CHAPTER 3 State of Emergency The Great Hall He was adrift in an ocean of pain and noise. Ash opened his eyes, once his vision cleared, he was staring up at a cavernous stone ceiling. He was lying on his back on a makeshift futon. Gingerly, the Forest Kin sat up right, winced and brought a hand up to the source of pain at the back of his head. The flesh had been adhered shut with fossilized amber. “Practically had to put your brains back in.” He beheld that smooth, moon face again. The Kindly One from before. “Thank Ilium that her finest healers are here. You were one of the lucky ones.” The great hall of Ilium’s temple had been converted into a healer’s ward. All around them the injured Crux and Aux thrashed, cried out for their loved ones, for death. “You’re an Undertaker. You were carrying a dead Avian child.” The nocturne’s Aux, a lantern caging a blaze, flickered from her side. “I took her to the crypts below, there’s scores like her in there. More still to be retrieved. You’ll have your work cut out for you, once your strength returns.” The Council Chamber “--and when will the next storm be? We must remain in Ilium’s temple until the storms surrounding the Aviary guide it to the sea.” Carus stood at the center of the gathering of red mantles. He stood as auxiliary for the Duke of the Aviary until they could find his father’s body. “Are the Cinnabar Clad so callous?” He could not conceal the bitterness in his voice. Om the Invader answered him. “This is the way of nature. The will of Ilium.” The Invader was crowned by elephant ears growing from his skull. Wherever he stood, hydraroot and kuzu tendriled forth, overtaking the stone. “Forgive me, Elder Kin, but I could not help but notice the voice of Ilium is not among us.” Stryx the Endless broke his thoughtful silence. “In the Jade Prophet’s absence, this council rules in his stead. Our words are his.” His body was rotting wood devoured by a rainbow of fungi. It was Kama the Beloved who took pity on Carus. “The Forest Kin grieve for the loss of your home and people, Carus. But we must tend to our own.” Her hair was a canopy of venus fly traps and pitcher plants, her body a slow red curve. Everything about her beckoned intimacy. “Then tend to your own.” Carus raised his voice so that it would echo through the chamber. “The one who has the Alate is a Forest Kin.” The Cinnabar Clad murmured amongst themselves. “Do you have proof of this claim?” “I do indeed. I believe she’s quite well-known in the Green Realm; The Chimera. She’s still in Viridos, I know it.” “We are familiar with The Chimera and her methods.” Kama smiled knowingly at Carus, who found his face flushing. “Very well. We will raise the bounty on The Chimera’s head, dispatch our finest hunters to bring her here to receive Ilium’s justice.” The Lagoon It was on a moonless night when her Kaustiran finally came to her. Rasfien kept her distance from the cloaked man as they regarded one another in the darkness. “The Alate. Show it to me.” His voice was ragged, as if his lungs were filled with sand. Rasfien placed her hands on her hips, unwilling to make such a rookie mistake. “It’s safe. Show me my payment, first.” Her skin broke out in goosebumps and that was her only warning. Shadow strings laced around her limbs, her throat, lifted her up, pulled her taut. The thief’s struggles ceased when a slight vibration through the Kaustiran’s strings sent liquid fire through her nerve endings. Rasfien screamed, went limp in her bonds, before her body contorted into agonizing positions. “I can do this all night, my dear.” The Kaustiran whispered, he manipulated the strings around him, controlling her like a puppet. “Might as well tell me and afford yourself a quick death.” Tears streamed down Rasfien’s face as her arm nearly twisted from its shoulder socket. “M-My bag!” Rasfien shrieked. “The tree! Please!” The Kaustiran kept a casual hold on her strings, not ceasing her torment, as he knelt before a hollowed tree. With one hand, he drew out a parcel wrapped in black cloth. He drew the cloth back, the glow of the crystal illuminating his dark eyes. “Thank you my little cut purse.” He stood again, long fingers sending another vibration through his strings. “Let’s play a while longer—“A ghostly ferret emerged from within Rasfien’s clothes, baring it’s small, sharp teeth at him. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz... He turned back to the hollowed tree. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!! A swarm of massive hornets flew at the Kaustiran, attracted by the glow of the Alate. He screamed, thrashed, lost control of the strings. Rasfien fled into the forest before her feet could even touch the ground. +++ The Forest Kin was in the trees high above, leaping from branch to branch. Rasfien runs through the forest, jumps on a branch high above, trying to catch her breath. Branch cuts out from underneath and she falls to the forest floor below. She paused for a moment to catch her breath. Surely he hadn’t caught up to her after all this way... “--!!” In the dark, she almost didn’t see the string wrap around the branch, cutting it from under her. Rasfien screamed again as she fell to the forest floor. +++ She tried to stifle her whimpers as she limped through the undergrowth. At last, she emerged onto open terrain, but her relief did not last. Rasfien stood on the edge of a sheer cliff, the waves crashing into jagged rocks far below. The Kaustiran had led her here. She was trapped. Chimera hissed at something over her shoulder and Rasfien turned, sobbing at the sight of the robed man emerging from the forest. He raised his hands, summoning his strings once more. Without another thought, Rasfien threw herself from the cliff into the waters below.