Tainted Sky; Rei’s Playlist - Edited Version Preview
[Author's note: Due to the nature of this story, there are many instances of stylized font types, SFX, special symbols, formats, speech bubbles, and images that appear all throughout the novel so I included some examples of what they might look like as footnotes that can be referred to at the bottom of the page. Hope you enjoy >:D]
I stood still and watched the movie play out. There was no sound but I heard it, no colours but my mind painted them—between the lines, like a colour-by-number film, except the frameworks were built off imagination and the numbers were composed by distraction.
The theatre had no seats, or popcorn, or friends to laugh with, but it was there, and I was a participant, snared to the spot with awe on my face, blind to the shadows that surrounded the screen.
The movie took place in a city, kinda like Ezveria—my city—except cooler, less real and less mean, with better graphics and kinder actors. Their script was made up of an algorithm of movie-memories jig-sawed together in one awesome concoction. The genre: a kickass, action-packed, flying-car adventure, with robots and superheroes and epic fight scenes in the sky.
To a killer soundtrack, and a killer shot worthy of a best picture award, the main hero makes their entrance, skidding their car vertically along the side of a skyscraper. The camera captures an exhilarating angle of the actor’s boot—only the boot—as they step out of the vehicle and stand sideways against gravity upon the building’s glassy face. The shot crawls slowly upwards, rotating around the girl wearing the space-goddess equivalent of a leather jacket. She poses for a moment and then rips off her sunglasses to reveal:
Zetta; Defender of the Cosmos
The words appear in bold comic book font beside her. The kind of typestyle that can only be read by one of those narrator voices made for movie trailers.
In a world—yeah, like that—of slayers and sonatas, one lone warrior embarks on yet another quest to conquer the omniverse. Zetta the indomitable and her gravity-defying Corvetta take the stage.
She flips her scarlet scarf over her galactic-armored shoulders and it whips in the wind with her equally long brown hair.
She closes her car door as gracefully as closing a book, then stares the city down. The spirits of her enemies rise and collect into a wonky cloud of purple smog with a diabolical face fit for a ghost-type Bokémon. She locks eyes with the creature and, in the quiet of the elevated air, like the moment of tranquility before a showdown between outlaws, she gathers her power and utters her best one-liner:
“Ack! Sorry!” I’d accidentally bumped into some guy who looked like he really could’ve been an outlaw. His persona reeked of intimidation. I thought I’d been standing still but it turned out I’d been walking, probably to avoid the service counter, my head hundreds of stories in the clouds.
[Enter here the SFX for embarrassment]
I dodged eye-contact as I passed him, but felt the man’s glare anyway. There were too many people here, too many things to look at and listen to… like this nice vinyl flooring for example. I kicked at it, as if I were kicking a pebble.
Pretty sure I was the pebble in this picture.
I pinched the Rezu-chip in my hoodie pocket and bit the inside of my lip, watching everyone’s footsteps rain by.
I approached stairs I hadn’t seen until they reached my feet and took them down, its steps were shallow and wide enough to pass as a ramp and its surface had the colourfully reflective gleam of a bubble. There were too many colours, too many swirls of silhouettes and wonky motions, and my head spun with them as my feet led me to the main foyer; a huge circular space with many foyer-like things I couldn’t look at for long. Stuff like holo signs and modern art displays, and people. Courage slowly drained from my shoulders as if each shoe that passed were stepping over me.
A moment of respite appeared in the form of an empty chair facing a window.
I slumped into it. Took some breaths. Calmed some downs. Crowd sounds rose behind, but I pinned my attention to the window in front, which looked out on a cute, humanless, indoor-outdoor courtyard. A pretend path led to a circle of rocks, but there was no door to get in—or out?—there. Sprouting from the rocks was the giant four-leaf clover that umbrellaed over the entire community centre. Klover Community Centre, to name names. The clover looked like it was made out of the stuff used by 3D-printers, and I think it lit up at night too.
A message blocked my view of the clover for a moment. I frowned. Of course its ad-glass, of course. I stretched out my legs, reaching out to the two-story tall glass wall that angled back a third story, and swiped my sneaker across the headline about yesterday’s blackout. Once: and the news display slid to propaganda from the chief of police, and twice: into oblivion, leaving me to judge my reflection.
Not much of a Zetta, am I?My hair was waaay shorter than hers, kinking out at my jawline. I wasn’t as tall or stylish, and I could barely ever make eye contact with anyone, much less my enemies. I didn’t even have a license.
The only similarity was our scarves. Both red, both long. One fluttered in the wind; the other flopped over my lap whenever I threw it upwards.
The scarf slumped to my lap for a third time before I slapped my cheeks.
“Get it together, Rei. You’re strong. You’re strong.” I held the little black square labeled ‘Reizetta Zykophona’s Rezu #2’ in front of my nose with both hands. The ‘2’ represented my second chance at nailing a job. Even though, technically, this was my 6th Rezu-chip—I’d lost numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, but then found #2 in my sock drawer last night. And technically, this was more like my umpteenth attempt than my second chance, but, I mean, whatever. Details.
I slipped the chip back into my front pocket and stood up. Here’s how this was gonna go: I was going to hand them my Rezu, they’d scan me into the server, then judge my character, rate me as averagely employable, interview me, I’d answer the questions all professional-like, then obtain the job, and work the job, and live monetarily ever after.
“You got this!” I held my fists by my sides, clenching triumph in each palm before turning around. It was almost a 180 turn, until it was a 360.
Okay, maybe if I closed my eyes for that first step, I could trick my brain into thinking I was somewhere else and it wouldn’t seem so scary.
“Ack, sorry!” My shut-eye tactic hadn’t gotten me very far. I bumped into some other guy wearing the exact same black shirt the first man had been wearing. I held my nose and squinted, and my gaze fell to the object on the stranger’s waist. Confusion struck me as I peeked up at his face. He had blond-brown hair braided back into a dual-coloured ponytail, and—even though he didn’t look like a police officer—there was a sword strapped to his hip.
He retracted his hand from a Silvertooth earpiece and stared down at me.
~ ~ ~ [*3]
So, uh… remember when I was going about my day with a Rezu-chip in hand, and hopes and dreams and all that fun stuff?
Well, yeah, that wasn’t the case anymore.
The man with the different shades of braids now stood with a drawn sword and a snarl over the many frightened civilians of Klover Community Centre. His bluish-grey blade weaved threateningly beside his march, like the serpentine hand of a nurse before an injection. Beyond him, a ring of lackeys stood two metres apart in matching black shirts and fancy utility belts, trapping us in a tight huddle with our backs to Klover’s encased clover. They wore blank expressions behind bandana masks, and had steel bows planked across their thighs.
