Chapter Three: Threads

And in troops the long-awaited (snort), revised chapter three, complete with a different title. Be forewarned, everyone, this is yet another "intro" chapter, in which not a lot happens but you get a glimpse of major characters.^^;; Chapter four will see some action, I believe, but as for now, enjoy this shorter revision for what it's worth. :D
I feel I must also clarify: the Sentinel and Charon (albeit with different names) belong to Matsumoto-sensei. Nemesis, Thanatos, and the three new characters, however, belong to me. DO NOT TAKE, or the demons will eat you!

In an old, deserted parking lot, bare and forlornly silent, there was nothing.

Or at least there was nothing a mortal eye could see.

If one were immortal though, or had that special empathy awarded to some humans, suddenly the worn lot held a lone dweller. He (or at least most would assume it was a ‘he’) stood over six feet, imposing and completely hidden in the death-black cloak which was his attire. A hood shadowed his face and any distinguishing features, so he was strangely without identity. A few locks of hair, startlingly bone-white against the fabric, slid out from the depths of his cowl.

Death, personified, would probably look like him. But Charon, Guide of Stable Souls, was not Death, nor was he in any way related to the immortal who held that title. At the moment he was scowling blackly at a glowing sphere in his hand—the epistle Hermes had just delivered to him.

He did not want to open it, though that would’ve been the logical thing to do. From past experience these little messages were always the heralds of trouble, especially when they came from one particular golden-haired Goddess. Charon could recall numerous instances, far too many to count, of when opening these epistles brought a mess on his hands: the time with that elven princess, for one, or the episode with Satan, or…

It occurred to Charon that maybe he should pretend Hermes never found him at all. But the faint hope vanished as quickly as it came. Hermes was an immortal with a duty. Immortals with duties always performed those said duties to perfection. So if Hermes wanted to find him, he would and, quite frankly, that was the end of that. No one would ever believe Charon if he said Hermes failed to deliver a message. It was as preposterous as saying Charon missed a stable soul somewhere and forgot to guide it to its resting place.

Speaking of duties, he had his own to perform. At this very moment, in fact, Charon could sense the imminent death of a truck driver in Japan (he was currently in California), as well as a murder in England, cancer in New Jersey, and… All in all, Charon grumbled inwardly, he had an incredible amount of work. As usual. Mortals drop like flies, and he had his two insolent colleagues in Upperworld to thank for that fact. And here was an epistle from one of them, more than likely asking him to undertake some fool journey which would need a tremendous amount of time, leaving him completely behind schedule. Did Nemesis think these bumbling mortal souls can find their own way to the world beyond?

A scrap of some yellowed newspaper bounced across the pavement, tumbling ungracefully toward Charon, and blew right through the immortal without meeting a bit of resistance. The Guide of Souls didn’t even notice. He looked at the epistle narrowly, as if it were a timed curse that would go off at any minute, and deepened his scowl. He was a busy immortal, with no time to spare for fickle goddesses who invited people to Upperworld out of inane whim.

Was it inane whim?

Nemesis couldn’t even stand him, and the feeling was hotly reciprocated. So why this epistle of invitation?

Maybe she needs help.

If she did need help, Thanatos was right there in Upperworld to do just that. And she should ask the Sentinel. Helping was right up that busybody’s alley.

She probably did ask all of them. And now she is asking you.

Charon opened the epistle, wishing he could eat his conscience and be rid of it.

* * *

The words of the epistle were very clear, and very significant, to the immortal who surveyed the shining orb while seated on his throne. He reviewed the short message once more in his head, heaved a sigh, and slumped against the soft back of the large chair. The epistle shimmered once, then vanished at his silent command. There could only be one reason why Nemesis would send a message asking (more like commanding) him to come, instead of just waiting for him to drop by like he often did.

Something was wrong with Upperworld—again—and she did not think she could handle it herself.

Thanatos, the God of Death, bowed his head slightly and let glittering coal-black eyes be shaded by equally dark bangs. But what could be amiss? Quickly he ran a list through his mind—the Dungeons harbored no powerful and malicious prisoner currently, so that wasn’t it. Nemesis’ duty as the Goddess of Vengeance never needed his assistance. Any problems with her work as a scourer, she could take to her fellow in that field—Lux.

