Yami No Oozora: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight: Ambush

This was the result of much pain and suffering. On my part and on the part of the characters.^^; I got compounded writer's block during the course of this chapter, and it was just...incredibly unpleasant. I mean, I wrote tons, just not YnO.^^; But oh well, here it is, all 11 pages of it, and I hope it pleases. (It had better, or I swear I will go and beat my head against a solid wall.)
The immortals in this chapter face problems. Lots of problems. Problems seem to just like them very much. It might also have something to do with the fact that I'm the author. *cackles* Well-ahem-anyway, all standard disclaimers apply. The Sentinel and Charon aren't mine, but EVERYTHING else is. "Ambush" is also rated PG to PG13 for mention of questionable things in the beginning. Oh...and by the way...did I mention that I like writing cliffhangers?^_~

Once, the Dungeons of Upperworld were notorious for being dank, terrible places, in which unspeakable crimes were committed by inmate against inmate. For a long time this grim fact went unnoticed or unknown by the general populace, while the few who knew and had enough influence to launch reform justified their inaction with these words: “They deserved it.” After all, the rationale went, why else would these prisoners be in the Dungeons? What happened was simply the criminals receiving a taste of their own medicine.

And so the heinous rapes continued, the brutalizing of immortals went on, and their tormenters remained unpunished. The Dungeons merely concentrated crime and separated it from the rest of Upperworld. It was barely a punishment, because the unrepentant only moved their violence, their dark desires, into the merciless cells and fed upon the unlucky or the weak.

Nemesis, the Chosen Goddess of Vengeance, was an immortal of action. When she and her friends stumbled upon the terrible conditions of the Dungeons, it was she who decided to initiate change. With the full support of her close friends Nemesis applied for Warden; a bold move, because there was already a Warden in place. Although they encountered serious resistance from the first Warden and his supporters, eventually Nemesis’ earnest voice was heard, and sympathetic Sages moved to give the Goddess and Scourer her third duty. The reforms she wrought upon the Dungeons made many immortals happy, and the Sages who helped her did not regret their decision.

But of course, many did not mean all. There were those immortals who could not condone Nemesis’ action of taking another’s duty. Power-monger, they called her, and other names besides. Then there were those who kept very quiet about their dissatisfaction, who felt in truth that Nemesis’ reforms were a mistake, that the crimes against other inmates in the Dungeons were a form of just retribution, and that Nemesis interfered.

Zephyr, who materialized directly before the large structure, was one of those immortals. She stared at the immaculate building with distaste, thinking of all the criminals relaxing in there, laughing because they were not suffering. These were Dungeons—they were supposed to be full of anguish, they were supposed to be like the place of eternal punishment that she had heard mortals created in their little stories. A…hell, of sorts, where the evil went to burn in their own sins. Who was Nemesis to fix it up into some sort of…vacation home? She’d heard the prisoners were even allowed to bathe. At the thought of criminals splashing around in clear pools of water, Zephyr couldn’t decide whether to shudder or to laugh.

In the end she did neither. She brushed a hand through her silver hair, a force of habit, and strode confidently toward the Dungeons.

* * *

At around the same time that Zephyr stood contemplating the Dungeons, Nemesis was slowly, groggily opening her eyes after the capable efforts of Elusius’ Healers. “You shouldn’t sit up, your burns were very serious.” A voice instantly greeted her as soon as her hearing cleared along with her vision. Nemesis blinked; she was staring straight into a smooth, dark face framed by a fall of silken black hair. The green jade on her forehead, secured there by a delicate white silver chain, and her soft aura identified the immortal as one of the Healers.

Nemesis closed her eyes and backtracked. The last thing she remembered was…was pain…a white light…and… “Daitra’s ass!!” She cursed, and, ignoring a scandalized gasp from (she assumed) the Healer, rocketed to a sitting position... “OW!!”

“Lady Nemesis, you must lie down! Your burns were severe and they had nearly destroyed a portion of your body, so if you sit up, it will be immensely taxing on your…”

Nemesis wasn’t listening. “Who brought me here?” She interrupted.

