Saturday, September 17, 2011

2. Hardship



"Where are we?"

That should have been the first question asked, but Dream and Spirit had been wandering for hours, getting closer and closer to a small town. The green trees were fading away into a gangling brown trunks with dried arms stretching out to the sky. The town was a shade of muddy red and the same decaying color as the changing scenery. "Where he sent us, Spirit," was all Dream could think of answering. She glanced over her shoulder to look at her friend and felt a wave of relief wash over her. It was a strange thing to feel in their situation, but even despite the blank expression, the random cuts and bruises scattered on her face and the rest of her skin due to their crashing and falling into this land, and even the thin chains hanging loosely around her body, Spirit was free of the Watchmakers hold. Sure, his grasp from them could return just as easily and quickly as it had disappeared, but as long as they could both remain together, Dream felt safer. Not the same way one would feel locked in their room with a hundred and fifty body guards standing outside and keeping check of all exits, but the way one would feel if, after much running, screaming, and fear, they were to find a weapon. A way to protect one self and search for any courage they had left within them. That's what she felt like int that moment.

Although, as it was in her nature to speculate and worry, despite what she felt about their current situation, she could't help but wonder one thing...

If you wake up alone, will the labyrinth's end become more apparent with the aid of solitude? It has been working for him so far, hasn't it?

It was a bad habit. She had to stop thinking of the beast born from winter, so unlike others of his flesh and blood. Why? Why did that change and shape him so much?

"Dream?" Spirit called out, causing the blonde to come crashing back down to Earth. "What's our story?"


She raised an eyebrow, "Scars and chains, Dream," she said, pointing at Dream before pointing to herself. "We need a story. And it can't be the stories of others. Not like the stories that They told."

Although the blonde girl had frowned slightly at this (only enough so that Spirit knew the girl was paying attention even though her expression was still far away and tired down), it did not take long for Spirit to simply close her eyes as they continued walking and begin describing. "There's been something here. Something bad. It's made them scream and crawl away in fear, and some are confused because they were sure the end wasn't going to happen. Then it did. Out of nowhere, claws that evaporated from thin air and slashed..." her voice drifted as she fluttered her hazel eyes open, staring right back at the scars over Dream's face, "Slashed Them into pieces. They just can't remember what it really was that took them. They just...don't know."

"Is there a lot of them?" Dream whispered the question that only received a nod as an answer. "I see..."

The brown trees faded away into the background, becoming forgotten as the two wanderers entered the town. They could hear the sound of machinery going on, factories at work. There was the distant sound of laughter and children playing, but it was so long gone, so forgotten, it just helped to pin point the pure bleakness of their surroundings now. Green eyes flickered upwards and scanned the beat up houses, the people sitting on the streets, the floating folks. So many dragged down faces, everywhere. Brown dust that held onto everything, that covered the clothes, the colors, the smiles, hanging over the people like a specter. People huddled together, begging for change. Those were the happiest, for some were just alone, without even the strength inside of them to ask for pity and a coin. The girls received few glances as they crossed the town as very little of the population seemed to be interested in anything but the dirt beneath their torn shoes. Here and there they could hear chatter, although never cheerful. I owe you this, where's my money, the children are adapting, we survive, it's what we've always done.

A whistle blew and echoed from somewhere, and out of factories the long faced people with gray lips and red eyes flowed out. As young as nine and as old as sixty, heading out to stand in front of a long line for one potato and watery soup. As they passed beside them, Dream stared down at them, realizing that she towered over the women and even most of the men, and yet could not tell if she looked stronger or weaker than them. The latter because some that walked past her has muscle and grime, rough faces with big hands and arms. The former because they were so gray and brown and dusty, that the dark marks beneath their eyes and their tired expressions made it almost possible for her to believe that a bit of a nudge here and there would send some of them crashing down.

Where did he send us?

