Chapter 8: Saved From the Sea

Sirens, sirens, sirens. What a dark night – and there’s mist all around. Chaos and destruction. When the finals had ended, two large explosions happened around the tournament area. All buildings in the vicinity got blown to rubble, some people got injured and lost.
 
Seals is at the wheel. A man is trying to hold Eysin up in her seat while also trying to calm down Agnes. He tells Seals to drive right into the water, “head towards the temple”.
 
“What happened?” The explosions had Agnes confused. As did the alcohol circulating her body. She was very drunk at the time it happened. She’d been trying to sweet-talk the man into going to places with her. And now the man was using Eysin as a human shield to protect himself. At least that’s how Agnes saw it.
 
Agnes felt so numb all over that she had already forgotten her right leg got injured. When it all blew up, something had flown right at her and Arkion.
 
“What happened to her?” She looks at Eysin, in the middle of passing out in the middle seat. She no visible injuries, her zerk is active., Red paint is running all over her body, dripping to the seats. Agnes’ question gets ignored, she looks at Arkion’s face. He looks irritated but keeps his cool. His long hair is wet, he’s got his zerk on, but not on his face. Eysin’s red paint has dripped on him, too. Red, and yellow. “You should… Wipe it off…”
 
He looks at his chest and wipes the yellow droplets off with one swipe. “How’s your leg?” He finally looks at Agnes.
 
“My leg?” As soon as she thinks about it, she feels it. A deep cut. There’s blood all over her jeans, but the bleeding had stopped. Her zerk had reacted, built a cast around the wound and stitched it together. Her last remaining pink marbles were attempting to fix it.
 
She remembers Arkion got hit with it, too. He had reacted fast when the explosion occurred, she’d never seen someone’s suit come up so fast. Had he not spontaneously reacted – slammed down the piece of roof flying at them – they could have gotten decapitated. “I’ve enough pink to heal it… How about you?”
 
“I’m out, gonna use the pool.”
 
“Why are you wet, what happened to you? What happened to her?” she asked quieter, and seeing that she’ll get ignored again, she backed off completely. Agnes pressed her forehead against the ice-cold window of the car. She looks out, into the intermittent mist and darkness. “That’s no way to attract a man, is it,” she mumbles.
 
Eysin was half there and half elsewhere – what had happened to her was a whole other story. After wiping his own suit, Arkion started noticing more spots of yellow on her. He wiped off yellow dots as they appeared on her face and chest. They kept coming out from the framework’s pores, her system was rejecting it. She must have had some pinks left, and they helped.
 
Arkion couldn’t tell what kind of pattern this yellow poison was launched with. He couldn’t know, so he hoped it was just a large amount of a silly hallucinogenic. But feared it may have been the Death Sentence sequence.
 
Daegan had a poetic flair, after all. The spot was the same, the confrontation in the same context – and his name had come up. Arthur.
 
Half here, half elsewhere, when Eysin came to, she desperately wanted to open her eyes, but noticed she’s still fully in the suit, so, somehow, she moved her half-dead hand to her face, and the man tried to stop her, but finally let her do it – she removed the visor… And as she did that, she started coughing. She stopped, and noticed that her eyes were hurting bad.
 
She started coughing again, so bad that she was almost going to throw up. Water came up her lungs, she could taste the sea salt in her nose. A few more coughs and something else came up. She spit it into her hands. A liquid of yellow, mashed up with pink. She looke at it, confused, and when the man saw that, he grabbed her hand and used some tissue to wipe it off her.
 
Arkion put his visor on and looked at the mixed yellow and pink. Indeed, the pink was eating away at the yellow. “Regen…” He mumbles. But he couldn’t still make out from that view in what configuration that liquid had entered her system. Not knowing was rather irritating.
 
Eysin sits up, sees she sits in the middle, on one side there is a bronze-haired woman. She’s seen her before – Agnes, the same woman she’d seen Arkion with, before. The woman is weeping, looking out from the window. Seals is at the driver’s seat. And looking out the front window – they appear to be at sea – and it’s very dark. And – the one who had been fighting her hands. She recognized from the sweet smell of herbs – especially strong now that his hair was all wet – Arkion.
 
“You told me to get off that shit and now look at that,” she’s in pain but is trying to make light fun of it.
 
Arkion wraps the tissue up and puts it into the door’s pocket. He looks into her eyes to see if there’s any yellow in it. “Do you feel anything weird?”
 
“Everything hurts. Especially…” She had received a very strong blow right into the centre of her chest. She recalled everything in front of her eyes turning yellow. “My veins are all drying up…” She lifts her right hand to look at it – and she can’t control it, it shivers. She tries pressing her fingers together. Tries to rub her hands together – “I have control but my nerves have gone completely numb…”
 
“The yellow is eating away at your framework… It is slowing down now, but you need more pinks. You have a rough night ahead.”
 
