With pain in your stomach, you're whipped awake to the middle of an amphitheatre.
Crowds cheer as an announcer, dressed as a jester, wheels around on a unicycle.
"Remember, folks, whoever wins this game will earn glory for all eternity!
The ones that don't... well, let's not say what happens to them. Place your bets now!"
What is this? you ask, trying to organize your thoughts. Who are these...
You turn to your left, and then to your right, noting contestants of all different shapes and sizes arranged in a circle here.
Prologue - Trimming the Fat
I. Nine Figures in a Place with No EscapeII. The Kingdom of Forgetting
"Many Champions will play, but only one will win!" the jester reminded the audience. "Let us introduce our players tonight."
"Please, withhold your applause until the end." The jester turned toward a sickly-looking man dressed in a white lab coat, looking thoroughly perplexed by his present situation. "This man is Dr. Lazarus, our First Champion! Lazarus is a doctor, but let's hope, in his best interest, that he had not taken the Hippocratic Oath."
Next was... "Second! We have Roxan, a soldier of Germanic origin. But how will she fight for her Reich now, what with no legs?"
"Our Third Champion is Alexander, whose brother died in the line of duty. Have pity on his poor man."
"Fourth! Franz von Salzburg— He is a proper aristocrat, isn't he?" Pieing his face, the jester continued, "Apparently he likes music! I wonder where that will get him." The crowd laughed. "Now that's the kind of music I like to hear!"
"The next Champion, Number Five on our list, is Captain Bradford. A salute, Captain Bradford? No? I think it's time you might start showing respect to the people in charge here.
"Mr. Bradford is a sailor! Aye, matey, I'd like to sail the Seven Seas myself." The crowd hooted. "Now, now, please wait until the end."
"Anastasia is the next on our list. Curtsey for us, will you, Anastasia? Our Number Six is a Russian beauty, straight from the Motherland! Did you know her father was a spy? I'd like to spy on her, if you know what I mean."
"Champion Number Seven, well... We have nothing in particular here. Miss Reynolds is a bureaucrat in a state treasury. Pretty average in terms of looks, not too high in the way of income, your mother would probably love her!" The crowd laughed again.
"Ahem," the jester coughed, clearing his throat. His tone suddenly flattened. "This is Champion Number Eight. Lisa? Or is it Laurie? Lauren is a... She is what you call a shut-in. Really, pretty pathetic... please have pity on her."
"And finally... We have Champion Number Nine! Siegfried Weisz is a normal high school student, or so it seems.
"I wonder what kinds of dark things are hidden in his past?"
"Applause for our contestants, please!"
The crowd roared into a frenzy of excitement. Each spectator was like a small cell in the vitriolic, spitting, writhing organism that was the audience.
"Let us explain the format of these Games. Each one of our Champions, Number One through Nine, will participate together in various competitions of skill, wit, strength, perseverance, and cunning! This is a battle royale— All alliances made will be ad hoc, knowing that only one may win!
"Our first order of business will be the bestowing of each Champion their tools with which they may achieve victory.
"We begin with Dr. Lazarus. Dr. Lazarus, if you will please receive your weapon?" The jester dropped down from his unicycle, imperatively clapped his hands, and stepped toward Lazarus. Armed guards restrained him and held out his hand. The jester quietly chanted something diabolical and a mark appeared on the back of Lazarus' left hand, a swirling of three mysterious symbols. The mark burned red, causing Lazarus to groan in pain, before it cooled and turned black.
This repeated for each of the contestants, about the same each time, though they became more prepared as time went on. In the case of Roxan, a peculiar thing occurred in which rough mechanical legs manifested in the place of her stumps, granting her the ability to stand and perhaps eventually walk. She may even have stood, with the prosthetics, slightly taller than before.
"Now that that is settled, we are on to our first game. This first game will not have any eliminations. If you can achieve its objective, you win, with no limit on the number of survivors— ahem, winners. All games afterward will result in the elimination of at least one player each round, until one remains. Is that clear?
"Our first game is simple— It is called 'Reach for the Stars!' Each one of you will have a star assigned to you, Number One through Number Nine. This star will appear somewhere on a map given to you, marked with an appropriate symbol. Your task is to find that star, retrieve it, and come back to the stadium within 24 hours. If you do not make it back within 24 hours, you lose. And if you do not find the star, you lose. Simple, isn't it?"
