Chapter Two: There's Something Rotten... the state of Denmark. (From Hamlet.^^)
Notes: Chapter two, revised and running.^^ It seems like my revisions turn the chapters a lot shorter than they were originally.^_^; I really hope this is the better written version, and I'm not deluding myself. :D

Upperworld would be, if any mortal ever saw it, instantly claimed as paradise. Breathtakingly beautiful, the clear atmosphere of eternal youth resided in the realm of immortals. Blossom season, the immortals’ spring, brought the intermittent showers of flower petals, which danced and swirled in the eddying flows of light, fragrant breezes. All manners of beauty could be found in this wondrous realm. Rugged, immense mountain chains cut across the land in the far north, a few stragglers in the chains rose to their glorious height even in midrealm; forests green and vast shrouded the mysterious far south; crystal clear lakes unpolluted by mortal hand dotted the firm, sweet earth, fed by laughing brooks and thunderous rivers…

The center of Upperworld is the metropolis, an enormous area carved out by the Styx Canyon in the north, Greenmyst Forest stretching across the west, the Grand River flowing in the south, and the Valley of Angels dipping down in the east. It is where most immortals congregate, the pinnacle of achievement, power, and opportunity that people journeyed toward, the shining star in the distance. Here, the strongest of immortals from both Daitra and Beryllus dwelled, performing their sworn duties with an accuracy and brilliance no mortal can match. Here dwelt also the rulers of Upperworld in their hallowed Sagacity Hall, Sages belonging neither to Daitra, nor Beryllus, but instead to a neutral energy all of their own. Here dwelt high-class, middle-class, low-class; influential, known, invisible; good, common, evil. Each contributed their own colored thread.

In this myriad of immortal life the Sentinel reappeared, barely disturbing the finely woven tapestry of the metropolis. Only a little ripple in the air indicated his teleportation from somewhere else, somewhere that was certainly not any part of Upperworld. He was satisfied with the smallness of his disturbance, allowed himself a slight smile, then took the time to look around.

The Globe of Beryllus was high up in the sky, so it must be close to mid-day, the Sentinel thought. He was just storing the observation away in his mind when, as if in confirmation, the clear, euphonious flute-cries of a life of phoenixes drifted down to him from overhead.(1) Looking up, he saw the magical birds with their bright plumage of flames, beating powerful wings and flying in the tightly knit circle typical of a life. They were leaving to escape the heat. The Globe was brightest and hottest during mid-day, and these fiery birds, whose internal heat is so great they would inadvertently set any immortal foolish enough to touch them on fire, retreated to their nests of ice in the mountains. The Sentinel recognized their calls now as sounds of leave-taking. He couldn’t resist another small smile. Very few immortals would be walking about in mid-day, for it was the time of rest, especially for the Daitra. Fortune was certainly good to him at the moment.

Taking another glance around, this time so he could get his bearings and make sure he was where he had planned to be, the Sentinel gave himself an inward congratulations when he recognized the Greenmyst Minor. A smaller cousin of the great Greenmyst Forest, there was nothing really ‘minor’ about it at all, unless compared to its sprawling, massive namesake —and any forest was dwarfed by Greenmyst’s size. Wisely, he wasn’t planning to brave the bewildering maze that was the Minor—he planned to only follow its ragged borders until it led him to the Vindicar, Palace of Nemesis.

She was clever to have chosen a location nestled right in the woods, he thought absently as he began to walk. Forests had a strange, not-altogether-understood nulling effect on energy signatures, mainly the reason why many immortals were so easily lost even in fairly small ones. Most people tended to avoid them, but Nemesis, always different, constructed her Vindicar right in a dip along the borderline of trees, so that the Minor surrounded her on three sides. Ignorant immortals pointed to the decision as more evidence to her rebellious nature and her eccentricity. But the fact remained that anyone trying to track people within the woods-protected Vindicar would probably wind up tearing their hair out in frustration first. The Sentinel wondered wryly for a moment if Nemesis, when building her palace, had foreseen how he would need a hideout where energy signatures were difficult to find. Or perhaps she’d always planned to have us break the law sooner or later. Nemesis never placed much stock in rules, much like someone else he knew. Except Nemesis and her “partner in crime,” Thanatos, broke rules subtly. Charon—well, Charon broke rules whenever they got in his way…

Thinking all this brought on a wave of nostalgia, and the Sentinel quickened his pace almost unconsciously. Instead of just walking now, he risked raising his energy a little bit—trusting to the forest’s nulling quality—and floated up a few feet off the ground. He made better time this way. The air tasted fresh and clear upon his lips, a small, delightful breeze danced past him, playing with his hair lightly before it went on its way again… Immortal recollections didn’t fade, but he had been away so long that the memory of this wonderful feeling had been shelved away in the far recesses of his mind. And now, as he re-experienced the magic of Upperworld, those old memories resurfaced, clear and undiluted. He found Upperworld now just as splendid as his mind recalled.

