Yet another post in the series. As before, read the previous posts first, if you haven’t already. Enjoy!
Mirror of the Nine Halls (Part 7)
Kalgan walked barefoot down the dirt road for he knew not how long, naked as the day he was born, except for a light dusting of ashes.
It was the dead of night, but there was enough light for him to barely see the road. He didn’t worry about potholes or objects in his path. He just didn’t care anymore.
What was he even doing, anyway? He had a plan to just keep walking until he died of thirst, or his muscles completely gave out and he couldn’t walk anymore, in which case he would just lie down and wait for the end to come.
The image of his mother’s and sister’s faces as the blade pierced their skulls was burned into his eyelids. Every blink, he saw them. Every shadow was a blank canvas for his mind to paint their bloody picture on.
“Oh Mom!” he said, suddenly, stopping his inexorable march to death. “Sis! I’m so sorry! It’s my fault!”
He yelled the last sentence out into the night. Some nocturnal bird, or bat took wing from its roost in a nearby tree and flew overhead, but otherwise there was no other sound. This night was dead.
Kalgan looked out into the distance of the road and saw two pinpricks of light. There was a vehicle headed down the road. It was a good way off, still, but it was coming.
“Fuck,” he said, looking down at his naked body. He really didn’t want to talk to anyone, or let anyone see him right now.
It was time to step off the road and hide.
He calmly made his way off the road into the ditch. He stepped on a sharp stick and dropped his mirror into the dirt.
“Motherfucker!” he reached down and picked it up. He didn’t know why he had even bothered carrying the stupid thing. It was a painful reminder of everything that had just happened. Maybe he would wait until his dying breath and let go of it then, and be free of everything. “Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. Fuck this place.”
He resumed his walk and stepped behind a large bush to hide. He hoped it was concealing enough. He could make a run for it, but he wanted to see who it was that was heading this way. Some compatriot of the Murderer, perhaps?
“If it is…” Kalgan’s heart started to race.
MAKE THEM PAY!
SCOOP THEIR EYEBALLS OUT WITH A SPOON!
The thoughts made his blood boil. They killed his mother! His sister!
Kalgan pushed his palms into his eyes, trying to dispel the images of his mother and sister’s deaths. He whimpered as he saw them being killed over and over again.
He crouched down and hugged his knees. “Just make it stop!” he whimpered pitifully.
The vehicle was getting close. He could hear the wheels crunching over the dirt road, and the sound of a truck’s engine revving up a small hill.
But what if it wasn’t an acquaintance of the Murderer? What if it was someone completely unrelated?
Kalgan’s heart calmed a little bit. He needed to make sure, first.
Surprisingly, the truck slowed down and came to a slow stop in the middle of the road in front of his hiding place. The brakes sounded like they needed some work. They squealed just a bit too much.
“Just go away,” Kalgan said under his breath. “Please PLEASE go away!”
Alas, it was not meant to be. The driver’s side door opened, then closed a few seconds later. He heard the sound of footsteps headed towards him over the dirt road.
This person couldn’t see him, could he? Kalgan dared not move, just in case the movement gave away his position for a certainty.
“I know you’re there,” a female voice said in a condescending tone.
“Fuck,” Kalgan said. What did she have? Nightvision goggles?
“I’m here to help you. Come on out and we can talk.”
“Fuck off!” Kalgan called out.
“I’m afraid that’s not going to be possible. I’ll come and get you if I have to.”
“I wouldn’t do that, if I were you. I’m not wearing any clothes!”
There was silence for a second. “Ha! If that’s what you’re worried about, then I’ll get you some clothes, but we’re going to talk first, so come out.”
“Are you deformed?”
“What? Of course not!”
“Then come on out. It’s not anything I haven’t seen before.”
Who was this woman? Was she an accomplice of that murdering bastard?
“How do I know I can trust you? What if you’re just planning on killing me as soon as you see me?”
“If I wanted to do that, I would have, already. Come on out. We’re wasting time, and you need to get somewhere safe.”
“So you’re abducting me?”
“For fuck’s sake! Stop being a twat! I’m only trying to help you!”
“How do I know that?”
“You don’t, I guess. You’ll just have to trust me.”
Kalgan was not happy to be in this situation. He just wanted to run away. “Why do you care, anyway?”
“Because I was sent here to retrieve you by my superior.”
“What? Are you with the military, or something?”
“Not really. I promise to tell you if you come with me.”
