Friday, February 29, 2008

Chapter 38: By a Thread

~ Jaden lay on his back, gazing up at the treetops, just becoming visible against bits of graying sky. Finally the forest was getting slightly more normal as, far off, he could hear a few birds beginning to wake and sing. Jaden was thinking deep thoughts about when they'd be able to get something to eat when a voice spoke from behind him.

"Good morning!"

Jaden scrambled to his feet, twisting to see who had addressed him. A young man stood there. A young man that looked...Exactly like himself. Jaden blinked. It occurred to him that perhaps he'd fallen asleep. Or maybe he was insane. Or maybe not. He was in a live-sim afterall. The other version of himself just stood there smiling at him. Where the hell was Andrew? Out of the corner of his eyes Jaden swept as much of the clearing as was within his line of site. No Andrew.

"Who the hell are you and what do you want?" demanded Jaden, with perhaps a bit more brusqueness than he'd originally intended.

"There's no reason to get snippy," his doppelganger said, in an irritatingly familiar voice. "I want to talk with you." Jaden advanced a step. He needed a closer look. And he needed to feel in charge of the situation.

"Where's Andrew?" he asked. The other him shrugged with pursed lips.

"Dunno. Should I?" Jaden gritted his teeth.

"You should tell me what in hell is going on here if you want to live to see the next three minutes," he growled.

"Do you really think you can take yourself in a fight?" asked his mind. "You already know all of your tricks."

"Oh...shut up!" he told his mind. The other Jaden stared at him. He ripped his dagger out of its sheath.

"Start talking! Who are you?" he yelled. The other Jaden continued staring at him.

"You won't kill me. You're afraid." He sounded awfully calm for a guy who's life had just been threatened. "You're afraid of what would happen to you if you hurt me. Or is it you?" He smiled. Jaden wondered if his face could possibly be capable of looking that obnoxious and...evil. Apparently it could. Jaden began to circle him slowly, mainly in order to get a look around the rest of the clearing without taking his eyes off of this guy. Where the hell was Andrew? The other Jaden, rather than turning in place, just took two steps backwards. He wasn't going to facilitate that particular move. Damn, maybe he really did know all the tricks.

"What do you want?" again Jaden demanded.

"I want what you took," his twin told him coldly. He'd stopped smiling a while back now. His face looked hard and mean.

"I didn't take anything!"

"You did. And I intend to have it back. You can't stop me." The other Jaden advanced on him. He seemed to be unarmed, but Jaden stumbled backwards. This didn't make sense. He needed some answers. He needed Andrew.

Somewhere in the back of his mind a tiny alarm was going off. Something was wrong here.

"Oh really?" he thought sarcastically. "Pray tell what is wrong here?"

There were anomalies. The fires that Andrew built, they were gone. The version of himself that was pressing him across the clearing was wearing a race uniform just like Jaden's real one, but he also still had on the wrist watch. Jaden was suddenly aware of a weight in his pocket. He pressed his hand to the outside of his pant leg and felt what was unmistakeably the outline of his old switchblade. No. He'd locked it in a box and hidden it in the closet of their apartment.

He had to find Andrew. He spun around, desperation driving him to take his eyes off of his doppelganger. He froze in place, refusing to believe what his eyes were seeing. On the ground before him, slumped against a tree, was a familiar body. Bloodied, tangled, desecrated, but familiar. The head was wrenched into an unnatural angle, the lifeless eyes left open.

"No. This isn't real!" his mind protested. Jaden felt his double slip up behind him. He felt the stinging caress of a blade against his throat. He didn't move, just stood staring at Andrew. What was Andrew. His doppelganger murmured softly, lovingly, into his ear.

"Now, I kill you." ~

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter 37: Topics for Discussion

~ Andrew coughed conspicuously.

"Want me to leave you alone with your thoughts there Jay, or are you going to answer my question?" Jaden blinked and looked at Andrew.