Looking ahead, the Sentinel’s eyes followed the gradual curve of the tree-border and knew that he was going to reach the Vindicar soon. Spurred by the sudden, bittersweet longing, he hurried forth—I wonder if Nemesis changed her palace since the last time I saw it? He would see his friends shortly: Nemesis, and Thanatos, too, because they were never far from one another… And they had so much catching up to do, so many things to discuss! If Charon decided to come, they’d all be together again, almost like the last time, when Nemesis planned the Sundereve party…

He knew by now that he must be smiling broadly, but there was no one to see, so he didn’t bother to hide his own happiness. Certainly whatever it was that had Nemesis worried, the three (hopefully four) of them could deal with. In the Vindicar he could stay out of the Sages’ way until everything was all over, and then slip away, and none of them would be the wiser. The Sentinel caught himself half-hoping that Nemesis’ little problem would take a long time to sort out, and had to physically shake himself out of that dangerous idea. Who knew? It could be something extremely, extremely serious…though with the phoenixes tuneful song fading away in the distance, it was hard to think of things that way…

The Sentinel was so wrapped up in his optimistic reflection, his ears almost missed the sound of voices carried over by the breeze. Pausing abruptly in mid-air, he listened carefully, trying to pinpoint what he could now recognize as shouting. And the speaker sounded furious. “Now who could that be?” He murmured softly to himself, debating whether or not he should interfere. But what immortals did was their own business, and honestly, as he wasn’t supposed to be up here in the first place, he’d do well to keep out of other people’s sight.

Turning away almost reluctantly, he started to leave—but suddenly a voice rose in pitch, bordering on hysteria, and he could hear the words clearly, “Oh please please don’t hurt me!! Don’t hurt me!” There was a high, short scream, then it faded away, overwhelmed by the softer, harsher voices he had heard shouting in anger before.

Now it was no longer something he could ignore. Private squabbles over insignificant things, he would stay out of. But this—what sounded like some sort of assault—was not a situation he would overlook. Wheeling about sharply, the Sentinel headed into the forest, intent on the voices he would trace. As he glided noiselessly a few inches above the ground, the Sentinel’s form began to shimmer, then fade in definition, until finally he was as transparent as air, invisible to physical eyes. The forest would hide his small expenditure of energy from the assailants, so he’d be safe to see exactly what those immortals were up to, and if it really needed intervening.

A while later he found himself at the edge of a small, narrow trail, wide enough for one person only. He touched vine-covered ground without the slightest noise and looked out between the tree trunks cautiously. And the reason for the argument became obvious. Two immortals—middle-class, and Beryllus, his senses told him—stood towering over a low-class Daitra, who sat petrified in the dirt. Obviously the path had not been big enough for all three. The low-class immortal was whimpering from fear and what must be pain, for she nursed a severely burned hand, cradling it against her chest. Looking at her, and then at her tormentors, the Sentinel felt a keen sense of disgust welling up in him. What cowards they must truly be, if they had nothing better to do than to torture an immortal who was, by creation, less powerful than themselves?(2)

“Tell me again, foolish one. Tell me why you thought you did not have to yield for us,” one of the middle-class immortals sneered.

“I…I didn’t know! I didn’t realize!” The tiny slip of a low-class immortal sobbed. “Please, I’m sorry!”

“Are you blind as well as stupid?” The other middle-class suddenly snarled. “Do you think we are as insignificant as you are that we would go unnoticed?! We are the glorious creations of Beryllus, Light Giver, and you—lurking about in the shadows—you are nothing but Daitra-spawn!”

Daitra-spawn? The Sentinel’s disgust lessened in intensity as something like surprise crowded into his mind for attention. So this whole confrontation wasn’t geared toward the girl because she was low-class, but because she was Daitra?

“Vesha. No need to be so emotional over wreckage.” The first Beryllus spoke, that same abhorrence that the Sentinel had felt for them earlier creeping into her voice. “Let us leave these fool woods and go out into the light.”

“Why now?” The one named Vesha snapped. “I have had to suppress my anger for a long time, Erian! At least let me vent my rage on this useless, sniveling Daitra-spawn!” He turned to his victim, a sneer twisting his face. “After all, the forest will mask the pathetic bit of energy needed to deal with this offspring of worthlessness.”

“I…the…the Illustrious Daitra is not to be insulted!!” The low-class immortal suddenly cried out, spurred by a wild courage. “You…I will not allow it!” She tried to stand, fear, but defiance also, hardening her face.

