and he’d found the way station completely empty. It seems that Jameson had left shortly after the girls, Carmel and Praline; where to was of no concern. From Digger’s Station it was a thirty minute walk on another underground road, Digger Way, to a series of ladders, bunkers, and stairwells which let out on a plateau overlooking Poterit Don and the Sovereign Sea. It was the farthest Kent had ever traveled from his home on the Gambling Strip in Sanctuary City. When they made it to the plateau, Bonnie said his goodbyes, and headed up the mountain. Kent wasn’t exactly sorry to see the old mountain man’s back, but he felt a loss all the same. Clara and Kent began to carefully cross along the plateau to an old game trail that led towards the sea.
     On that game trail, Kent suddenly tripped, rolled, and then heaved. When he stood up, he was covered in dirt and brush, cussing like a madman, “ever lovin’ piece of shit bird. There ain’t no way I’ll ever get used to that. Oh! If I ever see that stupid fucking falcon again, I swear to Iphigenia, I’ll kill it!”
     “Are you okay?” Clara asked as she jogged down the mountain, her giant breasts swaying with every step.
     “No! I’m not okay. That bird is going to get me killed. I really thought those visions were over. But, nope! Here I am trying not to break my neck going down a mountain. And, bam! Double vision. In one eye, the world I’m walking in. In my missing eye, some shit that stupid bird is seeing.”
     “Oh, wow. The legends are true,” Clara whispered more to herself than to Kent.
     “What legends?” Kent was practically screaming.
     “The legends of the Bard and the Bird. I just thought they were tales meant to make the Bard seem…well, magical. But, they’re true! You see what your bird sees?!” Clara humbly knelt down in front of Kent, her head bowed, her hands stretched up. “I didn’t know. Please. Forgive me.”
     “Forgive you? For what? Why are you kneeling? Will you stand up?”    
     “She won’t stand up until you take her hands,” Fulco said as he flew around Kent’s head.
     “Where’d you come from?”
     “If you want her to stand up, take her hand, and invite her up. You still don’t get it. But, one day you will.”
     “Will you quit flapping around me,” Kent shouted.
     Clara remained in the same position. She could hear Kent shouting, but no longer understood his words. When she heard Fulco, she contemplated looking up, decided she’d already been disrespectful enough, and closed her eyes tightly hoping she could resist.
     Fulco landed on a boulder just off the game trail, his black head barely peeked above the wild grasses, he cawed, “take her hands. Invite her up. I bet she cries.” 
     The one-eyed boy grabbed Clara Darin’s hands, while pulling her up he said, “please, Clara. Stand up, will you?”
     Clara slowly stood, her head still bowed. She couldn’t meet Kent’s gaze.
     “Told you, she’d cry,” Fulco called from his boulder.
     “If I could catch you, bird!” Kent threatened. The instant change in her demeanor was unsettling. The bird annoying. The world was spinning further and further from his control. He desperately wanted to be back on the Strip, with his friends. Specially, Domino and Patrick. He thought about what they were doing, most likely partying with Gable and his crew in one of those fleabag hotels. Yet, here he was: standing on the side of a mountain, watching a grown ass woman bow to him, while a stupid bird cawed in his ears. “AH! This is so! UGH!” The pissed off one-eyed boy stepped into the grass and sat on a boulder of his own.    
     “Are you going to sit there all day?” Fulco asked.
     “You’re still here? Why don’t you fly into a volcano?”
     “Why don’t you grow a pair? Be a man,” Fulco retorted.
     “Whatever you say, bird.” Kent shook his head and rolled his good eye.
     Fulco cawed, then flew off in a huff.
     “Shit. ‘Bout time,” Kent said.
     Though her head was still bowed, Clara Darin had watched the exchange. With her own eyes she’d seen Kent talking to a falcon. It was her turn to fill with questions, but she knew she couldn’t ask them. Tears of joy silently slid down her cheeks. She thought of all the legends she’d heard as a child and wondered how many more were true. For the first time in her life, Clara Darin couldn’t speak. She stared in awe at the worn-out young bard sitting on a boulder just off a game trail on the side of Mount Caliber.
     “Time for what?” a soft voice asked.
     Kent spun around, toppled off the boulder, and clumsily got to his feet.
     “That was funny. Do it again.”
     “I don’t know what you’re laughing at. Where’d you come from any way?” Kent growled.
     The owner of the voice was a shaggy blonde haired girl. She wore pants, a jerkin, and a flashy gold bracelet, which struck Kent as odd.
     “I came from over there,” she pointed to a rise behind them. “What are you two doing here?”
     The girl looked from the woman to the young man. She knew the woman was a Darin. The family resemblance was too much. But, the boy kind of looked like the vision of the uniformed young man she’d seen in the desert and later saw being sung to by that old blue haired man.
     Fulco landed on Kent’s shoulder. The boy tried to shake the bird loose, to no avail.
     “I didn’t see anything as I circled,” the bird said.
     “What were you looking for?” the girl inquired.
     “You can hear him, too?” Kent asked hopefully.
     “Of course.”
     Neither bird nor boy spoke. Clara Darin silently fell onto her knees again, though she did not recognize the girl as her aunt’s apprentice, she knew from the stories her aunt had told that the bracelet was Mercury’s. And, the only person who could wear it was Mercury’s Messenger. Her family was somehow deeply intertwined with the magic of Mercury and his chosen few. She nearly gasped when she thought all the legends are true.    