One long, pale finger traced the lines upon the single thick tassel draped down the front of his deep purple robes. Now his thoughts wandered purposefully back to a little oddity which had happened only a few days earlier. He remembered the event clearly, as only immortals could, and saw once again: the two low-class Daitra, huddled on the ground, trembling in abject terror. One had fainted upon his arrival, the other was nearly insane from fear, and Thanatos could make little sense of what was being said in huge, gasping sobs. Eventually he had given them up as lost and teleported both to Elusius, the Healing Houses adjacent to Sagacity Hall. There he had waited, half-curious and half-worried, hoping for some reason for their inexplicable horror. But it seemed that no amount of healing could cure them; one—the immortal who had fainted—eventually faded away and vanished without ever regaining consciousness. The other was reduced to a hysterical, incoherent mess…the Healer to whom Thanatos had spoken had shrugged helplessly and said—

“There is nothing more I can do. If she does not recover soon, then there is only madness or Daitra waiting for her.”

Madness or Daitra… Those were not good choices. To drive an immortal insane is an astonishing feat, considering their mental capacities were far greater than even the strongest mortal. To go mad, to live in a false world made of the delusional ravings of one’s own head…the very idea gave Thanatos shivers. And as much as I revere the Darkness, I have no wish to join it prematurely! The thought crossed his mind and he nearly laughed aloud at the irony. As the God of Death, it was his duty to decide when a mortal’s lifespan was over. He was the cause of their sicknesses, their old age, their accidents, their fate. And here he was, feeling squeamish just by thinking of joining Daitra—an immortal’s death! Thanatos shook his head in a vain attempt to clear it of his disturbing train of thought and finally sighed again. Nemesis was the scourer; she was the one who was supposed to deal with accidents like this. Thanatos, as her ‘freelance assistant’ (meaning he helped when he felt like it), didn’t particularly enjoy the times when scouring duties were thrust on him. He wondered if there were something else he could have done to help those two low-class. Perhaps if he had brought them to Elusius more quickly, they might have been saved. Most likely trying to get an explanation out of them first was a stupid thing to do.

Thanatos rubbed his forehead tiredly. Now that he thought about it, the incident was the only plausible thing she would have to discuss with him. What he had seen that day, if it occurred as the latest in a chain of ‘accidents,’ was certainly enough cause to alarm a scourer. Maybe she wanted to know why he didn’t report the event to her immediately. And Thanatos really didn’t know how to answer that question, if she asked.

With another shake of his head, Thanatos stood and surreptitiously swept his hands over his robes, smoothing them out. Better hurry over to the Vindicar and find out what Nemesis wanted. He’d had enough of speculating.

* * *

The waning cries of the phoenixes lightened the air as he walked briskly through the forest. Looking up through the canopy of intertwined leaves, the Sentinel could make out bits of clear blue sky, and wished fleetingly that he could move at a slower pace and enjoy the beauty he’d been away from for so long. But he could not, in good conscience, take in Upperworld’s loveliness when immortals like Erian and Vesha were blatantly terrorizing weaker citizens of the metropolis. He was certain from his observation of those two that they considered their cruelty a game, and would resume their sordid amusement soon enough. And of course the punishment they had suffered at his hand would have no effect; he had wiped their memories away before they escaped to protect his own identity.

The Sentinel ducked beneath a too-low branch agilely, skirted around a fallen tree, and moved just in time to avoid a patch of choke-weed. His nearly perfect sense of direction aided him best in these situations; most other immortals, so intent on avoiding the natural traps and bereft of their energy-sensing ability in the forest, wind up hopelessly ensnared in the largest trap of all: Greenmyst Minor itself. For a few seconds the Sentinel stopped, glancing around to get his bearings back.