“You aren’t going to just let me go, are you?”
“I can’t. Sorry.”
Kalgan stood up and looked over at the girl. She was about his height, and had long hair. Other than that, her features were silhouetted by the light from her headlights.
“Come on. We have a long way to go, and we’ve wasted too much time here, already. There’s a tarp in the back. hide yourself under it till I get you some clothes.”
“Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck!” Kalgan cursed. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He didn’t want to go anywhere with this pushy girl. He just wanted to hide and die. But he knew she wouldn’t let him.
She turned around and got back into the driver’s side of her old, beat-up truck.
“Grrr!” Kalgan emerged from his hiding spot and climbed into the back of her truck, then quickly wrapped himself up in the tarp. The bed of her truck was cold as ice, and the plastic tarp was no protection whatsoever. If he hadn’t had ice running through his veins of late, he would have cried out in shock. But this pain was nothing compared to everything he had just been through. His arms and hands ached from forcibly removing himself from the rope that had kept him tied to that chair. He could have sworn he had broken some bones, but they didn’t hurt THAT bad. They just ached like he had smacked a solid wall very hard, or something.
He curled up as best he could as the truck started to rumble back down the road. The sun was just starting to come up about a half-hour later when the truck left the dirt road and started to speed up on the smoother asphalt.
For some reason, he felt himself drifting off. He hadn’t realized that he needed sleep so badly that he would fall asleep in the back of a moving truck. He tried to fight it at first, but his eyes shut despite his best efforts to keep them open.
The next thing he knew, he felt something poking him in the leg. He tried to brush it off sleepily at first, but when his hand rustled the tarp, he flew awake, and nearly tossed off the entire plastic sheet. He thought better of it a fraction of a second later.
There was bright sunlight filtering through the green plastic, and it was starting to get quite warm.
“Wake up. I bought you some clothes.”
Kalgan remembered what had happened a few hours ago, and his heart nearly went up into his throat.
He heard a pile of clothing drop down into the bed of the truck next to him.
“Here. It’s some boxers, a pair of jeans, and a shirt. We’ll have to wait for shoes later, unfortunately. Until then, I got you some basic flip-flops.”
Kalgan remained silent.
“We still have a long way to go,” the girl said. “Put those on quickly, and you can sit up front with me.”
Then Kalgan heard the sound of her door opening, then closing.
Kalgan hurriedly stuck his hand out and grabbed the clothing. Then he drew it under the tarp, and quickly dressed as well as he could.
The boxers were black with the word METAL printed all over them. The black shirt had a picture of flames on the front with the words WORLD ON FIRE in big black letters among the flames.
Kalgan rolled his eyes. “You gotta be kidding me!”
Once dressed, he threw off the tarp and shaded his eyes from the sun. It had to be nearly ten o’clock.
He slowly rose to a sitting position and looked around. They were parked off the side of the road. It was nowhere he recognized. The road winded out of sight between two hills, and there was no traffic in sight.
How far out of the way had he been taken by the Murderer?
He hopped down from the bed of the truck and went around to the passenger side. The girl’s truck was a dull blue old piece of crap… Probably an old Chevy by the looks of it. He tried to open the door, but it stuck a little bit. He pulled harder, and it finally squealed open.
“Huh. That door’s always been stuck fast. You’re pretty strong to get it open. I usually never bother,” she said in a bored tone of voice.
Kalgan got in quickly, then slammed the door shut. He took a good, long look at the girl in the driver’s seat next to him. She was as tall as he was, with jet-black hair, fair skin, and an attractive face. She was wearing jeans and a black T-shirt just as he was, but on her shirt was a picture of a skull. The words LADY OF BONES was printed in white just below that. He didn’t think there were any girls that liked that kind of music. That kind of metal was definitely an acquired taste. “Who are you and where are you taking me?” he said, not in the mood for any small-talk.
“My name is Nel. And you are?”
Kalgan sighed. She hadn’t answered his second question. “My name is…” he thought for a second. Should he lie about his name? But there wasn’t really a reason to. Nothing mattered. “… Kalgan.”
“Well, Kalgan, shall we get going?”
“Back to base, of course.”
“And where is that?”
Kalgan’s heart dropped. “But why?! I live in Arizona! Can’t you just take me home, instead?”
“Unfortunately, no. You need to speak to our leader before you can go home. You’ve caused quite a stir, and he wants to talk to you.”
Nel started up the engine and put it in gear.