Some way or another, the girls had drifted to a tavern. Few workers seemed to be deciding to waste their brief time for lunch on the dark, thick liquid. Dream and Spirit approached the bar and only then did someone react with disdain at the girls. The man was older, in his fifties, wrinkles across his skin and no hair upon his head, as gray faced as the rest of the people. He glanced up at Spirit, his eyes fixated on the chains of her body and opened his mouth to say something, but the girl merely looked back at him, a certain silent fierceness in her eyes that pierced through him as she tilted her head slowly to the side, staring, waiting, watching. It was Dream who decided to speak then, "Afternoon. Glass of water for the ones that just appeared?"

He shifted uncomfortably before looking back at the blonde, and yet once again his eyes widened and he opened his mouth quickly. The scars. Right. Maybe they would need a story. "We really don't sell to strangers 'ere, sister," he finally answered in a low voice. "Especially not as strange as the lot of yah."

Dream parted her lips and thought of what to say, "We would not be strangers without the first part of said description. Besides, we're only passing by. There's a bit more to find than the grey and brown scheme of this town."

"Yeah well," the bartender said, coughing and dropping his gaze, although Dream was sure she had seen him flicker his eyes at the chains over Spirit's body, an action which caused Dream to frown again, "Best get moving, then. I ain't being cute with yah, I just don' want any trouble."

It was Spirit who spoke next, looking up from her trance state as if she had been paying attention to something else and had just tuned in again, "You seem a bit nervous just to have two little girls wander into your bar. Afraid of something, Connor?"

The man behind the counter frowned, "What? How did you-?"

But whatever it was that he had been meaning to become anxious about became ignored as someone stepped inside the tavern, catching his attention. Whoever it was gave Dream enough time to glance up at Spirit through a curtain of her hair, asking with nothing more but her expression what the bartender had been trying to say. Spirit made a small sweep with her arm across the room, gesturing to nowhere in particular. So They were here too? That made sense, somehow.

"The usual, Professor?" the bartender suddenly asked.

"I can't even begin to comprehend what that means, Connor," a man behind them answered, chuckling as he got closer to the counter. "Just some apple juice in a whiskey glass if you don't mind."

"It's gonna cost you more than the whiskey."

There was no answer to that, just a small shrug and smile as the bartender turned away and began looking around. As the professor stood in front of the counter, just a few steps away from the two girls, Dream could take a good look at the man without trouble. He was handsome, with strong arms, tanned skin, and a friendly face. Although a bit shorter than Dream and a few inches taller than Spirit, this did not seem to be an uncommon thing with the people of the town. At some point, before he had even taken his drink from the counter, he blinked quickly and stiffened, his eyes darting to the side a millisecond before he turned completely to his right. Dream was in no way being subtle of her sudden interest in the new man. In fact, it was only Spirit out of the two who had her attention elsewhere, her eyes narrowed as she looked around, giving cold stares to some of the curious onlookers. Just as the professor sighed in annoyance and seemed to be about to say something, his gaze carelessly drifted from Dream to the brunette at her side. When he saw her at first, all he did was frown, but just a second later his eyes widened, mouth opening, jaw falling, like he was staring back at the slow destruction of a home, flames erupting. Windows shattering. Like he couldn't believe it. In a flash, his eyes locked with Dream's, who's curiosity of the man had now peeked, but before either could say something, another man had approached them.

Or, to be exact, had approached Spirit.

"Well, look 'ere at this lil lady," a man said, his breath thick with the smell of alcohol, his cheeks blushed and eyes watery. "You're dressed queer," he said to Spirit, reaching for her chains. It was fairly easy to step to the side and avoid his hand, but although her expression remained blank, Spirit's lips pressed tightly together.

"Who the fuck are these two, Connor?" a man in the corner called out, his voice deep and troubling, "Bitches sent by the state?"

The bartender shrugged just as Spirit shot a glare at his direction, growling loudly. Dream, on the other hand, was too preoccupied watching the expressions of the onlookers as she glanced over her shoulder. They were catching interest. The man that had stepped closer to them spoke, "I jus' wanna know why this one's dressed so queer," he said, mumbled rather, his voice so distorted Dream almost had trouble catching his words. He reached for Spirit again, but she pushed him off, hard, and stepped away from him, causing the man to tumble backwards almost comically. Panic settled inside Dream as she stepped closer to them, putting herself between Spirit and the onlookers. "Stay away," she said, although her words did not come out in anger as she had hoped. It was monotone. She frowned and was about to try again, but the already drunken man didn't seem to notice the lack of aggression in her tone.

