Season 2, Part 1
Velora pulled up a corner of her cape to mop the sweat pouring down her forehead. The sun beaming down from the clear sky heated the armor she wore, creating an effect very similar to sticking a tin of sardines in the fire. She glared at Korsan, striding evenly before her.
"Take the Wilderness Route, he says," she grumbled. "It'll be faster, he says."
The mage wagged his head without turning around. "You know, you could take off that armor, if you're uncomfortable!" The portends delivered to him via his talisman troubled him. Something no one expected or wanted had happened at the White Castle, and things did not bode well for the Gifted outcasts.
Velora frowned and watched the way the sun glinted off her gauntlets. "I like it!" She insisted. "Even though it is better suited for forest travel and shadows, rather than rocky cliffs in broad daylight!"
Korsan stopped abruptly, and Velora nearly collided with him. Her lip curled in a snarl. "What now?"
Korsan waved her to silence and hissed.
Velora blinked, and in the same space of time it took her to refocus, a man appeared. One moment, she and the Mage were the only two living souls in sight, and the next, a young man in light chain mail stood in the center of the path, turning round in dizzy circles. He seemed to be mumbling to himself as he spun, and with only a few paces, Velora's keen ears could distinguish his words:
"... Then I was alone in the woods with a message she said I needed to deliver." He stumbled around. She was close enough now to see the utter confusion on his face. "Now where am I?" He whimpered.
Korsan had already consulted his talisman and deemed this man as no threat to them. He held up a salutary hand.
"Well met, friend!"
The man stared at them with wide eyes, and instantly brought up his hands in front of him. Velora felt it like a powerful gust of wind pushing against her. Try as she might, she could advance no further down the path.
He trembled now. "Stop!" He said again.
"We mean you no harm," Korsan assured him.
The stranger blinked, and Velora felt the pressure pushing against her lift ever so slightly.
"I know," said the man. He carefully balled his hands into fists and brought them stiffly to rest at his sides. He shrugged his shoulders. "You're probably the ones I am supposed to find."
He didn't have time to so much as draw a breath before Velora struck. She rammed him with her whole body, her armored claws digging into his shoulders, drawing blood.
"Who sent you?" She snarled in his face. "Who is looking for us?"
"Hey!" The stranger scowled right back, and opened his hands again. One slight motion of his arms, and Velora felt the strange force lifting her off him—but she didn't sail through the air and crash to the ground. Instead, the mysterious pressure left her dangling eight feet in the air, utterly helpless. She tensed and curled her legs under her, bracing her knees for impact.
"What—are you doing this?" She eyed the stranger.
He dropped his hands, but she remained hanging in thin air. "Yes; If you would just let me explain—"
"Do so quickly," Korsan prompted, ignoring both the furious glares from Velora, and the warning glance from the telekinetic stranger that said he was one wrong word away from joining her. "We are in a bit of a hurry, and—"
"A hurry?" The man snorted. "A mage and a—" he lowered Velora slightly to his eye level, still an inch or so above the ground, peering at her closely. "Whatever you are..." his eyes fell on the clawed gauntlets. "Wait," he said quickly, looking back up at her face. "Do I know you?"
She nodded to the livery he wore. "You're a knight of the White Castle," she observed. "We may have crossed paths."
"Paths?" His voice came strangled and faint. "Knights at night..."
Velora felt her feet touch the ground as the strange man left off holding her to clutch his own head. She took hesitant steps toward Korsan, her senses keen for any shift in the man's mood.
"Claws and blood," he whimpered. "So much—" his voice stopped abruptly.
His eyes came up at the same instant Velora felt a massive fist drive straight at her, clouting her from her ankles to her face. The momentum plastered her against the cliff behind her, as the man glared wildly.
"You attacked my unit three nights ago!" He screamed. "You and the others with you killed everyone—killed me!" Harder he pushed, forcing the breath from her lungs, grinding her spine against the rock. Velora couldn't move
"STOP!" Korsan waved his staff and a blue light flashed, negating the telekinetic force. The man staggered back at the sudden absence of his power, and Velora dropped to her knees, coughing and gasping.
The man pointed his finger at Korsan, but his power had stalled. "You!" He snarled. "You are in league with this fiend, this monster, this... this—"
"Wolf?" Korsan supplied, helping Velora to her feet. "Yes, and you should be too. We have stared we mean you no harm, and that is twice you have attacked her." He shifted his grip on his staff, letting this stranger know that he could cast a spell on him at any moment. "Now," said the Mage calmly. "Suppose we start back at the beginning. My name is Korsan, and this is my friend Velora. Who are you?"
