Last edited: Jan 9 2017
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?”
Zai didn’t reply. Instead, he kept throwing various clothes and supplies into a suitcase. Two more closed suitcases sat on the bed next to the half full one. The room was a mess, an unnerving contrast to its usual, pristine condition.
“You’re not one for rushing into things. I can’t believe you’re just going to go without thinking about the consequences.”
He stopped what he was doing to look up at her. “Mara, we already had this discussion last night. I’m not going to be gone long. A few weeks at most. I just can’t let something this huge slip by without giving it more of my attention.”
Mara sat on the bed next to the suitcases. She stared into the open palms that rested on her lap. After a few moments, she glanced at the nightstand where a photo of the three of them stood smiling. Well, four of them, if you counted Spark.
“Just think of it, Mara,” Zai continued as he zipped up the last suitcase. “A vast store of ether. Larger than anything I’ve ever seen on my readings before. Who knows what it could mean?”
“What if its nothing? What if the systems just glitched?” she asked.
Zai shook his head. “That’s why I’ve got three radars going. They can’t all be wrong.”
“So just like that, you’re going into the Wilds?!”
“Mara,” he said. He kept his tone calm to soothe her. “I’ve been into the Wilds before. Gaius and Umbriss will be far stronger than any wild ether beast we find out there.”
“But what if that ether reserve is a beast?” Mara’s voice wavered a little at the thought.
His eyes twinkled at the thought. “What indeed?” He looked at his wife and saw that her expression was anything but mollified by his reply. He put a hand on her shoulder. “I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t, though. I’d imagine humankind would know about a creature that large if one exists, even if for some strange reason it never attacked the Walls.”
She sighed and looked at his suitcases, then back to him. “I just don’t like the idea of you spending so long out there, surrounded by danger.”
“I’ve already done the calculations on that, actually. Statistically speaking, I’d rate the probability of me dying down in the lab on any given day higher than spending a few weeks in the Wilds,” he laughed. Mara rolled her eyes.
He went around the bed and grabbed the first suitcase.
“Dad?” a voice said from behind.
Zai turned around to see his child standing in the doorway to the bedroom, with Spark floating around the hallway.
“Heya, sprout!” He put the suitcase back down and knelt down to get closer to eye level.
“Yeah. I found something big. It’ll be the discovery of a lifetime!”
“Are you coming back?”
“Of course! I’ll be back before you know it, kiddo. I’m even leaving Aten here to protect you!”
“That sounds great!” Spark chimed in. “Aten is super strong!” The little metal ball whizzed about with enthusiasm. “Spectacular! Powerful! Awesome! Responsible!” Spark quieted after a moment, evidently deep in thought. “There aren’t any good adjectives that start with ‘K’,” she muttered, quite disappointed.
Zai smiled, then glanced at Mara to give her a reassuring glance.
She didn’t return it. Instead, she stood and left, quietly taking the two of them out and leaving Zai all alone.
He walked to the nightstand and picked up the photo. Despite what he had told her, he didn’t like the prospect of leaving for so long, especially to go to the Wilds, but this couldn’t wait. If it was a giant ether beast, it could leave without a trace if he got there too late. But he suspected more was going on. Something that didn’t have such a simple explanation.
After setting the photo back down, Zai grabbed the first two suitcases and walked out the door, shimmying his way through the narrow hallway. He didn’t have to worry about anything happening here. He had more than enough trained ether beasts here to protect them. As feeble a Crafter as she was, Mara could manage control of them for anything she might need.
Closing the front door behind him, he put the suitcases down to go into the stables. It was more of an enormous guest house, really. He walked through using the human door and shut it quietly once he was inside. Most of the beasts inside would recognize his footsteps and already be aware he was in here, but it was best not to rouse them if one could help it.
He maintained a brisk walk as he passed by the various rooms. Some were cages to house the more wild or aggressive beasts. Some were specialized to contain specific kinds of ether beasts. Many looked more like cubbies: small rooms where the trusted ether beasts slept, but could leave if they wished. He walked past door after gate after hatch. A few chitaphract, a sinodon. Even a sprog with a ravess sub-type he had been working with in recent months. He would need to take his strongest ether beasts with him on this trip. This meant Gaius and Umbriss, of course. Normally he’d take Aten, too, but he wanted the pherrous to stay here just in case his family needed him.
He approached Aten’s room. The ether beast’s room was kept dark, and didn’t contain a bed. It also had a typical door, though the door and its frame were lined with metal. He turned the handle and stepped inside. Aten’s sleeping state resembled that of a coffin, with a face on each of its sides. Mara always hated the way a pherrous slept, especially one with a masque sub-type. At the sound of the door creaking inwards, the coffin stirred as the ether beast was roused from its sleep.
The coffin folded open and outwards as the creature woke, standing to its full height of nearly seven feet. Its pale white face resembled that of a mask with minimal features, though he knew in reality it was Aten’s true face.
“I’m going to be leaving for a few weeks, Aten,” Zai explained. The creature nodded slowly and took a step forward, leaving the cage and standing by his side.
“You misunderstand,” he continued. “I’ll actually need you to stay here and protect my family. You are to sleep during the day and guard the house at night, understood?”
Again, the pherrous nodded its head once, metal sliding against smooth metal. Zai smiled. “I give you permission to enter my house if you feel the need to. The door should be easy for you to unlock.”
Aten put a hand over its face, covering the mask in favor of a new one with a quizzical expression.
“Don’t give me that,” Zai chided. “You mean to tell me an ether beast with magnetic powers doesn’t know how to unlock a simple door? In any case, I’m in a hurry. You have your orders. You can go back to sleep for now, if you want.” At that, he left, going further down the aisle to the stable’s larger rooms.
The more he thought about it, the less he worried. Many of these beasts were experiments: new main and sub type conversions and ongoing research projects. But quite a few of them were still very capable. They could listen to basic commands, provided the one giving them was a Crafter. A stronger beast wouldn’t take orders as easily, but Aten was probably the biggest concern, and he took care of that.
He reached the last two cubbies, and a rush of adrenaline flowed through him. The left side was a cage that contained a huge pile of rocks, and a large window on the side let light shine through. Adjacent to the cage was an open area, and in the middle there was a structure that resembled a very large doghouse. Inside, it was abnormally dark, as if light couldn’t pass into it. This darkness also seemed to swirl around inside the house, the occasional tendril of blackness seeping out before lazily rolling back inside.
Zai approached the doghouse and knocked on it a few times before going to the large cage and unlatching it.
As soon as it swung open, the pile of rocks began to stir. Defying gravity, the rocks began to coalesce and roll on top of one another, until soon a giant, vaguely humanoid shaped creature stood inside. He turned his attention to the doghouse where he saw the shadow swirling about, just the same as it had been before.
“Come on, Umbriss,” he said. “I haven’t got all day.”
The shadows condensed after a moment, and soon began to bunch up into a silhouette. The form of a pitch black wolf laid inside. As always, Umbriss was difficult to look at. The three dimensional form of a shadow was difficult for the eyes to make sense of, but Zai had gotten used to that a long time ago.
As soon as Umbriss was awake, he addressed the two ether beasts, who were both looking at him, as best he could tell, waiting for instruction.
“Alright, you two. We’re going to the Wilds. There’s a discovery to be made.”