***
 
It had already been a damn long night, she knew it was time for bed – but her eyes and brain were hyper-awake. She felt a little confused how they had gotten here. Why were they taking a taxi back to Osel?
 
She could smell blood in the air. And seawater in her mouth. She touched her hair and felt no texture. Her nerves had gone a little weird on her – but she could understand that her hair was wet and cold.
 
She had fallen to the sea.
 
She put her hands back on her lap and looked at the prize she had allowed to keep for herself. They had not won the finals – Koi Jr. did, of course. But they had collected quite many bracelets and decided to keep them all. Eysin had found 3 – and after the match, she had met with Jelena. Jelena had found her last bracelet – and Eysin had found the one she had been looking for. They traded.
 
The other two rings Eysin traded for a blue marble without even bothering to decrypt them before.
 
She sighs, a small victory amid that mess – the match had gone well.
 
Working with Cassius’ team had been a delight. She had first imagined they had good synergy with Raynar – but Cassius’ team was on a whole other level. She could focus on her job, and others kept her safe. She felt that with this new team she was operating on some 400% capacity. By the finals – she felt secure enough to take part without any stimulant use at all.
 
She felt the effect of Cassius’ team already on the training. They had a more serious mock-match while the Second Wind teams were going against each other. On that mock match, she realized, indeed, that there was no need for this stimulant. The only reason she had to use it before – was that the rest of the team couldn’t do what they needed to do.
 
She’d bought the blue. About to leave the marketplace, Seals reached out to her. They had some emotional conversation and decided to put it aside. Their next plan was to go grab the last remaining titans into copy marbles. Then came the explosions.
 
“Did they get Daegan?” Eysin asks the man.
 
“No, he got away.”
 
“You could have gotten him… I was fine.”
 
“Well, maybe you were, maybe you weren’t. But in this case, it sure sucks that you are the world’s greatest drowner.” He remembered. And even if he hadn’t – the hit Daegan gave her would have rendered anyone useless in the water.
 
“Might not get a chance at him again…”
 
“Listen, don’t worry about that, it’s Gen’s problem now.” He’s trying to study Eysin’s face to try and see how she’s doing. But she keeps shifting in her seat. Trying to get the feeling back into her hands. Looking outside the windows as if there is anything to see besides the mist and darkness.
 
Daegan used his Kaestus to blast a terrifying amount of the yellow marble poison on Eysin’s suit. That punch had pushed her into the water. And the water near the docks they had stopped at, was deep.
 
Something similar to this had happened once before. Arkion had not been present, but he had heard Daegan’s accounts. At the time – Daegan had been in Arkion’s position. In Eysin’s position had been Arthur – who also got hit with a blast of yellow, but unlike Eysin – he was left unattended. Daegan had chosen to chase the man in red, instead of attending to Arthur. That night still haunted them all.
 
When the car reaches the ground, Eysin passes out again. Arkion tasks himself with holding her in the seat as they ride through the terrible terrain. They find the nearest terrain that has a resemblance to tire tracks. Continue their way towards the temple.
 
***
 
The Ceremony, late-night market, post-pits. The explosions. Wounded Daegan, limping – and his suit is dark blue. A dusty Exo follows them to the docks. The docks. The dusty Exo. A clever trick with the expanding pole. Boom, splash. The water.
 
Drowning. Dead. The end.
 
This terrible dream keeps rotating in her head and stops when the car does. She cannot see, but she thinks she has her eyes open. She can hear the doors of the car open. Suddenly, there is a whole lot more room on that seat, but the guy pulls her out from the car. He throws her over his shoulder. He walks and she can feel him limp a little.
 
It takes a while for her to understand it’s Arkion carrying her – and not Daegan. For a moment there she thought she’s been taken to the Pirate island. No, this was home.
 
She remembered Arkion’s leg had gotten hit with that piece of a roof. It had been impressive, how he had knocked down it mid-air, just when it was about to slice himself and Agnes into two. Partly, the roof shattered. A punch that discounted death into a minor leg injury. Easily reversible with the power of pink marbles or the red light and the pool over at the orb hall.
 
It’s cold and damp around. She can’t see, but she can feel. The dampness indicates that they are close to the temple well, and the deeper, older part of the forest. There’s always some kind of fire in the front. They are stepping up the steep stairs built for the Titans, Seals uses her glove, knocks on the door and it opens.
 
* * *
 
“I’m gonna go make sure they keep a clear path through the torium.” Seals runs ahead to make sure the other injured people who are bound to come this way will have good access to the pool.
 
She expected to see a lot more people. Terratorium was set for emergency, but there was just a few dozen people over. Most people don’t seem very worried or concerned. They have clumped into a few small groups and are talking about the explosions over the channel. They will possibly offer some soup to each other and then return to their homes where they’ll enjoy the rest of their night on whatever generators they have it running on. The explosion had done nothing but shook some glasses and pushed over one of the power-rods. The ground under it had become a little watery already months ago. Nothing else broke – but everyone could hear and feel that something big did go down in Ceremony.
 