"Um, sorry?"

"We were talking about Takyle..." Andrew prompted patiently.

"Yeah, uh, can I ask you a question before I answer that?" Andrew raised a shoulder to demonstrate his ambivalence. Jaden continued. "Seeing as we're both getting paid by Takyle, why did you get to choose me as a third, instead of her finding someone she liked more?" Andrew gazed at Jaden for a moment.

"I knew Takyle for a while before you ever met her. We were both looking for the last part of our team, I met you, she trusted my judgment." Jaden was pretty sure Andrew was oversimplifying things, but decided to move on.

"Um ok, as I said, I think Takyle is nice. We mostly get along....Why do you want my opinion of her anyway?" Jaden demanded. Andrew grinned.

"I'm kinda into her."

"You kissed her," stated Jaden. Andrew's eyes sparkled with humor.

"So I did."

Jaden picked a damp leaf off the forest floor and began fiddling with it, slowly pulling it apart. Andrew watched him for a minute, then spoke up.

"I get the subtle feeling that you're not completely comfortable with that whole deal..."

"Huh, guess he did notice."

"I'm ok with it if it's something that you want Andy. I'm not your wife, you're allowed to have girlfriends."

"But...?" Andrew again prompted, leaning forward as if dying of suspense. Jaden thought about his response for a very long time, settled on saying what he felt, decided against it, then finally just spit it out before he could talk himself out of it.

"We'll still be friends right?"

"Well that didn't sound desperate at all," said his mind, sarcastically.

"Shut up," he told his mind.

"Of course we'll still be friends, you moron. What kind of a double crossing skirt-chaser do you take me for?" scolded Andrew. Jaden grinned, and he was pretty sure it looked sheepish. It felt sheepish.

"An ugly one?" Andrew responded by punching him in the arm, but not very hard, and getting up to go poke at one of his fires with a stick.

Everything was going to be ok.

At least, Jaden sincerely hoped so. ~

Friday, February 22, 2008

Chapter 36: The Aftermath

~ On the night that Jaden left his father's apartment, he'd wandered the streets for hours. Eventually he'd grown exhausted and wished that he'd brought the blanket from his bed with him. He decided that he couldn't spend the night on the street and so he made his way to the apartment where a friend lived. He had been happy to find the boy out on the front steps smoking a joint with his girlfriend. Jaden could recall that conversation word for word.

"Hey J-man, what's happenin'?"

"You got a place I can sleep tonight Dirk?"

"Your old man kick you out?"

"No, kicked myself out."

Dirk had been either generous enough or high enough to sneak Jaden past his own parents to be put up for the night in his bedroom. The next morning Jaden had left a note thanking the still sleeping Dirk, climbed out of the window, and made his way out of the West Hamilton territory and back up to Andrew's uncle's store. Andrew was already there, preparing to open it for business, and he let Jaden in the back door. Jaden remembered that conversation as well.

"Um, dude, you've got what appears to be dried blood on your shirt," Andrew had said in a completely calm manner, as if to maintain that he was sure Jaden had a good explanation.

With a sinking feeling in his stomach Jaden had realized that in the surrealism of the previous night he had not remembered to wash away the evidence of his father's last bout of irrational and misdirected rage. Jaden looked into Andrew's face and for the first time saw second thoughts lurking there. Doubt as to whether he had correctly offered Jaden the chance to leave West Hamilton for something better. Jaden saw the world begin to slip from his fingers, and decided that he had to try to salvage the only trust he'd been given.

He told Andrew the truth. He told him about his father, about taking his things and walking out the night before, about sleeping in a small spot he'd cleared of trash and dirty clothes on the floor of his drugged friend's room. Andrew had listened silently. After Jaden was done he'd spoken without hesitation.

"My uncle will be here soon. We can both take our lunch breaks early and go get you some new clothes. I'm not sure where, but we'll work out some place for you to sleep."