"I think these are bitches from our wonderful representatives, Marty!" he shouted as he stumbled closer to them, "You here to take s'more from me? Is that it? What the fuck are you-?"

"Hey now," a voice suddenly spoke just as Spirit began moving beside Dream so to stand beside her rather than be covered by her friend. They both glanced back to see the professor stepping between them, "Stop it. They're not here for any of that."

"How would you know?"

Just then, another spoke then, a woman now, as drunk as the rest and in the arms of a heavy set man knocked out from the drinks, "For all you know, they were sent by that fucking goddamn Archdemon. Pretty little doll faces are here to kill us."

The professor rolled his eyes, "They're not from the estate. They wouldn't have come at the tavern to collect taxes from the low lives like us," he said with a hint of growing annoyance in his tone, "And they sure aren't going to come prancing in here to this little forgotten corner to murder and take away the scum of the town if they were sent by that thing. Now back the hell down and go back to your little corner."

That had not been the right thing to say.

Whatever the reason was--that the drunken men didn't seem to understand when to back down from a fight, that the two girls were just far too strange to believe nothing disastrous could lead to their arrival, or maybe they just wanted a bit more fun--the drunk man still standing in front of them tried to approach them, and the professor simply reacted by a shove. Which turned into more shoving. Which turned into a "Hey! Leave the poor man alone!"

The drunk man moved fast at one point, enough that he had reached for Spirit and pulled her down by the chain in front of her body, making her crash on the ground. The professor reacted a second later, and slammed his fist down against the drunk man's face just as Dream swung her leg up and kicked him in the rib cage.

And eventually, chaos started.

"Fucking asshole. I won't let you fucking let them take me."

By the time it was growing, and changing, and the shouting, and the yelling, and the occasional "WITCHES" screams that seemed to erupt for no real reason, Dream was't really sure how exactly she got to a point where she was blocking the upcoming beer bottle that came flying towards her face with a stool before she whacked the head of a drunk with it, knocking him out cold in a second. Spirit sure as hell didn't remember in what exact second she reached for a lose strand of her chains and whipped a thirty something year old man across the face when he launched at her, but it seemed to be working from then on, and so she kept going. Dream crashed against a wall more than once, her lip splitting open and blood dripping from her face as she tried to defend herself and Spirit, but it was just chaos. Disorganized. Going and changing all in seconds. No order.

In between trying to keep her teeth in place and her nose from cracking open, Dream realized something. She saw the messy throwing around of punches, the way Spirit managed to avoid the coming men all while knocking them out with the chains, and how the professor delivered heavy punches across the same broken faces. But though she was grateful as more and more of their attackers fell onto the ground or tried to escape from the pain, she saw their weakness more and more. Their minds depleted from all the alcohol they drank, their bones and muscles weak from all the work they had done not long ago, their skin easy to bruise and crack as the professor delivered more and more kicks and punches across a couple of faces. Sure, they were fighting back. A punch onto Dream's gut, a piece of glass swung over Spirit's head--slashing across just a bit of the surface of her forehead--and the two men that tried to grab onto the professor and pin him down; those
were all reminders that the men they were fighting weren't defenseless...and yet nevertheless...already cracked.

It should have been more than satisfactory to see the chaos die down, to hear the bartender scream at them to stop and end it right then or he would kick out everyone, to see so many on the floor, clinging onto their limbs and moaning in pain (especially those piled up at the professor's feet), but it had all happened so fast, so random, so meaningless that it was not triumph or even relief that Dream felt when it was all over.

At first, she felt sadness for them. And then, she felt nothing.

Emptiness. The hardship in the town had drained out so much life, even the aggression and adrenaline-rush fighting were...unworthy, forgettable, and empty.

