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View Full Version : The Life and Death of Skylar Parish: The Jericho Rose



Nevermore
January 10th, 2012, 02:35 AM
EDIT: Chapter 2 is finally up!


And, here we go, my complete rewrite of Life/Finale.


http://img20.imageshack.us/img20/203/coverpagecompleted.jpg

When alive, the scathing, witty,
and hot-tempered Skylar Parish was
a rising star, a Sensitive capable
of seeing ghosts, and a girl with
endless potential. At only sixteen,
she was an Agent for the Library of
Anax and one of the most accomplished
magicians of the 21st century. Her
death, however, was another story . . .

Bored by the monotone of death and
reduced to scaring away bystanders, the
dull existence of Skylar's ghost is
explosively kicked up by the arrival of
a young Sensitive named Isaac Renfield
and the horrible monstrosity that has
been pursuing him. Now fleeing across
the country with a wild ensemble of
friends and foes, Skylar and Isaac are
pulled into a complex net of deception
and machinations, sending themselves
ever deeper into the web of plotting
surrounding a pursuit for vengeance
and power.

Chapter 1: Into the Inferno

The first thing I heard was the footsteps. Soft, rhythmic clapping that echoed across the halls of the burnt mansion. "Showtime." I grinned. I clapped my hands together, letting myself fade into nothingness. The next moment, the room was empty, with only the musty and singed chandelier rocking overhead, it's rather mournful candles spluttering pathetically. Finally, the figure stepped into the room. I pegged the boy at about 15, with dark, tattered clothing and a lanky, thin frame. Ah well, it's more fun to scare people a bit closer to my age. Snapping my fingers, the chandelier immediately stopped rocking as each candle was snuffed out one by one. The boy looked around with mild curiosity, but didn't seem overly fazed. Well that's no fun. Time to spice things up a bit.

The darkness began to swirl and writhe like some horrid snake, as whispering purple fires bubbled to life in midair, slowly dancing around the kid. Beneath each fire, I threw in a bit of frost, which started to spread across the ground like a spider web, eerily out of place next to the indigo flames. Then, for good measure, I added in a few sound effects, children whispering and laughing maliciously, chains being dragged across the floor, people moaning in pain. You know, just your every day sort of cacophony. Did I say 'spice things up'? Maybe that was an understatement. 'Completely overboard' probably would have been better, especially since I was on the verge of setting the chandelier on fire for a bit of extra effect. What can I say? I'm a drama type of girl. I won't apologize for that. Slowly, I put on a bit of a dramatic voice and sighed in the dark, 'What.... do you want?.....'

To my eternal frustration, the boy in front of me remained unfazed. "You know very well what I want. And cut it with the theatrics."

Ooh, the nerve of some people! Burying my indignation for a moment, I took the time to rustle up my most sinister voice as I said, "You presume too much, boy." Slowly, the purple fires went out and we were plunged into an ink-black darkness. But just as I was raising my hand to nail him with a Hex of some variety of nastiness, a smoky blue fire bubbled to life in the boys hand.

"Emet," he called out, muttering another quick command under his breath. A low rumbling slowly filled the room, as a shifting figure emerged from the shadows. It was vaguely man shaped, but the Presence the brat summoned was also translucent, as if woven from watery rays of light, with disproportionally triangular shoulders and a heavy, neck-lacking head. "Give our friend here a well deserved drubbing," the boy said smartly.

"All right, fine!" I threw up my hands in frustration before the Presence had a chance to act, the darkness slowly receding. Voice considerably higher, I noted irritably, "No need to resort to such churlish methods." I folded my arms in an annoyed sort of way, hovering slightly in midair as my form shimmered into visibility. A girl now floated in front of the boy, somewhat short with an angled face, a black bomber jacket, brown hair, and slashes of blond highlights. There was a moment of electrically charged silence as we glared at each other, until out of irritation I finally decided to say, "What? Am I so beautiful you can't think of anything to say?"

He instantly turned red with embarrassment as I floated up behind him. "Aren't you going to say something? Taunts are no fun if they don't get a reaction beyond making someone blush like an idiot." Flipping upside down, I commented. "So, you want to try and make a pact? Well what the hell do you need me for? You've got that bloody thing already." I drifted back to about a foot away from the boy, still upside down as I gestured at the menacing creature I guessed was Emet.

The boy looked a bit sheepish, replying awkwardly. "Er, that's a bit besides the-"

Something clicked in my head and I cut him off, pointing at him with a ghostly transparent finger. "Aha! You're nothing but a novice. You're not strong enough to control that Emet thing for very long, so you need a ghost that doesn't knock you unconscious every time you summon it!"