Arkion carries Eysin through the garage room and stops when Agnes calls out his name.
 
“You think they mind if I crash here?”
 
“Your leg okay now?”
 
“I’m fine, yeah… This is Eysin’s room?”
 
“Yeah you can crash there,” Eysin responds. They didn’t expect her to. She even shows her an okay sign with her hand, while hanging over a shoulder.
 
Agnes respons same sign and then disappears into her dark bunk.
 
Arkion walks down the stairs and seeing that she is awake enough, he places her into the pool. He seems a little surprised that no one else is there yet. He sits at the edge, then sees there’s more yellow and red on himself, dips in for a moment, too, and sits back at the edge. He’s taken some sort of a bag with him, from the car. He sorts around the contents and starts producing a blunt for himself.
 
Right before he is about to light it up, another team of people burst in through the garage door. Now the hall is full of noise.
 
“HOW UNHOLY OF YOU,” a woman’s voice yells. “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” She adds. “Bring her down there, find as many pinks as you can – we might still be able to regrow.” Asya is organizing some guys carrying Denea. She’s knocked out. And she has lost her left arm.
 
Asya walks to Arkion, and it amuses her that he sort of is trying to hide the blunt, and sort of isn’t. They had smoked there before – but the way she had just raised her voice had startled him. She calls her visor on and jumps into the water. She catches Eysin right as she is starting to fall over. She helps her stand up, “I’m going into crisis mode now, I will see what he put inside you and see how you’re doing, okay?”
 
Asya was holding Eysin’s head very gently. It was a pleasant feeling. Eysin could feel a kind pressure – and then followed a terrible shock. Eysin suppressed a scream. More yellow bursted out from her framework pores. As soon as the liquid reached the water, pink marbles in it started rising and eating away at it.
 
Eysin wondered how long this is going to last, this crisis mode of hers – was there going to be more shocks? Right now she wasn’t feeling any pain or stress – she felt very light even. Partly, she thought the reason she felt this way is because of the pressure Asya had placed to the sides of her head. She imagined that’s what kittens may have felt like when their momma carried them around. Teeth sunk into their necks.
 
“Yeah I think I got all of it,” Asya says immediately when she’s done, she keeps holding her head and keeping her up. “Arkion, you light the blunt after you see her through the next shit part.”
 
Arkion became alert and slipped back into the water, ready to take Eysin off her hands. His face was a question mark, “what do you need me to do?”
 
“I removed all the yellow I could from her system, it had progressed quite close to her heart… We got lucky here. Her system is trying to make sense of things for a minute or two now. Making sure it can stop trying to eat away the poison… And then she’ll regrow the nervous system.”
 
“Ouch,” Arkion winces. He has had the pleasure. And he knew that this will also make her pass out – the pain is a little too much to comprehend.
 
“So, you keep her in the water and see that she doesn’t drown.” She hands Eysin over to him. “Stick close to the edge, if something weird happens, call for help, okay?”
 
She passes out again and the man holds her up. Arkion calls up the visor to see if he can get any clues about how she is progressing. And how much longer he needs to stay in the water. He could feel that his leg had already healed. He feels can hold her above the water quite comfortably. So, he grabs his neatly rolled herbal blunt, leans to the edge, checks again that she’s not breathing in water or anything of the sort, lights up and enjoys his first smoke of the brand new day.
 
As he smokes, he thinks what he has seen with his visor – was oddly familiar. People’s frameworks and zerks have personal signatures – the way they grow, the way they build. Sort of like a hand-writing. He didn’t recall having taken that kind of a look at Eysin before. He couldn’t tell what about her signatures was familiar – but it rang some odd bells in his head.
 
He killed the blunt half-way through, called up the visor again to take another look. The shapes of the pathways that were forming, he observed, were very different to what remained from the parts of the framework that were untouched by the yellow. As if she was wearing gear built by someone else. The familiarity of it triggered this strange feeling within him that there was something on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t see it, taste it, feel it, read it, comprehend it. He then took a glance at random people’s zerks to see maybe everyone was like that. As he was looking, he was starting to feel the odd effects of the rare flower he had recently added into the mixture of that blunt recipe. No, everyone had their own builds. And they looked consistent – even those who had scarring from yellow – the parts they rebuilt were the same. But that was not the case with her.
 
He looked back into her. It was unusual to see so many pathways within a novice zerker. He remembered he had had to work quite hard to reach a certain density in pathways. Could it be that she’s been using all that stuff for longer than she’s letting on? It’s odd.
 
“How come you already figured all this out?” He wonders out loud. It sounds even like a little protest, but quiet enough to not bother the other bathers and healers around.
 
“None of it is mine…” She mumbles. Eysin could sense she was being watched and wanted to respond, but her neck, head, body – everything felt limp.
 