Paper scrolls were handed to each of the Champions by guards, who struggled to maintain some of the contestants.
Following this, each of them were picked up by large birds, black and silky in color and with deafening caws. These birds transported them to different corners of the land, dropping them in different, seeming random locations.III. Natural Philosophy
"What the hell is this?" Siegfried said to himself, clawing his way out of some bushes he was dropped in. Scratching the barbs out of his clothes, he turned toward the back of his hand. "I still don't understand..."
The other Champions had been dropped in various places, Lazarus in an Mideastern-esque city, Roxan in the adjoining desert, Axel in a grassy floodplain, Franz in a mountainous region dividing the two, Bradford at the coast of the city, Anastasia at the palace of a capital some ways away, Jenna at a rural farm, and Lauren at the edge of the forest.
"He said there was a map?"
Siegfried opened the scroll which he had almost forgotten he was clutching in his hand. It rolled out to reveal almost nothing, being completely tan-brown except for a blinking green marker here, and a blinking white marker there. "..."
Looking around him, he sighed, "I guess one of these must be where I am."
Lauren laid on the some soft grass for a few minutes. It was so comfortable and a nap sounded marvelous. As she was about to slip into a very welcome sleep she sat up. I was supposed to be doing something, right? Lauren stood up with a puzzled look on her face. She decided to look inside the forest that she was standing next to. I sure hope the walk isn't long, but it would suck if it gets hot. These skinny jeans would be dreadful in heat. And with that Lauren walked into the forest.
The forest was cooler than the sun-laden fields outside, bearing some blessed shade in this environment. For that, Lauren was thankful. The rattling of an occasional stream filled with pebbles and fish excepted, there were few sounds of creatures to be had here. It seemed desolate, yet foreboding. In the distance were what may have been footsteps, a regular pattern of leaves and plants being brushed audible...
Lauren heard what she thought were footsteps and she immediately ducked behind a tree. Her fear of people was increased tenfold by being alone in the woods. The regular noise of foliage being disturbed was enough to frighten her immensely. After about a minute, she was able to get up enough courage to get up from behind the tree. She yelled into the foliage, unsuccessfully trying to remain calm and commanding. "Who's there?"
Siegfried heard the voice from beyond, surprised by the sudden proximity of a human being. At least, he thought it was a human being... Siegfried stepped a little forward, trying to get a closer look. Snap. He broke a branch under his foot, revealing his position. Hastily he drew up the words, "It's me! Siegfried!" He hoped that he wouldn't be attacked and that this person would try to reason with him first.
Lauren gasped in relief. "Thank God. It's me, Lauren. From the arena thing." Lauren said as she moved towards Siegfried.
"Lauren?" Siegfried froze for a minute. He felt disembodied in his surprise. "Oh, thank God! It is so nice to see a normal face after this long while. I haven't..."
Siegfried tried to compose himself. "I mean, how are you?" Siegfried tried to forget the game and all that was happening for now and just try to be normal for a while.
"Okay I guess." Lauren said, shuffling her feet. "So, we had to do something right? I honestly completely forgot what it was." Lauren continued blushing.
Siegfried clenched his fists at his sides, wondering if someone could be trusted. "Yes, erm... We are supposed to find a star, or something... right?" He wiped the sweat off his brow, motioned with the scroll, began to say something, then stopped himself.
Lauren suddenly realized that she was carrying a map. She unrolled at and sighed in disappointment. "What the hell is this? There is just a green dot and a white dot." Lauren looked around and walked over to a tree. She looked down as she was walking and saw the green dot moving. "Wait, the green dot is me. That must mean that the white dot is our goal!" Lauren looked over at Siegfried. She blushed a little for yelling and probably acting like an idiot. "So I guess we should walk towards the white dot."
"White dot?" Siegfried rejoindered. "Eh, I can't see anything on that map. Could it be that...?" He promptly opened his map to test his hypothesis. "Lauren, do you see anything here? I mean, anything other than a roll of paper?" If not, he thought, we must only be able to read our own maps. Probably some safety measure against people stealing maps. Safety measure? Well, I don't know about safety... This game still seems pretty dangerous.