There. The Vindicar was now directly to his left. Turning, the Sentinel quickly moved off in that direction. Nemesis, as one of the Chief Scourers and the Warden of Upperworld, definitely needed to hear of Erian and Vesha. If he, Thanatos, and maybe even Charon took over whatever problem she was currently having, Nemesis herself could make certain that the two Beryllus never harmed another immortal again.

* * *

“What is going on…?” Nemesis squeezed her eyes shut in a vain attempt to ward off her increasing frustration, then finally threw aside the scroll—a report from one of the scourers under her command. She was sick of its contents.

But after a while her hand crept out and slowly pulled the scroll toward her again. It was times like now that she seriously regretted taking on the duties of a Chief Scourer in addition to her already demanding work as the Warden and the Goddess of Vengeance. It was times like now, when Upperworld just couldn’t seem to remain untroubled, that she agreed with her lazy best friend, Thanatos—“You must be some kind of masochist, to take so much work on yourself!” At least with her work as the Goddess, she only had to deal with evil mortals—no match for her power—by killing those who manage to escape the punishment of the human justice system. And being a Warden was easy compared to Chief Scourer, because the immortal criminals were brought to her and she only needed to delegate cells. Nemesis exhaled on a deep, self-suffering note and opened the scroll. As distasteful as this report was, she really should reread it, if only to look for a possible variance in the torrent of ominous accounts she’d been besieged with lately.

My Lady Nemesis, it began, there has been another unusual disappearance on the southern outskirts of the metropolis. The missing one is still a Daitra low-class, this time Dorian of the Grand River-Dale. Once again the characteristics of this unfortunate occurrence are the same: the immortal’s home is undisturbed, the belongings untouched, all furniture remains neatly arranged, no trace of foul play could be found. It is as if this low-class simply ambled out of his dwellings and never returned…

The scourer who had written this report went on to speculate, apparently worried that the length of it would not be enough to satisfy her otherwise. She ignored his ramblings and concentrated on his facts.

Nothing. This report was just like the jumble of others on her writing table, all dealing with the disappearances of low-class Daitra immortals, and all completely devoid of clues as to who the perpetrator might be. Nemesis resisted the urge to tear apart this scourer’s painstakingly crafted report into minute shreds, and instead tossed it aside, where it sat with its discarded fellows. Maybe the Sentinel could see light where it was all dark to her. Resting her head in her hands, Nemesis tried to comfort herself with that thought while she waited for at least two of her colleagues to show up. And maybe, just maybe, if he weren’t too busy being rude and arrogant, Charon might listen to her request and help out also.

* * *

Timere lifted her basket of flowers, turned, and ambled cheerily back to her little cottage. “Today is a fine day to be blooming, my friends,” she told the flowers when she reached her doorway. “Now, let’s see how you all look.”

Reaching into her basket, she gently pulled out a handful of blossoms. Whispering a low, soft incantation, she tossed the flowers onto the wall left of her door. Remarkably, instead of falling to the ground, they stayed where they were thrown as if drawn there by some force. Timere spoke another low word, and small motes of white light surrounded the flowers, blurring their shape. In the next instant the light vanished, and the flowers were artfully embedded into the wall, forming beautiful patterns with the blooms already there.

“Finally, all patched,” Timere sighed in satisfaction as she surveyed her work. The previous flowers living in her walls had finally worn out, her magic no longer sufficient to sustain them. So she had made a quick trip to her garden and gathered the necessary ingredients—her little cottage was now as good as new.

“What a splendid job you’ve done here!”

Timere started and turned from her house. Then her eyes widened in delighted surprise, “Lady Vera!” and as an afterthought to her companion, who was the other’s shadow: “Lady Valera!”

Before her stood a tall, graceful immortal-maiden—the Lady Vera—whose most striking feature was easily a head of long silver hair cascading in waves down her back. She was clothed in a simple and elegant gown of white that hung loose over her figure, the perfection of which was nevertheless very obvious. A single starstone hung at her throat, winking like a bright eye at all who looked upon its owner. Slightly behind her was Valera, and though she was called Vera’s shadow she dressed completely in very pale yellow. Yellow too was her hair, and glorious as the sun of mortal worlds, falling in straight strands to her shoulders. When beside Vera, whom she served loyally, Valera was usually silent, only speaking when Vera directed a question toward her. But there was no doubt in anyone’s minds that the two were close, closer than the relationship of master and servant—perhaps they were best friends, many speculated, perhaps even lovers. Timere, however, cared little about the true nature of their bond: she knew only that they were inseparatable, and had long ago decided that it was certainly not her place to question the doings of high-class.

