Thursday, she had gone and done the round with Seals. Was nice of Seals to drive. Driving was something Eysin couldn’t do. It helped get the job done faster – she had the chance to create some kinds of copies from two more titans, and she worked on trying to make something out of them until late in the evening.
When she went back to the dorms, Denea had Asha over for a chat, again. Eysin goes to her bed and tries to fall asleep – and even though they are talking quietly, she hears it… They seem very happy and amused, talk about old times, some people, they giggle, sometimes excitedly raise their voice, and then quickly lower it, again.
The chatter is beautiful and gentle. Yet, it stings her. Stings her so – she doesn’t have such fantastic moments, and thinking about it made her bitter.
Eysin gets up and shows up at her bedroom doorway, watching at them.
“Sorry, are we disturbing you?” Denea asks, as quietly as she was speaking.
“Do you want me to get out of the way so she can move in?” Eysin asks, with a dead look in her eyes.
“Where the hell is this coming from?” Denea took it as an accusation. “You sure the yellow shit hasn’t made you a little weird in the head?”
She was looking at them, Denea looked irritated, Asya a little worried. Eysin turns around and walks back to her corner, “I’m moving out.”
She’s up the whole night, having rubbed some more yellow on herself to power through – packing her things, moving, and settling into that small spare room in the temple. An old mattress for bed, a large chest for clothes, some shelves, a rug… When the first sun rays hit the roof of the temple – she was done packing and crashed the bed.
* * *
Wednesday – Seals possibly came around 10 AM and started shifting things around in the main room, and at one point came knocking behind Eysin’s tiny room curtain, “oh sorry, you were sleeping here tonight? I wasn’t in yesterday – could have helped you! Do you want, I made some good tea? A friend makes these…”
“Yeah, I thought something smelled nice.”
Around noon Imogen is around, but she goes straight to Seals and they disappear for a while – go on a long walk in the more unoccupied hallways of the temple.
“Listen, how tuned in did you manage to get here before he left?”
“I didn’t see Daegan at all… I got a memo from upstairs that I am assigned here for the next 2 years, so that’s that.”
“So, you have no idea what he could be up to? Or what about the rookie, would she know anything?”
“I’ve been watching her, not leaving the islands, staying where she needs to stay… And moved out from Denea’s too…”
“Really? That’s curious – I know Denea was hanging out with Daegan a lot – but she’s been avoiding me… I didn’t think she’d get involved with the pirates – her background considered, but who the fuck knows these days?”
“You think Daegan went off with the pirates?”
“I guess he had a price, after all.”
“Aren’t you a little quick to judge? Maybe he found something… And is doing this for a good reason?”
“Daegan is your garden variety sociopath – see, when Arthur died, his hopes for high positions, once we scramble – poof…”
“Was that why you got close to Arthur?”
Imogen has to restrain herself quickly to not slap her for having said this. “Keep on high alert… Soon enough the news will come that Daegan is now considered a deserter… He’s betrayed us and probably collaborates to sell something off from us.”
“The word on the coastlines goes that the Nords are interested in buying an orb.”
They return to the garage and Imogen has a brief exchange with Eysin, too – about the Titan.
“If all goes well, and I get lucky – I will find the remaining missing pieces from the Titans on Ceremony. But that’s… I don’t see that happening this week… Neither the next one. So, maybe in two-weeks you come over and give it a go?”
“You really can fix it?” Imogen went close to it and touches the giant with her glove. “Wow, it… We should be able to move it! We could…” She jumps in and heavily moves the limbs… “Ohh, it won’t stand, but maybe we can move it just enough…”
The body of the Titan shifts and rotates for a bit until a loud but pleasant sound of a click pops. She placed the Titan safely in its pod – now the Orb can help fix it, too.
* * *
Imogen wasn’t the only visitor to the garage that day. A few hours later Koi Jr showed up, had a small chat with Seals and then he turned to Eysin. “Come, I’ll buy you some cocoa or something.”
They were walking around the temple area, drinking hot beverages, talking about this and that until they walked into a small training session. Eysin’s mystery teacher was there, guiding two other suited Exos. The room had a strong flower smell.
“Come, join in,” he calmly said to them between movements.
And they did join in. And after half an hour of feeling out their internal spinning centres, the teacher instructed the students were to play a game. He picked a piece of chalk from a shelf and drew a one-meter diameter circle on the floor. “Don’t be moved from here,” he put Koi at the spot. He called one of the Exos over and told him the goal was to get Koi out of the circle.
No one could stay in the circle – not one of the 4. Eysin was the last to try and fell out, the Exo who was matched against her didn’t even have to do a lot of work for that. And when it was Eysin’s turn to push Koi out of the circle – she saw that it wasn’t much work too. “It’s a stupid game. It’s impossible to stay in the ring.”
The teacher calmly steps into the ring and calmly says, “try me.”
Three quick times in a row, the teacher threw Eysin out of the ring – and he didn’t even shift in his feet. “I see, you’re still using your muscles and bones. And I’m not – like this none of you won’t move me from here – not even if you come all 4.”