"No... So we can't see each other's map?" Lauren pondered how well thought out this whole thing seemed to be. Why is there all of these different measures and difficulties? "So maybe we should just walk to the dot and hope we are going the same way?"
"Sure," hesitated Siegfried. Being the gentleman as we was, he suggested, "Why don't we go to your dot first? I'm sure I'll have time to find mine and I wouldn't want a poor girl like you having to suffer a trek on my behalf."
"Um, thanks. Alright Siegfried follow me." Lauren then turned and walked in the direction of the white dot. "So I guess I would ask you questions or something. I'm not used to meeting new people honestly." Lauren finished, blushing yet again. Why do I keep on blushing? Just stop it!
Siegfried noticed Lauren's blushing and asked, "Are you feeling alright? Do you have a fever?" ...He soon chuckled. "I'm just kidding, I know this must be awkward for you, us being the only two out here for a miles maybe— I don't really know what to say, but you can trust me." He smiled with his eyes, scratching his head.
He waited for Lauren's response, trying to think of something to say about himself.
"Thanks Siegfried. No one is usually this nice to me." Lauren looked up at Siegfried and smiled. She then jumped forward and pulled Siegfried into a hug. After a few seconds she let go and turned around and started walking. "Well come on Siegfried, we don't have all day!"
Siegfried and Lauren drew closer to the city, following the paths of their maps. Siegfried felt strange receiving a spontaneous embrace at a time like this. Perhaps there was hope after all, he thought. Perhaps this is not so bad a place to be stuck in...IV. The Ones That Survive
Bradford stood up on the coast of a Middle Eastern looking city. His head was spinning as he tried to remember how he got there. He wasn’t hungover, or at least it didn’t feel like it. Sighing, Bradford reached for his flask and took a long drink of scotch. He had no control over where he was or what he was doing there, and that was a problem. In an effort to resolve the issue he looked at his map, but it did not look like anywhere he was familiar with. He resigned to simply look around at his surroundings.
Lazarus laid on the ground for minutes, his mind racing with the previous events, transpiring again and again, trying to make sense of it all. It was futile, nothing was logical, nothing was proper, nothing had justification. Between the apparent "game" he was a part of, the mark on his hand, and those accursed birds, one thing was clear. He must escape as soon as possible. Visibly shaking, Lazarus feebly stood, surveying the area.
Bradford found himself in a harbor of sorts, the wash of the sea a familiar sound to him, the bustle and greasiness of the traders at the coast even more familiar. Although there were many people, no one seemed to notice Bradford. There was a pub conveniently at the port, sure to be filled with rowdy sailors who would need to be kept in check every now and then by the police.
Lazarus had come to be in the streets of a crowded semi-arid city, its denizens mostly decked with turbans and headdresses, long airy robes of white to tan color flowing in the warm wind. A stand selling fruits lay across from Lazarus at at most twenty feet, but in between seemed an almost insurmountable torrent of people, a few women carrying pots on their heads. The men who appeared as a kind of police for the city, bearing red turbans and scimitars, turned a curious eye toward Lazarus.
Bradford spotted a pub near the dock and began walking towards it. If the jester was telling the truth about the twenty four hours he would need to hurry to find this star and the sailors present would likely be able to read the map and send him on his way. Bradford walked into the pub and conversation died down. These people are dressed up like they are from 11th century Arabia, what is it Halloween? And why are they all staring at me? Well I had better just deal with this as quickly as possible. Bradford walked up to a man who looked like he might be a sailor and asked if he could help him with the map so that he could get his bearings. He also asked if the sailor wouldn't mind buying a wary traveler a drink.
Lazarus grew nervous, witnessing the hordes of people milling about their daily business. Their attire was obviously from the Middle-East, but this knowledge gave him no comfort, for it gave no clear explanation of how he arrived, in what he could only assume was Arabia, and the fact of his apparent foreign look, which would lead to trouble. Backing away offered no relief, as the crowd engulfed him, swallowing him whole. It was too much. Lazarus could not handle this, his mind running faster than even he could comprehend. No sense. No sense. No sense. Lazarus became panicked, attempting to find a calm within the storm of people. What begins as shambling quickly turns into panicked haste, resulting in an overt and noticeable foreign entity in the crowd. Bumping into a red-turbaned swordsman, Lazarus collapsed onto the ground, coughing and breathing heavily.