“Huh? So, you’re awake?”
 
“Do absolutely not let go of me, I can’t feel anything.”
 
He tightens his hold around her to make sure she’s not slipping or anything. But he wasn’t intending to let this one go – very interested to have a conversation about this. “What do you mean it’s not yours?”
 
“Apparently… The battery I have – belonged to a man named Andre. So did the Kaestus – so, it’s not like I’m starting from scratch.”
 
“Andre didn’t leave with a zerk, how did you grow so fast?”
 
“Not allowed to say. But I have a feeling – in time, everyone will know anyway.”
 
She fades in and out of a dream-like state. Going and coming to a place she has learned to identify with her inescapable condition of getting left behind. Thrown aside, and her current state and belief conflicting with the choice this Exo had made. Who is he… She somehow manages to open her eyes. Looks at the man she couldn’t identify for all the dirt before. He had washed off all the market dust now, and his face was visible. First, the bright reflection on the silver in his eyes. The orb flickers, watching at her, curiouslyhe wants all the answers, yeah.
 
But right then she’d rather focus on things like his head being covered in dark spaghetti. His face was very familiar to her. It was comforting. Arkion, what the fuck are you doing here? Does seeing you comfort me because you sort-of rescued me? Or is that just a feature of your face?
 
He started looking ridiculously handsome to her. So much that it became a little difficult to hold eye contact with him. Her attention turned to the piercing silver stains in his eyes. An indication of very long time use – or a very intensive kind of it.
 
There seemed something else familiar about him – not just from the times they met before. She felt as if she had seen that face before. Not here on Osel, but earlier. But she couldn’t place him anywhere in her Reval memories… Neither Perona.
 
Isn’t he a true model-gladiator? Now his gaze is wandering elsewhere. Seeing she was ignoring his question, he must have gone somewhere in his mind. He looks very strong, defined, light, laconic yet cheerful… Cheerful – he’d either gone past the highs and lows that come with the suit… Or maybe he has achieved this only thanks to the herbs he carries around. She could smell it now, sweet and herbish. She liked the smell, but she wondered to herself if she would have liked it if it wasn’t for this particular situation.
 
He’s looking into emptiness, and she’s looking at him. And he might feel that, and then looks at her. And when he does – she pretends she wasn’t looking at him at all.
 
She looks at the ceiling as if the fractal beams turning into arcs at the junction of it all were the most interesting thing in the world. And for a moment there – she wondered, that in fact, they were pretty interesting. But not as interesting as making this otherwise awkward situation into a tad sillier one. His slight playfulness in this situation had amused her very much. She would be smiling if her cheecks didn’t feel cramped.
 
She shot her gaze back into his eyes, and he masterfully switched back to looking into nothingness. As if he had never looked at anything else. She’s starting to regain a feeling in her face. Not a particularly pleasant one – it’s sort of like a cramped feeling, but it changes. So, now there’s nothing she could do to suppress the amused smile that was forming.
 
They switch who watches and is the watcher. Eysin manages to press her lips together tight, she looks very silly. And Arkion won’t suppress his snickers, seeing that silly face. She quickly looked, AHA, and Arkion played busted. It was comforting to see someone going along with a small stupid game, and having a little laugh about it.
 
She thought he had been very kind to her – so, maybe everything that she was experiencing about him at this moment – her mind simply connected to the kindness… Two words started forming on her tongue and the silence begged to break it, too.
 
“Thank you.”
 
He looked at her again, and very faintly – he could have been tired, too – smiled. The warmest smile. A true one.
 
I am enjoying the shit out of this, ain’t I. Her wandering mind looked at the skin, and it looked good. Then again, everyone looked better in red light. Maybe it was the red light that was having such a handsomising effect on him? But one thing the red light failed to paint was the silver in his eyes. Lots of it. How long has he been involved with this? Five years? Ten? Twenty? EESO was the perfect water for the fish of a beast he was.I think I’m really high right now.” She finally confessed. “Like… I can see Mandelbrot.”
 
“The mathematician?” He was poking fun with her, but he knew what she meant.
 
“Everything is moving all the time, I should just…” She intends to close her eyes to get some rest.
 
“Do not close your eyes,” he says with a laugh. “You gotta keep it real, you got your face back, try to feel your other body parts so I can get out from here.”
 
“Right,” alright, she thought, one by one, does she know where her neck is, her shoulders, her arms. She is trying to move her fingers, and they do move. She wants to avoid feeling her chest – she assumes it’s an instinct – it’d still be in terrible pain if she were to regain it. She wiggles her toes and moves her feet, her legs are back. She tries to stand and manages to, but she can understand she wouldn’t be able to get out of the pool just yet. “I think I can hang here by myself, you can go.”
 
He carefully lets go of her, pulls himself out from the water and sits back over the edge. “Wasn’t going anywhere.” He takes his half a blunt and lights it up again. “I could make you something to tone down the trip, no anxiety stuff, would you like that?”
 