The Healer stopped, her brow furrowing as if she couldn’t believe Nemesis would not want to hear exactly why she was in agony when she sat up. “Why…er… Trackers did, my lady.”

Nemesis froze. “Trackers…?” She repeated weakly. The word sent a distinct, nasty chill up her spine. “You mean…the Sages’ Trackers?”

“Who else could I possibly mean?” The Healer looked utterly bewildered. “Is there any other type of trackers in the Metropolis?”

But Nemesis’ ears had stopped functioning immediately after she’d asked her own question. Of course there were only the Sages’ Trackers. No other “trackers” existed who were called such. And the title “Tracker” was practically synonymous with…Themis. Her arrogant, conservative, stiff-necked brother. Nemesis covered her face and groaned loudly in frustration, ignoring the Healer beside her. Themis knew. How was she going to get her friends out of this one?

* * *

A young Cypher, newly in the ranks and having only recently finished his training, walked slowly, placidly down one of the many hallways of Upperworld’s Dungeons. To all appearances he seemed perfectly ordinary, with no striking physical characteristics, as was a Cypher’s wont. But upon closer observation there was something markedly different about this particular Dungeon guard. His chin was raised slightly with purpose and a pride that seemed not wholly part of him, ill-fitting, like a tunic which was too large. The strides he took seemed just a little short for his height, but it was such a mundane difference that none of his colleagues would have noticed.

This strange Cypher made his way firmly and confidently down one hallway, turned into a side corridor, and eventually reached a cell holding two prisoners. They turned their heads to glare at him when he stopped before the invisible wall, and undoubtedly would have jumped him if they were not prisoners. The young Cypher looked them over coolly, unperturbed by their show of aggression. His chill, examining gaze discomfited the two immortals, who shifted uneasily and exchanged nervous glances.

“Arglos and Maethas, am I correct?” The Cypher said in a clipped, commanding voice that was yet again at odds with his appearance.

Too stunned now to say a word, the immortals only nodded.

“I have an assignment for you,” the Cypher continued smoothly when he saw their confirmation. “The orders are from her Lady of the Light and Truth.”

Now both Arglos and Maethas rocketed to their feet, raw shock etched in their faces. The taller one—Arglos—gaped at her. “How…Who…?”

The Cypher smirked at their astonishment, and his face twisted with that expression into something far older, far more experienced, than a newly recruited immortal-boy. He leaned forward. “Have you forgotten the Wind?”

* * *

Thanatos surreptitiously swept a hand down his robe, smoothing away imaginary wrinkles in the fabric. Despite his good laugh at Themis’ expense, he was beginning to feel very, very anxious. The Sages seemed to take an eternity doing…whatever it was that they were doing, and his concern for his imprisoned colleagues grew with the inaction. Beside him, Themis was glaring daggers at the Doorkeeper, for all the good that it did him—Thanatos almost wished the Head Tracker could turn around and say something else snide. It would, at least, get Thanatos’ mind off the mounting sense of worry which threatened to bury him. But Themis was apparently too abashed by his earlier faux pas to dare speak another word to the God of Death, so Thanatos was forced to remain bored and restless and worried. He wondered if he ought to goad the Tracker and get some fun out of it, but then scrapped the idea almost as quickly. He was in no mood to hear disgusting insinuations.

Time passes slowly when one is waiting, and Thanatos soon lost himself in the blankness which assails people when they are forced to do nothing. He had just roused himself from that unproductive state and had begun to plan out what he would say to the Sages, when he heard his name being called.

“—Lord Thanatos. Their Eminences are ready.” Behind the Doorkeeper, an opening in the wall had appeared. The Doorkeeper himself was standing respectfully at one side. Themis glared balefully at Thanatos. In turn, the God of Death tried to look as if he had been expecting such a call and not drowning in thoughtlessness. He straightened from the comfortable slouch against the milkily smooth wall, cast a cocky grin at Themis—who would have struck him, if he dared—and walked toward the opening.