And that was all that was said on the matter. Jaden had not set foot on West Hamilton since. Had not spoken with his father since. He never once regretted either.

At the end of that summer Andrew had refused to consider the option of Jaden not finishing highschool, even at the expense of their training. Jaden threw himself into his education with a passion that he'd never considered necessary before. He voraciously read anything set in front of him, finally discovering in himself a thirst for knowledge that would have done him no good back on West Hamilton. It was only in the following spring that he finally met Takyle Carlyle.

She was confident and driven and intimidating. She looked him over and he felt doubt radiating from every surface of her body. She'd asked Andrew into the next room and Jaden could hear the tones of their heated discussion. Huh. Just like when his parents used to fight while he was lying in bed, pretending, wishing to sleep.

They came back out and Takyle did not look fully happy. Andrew gave Jaden a reassuring smile and a nod. He was on the team.

"At least for now," said Takyle's look.

They'd begun training together in earnest immediately and Andrew served as an all important buffer between Takyle's forcefulness, and Jaden's burgeoning autonomy. More than that though, to Jaden, Andrew was his link to a better place. Jaden knew only the rules of inner-city schools and street gangs. When it came to dealing with people, he looked constantly to Andrew for cues and hints on how to react, eventually learning to rely mostly on his own instincts.

Together they made an unlikely team. Andrew, the grandson of hardworking immigrants, Jaden, kinless spawn of the streets, and Takyle, upper-class and constrained by expectations of grandeur. Ultimately though, they had learned how to dovetail their strengths and grew together in the process.

Andrew seemed to take his unasked for position as role model with a good bit of humor. Nevertheless, he had always treated Jaden as nothing less than a friend, bestowing on him what were, to Jaden at least, surprising and unprecedented levels of trust and respect.

Over time Jaden even began to think sometimes that he might earn them. ~

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chapter 35: Causation Implied

~ Jaden sat still in the middle of the clearing, knees drawn up to his chest, quietly thinking. Andrew worked his way methodically and obsessively around the clearing, building fires until they were surrounded by burning pits, the bower flooded with flickering, orange light. Andrew stood for a minute gazing into his creations, then started his circumnavigation of the clearing for a second time, to keep the fires fed. Jaden finally spoke up.

"You do realize that we're pretty clear targets right in the middle of all this light?" Andrew paused for a moment.

"Clear targets for what?" Jaden shrugged.

"I don't know. Just saying."

"Yeah well, regardless of what it could be, I prefer not to fight in the dark," said Andrew resolutely. He spun around to face Jaden. "Why'd he take just Takyle?" Jaden blinked at him.

"He said he had a task just for her..."

"That's bullshit! We should be able to choose who goes." Andrew began to pace. Jaden tried out a calming tone of voice.

"Well, we were never guaranteed that we would always be able to work together, or have the opportunity to choose who did what. Besides, I'm sure she's just fine! Väinämöinen isn't going to hurt her. If she failed the task he'd just bring her back here." Andrew snorted derisively.

"You don't know that any more than I do."

"Actually," disagreed Jaden. "I think I do know better than you in this case." Andrew studied him for a moment.

"Yeah, maybe you're right," he finally conceded, and came to sit down next to Jaden. "So uh, how're ya doing?" Jaden looked over at him and smiled, regaining some of that awkwardness that was so intrinsically him when it came to interpersonal relationships.

"Fine...How are you?"

"I'm good. Really good. Enjoying this race thing." Andrew deftly returned the conversation to what he'd originally intended to cover. "So how do you feel about Takyle?"

"Um, she's...nice?" Jaden studied Andrew's face for some hint as to what he was looking for. He was reminded vividly of the first time he'd ever spoken with Andrew.

Two years prior, Jaden had stood on the street corner by the store Andrew's uncle owned with Andrew in front of him, staring at him with the captivating gaze that Jaden would eventually grow accustomed to.