I knelt smack-dab in the front row, forced into submission by the shouts of fellow marks and swordsmen before I knew what was going on. Sprawled out behind were the other helpless individuals who’d been going about their morning.
Job hunting. Yep, that’s how I’d started this day. I must have been the only person in all of Ezveria who could screw up the task bad enough to become the hunted.
Whimpers and muffled sobs harmonized from behind. I’d ignored their sounds before but not anymore. Their fear was infectious. Whether or not that fear had seeped into my gaze, I didn’t know. The only sure feeling I felt was a blaze of hatred bubbling inside me, directed at the man who’d coordinated the attack. The man who was pacing in a U-shaped path that passed my place in the huddle more than any other.
Each clacking step left me simmering. A few more seconds or a few more paces might have made me commit to an idea stupid enough to threaten the life of every hostage in this room. But sitting here, doing nothing? I couldn’t handle that. My timidness came with the kind of flaw that would get you fired umpteen-too-many times: provoke me, and I’d forget who I was.
The ringleader clicked a button on his belt and spoke into his earpiece in a hard, cold voice. “Is this some kind of joke? What have I asked of you, officers? The release of my comrades, right? And I told you I’d know if you were screwing me over, right?”
Garbage. This man is a waste of a human being.
His chuckle lasted a beat. “That’s not what my associate said. From what I heard, only a few holo projections of our troops were set free. Were you trying to dupe us, officer? Hmm? Because, if you didn’t care so much about the differences between a real person and a figmentation, then I could start sending out a few ghosts of our own.”
Someone screamed. I flinched. The ringleader made a hand gesture and an arrow zipped over our heads. A wave of cries followed it. I remained in place, silent, stunned maybe, or mentally gone.
“Quiet!” he shouted.
I couldn’t turn around. My body refused to find out where the arrow had lodged.
His tone changed when he spoke back into his earpiece. It was darker, more sinister. Those with better seating wouldn’t have heard it: “If you want even one of these hostages to survive, you’ll do as I say. I’ve done crueler things for your government than cause 50 casualties, give or take.”
He clicked his belt again and swung his blade up to rest on his shoulder.
“Listen up, dimwits. Your corrupted cops don’t seem to care about you enough to follow simple instructions, so some of you might have to start dying in a few minutes. Take your picks.”
My hand coiled around my scarf, but I remained otherwise motionless. These scum didn’t deserve my tears, or the sight of my fear. Monsters like these didn’t need any more feelings of triumph.
There wasn’t a single hero from a single film who would have allowed this kind of injustice, and (as a fan) I didn’t want to either.
“You have a fierce look in your eye there, little lady.”
If it were Zetta here, instead of me, she would have saved everyone by now. She would’ve whipped out her compact mirror, chucked it in the air like a ninja star, had it shapeshifted into its vehicular state and run over all her foes using her telekinetic power. All her enemies would’ve KAPOWed or FWUMPed out of the way and humanity would have been safe once again.
“Don’t tell me you’re thinking about doing something heroic?”
But I wasn’t Zetta. I didn’t own a weapon, and this was my first hostage-taking scene ever. Crazy as it was, those weren’t uncommon in Ezverian society. Radical demonstrations of every kind were becoming the norm, these days. Every other month it seemed like a mall or a school or some business company was being attacked or ransacked in the name of justice, or as a call to freedom, or a noisy request for minimum wage.
Kindred Spritz, Poison Donation, Adeptus Thread, Vanditization; there were a number of groups tagged all over the city via graffiti or sticky holo projections or 3D printed sculptures that were taken down within a day, but none, in any given form, were ever this close.
The leader crouched in front of me and pressed one gloved hand against my cheeks. “Listen to people when they talk to you.” I pressed my lips into a tight line, or as tight as they could go with his fingers smushing together the sides. The bluish-silver tint of his blade gleamed in my eye from beside my neck. It pierced my hair to punctuate his threat.
I was frozen.
“Maybe you’d like to be next.” The blade slid through my hair as he considered this.
I’m supposed to be afraid. Some distant area of my brain understood that, but the stillness I was trapped in was not infused with fear. Knowing there was someone behind me who’d been… wounded, at best, because of a flick of this man’s hand, had already driven me to a level of disgust and rage I hadn’t known I possessed.
“If you knew anything at all about the government you enslave yourself to, you wouldn’t look at me like that. None of you would.” His sword swooshed over my head as he stood, an incomprehensible, dark amusement spreading over his face.
If I knew, my butt!I wasn’t even part of the slaving class yet. He’d ruined my chances of that by causing this mess. If anyone needed educating, it was him.
A scene played out; another movie in my head: I yank his weapon from his arms and twirl the blade around with the finesse of a DJ, leveling the tip to its true target. Swip. Just like that, a simple, elegant cadence with blood oozing out of his chest and a finale to my fury. Cue level-up music. The credits roll.
. . . And then the arrows from his minions would probably skewer me.
The smile left his face. Whatever expression my imagination had led me to make didn’t sit well with him. He angled the tip of his blade down towards my chest. The end met my scarf. My eyes widened.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. [*4]
I was close enough to hear the voice inside his headset.
‘Dex’ stopped taunting me and peered over his shoulder mere seconds before the end of my life. I followed his gaze.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
A boy strolled out of a hallway and into the ring of archers, his eyes locked on the phone in his palm. He wore a short-sleeved black jacket with wrist-warmers on both wrists, one longer than the other. His hair was a messy clump of black tufts held down by a pair of vibrantly coloured headphones—which were clearly deafening him to the presence of danger.
What kind of music could distract a person so thoroughly? His eyes weren’t even closed like mine had been.
“Hey!” shouted Dex.
Thumb scrolling, expression oblivious, the boy continued his blind march towards the huddle of hostages.
I flicked my eyes between him and our designated villain and briefly wondered which of them was the bigger stupidface.
“Hey!” Dex yelled again. He swung his blade back to his shoulder and strode towards the boy.
Using the sixth sense headphone wearers always seemed to have, the boy started making a detour around him without so much as a glance up. Dex’s blade swooped down and brushed the red cord to the boy’s headphones with cutthroat precision. He finally looked up—lazily. Carelessly.
“Today ain’t your lucky day, kid,” said Dex, devilish grin returning. “You shoulda stayed in the washroom to piss your pants where it was socially acceptable.”
It didn’t seem like Dex fully understood how headphones worked. The boy tilted his head in confusion. He must not have heard a single word.
Dex cocked his head to the ceiling and let out a humourless puff of laughter.
The boy pushed one earmuff off his ear, unaffected by the glistening death-threat pointed his way, then waited for who knows what.