The instant he stepped past the threshold, the wall behind him swirled closed like water parted by force and was now drawing together. Before him stood four out of the nine venerable Sages of Sagacity Hall: Charity, Prudence, Eleos, and Ergon. Thanatos did not fear them, exactly, but he was very aware of the fact that his friends’ fate hung from their hands. His deep eyes flickered to them all in turn before he bowed deeply, noting with a rushing sense of relief that the Decider was not one of them. At least now the judgment would be less biased.

One of them—Lady Charity—stepped forward with a graceful rustle of her robes. “Welcome, Thanatos. You wished to speak?”

Thanatos straightened from his bow, “With your permission, Lady.”

“I give it on behalf of myself and my colleagues.”

Here goes, Thanatos thought, offering a hasty prayer to Daitra to protect him from bungling his words, and forged ahead with his explanation.

* * *

Two low-class immortals stood outside of their cell, bowing respectfully to the retreating figure of the Cypher. In Arglos’ hand was a small wooden dart. He held it gingerly, keeping his deceptively thick but agile fingers away from the sharp point.

“The tip of this dart has been dipped in my phial. You know what that means. You have failed our cause by getting yourself thrown in here, but I now give you a chance to serve her Lady Vera by eliminating a few of her…chief obstacles.”

Maethas glanced at his companion, and his gaze traveled down to the seemingly insignificant weapon. “Keep that pointin’ away from me,” he muttered.

“I know that,” Arglos snapped. “C’mon. We’ve got Daitra scum to find.”

“We already know where one of ‘em is,” Maethas glared. “The General told us. We’re not doin’ any findin’.”

“You know what? Shut up,” Arglos rolled his eyes and whirled around sharply, stalking off in the direction of the bathing areas. Still glaring, Maethas followed. As they moved swiftly down the corridor and turned a corner, Arglos began to speak again. “When we get there, I’ll go in first. I’ll see if I can grab him without too much hassle. He’s a high-class. You know how they are; with their powers sealed off, they’re nothing.”

“Then what in the Pit do I do?” Maethas complained. “You’re gettin’ all the fun.”

“Who did General Zephyr entrust with the dart?” Was Arglos’ smug reply. “Me. So you listen to me, got it? Now, you just wait outside, and if the mithraq tries to run for it, you get him at the entrance.” (1) Maethas did not look particularly pleased, but as the General did give Arglos the dart, he daren’t argue. So, sulking to himself, he followed his fellow prisoner to the bathing area of the Dungeons.

* * *

By now he had shook off his feelings of melancholy like he shook off the freezing cold water from his hands, and the Sentinel felt almost cheerful. Sort of. Kind of. Well, at any rate, he wasn’t going to dwell on something—someone—as depressing as Charon. In fact—the Sentinel looked around—since he was here, he might as well take the time to bathe. Immortals didn’t get dirty, but taking a bath was a luxury and a popular form of relaxation. He needed to relax.

So with that conviction, the Sentinel began to make his way leisurely to the billowing (white) translucent curtains which hid the enormous spring from view. The layers of fabric, though thin, were numerous and always swaying due to some intangible wind, so they were an effective shield from prying eyes. And from the silence, there was probably no one in there at the moment. Just as well…the Sentinel didn’t particularly enjoy bathing with strangers, even if he could simply retreat to some far corner of the spring away from other bathers.

He reached out a hand to part the curtains, and stopped in his tracks. Footsteps… there were footsteps in the hallway…two sets of sounds…two immortals… For some reason this made the Sentinel uneasy, though it was absurd. Prisoners here due to non-violent crimes were able to enjoy luxuries such as this public bath, so of course there would be people walking this way. He turned his head back to regard the newcomers anyway, because the voice within him refused to be ignored.