He sniffed, scrubbing his grimy nose with the back of his hand. "Justin," he said.
"Well then, Justin," Korsan continued in a pleasant tone, "perhaps you can tell us why you are meant to find us, and what you mean by saying that Velora killed you." He raised his bushy white eyebrows dubiously.
Justin shrugged. "The answers to your questions are both the same," he said. "I was part of the unit working for The Hunter, and she," he nodded to Velora, "along with some other Gifted freaks—"
He broke off as Velora bared some very savage fangs at him, but he didn't amend his words, "—attacked us, and I saw many of my brothers fall before everything went black, and I awoke in the presence of an Angel."
"An Angel?" Velora scoffed.
Korsan glanced at her. "Do not forget so hastily my friend," he cautioned her. "Do you not recall the being we saw yesterday?"
Justin's eyes grew wide. "Fair hair, pale skin, large white wings?"
Korsan nodded. "It appears we have met the same person, though we were not able to get her name before she vanished."
"It's Jade," Justin supplied readily. "And she wanted me to tell you that her brother is loose, and that we need to find him before he causes trouble."
Velora stared at him, eyebrow raised in contempt. "She didn't happen to tell you how we are supposed to find this brother of hers, did she?"
Justin shook his head. "I wonder if her brother is also an Angel like her," he mused. "What say you, Mage Korsan?"
The old man didn't seem to hear him. His talisman sat in the middle of his hand, and he seemed to be muttering to himself. "Coin... It's a coin, it must be!"
"Korsan?" Velora asked.
Korsan looked up at the two of them. "I see a coin in my visions of Jade. We must assume that she and her brother are as alike as two sides of a coin—which is to say, not at all. If she is white and Angelic, he must be dark and shrouded in shadow. If it is in her power to give Gifts, it must be his nature to corrupt them. The only thing that they hold in equal measure is power; her power to restore and heal must not be overwhelmed by his propensity for destruction and chaos." He looked straight at Justin. "I believe you were meant to join us on our way. King Beren will want to hear of your news."
"King Who?" Both Velora and Justin spoke in the same moment.
Korsan had already started down the path. "No more time to waste! We have a coronation to attend! Keep up, children!"
Velora sneered. "Who is he calling child?"
"I know a guard at the castle," Justin said. "She was fortunate enough not to get assigned to my unit—though I will admit to wishing she had at first. If we're going to the castle, I can introduce you. She also is Gifted, though I can only assume her powers were deemed useful by the Council, and thus she escaped falling under the Outcast Ordinance."
"Lucky her," Velora snarled, effectively quashing further conversation.
Denahlia watched the strange glowing letters scroll across her vision, supplying her with what might have been information, but she did not comprehend it. All she knew was that when the words "SYSTEM CHECK" appeared, that was her cue to get to a safe place and close her eyes, because she would be vulnerable and unresponsive when the letters began to stream. She waited, feeling her head clear, her focus sharpen, and her vigor increase. When the glowing vision declared "ALL SYSTEMS RESTORED" she could open her eyes and be on her way, feeling very much restored, indeed.
Except this time, a shadow detached behind her, and Troy materialized in the room. Denahlia whirled on him and stared. She blinked to the red, expecting the sight of him to erupt in a symphony of reds, yellows, and greens as people normally did when she saw them like this. But as black as he appeared, the closest color she could perceive was a deep blue-violet around his hands and face. The rest was black and shadow. What manner of man was he?
Troy grinned. "Done with the inspection, then?" He asked.
Denahlia blinked back to normal vision. "Who are you, again?" She demanded.
He shrugged. "Somebody who's going to make you very rich and very successful. Sir Rayne!" He addressed the man before Denahlia had heard him approach behind her. "How kind of you to join us."
"Uuggghhhhh...." Rayne moaned, shuffling into the room and covering his puffy eyes with his hand. "I feel terrible."
Troy glided over to him, guiding him into the empty chair. "No," he said with a chuckle, "what you feel is sober. Your body is still trying to remember how to exist without the liquid fortification."
Rayne finally lowered his hand to stare at them with glassy eyes.
Troy nodded to Denahlia. "Madame Hunter here will need a few improvements before we get going—"
"Going where?" Rayne blinked, looking more alert, the longer he kept his head up.
Troy still leaned against the shadowy wall. It blended exactly with the color of his clothes, so that the longer he stood, the more he seemed to meld with the wall. "To catch your dragon, of course," he said.
"Still insisting we follow you on your fool's errand, are you?" Denahlia sneered. She blinked to the red, enjoying the rainbow of colors slumped over the table in front of her. Troy's figure behind it remained a deep, enigmatic shadow
"Dragon? So, wait, that whole conversation in the tavern was real?" A shift of the colors, as Rayne's face warmed considerably, and his body went cold.