The local sailor looked up and down at Bradford, as if to ask where he came from. Having encountered so many traders, however, he withheld the question and simply took himself to the map Bradford had produced. "What is this?" the sailor said. "There is nothing written on this map." The sailor turned it over, nodded, and closed it. "Is this a joke?"
Bradford took a drink from his flask. "No, it is not, I was left here by my caravan with just this map. I think the green marking is here and the white is where I need to go. I assumed it was local. If you cannot help me then I need to move on."
Lazarus jerked to his feet, lurching unsteadily after his breakdown. Avoiding eye-contact with the swordsman, Lazarus nodded in broken spirit.
"Please don't hurt me sir. I'm just an American who is lost." This came out as a whimper, as Lazarus meekly pleaded. Although the man knowing English was peculiar, there were about a thousand more pressing matters to worry over.
"I'm sorry," said the sailor, reexamining the map. "I am looking but I cannot make out anything. Perhaps it is my vision after these years. You will have to ask someone else. Please remember to abide by the laws of the kingdom." The other sailors in the pub had been staring at Bradford as if he was crazy.
The swordsman reached out to help Lazarus up, telling him, "Please, come with me if you are lost. We have a place for receiving foreigners." Lazarus agreed to follow this red-turbaned man, despite his suspicions. Following close behind, he began to calm himself and actually think. Map. I have a map. Checking his map produced an underwhelming feeling. All that was present consisted of two dots. Disappointed, Lazarus stashed it away within his lab coat. He didn't intend to play this "game" anyway, not while he could escape.
The red-turbaned policeman brought Lazarus to the port, where there was a customs area. Lazarus and the policeman walked past a pub where a foreign sailor had been raving. Nearby was the customs building, run by an admiral of the navy. Lazarus quickly gave thanks to the red-turbaned man, and entered what was described as "Customs" by the man. Rather confused, he approached the nearest person who looked knowledgeable, and repeated his American origin and requested help in going home.
The admiral received the strange-looking foreigner with some annoyance. "Cannot you at least present yourself properly? I swear, your people are becoming more and more rude and disorderly..." He snapped his fingers and an official brought a seat for the doctor. "Where do you come from? What is your business?"
Lazarus took a seat, and told the Admiral his name, home country of the United States, and a few meek apology for his state of appearance. He left out the rather insane parts, hoping to not alienate his ticket to escape.
Bradford grabbed his map and quickly left the pub, angry at the sailor who could not read a map and confused by the reaction from the patrons, surely they had seen foreigners before. When Bradford exited the pub he saw a large building on the docks that looked like it could be an Admiralty building, surely there would be someone there who could read the map and tell him the best way to get to the star. With that in mind he started off in its direction.
The admiral appeared perplexed, turning to think and stroking his beard. "United States? I have not heard of it. Is that somewhere in the West?" The admiral snapped his fingers, and inquired of a guard, "Do we have a United States?"
"United States? You have heard of it? Do we have other people here from this United States?"
"No, I, uh... I don't think... I will go check."
How incompetent, the admiral thought, trying to answer without even having a knowledge of it.
Just then someone else walked into the office, looking equally peculiar but at least having a seafaring outfit of some sort.
Lazarus was distressed to say the least. These people seemed too intelligent to be backwater tribesmen, but surely everyone knew of the United States. "Yes, it's in the West. In North America. It would be easy to spot on a map, if I could see one Sir." Lazarus paid no attention to the man entering, more pressing matters required his attention.
"A map? You would like a map?" The admiral stood up, walked to the wall behind his desk, and tapped it with a pointer. He handed the pointer to Lazarus, asking, "Where is your United States?"
The map appeared cartographically extensive, but it had no indication of a United States anywhere on it. Furthermore, none of the landmasses seemed familiar and seemed to fade into a swarming mass of yellows, browns, greens, and letters of various fonts incomprehensible to Lazarus.
"What....is this? This must be wrong, none of this is correct! Where is Europe, or Asia, or the United States!"
Lazarus is shaken, shambling over to the large map, searching for something, anything that could give him a clue of where he was at. Surely this was all a mistake, and this people were just ignorant of proper geography. Backwater savages that couldn't draw an actual map, so they resorted to scribbles. This must be the case.