But the Sentinel’s eyes told a different story than his ears. There was only one immortal standing in the doorway—a large, well-muscled one with strangely metallic, golden hair. His face was devoid of expression. The Sentinel looked him over discreetly and quickly, then nodded in acknowledgement to his presence. It was just a low-class who wished, perhaps, to bathe. In which case the idea of cleansing himself no longer seemed so appealing… With that thought, the Sentinel turned fully around, intending to leave. But he did not forget the footsteps of the other immortal, and he was wary as he drew closer. Something was not quite right…

The low-class smiled then, and all of the Sentinel’s internal warnings started blaring. He was suddenly painfully aware of the warding bracelets around his wrists; they seemed to tighten and dig into his skin. But it would be disastrous to turn aside now, so he continued at the same pace, his expression neutral. Just as it seemed he would be able to leave the bathing area without any mishaps or confrontations, the other immortal spoke.

“You’re Daitra.”

He was stating the obvious, and suddenly the suspicion that something was wrong became conviction. The Sentinel abruptly remembered that scene in the Minor as some detached part of his mind noted that the low-class was Beryllus. “Of course,” he affected a scornful look, testing the other immortal. Was his intent to harm based on some resentment of a high-class’s normal power, or was it like Erian and Vesha—because he happened to be Daitra? But in any case there was little doubt that this low-class, whatever his reasons, meant to hurt him. The Sentinel had seen too much over the eons to not recognize the strange glint in those eyes.

The taller immortal narrowed his eyes. “You think you’re tough because you’re high-class, Daitra-spawn?”

A mixture of motives. Then this was not so simple. The Sentinel absorbed the new knowledge and processed it instantly, figuring out exactly what this situation might entail. Something was instigating hatred amongst middle-class, and now, apparently low-class, Beryllus against their Daitra kindred. But it was difficult to attack high-class Daitra without coming away with the lesser end of the bargain, so the Beryllus directed their attention to weaker prey: the low-class Daitra. Hence, the attacks, the disappearances.

And now, here was a Beryllus low-class, perhaps already bitter over the inherent difference between himself and the more powerful of his race, his thoughts further poisoned by whatever lies someone had spewed about the Daitra, seeing in the Sentinel a combination of both the things he hated. Except now, with far more brute strength than a high-class when the latter’s power was sealed off, this immortal would actually have a chance.

Final conclusion: He was in deep trouble. “I think,” he began, choosing his words carefully, though his tone remained casual, “that there’s a reason for your statement of the obvious.”

The other immortal paused. “Statement of the obvious?” He repeated, furrowing his brow at the small, almost dainty, and as-of-now harmless high-class before him. His body language was so obvious that the Sentinel could almost hear him ask himself, How much does he know?

“You said I was Daitra.” The Sentinel supplied helpfully. “Such an observation can only warrant a sarcastic reply. Of course I’m Daitra. Anyone should be able to tell…” And now he was treading on dangerous ground. He changed the cool, neutral expression on his face into something that was condescendingly sympathetic, “…unless you’re half-witted? Have you been affected by some disease?”

The low-class’s jaw dropped very impressively as the Sentinel’s words registered. In the next instant his mouth twisted into a snarl. “I will have you know, insolent Daitra, that I am working for a grand cause, and the end result will be to— He abruptly stopped, as if for the first time realizing what he was saying. His face began to twitch with something akin to horror.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, the Sentinel almost laughed aloud. There was just something hilarious about a person’s reaction when they inadvertently talk themselves into a knot or reveal something they had meant to be a guilty secret. He had, in fact, seen this same expression often on the less innocent of the lost souls he dealt with, after he had stabbed a hundred holes into their lies.

Back in the House of Lost Souls he could afford to laugh. The mortals could do little to hurt him. But now—he schooled his expression into something suitably confused, as if he had little idea what the low-class had just said, and waited for the next move.

It did not take long. The low-class struggled for another second or two, obviously berating himself for his idiocy, before his attention snapped back to the Sentinel. “I’m afraid,” he snarled, “that my slip of the tongue means you will not be allowed to live.”