"Of course it was real," said the deep, cold shadow. "In any case, we're going to need more than thermal and night vision to catch our dragon—wouldn't you say, Madame Hunter?"
Denahlia blinked and her vision shifted one too many times. Now she was using the green sight, the one that enabled her to pierce the darkest shadows. She immediately looked at Troy—but he appeared no different than Rayne in the green vision. She blinked, and the colorful daylight returned. "Your words mean nothing to me," she muttered.
Troy persisted in grinning at her. "That's not surprising. After all, you were born with it, weren't you? Of course most Gifted children born to unGifted parents would have no idea how to identify their Gift, since the parents would have done anything to conceal the existence of the Gift—if they had known about it."
Denahlia gasped. "How did you know about my family?" She growled. "This thing I can do?" She pointed to her face. "It's not a Gift! I hunt Gifted people!"
Troy didn't flinch. "If it's not a Gift," he said, "how am I able to do this?" He waved a hand in front of Denahlia's face, and everything went black.
She forced herself to remain calm. She was still aware that she was standing. She could hear Rayne's uneven huffing beside her, smell his heavy, unwashed, drunk-sweaty body odor.
"What have you done to me?" She demanded, forcing the calm to subdue her voice. "I cannot help you if I am blind."
Troy chuckled darkly. "My dear, compared to what you could be, you've been blind and deaf your whole life."
The words "SYSTEM UPGRADE AVAILABLE; APPLY? Y/N" appeared in the blackness. In the whole statement, "SYSTEM" was the only word Denahlia understood. "Give me my sight back!" She demanded.
She felt the brush of gloved fingers on her ears, and Troy's voice reached her, faint and small. "You must accept the upgrades first; do you want what I can give you? Yes or no."
Yes or No; Y or N. "I do not know what upgrades are!"
"Yes or No, Denahlia?"
"YES, DAMMIT! YES!"
The words vanished, leaving Denahlia with the cold realization that she had just displayed desperation and vulnerability before someone with very obvious power over her. Her vision returned gradually, fading into full color till it did actually seem as if what she had considered "normal" just a few minutes ago was actually foggy, and washed out.
Troy was grinning at her. Rayne wore a frown.
"Well?" Asked the former. "How do you feel?"
Denahlia shook her head. "I feel no different." She gave him the satisfaction once, she would never let him see that side of her again.
Troy laughed. "Oh, go ahead," he goaded her, "try the x-ray vision!"
Denahlia had never heard of such a thing. "X-ray?" She asked. Her eyes blinked, and Denahlia screamed.
She now sat in a grey world populated by skeletons. One sat on a slate-colored form, its grisly, grinning skull facing her. Troy at least appeared normal, having his skin on, instead of the bones exposed. All around them, the building had vanished. Other skeletons milled about, some on the ground, some floating in midair—including below them, and over their heads. Nothing was hidden from her. She could see what people did behind closed doors, what they carried covered by blankets or locked in iron chests. Denahlia regained her composure, only to look down and see the bones of her own hands! She could see every hidden knife and gun on her person, hanging as if from her exposed frame. She looked out over the expanse of the harbor. A long, sinuous shape wavered in the distance, no bigger than a speck to the southeast.
Another blink brought everything back to normal. Denahlia gave a huge gasp of relief, running her fingers over her palms and her arms, enjoying the sight of her flesh where it was supposed to be.
"Well?" Troy grinned even wider. "What do you think?"
Denahlia wagged her head. "You are insane," she muttered.
"Well? Tell me what you saw!" He said, finally coming to sit by Rayne.
Denahlia pursed her lips. "I may have seen the dragon," she said, "but it was too far away. I couldn't be sure."
Rayne looked around the room with a puzzled frown. "She could see a faraway dragon from in here? The windows are still shuttered, for crying out loud!"
Denahlia watched Troy carefully. Why did he continuously seem different than everyone else? Well, not everyone, she realized. "I also saw someone who looked different than the others," she said.
"Different, how so?" Troy asked.
Denahlia shrugged. "Well, different from Rayne and me. She looked like you, though. I couldn't see her bones except in her wings."
"Bones?" Rayne grunted.
"Wings?" For he first time, Troy's swagger vanished as his eyes opened in alarm. "Where was this person you saw?"
Denahlia relished the fear on his face. Finally, payback for what he had just put her through! "She should be here any moment. It looked like she was headed this way." A small smirk played around her lips. "Why so afraid?"