Dex’s smile remained, but only while his sword flew up. When it went down, his expression transitioned to a killer’s scowl. The boy backed away, but was too late. The sword ripped clothes, skin, and blood from his chest. The impact pushed him backward. He tilted on his heels, and his body went down,
then thud. [*5]
Five seconds. Then time streamed on like normal, ignoring the fact that a life had been lost.
Screams rang through my eardrums, not nearly as deafening as his body hitting the floor, the thump of my heart against my chest, or the vibrations of the two. If I thought the mob had been hysterical before, they were crazed now.
I stood up with the grace of a zombie. My vision was jittering, as if trying to focus on something that wasn’t there. Red lasers dotted my arms and upper body.
“This / This / This is just / just a pre— / pre— / preview of what hap— / happens when people / when people upse— / upset / upset me / me / me.” [*6]
The murderer’s voice sounded like a broken recording of a faraway echo, as if the needle of a record player could find only shards of his voice. This was now also the condition of my better judgement. Broken and far away.
“Your / Your / Your distress / stress / stress / is only a frag— / frag— / fragment / —ment / —ment / of what we / we / felt / felt / felt for our frien— / friends / false / false / false / convictions / —tions”
What did that boy have to do with any of that? Why did he have to die for their dumb cause?
Still infatuated by his own speech, the terrorist was approaching me again. No, wait, I think… I think I was the one approaching him this time.
“Your / Your gov— / government / —ment / is messed up / up / up / No / No / your society—”
Our society doesn’t need the likes of you. A warning arrow shot past my eyes. Dex glanced in my direction, smirking, still speechifying. I continued towards him. Another arrow zoomed by, this time ripping through my hoodie’s sleeve and grazing my arm. I froze. Fear tickled my numb limbs.
He chuckled. “You’ll face death but you’re afraid of a little pain?”
It wasn’t the pain. Not this time.
His chuckle morphed into a bloodcurdling cry as a scarlet sword pierced through his armored side. The air around the sword shuddered as if shaken by an invisible force. Dex the murderer stumbled away—though perhaps he couldn’t be considered a murderer anymore. The boy he’d killed had just slashed him through the waist.
I’d watched him die and now I was watching him kill.
As Dex stumbled off to the side, I got a clear view of the messy-haired boy with the out-of-nowhere sword in his hand. His disinterested gaze was now filled with determination, irises swirling with reds like the red, purple, and blues were on his headphones. His clothes were ripped diagonally where he’d been cut, but his wound was gone. No scratch nor scar; only a bloodstain by the tear’s edge.
The cellphone he’d held was replaced with the hilt of a long single-edged blade. The weapon itself seemed alive, glowing in time with all the colours on the rims of his headphones. The red cord, once plugged into his phone, was now hanging from the hilt.
I put the pieces together.
He’s a sell-soul?
An internet legend; a conspiracy theorist’s dream come to life, but that’s what he is. That’s what he has to be. I’d only seen a handful of memes about them, maybe one or two BlueTubers talking about the ‘lunatics’ who sold half their souls for inhuman capabilities. I’d written them off as staged publicity stunts, things I wished, but didn’t actually believe were real. Magical things were supposed to stop once they reached the screen. Everything outside of that became the artificial; the holo re-enactment of a fantasy; a lie.
He shouldn’t be possible. Nothing in this world should be able to do what he’d just done. But the blood that spilled was real, and the boy standing woundless above was even more so. How else could I have explained the twisting glow in his eyes, the conversion of his weapon, the full self-revival? Normal people didn’t get up after being slashed across the chest by a sword. Normal people didn’t unblinkingly face a mob of radicals.
I watched the bloody scene in a daze. Unable to retreat back to the crowd, I remained standing. A target.
The boy positioned himself in front of me, shielding me from the man he’d just stabbed. All the marksmen in the room aimed their arrows at him. Now that he was close, I realized that, although I’d called him a kid, he was my height. Maybe seventeen. He stood in a lowered stance. His sword ready. Seventeen and ready for the world.
I’d seen him come back to life once already, but I didn’t want to see him die again.
“You’ll pay for that, boy.” The man’s voice was strained by his own pain and weighted by his rage. The sword he’d been using like a toy looked far more frightening being dragged against the floor, with blood from his own wound streaking down its length. He signalled to his fellow goons. I flinched, expecting arrows to pierce our bodies, but his signal must have told them not to interfere. The red laser dots drifted away.
Even hunched over in pain, Dex was larger than the sell-soul who stood unwavering as my shield. Dex lunged towards us for a slash. The boy easily redirected it.
He took a deeper stance and yanked his blade back, causing the red cord to ripple. I could have touched it if I’d wanted to. I watched his thumb swipe upwards along the fabric of the hilt. Beneath its surface, the faint glow of a screen lit up and a triangular bar rose from green to yellow to orange. An instant later, his weapon drove horizontally across Dex’s chest, then swooped upwards at a diagonal. Twice more at different angles, carving an asterisk out of his armor through half-blocked attacks. He toppled back.[TS11]
The crowd screamed louder. Red lasers dotted us from every direction as Dex hit the floor. The boy shot his gaze at me with a speed deadlier than the lasers and next thing I knew, he’d tripped me. As I, too, fell, he tossed the blade with his right hand, caught the cord in his left, and gripped one of the huge earmuffs on the side of his head. Wielding the sword like a long mace, he let out a yell.
My head hit the floor and I shut my eyes against the stars, hugging my headache and curling up in a ball. I heard the clang of metal on floor and the rumbling of many feet.
Despite my splitting head, I fought to open my eyes.
I wished I hadn’t.
At first, I saw only blurry feet tumbling in every direction. They tumbled over benches, knocked down fake plants. Beside me, I noticed a broken arrow, and another, and another, and another. I reached for one to verify if it was real. Someone stepped on my hair. I held that instead, then attempted to sit up so I’d look less like a carpet.
A cough drew my attention. The sell-soul was on all fours nearby. Blood was on the floor in front of him and…and…
“Can you…pull these out for me? …Please?”
My jaw trembled. I gaped at the three arrows sticking out of his back. The animated swirls in his eyes were gone and his irises shook as if they were searching for their former colour. Blood dripped from his mouth to the floor. As I watched, his sword reverted back to a phone.
“I can’t—heal—myself—if they’re still…inside.” His breathing was level, calm, but in a way that was forced. Painful to listen to.
It was common knowledge never to remove an arrowhead from a wound without proper medical treatment, but it would probably go against common sense to question a guy who could come back to life. He’d also saved my life without a second thought mere seconds ago—or minutes perhaps; I wasn’t too sure what concussions did to your sense of time.
I swallowed my fear. Put a supporting hand against his chest and wrapped the other, trembling, around one of the cold, metal arrows.