     “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” the blonde giggled.
     “Oh, bad taste,” Fulco declared.
     “The Messenger,” whispered Clara.
     “There she goes,” Kent huffed.
     “Messenger, it’s your turn,” the bird said.
     “Turn for what? Does he always speak in riddles?”
     “Aye. Riddles and sarcasm.”
     “Rudeness occurs on many levels. For instance, now, when two act like one is not present.” Fulco mocked.
     “See what I mean?” Kent breathed harshly.
     “Lady? Why are you kneeling?” the girl asked.
     “She won’t answer until you invite her up,” Fulco cawed, “I feel like a recording.”
     “Her name is Chondee,” Kent said, then he added, “take her hands.”
     The girl walked around Kent and the boulder he’d fallen off, took Clara’s hands, and said, “hey, Chondee? What’s wrong? Why are you crying? Get up, please.”
     As the girl pulled on Clara’s hands, the woman slowly stood back up, tears were running down her face in full force. She looked from the girl who still held her hands to Mercury’s Bracelet then over at Kent to the falcon sitting on his shoulder. It was all too much. Clara Darin was overwhelmed by reality and suddenly very intent on returning to the safety of her underground world. She dropped her backpack, ran up the game trail, across the plateau, into the entrance to the stairwells, and down to the bunkers.
     “Well, that’s just fucking perfect!” Kent punched the air. He looked at the girl, “look, I don’t know who you are, where you came from, or how you can talk to this damn bird. But, that woman was supposed to take me to meet someone. I don’t know how to get there.”
     “This is the Messenger,” Fulco stated, “show some respect.”
     “I don’t care one whit for messengers or bards. Or, you bird! I just want to get to wherever Fintan is so I can tell him what I really think!”
     “Fintan. Fintan the Bard?” the girl asked.
     “Yes, Messenger,” Fulco answered, then asked, “how should I address you?”
     “Much the way you address others, I suppose,” she responded promptly, “by name.”
     “Stubborn through and through. Easy enough to break. Harder to train. Ah, well, as the stars guide, so I must lead.” Fulco resigned himself, “what is your name?”
     “Cassie,” she answered.
     “Lead? Bird you’ve flown the coup. Done lost it!” Wheelock exploded, “you ate my fucking eye. I’m not following you anywhere. I’d sooner have you for dinner. Return the favor.”
     “You ate his eye? Why?” her face scrunched, her eyes narrowed, “you’ll not try for one of mine next?”
     “There’s more to it. You both will learn. For now we must head to Avalona,” Fulco informed them.
     “Why would I follow you?” Wheelock asked.
     “Because for the second time in history, two, a male and a female, can speak the language of the birds,” Fulco stated pleasantly.
     “The language of birds,” the teenagers whispered in unison.
     “Aye,” Fulco replied.
     “How do we come by it?” Kent asked.
     “Now, that’s a good question. I’d say our parents. A better question would be: what happened the first time,” the girl said thoughtfully.
     “We must start our trek if you are to reach the village by moonrise,” Fulco ignored them.
     “Why do we want to reach Avalona by moonrise?” Kent asked.
     “I’ll follow for a ways, if you’ll tell us about the first time,” the girl negotiated.
     “We must get to Avalona before moonrise if we’re to meet the smuggler. Will you hear the tale as we travel?” Fulco asked.
     “Aye,” they answered.
     “Do either of you know the tragedy of Rex Gryphus?” Fulco asked.
     “No,” they both said.
     “1000 years ago during the reign of the Last Gryphon King,” Fulco began, “the people grew weary of the rumors of griffins. They thought they knew everything about these lands. Some demanded that Rex Gryphus prove himself a griffin or give up the kingdom. The discontent grew violent. Protestors swarmed the Templus de Ambros. The guards were able to keep them out of the palace, but the grounds were overrun. For three days, the people chanted and marched on the palace steps. During this time, Faith Gryphus, the king’s adoring wife grew frightened. She knew that if Rex did not change, the unrest would grow into violence. So, she did what wives sometimes do. She hatched a plan to save the kingdom with the help of her brother, a young bard named Fintan.”
     They walked for hours while Fulco relayed the tragedy to them. They were on a sparsely forested downhill slope where they could watch the valley below. As they listened and walked Avalona appeared first as a small dot, then slowly developed into an actual village.    
     Fulco was still telling the story as the tendrils of smoke that trailed from the chimneys became visible, “when Rex Gryphus heard a woman in deep conversation with two other people he snuck closer. He grew heartbroken over the things he heard. Before he could stop himself and not realizing that he was still in griffin form, Rex lunged into the open to confront the trio. The sudden appearance of a griffin caused one of the cloaked figures to stumble over the garment’s hem. The person landed head first on a corner of the Sage Gryphon’s monument where they lay unmoving.
     “The Gryphon King found a man with a falcon perched on his left shoulder standing over the fallen figure. The King approached and found his wife’s lifeless eyes staring back. In his anger, the King swung at the bard. His massive lion’s paw, with extended claws, punctured the bard’s left eye. The falcon gobbled up the gory pieces. Sealing an ancient pact that…”

     An explosion interrupted the tale. The teenagers stopped walking and watched in horror as a dark black cloud rose from Avalona’s market square. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Become a supporter of The Pu'Shing Bhu'Tons Series by clicking here.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.