The admiral tried to think of how to respond to this mad doctor. "Ahem, I apologize. You must be using terms unfamiliar to us. We would like to have a good knowledge of how foreigners speak, but we are not always the best at it. Do you not have any maps on you? What is that you are carrying?" The admiral was speaking of the map that Lazarus still possessed, which had been given to him by the people at the arena.
Captain Bradford walked into the office and saw a man who looked like he could an admiral. Brushing past a small man who looked to be on the edge of a breakdown, he asked the admiral if he could help him with his map.
Lazarus edged away, behind the huge man now talking to the Admiral. This was madness, nothing made sense. Opening his map, he stared at the two dots helplessly. What do they mean? Why do they even matter? They don't. Escape is what matters. Sitting back down, Lazarus laid his face in his hands, and thought.
The admiral looked at Captain Bradford, who seemed rather drunk, sneered, and opened the map. Staring for a while, he declared, "Why, there isn't anything in here. Are you meaning to say that I should draw a map for you, or what is it you're asking?"
Bradford looked at the "map" more closely and saw that he didn't have anything other than the two dots. Turning away from the Admiral with a small salute, Bradford looked at the small man next to him. "Didn't I see you at the place with the jester? Do you have a map? Let me see it."
Lazarus looked up at the burly man, towering above him. Jester? Map? How does he know these things? They weren't real...were they? "Um, uh...Yes here." Lazarus handed the map over.
Bradford takes the map and studies it for a moment. "Huh, this looks like gibberish to me. Well, I assume you have a star to look for as well, do you want to head out together? It is probably best that we work together in this strange country." Bradford hands the map back to Lazarus.
Lazarus was surprised by the man's question. He pondered for a time. Do I trust this man? No. Does he have use? Perhaps. He seems brutish and strong. I can work with that. I must be careful. "That seems the logical choice, given the poor transportation here. Where shall we go?"
Bradford was pleased, it would be less suspicious to be a pair of foreigners versus just one.
"Well it seems that we cannot read each others maps, but I would say that we head for our stars. The green dot seems to be me and will move as I do, like GPS. So I think we should just follow the map and try to get to our stars before the 24 hours is up. We can split up when we need to, but it is probably the same general direction. Sound good?"
"So it seems, but do you truly believe these "stars" will grant us freedom? I don't know if I trust...whatever it was we saw back there."
Lazarus stared at his map sadly.
Bradford ruled his eyes and sighed, annoyed by the doctor's indecision.
"Do you think it will make it any worse? Well, make a decision, I don't intend to stay here all day and lose my chance at getting out of this place. At least let's start walking and see if we are headed in the same direction."
The man spoke some degree of sense. Waiting wouldn't help. "Fine, let's be hasty about it. We have to leave, and soon."
Bradford was happy to hear the small man becoming motivated.
I wonder what his deal is? It seems weird that a small little doctor would be here. Didn't the Jester call it a tournament?
"Brilliant, lets head off then. I am Captain Bradford if you didn't hear earlier." Bradford took another drink of scotch and started walking out of the building, not waiting to make sure Lazarus was following.
Lazarus scurries along, sticking close to this Bradford man.
"I am...Doctor Lazarus. Is this the appropriate time for alcohol Captain? According to that...jester fellow, we need ourselves at full capacity to "win", whatever that means..."
Bradford gives a hearty chuckle and looks over his shoulder.
"Surely you know you own name my boy, have some more conviction when you speak. As far as my scotch, I will be fine doctor, I have been drinking for years, it calms the nerves in these times of stress. Plus, we have 24 hours, and all we have to do is trek to these stars, there is nothing to worry about."
"I wouldn't be so sure Captain. Whoever is forcing us into this must be apart of some sick criminal organization. How else could they have drugged us and transported us to this wasteland? I can't even....remember that far back, just that jester..."
Lazarus struggled to access his memory, and failed.
What is this kid paranoid or something? Why does he think we would be captured by some evil organization? I mean I can't remember what happened before that Jester showed up, but something seems to be wrong with the doctor. Maybe I should try to find out what.
"Meh, maybe that's the case but I doubt it, I'm certainly not important enough to get taken by some organization, and why drop us in a desert anyway. How about you, what's your story?"
"What explanation do you have Captain, if you doubt mine? Whatever is going on, it's not something to ignore."