“I hope we are not disturbing you,” Vera said graciously.

“Never, Lady Vera,” Timere replied in earnest. “I always welcome your visits.”

* * *

Vera cast a penetrating gaze in the young immortal’s direction, making certain that her examination of the child was covert. She had not risen in the Sages’ favor by being indiscreet and careless. After a period of observation during which she’d thoroughly investigated Timere’s personality, Vera had finally come to the conclusion that the girl was quite suitable for the role she wanted her to play. Certainly there was a nice mixture of discretion and curiosity that completely fit her idea of the perfect handmaiden. Granted, Valera was perfectly willing to do anything for her, but Valera was a high-class and a well-known face around the city of immortals. There were plenty of places where her presence would put not-so-scrupulous immortals on their guard, especially since all knew that Valera confided only to Vera, and Vera was, after all, the most trusted advisor of a Chief Scourer. Certainly such blatancy would not help her cause in the least.

But besides Valera, she was hard-pressed to find someone else even remotely as trustworthy. Frustrated with repeated testing and repeated disappointments, she had jumped at the golden opportunity which was Timere. Her eyes flickered quickly, subtly, to Valera, who had brought her attention to the daughter of her previous handmaiden in the first place.

“She lives in the outskirts, my Lady, and if she is anything like her mother before her, she would be ideal for your task.”

So Vera and Valera had begun to visit the child, testing for the correct attributes in subtle conversation. Afterwards, Valera, who always observed and never participated, would compare her evaluation of Timere to Vera’s own. The girl had not disappointed them, and Vera, truthfully, had grown rather fond of her sweet simplicity and innocence. Finally, the day had come when both deemed that they were satisfied with Timere’s personality, and now they were here, ready to invite her to the metropolis. Vera had very little doubt that Timere would accept, since it was difficult to imagine that the eyes of both herself and Valera would be deceived when it came to the workings of a personality.

* * *

“You have lived in the outskirts for far too long, Timere, my child,” Vera said. “And though it is very beautiful I wonder if you don’t tire of it.”

“No, never!” Timere protested, but there was a false note in her voice that the Beryllus high-class detected.

“There is nothing wrong with discontent!” Vera laughed gently. “As long as you don’t suffer too much from it. Ambition, after all, springs from discontent, and I admire and respect immortals with ambition.”

“But I am very contented!” Timere tried to explain herself, feeling rather foolish in the meantime. “I love my home…it’s just that…well, once in a while it would be nice to…to… see new things…”

“And so I offer you that chance, Timere,” Vera continued when the girl faltered. “I wonder if you would like to visit the metropolis. I know you were there in your youth, but it was only for a very brief period of time, and there are many sights you have yet to see.”

“Oh, but…” Timere was so completely overwhelmed that she could barely form a coherent sentence. “But I have no place to stay!”

“Nonsense!” Vera admonished sternly, with a smile to take the sting from her voice. “You will live in my humble dwelling, of course. I knew your dear mother, child, and I grieved when she left my service to begin her new life with you and your father.”

The mention of her parents brought a tingle of pain to Timere’s heart. They had vanished eons ago, both without a trace, and she had lived alone ever since, for she knew of no relatives. Lady Vera, whom her mother had happily served as handmaiden, was probably the closest thing she had to family, and so her heart warmed toward the immortal, though her mind constantly reminded her that she, as a low-class, deserved very little notice from such a powerful presence. Hearing Vera make the suggestion of living in her home almost wiped away the ache in her chest. “I…I would love to, my Lady,” she stammered shyly, looking to the ground.

“Then it is settled,” Vera declared grandly. “When will you come? I will have Valera accompany you there. Simply name a date.”