They may have tried it and failed at it, but no one would ever want to speak of it.
“I’ve lost my edge,” Koi admitted when thrown out for the last time. “Or maybe it’s just this room, pressing on me.” He had found it easier to use the spinning centres when he knew there was a lot of room around. Indoors he just felt stunted.
“But you didn’t feel that way just when we were doing the movements,” the teacher points out. But the teacher also knew what had recently befallen that man – that Koi Jr had suffered considerable losses in family and fortune, due to what was happening back in Reval. He had known the man, and he’d seen he’s changed.
It had gotten late and the teacher called it a day.
“Wait here, I’ll be right back,” Koi had excused himself for a few minutes, and that allowed Eysin to ask something from the teacher.
“So, uh,” but she couldn’t get anything out.
“How are you?” He asks, “you didn’t sleep last night…”
“I can tell just by looking at your face. But I did hear you moved to the temple now. Being close to the orb might be interesting for you.”
“Is this guy bothering you?” He refers to Koi.
“No, not really, we were just hanging.”
The teacher seems to shake his head in disbelief. “You take care of yourself, okay…” He walks over to one of the shelves, picks up a small metal box, picks from it a small bag of herbs and hands it to Eysin, “you make this into a tea, it will help you sleep.”
But indeed, when Eysin and Koi were moving back towards the garage, Koi was curious to hear that he was welcome to stay over. And the question had made Eysin anxious, “it’s not exactly a very private place.”
“We could go any other place, then.”
Eysin sighs, “look, I like you, and I remember you as a hero. You saved my life. You just didn’t turn up at a good time.”
“Oh, you’re seeing someone?”
“Not exactly, but sure, there is something.” She had an interest in getting closer to Raynar. She’d been thinking about it ever since they left Ceremony.
And Koi took it well and calmly. “Very well, in this case, it’s a good night. Good luck with the Second Wind, and thanks for the training session.”
“Well, it wasn’t MY training session…”
“It was your foot in the door,” he winks, they hug, and he walks off.
* * *
That night wasn’t over for her yet. She made it back to the garage and got reminded they had made a crucial change to the Titan’s conditions. New checks, new tests, new copies were in order – she forgets about the concept of time and studies and works on the giant deep into the night – until it was early morning, Friday. Damn, and I didn’t even get to check my swarm project… She falls, crashes, and sleeps.
* * *
And wakes in shock – she has not had nearly enough hours to sleep to be able to be any good use at the match later that night! Oh, right, we’re matched on Saturday… But she was interested in going to Ceremony anyway. Maybe Friday would be a good night to give another look at Raynar, from a more personal angle.
Suddenly, she has all the energy to doll herself up – she decides, she’ll take a nap after lunchtime when they have made it to Ceremony, then they’ll watch the evening match, have an easy Friday night – and who knows what could happen!
Every remaining Eesian in the tournament had been invited for a small celebratory morning right there in the temple. And because the tide was going to be low that day – some Eesians had organized a march of some sort – they’ll walk over the channel. Eysin was sure Raynar would show up as well, and they could maybe go from there to Ceremony, together.
It’s about time the meeting starts – she has finished packing her things, and as she steps out – so does Seals. “Good morning,” she greets, “you go with the march, too?”
“Yup, that’s the plan…”
“Oh, if you like, we can stick together.”
Eysin had forgotten her rings – she wanted to take some with her in case she wanted to solve them before the next match. “I’ll catch up, go ahead.”
“I’m going to go find my boyfriend, when you see me, come to us – we can go together.”
When she gets out from the garage – she gets a great view and sees a nice mass of people that have gathered to the Orb Hall. There’s a lot of chatter going on – and a strong smell of herbs and coffees. She’s trying to see from up above if she can detect where Seals has gone – once she spots her purple strain of hair – she knows which direction to start going in.
She pushes through a thick mass of people to get closer to the exit door, and she saw Seals must have stopped right behind a fruit cart… She walks up to it, around the corner – sees Seals. She sees Seals throwing herself into Raynar’s arms – they kiss and are happy to see each other again.
Eysin stops in her steps and is about to take a few steps back, whispers “awkward” as she bumps into someone behind her who thought the flow was headed in the opposite direction. The bump is smooth and when Eysin turns, she sees a guy holding two cups, she looks proud about not having spilt any.
And he whispers, “double-awkward… Are we moving?”
Did he just wink?
“Not so sure this is a good spot anymore.” Eysin wants to walk back but there’s nowhere to go, the mass is set and ready to get moving. The overall atmosphere changes as things in the first rows of the mass have started to move out.
“I’ll make it worth your while,” the tea-guy hands her a cup, “enjoy it, but don’t lose the cup, I’ll want it back…” The man then walks to the front of the cart, and with some other man – is that… The Keep? They pick up the holding sticks for the fruit cart – and start walking.