"How old are you?" Andrew had demanded. To this day Jaden wasn't sure why he'd answered.

"Seventeen." He'd meant to say it with rebellious, in-your-face overtones, but it hadn't quite come out that way. Andrew had studied him for a few moments further.

"My name is Andrew Vienna," the tall young man had stated matter-of-factly. Jaden remembered staring at him trying to work out why the hell he was being told that, and what this guy could possibly want. Andrew's face had been unreadable. He'd just continued to gaze at Jaden with passive, thoughtful deliberation in his eyes. Jaden had felt like he was being sized up. He'd felt uncomfortable. He'd thought about just walking away but....didn't. He'd fingered the switchblade in his pocket and for the first time it felt foreign and barbaric to his hand.

"Where do you live?" Andrew had asked, and for the first time in his short life Jaden felt ashamed to say.

"1657 West Hamilton," he'd murmured, breaking eye contact to casually glance at the sidewalk.

"That's down by the tracks? Live with your parents?" pressed Andrew.

"My dad." Jaden was fairly sure that Andrew had to have caught the trace of venom lacing those two words. He didn't say anything though.

"Want a job?" Jaden remembered staring at Andrew. He'd noticed that his mouth was open, and closed it. He'd searched Andrew's face for...anything. A trace of maliciousness. Proof that he was joking. Anything other then the sincerity that couldn't possibly be real. Turned out it was though. The corner of Andrew's mouth had twitched upwards in amusement. Jaden felt that he should be angry, but it wasn't mocking. It was just...Andrew. The expression suited his face.

That morning Jaden had begun working in the store owned by Andrew's uncle. That afternoon Andrew had begun training with him for the Bilken Race. That evening Jaden had walked home with his mind only half on his surroundings. The other half was on a life that he'd never had cause to imagine himself a part of. West Hamilton Avenue had turned into a tiny and insignificant speck on the face of the globe. Knowing Andrew had opened a portal to another world.

That night his father had beaten him for what turned out to be the last time. Jaden went to his room afterwards, gathered his two extra pairs of jeans, the several books that he owned, and the compass that had been his grandfather's, and stuffed them all into the backpack that had, at some point, been red. He'd pushed his bed over to the corner and stood on it to reach the marred and aged wooden trim up next to the ceiling. Prying it loose with his fingernails, he pulled from behind it the small roll of bills that represented all the money he'd ever been able to save and hide from his father, and pushed it into his pocket.

Jaden had walked down the hall to the claustrophobic living room where his father was watching television with a glass of gin in one hand and the remote control in the other. With his heart in his throat Jaden had spoken to his father.

"I'm leaving now. I'll not be coming back."

Without taking his eyes from the TV screen, Jaden's father showed his son his middle finger.

Jaden turned and walked out, down the fragile apartment stairs, and out into the world. ~

Friday, February 15, 2008

Chapter 34: Any Job Worth Doing

~ Jaden got stiffly to his feet, and stood still for a moment while his head spun.

"You ok?" asked Takyle.

"Yeah, just a little dizzy." Andrew came quietly to his side and placed a steadying had on Jaden's elbow.

"Maybe you should lay back down for a bit?" Takyle urged.

"I'll be alright in a second," he murmured to the ground. He glanced up at Takyle's face and, to his surprise, saw worry there. The only other time he'd seen that was when Andrew had almost drowned.


He leaned on Andrew for a moment more, then, straightening up and trying his best to look manly doing it, he headed over to Andrew's scribbling.

"So, uh, what were you thinking?"

To the left of Jaden there was a blinding flash and a bang. They all stumbled back and grabbed for their knives, the only weapons they had to hand. The haze of smoke cleared and there stood the wizard.

"Hello," he said mildly. Andrew fought visibly to keep his thoughts to himself. Väinämöinen gazed at him innocently.

"Why do you freakin' do that!?" Andrew demanded through clenched teeth. Väinämöinen ignored the question.