“What do you mean?” Kalgan said, confused. “I haven’t done anything!”
“Tell that to the man you killed earlier,” Nel said with a perfectly-straight face and even tone of voice.
Kalgan choked. He was silent for a moment. “How did… How did you…”
“We have many powerfully-talented people on our team,” she explained. “Since your power awakened several days ago, we’ve been keeping an eye on you.”
“You think you’re the only one with certain… skills?” she said. “There are quite a few of us, and more are appearing all the time.”
“Us? You mean you…”
“Yeah. I’m one of them, too.”
Kalgan’s mind was reeling. He touched the small mirror safe in his pocket. What the hell was going on?
Nel reached over and turned on the radio, seemingly perfectly fine with not talking anymore. Her eyes stayed focused on the road. She adjusted the dial until some metal music started to blare from the speakers.
“I hope you don’t mind this music,” she said. “I swear, if you like that Country crap, or Rap, I’ll kick you out the door right now, and you can walk.”
“It’s fine,” Kalgan replied, a little angrily. He wasn’t in the mood to talk, either.
“Good. It will just be another couple hours. You might as well get comfortable.”
Kalgan was perfectly fine just staring out the window, watching the scenery go by.
Nel didn’t speak for a good half-hour. Finally, some commercials came on to the radio station, and Nel turned it off.
“Look…” she said, sighing in annoyance. “I don’t know what happened to you back there to leave you walking that dirt road naked, and I don’t want to know, but things are going to get better. I promise you that.”
“I don’t think so,” he replied, slightly angry. “I don’t think things could get any worse. The entire world could burn, and I wouldn’t care.”
Nel snorted. “Seems the shirt I got you was a good choice. you were covered in ashes. Seemed appropriate.”
“Thanks for that,” he said, in as sarcastic a tone as possible..
Kalgan was silent for a few minutes. Nel didn’t turn the radio back on.
“Who ARE you people?” Kalgan said eventually.
“We house and train those with special abilities like yours and mine,” she explained.
“You mean like Doctor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?” Kalgan replied, again, as sarcastically as possible.
Nel rolled her eyes. “Not so lovey-dovey. A little bit more militaristic.”
Again, several minutes more silence passed.
“So why do you want me so badly?”
Nel laughed. “You’re lucky I’m not the kind of girl to take that question badly, Kalgan. As for what you really meant… I don’t know. People like us are exceedingly rare. So far, only a few dozen individuals have been found in the entire world. Most of them are housed at base.”
“And what is it you do?”
“We exist as a shadow-organization under direct control of the President of the United States,” she explained, as if she had said it a million times before. “We take our orders only directly from him. He uses us when no other option would work.”
“Yada yada yada… I get it,” Kalgan replied. “You’re slaves to our corrupt government.”
Nel rolled her eyes. “We have more freedom than you’d think. It’s not like we’re shut-ins, you know, only let out when we have a mission to complete. We have lives. Just like you.”
“You mean had,” Kalgan said, bitterness in his voice. “I lost everything back there. I don’t have anything to live for.”
“Well, maybe now you do,” Nel said, turning the radio back on. More metal music. This time, it was something Kalgan had actually listened to before. It used to be one of his favorites.
“A Nightingale in a golden cage. That’s me locked inside reality’s space…” Nel sang along to the lyrics. Her voice was very similar to the lead-singer’s.
Kalgan rolled his eyes, but continued to peer out the window as the scenery whizzed passed. Just like Karl, this girl liked to speed. This time, he didn’t care.
“What kind of music do you like?” Nel asked after the song was over. “If I can find it on the radio, you can listen to it. Just no Country or Rap, please.”
“This is fine,” he said, uncaring.
They drove for another hour or so before coming to a lonely gas station, out in the middle of nowhere.
Nel pulled off the highway and stopped in front of the gas pump.
“Go inside and start looking for some food, I’ll be right behind you,” she said, getting out to fill the gas tank.
Kalgan gladly got out of the old truck and stretched his legs. He hated long road-trips, but the idea of food was too good to pass up.
He opened the door and heard the clang of a bell announcing his presence.
The old man in overlarge glasses glanced over as he entered and smiled.
“Get whatever you need,” the old man said. “Lady Neltharia and her organization have an arrangement with me. I’ll be reimbursed.”
“Uh… Okay?” Kalgan said, feeling unsure. Lady Neltharia? Was that the girl’s real name?