“I-I’m sorry.” My voice cracked. I looked away and pulled as hard as I could.
He cried out and I felt like crying back. I tossed the arrow away and quickly fumbled for the next one, still refusing to look but feeling the—the wetness, the gooey redness—It’s okay: this is probably like ripping off a band-aid to him; it’s okay: you’re strong, you can do this. The second one came out, and this cry was laced with far more pain than the last. I reached the final one, but had to stop. The censored banner over his back was corroding away.
Blood. So much blood. It was so red. So warm. So, all over my hand, soaking his shirt. So real.
Who am I kidding? He wasn’t a machine. He wasn’t even holding himself up anymore. One of his hands was weakly clinging onto my arm. The slightest squeeze from his fingers felt like a desperate plea for me to stop.
“I—” I can’t do this! Tears smeared across half my vision until a bluish light guided my eyes to the gruesome sight of his back, and I forgot about speaking. A blue, then purple, flower made of light was twirling over the first wound. Glowing. The thinnest of petals shaped like wires were looping in and out of his skin in formation of a carnation. Slowly closing up the gash.
A second flower began to bud out of the next wound… It’s fine. Don’t question it. It’s fine. He’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.
The flowers were saving him. In the clamour of chaos, I watched them weave and mend. The flowers are saving him. I breathed. All I needed to do was save the flowers.
“H-hang in there, okay?” I said to myself. To him too, though he didn’t respond, just kept rasping. “I-it’s just one more, alright?”
He nodded. I took a deep breath, and tugged the last arrow free. He yelled until his voice broke.
“You’ll pay for this.”
I looked up, straight into Dex’s face. Blood was draining from the star-shaped wound on his chest and stomach, dripping into the crumblings of his armored clothing. He was struggling to breathe. Sweat dotted his face. He raised his sword slowly above his head, giving us a look people usually reserve for vermin. “You’ll regret interfering.”
The boy in my arms couldn’t fight—that much was clear. The question was, could I?Holding a bloodied arrow and an injured stranger?
I threw the arrow at Dex’s head. It would have grazed his cheek, had he not tilted his head to the right.
From the corner of my eye I saw the headphoned boy reach for his phone. The terrorist smirked.
Before either could swing their weapons, two sharpened steel boomerangs whizzed over my head and criss-crossed in front of the radical. Both boomerangs carried chains that axled through their centres, and a familiar insignia that was too fast to see, but not enough that I couldn’t guess.
The weapons reeled back as if homing in, and the X of chains hit Dex’s chest with a metallic thwack. He gave a gurgling yell of agony. Jagged, bluish-white lines of light flittered around his chest where the chains had bound him.
His body crumpled and was dragged backward. Brutality that would have been covered by mosaics if caught on the news. Even after he fell, the electricity danced over his body, stopping only when a man in uniform walked over it.
I lifted my gaze to the officer. His all-black uniform with its diagonal strap of kunai marked him as a member of the police force which controlled Ezveria. Others like him were charging into Klover and reeling bad guys in like fish. Their march evoked a different sense of fear; their shouts held a more practised form of aggression; unlike Dex and his flock, this man was licensed to hurt people. The badge on his upper arm like a radioactive symbol of sickles; it gave logo to the word bloodshed.
All my fear, anger, and angst shifted. I couldn’t bring myself to feel grateful. It was like watching a bully get taken down by more bullies.
The officer approached me and flicked an uncaring eye down at the boy. “Drop it.” I was too aware of the boomerang he wasn’t putting back in his holster to understand. “I said drop your weapon.”
I hadn’t noticed I’d picked up another arrow, or how tightly I clung to both it and the sell-soul—not out of an urge to protect him or anything; he just happened to be there.
He squirmed and lifted his head enough to watch the officer. Both of our stares must have been too much for him.
The man snarled and flipped the boomerang to his opposite shoulder. “I told you to drop it!” A half-second later, he slammed his weapon against my temple. The blow rattled my vision. The shadows coloured between the lines. And my world was shut off.
[*1] - smooth/slick font style
[*2] - poofy font style
[*3] - Image of Rei's fluttering scarf
[*4] - spaced out staccato font style
[*5] - impactful font style
[*6] - Slashes here represent glitchy-looking lines or jagged lines that run through the words and cause them to be retyped
*Also the "In a world...." part might have its own unique Movie title-esque font style
Here's a Youtube Teaser Reading that you can share with your friends:
(please, please, please share with your friends >___<)
To break a Spirit
[This was a handwritten 10min write that I'm surprised I pulled off without edits]
To break a person is easy. To break a spirit... is another story. So this was a feat, truly: this crumpled will in front of me, lying on the dirt. Rocks and blood in his hair, a severed tautness in his fingers, hanging loose away from his blade.
There was no space in me to feel sorry for him, for a moment ago, he might have killed me. Breaking his will was my only option, because breaking a person was easy, and it was easily that he broke me. My blood in the dirt in his hair, my wrist twisted, my ankle sprained. So I told him, I showed him, how all his loved ones were dead and that the person who broke them with ease was the very reflection that'd been trying to break me now. Revenge was not an option for him. Rage could not fuel him. It was sorrow and despair and sadness and remorse; these were my weapons, and through them: I shattered him.
There was a time when I was kinder.
Regarded as wholesome even. Not cruel or twisted, cold or wicked, not a perfectionist or some freak artist with a corrupted dream—I know what they say. but I wasn't always this... warped. There was a time when my heart still rested on her canvas, atop a puff of a colourless pillow.
I used to draw for her: my heart.
I used to depict all the sights she'd been too bedridden to see. It started with a few ugly scratches from a pencil on torn paper, but the papers got bigger, the pages fuller, their numbers filling books, then shelves. After a while, pencils didn't cut it. Drawings couldn't capture the beauty of a sky or the shimmers of an ocean, and she wanted to explore it all. She was an adventurer at the core; an adventurer with a cough. And it was that which kept her in bed.
If nothing else, I used to fear their sound; breath leaving her lungs so forcefully, so destructively. My paintbrush used to leave the page to wait for them to pass, but they got so torrential I used to fear the air would not return. So my brush strokes grew fervent. I rushed to paint my point. Entire sketchbooks full of sights, creatures, magical items. I rushed for the chance to show her the world she could not trek on her own two feet. I'd resolved myself to show her everything I had the power to show.
"Would it kill you to smile?"
My paintbrush stopped.
"You make such beautiful paintings, yet it never looks like you have any fun making them," she whined.
I considered her for a moment, giving the usual lack of emotion. She sat there, in her blankets, hugging her pillow and staring expectantly at me.
I moved my brush to an empty patch of blue and continued to paint. After a moment I tucked the canvas between two fingers and flipped it around to show her.