The boy looked a bit defensive, saying "I-"

"-'am a big headed idiot who shouldn't have tried to go up against someone as wonderful as Skylar Parish?'" I finished his sentence for him, leaning back and propping my legs up in the air. "Glad you're finally seeing the light." I continued lazily, still drifting around the room as if being carried by some gentle sea current.

The boy looked like he was about to start spitting fireballs. I leaned closer until our faces were inches apart, grinning at his blushing face as I vanished from sight. "Alright then," I said, my voice echoing hauntingly off the crumbling, melancholy walls. "Since you've got next to no control over that Emet thing, give me one reason why I shouldn't smash your adolescent head to the ground?"

Then, taking me by surprise, the boy managed to stutter out the Materialization Command. Emet stalked forward, the floorboards creaking and moaning as he became more visible with each step. On another hastily muttered phrase from the boy, Emet raised his hand and made a curious gesture. Before I had time to react, I doubled over, gasping as a heavy force washed over me. I stumbled backwards in midair, forced back into visibility and cart-wheeling backwards, feeling as though someone deflated my lungs with a wrecking ball.

Clumsily floating upright, I heard him say, frustration clinging to his every syllable, "Here's a reason; I've got enough control over Emet to make you very uncomfortable before I have to release him." Despite the altogether unpleasant situation I was in, it gave me a bit of satisfaction to know I was really pushing the kids buttons.

Unfortunately, there wasn't much else I could do beyond sending him into a frothing rage. To operate any kind of spell, or for a ghost to Cause something to happen, it requires the aspects of life and death. By mixing life and death, you're forcing together two things that can't normally mix, allowing the casting of spells. Thus, you'd need at least one ghost, and at least one living person. Presences take this process to a whole different level. They're ghosts that have shed all vestiges of humanity to achieve vast amounts of power. Furthermore, if a Presence were to form a Pact with a living person, they would have their powers more than tripled, at the expense of not being able to act unless Materialized. Emet appeared to have formed a pact with boy, so any sort of spell I sent at him would have had as much effect as a tepid water balloon. Without any water.

I let the indigo fires around us die, staring at the boy with annoyance. "Fine. Just tell me what you want then."
The boy crossed his hands in a business-like manner. "So." I would have dearly liked to say "So what" but felt it would have been a bit more prudent to stay quiet. He continued. "Is this what the great Skylar Parish has been reduced to? Lurking in an old manner and scaring passersby to occupy the boredom of death and ghosthood?"

I frowned, as unfortunately, he was right. There's really not a whole lot to do when you're dead, other than stew in self pity and haunt people you don't like. "All right, I guess you may have a point. But seriously, enough with the theatrics, you're almost as bad as me. What do you really want?"

The boy looked uncomfortable, and I thought I caught a trace of sadness behind his eyes. Finally, he said. "I need your help."

I responded sarcastically. "Gee old friend, I'd love to help! What wouldn't I do for you?"

The boy made an exasperated sound, saying, "Skylar, please, I -"

I kicked my legs in a fluttering motion, like a swimmer, sliding up right next to the boy. "Can I get a 'pretty please'?"

The boy glared at me and I sighed theatrically, "Or you could just say 'please' again. I wouldn't say no to a bit of flattery either."

This actually got the boy strangling the air, as I chided, "If you want to kill me, you're a bit too late for that."

The boy gave a heavy sigh, running a hand through his hair. I suppose he would have been cute if he wasn't so pale and angry looking. He finally said. "Fine. 'Pretty please', Skylar, I really do need your help."

Wow, I actually got him to say it. That was a first. I drifted backwards, waiting for him to continue, the kid having stayed silent until he finally realized I wasn't going to subject him to any more of my charming wit (i.e. sarcasm and insults). He hastily continued, "I- All right, so you may have been right earlier. I'm a novice, and I can't materialize Emet for more than five minutes. And I need him hell of a lot longer than five minutes."

Ooh, sounds intriguing. I could just smell the adventure. Well, idiot he may have been, but at least he wasn't a boring idiot. "Why?" I asked, settling into a sitting position.

"I've been running for months. They've been chasing me non-stop, no rest, no moment to stay in an area for longer than a few days." He ran a hand though his hair once more, and for the first time I noticed dark lines under his eyes.

"The first ones were men. Somber-looking, quiet, they knew something about my ability-"

"Sensitivity." I cut in absentmindedly.

"What?" The boy said in a distracted manner.

"It's called Sensitivity. If you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of the ladies, call it right." I grinned flirtatiously, flipping upside down again. With a kick of my legs, I drifted right next to him.