“I’m not anxious… I just see and get… Thoughts.”
 
“Oh, are thoughts a new experience to you?” He smiles, pretending he is proud of his joke and starts rolling a different kind of a blunt.
 
She turns around and hides her face. And she falls back into these new thoughts. Assessing the man making little jokes. Is he flirting or just being nice? He is complete – regardless of some of his rough features – visible asymmetry in his face, the slight crookedness of teeth. A good chin, maybe unshaven for a couple of weeks. He had lines running down his neck, tattooed on him. He was smoking, smiling and making a thing, he looked relaxed and even a little happy. He was wiggling his toes in the water.
 
If I ever had to sculpt an Eesian Gladiator – it would have to be him.
 
He finished rolling the herb cig, called her to come closer, lit it up, took a whiff himself, judged it was very good, and then handed it over to her. They smoke it between the two of them in silence and then stick around for a little more.
 
While smoking, in his head, Arkion was tracking back that messy night. The market. Agnes trying to persuade him into… The fantastic hit on the piece of flying roof. He closed his eyes and clinches his fists, thinking of that victorius moment. Even mumbles an indistinguishable “Oh yeah” to himself. Then, the insane amounts of coughing in the dust. Imogen yelling something over the comms. Daegan’s name popping up here and there. Chasing him through the forest.
 
And everything until then and after was pretty standard stuff. But one thing that was completely new to him was the colour of Daegan’s zerk, so, he asks. “You don’t happen to know why Daegan’s suit was blue, do you?”
 
***
 
The finals ended. Eysin had scored quite some nice points, recovered the last of her sacrificed bracelets. She rushed to the marketplace to buy some blue marbles. Seals ran into her there, “sister, there has been a misunderstanding!”
 
Eysin wasn’t too happy to talk to her, “leave me alone. Seeing you at the temple every day is about as much as I can take it.” She started walking in a direction she hadn’t planned to, but she wanted to move.
 
“Okay, fair enough.” Seals walks along, not wanting to let her go. She had felt they could talk things out and get some good work done. “Listen, about work – let’s talk about work then.” She gently grabs Eysin by her hand and manages to slow her down and stop her.
 
They notice a few meters from them Arkion is having some kind of comical struggle with Agnes. Looks like Arkion is having a very strange sort of dance with a kite in stormy winds. The crooked smile on his face indicates he is a little amused by it. And Agnes looks like a cute angry person, but drunk enough to not be able to coordinate her limbs very well.
 
“The two titans here – why don’t we go get the copies tonight?” Seals takes Eysin’s attention back on herself, ”so we get over with it – and get to work on the missing bits the next week?”
 
“You know where they are located?”
 
And right when Seals said “yeah”, and pointed a finger “there,” right from her pointed direction – a massive explosion.
 
Everything started shaking, the wind took up from zero to a hundred in a moment. A very strange loud noise – not something you would hear during a conventional explosion. Everyone who could, at that moment, got their suits on and tried to shield those who couldn’t.
 
A second explosion, right after a few seconds. Coincidentally – from the other location Seals could have pointed her finger to – but she was now busy shielding a tourist couple from all the flying rubble.
 
The dust wouldn’t settle at all – as if it’s stuck in the air, and visibility was horrible. Judging from the moans and calls, a lot of people had gotten injured – but most were only shocked. What little you could sense through the dust – everything was messed up like a garbage dump.
 
“Seals?” Eysin called out, not too loud – as just a moment ago she had been right next to her.
 
“Yeah I’m here, I’m alright,” came her voice from a confusing direction. The ones she had shielded, also seemed alright.
 
Looking around, Eysin noticed, a woman had been taking cover behind her, too, “you okay?” The woman was all covered in brown dust, but she could make out a nod. The woman reacted to someone calling out to her – and poof, she was gone into the dust, in the direction of the voice. But the voice seemed a little strange to Eysin right now. The directions were all messed up, the visors visibility kept jumping along her heart-beat between focused and area, and she felt a strange pressure in her real ears.
 
“Seals, Seals,” another woman’s voice cried, “are you here? I don’t understand what’s going on!”
 
“Agnes? Where’s your suit?”
 
“She’s drunk.” A man’s voice says. “The car is right there, we should get you guys out from here.”
 
“Ark, you’re wounded.”
 
“Yeah, got it on a moment too late… Ag got hit, too!” He had been shielding Agnes from the rubble… Eysin can see his shadow in the dust, he stands, quiet, and tilts his head – looks like he’s listening on to some comms. “Help is coming. Seals, can you take Agnes to the car,” he throws his car remote to Seals through the air, “we need to you guys out from the way so the rescue can help those who need it…” He disappeared deeper into the dust.
 
“Ark, where are you going?”
 
“Gen needs help with a thing.”
 