The Sentinel just stared at him. A death threat? Certainly this immortal—if he caught him—could inflict a lot of pain, but killing him was another matter entirely. One would need to have full use of his or her power to manage something like that, and the low-class certainly did not. Yet…that intonation was far too confident for a bluff—the Sentinel could hear the nuances in his voice as easily as he could see the immortal—so there must be something behind his threat. Until he knew what it was, the Sentinel wasn’t going to let his guard down. “You’re going to kill me?” He repeated, slowly, as if he weren’t sure that he’d heard the other immortal very well. “Because you made a mistake? That doesn’t seem so logical…and besides which, you don’t have the ability.”

“Is that what you think, arrogant mithraq? The low-class smiled. “Are you so bloated with self-confidence that you don’t recognize danger when you see it?”

“I see an insane immortal before me, raving uselessly about a murder he can’t commit, all because of inherent differences in our make-up that I cannot change,” the Sentinel shrugged. Go on, he thought inwardly, get angry! Tell me something else!

The immortal obliged, unwittingly. “By the light of Beryllus! Useless, is it?” He snarled. “I have been gifted with something that can make you go back to the putrid darkness from whence you came!” Then he lunged.

Fluidly, the Sentinel twisted to one side and let the immortal hurtle past him, his momentum too great for him to change direction. His mind was racing, because those simple words had made things all too clear. Someone from the outside had ordered this low-class to kill him, and had given him means to do so. The Sentinel kept his eyes on the other immortal, who was at that moment turning around, spewing curses, and preparing to rush him again. The Sentinel wasn’t going to give him another chance. Who knew what the low-class had up his sleeve? He whipped around and headed out of the bathing area, acutely aware of his attacker’s loud footsteps. He needed to get to a Cypher, and fast, because in his current state he had no way to defend himself.

Even as this thought crossed his mind he saw a movement at the edge of his peripheral vision. The Sentinel lunged to the right, just barely escaping the pair of hands which had seemingly materialized from nowhere. Damn, he’d forgotten about the other immortal! Cursing himself for his carelessness, the Sentinel backed away, his eyes marking the new low-class into his memory. When he got out of this, he was going to make sure they were caught and questioned.

“Make sure he doesn’t get past you! We’re going to corner him!” The first low-class hissed to his companion in what the Sentinel assumed was supposed to be a low voice. Too bad his hearing was a lot sharper than his attackers gave him credit for. Taking a quick glance around, the Sentinel noted his position in the bathing area and realized that he was maybe 20 feet or so away from the nearest pool. Hm…

The blonde low-class sprang forward with a growl, one arm extended for his would-be victim’s neck. But by the time his fingers closed he was holding nothing save air. The Sentinel had ducked, spun, and moved back again, closer to the billowing translucent fabric which hid the springs from view. He had an idea.

* * *

Arglos fumed at the very sight of that high-class once again evading his grasp. By Beryllus, he had not imagined the mithraq to be so light on his feet! At least, Arglos thought savagely, he can only keep moving back, toward the pool. Arglos could come up with no reason for that action other than the possibility of the high-class hoping to swim around them (for the pool hugged the walls and encircled the center of the bathing area for half the room). But if the high-class thought he could get away by swimming, he was dead wrong. Arglos threw a glance back at Maethas. His partner and current cellmate was an excellent swimmer. Arglos had every confidence that Maethas could overtake their target in water. But it still remained to be seen for the immortal to get into the pool…

Beside him, Maethas had apparently come to the same conclusion—he was faster in water than on the ground—and sprung at the mithraq again. He backed out of the way instead of dodging to the left—he could not dodge right because Arglos was there—and so confirmed Arglos’ suspicion that the high-class was aiming for the pool. They had him. Making a quick gesture to Maethas, who instantly understood, Arglos went straight for their target with his cellmate following immediately behind.

Just as he thought, the mithraq turned and vanished into the billowing whiteness of the curtains. “Go, Maethas!” Arglos hissed in command.

“Ya don’t have ta tell me,” Maethas growled insolently and hurried after their target. Arglos could hear his heavy steps within the hidden folds of the curtains, though he could not see him. The far lighter steps of the high-class were much harder to discern, but he should’ve gone through by now, and arrived at the pool’s edge. Then why wasn’t he hearing a splash?