He turned an amusing mix of red and purple, embarrassment and annoyance bundled into a single hue. He continued wearily as if he didn't hear me, "The first time the men came, they offered money to my parents in exchange to take me in. Of course, Mom and Dad were only too happy to accept." He paused uncomfortably before continuing bitterly, "After all, who wants the shame of having a defective product for a son?"

The grin on my face slid off like grease. I righted myself, looking into the boy's face. It was framed by a messy, windswept mop of black hair, hiding deep blue eyes that looked down in sadness. For the first time, I saw a bit of myself reflected in him and his past. Seeing lights and shapes, people no one else can see. Strange figures telling you the secrets of everyone around you. Sensitivity can lead to a lonely and loveless life. I knew friends who turned brittle and sour pretty quickly from it.

I didn't want to continue listening. I wanted the dark nostalgia the story was bringing to leave, but the boy continued.

"A ghost who was with me at the time warned me about the men who were marching up the stairs to my bedroom, told me about my parents marveling at the money they had been given without a second thought for their son. I escaped. The next time they found me, I had Emet on my side."

His tone became even darker as he said softly, "They didn't stand a chance."

He looked horrible in the pale light of the room, weary and cold beyond his age. I'd had my own fair share of pains in my past, so believe me when I say I could understand the guy. He continued, "But even more came. The third time they confronted me, I wasn't able to keep Emet materialized long enough, and ran for it. Through pure luck, I ran into a ghost on the sidewalk, used him to fire off a hex, and in the chaos I escaped."

I pursed my lips, on the verge of saying something to comfort him, when another thought struck my head. "Wait, you said the first ones were men. What were the others?"

Just as the boy opened his mouth to speak, the wall erupted in a heavy crash of cinderblock and wallpaper. The force sent me cart wheeling through the air and passing unpleasantly through a moldy book shelf, with much swearing on my part.

"What the hell was that?" I shouted. The bruised boy stumbled out of a shredded arm chair. He tried to summon Emet, but tripped over the materialization signs. "That would be the others."

An unnatural silence fell over the room as I gazed at the hole blown into the side of the mansion. Dappled moonlight fell into the burnt and cluttered ballroom. Then, the grotesque thing lumbered into the room. It had a sort of silent grace to it, moving without a single sound. The creature was a hulking mesh of watery mist and shimmering lights. It was vaguely transparent, but much, much more solid than any ghost. It's body was like a bulky skeleton, with huge, rapier-like claws, and crowning it's head was a twisted jumbled of multiple pairs of horns, each one cruelly curled upward toward the moon. Below were a chilling pair of baleful indigo eyes, their gaze locked directly on the boy.

It pointed a bony finger at Isaac, making a grating, high pitched sound. A white light bubbled to lie at its finger tip, as it began to cast some sort of spell. Without thinking I blew Isaac sideways with a Percussion just as an arc of poisonous white light burst from the creatures finger tip. The spell crashed into the spot Isaac had occupied seconds ago, blasting the misshapen armchair into a pile of bone white slivers of wood.

The creature gave a piercing cry, like ten different people wailing at different octaves. It turned its sights on me and hurled itself forward, lashing out with its claws. It missed by about a mile as I floated unhappily to the ceiling. Something was off, I noted, as it sent an old table bursting into a cloud of splinters. It was causing direct damage to the things around it with its body, yet its heavy spiritual pressure meant it had to be some form of ghost.

"Skylar!"

I turned with surprise as the boy yelled, "You have to watch out! That thing can-"

With a shuddering cry, the creature reared up backwards, raising its arms. It was becoming more substantial now, twisting veins of heavy gray winding up its body, mutilated armor of bone erupting from the translucent skin. Suddenly, a plated arm shot forward, grasping and ripping me out of the air. I was aghast. Ghosts can't be touched by anything, not even other ghosts. A heavy breeze can toss you around, and there are a few spells that can indirectly affect us, but you can't directly touch a ghost. It's impossible. But somehow this twisted monstrosity was doing it. What was this thing? I felt jabbing streaks of pain running up my body as I glared at the creature. I tried to raise my arm to nail it with a spell, but the creature gave a huge intake of breath, letting out a sound like paper crumpling. My concentration broke as I felt a heavy tugging in my gut. My form was fraying at the edges, streaks of light drawn from my body towards the creature. I was actually panicking now. I didn't like to think what would happen if the thing did whatever the hell it was trying to do. I managed to send out a heavy Concussor, but the creature deflected it, drawing me closer with extended tendrils of spiraling mist. Well, I thought blearily through my biting pain, as the world fogged up around me. At least I'm going out in style.