"Congratulations. You have chosen the easier route in this case," he told the team.

"How so?" asked Jaden. Väinämöinen stared seriously at him.

"Your companions were right in keeping you from continuing as you were. Ultimately, odds are, you would have reached the same place, but it would have been at great cost. As it is, by proving their fidelity to you, you team secured a different path." Andrew elbowed Jaden.

"Told you," he stage whispered. Jaden tilted his head.

"Wait...So my collapsing was part of the test to see what they'd do? That was intentional?"

"That is correct, young one."

"And since they stopped me from doing the "essence" thing again, they passed?" Väinämöinen nodded.

"By restraining you in the face of your anger and insistance, they proved themselves."

"Yay, us," Jaden heard Andrew murmur to Takyle.

"Indeed," added Väinämöinen.

"Ok then...What now?" asked Andrew.

"Now you come with me," Väinämöinen stated succinctly, looking directly at Takyle. She looked surprised and pointed at herself.

"Just me?"

"Yes. Come." Takyle started towards him but Andrew grabbed her arm.

"Wait, wait, wait just a damn minute. What about the rest of us?" Väinämöinen cocked his head.

"You will wait here," he stated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Andrew retained his grip on Takyle.

"I'm not sure that I am completely comfortable with that arrangement, to be perfectly honest." Väinämöinen raised an eyebrow.

"I was not aware that your level of comfort had any bearing here...This task is for one member of you team only, and that member is her." The wizard dipped his staff in Takyle's direction. Takyle pulled away from Andrew.

"I'm sure it's fine. You two wait here. Get some more rest Jaden." She stepped forward boldly. For a moment Jaden thought that Andrew was going to protest further, but his jaw clenched tight and he remained silent. He did however, direct a pretty impressive threatening look at Väinämöinen.

When Takyle had reached him, Väinämöinen waved his staff and the their two forms began to shimmer and fade. Takyle glanced over her shoulder just before she vanished from sight and smiled in what Jaden took to be a reassuring fashion.

With the wizard went the light from his staff and the clearing was once again plunged into disconcerting darkness. Jaden heard Andrew moving about and mutturing to himself.

"...damn wizard, can't just walk away like a freaking normal person..." ~

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chapter 33: Modification

~ Jaden stumbled through the trees, trying his best to get used to his altered state. This time around he had not achieved what felt like total separation from his body. He was still tethered to it, in a weird, half ascended kind of way. He tried his best to ignore that and concentrate on what he was supposed to be following. The flashes and sparks continued in the distance, sporadically lighting the horizon of his scenical vision.

The aura had been easy to follow, it's soft glow giving out a constant and reassuring tug in the right direction. This time it was different. This time Jaden feared that he really was going to get lost or, worse yet, get them all killed.

Despite the pull of his body, the ungainliness of flesh only half controlled by mind, Jaden found himself once again caught up in the ecstasy of the experience. The strain of the exercise was more powerful than he'd initially thought though, and it wasn't terribly long before he collapsed back into his body. He opened his leaden eyelids to find himself supported on either side by his companions, who were speaking to him in urgent tones.

"I'm- I'm ok..." he managed to slur, before blacking out.

Jaden woke sometime later, confused as to why he was lying in the middle of a dark woods. He heard whispering and turned his head. Andrew knelt on the ground a few feet away, scratching something in the dirt by the light of a small torch that Takyle held above him.

"...I don't think we could make it back there even if we tried. We should probably-"

"He's moving, Andrew!" They both hurried over to Jaden as he started to sit up and Andrew roughly shoved him back into the damp loam.

"Lie still," he ordered.

"I'm fine-" Jaden started but Andrew interrupted him.

"Shh. We're trying to work out a way to get out of here alive. For a while there it seemed like that wasn't going to be an option for you."

"How long have I been out?" Jaden asked, raising his arm before he remembered that Väinämöinen had taken his watch.

"We think it's been about an hour or so," Takyle informed him.