Cassius appears out of nowhere, takes a whiff of Eysin’s tea, and they keep walking, “you know, they lost a bet!” He says proudly. “That’s why it ain’t the rookies carrying the cart this time – I may have saved you, Eysin!” He jokes.
“Well, what was the bet?”
“Tea Sensei here believed my party wouldn’t pass! Jarre The Cocktail Boss made a bet that Raynar’s – would! Hah, ha, suckers!”
Jarre… That’s his name huh? “Hey, we might still win…”
“Looks like your nightmare is also coming true, huh?” Jarre – the man Eysin so far had only known as The Keep – he nods towards few rows ahead of them – referring to Seals and Raynar.
“I don’t even know what to make of that… I’ve not been kicked from Saturday’s match – as far as I know!” But she felt afraid – that she was going to get replaced with Seals. She was a stronger player in this. And that it was Seals! She had sensed there had been someone, but that it was Seals, which made her feel extremely sorry for herself.
Tea Sensei said something to Jarre and then looked at Eysin and Cassius. Eysin looked back at him with a crooked eyebrow – and recognized that it was the same man from before – the Exo who was smoking back when they had their first meeting with the teams. The long-haired herb guy. “Isn’t that a nice opportunity for Gina, then,” Tea Guy says to Cassius, “You said she can’t get out from Reval for the finals… Take Eysin – she’ll do good.”
“Nah, I’m confident Raynar will make it to the finals. And maybe he isn’t that big of a dickhead to throw someone out mid-season… I mean he has to know that’s a bad look.”
“Not a bad look if he manages to make it so that I will want to leave…” She mumbles.
“Does he have any reasons to do that?” He asks quietly.
“I guess… It wouldn’t be anything personal.”
When the top of the caravan reached the sea, they made a small stop. Fruits were passed along to those who wanted to eat – and more tea, and coffee. “Hold on to the cups and bring them back to the card when you’re done, don’t throw them all away.”
The weather was great – warm, calm, clear – energetic! A while after she had finished her tea, she thought the colours had become more vivid – and the people around them started showing more nuance – their faces were all so different from each other – their hair, their bodies – but their mood was all the same. Everybody became good-looking. The strange circle she had been in – at one point or another, she had seen all of them drinking that delicious tea… With a slight effect.
“There was something in this, yeah?”
Tea Sensei smiles, “just some herbs, nothing you should worry about. How are you feeling?”
“Great!” She stretches. The man takes away from her the empty cup.
“You want more?”
“I shouldn’t! Maybe later!”
Eysin leans on the empty cart – the number of hours slept was letting herself on. Tea Sensei leans on it as well and starts rolling some kind of a joint. After they have completed a bit of a small talk about the weather, he comments, “you’ve got yellow in your eyes.”
She takes out a mirror and takes a closer look. Not sure what to make of it.
“Take it easy with the yellow, it can start messing with your head…”
“And these herbs don’t?”
“Never in this way. Usually – for people who have had the yellow turn out in their eyes this way – their trance trips, and sometimes stimulants, too – well, they get very… Creative. You are very sensitive towards psychedelic effects… Now, it’s not a bad thing if you’re a pacifist clergy or a village shaman… But I’m afraid it can potentially fuck you up on a field… You should try to do without. It’ll make you ill… And it won’t do no good to lose you to a stimulant problem.”
Jarre the Keep joins their small circle. “The highs go higher, the lows go lower… How’s missy been?”
It was almost strange to talk to him without having an alcoholic drink at hand. “Missy has reached some of the lower lows, I guess,” she sighs. “I moved out…”
“At the temple now?”
“Why? So much work?”
“If felt in the way at Denea’s… And now… falling out with Raynar seems inevitable, too.”
“Did something happen?” Something Jarre didn’t hear about, yet?
“No… Never mind,” even though she thought she may have told this to the Keep, to Jarre, she wasn’t going to say to these strangers that it was inevitable because she had spent a night with him and had different expectations for the future.
Tea Sensei offers her a smoke, saying it will make the yellow recede in her eyes – and indeed, when she looked into the mirror again after a whiff – the yellow had disappeared altogether.
“If you want to get into those nautics… Well, you can’t figure it out on your own. If you want to use stims, you need something to counter-balance… If you want to do Crisis on your brain – you need a sober friend by your side… Best if you don’t get into it without a master who knows what they are doing.”
“I don’t see you offering an apprenticeship, so, you must be saying I should stop.”
“Yes, you should stop.”
* * *
They crossed the canal and made it to the town.
“Which hotel are you staying at?”
“Oaks… We’re all headed in the same direction.”
She slept through the day and got up for the evening. When she went out, Jarre and Tea Sensei were at the lobby, ready to go, and invited her to hang with them – and they waited for a bit more. Another woman showed up – a bronze-haired woman they called Agnes.
And she also seemed familiar, somehow. Imogen showed up, and she brought along with her Cassius. Imogen took the Tea Guy to the side and they talked some private things throughout the whole way to the arena. Meanwhile, Agnes, seeming a little drunk, was trying to pick a fight with Jarre, and Cassius was just quiet and relaxed, keeping step with Eysin.