Suddenly, with a loud eruption, the creature was thrown aside, it's form flickering, and I fell down with gasp of breath, sudden clarity returning to my head. The boy was huddled in the corner, ashen-faced, his hand outstretched, and the pale spectral image of Emet lurked behind him. The boy yelled out, "Vipadyate! Restrain!" and Emet fired off a Vise of Mourning, pale blue bands constricting around the creature. It thrashed around, misty tendrils slowly grappling and fraying at the bands.

"Skylar!" the boy had stood, very pale and feeble looking, but more defiant than afraid. "We have to go!"

"No shit, Sherlock!" I yelled back, snapping my fingers and muttering "Vyavadhana". A pitch black, shimmering barrier rippled to life between us and the writhing creature. As the creature howled in anger, we raced for the hole, Emet and I drifting out easily, Isaac leaping ungracefully to the ground. Without a second thought, we took off, racing away from the rubble.

Higurro
January 10th, 2012, 12:41 PM
Fantastic! There are a very few punctuation and grammar errors, but that's pretty much all I can find to criticise. As starts go this is fast and engaging from the off. I found the introductory lines helpful to set out the premise and the characters are great. Best of luck with this!

Grape Juice Vampire
January 11th, 2012, 03:28 AM
Very, very good. It drew me in before, but it really does now and i'm beginning to connect with the characters and setting. I noticed the same issues as Higurro. Also, the description of the creature freaked me out but in a good way. I like the graphic you used, it's gorgeous and appropriate.

lawrencewalls
January 11th, 2012, 03:54 AM
I love the descriptions you use throughout this piece, vivid and sometimes delightfully disturbing. Personally, I don't see much aside from grammar that i would really change or rethink. Actually, i'd like to see this as a graphic novel, i could imagine some awesome images being drawn up.

SeaBee1
January 11th, 2012, 02:00 PM
I shouldn't give a one line post here, but...

Excellent re-write!

QDOS
January 12th, 2012, 01:16 PM
Hi Nevermore
This is a much more solid piece of work and better word usage. I’m still struggling on sentence length, i.e. those longer than 15 words, but you seem to pull it off.

Original - It was vaguely man shaped, but the Presence the kid summoned was also translucent and smoky, strange angles bending into space, disproportional shoulders and a heavy, neck-lacking head. (29)

New - It was vaguely man shaped, but the Presence the brat summoned was also translucent, as if woven from watery rays of light, with disproportionally triangular shoulders and a heavy, neck-lacking head. (32)

OK - I hope this isn’t too much, but as your aim is ramping up to higher expectations. Not to be taken too seriously, this is just some polite observations coupled with a few suggestions.

Paragraph 2
NP What can I say? I'm a drama type of girl. I won't apologize for that. Slowly, I put on a bit of a dramatic voice and sighed in the dark, 'What.... do you want?.....'

Paragraph 3
The Girl that I was floated in front of the boy, somewhat short with an angled face, a black bomber jacket, brown hair, and slashes of blond highlights.

Paragraph 10
"I-" The boy looking a bit defensive continued,"- am a big headed idiot who shouldn't have tried to go up against someone as wonderful as Skylar Parish?'

NP "I finished his sentence for him, leaning back and propping my legs up in the air.”Glad you're finally seeing the light." I continued lazily, still drifting around the room as if being carried by some gentle sea current.

Paragraph 12
I stumbled backwards in midair, forced back into visibility and cart-wheeling backwards, feeling as though someone deflated my lungs with a wrecking ball. Paragraph three - you have Sylar materialising???

Paragraph 13 & 14
Clumsily floating upright, I heard him say, frustration clinging to his every syllable.

NP "Here's a reason; I've got enough control over Emet to make you very uncomfortable before I have to release him."

NP Despite the altogether unpleasant situation I was in, it gave me a bit of satisfaction to know I was really pushing the kids buttons. -join with half of paragraph fourteen- Unfortunately, there wasn't much else I could do beyond sending him into a frothing rage. To operate any kind of spell, or for a ghost to Cause something to happen, it requires the aspects of life and death. By mixing life and death, you're forcing together two things that can't normally mix, allowing the casting of spells. Thus, you'd need at least one ghost, and at least one living person.

Paragraph 15
NP Presences take this process to a whole different level. whole – use - completely

Paragraph 16
I let the indigo fires around us die, staring at the boy with annoyance. "Fine. Just tell me what you want then." The boy crossed his hands in a business-like manner. So I would have dearly liked to say - So what- but felt it would have been a bit more prudent to stay quiet.