Troy scowled at her. "I am afraid because I know what she is capable of," he snarled. "You think I am some kind of twisted miracle-worker? That's nothing compared to what my sister could do to you."
Denahlia's eyebrows raised. "Sister?"
Troy pinched his lips. "We should get out of here before you two become collateral damage when she tries to kill me."
"Hey!" Rayne cried, shambling after them as Denahlia led them with her night vision down a light-less path out the back of the inn. "Don't I get some of those upgrades?"
Troy sighed. "Unfortunately, since you are unGifted, I can do nothing for you. The best we can do is get you armor and weapons, right?" He looked in Denahlia's direction as if he could see her.
"Yep," she replied tersely. "There's an armory down the way."
"Perfect!" Troy laid a hand on the shoulders of both his companions. "Let's go!"
Everything went black.
The King-to-be frantically paved in front of the floor-length mirror, half-dressed and much too agitated to progress any further. Clothing lay strewn about the room, shirts in five different shades and trousers in three. A dozen neckties hung lazily out of an open drawer on the bureau, like a monster with so many tongues.
"Try the yellow ones, they're regal."
Beren whirled around at the sound of a female voice, covering his nakedness—but he stood alone in the room. He shook his fist toward the window. "Stop it, Azelie!" He snarled. "I don't need your help!"
The door opened behind him, and Beren twisted around and promptly tripped on a discarded outfit laying in a heap on the floor.
Jaran, his younger brother, smirked at him. "She's right, though," he mused, brushing stray lint off his midnight-blue suit.
Beren scowled. "I am not going to appear at my coronation looking like a man-sized banana!"
"Fine," Jaran shrugged, slinging a pair of brown trousers at his brother. "Wear these, then, and a green coat—you'll make a fine tree!" He laughed at his own joke, only to splutter and cough as his mouth filled with water. "Hey!"
"You shouldn't address the King that way," Beren grumbled.
Jaran waved a hand. "Whoa, slow down! You're not King yet!"
"But I will be," Beren protested, "by sundown!"
"Very well," Jaran sighed, stretching and yawning, "at sundown, let me be the first of your subjects to grovel and kiss the ring!" He reached out to touch the fantastic array of jewelry, only to see a brilliant web of sparks suddenly spring from his fingers at the presence of metal. "Oops!"
Beren selected a burgundy coat and a gold cravat to match, but didn't tie it. He slumped into a chair. "What am I thinking, Jaran? Do I really have what it takes to rule the kingdom as our father did?"
Jaran shrugged. "I wouldn't know," he mused. "They died when I was born."
"And I was too busy being a fool to pay any attention to the legacy intended for me," Beren noted with a wag of his head.
Jaran sat forward and regarded his brother. "For what it's worth," he said slowly, "I think you'll do just fine. You're pretty smart when it comes to these things."
Beren glanced sidelong at him. After being so convinced he was all alone with only a fairy for company (Jay! Oh, he was such a fool for sending her away; he hoped she'd survived the ice at least, whether or not she ever wanted to see him again), having a brother and preparing to lead a kingdom was wholly new.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
Jaran gave a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Absolutely; we're with you on this, brother." He stood with a jerk, and trudged to the door.
"Is the kid with the flames still working on getting the castle in order?" Beren asked before Jaran exited completely.
"Damaris?" Jaran stopped to answer. "Yes; the Council have all been informed that now instead of ruling for themselves, they must prepare to heed you as king."
Beren smirked. "I bet that didn't go over well," he remarked.
Jaran returned the grin. "It didn't, but don't worry, I shocked some sense into them." He let a blue spark play over the metal fixings in the door.
Beren frowned when he saw the burn marks in the wood. "Oy! Look what you've done!" He huffed. "What about Azelie? Has she gotten any closer to finding the Twins?"
"I'm still trying," the voice responded. "They can't have left the Realm so quickly."
Beren flinched. "We really need to get you a voice box so you can stop doing that."
"Who says I wanted to stop?" Came the retort. "No, wait!" She continued in a more frantic tone. "I'm sorry, Your Majesty; that wasn't supposed to come out. I didn't mean it."
Beren shook his head and stood before the mirror to tie his cravat. "What's the difficulty with finding the Twins?"
"Their Gift, I suppose."
Beren'a fingers fumbled. "They're Gifted?"
"You didn't know? I suppose they hid it well. They both have Charisma, which means they can enthrall people into doing what they want by manipulating their emotions. It also makes them hard for me to find, because their minds are nearly impervious to detection and influence."
Beren blinked. "No wonder they were able to hoodwink the Council so fast."