As they look at the Friday game unfold, Cassius does remind her this, “if your situation becomes any more clear before the final – and you want to join – come to me. Otherwise, I’ll turn to someone else… But the call is yours. I mean I hope you figure out the stuff with your team and all…”
“Oh, well, thanks.”
She couldn’t concentrate on what was going on in the match at all, though. That whole evening, from the corner of her eye, seeing the Tea Sensei – she could not think of much else but getting to drink that delicious tea, again.
* * *
Saturday evening. Stakes are higher this time. Before the match, she’s still putting on some yellow and it helps her wake up.
The beginning of the match was forgettable, and about halfway through – as it is the last chance for her – at Eysin’s line of sight is another of her lost arm-rings. At such a point during the match, she freezes, panics. She becomes very aggressive and surprises everyone by dashing right through an enemy team. Anything it took to get ahead of everyone else to get that particular ring.
Eysin retrieves her second bracelet and keeps it, she runs off and after a minute, the rest of her team catches up, too. They settle at a spot not bothered by other teams and dig up some more.
Raynar asks about the particular ring she went for, and she refuses to decode it to convince Raynar that it’s not worth turning in. “Look, we get many other rings here, and I will decode some of them while we wait for the time to run low – then we will turn them in – there’s plenty good looking here to get us ahead phenomenally.
Raynar gets upset that she wouldn’t sell that one for points, he keeps arguing with her while she is trying to decode – attracting other teams to try to come to steal them from, and not letting Eysin do her work. Escaping from one such attracted conflict, they do quite impressively – and Eysin manages to defend herself with the help of her new stick weapon from last time.
They scatter and get together again, and now the whole team is angry, one siding with Raynar, two with Eysin, guys shouting at each other who should shut up until they attract another team to their new location, fail to pick up more than 3 rings from there and have to leave it to them – the other team was just better organized.
“Never mind, we have enough rings, let’s keep moving and I will decode as many as I can.”
They move around as Eysin manages to decode quite a handful of them. They even get surprised at how fast the decoding happens that night – Eysin considers it luck – and some of the rings are quite much worth, too – weapons, old vehicle blueprints…
Just a minute of a match remains once they have turned in and got their many points from the rings – she’s still holding a bunch of rings, and that makes one other team go after them. Just a minute of the sprint – the team scattered again – and Eysin couldn’t help but once again enter her unofficial trance state so she could keep it up.
* * *
Still a little terrified of her non-trance trance-like situation after the match. She wants to stay away from Raynar because he seemed very explosive at the time – and her theory was that the intent was to make her quit. She goes to the green room and sits to see the show they play after the match – some people dancing and singing, playing with fire.
There are a dozen people there, some of the same people from the fruit cart, earlier – and who sees her, smiles to her.
“You saw a ghost?” Tea Sensei sits near her, holding more cups.
“I didn’t fall into trance. Yet, I lost control over myself all the same way.”
“Fear can make us strangers to ourselves. Did you know – some people, going to battle – die out of fear, without any other wounds? Fear is a very strange emotion… A very confusing one. The trance experience in our suit seems to exist exactly for the purpose to avoid having us confused – it keeps us focused and puts the part of our brain that fears – to sleep.” He offers her a tea – a different kind, this time. It relaxes her.
“Looking from up here, though, it looks like your team did well – you’re passing, for sure.”
“It wasn’t just the fear of battle… I know what’s coming… He is picking fights with me – so I’d leave on my own accord.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve had that experience before… He wants me to leave, but he won’t say it to me. So, he makes my existence in that band an unbearable enough experience to eject myself… This is not a new thing for me… I just hoped I’d never had to experience this cowardly teenage shit again.”
“What was the first time?”
“I can think of two times. My first boyfriend! He became so obnoxious – only to make me leave… Because he couldn’t dump me by himself! And the other occasion was way later – I was involved in a journalist group…”
“You mean – you led a journalist group,” he smiles and lights up one of his sweet blunts.
“You know about that, huh…”
“Jolie Rouge brought some exciting developments to Reval. I was around, at the time, curious to see if the houses would get affected… Would have indicated who is or isn’t in cahoots with those scoundrels… You left them, then?”
“Eh, Erika wanted to make it into her own thing, and started playing politics with me.”
“And indeed, now it has become a political thing.”
“I haven’t looked,” she smiles. “Was a hell of a time while it lasted, though. Hot blood, mania – taking down terrible people for crimes we’ve never seen them commit… Based on a word of another journalist or a hacker – you know… Sooner or later it was going to happen – someone will tell us, such a thing happened, and here is the proof, and this person needs to be exposed for it – and after we’re done – we’ll find out none of it was true – but the damage was already done, and no way on earth to restore it… I didn’t want things to get there… And they wanted to start outsourcing information…”
“Must have been difficult – all your work, taken from you…”
“The first thing I thought when starting that thing – it needs to have an expiration date. Learning from history. I was prepared for it to end from the day it started.”