Eysin finds Agnes and Seals in the dust – and they are all covered in dust. Seals is pushing the button on the remote a few times to understand where the signal is coming from. “There, there… Eysin, will you help me with her? It looks like her foot got injured…”
 
So, they carry Agnes woman towards the car, open the door, and put her in it.
 
“Hey Ark, do I go without you?” Seal seems to be on a call with the man. “Okay, I’ll wait.”
 
After they put Agnes into the car, Eysin looks around trying to make out what’s going on behind the dust. She’s starting to get a better grip over her senses again, “did we get bombed?”
 
“Are your comms off?” Seals asks.
 
“Everything is messed up for me, I can’t even hear properly sometimes.”
 
“Planted bombs, someone blew up the titans.”
 
“What, how?”
 
“Too soon to know… But it looks like we’re safe, for now.”
 
“Should I go help?”
 
“No, we’re not properly equipped for this… We don’t have masks or anything with us that would help them… Or water… Help is coming, don’t worry about it.”
 
Someone is calling out in the dust, and Eysin walks towards it as if hypnotized, “maybe I can help lift the rubble…”
 
“Oh fucks sake…” Seals wants to follow, “hey you’ll end up hurting someone there. Help are on their way! Eysin, get back here!” She’s unsure about going or staying. Arkion needs her by the car, she stops pacing, rubs her zerk face. Carefully tries to take a big breath, afraid that somehow the dust would get in through the seamless mask. She can feel her body is shocked, a little excited, she looks around and the dust doesn’t seem to want to settle at all. It’s getting quiet.
 
Silence. No answer. She’s gone.
 
The dust is not settling, and the calling ended. There is noise all around, a similar amount in every direction. Eysin gets a little lost, stands still, unsure which way to go. And even unsure which way was back. It’s all dust and darkness.
 
And then someone approaches her from the back and grabs her by the arms. “Eysin, can you help?” Eysin turns around. And even though he was covered in dust, she recognizes the suited Gladiator. “Daegan, what’s happened?” She looks at him from the top to the bottom and finds that his arm and leg are injured. “Oh man, sit down for a sec, I’ll give you some pinks.”
 
“No, we can’t stop here, we must keep moving, get to a safe place and then deal with that, come with me, please.” Daegan nudges her to move – and seems to orient very well between the rubble – and seems to be locked on a destination.
 
They walk quicker than it would seem possible for Daegan in his current condition. They make it out from the market’s dust cloud and step into a forest area. It’s all full of branches – but the trees are still standing. “No-no, we can’t stop here, we must keep moving.”
 
She understands that there is something strange going on. And even if she attempted to protest going that way, she wasn’t going to get her way anyway. She also realized that someone was following them. Brushing some dust off Daegan’s suit – she sees that it’s all very dark – his suit had turned dark blue.
 
“Daegan, what is happening?”
 
“Ah, you shouldn’t worry about that… You won’t get in trouble for this, I promise you. Right now I only need a little bit of your help.”
 
They reached through the short patch of forest and make it to the shore – there’s a dock of a ship and a dock for swimming cars. They head towards the ship dock. But because there is no ship there, it makes Eysin very uncomfortable with this situation.
 
They stop at the end of the dock and Eysin gives away her pink marbles. “I am being held hostage, yeah?” Right after she handed them over to her, Daegan takes her into a lock, both facing back at the forest.
 
As the Exo that followed, approaches – Daegan calls up his Kaestus and lights up the largest amount of yellow any of them has ever seen – for a warning.
 
The dusty Exo walks close enough to be able to talk, he unmasks so Daegan can see his face.
 
“Among many others, the red man – he killed Arthur!” Daegan yells like a madman. He yells and shivers, he is excited. “But only when it was someone from the big house, big daddy took notice. It had to be his son to kick the bucket for him to acknowledge the problem!”
 
Arkion walks slower and calmer, his voice is low and calm. “Daegan, he wouldn’t have ordered us to catch him that night if he hadn’t taken notice of the kills…” He stops, stands still and seems to think about it a little, “I know, he wishes he hadn’t – but he did… And made us pursue the shit head so hard we lost track of…”
 
“The man in a red suit – someone you all were so certain must have been the one luring us all to desert this base! Well, guess what – I have now mingled with the deserters for a while: and he is not there!” He tightens her hold over Eysin, as it started to feel like she was starting to wiggle her way out.
 
Arkion raises his hands, and continues with a low, calm tone, “how can I get you to let Eysin go?”
 
“None of you seemed to see that he was more a brother to me than he was to you or anyone!” Daegan keeps yelling, “we were more a family than he ever had anyone in the house! The bastard ordered me to ignore what had happened here and go after the red man at all costs! Do you recall… The shouting, AfTeR HiM, after him…”
 
He keeps cool, “I’ll never forget that night, Daegan.”
 
