Delta Thread, chapter 1
Obsidian couldn’t tell where he was. He was in a dark, spherical cell of sorts, from what he’d determined from his exploration of it. He thought he might be in Interim, and his guess was confirmed when a hooded face had appeared in front of him.
“Hello, Obsidian. Welcome to Interim.” the person said. “I hope you’re cozy in there, because you’ll be in solitary for a while. You can call me the Warden, but don’t call me often because I’m not letting you out until I get orders to. Do you know what the best part of being a Moderator is, Obsidian? The best part is that you don’t have to eat or sleep! You get to stay up the entire time you’re here, thinking about what you did to get yourself in here. I hope you got what you wanted.”
“You’re hilarious.” Obsidian hissed. “I would be careful what I say, if I were you, because you might regret some things when I get out.”
“A word of advice, Obsidian,” the Warden said, leaning forward, and his lips twitched upward in a knowing grin. “I would watch what you say to me. Remember Fe telling you not to make the Blue Sage mad?”
“You’re not…” Obsidian said, fear piercing his heart as he scooted back from his face.
“Congratulations.” the Warden said, his smile now cold. “You’ve managed to successfully turn both Sages against you, before you’ve even become a full-fledged Moderator.”
“I’m not a Moderator yet?” Obsidian asked, confused.
“Oh yes, you’re a Moderator, but you haven’t changed anything about yourself.” the Warden said, frowning. “That’s one unfortunate side effect, in your circumstances, about being a Moderator: when your body gets destroyed, you get it back, fully restored, but you have to change something about it. I suggest you spend your time considering your options.” he said, his face beginning to fade.
“That, and how to make the Eldians suffer.” Obsidian said as he rolled over and curled into a ball, beginning to plan his revenge.
The Warden’s face stopped fading, and his face was a stone-cold scowl. “Remember, Obsidian, you unleashed several outside Moderators on your world, and if I understand the situation correctly, and I know I do, you’ve made most of them very angry. I would be very careful how I behaved once I got out, if I were you.” the Warden said, his face disappearing completely. “Enjoy your stay, Obsidian. And enjoy meeting your new friends.”
“New friends?” Obsidian sat up and called after him, but his only answer was a fading strain of laughter. After a few moments of silence the Warden’s face returned, an angry, twitching scowl.
“Well, it appears you’ll be getting out much sooner than you deserve.” the Warden managed to say. Obsidian felt the cell shift, and an opening appeared to the right of the Warden. Obsidian stepped out, and found himself standing in a dusky, dark room. Its walls were made of thick, dark brown bricks, and a roughly hewn wooden table littered with papers was in the center of the room. A single candle flickered on the table, casting eerie shadows on the hood pulled low over the face of the person seated at the table, a quill pen lightly scratching against parchment.
“Orders came for your release.” the person, whom Obsidian assumed to be the Warden, said from beneath the hood. He picked up the paper he’d been writing on and handed it to Obsidian.
“What’s this?” he asked, turning to let the candlelight illuminate the fresh writing.
“Your orders.” the Warden said, standing in front of him. “Should you choose to obey them, that is. They are not binding, nor must you acknowledge their Giver.”
“Which is?” Obsidian said, glancing over the top of the parchment. He tried to get a glimpse of the Warden’s face, but the hood kept it enshrouded in darkness.
“These come directly from the Grand Master.” the Warden said. Obsidian quickly scanned the document, then folded it and put in his robes.
“Well, they don’t say I must begin immediately, so I have time to think about it, right?” he said, flashing a friendly smile. The Warden simply scowled in return. “Where am I?”
“In my study. The Grand Master knows better than I.” he said, frowning. “If it were up to me, you would still be in there. But,” he added, his face lighting up in a smile. “this way, you’ll get to meet all your new friends.”
“I don’t think I want to.” Obsidian said, unnerved by the Warden’s smile. He saw a door behind the Warden, and walked over to leave. As he put his hand on the knob, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“You’re leaving without saying goodbye?” the Warden said. “That’s no way to treat one of your new friends.”
Obsidian swallowed, trying to get rid of the dryness that had settled in his throat from the Warden’s expression. He quickly opened the door and left.
“Goodbye, Obsidian.” the Warden said quietly at the empty doorway. “Enjoy the party.”
“We’ve been here before.” Seth said, the rain drenching his hair and soaking his clothes. The raindrops pelted quietly against his sword and shield as he faced the elf casually leaning against the ironworks of the Gardens’ gate hinge. “That must be really uncomfortable.”
“It is, but I can afford to relax.” Masa said, his face temporarily illuminated by a flash of lightning, then the world faded back to the gloomy half-light of a stormy day. “Boys, why don’t you introduce yourself to Seth?”
Seth spun around at the sound of footsteps behind him, and he saw three elves, bows taught and aimed at him, slowly materialize out of the gloom. “Moderators?” Seth asked, glancing back and forth between the trio and Masa.
“Not quite.” Masa replied, shoving himself off with his elbow. He took a step towards Seth, and extended his arms dramatically. “Behold the Demis.” The trio nodded submissively to Masa.
“Remind me again how you outrank all of Obsidian’s other officers.” Seth said, keeping his shield between himself and Masa.