“Clever,” he mumbles, thinks about it.
“The harder part was finding work after… All my connections were now cut off. I guess they never really were my friends – and that realization hurt me. And being on my own in Reval… That city can start getting to you when you have got no one to share it with, you know… Of all the places, though, RESO guild took me in. Life got a little nicer.”
“How are you doing here? Not getting overwhelmed with all this? How do you do that, Security must be very different from what you did in RESO…”
“Did you ever have to re-invent yourself?”
He shrugs. Maybe he has, maybe he hasn’t – he either hasn’t or doesn’t want to talk about it. “I know what you mean.”
“If you do it enough times, you figure one thing out… You get a better sense of how much new information you can process at once… So, it has been gradual, getting here… First the island – a very different place from the city. Formed some connections with people – as little as I can manage… Or get a chance with! Then – I try something a little familiar, get used to the other stuff around me… And then I got invited to security… It was rough! I have never been good with physical challenges… But the maestros were patient and helpful… And kind – like you! Offering me tea, all that!”
He pours her some more.
“Where do you get this stuff?”
“I make it.”
She widens her eyes, completely surprised, “you make it?”.
“Yeah, you know, I like to mix herbs… Taste a bit of this and that… Add a bit of effect.”
“Are you around, much?” She tried to remember if she had seen him around before, other than the day back in Terratorium, and now.
He thinks about it a little bit, “well, mostly I’m in Reval… Rozenbaers are paying us for some services. Guard duty, mostly. Then, there’s the expedition coming, and looks like I can’t avoid it.”
“Going for a full year?”
“Hoping to come back after a half.”
Raynar comes in and looks like he has been looking for her, “Eysin, we need to talk.”
Eysin looks at the Tea Sensei, bottoms up her drink, the Tea Sensei shrugs, they wave good-bye, and off she goes.
* * *
On their way back to the hotel area, Eysin and Raynar argue about the number of arm-rings they are supposed to turn in, and he is mad that she is “slacking off” and not working on decrypting them. Accusing her of not doing enough to ensure the team gets to the next round, and that she’s been keeping too many rings for herself – which was not a problem so far…
“We don’t need any more points. I decrypted enough during the match and we turned them in. We’re way ahead of the others by score.”
He falls quiet, but not strategically. He needs to think.
Eysin helps him out, get the ball rolling, “are you trying to piss me off?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Why did you suddenly become SO fucked up against me?”
“I’m not fucked up, you’re imagining things.”
“No, there’s something going on after your girlfriend returned. Is she aware what you were up to, last weekend?”
“You better keep it to yourself, nothing happened,” his eyes almost as if lit on fire, saying that.
“What if I don’t? Are you aware she and I sleep next door to each other? I can go and tell her now.”
“You’re not going to tell her shit you crazy bitch.”
“You can’t stop me…”
He is trying to look less irritated and his angry expression turns into a ridiculing smile, “why do you get so excited over sharing a bed with someone. Has your dry season been so long? Nothing happened. And who gives a shit about this – you make sure the score is above others.”
Eysin takes off all but one of the rings she still had – hands them to the guy, eight of them. “You know what? You go cash them in or do whatever you like with them, I don’t give a shit.”
He throws up his arms, not wanting to take them, looking worried, all of a sudden, “well, you gotta decode them first!”
“No, Raynar, I’m not going to decode shit. Your entry to the next round is pretty much guaranteed anyway, but I’m leaving the team. As I understand, you already have a replacement. Now, fuck you and goodbye.” She starts walking back towards the Pits area, but she’s still stopped for a few more seconds.
“Hey, hold on now…” He grabs her by her shoulder, a little violently, even.
“Do you need it on paper or what?” She pushes him back and shouts at him. “Just leave me the fuck alone!” And she keeps walking… She doesn’t even really know where, but she just didn’t want to keep walking in the same direction with him.
And when she walks, from the other direction, the Tea Sensei walks towards her, and he has company – there’s Agnes, holding on to him. She seems drunk and in a… Slutty mood. And Tea Sensei forms a message on his mouth, read his lips, you can see, he’s saying help me!
Eysin goes over and hangs onto his other arm, “Hey, you guys going back to Osel tonight by chance? I’d just like to get back home as quickly as possible…”
“Sure, I can drive,” the man says.
“Noo, we were going to…”
“Agnes, this is the plan – I make sure you get back to the hotel safely, and you will go sleep it off, and I’ll be taking Eysin home. You will wake up in the morning, talk to Jarre and see that you do everything you can to make things right again, is that clear?”
“If you’re not up to it,” Agnes steps away from him, “I’m gonna go find someone else!”
The man snatches her from her hood before she manages to walk off and locks her back into holding onto his arm. “You could get in trouble, let’s just get you to sleep, okay?”
They make it to the hotel Agnes is staying at, she goes in alone, and they wait around for a while to make sure she doesn’t come back outside.
“How’d it go with Raynar?” He asks, starting a new smoke.