NP Hecontinued. "Is this what the great Skylar Parish has been reduced to? Lurking in an old manner and scaring passersby to occupy the boredom of death and ghosthood?"

Paragraph 25
And I need him a hell of a lot longer than five minutes." - Missing indefinite article

Paragraph 27
"I've been running for months. They've been chasing me non-stop, no rest, no moment to stay in an area for longer than a few days." no rest, no moment to stay – suggest –not a moments rest, nowhere where to stay

Paragraph 32
He continued wearily as if he didn't hear me. "The first time the men came, they offered money to my parents in exchange to take me in. Of course, Mom and Dad were only too happy to accept." He paused uncomfortably before continuing bitterly. "After all, who wants the shame of having a defective product for a son?" (Punctuation . not ,)

Paragraph 37
NP He continued, "But even more came. The third time they confronted me, I wasn't able to keep Emet materialized long enough, and ran for it. Through pure luck, I ran into a ghost on the sidewalk, used him to fire off a hex, and in the chaos I escaped."

Third form last paragraph
Suddenly, with a loud eruption, the creature was thrown aside, it's form flickering, and I fell down with a gasp of breath, sudden clarity returning to my head. - Missing indefinite article

QDOS :cool:

Doodally
January 15th, 2012, 05:51 PM
I agree with what most people have put. I read this story when I was floating the forums, before I registered. It drew me in very easily. I have A.D.D., which can make it difficult for me to get into a story, even if it's very evocative. I've got to say, I've never been immersed in a story like this before. It flowed so pleasantly with humour and grace that it was refreshing, not only as a reader, but as an author.

You've done a fantastic job bringing this to life. I wish I was a publisher so I could hit you with the proverbial publishing stamp. :) You've definitely got another fan.

Nevermore
January 15th, 2012, 11:44 PM
Wow, thank you, everyone, for all the reviews. I've been a bit buried by school, but I plan on having Chapter 2 up tonight. It needs a lot more work than Chapter 1 did, but I do plan on getting it done soon.

Nevermore
February 11th, 2012, 05:36 PM
Sweetbabyjesus, this took an ungodly amount of time to get up. But, hey, finally got Chapter 2 finished!




Chapter 2: Jelso



I slid to a halt through the air, hair falling across my face haphazardly. An electric blue fare ignited at my finger tips as I scanned the horizon. We had fled into a sweeping desert of golden dunes and barren trees. The stars shone coldly from above, while the moon cast an empty light over the dead landscape. Emet loomed ominously behind me, while the boy crouched on the ground, panting for breath as his Materialization spell sapped at his strength. I stared out into the rolling sands that surrounded us, but saw nothing. “I don’t see it… I think you can Dematerialize Emet for now.” With a weary wave of his hand and a briefly muttered ‘Vigacchati’, Emet slowly faded out of sight.


"What the bloody hell was that thing?" I asked.

The boy gasped for breath, managing to respond, "Like I said, that was the 'others'. After I escaped or killed the men that kept coming after me, that thing started following me."

"What exactly is it, though?" I asked impatiently.

The boy managed to pull himself upright, stating, "No idea. I've dubbed the thing-"

"-'Fluffy'?" I asked.

The boy looked at me sourly. "No, not Fluffy. I've dubbed it the Azrati."

"After the Banishment Command? Clever, I guess." I admitted grudgingly. "But why was it chasing you? You're not exactly important or interesting enough to bump off in such a stylish way." I touched a finger to my lip, commenting pensively, " I can see you getting electrocuted, or maybe bludgeoned to death, but assassination by monster seems a tad too cool for you"

The boy made a sound of protest, as I continued, "And more importantly, why was it able to touch me?"

A deep rumbling voice answered as Emet commented unexpectedly from the shadows, "It is extremely . . . similar to the Azruti Command. However, instead . . . of simply scourging a ghost . . . from existence, it purges a ghosts soul, leaving only . . . the spiritual body behind. This body is . . . then consumed to augment . . . the creatures power."

Despite not having any organs (or an actual body, at that), I could practically taste the bile in my throat. Feeling cold, I asked "It eats ghosts?" I was hoping I had just misheard him (it's hard to keep track of what someone's saying when their voice is like thunder speaking). But to my immense unhappiness, Emet simply nodded.