Vesha’s kick sent her sprawling backward into the dirt. The girl choked, curling up in pain on the ground as Vesha strode to tower over her, laughing.

“You will not allow it?” Erian repeated cruelly. “Let us see you try and stop us, foolish one. I have heard the description of your creator from others, girl, and I call your Illustrious Daitra a whore! Stop me now, daughter of a whore!”

Somewhere under the cover of shadows, the Sentinel’s eyes darkened.

The leaves shivered in their positions on the branches, which were suddenly scratching against each other like ill-played violins. Both Erian and Vesha looked up as a flock of birds soared into the air with a burst of feathers, abandoning their nests for the safe sky. “What…what was that?” Vesha hissed, his eyes darting nervously from the treetops to his surroundings.

Erian looked from the low-class Daitra, to the dim recesses of the woods, and back again, a frown working her mouth. “What do you know of this, Daitra-sp…”

Darkness dropped upon the path like a woolen blanket, stifling both Beryllus immortals instantly. They began to shake in fear as they struggled against the power, as an alien, painful heat began clinging to their bodies—the path seemed to have become a vast, dark oven. “It is…it is Daitra’s vengeance! You have gone too far…Erian!” Vesha gasped, clutching at her. “We must leave before we vanish…!”

Erian practically choked on the invisible strangleholds of heat heavy in the air. This was impossible! She wondered blindly in the midst of her pain, Daitra is the Darkness, the cold and the impersonal; Daitra is incapable of giving warmth! “How…how could this…”

“No time to wonder! Get out…get out!!” Vesha cried, gripping her arm and attempting to teleport away. “You must help me, Erian!” She finally succumbed to his pleas and combined her power with his. For a moment they teetered on the brink of teleportation …a sudden, quick agony shot through their heads simultaneously…and then they were gone.

Left alone on the path, the forgotten low-class Daitra finally breathed again. The darkness all around her had not affected her the same way it had affected the Beryllus immortals. Hesitantly, she stood, wobbling a little on her unsteady feet, and turned her eyes in the general direction of Daitra’s great temple.(3) Almost immediately the darkness receded, lifting its heavy presence off the forest. To her the weight and strange warmth of it had not been stifling, instead feeling as a down comforter would feel to a mortal during a bitter winter. Reverently she dropped into a low bow, clasping her hands to her chest—the burn had healed by then, spurred on by the strong Daitra power which had saved her a few moments ago. “My grand creator,” she murmured, “Thank you for your divine assistance! I did not know you could wield warmth within your soothing coolness: I have yet much to learn.”

She moved to leave, thinking perhaps that Erian and Vesha might come back for revenge if she tarried, when a voice—soft, tingling with power, carried as if by the wind—drifted to her attention. The immortal halted.

Tell no one of this encounter…

She could scarcely believe what she was hearing. “Oh, all-powerful Daitra,” she breathed, awed and afraid, “I shall do as you requested. I shall never disobey…” After bowing once again in deep homage, she turned and hurried down the path toward her destination.

Within the shadows cast by the great trees of Greenmyst Minor, someone relaxed. “My apologies, creator,” the Sentinel inclined his head in the direction of Daitra Temple and murmured, “The impersonation was necessary for my own safety.”

Turning away from the path, he drifted into the air again to avoid the undergrowth, and skillfully weaved through the web of trees, intent on reaching the Vindicar.

Surely Upperworld had not turned into some sort of façade, with a beautiful surface…but a decaying core?

* * *

(1) A ‘life’ of phoenixes is used in the same way as “a gaggle of geese,” or, most significantly, “a pride of lions.” These ‘number’ words reveal a bit about the animals they refer to. Specifically, lions give people the impression of royalty and power; hence a ‘pride’ of lions. I once saw a book about unicorns called “A Glory of Unicorns,” and thought the whole idea of giving ‘number’ words to fantasy animals was great.^^ Since phoenixes symbolize immortality, I decided to call a lot of phoenixes all together: a “life” of phoenixes. And now that I’ve just bored you to death…^_^

(2) The hierarchy of immortals has nothing to do with wealth. Therefore a “low-class” immortal is not materially poor, but lacks the greater power of a middle-class, who in turn lacks the even greater power of a high-class. Energy levels are an inherent quality: one immortal cannot work/train to increase the amount of total power within himself. So, for instance, a low-class is always a low-class. (It’s called a “hierarchy,” but in truth it is more like the skin color of mortals—an immutable trait of that group.)

(3) The name of Daitra’s great temple is exactly that: the Daitra Temple. It is located at the western edge of the metropolis, balancing the Beryllus Temple in the east. Immortals go to their respective temples (Daitra immortals to Daitra Temple) to heal and recuperate.