The professor was panting heavily, and just as quickly as things had started, they had finished. He glanced back--his eye branded with a blue bruise, his knuckles bleeding, and blood running down his nose--and caught Dream and Spirit's gaze. "I'm sorry," he said, although Dream could not imagine why he would apologize for what had just happened.

With no other way to answer, she said the first thing that came to mind. "Thank you," Dream whispered, which only got her a nod from the professor before he disappeared out of the tavern.

Again, it was empty.

Spirit stepped forward then, blood running down her forehead, "They say sometimes people were killed on the spot rather than taken. The towns people aren't speaking of it, but They know it, and even fear it." She explained, her voice back to its monotone state. It. The thing the people were speaking about; what they had been sure Dream and Spirit had been sent from.

"It's not the only thing he fears." Dream answered suddenly.

"The professor?"


"What did you read off of him, Dream?"

She turned to her friend and stared at the blood that ran down her forehead. As she was remained of the trickling down of tears from the cheeks of a shattered person, she reached forward and began wiping it away with the back of her hand, "Fear. Attention. Heart thumping, 'bout to burst. When he The..."

"Chains," they finished together. Spirit continued on, "But how would he-?"

"He doesn't. Speculation. The third bit. Whichever case, he's seen a sight like you before."

At this, Spirit turned to the bartender, whose angry gaze seemed to be the only thing he needed to push them out the door. "Who was he?"

He sighed heavily, "He teaches our small, godforsaken school here, since last year. That's all."

"Anything else?" Spirit asked.

"I'm not about to say another thing, doll face." The bartender growled, "Now get the hell out of this bar before you knock the teeth outta 'nother poor folk."

The brunette growled again through her teeth, reaching for the lose chain again and causing the man to freeze completely. His eyes widened for a moment, but Dream was already pulling out Spirit from the door. "Starting point or no, he would not have brought us to this place without some aid or another of a man unlike the rest," she told Spirit, nodding at the exit as she dragged her gently. "Let's go?"

Deciding not to argue, Spirit merely glanced at the bar, "Don't call me doll face," she said simply, turning away and stepping carefully over a pool of blood on the floor as she followed Dream out.

Dream skipped out from then, breaking into short jogs every couple of minutes or so as she looked around the town with determination. Spirit already knew what she was looking for, and a small school that taught the children privileged enough to have a few hours of schooling before returning to work could not be difficult to find. They followed the sound of children laughing and playing, a sound that seemed to become both louder and softer the closer they got. Then, hidden beside all the dreadful, decaying, brown buildings was a lonely academy, made of bricks and stones that seemed on the verge of collapsing. By the time Dream and Spirit had found it, the children were already being called inside, just as the workers on the outside were. Break time was over, time to return.

As more people passed them, a few more than before seemed to be glancing up at the two girls. Some seemed honestly curious. Others...apprehensive. Afraid.

"So much fear, Spirit," Dream whispered, leaning her head forward as a couple walked beside them and quickly huddled together, as if the girl was about to snatch one of them away, "So much terror fueled by the idea that it is needed more than anything to survive. The hardship brought forward because we can't detach ourselves from that fear."

Spirit pressed her lips together, "It keeps us alive."

"Not within ourselves. Dead inside."

"Well not everyone can have both of those, Dream," Spirit answered, "Sometimes we have to chose one or the other."

As the feet dragged on and the eyes dropped back to the ground, the people began disappearing inside closed doors while others dragged behind them heavy machinery or tools or sacks filled with grains or things worthy of transportation. It was all vague, unfamiliar, and Dream was hardly paying attention to it anymore. She was instead thinking of Spirit's words, reflecting upon them, and it didn't take long for her to glance back at the stone building and inscribe it in her memories. She would come back here with Spirit, at least just once.

1 comment:

  1. wtfisthisamazingness--

    Dude, the town is so creepy. I love it. And you described it so preeetily :D Spirit sounds like such a badass.



"Science and science fiction have done a kind of dance over the last century... The scientists make a finding. It inspires science fiction writers to write about it, and a host of young people read the science fiction and are excited, and inspired to become scientists...which they do, which then feeds again into another generation of science fiction and science..."
- Carl Sagan, in his message to future explorers of Mars.