“Fuck Raynar. I quit.”
“Good for you.”
“Everyone’s so damn hostile, how the fuck does one get on in this life?” She shouts. “Do I have to start playing the same fucking game with them? How the fuck do I stop being an expendable piece of shit?”
“Hey hey hey,” shushed the Tea Sensei.
She caught her breath, closed her eyes and let everything fall into silence for a short moment. But she still looked upset. These feelings weren’t going to just disappear. She was infuriated.
“You know what?” The Tea Sensei touches her shoulder with a fist, trying to get her back into motion. “That team was complete garbage anyway. No discipline. Raynar is an incredibly talented fighter, but that team just didn’t work.”
“We got the score high enough… Worked fine enough.”
“Go to Cassius’ team, you’ll know what I mean.” He offers her to smoke his thing, too.
Eysin doesn’t like how that one smells and tastes, hands it back, and coughs a bit. “I need to sleep on it… Maybe…” She watches him inhale the thing and it looks like he likes it, “hey uh… Never caught your name.”
He kills the butt of the blunt, throws it in the bin, rubs his hand into the side of his pants, and his hands together, stretches and puffs himself up, and finally, extends a hand to her, “I’m Arkion, nice to meet you.” He slightly bows his head.
“Alright, Arkion, nice to meet you. I’m Eysin.” The next thing Eysin wants to know, “how long do you want to wait here?”
“We don’t have to, at all… Not our problem,” he shrugs, ”how about we meet at the lot in an hour, I gotta go check out, too. And find some car.”
“Wait, you weren’t going to go if I didn’t ask?”
“I’ll use every opportunity I can, to drive. I’ll get you back home, just meet me at the lot and I’ll take you back. Or, well, if you change your mind and wanna call it off, speak now or text me later – up to you.”
She didn’t want to run into Raynar again, and she surely would if she’d stay in town, in the hotel, so, “no, we’re going for sure.”
* * *
They meet at the lot, Arkion has arrived with a car that can take them over the water. They get in and get going – take the wide road through an old park filled with pines. It’s a dark, but clear night. They make it to the shore, the dock area where the road kisses the sea and they just drive into it. The vehicle changes its mode from road to water and goes like a good old motorboat.
Halfway through the canal, they see some strange activity ahead. He immediately kills the engine and switches off the lights. The head part of his zerk takes over and he is trying to focus on what is going on. Eysin does as he does, looks through the eyes of the zerk, focuses on the activity ahead…
There are two vehicles – one boat, one car – and about 6 people. They are exchanging some packages, loading some off from the boat, taking it to the car – and taking something from the car in exchange. Two of the people seem to have a very animated conversation.
“Pirates,” he mumbles. “Looks like strangers came to trade… They’re not EESO or Brotherhood, so…”
“Yeah, they are spotted around here often… There’s an island in the Baltic…”
“Right, that’s where the traffic goes through, I’ve heard… You been there?”
“Yeah… Maybe we’ll take you there, someday…”
Eysin recognizes a pattern in the flickering lights that indicate the presence of humans, “but one of them is EESO,” Eysin points out – she singles out a signature and highlights it for Arkion. “It’s Daegan. Should we pursue?”
“Hmm… Not our problem. Don’t want to intervene in Imogen’s business…”
“Wouldn’t it help her if we caught him?”
“Don’t know… I think Imogen wants to know what he is up to – but he wouldn’t say… Besides, I don’t like our odds. I’m too tired for this… And as soon as you turn to trance your stim hangover will fuck you over… We better wait until they are done and gone.”
Ten minutes passed. They are now both just waiting, bored, no longer looking, but suited in case they are spotted and pursued. Arkion opens a window and starts smoking something. These herbs smell sweeter, and he doesn’t even share!
Eysin yawns and attempts to disguise it as a question, “wonder what they are trading.”
“Food… Probably winter olives, winter grapes… Directly from Vinu’s yards.” He guessed because it was the most traded food around these parts. “Ah fuck, It’s almost as if they are trying to get caught. What’s taking so fucking long?”
They had to wait another 20 minutes. During this time Eysin got the idea that Arkion wasn’t worried about intervening in Imogen’s business – he may be in on what Daegan was up to. So, she probes, “Do you know Daegan well?”
“I thought I did.” His look changes and he’s leaning forwards, now, “Oh, look at that,” he nods, referring to the two lights that come from the other side of the exchange – another car trying to pass the canal.
3 of the people at the boat and the car – they go into hiding, 1 of them starts walking towards the approaching car, and 2 people take the wheels of their machines.
Arkion thinks, “we can listen…”
“Listen to what?”
“That car probably has their radio system on – and the ships and the smugglers didn’t – try to catch a wave, listen… Activate some blue, it will amplify…”
Arkion and Eysin call their suits on, she activates some blue and falls very silent to focus on the air around that area.
“Terribly sorry, sir, we fell into engine trouble and we’re trying to start it up…”
“Do you need any help?”