"How far did we get?" he asked.

"Probably around a couple of miles."

"And the woods have just been getting darker and darker all the way, "Andrew added softly. "I don't think that this is the way we came in, Jay."

"It's probably not, but that doesn't mean it's the wrong way. Let's keep going." Jaden attempted to get up again but Andrew planted a hand on his shoulder and didn't budge.

"I don't think so Jay. Whatever it was you were doing before was a) creepy as hell, and b) apparently bad for you, as you seemed like you were going to die and all."

"I'm fine! Just needed a rest apparently," Jaden protested.

"Jaden," Takyle began softly. "You don't seem to understand. You completely collapsed. Your heart rate was so fast I thought you were having an attack. You just about stopped breathing. We have next to nothing out here with us. There was nothing we could do for you."

"I appreciate the situation," said Jaden. "But nothing needed to be done for me. I'm fine now." He tried one more time to get up, and this time Andrew let him. "I'll be more careful this time and come down before it goes that far." Andrew and Takyle looked at one another. Takyle spoke.

"No Jaden. I know this race is about risk, but we're not going to do that. There's either another way or...well...We'll lose."

Jaden felt anger wash through his body. The voice of logic murmured in his head.

"They have a point you know. It's not worth your life."

"It wouldn't cost my life, and besides I want to win!"

"Not worth it."

He looked at Andrew. Andrew gazed seriously back at him. He obviously agreed with Takyle.

"You guys are insane!" he spat. "We're going to lose because of this! I am fine!"

Andrew shook his head.

"We've made our decision Jay. Winning this is not worth losing you. To either of us."

Jaden glared at Andrew.

"Aww, they do like me!" said his mind. He looked at Takyle. There, with the shadows shrouding her face, she looked exotic, ethereal. Still determined though. His face softened.

"Ok. I- I'm sorry. If you guys are that serious about this. Let's look for another way." Andrew grinned at him.

"That's more like it!" He slapped Jaden roughly and congenially on the back. "Come take a look at this little map I've been trying to draw up." ~

Friday, February 8, 2008

Chapter 32: Found in Translation

~ "I just...I don't know where to start..." Takyle said in a tone dangerously close to a whine.

"Takyle, my sweet," said Andrew. "You probably are aware that we don't have a whole heck of a ton of time here..." She gave him a whithering glare and turned back to the monument.

"This is the Latin "to touch", this may be the Norse "to feel"." Jaden sat down and prepared for another wait.

"This is Germanic..."to know" employ, utilize, take advantage of maybe..." She stopped and rubbed her cheek thoughtfully.

"This may or may not be a conjugation of "to posses". This is "they" I believe. Does anyone have a piece of paper? This is the "heart" or "soul". Perhaps the "essence" if you will. This is similar to the Spanish "success", and this is probably a pronoun. This, I think might be loosely translated as "power" or "might"."

Andrew leaned over towards Jaden.

"See, I knew she'd be able to do it," he said in a smug stage whisper.

"Thanks for the V o' C there Andrew," Takyle called over her shoulder. She scratched vigorously at her pad, scribbling out and revising previous notations. After a good while more she cleared her throat.

"Ok, this is pretty sketchy, but I think it goes something like this:

"To touch, to know, to feel the heart (or essence). The one road (or path) to success is open only to those that -something- its power."

"That something its power? That's...vague. Any ideas there?" Andrew asked.

"Umm, maybe something along the lines of possess or own?"

"Claim?" offered Jaden.

"Yeah, that kinda works..." Takyle murmured.

"Sure, but what in the hell does it mean?" Andrew demanded.

"I have no idea..." Takyle mused.

Jaden stared at the carved monument face for a few moments, then got up and walked around it, just to make sure that he hadn't missed anything the first few times he'd done that.

"To touch, to know, to feel..."

That was...familiar. Jaden closed his eyes, feeling a bit silly. Let's see now, all he had to do was reach out....Yes, reach out. It was so simple before...