She laughed. "That's not what I meant."
I'd drawn a smiley face for her, using the bend of sand dunes splashing higher than they normally would and two pebbles thrown by a dessert sylph. It looked ridiculous.
"This is your best one yet, Akris."
She said my name like a song, ignoring the S, rolling the R in the only way it was meant to be rolled.
I didn't say anything.
On the days she didn't harass me, she stared out the window solemnly, between naps and coughs and our games of show and tell.
When she slept, I left to capture new sights for her to see. When I returned I'd remake them, down to last detail on each overlooked pebble or leaf.
I'd watch her excitement each time. I'd watch her joy, her bitterness, her tears, her yearning for more.
"Never stop." She whispered to me one night, after her healer had finished his failings; his potions of emptied promises discarded in a bin.
And I never did.
I rushed through her paintings when she coughed and rushed even more when the coughs stopped. I rushed to show her the world, without realizing I could have kept her in mine. If I had only stopped to paint her. Just once. I could have kept her by my side with a single portrait. I could have painted what she looked like looking at my paintings. I could have kept my heart in an eternal capsule of time, upon a colourless canvas.
But I didn't.
And she died.
Just as everyone knew she would.
The day she left her bed, I brought all my tools into her room. All my paints and oils and pastels and water colours. I threw crayons into the mix, charcoals and pencils and for the first time in my life, I made art.
The final touch was a single canvas, resting atop her pillow. There was no colour upon it, for black was not a colour; it was a reminder. A reminder that darkness and death lurks behind every masterpiece, waiting to sink its teeth into every colour you've ever grown to love, every hue of emotion you've worked hard to put on a face. Upon this canvas was a black silhouette of the portrait I'd never drawn; her shadow, resting upon her pillow without her. Abyssal and uncoloured, just a crude black splotch on my past reminding me exactly where my heart could have rested had I eternalized it.
Behind the canvas, her pillow was painted. Her bed was coloured in to the brim. Her bedsheets covered in crayons Her window splashed with rainbows of oils. Her door carried the greys of lead. Her floorboards, and walls, and ceiling and chair. Her rug, her dresser, the inside of the drawers, her flasks and vials of lies from healers whose bloods I used for all the shades of red. Every knob, every screw, every crevice, every wick... I painted it to eternity.
Living proof of the life that could have lived if the world hadn't failed her. If I hadn't failed her.
When I finished, I left the room. Closed the door—
"Would it kill you to smile?"
...I considered her echo. Then took the paintbrush from my ear, stole a smudge of red from my cheek and drew a smile on the knob.
And smiled back at it.
New Promo Video Released!
Tainted Sky's First Official Promo Vid! Check it out:
Tell your friends! Tell your nemesis...es! Tell the wooorrlldd!!!
In order to get this on your shelves, I need a following! So every like, every shared link, every bit of support helps like crazy!
New and Old fans of Tainted Sky; Rei’s Playlist
[Brand New Instagram page. Behold: https://www.instagram.com/taitaisensei/ ]
My friends—my motivation! My inspiration; and whoever else got caught in the compilation! I'd just like to say a super mega ultra: 'I'm sooorrrrrrry! >__<' it shouldn't have taken me this long to reach out to you again. I'm sure I've lost followers and fans but I am still and always will be eternally grateful to everyone who took the time to read Tainted Sky! To all the fans I didn't lose yet, THANK YOU FOR STANDING STRONG! I promise you I never stopped writing and editing and I am definitely a heck of a lot closer to getting this thing published and on our bookshelves than when you last heard from me!!! (I should invest in a proper bookshelf... *TaiSensei glances at her piles of books on the floor)
[To those who have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a link to the original story: https://www.theprose.com/book/1219/tainted-sky-reis-playlist ]
The reason you haven't heard from me:
I've been writing like crazy, making music like crazy, learning how to navigate Kickstarter like crazy, learning how to make a trailer like crazy, and being crazy as usual. I basically went full hermit mode. Picture a ninja under a turtle's shell with a robe, a cup of tea, and a strong aversion to the sun.
I can guarantee you that the quality of the story you read years ago vs now are completely different. New content, new backstories, new jokes, new and improved vocabulary (wow so smart, TaiSensei >:D ), and hopefully, if things go as planned, then new updates!
I finally caved to the social norms and unlocked an Instagram page. Or at least I'm trying to. I don't know what the humans put on these sites these days so "Ima do my own thing." (*coughcough*Spiderverse reference*cough*). But I mainly want a consistent place where fans can see where I'm at.
The end goal: Kickstarter!
I will be igniting a Kickstarter campaign (or 2) in hopes of being able to provide a full soundtrack for you guys to enjoy alongside your wacky physical copy of Tainted Sky!
With that said, the soundtrack is looking like it might still be a little ways off but if all goes well. The campaign would ensure that the book itself will look much cooler than your average book, with some custom pages, musical symbols, and fun speech bubbles decorating the margins. But more on that with the Instagram updates.
However, none of this will be possible without support, so please, plzplzplz, spread the word! Even if you're not interested, share this, or better yet, share the story with someone who might be interested. Doesn't even have to be prosers, I'm going meta, so you should too! break the fourth wall and share it with friends/family/and those not tied to this dimension.
I will also be doing my best to make this little fanvillage of ours into a whole fandom and then into a FANDOMINATION! BWAHAHA!
Don't have Instagram:
Don't worry. I'm accumulating an email list so feel free to put your email here: https://artisanal-pioneer-5844.ck.page/8f212835bb
Alternatively, you may DM me through the prose with your email (or a list of emails +___+)
Either way you'll only be subjected to the major updates. I promise not to spam your inbox. I'm too anti-social for that anyway.
Zedge, on the other hand.... >:)
(no I'm kidding, I'll keep my characters under control)
Fun Bonus note:
Any and all fans who had given any of my trackters a like and/or a comment before this post will get a special discount (I kept track) so I really hope you all take advantage of that.
Email drop-off corner, here:
Mostly abandoned twitter attempt... is unfortunately here: https://twitter.com/TaijaSensei
The original (unedited) story here:
THANK YOU TO ALL MY READERS. THIS IS ALL FOR YOU!
‘Free Poetry’ Sponsored by ADHD
Maybe ADHD is just another escapist's dream, looking for distractions from this hell called reality. What's the next quickest thought out of here? A free ticket to get away from having to give a shit.
The real message in a bottle being:
((("Let me out!")))
This house of responsibilities is searing my soul. How can I feel so suffocated in a country supposedly free? What bullshit. Who'd even believe that? This Country Is A Marketer's Dream. Every Breath Uttered Gets Capitalized Against Your Will. slaves of society dancing to the song: "You forgot your Capital" by The Undertones. Choreographed not freestyled. Y'know, since it wasn't taught.