“No, sir, we got it under control, you can just pass by from the right side, the road is wide enough.”
The approached car starts again and drives past the dealers, Arkion starts his car’s engine and slides, without any lights coming on, off the road, into deeper water. This makes Eysin fairly nervous and she clings onto the handles to her right and left.
Arkion seems very focused, grins and mumbles, “can’t be just food, then…”
“A broken engine?”
“No, forget about the engine, they are negotiating a price… That’s what’s taking so long. Now I’m curious.” He slowly moves the car forward in the deep water. “We’re gonna take a closer look,” and as he says that and looks to his right to see her – Eysin looks terrified. “Hey, you alright there?”
“Just not very comfortable in the water,” her jaws don’t move when she says that.
And when he looks beyond her – into the darkness of the sea – he sees something good – a lot of mist is coming. This means we can get even closer… And read the vapour. “You don’t swim, huh?”
“I’m the best at drowning, you’ll meet no one else like it,” her jaws still don’t move.
The mist takes them over, keeps getting thicker as they get closer.
“Damn, they didn’t forecast this for today,” one of the guys says.
“We’ll be fine, anyway, if we can get just ONE more person on the inside, we’ll give him the package and all he has to do is to deliver it when and where we say it. Wear gloves and all you want – no prints, no way to get caught.”
“No, there’s no one else ready to get involved in this,” they recognize Daegan. “Just me will have to do.”
“But how can we execute our plan when both of the packages need to be placed at the same time. It simply won’t work!”
“How can it not work, can you not do a timer?”
“They do have a timer, but the way we have set it – the timer only starts at the correct proximity – that’s the best our scribe could code it.”
“Can’t your scribe try harder?”
“She’s not around, gone back to Reval, and not coming back. And we won’t find anyone else within the next two weeks – unless you offer someone – but you keep saying…”
“No one else gets involved.”
“If you want to convince the lot to invade the Temple – their ONLY remaining demand – lose the Titans. If you can come up with another way to get rid of them and make your raiding party feel safe enough – I mean, more power to you.”
“Fine, I’ll think of something.”
The doors close – the ship sets towards the Pirate Island, the car sets towards what could be the mainland. Arkion starts the engine again and they continue driving quietly, without any lights.
“What do they want from the temple?” Eysin is curious, puzzled…
“They’ve raided temples for marbles before, but we don’t keep the valuable ones there anymore, so, not sure… Unless they figured out how to move an orb… And there would be plenty of buyers for an orb.”
“But can they even raid it? I mean it’s guarded all the time, right?” The thought of a raid spooked her – just now that she had moved in to live there. “When was the last time it was raided? Does it happen often?”
“Not sure… More than 4 years ago, I think… It is heavily guarded.”
“Why do I get a sense that I must find a new home, quick?”
“You’re staying at the temple now?”
“Ah, right… Well, they are going to need a very clever plan or a very large raiding group to pull it off. But the way they were placed there like this… Can’t help wonder… Were we supposed to hear this? I mean, it’s Daegan, after all… They would have done it at some other place if that wasn’t the case… Fuck… We’re following. Off on a small midnight adventure, I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not like I can walk from here!”
“Sorry about that. You can stay in the car if you like, I won’t let trouble get you, okay?”
He starts boosts up the engine, leaves the lights off, and starts tailing the ship that Daegan was on – with 3 other people. They are headed straight towards the pirate island, through the thickest fog packed into the darkest night.
Some 40 minutes of driving in the water, quietly following the ship, and they make it to another small island, get on the land not far from where the ship docked.
Arkion called his full zerk on and took his clothes off. “You can wait here, make sure we still have a car when I come back. Stay in a zerk, in case someone finds this… Say you’re here to trade, no one’s gonna hurt you.”
He gets out of the car, ducking over, looking towards the docks, seeing things through the fog, and starts moving closer.
The group Daegan is with set the ship to the docks and head towards the forest, inside which their little village is, somewhere. Arkion follows them by staying next to them on the road, and one point makes a clicking sound, trying to make it natural – but it was a noise Daegan should have known.
“I gotta take a leak, I’ll catch up,” Daegan said to the other guys, and walked towards the clicks. The other guys leave without suspecting a thing.
And there they stand, straight, face to face, both fully suited – and Daegan’s suit has changed colour – it’s dark blue. Arkion had never seen something like it, before – he wanted to ask about it – but there seemed to be even more pressing matters at hand.
Daegan was ready to fight, but he also hoped he had just come there for questions.
“The fuck are you up to?” Arkion asks, like an old friend, looking out for a brother.
“I’m looking for the murderer… And trying to find out who’s the buyer for the orb.”
“So, you’re helping them raid our Temple?”
“EESO is done, Ark… It doesn’t matter what happens to the Temple. If they can move Akasha, I say I won’t stop them. But I will make sure it won’t fall to the wrong hands.”
“What wrong hands? The Nords?”
“See, I don’t think the employer is a Nord… Well, he is, in a way.”
“You have a suspect.”