“And regardless of our efforts – he got away, didn’t he…” Daegan’s voice toned down. He seems to fall into thought, but is still fully alert.
 
Arkion felt a bit of guilt about that event, too. He knew he should have given him time to think, but he couldn’t stop himself from talking – he could stay cool, but what would that matter, “listen, Arthur said he was fine when he got out from the water, there was no way any of us could have known…”
 
None could have known that he had a large dose of unprogrammed yellow marble poison in his system. Only Daegan had seen that. No one guessed he’d fall asleep on his back that night, suffer the consequences of an overdose, and suffocate in his vomit.
 
That’s how Arthur died.
 
But Theogenes had not wanted to take the blame – it was him, after all, who had given the order to follow the red man. He could not accept what had happened. Theo made up versions where his son was an addict. They’d used the drug for the Pit finale that night – exactly two years ago – and Daegan had been responsible for it.
 
Theogenes, indeed, believed for a long time that Daegan – the orphan from Black Rain, a very talented fighter, a political guest in the house and guild – had been a bad influence for his eldest. The same Theogenes who was recently elected to take the place of a king of the whole region, since the last one died – was a simple emotional man like the rest.
 
“I did not find any man in red among ths pe deserters, and most of them had even heard of him… Bought off by the Swedes, Ark. Which means – he, or she – is someone here, on the islands.” Daegan’s calm tone turns into a nervous, accusatory one, again, “for all I know, it could be you, Ark!”
 
He remains calm, a little nervous, now that he had said a few too many words, still hoping to turn around, “How could I kill…”
 
“Oh, you had plenty of reasons to misplace Arthur, don’t lie to me! I didn’t see you a single time that night, where the fuck were you?”
 
This stung him, he winces, Arkion is starting to lose his cool. He’d been in some trouble with Agnes. Not something he’d like to admit out loud. His tone suddenly turns defensive, “well, I’d never! And my suit does not turn red, does it…”
 
To Daegan this response meant that Arkion was broken now. Daegan grins, responds, “for all we know, anyone could use many suits…”
 
Arkion tries to shake off the loss of cool, returns to a cool voice, “Daegan, what do you want? And what do you want with Eysin?”
 
“I have brought Eysin along, so you will have the chance to not repeat my mistake.” He says this with a self-congratulatory tone, “I bet Gen is yelling into your ear right now – SEIZE HIM, seize him! But… You will let me go because you will be getting her – because as far as I remember, she can’t swim.”
 
An extending pole pushes Eysin apart from Daegan. She turns and holds it, tries to push him off the far end of the dock, but he grabs hold of the pole and pulls her close. She gets off her balance and Daegan punches her in her zerk face. That knocks her over – and just when she rolls over her head, lands on her feet. Planning to get up and take control of the stick again, Daegan shows up already next to her, and with his Kaestus glove, does a kung-fu right to her diaphragm. She flies with the yellow glowing colour right to the side of the dock, into the water.
 
Daegan dives to the other side and is gone right by the time the unattended stick falls on the concrete.
 
It all happened so fast Arkion couldn’t even pitch himself in, “Ark, did you get him?” Buzzes in his ear – Imogen, as Daegan guessed. Gen yelling the orders, but he is now solely focused on bringing Eysin out of the water.
 
* * *
 
The bracelet, I finally got my bracelet back… It was the right thing to do… Am I sleeping? Why is it so cold? Am I breathing? She opens her eyes and sees nothing but liquid waves of darkness, tiny bubbles floating away from her, she can sense the silver-skin taking a different form, changing its affinities, fins grow on her – it’s adjusting itself for the host to swim, and be agile under the water… But she cannot swim – she couldn’t even if she wasn’t paralyzed the way she was now. She couldn’t move anything at all.
 
Her chest was in pain, am I suffering a heart attack? It wasn’t just the biggest cramp, it was like there was a big rotating potato stuck in her breathing pipes. She felt that part of her was also burning, her skin was on fire – and not just her own skin – she could feel the zerk’s skin suffering something like a burn. It was digging in like minuscule knives, acid.
 
Her lungs were in a shock, reacting to something. Some of the water must have gotten in before the suit started changing. But the suit couldn’t let her cough. She could feel the yellow blast burning through her silver skin and her own skin, drilling in. Even though the water was helping to wash some of it away – most of it still stuck. It’s going to kill me… What a useless way to die. Regen… Regen… Little heart, make some red light, maybe it can help.
 
Regen kicks in, and she remembers she might not have enough – she had given away all her unused pinks. She loses sight of the dark, waves. Sinking deeper, and deeper until her heel touches the messed up bottom of the rocky shore. A light impact, but she could feel it in her back and at the top of her head – it felt like someone threw a brick at her head.
 
Lifted from the water, a sudden hopeless gasp. The underwater suit starts feeling very uncomfortable without all the water. Her shocked body jumps out of the hands of who had come after her. But when she slips back into the water, it’s not so deep anymore. She has been brought to the shore, and she slammed her body into the water just a few centimetres deep. The ground was solid – it was the road for cars.
 