Almost as if his thoughts had willed it, the sound of someone impacting water came from the other side of the curtain, quite explosively. Arglos grinned, waiting in anticipation for the sound of Maethas following suit. But there was nothing. Come to think of it, would an immortal of the size and weight of that mithraq make such a loud noise when jumping into the pool…?

“Beryllus curse the fool,” Arglos muttered under his breath. “What’s he doing in there?” Intent on finding out the answer to his question, Arglos batted aside the light fabric and stalked past. There were many layers of the translucent curtains, and though lovely for an immortal wishing to take a leisurely bath, it was nothing but an annoyance for Arglos. He brushed aside another curtain, snarling curses at the designer of the bathing area, and abruptly found himself on the other side.

Staring at an unconscious Maethas, floating face-down in the water. “What the—?!” Arglos barely had time to exclaim before he felt a sharp, harsh blow to the small of his back, jabbing almost completely on a point which connected to his core. Stars exploded in his vision, and he staggered, nearly pitching forward. In the haze which followed he thought he heard light footsteps retreating away…

The damned mithraq!! He had been hiding in the curtains the entire time!

Shaking his head desperately to clear it, Arglos lunged blindly in the direction he thought led away from the water’s edge. He was going to tear that Daitra scum from limb to limb, as soon as he… The soft, whispery sensation of the light fabric against his face told him that Beryllus had favored him with luck and he was headed the right way. Tearing past the curtains he emerged just as his vision was also clearing. The mithraq had not been able to hit the point exactly, and so the effects were not nearly as long-lasting as what had happened to Maethas. Arglos lifted his eyes and saw the cursed immortal drawing close to the door.

Oh, but the Daitra spawned mithraq was going to pay… Arglos drew the poisoned dart from his tunic, reared back, and hurled it with all his might. If there was one thing he had utter confidence in, it was throwing. And hitting the bull’s eye.

* * *

The Sentinel had already been cursing himself for missing the vital point of that golden haired immortal. If he had surmised everything correctly, that attacker was the one he had to worry about, because most likely he held the “gift” which could kill. And he’d missed!

But there was nothing for it, so the Sentinel turned tail and ran, hoping he’d have enough time to get out of there before his would-be assassin recuperated. Behind him he could hear the loud noises of cursing mingling with confused footsteps, but no telling sound of a body hitting water, which would’ve at least bought him more time. The Sentinel put on an extra burst of speed. He was almost out the door…but what was that strange whistling coming from behind…

Pain exploded in his right shoulder. With a strangled gasp, the Sentinel stumbled and dropped heavily onto his knees. A second later he could not support his weight even in that position—it felt as if his body had turned liquid—and he collapsed forward, clutching at his wounded shoulder. Poison, his mind informed him in an almost detached fashion. A dart, or something similar, dipped in core-disrupting poison…

Such a thing was pumped through the body via the projectile. The longer the poisoned tip stayed in him, the more venom would seep and mix with the stream of his energy. With a monumental effort, the Sentinel reached again; his fingers brushed a feathered shaft…closed around it… It seemed to take all his strength to pull the dart out, and when it was done his hand fastened around the weapon with the instinctive thought of not letting go. Evidence, his scattered thoughts told him. Evidence…

Evidence of what? He felt suddenly confused, as if the situation had spiraled beyond his understanding, which was alarming and irritating. The Sentinel struggled to think past the pain—wasn’t there something he had to do…?

“Not so proud now, are you?” A harsh kick from out of nowhere made the Sentinel double over, curling around his abdomen, panting. This immortal…the assassin! “Try and slip out of this one, Daitra’s mithraq, try and use your wiles again.” Another blow assailed him, this time strong enough to send him sliding across the floor. The Sentinel fought the urge to retch and kept tightening his hold on the dart. He needed it, somehow…

Sounds approached him—heavy footfalls… Abruptly a hand reached down, fingers closed around his neck, and he was roughly lifted into the air. The Sentinel’s mouth opened in a soundless gasp as his world shifted from sideways to rightside up again. His head was throbbing. “The ‘inherent’ differences in our make-up appears to be of little use to you,” the immortal was saying, a sneer in his voice. “Soon you will die.”