Can art be taught?
Not the 'free' part, but maybe the style. In a crippled fashion, strung up by salary, supported by crutches of cash. Pay up for your marionettist's money--your puppeteer's pity. They just might give it in grants. Though it comes with a cost.
About as Equal in pains as laboring over free poetry, when you really should be doing:
just about everything else.
Inspired by the music video: "Fight Song" by Eve
I was a hunter before I met her.
Not a protector.
She was a dragon—still is a dragon—in the body of a little girl, with hair like a blanket of snow, sweeping just above the muck of the ground, billowing far behind puny, bare feet. Pale as can be. With canary yellow eyes only fit for staring into souls, and the kind of powers only meant for devouring them.
I was nothing special—even now, nothing special. Just human, nesting eyes the colour of rust, and a sight that missed whatever was so important about life up until she slithered into it. But I thought: if my eyes could still view someone so valuable as worth more than her bounty of a few too many zeroes, then maybe, I was less blind than I surmised.
We found each other on a day steeped in dusk. Half the sky was raining; half the rain was painted. All around me—on some abandoned street—were puddles with smoky mixtures of red seeping through.
I was kneeling on the floor, my knuckles numb and covered in blood. I couldn't feel them but saw them shaking. There was more blood than I remember causing.
Plipping and plopping.
I watched my fists trying to recall what I'd been fighting.
A soft pitter-patter and two tiny feet appeared in front of me. Lazily, I peered up, and was pierced by her stare, the outline of her horns woven through her hair. The cratering rib cage of a recently deceased beast silhouetting her frame like a ring of ghostly wings. Its bones wisping into golden dust that melted the must from the haze.
Slunked half-ways off my shoulder, my weapon reacted to her. It hung off me like a gym bag made of shadows, but was really a weapon for shredding souls, the type my fists couldn't handle. Where a zipper should've been, its mouth hung hungry, often wide open, with a spiky grin and a large tongue always thirsting... for puddles.
Except here, it quivered. The corners of its mouth angled down. It bit its lip—if you could call it a lip—and swiveled behind me. Afraid. Of this little girl whose rib cage cratered behind her.
I watched her watch me.
We were a duo fit for a fantasy, instead we are the outcasts of the city. Always on the run. From slum to slum. Dodging skyscrapers and their hired hunters. Fighting the world simply by trying to survive it.
"Tch," I let out a bitter puff of smoke. Crushed the cigar with a clench.
She giggled beside me, oblivious to my troubles, as she spray-painted a bathroom stall with a stench.
Graffiti; robbery; illegal activity; she seemed to like these things. The types of joys that got people's attention really, and Attention wanted us dead. And even without hired hands reaching for her neck, she was a lot to manage. Since I met her, I'd gained the rank of an older brother, though I don't remember having nor wanting a sibling, especially not one so needy.
I shut my eyes and forced a sigh.
She tugged my sleeve with her inhuman speed, jolting me from what little respite a sigh could provide, and pointed at a vendor's cart serving oily fries.
Her eyes spoke for her drooling mouth: 'I want this.' they said.
I drew in a smoke and gave her a scornful side eye. Dream on.
It didn't take long for her to throw a can of paint at my head.
Our brawl caused a scene so we ended up fleeing south. A vexing sprig of fries sprouted from her oily mouth, as she waddled along beside me without care.
Sometimes it was hard to justify my time with her over the price value of her wanted poster. I'd gathered a few in my hand, both then and now. I watched her innocent eyes painted in a way that made me scowl.
My soul-shredder, (that shadowy satchel), ate the temptation in the form 'Wanted' papers, leaving my hand with its cold saliva and a much warmer hand holding hers.
An unfamiliar poke struck the side of my shoulder. I looked over to find a cloaker—the worst kind of commercial stalker. A red cloak draping over its tall figure. There was a silence—a long stare—assuming whatever it was under its hood had the eyes to peer, and in my peripheral, she bowed forward for a playful peek. Her hand sprung out in a wave like the creature was an old buddy. My hairs stood on their ends as all its hands spread out like a fan and waved back.
Fast forward a few scenes and she was stolen from me.
Without reason nor rhyme; within a snap of time; I couldn't process what had happened for life to turn this wrong. A single song knocking against my skull like a distorted bell; playing over and over and over and over:
Fight until the world is made right and her warmth is back in my grasp.
I could not think with her not there.
She, to me, was my final limb. The one I'd been missing all along. In a meaningless life surrounded by zeros, she became my +1.
Protector turned hunter; I tracked them down until a base was found: some elusive blacklisted den. A place where fighters and brawlers had a pit to share and an ugly chance at glory from deceptive madmen. It was an arena I had no taste for, but a winner received a reward from a wealthy cloaker who didn't deserve anything he had to offer—much, much, less: my needy little sister.
Attempt one, attempt three, attempt five, six, and thirteen, and all I kept seeing was her petite frame getting dragged from me. Many hands pushing my head into the ground; five, ten, fifteen, maybe twenty? maybe twelve?
The pit turned my vision into a filter of red. So many enemies and forgotten fights with the dead. A shadowy gym bag thriving off of people's souls. Betters and buyers cheering to the sounds of my bloodshed. 'Didn't seem to matter whose blood sprayed, creating puddles out of painted rain in a place where there was no dusk or day or sky. All while too high above, caressed by a crooked finger in a creepy glove, she sat perched on a throne too large, watching me watch her; watching me get hurt; watching her with a look so tortured. From a girl so pale, so frail, so small.
It seemed I'd grown too used to every slash I could not evade being accompanied by the sound of her smacking me with a lopsided band aid.
The sight of her—and that fry-less frown—made me weak. And I could not breathe with the bulk of a Gozu brute strangling me.
With my soul-shredder tossed to the side. I could not fight.
But how could I not fight for the +1-and-only meaning of my life?
The Gozu’s restless hands tightened around my neck. A choke. A gasp. A figment of their soul seeped through my chest. Weighing a ton. Crushing a lung and—
(There was something above)
(a rib-caging a dove)
She was still a dragon.
There was a curdling cry. A roar that tore the sky. A zap of lightning. Spits and violent hisses. The ox head choking me was gone in an instant. I was swept up as the entire den was blasted to pieces.
The bulk of a white beast and its serpentine twist, swimming across the air—up and up and up. Shimmering and magnificent and... fighting for me?
I never knew that was something that could be.
I did not think there was anyone out there who still wanted me to breathe.
The Choose a Home Request Form
A cough sprang outta me.
The white glow from the sol-funder illuminated my face. One hand was cold against its metallic screen. Dark, pooling puddles layered over my feet. My other hand clutched my side. A hover-bus whizzed up the street behind me, disturbing the puddles, rippling their reflections against my ankles.