"While creating a Council of unGifted may have seemed like a reasonable safety check at the time, it also created a liability, because the unGifted are all the more susceptible to corrupting influences."
Beren tightened his lips. "We'll have to do something about that," he murmured. "What about Aurelle? What is she up to?"
"I don't know," Azelie answered. "I have been wholly focused on finding the Clissanders. She is still in the castle, but I can't focus on her while my mind is spread elsewhere."
Beren nodded. "Understood. No worries, I'll look for her myself. Just tell me which tower she's in."
"The north one, I believe."
Beren exited the room and headed for the North tower. He knew it housed the royal library—somewhere Korsan and his father always encouraged him to go, but Beren had always avoided.
The hallway seemed too dark, after the brilliant glowlamps illuminating the rest of the castle. Beren paused as he felt a gust of warm, musty wind—blowing from within the hallway! He reached the door and pushed it open.
"Aurelle!" He gasped.
Books and scrolls sailed off the shelves of their own accord, swarming around a white-haired figure standing at the middle of the room. Instead of her simple jacket, she now wore a long gown resplendent with silver threads. A gleaming silver circlet crowned her head.
"Beren!" She cried. "Help!"
From her perch on the dragon's back, Zayra saw the trees first. They had made it out of the abominable wilderness! Soon the castle would be hers! Down on the ground below, the twin ex-Regents slumped against the first tree. As much as Zayra knew there was plenty of room along with her and the dragon more than capable of bearing the weight, there was still most of her psyche that enjoyed seeing the ones who had caused her such pain now experiencing discomfort of their own.
She paused, cleared her throat, and announced, "I am ready to continue!"
Kaidan looked up at her first. "Well, we are not!" He shouted back.
Zayra rolled her eyes. The insufferable idiot persisted in reminding her that she could not enthrall them as she had the others.
"Well then," she sighed as her Dragon picked up its head and began flexing its wings, "I suppose I will just have to make the rest of the journey on my own—"
"Have fun trying to overthrow the castle full of Gifted heirs with nothing but a dragon," Javira called sweetly up to her.
Zayra glared at her, wishing she had enough control to make her head explode.
"If you will not let us ride," Kaidan called to her, "then you must wait while we rest."
Zayra folded her arms, but allowed the dragon to slump into a sitting position. "I'm tired of waiting!" she grumbled. "I've waited far too long already!"
Javira stiffened, peering deep into the forest. "Someone's coming!"
The twins scooted under the cover of the dragon's massive body.
A young woman dashed into view, wearing the livery of the White Castle--and the same scars on the side of her face as Zayra had, though where Zayra's looked the pink of only a few days old, the scars marring the newcomer had faded to white already.
Zayra grinned and dismounted to welcome her. "Captain Edri!" she gushed. "What a pleasant surprise!"
The young female soldier knelt in the presence of her queen. "My lady Zayra," she said. "I have come to once again pledge my service to you."
The twins regarded her closely as Zayra raised Edri to her feet and stroked the scars on her face.
"Wait, is this not the captain who interfered with the circus some months ago?" Javira enquired.
The dragon bent its head toward her, and Edri reached up to stroke its nose. "Well met, Erlis," she murmured, though the growl she received in response seemed more angry than congenial. To the twins, she said, "That was indeed me; I intervened because I did not believe in the destruction of Gifted people for the sake of entertainment."
"Were you not recently in league with the band of Outcasts led by the one known as Harlock?" Kaidan asked slowly.
Edri shook her head. "I know no one by that name. The only Outcast I know is Erlis, and she sits before you as a dragon." She gestured to the scaly creature beside them.
Kaidan flinched in surprise. "This is Erlis Irrya, the King's onetime healer?" He stared at the creature as Edri nodded. The dragon would not meet his gaze.
"Why have you come to us, Captain Edri?" Javira sidled up to her with a sly smile.
Edri remained resolute. "I have come to swear fealty once again to my Queen." She turned back to Zayra and met her gaze. "These Outcasts are to blame because they killed the only friend I had in my unit. I will serve you, and aid you in meting out justice upon them for their crimes."
Kaidan tilted his head as Javira and Zayra both smiled. "What is your Gift, if I may ask? I confess I only saw it from afar, and would love to know more about it."
Edri slipped off her glove to reveal the glowing blue hand. "I have the power of healing; it is nowhere as strong as that of Erlis, but I am able to mend broken bones and temporary ailments."
Javira grinned and wrapped her hands around Edri's arm. "Oh, I think you'll do nicely on our side!" she mused.
"Excellent!" cried Kaidan, the respite having restored him. "Let us depart with all haste to the castle, then!"
The Clan of Outcasts Series