But he wasn’t ready to die. The conviction was so strong that for a moment the Sentinel’s head ceased to hurt and he was fired with the thought of it. He did not want to die. He was not going to die here, at the hands of some assassin. The confusing babble in his mind cleared away to that one, single, lucid thought, and he could think again.

“Why do you…wish to kill me…?” The Sentinel asked then.

“I told you already,” the immortal sneered. “You heard what you should not have heard.”

“…you came…in here…prepared to…kill…” the Sentinel forced himself to speak instead of succumbing to unconsciousness like his body wished. His mind was working, and it wanted information. He had remembered what he was supposed to do here—he was supposed to collect information for…for Nemesis. A friend.

The low-class hesitated only briefly before his cockiness caught up with him. “Well, seeing as you won’t be around for much longer, Daitra scum, I might as well enlighten you.” And now he brought his face close to the Sentinel’s. “Your people all deserve death. Your people have wrought nothing but chaos and destruction upon Upperworld.”

“What are you…talking about…?” He gasped, now genuinely astonished. “Daitra’s children have…never…”

“Don’t play dumb with me!” The low-class snarled, shaking the Sentinel viciously as his thick hand tightened around the helpless immortal’s neck. Such rough handling almost made the Sentinel lose concentration again, but he stubbornly gripped onto his next thought, his next question, and managed to ask it.

“Then…who…who commands you…?”

Now the immortal scowled, or appeared to do so. The Sentinel couldn’t tell—his vision was not improving. “We were sworn under oath not to tell anyone of our leader’s identity. You want to make me an oath-breaker?”

“Your friend…is he…?”

“An imbecile who does nothing to further our cause. He could not even catch you,” there was a definite smug note in the Beryllus immortal’s voice as he gloated over his success. “But I have… you will bring me great honor, Daitra scum. It is probably the only good thing you have ever done in your wretched, corrupted life. Now…let’s have a little fun before you rejoin your repulsive creator…” And then, apparently done with answering, he drew back his fist, readying himself for a heavy punch.

But he stopped short when the wounded high-class slowly raised his head, and he saw the expression in those dark red eyes. “Thank you…for your information…” the high-class said, bringing one hand up—his left hand—as if to pry at the tight grip upon the collar of his clothes.

Too late, Arglos saw the feathered shaft in that slim, frail hand. His mouth opened in an ‘O’ of horror as the poisoned tip sank past his skin.

* * *

The Sentinel felt a moment of grim satisfaction seeing the horrified realization in his attacker’s eyes, but it faded away as the hand holding him aloft loosened, and he began what felt like a slow-motion descent to the cold, hard floor.

It might have been painful when he hit the ground, but he could no longer tell. He only knew with absolute certainty that he needed help. He needed to get out of the bathing area…but he could not…seem to move… Choking back a soft cry of frustration, the Sentinel tried, again and again, to move some part of his body.

By Daitra, he cannot die. Not here, not now! But he needed help…and help did not appear to be coming. This time he couldn’t keep back the small sound of distress that escaped his lips as he turned his face towards the door.

And then he froze, transfixed, incredulous. An instant later he felt blinding relief releasing the tension in his body, somehow making the idea of death seem far less real. Help was here, he thought, and he would have smiled if he had the energy.

Standing there, just a little outside the door, was the black-robed figure of Charon.

* * *

(1) Mithraq (Mith rahk): derogatory term for “high-class,” meaning literally, “weak body” and can be translated as “weakling.” Nearly always used by low-class in reference to the physical bodies of high-class. Due to their immense power, there is no need for a high-class to have burly physiques and brute strength. Hence, high-class typically have delicate, slender bodies (male and female alike). Even the few who can boast considerable physical strength have wiry muscles rather than the large, highly developed muscles on a majority of low-class.

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