"You had a guide then."

"Yes I suppose I did," he murmured to himself. He closed his eyes and tried again. And again. On the fifth try he felt a spark. Not like before, a warm constant glow, this was a flash in the distance, quickly dead. Uncontrolled. Jaden reached out again, but this time exploring upwards. Again the flash. Almost like far off lightning.

"Jaden!" A harsh voice pulled him down from his vantage point. He opened his eyes and noticed that Andrew had him by the arms, shaking him.

"Jaden! What's wrong? You were in some kind of trance or something." Jaden blinked at him. Why was he so upset?

"I'm fine...Just trying out something." Andrew eyed him askance.

"What? Creepy, comatose, meditation methods?"

"It's says to touch with your essence. It's something Väinämöinen taught me how to do while we were walking here."

"Oh it is, is it?" Andrew sounded as if Jaden had been contaminated.

"Yes, and I definitely felt something, and we should probably go towards it." For the first time Jaden noticed Takyle standing behind Andrew. She thought he was crazy too.

"Look I know what I'm talking about here!" Jaden protested loudly. He felt that the volume made up for his own slipping confidence. Andrew eyed him for a minute more. He turned to Takyle, raising a had to rub the side of his mouth and speaking too low for Jaden to hear. Very subtle. Takyle nodded and Andrew turned back to Jaden.

"How do we know Väinämöinen hasn't possessed you or something like that?"

"Possessed me Andrew? Don't be a moron." Andrew looked at Takyle.

"Well it sounds like him," he deadpanned. Jaden rolled his eyes.

"I know that it sounds insane, but I think it's the key. On the way here he told me about a kind of...sixth sense, possibly only applicable in this particular sim. Anyway, it doesn't matter. He described it as the spirit reaching out, which I'm pretty sure is what that monument is talking about. Translating it was part of the task, and now this is a test to see if I can use what he taught me. And I did, and I felt something...I think it's something that we should go towards." Jaden tapered off and studied both of his companions in turn. Andrew finally spoke.

"Are you going to have to go back into your Freaky Trance to do that then?"

"Yes..." said Jaden, cautiously. Andrew sighed noisily.

"Ok, let's go then. But I swear, if that's really V in there possessing you..." Andrew left the threat open ended, either for effect, or lack of good material.

"Yeah, sure Andy."

Jaden closed his eyes, and reached out, yet again. ~

Monday, February 4, 2008

Chapter 31: Logical

~ Jaden swam groggily upwards. Somewhere in the distance someone was calling his name. He broke the surface and his eyes flew open. Takyle stood over him nudging him with a foot.

"Jaden, the ropes are almost done burning. Get up." To his right he felt Andrew rise and followed suite. He shook his arm vigorously, trying to relieve the numbness gained from inadvertently sleeping on it.

"Nothing's happened yet?" asked Andrew, stretching.

"No. It's just been burning away. There's probably five or ten minutes left to go I imagine."

Jaden stepped up on the platform to look at the rope. There was nothing left but some ash and a small piece, not more than four inches in length, burning slowly.

"Wonder what's going to happen when it's finished?" he said.

"I don't know," said Andrew. "But I don't think that this could possibly be all of the task."

"Yeah," Jaden replied. "I suppose not."

"Everybody just be on your toes," chimed in Takyle. For the remaining couple of minutes Jaden and Andrew joked about crouching alertly until the last of the rope fizzled out and they all got very quiet and serious.

Nothing happened.

Andrew cleared his throat.

"Well...Huh...We're still alive!"

"That you are," said a voice from behind them. They all jumped and spun, only to find that no one was there. Jaden turned back to where the pedestal was supposed to be and found it inexplicably absent. In it's place on the same low stone platform stood a gigantic slab of the white marble, taller than a man, elaborate script decorating its face.

"Whoa, hey guys, check it out."