Meanwhile, the sol-funder loomed over me like a bank tower leaking its funds. A jackpot-like chime nudging my ears as icons of starz kept pouring into the digital happy-face of me. The chimes were never ending.
I tried clearing my throat. It was sore from all the yelling.
In the distance, I heard an upstreamer. Its engine sounded lazy. Cranky even. It moaned out its warning. The star-fundz finally stopped. I realized late. The screen timed out and dimmed, leaving behind a murky reflection. The outline of a hand much bigger than mine was drawn there. A swollen eye stared at it. A smudge of blood smeared along the corner of his mouth—my mouth.
I peeled off my hand, smeared the smudge some more with the hem of my sleeve. Then flipped my palm and stared hard and long at it, or rather, the disk set to its center. I tore my other hand from my side, ignoring the loud throb it left behind, and pressed the disk with one shaky finger. The star clicked once in, and then jutted out. I extracted it.
I'd never used a star-deposit before. I'd never even held a star to deposit before. I thought I never would. I thought the depositor embedded into my hand had been a waste of good surgery. But here it was now, coming in handy, imbuing me with an impossible amount of money.
A slip of water ran up my cheek to my eyelash. I winced away from it.
I tilted my head upwards to where the upstreamer lurked; a giant plate in the sky, eyepatching my favourite moon out of sight, collecting its pools and puddles to deposit somewhere else. Who knew where else.
Dirt water stung against my bruises, shot daggers into my cuts, but it was pretty to look at. Rain pouring towards the sky—or its eyepatch anyway...
. . .
I didn't feel like a trillionaire—or a miniature happy-face. I was just barely a teenager, and small for my age. And I didn't really want the money my mother died for.
If she lived for it, then maybe.
My clothes were soaked.
~ ~ ~
I waited in line at the nearest medi-center.
People with proper clothes and upstanding homes stood in front of me, awaiting service. Treatment. Free pills? Whatever the patient-type came here for.
It was finally my turn.
"Medi-center services, how can I help you?"
A woman with blue-silver waves of hair spoke to me. There was a stylus in her mouth and her chin was on her palm. I couldn't tell if she was amused or bored.
"Um... yeah...how—" I cleared my throat. My voice was still hoarse. "How much does it cost to revive a corpse?"
"Depends..." She removed the stylus from her mouth like it were a smoker, then dabbed its tip into a holo-blotter. When her stylus swiped back up through the air it was scrolling through holographic panels of its own creation. She twisted its mid-section, refining her search. Then ruthlessly, she didn't answer my question:
"Do you have access to your cadaver of choice?"
I thought of the penthouse hotel suite I ran from.
"Is its memory faucet undamaged?"
I thought of how drunk she was.
"Is the body in good condition?"
I thought of the open window.
"And finally...do you have ID?"
I didn't have ID. So I guess that was that. I nodded at nothing she said and walked away without a sound.
~ ~ ~
There was someone sobbing on my hover-bus. I wish they'd shut up. My head was hurting enough as is.
Their audible tears were resurfacing unwanted thoughts. Thoughts I'd worked hard to drown:
'This'll be the last job, I promise," said my mother, who was not dead in my head.
She was mapping out her face for the night, scrolling through mascara masks and lip paints to project onto it. "Once we rob this client, we'll be set for life. We'll leave this stupid planet once and for all. Deal?" She held up her pinky with a sheepish smile. I did not want to, but I held up mine, she clapped it with hers, like a little high five minus the four.
In the hotel suite, she was entertaining her client. A CEO of something. They were in the lounge room. I was uninvited, but I was there too. Not in the lounge, but in the office connected to the bedroom. Based on my mother's usual strategy, I had a good ten minutes before they'd make it to the bed, so I took my time with my quantum-capture, pressing the sphere to anything that looked even remotely valuable.
Then a tele-talker rang from the desk beside me. I'd thought it was just decoration (because who even used tele-talkers anymore?) but there it was, chiming, and his footsteps started coming.
Immediately, I turned on my invisi-cap, but his office had a security detail that made it malfunction. So I was visible.
His kicks were hard.
He threw me in front of my mother, pridefully showing off his prey. She was very drunk, but very worried. Then very angry. There was a brawl. Glass from a bottle. A star thrown into my hand. A shout:
A bad time to find out I wasn't the fight or flight type.
I froze. He approached. We were near a window. My mother, drenched in wine, wobbled to a stand after being knocked down. She took out a knife concealed in her dress and jammed it into him. Near the window. He toppled. Grabbed her wrist—
"Are you okay?"
The sobbing stopped. A handkerchief was thrust in front of me. The various eyes of the hover-bus were on me. Confused, I received it, but didn't answer the question. I left the hover-bus two stops too soon. Someone followed.
The owner of the handkerchief; a nice person, I realized. She was very nosy, but looked very worried. I let her follow me, checking to see if my invisi-cap was still on my head.
~ ~ ~
When I reached my destination, I switched on my invisi-cap and walked in. The nice person was left disoriented outside, but didn't leave. I think she already called authorities so I guess she had to stay. Otherwise there was a fee.
I stood inside one of those planetary transferal pods—a cheap one. This was a port planet—where people were deposited and withdrawn on constant—so these pods were everywhere. No one liked this method of leaving a planet so it was cheaper but still cost a fortune. I wasn't sure what that word meant anymore.
Both my hands were placed on the metallic screen this time. I was shivering.
'Choose a Home Request Form' glowed boldly across the screen.
'Explore an ecosystem right for you!'
'Sort by: Most popular | Land formations | Oxygen levels | Plant life | Ocean life | Lava life | Technological advancement | Population'
I skipped this step and went to: 'Pick a Planet!' I selected one without thinking about it. My thoughts couldn't be trusted.
'Choose a Home!'
'Options: Work your way up | Life of luxury | Middle class | Happy home | Pet owners | Miscellaneous | Other'
I didn't want a home, but didn't have a choice so I clicked 'Other'. A pop-up appeared:
'Warning: Housing shelter is not guaranteed with this birthing service. Is this okay?'
'Species-change request form: N/A
Would you like to retain your memory faucet?'
I paused, but soon decided I didn't want someone else for a mother.
A pop-up: 'Warning: with memory faucet intact, there is a high chance of PTSD due to birthing process. Would you like to sign up to receive your memory faucet at an age of your choosing?'
Oh, that’s smart.
'Age of choice:'
'Terms and condit—'
'Reincarnation fee: 4 777 849 201 stz. Confirm?'
'Please insert ID'
I stared at the screen.
. . .
I was back in front of the screen. The nice person's wallet was in my hand, as I ruffled through for her ID.