Oh damn, it’s so painful. Ark stands over her for a moment, tries to make sense of what’s going on with her. Then notices the scales on her skin. He squats and comes close to her face, places his hand with the Kaestus on her shoulder, mumbles some magic words, and the affinity changes again. The pain stops. No more scales.
 
“Seals, come to my location, pinging now.”
 
Eysin is still squirming around in shock, slowly understanding that the pain from the strange affinity is gone, but now the yellow paint is piercing through again. She stops on her back and wants to wipe it all off from her face and her chest. Ark, having gone to the docs for a moment, now comes back to her and helps wash it off with the cold seawater.
 
“Maybe better if you go to trance at this point, it’s not going to be pleasant…”
 
Eysin wants to start coughing again and flips on the other side, on her knees, deathmask staring at the waves, mouth open. But the visor stops her from coughing, “how the fuck could I go to trance, this shit will kill me.”
 
Arkion tries another pair of magic words on her visor and she collapses into his arms. Her breathing changes, immediately, her body temperature – all of it. She can stand, she can walk – but her mind has gone to a sort of a sleep.
 
The car shows up, Ark supports her walk to it and they head away.
 
“How can we find our way in this thick fog?” Arkion looked back at the sea and got a little surprised at how foggy it had suddenly gotten. It was a thick as the dust had been at the marketplace.
 
“Look up…” The light in the sky above the temple was there – dimly, but there.
 
* * *
 
“I didn’t ask about the suit, sorry… Who killed Arthur?” Eysin is relaxing in the water, studying the face of the man.
 
She heard all that huh… “No need to get involved.”
 
“But I am involved.” She thumps at her chest to check if the pain is still ahead, she starts coughing. Yup, not ready yet.
 
“You’ll be okay… I’ll see you through it.”
 
“See me through what?”
 
“Well, the best we can do now is make sure you don’t fall asleep at the wrong time… We’ll stay up for a couple of hours… I’ll give you some more herbs.”
 
“What time is it?” Her body was so confused that she couldn’t tell – and there were no windows in this room. She felt like they had been there for hours.
 
He closes an eye and looks like he’s thinking about it, “around three.” It had become quiet in the Orb room, most people had left – many of them up to the garage room to spend the night there.
 
Quiet. Peace. Ark was smoking, lying on his back, waiting for her to start feeling anything different. He offered another blunt to her, but she turned it down, “It would only make me throw up at this point.” More long silence. Maybe another hour passed.
 
She couldn’t keep the silence for long, though. This man obviously knew something, and she wanted to know.
 
“Arthur was going to lead EESO…”
 
“That’s right.”
 
“Why would someone kill him?”
 
Arkion doesn’t really respond. He seems to be thinking, but Eysin is impatient. She starts bombarding him with more questions, “someone else wanted to lead EESO? Someone wanted EESO to not have a leader? Why’d he say it could have been you?”
 
“They were good friends. Had nothing to do with him becoming some kind of leader. His death bothered him more than most, I guess.”
 
“So, what do you think, happened?”
 
“I think… The one Daegan referred to was here for someone else… More people than that got killed that night – but strangely enough – everyone only speaks of Arthur. He just got in the way and didn’t take proper precautions after. He died of yellow poisoning. Probably the sleep killed him, all the vomit just made it uglier.”
 
Eysin started feeling sick, she tried to imagine what it must have looked like. She remembered she had seen Arthur’s picture in a gossip newspaper at some point. The story was something ridiculous. Something that offered amusement to stray folk as herself. An arranged marriage deal between him and a Rozenbaer woman had gotten cancelled because the bride’s older sisters had died. And the younger sister had been rearranged to Dux August. Now she imagined that handsome man dead, alone in his room, cold in his bed, full of puke.
 
She thumps her chest and tilts her head in surprise, it’s done. “Hey uh, I don’t think I need to be in here anymore…” She was looking towards the garage room door, longing to go to her room and get some privacy and maybe sleep.
 
Ark then takes a look towards her with the visor on and shakes his head. “No sleep yet… But you can come out if you like. Take some pinks with you just in case…” He picks up some for himself and checks again that his leg has healed.
 
Eysin climbs out from the pool and stretches. “Can I at least take the suit off, I’m tired of it…”
 
Ark, sitting on the floor, turns around on his ass to look in a different direction. Ss if she was about to do it right there, “doesn’t matter to me.”
 
“Not gonna change here, dummy,” Eysin starts walking up towards the garage door.
 
“You’ll go change and then come back here. I think Aag has occupied your room anyway.”
 
“So, we hang here for the rest of the night?”
 
Ark scratches his head, thinks, “dress for outdoors.”
 
“Outdoors?”
 
He turns around again and looks at her, “when’s the last time you saw a good sunrise?”

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