Andrew glanced back over his shoulder then returned his gaze to the edge of the trees.

"That's very cheeky V ol' buddy, very cheeky. Good to know that you're still with us in one form or another."

Takyle slowly approached the monument and reached up to run a hand over the carved lettering.

"What's it say?" Jaden asked her.

"I have no idea," she murmured. Andrew shot a look at her back.

"I thought that you speak like 14 languages there Ta."

"12, but this doesn't seem to be any one language Andrew." He walked over to join her beside the stone.

"Yeah, so?"

"So it's not so simple as all that! I have no references with me, there's no linguistic context. There's no place to start."

Jaden touched Takyle's arm.

"It has to be translated Takyle, or we won't complete the task," he said.

"I know...I'll try." ~

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chapter 30: Simpler In Execution

~ Jaden kicked the stone base impatiently.

"This could not be that complicated!" he shouted in irritation. Andrew came up behind him and layed a hand on his shoulder.

"Calm down there, Big Guy. Worst case scenario: we die horrible deaths. It's not that big of a deal." Jaden looked into Andrew's ice gray eyes and made a concerted effort to relax his jaw.

"You're very reassuring Andy, has anyone ever told you that?"

"I'm going to choose to ignore the sarcasm that's dripping all over my shoes and take that as a compliment..." Suddenly Andrew's eyes drifted out of focus for a moment, then snapped back to Jaden's. "Hellfire and damnation... I think I've got the answer! Haha, I'm a genius!" Andrew slapped Jaden on the back and leapt up on the platform, snatching up the ropes. "We just burn one of these at both ends, that's 15 minutes! And when that is up we burn the second at one end for the other 30. It's so freaking obvious! Why the hell were we stumped at all?"

Jaden and Takyle both stared at him for a moment, trying to think of any reason why it wouldn't work. They couldn't.

"Light em up Andrew," said Takyle with a shrug. "Now all we have to do is wait I guess."

"Does anyone else feel that so far this race has been nothing but long bouts of waiting interspersed with various forms of misery?" asked Jaden.

"Misery?" Andrew lay the burning rope down on the stone and stepped down. He began to lapse into his old-man-telling-a-story tone. "Why son, you ain't seen misery until you've had your foreskin caught in glass crusher and-"

"Eeeww! ANDREW!" Takyle punched him hard in the shoulder. "That is disgusting! What is wrong with you? Gross!" Andrew looked only slightly abashed.

"Sorry baby."

"You're not forgiven! That was horrible. You should be ashamed. What would your mother say to that?" Andrew leaned in and kissed Takyle's lower lip.

"Well maybe I can help take your mind off of it..." He kissed her again, lingering a good deal longer this time. "And my mind off of my mother." Takyle laughed and shoved him back.

"Dickwad!" She looked over and, from the look on her face, seemed to remember Jaden sitting there for the first time. He was pretty sure that she actually blushed.

"Sorry Jay." In response he murmured something along the lines of it being ok. But what do you know? Was Takyle actually aware of his general discomfort with their "friendship", or was it just this particular instance that she found embarrassing to share in his company? Jaden felt slightly the lesser man for thinking it, but he did feel a marked upper hand if it was in fact true that Takyle was not completely comfortable with the situation. At least it wouldn't be just him if that were the case.

Andrew sat down next to Jaden on the edge of the platform and lay back.

"Do you want to keep an eye on that burning rope Ta, and me and Jaden can do the power nap thing for a few minutes?" he asked, arm already flung across his face to block out the firelight.

"Sure. Sweet dreams."

Jaden tried and failed to find a comfortable position on the stone platform, and finally just gave up and lay down on the damp, but soft grass. At first he just stared into the black trees and didn't think that he would be able to sleep, but then his body reminded him of just how tired he was, and what an awful lot of walking he'd done that day. His eyes closed and he immediately began dreaming of wizards and a magical forest and floating, unconstrained by his mortality. ~