The boy looked down. His voice was unusually shaky as he said, "Do you remember what I told you about how I escaped the men the very first time? I was warned by a ghost, Sharon Blake. Sharon was devoured the moment we were confronted by the Azrati. Her eyes suddenly went blank when it touched her. Then, that thing lunged. The upper part of her body was torn to pieces, and . . . and what came out of the Azrati's mouth was . . . "

I looked at the boy for a moment, unsure of what to say. Pursing my lips for a moment, I moved without thinking, floating over and hugging him. The boy yelped, "Ack! Skylar don't do that! You're freezing!" My ghostly arms hovered over him, barely touching his skin. As he flinched, I passed through his body momentarily. I moved backwards, grinning. The boy sneezed, shivering slightly. A ghosts touch is like being doused in ice cold water, which opens up a whole host of prank possibilities. Assuming you don't mind being dead to pull them off, obviously. I looked at him with amusement as the boy opened his mouth awkwardly, as if he was searching for something to say.

Unfortunately, the silence was broken as the ground beneath us began to shake.

The boy stepped backwards as the trembling intensified. Sand was thrown upward as I scanned the ground. What was it the Azrati again? No, it couldn't have caught up to us so fast. Even if it did, I would have sensed a spiritual pressure as enormous as the one that monster had.

"Hey, what . . . ?" I was cut off as the ground immediately burst outward. Sand, earth, and Skylar Parish were immediately blown in every direction. A moment of complete disorientation as I flailed in one of the golden dunes. As I pulled my glowing blue figure out of the sand, I caught sight of something stirring behind the cloud of dust that had erupted in front of us, which, curiously, wasn’t settling, simply floating in midair, twisting angrily. The boy had backed up, raising his hand. With a quick word, a Flare ignited at his finger tips. He hurled it at the cloud of sand, but the moment the bright red fire touched the barrier, it fizzled and blew apart into tiny shreds of flame. I floated forward cautiously, hands raised uncertainly. We weren't in any shape to fight off some Azrati level assailant. I was hoping it was just some kind of . . . magic mole, or an equally unthreatening being. Of course, the way luck tends to treat me, I wouldn't be surprised four Azrati's busted out of the sand swinging. We paused uncertainly, all three of us back to back.

"Gah!"

The boy yelped in shock as he tumbled to the ground and was whipped towards the cloud of sand. What the hell was that? In the five seconds before he reached the haze of dust, my mind went blank as I went into high gear.

Four seconds left.

I spotted a thin, yellow tendril attached to the boys leg.

Three seconds left.

I clicked my fingers and conjured an Ars Arc in the palm of my hand.

Two seconds left.

I hurled the spell forward. It sliced across the sand, throwing sand asunder as it cut straight through the tendril. But even as the strange yellow tentacle dissolved into brimstone-colored dust, five more tendrils snaked forward, one grasping at the boys leg again.

One second away.

The boy clawed forward as the tendrils pulled him backward. Damn it! No matter what I did, I definitely wouldn’t reach him in time. Luckily, he had a bit more strength left than I gave him credit for.

Just as his feet were drawn into the cloud of sand, he yelling out, "Emet! Nivizate! Vipadyate, Ahata Dhumdhala!"

Blinding light erupted around both the boy and Emet simultaneously. The sand was blown apart as a bulbous, glowing white sphere us. I fell to the ground, my eyes screwed shut. Yikes, looks like I was right about the boy back at the old mansion. When it comes to being overdramatic, he’s worse than me.

I opened my eyes a crack, looking around hesitantly at the confines of the boys spell. The sunny desert had transformed into a monochrome dreamscape of shadows. Everything around us looked warped, with blurred edges and faded colors. Shadows whipped across the scene as though someone had painted the wind pitch black. But despite the creepy atmosphere it had set, the Twilight Grounds spell had done what it was meant to do.

Ahata Dhumdhala is a frustratingly complex spell. Inside its radius, all magical forms of concealment are banished, and everything within it is revealed by its true form. Most importantly, it creates a 'taboo' on spells. It's impossible to perform or sustain magic inside the Twilight Grounds area, other than keeping the Grounds itself running. As if to prove that point, the tendrils that had wrapped around the boy turned dull and thin, hanging perfectly still for moment before crumpling into yellow dust. The boy scrambled forward hastily, racing over to me and Emet. As he reached us, we all looked to the area that, seconds ago, had been occupied by a whirling cloud of sand. Sitting hunched within a pitched crater, out attacker was revealed in full by the light of the Twilight Grounds.

He was a broad, muscular man, completely bald and shirtless. His skin tone fluctuated from a dark, bruise color to poisonous white. Splotches of his skin were crusted like the shell of a tortoise, and winding lines had been pressed into his skin as though he was made of stone. The man glared, suddenly starting and stalking up the crater towards us. No, not stalking. Floating. His legs moved erratically, but the man was floating above the ground, never actually touching the sands below him. When I looked at him closely, I could see he was faintly transparent as well, with a blue tint to his skin and a cerulean aura that steamed off his body like mist. He was a ghost. This threatening monster of a man was some kind of ghost. Suddenly, he jabbed his finger in the direction of the mystified boy. “You!” He growled.