“Seth, you know as well as I that I’m the best field commander Obsidian ever had.” Masa said condescendingly. “After all, it was my intel that kept us informed of your…developments, and it was my idea to go after you through Enna.”
“And I suppose you’ll want the credit for capturing me as well.” Seth said, blinking the droplets out of his eyes.
“Naturally.” Masa said, dipping his head once. “But you’re just stalling, Seth.”
“No, I’m buying time to plan.” he retorted, readjusting his grip on his sword.
“Don’t be a fool, Seth. It’s four against one, and you didn’t let me explain the Demis yet.” Masa said.
“Well, then go ahead and tell me, since you’re so eager to.” Seth said, watching the archers.
“Obsidian needed a way to give a smaller army superiority.” Masa said happily. “The solution was simple: transform the soldiers into something greater than what they were. He stripped them of their physical limitations, and now they can access the Overlay Region.”
“You basically have Moderators without Moderator abilities.” Seth commented dryly.
“That is correct.” Masa said. “Unfortunately, they’re not invincible, since they can be killed by ‘normal’ elves, but being able to literally disappear and circumvent any physical obstacle does have some advantages, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yeah, well let’s see how hard it is to kill one.” Seth tensed to jump.
“Seth, I know you couldn’t care less about your own life, but please consider the lives of your wife and child.” Masa said quietly, his words almost lost amid the downpour. Seth spun angrily to face him, and Masa continued, “If you die, what good will you be at protecting them? Then again, what good can you do alive?”
Seth sensed the movement before he heard the twang of the bowstrings. He brought his shield around as he crouched protectively, and the shield rattled as two of the arrows were deflected off the metal. The third grazed his left ear, causing a slight gash where it had nicked him. The trio slid fresh arrows onto their bows, but did not draw them taught; they left the shafts at the ready, fingers set on the bowstring to pull and fire at a moment’s notice.
“I see your agility hasn’t left you.” Masa said, and to Seth his voice sounded distant. The three Demis aimed their bows as they drew back on the strings, and Seth prepared to pounce the moment they released. Then he felt a sharp pain in his back as something sharp penetrated the leather armor beneath his tunic. His world tilted, and when he opened his eyes again he was lying on the ground, struggling to breathe. Masa’s grinning face crept into his field of vision as his antagonist knelt beside him.
“What…happened?” Seth gasped between shallow breaths.
“That, my old friend, was the work of my newest weapon, a compact, pistol-sized crossbow.” Masa said, placing the device lovingly in Seth’s sight. “Look at it. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Obsidian gave it to me as a gift.”
“But…I thought…” Seth wheezed, his vision blurring.
“You thought what? That Obsidian was dead?” Masa asked.
Seth nodded feebly. “Or…gone.”
“Well, he’s not.” Masa said, then smiled in mock sympathy. “But I think you’ve had enough excitement for one day. You should rest. Dying can be hard, sometimes.” He laughed and stood up. “You made the mistake of turning your back on an enemy, even if we were, at one time, friends. But don’t worry, I’ll take good care of Enna and the baby.” He waved in farewell, stepping over Seth. “Come on, boys.” he said, slipping the pistol into its holster above his right hip, “Let’s leave Seth to die in peace. We have more important things to do.” he called over his shoulder as he walked towards the palace. He stopped, however, when he saw they hadn’t moved and were looking at him in confusion. “What’s the matter?” he asked impatiently, and one of them pointed over Masa’s shoulder. He turned to look, and was surprised at what he saw.
A few feet away stood a little girl, maybe ten years old, with long, straight black hair and large, intelligent green eyes. She stood silently, her bangs plastered to her forehead from the rain, but she didn’t seem intimidated by the four armed elves in front of her. Masa motioned the Demis over, then kneeled in front of the girl.
“Are you lost, little girl?” he asked, resting his elbow on his knee.
She simply smiled and glanced at the archers behind him, then looked back at him. “Your pets have nice toys, ineffective but pretty. And, please, don’t patronize me.”
“Ineffective, huh? Boys, will one of you kindly demonstrate?” he asked. The middle Demi drew his bow taught, and as he did the arrow’s shaft splintered and the arrowhead clattered harmlessly on the ground. Masa sprang back quickly, drawing his sword as he did. “Who are you?” he challenged. He saw the remaining Demis had their bows drawn now, but he motioned them down.
“You should be asking what I am.” the girl said, walking towards him. “I think it sufficient that you know you shouldn’t mess with me. I’m going to heal the poor elf you shot, and I suggest you be gone by the time I finish.” She passed him and walked several more paces, then stopped and turned. “I would hurry. I’m a fast healer.” She turned and walked on.
Masa motioned the Demis over to him, then pulled out his compact crossbow and aimed at the base of her skull. He pulled the trigger, and the bolt flew true to the mark, but passed harmlessly through her neck.
“Charming.” the girl said. She turned and held up the bolt, frowning. “You’ll see this again.” She wagged the dart at him, then pocketed it and resumed her walk to Seth. “Get your filthy trash out of here, now, or I’ll remove it for you.” she called over her shoulder. A chill ran down Masa’s spine, and he spun away from her.
“Let’s go.” Masa said, motioning for the Demis to follow. “She’s more trouble than she’s worth.”
“I’ll be more trouble later on, Masa.” He heard her call as he quickened his pace. “I know where you live.”