Arkion cringes, “he doesn’t have the buck nor power to pull this off. Only if he has promised it to the Nords.”
“Yeah, he can get a good cut. For some reason – he wants to be king so bad… He has to hurt Theo – he’ll take from him what remains of EESO… And you all start serving him, instead. I can’t see that it should be anyone else, organizing all this.”
“The Nords broke their orb – maybe they just want to…”
“The Nords have no direct access to this… Dux does – we have no idea who among Eesians he has bought off. Gen, Cassius, Leon, Seals, maybe some of the new ones who came from RESO – I can’t pay attention to everybody – so I try to tackle that problem from this angle.”
“What are you trying to achieve with this?”
“Just want to make sure Dux won’t be at the receiving end of the transfer of power. We have to remain in control – or it all dies with us. It’s too dangerous to let anyone else have it. They won’t know what they are dealing with.” Daegan looks nervously behind him, towards the village, “they’ll come looking if I leak for too long, you either come with me and we have a drink, or you go back to where you came from.” That choice must have meant something more to him – and understanding whether Arkion trusted Daegan’s plan or not.
“I’d love to have that drink, but I didn’t come here alone.”
“Someone else sneaking around?” He squeezes his eyes, looks around to see if he can detect anyone.
“She’s back at the car. One of the new ones from RESO – so I’m guessing you’d rather not have her around.”
“Just in case…” Daegan agreed to that.
“Alright, I’m taking her back to the temple… Are you planning to raid the temple?”
“I can’t say when, but yes, th… You can’t tell anyone… And I’ll tell the guys the deal is off when anyone in the temple gets hurt.”
“Seals is there, she’s going to put up some resistance, for sure…”
“I’ll have them plan around that… She’s not there all the time. Who else moved to the temple?”
“Hmm, so she’s no longer at Denea’s place… That complicates things. Anyway, nice seeing you, Ark, catch you later.”
* * *
Meanwhile, while waiting in the car, Eysin had decoded her second ring. It’s some kind of a blade – but it has no hilt – so it seems broken.
She sees Arkion return, he doesn’t comment on anything but says it’s better if she forgot about all this and she has no need to get involved. He takes her back to the Temple and crashes in Seals’ bed himself.
The next morning, the short conversation they had was the last, for a while. Arkion disappeared for the next two weeks.
“I gotta go talk to Gen,” he commented in the morning. “You heard – they plan to raid the temple… So I go make sure they are closer here for the coming times, so they can respond faster should there be a need. Best if you both find some other place to move from here… Seals has a home, see if you two could go stay there.”
He leaves without saying goodbye!
As for the accommodation problem, Seals had heard the news from some other channel, and two days later, when she invited Eysin to have lunch with her – to propose a new living situation – Eysin didn’t take it well, at all.
The offer was good, but she hated that girl.
Seals and Asya both had come out of nowhere and knocked her off from where she stood. Eysin felt she was getting in the way, and that feeling irritated her – not being able to find a place, a role to play. Her involvement with Raynar and Denea, no matter how superficial it had been – for it being nothing more, she became bitter and jealous.
Seals, not knowing about anything that had occurred between Eysin and Raynar – or that she had a difficult time understanding Denea – AND that she was all worked up as a side-effect to the yellow stimulant – found it rather puzzling. But she was patient, she took it like a mystery, “something’s bothering you, and I seem to be connected to it somehow – tell me, can I help you in some way?”
“Just leave me alone.”
“Has this anything to do with Raynar asking me to join the remaining matches? He told me you left… But didn’t know why. Why wouldn’t you tell him?”
“I can tell you why,” she hisses as if venom is about to come, “I’m afraid your boyfriend hasn’t been very loyal to you.”
The expression on Seals face is looking for the appropriate one, she was surprised, puzzled, but also amused. “What did he do?” He asks with a smile. “He fucked you?” And as she said that, without waiting for any response – she started believing that. She walked out and Eysin didn’t see her for another few days.
But she didn’t feel too worried about the security situation around the Temple – she knew even more fighters had moved in closer and were keeping watch… So much that if an en enemy scout – or Daegan – was watching this – they’d surely call off the raid.
So, what could Daegan be thinking, and did Arkion meet him, and what did they talk about, Eysin wondered, and what if all this will just blow over like it never happened. A catastrophe averted.
* * *
For the remaining one and a half weeks, Eysin was training with Cassius’s team for the finals. And it was like Arkion had said – this team had supernatural synergy – the help they gave to her, moving around, protecting her, chasing off the practice enemy – made her feel more powerful – she could help herself better, getting out of a ditch – and she could decode more rings during the game, like this.
Their practice partners weren’t exactly Black Rain and Koi Jr. – but even so, Eysin felt she really had a chance to end up in a good position with this team – and maybe even retrieve her last ring – listed as one of the “rarer” ones for the Finals.
Until the next strange event, she didn’t see Arkion again. But he was often on her mind, he seemed very interesting to her, and wondered – is there a way to meet him again.