The boy pointed at himself, mystified. “Erm, what . . . ?”

The ghost wave his arms angrily, “How dare you trespass on my land? Bringing with you your evil taint!”

I held up my hands patronizingly as I said, “Er, unless by evil taint you mean his bad personality, we have no clue what you’re talking about.”

The ghost was now making odd gestures with his hands at the boy. “Why do you continue to keep up your pretense? I can feel the evil that clings to his aura. Be you some kind of belligerent homunculus, come to devour my soul?”

I gave a burst out giggling, “’Belligerent homunculus’? I’ve got to remember that one.”

The boy gave a groan. “Oh, damn, don’t go giving her any ideas.”

I wagged my finger at him teasingly. “Too late for that. I hope you don’t plan on meeting any women with me around, because that’s how I’ll be introducing you to everyone we meet from now on.”

The ghostly man gestured wildly at me, stating loudly. “Enough! Stop acting like a bad comedy double act! You want proof? Just look at the girls aura!”

I glanced down at the blue haze around me, and blinked with surprise. White streaks dotted it. It wasn’t the watery, pearly white light that made up Emets body, but a poisonous shade of gray, a color that instantly brought to mind all sorts of images of dead flesh and old tombstones. I looked at it with disgust. “What is that?”

The ghost man scratched his head. “Humph. You really do not know?”

“No!” The boy exclaimed in exasperation. “Honestly, what the bloody hell are you talking about?”

The ghost floated upward, crossing his legs and falling into a sitting position. Pointing at the boy, he said, “It is strongest on you. An aura that stinks of evil from deep below the ground. The taint of the earth clings to you.”

He then turned to me, frowning. “It clings to you as well, though not as strongly.”

Well, I was totally mystified. Taint of the earth, taint of the earth. Something about it was familiar. Where had I heard that phrase before? Suddenly, Emet spoke up, “I believe . . . he is referring to . . . the aura of the Azrati. It . . . must have become intermingled with yours.”

The ghost man’s frown became even more pronounced. “’Azrati’. I do not like this word. It awakens dread deep within me.”

He began muttering to himself, apparently losing all interest in us. I turned to the boy. “The Azrati’s aura must’ve gotten on me when it grabbed me, but why is it stronger on you?”

The boy shrugged, “I don’t know. I’ve never come closer than ten feet of it. Maybe because I’ve been near it more times than you?”

I frowned. That that didn’t make much sense, since he'd never come in direct contact with its aura. Even if he did, it attacked us only a few hours ago, so the 'taint of the earth' still would have been more prevalent on me. Our brainstorming was interrupted as the ghost man said, “Who are you three strange ones?”

I responded, “I’m Skylar. Skylar Parish. The Presence is Emet, and the belligerent homunculus is . . . “

I trailed off, realizing I didn’t even know the boys name. He stepped in, saying, “I’m Isaac Hales. Skylar, if you call me a homunculus again, I’m going to Hex you.” I stuck my tongue out at him. Folding my arms, I then turned to the ghost man curiously. “Who are you, anyways?”

The ghost adopted a standing position, floating even higher than me. “I am Jelso! Lord of this Desert!”

I pointed at him uncomfortably, “And, er, what’s with all the . . . “ I broke off gesturing at his strange body. To my surprise, Jelso puffed out his chest proudly. “I forfeited my humanity when I became a Presence! These are the marks of my power!" He paused, admitting, " I have not made a pact with a human, however, so I doubt I can overpower that Emet creature. Now,” He adopted a more serious stance. “Explain to me what this Azrati is.”

Both Isaac and I launched into a tentative explanation of the Azrati, with Emet slipping in a few comments here and there. It sounded much more legitimate coming from him, given his deep, powerful voice. Sort of like Morgan Freeman meets Sean Connery meets thunder that learned how to speak.


Jelso remained perfectly silent, not even indulging in any of his wild and erratic gesturing. At the end of our story, he rose silently. "Azrati. Once again I must tell you, the name you describe is unfamiliar to me. Yet the description you have given rings a bell in my memory. Hmm." He trailed off, before gesturing at Isaac.