'Thank you for your purchase, Averana Kacings! Particle translation and transferal process should begin shortly. | Approximate wait time: 10— 8— 9 mins."
A code-like tattoo crept up my arm. I removed my palms and the codes kept crawling.
I left the pod. Averana shrieked as I took off my invisi-cap in front of her. I handed her back her handkerchief and her wallet. "Thank you for helping me." I told her. Then I clicked the star in my palm. It jutted out, and I handed her a trillion-or-so solz.
Because what would all the money in this world mean in another?
My body felt fuzzy and I realized it was glowing like the things I stuffed in my quantum-capture. I sat down next to her, suddenly feeling light-headed. In the distance, I could see the blurring image of a cop-cruiser—the one Averana must have called—racing around a corner towards us.
For a while, I just sat and watched it approach in silence. I'd be phasing away soon anyway.
Averana knelt by my side to join me. One careful hand of hers rested on my shoulder. Its warmth felt better than a trillion-plus solz ever could.
My head fell against her.
To be honest... even just the pinky would've been enough.
"What do we have here?" Korvo held up the stone to the light of Zin's magic circle. Within the cave's depths it glimmered like a light source of its own. "Never seen a gem quite like this one."
Zin was halfway through a step when he hopped back on one foot to have a looksee. He crossed his arms and leaned playfully against his friend, peering with feigned interest over his shoulder at the rock in his hand. The stone was strange indeed, like if alexandrite had the odd innards of black opal. Streaks of silver mana blazed across its mid-section the more it was twirled.
Being a dark-elf, born from the deepest layers of Aeodian night rock, he expected to know of the gem in his friend's hand on instant. But he did not, and the fact that he knew it not, interested him more than the rock itself.
"Not sure how you keep finding the weird ones, Koko. I worry for the visages of your future children if you ever find a wife."
Korvo scoffed and nudged Zin hard. "If anything, you're, by far, the weirdest thing I've ever discovered. What kind of elf doesn't have pointy ears?"
"The cool kind." Zin answered absently. He was watching the jewel closely now. How was it that he'd never come across a rock such as this? He should know of them all; if not by sight then by aura, by elemental property, by instinct even, but this stone gave him nothing to go off of. It looked rarer than obsidian-diamond, yet possessed the presence of a pebble.
Perhaps his friend's—very human—hand was masking its power. Korvo was strong for his race but, well, human still, and they tended to have a weird tendency to absorb light and reject mana, whereas Zin could do the opposite.
"Lemme see it for a sec?" Zin said.
Korvo tossed it in the air where Zin snatched it.
An exhale was knocked out of him. Acid hellfire spread from his palm to his entire arm. Crackles of static rippled off of him, as though his mana were being peeled away. The magic circle lighting their path flickered and died until blackness encompassed them.
Searing white veins made rivers up his grey skin from where the gem touched it. Shivers crawled up his spine. His knees buckled from under him, yielding to the pain that felled him before the stone could even fall from his grasp.
He could not hear but felt his friend kneeling by his side. Concern in his every nudge.
Zin wanted to reassure him, wanted to shake whatever this feeling was right off, but a foul vision slathered across his eyes.
Suddenly he was not within The Cursive Caverns, but within a sky. Blinding light struck him, and instinctively he recoiled, but it wasn't long before a sandcloud blotted out the sun, red as human blood, pulsing, warping. Lightning teared across its depths, reshaping its foul silhouette. A city lurking beneath. Warriors armed upon griffon-back—dragon-back even. They all faced the cloud. Familiars of phoenixes and fire foxes blasted their arts towards its ominous haze.
Then a person strutted out from its depths. An elven-like form. A flash of yellow eyes that hurt to look at. A hand on his back. His name being shouted over and over. Cold sweat. Pained breaths.
"Zin! Zin! What happened, what's wrong? What can I do?" Korvo was shouting, a lit torch now in his grasp.
It took Zin all his willpower to re-ground himself. Shaking hands dug jagged grooves in the stone under him. A choked cry left his throat. 'What happened? ' he wondered that too. What on earth was that? Why did it summon itself from a random rock? Why didn't it affect his friend...
Zin couldn't speak. He was too shaken to form the words and hated himself for it. Weakness wasn't his style. Though he wasn't sure this was that. Weakness didn't act this way. He was blindsided; attacked from within.
Zin found his arm suddenly around Korvo's shoulder. He was lifted to his feet, surprised anew to find his legs with no strength in them, even now. And more surprised to find that they'd left the cursed cave by the time he blinked. Was he loosing time? Had he passed out?
"Put me down. You smell," Zin croaked.
"Zin? What the hell, man!?" Korvo eased him down against a wall. "Don't freak me out like that! What even happened back there? Are you...good?"
Zin winced. "No, I'm great."
They were outside, Zin noted, though it was dusklight and a pinkish sky that met his gaze rather than the morning sun which he despised. Albeit, at that moment he might not have minded the heat of a sun.
He felt cold...which was disconcerting. It took more than a blizzard's wrath to make him cold, much less the capabilities of some stupid rock. Zin glared at his shaking hand. For a brief spell, the white veins were still engraved on his forearm, but soon they vanished. The echoes of its acidic pain still present. Zin groaned and held his aching temple. A small healing art (he knew wouldn't work) budded at his fingertips.
"What happened!?" Korvo pressed. "Should I go find a healer? Do you need water? Ice? "
Zin glanced up at him. Korvo knelt there with that puppy dog-eyed look of his.
"See, its times like this when your maternal qualities shine brightest."
"Knock it off!" Korvo punched him—"Ah— Sorry!"—and regretted it. "For real though! One second you were fine and cracking your usual dumb jokes, the next you were on the ground, yelling! Were you hexed? Was someone else in the cave with us?"
Hexed... there's a thought Zin hadn't considered. Could a rock perform a hex on its own? Without incantation? Or a creepy old mage to manifest it?
"I don't know." he said, honestly. "It was something in that gem. I don't know why it didn't affect you. My only guess is that it was constructed to target a magic system upon contact."
Korvo gave him a confused look. "I... I don't follow."
"Do I really need to dumb it down more than that? You: no magic. Me: magic. You: it no hurt. Me: it did." He flexed his hand, surveilling the muscles at work.
Zin twitched. Something red fluttered in his peripheral. Something that made him freeze.
At that moment the dusklight from the sky lost its light and night took over. Around Korvo's neck was a necklace Zin had never seen before. It shifted. Zin hesitated.
Gradually, he fixed his gaze to the necklace only to find it wasn't a necklace at all. Red sand lay there, drizzling off an impossible ring like an ethereal shackle.
His gaze crept upward further. Into Korvo's eyes.
That hurt to look at.