“I…I…” Timere cast around frantically for some suitable answer. “I don’t know. I suppose any time would be fine. Two…two days from now, perhaps. I do have to cast a spell around my cottage to keep out intruders.” Here she suddenly blushed, realizing that with Lady Vera and Lady Valera’s skill, they could probably cast such a spell in a matter of minutes. “I…with the size of my dwelling…I’m afraid I cannot go any faster…”

“We could help you…” Vera offered quietly, gazing with a keen perception at Timere that the other immortal, in her agitation, missed entirely.

“No, no!” Timere refused the offer, flushing. It was one thing to admire the likes of Lady Vera and Lady Valera, wielding powers far beyond her. It was quite another to accept help from them when she was perfectly capable of doing things herself. She was not so devoid of pride… But then, aware that Vera was only trying to help and her outburst was unforgivably rude, she hastened to apologize and explain. “It’s just that…forgive me, but I like shielding my own home. It makes me feel more secure…” Foolishness! Complete and utter foolishness! She cursed at herself inwardly. Thus distracted by her own thoughts, she did not notice the fleeting smile of satisfaction which crossed Vera’s face at her refusal. I am a low-class, and I actually said that I felt safer with my own shield than with the shield of Lady Vera! Bowing her head, Timere mumbled, “I’m sorry about the delay this will cause…”

“Don’t be silly, child!” Vera cried, astonishment in her tone and features at Timere’s shame. “I have plenty of time. And so does Valera—” She glanced toward her constant companion, who agreed with a quiet nod. “Take as long as you want. And Timere, never be ashamed of who you are. Does it matter that you are low-class as long as you are sweet and kind? Your mother and father were low-class. Are you ashamed of them?”

“No, of course not!” Timere cried, almost vehemently, before she remembered who she was speaking to. Her flush began again, and she mentally kicked herself for it. Why must she always be blushing??

Vera smiled again, this time fondly. “You are just like your mother, Timere. She blushed often, and I’m told…” She leaned forward conspiratorially, “…your father fell for her because of those blushes. Maybe your own love will do the same for you!”

This did nothing to ease Timere’s red face, though now she flushed in pleasure too at the new information about her parents. “You are so kind to me, Lady Vera. I…I don’t think I deserve your time… I…” She fumbled for appropriate words, wishing she had more skill in this aspect. Finally she managed—“I thank you. For this invitation…and…and for always visiting me. It must be so far out of your way…”

“It is the least I can do for the daughter of my best handmaiden,” Vera replied warmly. “I owe your mother a great deal. In fact,” she laughed lightly, “I’m still not sure I forgive your father for carrying her away like that!”

A hesitant, soft, child-like love for the immortal coursed through Timere after hearing Vera’s teasing words. She had very little friends, living in this part of the outskirts, away from the small villages. But Lady Vera sometimes visited her, when she wasn’t too busy with her important duties in the metropolis, and whenever she did Timere felt her loneliness lift. And though Lady Vera often seemed too beyond her for a heart-to-heart talk, it was comforting to know that in this wide, impersonal world, there was another immortal who knew she existed.

When Vera and Valera left soon after, Timere danced into her cottage, humming a happy little song. In two days, she would see the metropolis, accounted glorious by all immortals. And she would live in Lady Vera’s dwelling! Surely her life had just taken a turn for the wonderful… Given Lady Vera’s importance and high standing, perhaps she might even glimpse a Sage, and…and she could visit the Beryllus Temple! Timere tried her best not to squeal in excitement at both those thoughts, fumbling and nearly dropping her white rose-crusted saucer and cup (she had a fondness for tea) when she picked them up to put on a shelf.

Upperworld’s metropolis—the great city her mother had lived in before Timere’s birth. Where immortals dwelled whose power taxed her meager imagination. Where the Temple was, and where Lady Vera lived…

She could hardly wait to look upon its splendor.


And so seven differently colored threads become entwined, slowly at first and almost imperceptible in their delicate weaving. But another pattern has begun with these threads, changing again the tapestry of Upperworld.