"Now, remove your Twilight Grounds. I am not fond of this variety of magic, and would prefer to remain distant from it." With a muttered apology from Isaac and a quick gesture of his hand, the white light and flickering shadows receded. Once again, the world was filled with sunlight and color, the sun especially dazzling after the subdued grayscale of the Twilight Grounds. Jelso hovered in front of us, refraining from erecting his sand barrier again. "You should hurry along. I would guess you have two days before the Azrati catches up, so you will want to be on the move by then." Raising his arms and twisting curiously, Jelso pointed to the left with a loud yell. Sand blew up in a hundred tiny bursts, marking a series of dots across the desert. It was as if an airplane had flown overhead and opened fire in a straight line. Gesturing at the trail of holes in the sand, Jelso informed us. "That road should take you straight through the desert. After about two miles, you should hit the edge of the city. There should be a small hotel there, cheap rent, pay in cash, no questions asked."

Isaac nodded gratefully, "Thank you."

To my surprise, Jelso chuckled. "I believe I should be thanking you. Think of this as small a small token of repayment."

I unfolded my arms, curious. "Unless you're thanking me for going thirty seconds without verbally abusing Isaac, I think I might have missed something."

Jelso answered, a hint of a smile on his face. "If you had not warned me of this Azrati creature, I most likely would have attacked it and been easily overwhelmed and destroyed." He held out his arms to the path marks by holes. "Now, you'd best be going."

With another hurried thanks, we were on our way.



҉

After a long half hour of endless walking, the silence broken mostly by a prissy exchange of obscenities that sparked between me and Isaac, we had reached the edge of the city. The skyline was framed by dark smog, and I could smell the strong, sharp scent of iron and sewage.

Just as Jelso told us, we arrived at a small motel well off the beaten track. Well, 'off the beaten track' is a bit of a complement. It was a nasty, grungy sort of place, run down and dilapidated, complete with the mournfully blinking neon sign. I half expected Norman Bates to jump out of the window and gut Isaac with a kitchen knife. As we entered, Isaac hurriedly gave the clerk a few crumpled bills before being told to take the room at the far right of the building. The guy had raised an eyebrow at Isaac, who would have appeared to any non-Sensitive to be traveling alone, but didn't say anything other than a indifferent, "Enjoy you stay."

As Isaac trudged up the stairs to his room, I amused myself by hiding the clerks pens, mixing up the papers, scorching obscenities in the rickety bench in the corner, and drifting gently around the room, lost in thought. I probably would have stayed there all night, but honestly, there was this stifling aura of boredom in the room that made want to curl up and stare at a wall for the rest of my life. I blame the clerk. As he turned around to try and resort the papers I had been messing with, I floated upwards through the ceiling, slowly passing through the rafters and cobwebs until I hit Isaac's room.

He had fallen asleep across the couch, his soft breathing the only sound heard in the silence of the room. I floated forward, looking at his face curiously. Something seemed a bit different. I couldn't quite place it, but something about him looked a lot better than before. As I looked at his sleeping face, I realized that for the first time, Isaac looked completely stress free. His face wasn't shackled by a frown of concentration or worry. Asleep, he looked perfectly at peace. I was right before, back at the manor. He did look pretty cute when he wasn't worrying.

After staying there for a moment, I drifted over to the wide window that took up an entire wall. The motel may have been a crappy rat-hole where people were probably chopped up in the bath tubs every other day, but there was one thing about it that made everything else tolerable. The window didn't look out to the urban mess of the city, but the delicate grace of the rolling desert. It went on for miles, an endless expanse of golden-orange sand. I curled up into a sitting position, the beautiful panorama stretched out endlessly in front of me.

Who was Isaac, really? Why was he being chased? And what the bloody hell was that Azrati thing? The questions that surrounded our predicament fluttered around in my head ceaselessly, tumbling round and round off the walls of my skull like marbles in a blender. I gave a sigh of frustration. For the first time, I was actually in legitimate danger. To be honest, it was downright thrilling, but also laced with traces of fear and panic. I had forgotten the latter while stewing in my own pity at the manor. How was I supposed to continue from here? True, I could abandon Isaac, go on my own way. But hey, I'm not a quitter! Where's the fun in an adventure if you give up before it even starts? And . . . I would also hate to turn my back on him. I glanced at Isaac again, his cute, pale face illuminated by the moonlight reflected off the desert, free of worry or strife. I smiled, curling up into a sitting position. It was nice to not be alone.

FrameOfDust
February 12th, 2012, 08:30 PM
This was really quite good. I can definitely see this being published. I honestly can't think of any acctually weakness that I should comment on. The characters and their voices all sound believable, distinct, and enjoyable. The atmosphere is excellent. I am sure there is some slight edditing that could be done (when is there not?) but all in all, highly enjoyable.