He walked over to the refrigerated drinks and got a huge bottle of lemonade, then stepped down the isle of snacks and candy. A bag of chips and a chocolate candy bar were not nearly enough to fill him up, but he didn’t know how much he was just allowed to take.
Neltharia stepped into the place and nodded at the man behind the counter before beelineing it over to Kalgan. “For fuck’s sake, Kalgan!” she said, “You need more food than that. If I have to hear your stomach growling for one more minute, I think I’ll kill myself!”
Neltharia got a shopping basket and started piling all sorts of food into it. She raided the pre-made sandwiches in the refrigerated section with wild abandon. The sight of a cascade of sandwich packages as she pushed them all into her basket was amusing, at least.
The man behind the counter shook his head, but had a smile on his face. He looked to be writing down all the things she took as she took them.
Once the basket was heaped up with a literal feast of junk food, Neltharia finally turned to Kalgan.
“That looks to be enough for now,” she said with a sigh. “Let’s get going.”
“Okay,” Kalgan replied.
“See you later, Francis,” Neltharia waved to the man behind the counter.
Of all the things, the man bowed! “It was my pleasure, Lady Neltharia!”
Nel rolled her eyes, but smiled to the man as they left.
Kalgan was silent as they got in the car.
“Aren’t you going to go back in and give him the basket back, at least?”
“Uh… Never mind.”
Nel put the basket between them on the seat and started the engine after getting in and closing the door.
She grabbed a sandwich package and ripped it open before proceeding to eat with a surprising amount of gusto.
“Eat,” she said between mouthfuls.
Kalgan shrugged, but did so. No convenience-store sandwich had ever tasted so good, but he was still famished after the first one. It had only highlighted how hungry he had been. He reached for another.
Nel drove her truck back on to the highway and they were making progress once again.
“Eat until you’re full,” Nel ordered. “Using your power drains you more than you’d think. You were near collapse back there.”
“Oh yeah?” he said between mouthfuls of ham and cheese sandwich.
“Haven’t you noticed your hunger has become… more epic lately.?”
“Now that you mention it…”
Kalgan remembered consuming the entire Cudgel burrito just yesterday… It still felt like a lifetime ago. He had never done that before.
“Protein and Carbohydrates,” Nel explained. “Those are your friends now. Eat.”
Nel turned the radio back on. Back to the Metal music.
He raided the last sandwich without even thinking.
“Go ahead. I’m full anyway,” she said after he had belatedly asked if she wanted it.
After that, he slowed down a bit and allowed himself to enjoy some tortilla chips and his lemonade.
Midway through his drink, he felt an uncontrollable lethargy overtake him. He actually fell asleep with his hand in the chip bag.
The voice barely seemed to brush against his consciousness.
“Hey! Sleepyhead. We’re here.”
Kalgan opened his eyes and groaned. He needed more sleep! Then it hit him. Everything that had happened over the past few days.
He jolted awake, causing empty sandwich packages and tortilla chips to go flying everywhere.
“Dude! Stop messing up my clean floorboards!” Nel complained without much enthusiasm.
Kalgan looked around. They were just driving through some kind of security checkpoint. They had waved Nel through almost immediately after recognizing who she was.
There were a few groups of soldiers marching in formation between the buildings.
“No. They’re not like us. We’re headed towards the middle of the base. With the military running things, there have to be at least a few regular soldiers around the place.”
“Huh.” Kalgan said, simply looking around in curiosity. He’d never been to a military base before.
They drove for several minutes, passing by more military buildings. Some looked to be barracks for housing soldiers, while others served some unknown purpose.
“We’re nearly there,” she said, turning down a side street.
“Isn’t it hard living on a military base?”
Nel shrugged. “Yes and no. We’re free to come and go once we’re old enough to look after ourselves. As for our missions… Well… they can be fun if you choose to see them that way.”
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“That’s… something I can’t talk to you about. Not yet, anyway. Talk to the General, first.”
Kalgan sighed. He hated not knowing what he was walking into.
“You’ll be fine. The General is actually an agreeable fellow. You’ll like him, I think.”
“Is that so?”
Kalgan sighed. “Let’s just get it over with, already.”
Nel stopped in a small parking lot in front of a long barracks-like building alongside some other vehicles of non-military make. Then she turned off the engine.
“Home sweet home.”
She stepped out of her truck, and Kalgan did likewise.
“Follow me. I’ll take you to the General.”