Lazarus ponders Bradford's last question.
"I'm a surgeon."
Bradford thought for a second, honestly he didn't know why.
"Doctor, I don't think I have an explanation for you or myself. I only know that we have to find these stars if we want to get out of here. As you can probably tell by my title I am a captain of a cargo ship, why would an evil organization want me? And how are we connected that they would want both of us? But it doesn't really matter, I will jump through their hoops if it gets me home sooner."
"I don't claim to know why, but I know that this is no jovial affair. I just fear what lies beyond, after these "hoops."
Lazarus grew silent.
"Fair enough doctor. Well we should hurry to get to these stars at any rate. Whether you believe that getting the stars will be a good thing or not, I don't want to find out what happens if we don't get them in 24 hours."
Bradford reached for his flask, but thought better of it. Maybe the doctor was right, or maybe they would be stuck in this place for a long time.
Bradford and Lazarus arrived outside a university. Bradford craned his neck, it didn't look anything like the one he had attended, but it still brought back memories of studying astronomy and playing sports, but also the pressure from his parents to end up at a place like this. Maybe if he had listened to them he wouldn't be in this situation now.
"Well it looks like this is my stop, I hope I see you again doctor."
"Wait, this is where my map says my star is also."
Lazarus stared at the building, recognizing it as a center of learning quite quickly.
"It seems we shall be companions for a bit longer then."
Edging his way forward, Lazarus crept closer to the main entrance doors. He signaled for Bradford, hoping he would go first.
Bradford could see that the Lazarus had no intention of entering first.
"After you Doctor ... Oh, lighten up, I was only joking. Let's go then."
With that Bradford walked up to the door and opened it.
"Good day, gentlemen," sounded the husky voice of an old but rugged professor. "Would you be traveling from abroad to view our facilities? Or perhaps you are foreign scholars?" The professor wore primitive glasses, perched to his nose with dark, solid rims. There was a hairiness about his arms that was unsettling, and his turban was stained as if it had been in the presence of smoke for a long while.
Bradford walked up to the man, electing to speak first. For some reason he doubted the doctor would want to.
"Hello sir, my colleague and I have come from far away to view your facilities. We have heard that they are some of the most extensive in the world and wish to view them if possible."
Lazarus decided to back up Bradford's bluff. Somehow, he figured, Bradford's appearance wouldn't be enough to fool this man.
"Indeed. I am Doctor Lazarus, specializing in anatomical surgery. We wish to, uh, tour your facility and all it's splendor."
Lazarus learned quickly how to sate those who saw themselves as geniuses, all thanks to medical academy and it's elitist teachers.
"Ah, we do indulge the appetites of all those that desire knowledge. Our universities, as you may know, are among the highest peaks of wisdom in the world. Please, allow me to give you a tour of the facilities. Or, if there is anything specific you are inquiring of, advise, my most gracious guests."
Bradford figured that a tour would be best, it isn't like they knew where to look, the map wasn't detailed enough at this point.
"Indeed sir, stories of your universities are told all throughout. Clearly they are of high quality, and I believe we would like to see as much as possible before settling down to our disciplines. A tour would be greatly appreciated."
Lazarus nods, echoing Bradford's approval. As they follow the professor, he glances at his map from time to time.
"Ahem, well," the professor prodded, "given that this is the academy by which most of our naval officers graduate, would you care to view the observatory? Our astronomical documentations are extensive, thanks to the inventions of a grand sort from the east and our own most ingenious inventions."
Bradford had always loved astronomy when he was in university. As much as he knew he had to find the star, the topic interested him too much, and he was curious where this civilization was, scientifically. He followed the doctor's lead and started playing to the professor's ego.
"That sounds great sir, I would love a chance to view the observatory, I study astronomy myself, but I am sure there is much to learn in your wonderful universities. I can only imagine the innovation and knowledge available here."
Whilst Lazarus was no fan of stars and what-have-you, he wouldn't make a scene on the matter.
"Indeed, I cannot wait."
The professor was showing the two men of seeming opposites, Lazarus and Bradford, to the observatory. "You will see, gentlemen," he said while opening the door, "That our calculations are both extensive and thoroughly reviewed." Thousands of small papers decked the walls, pinned with all manner of diagrams geometrical and logistical. There, in the midst of it all, stood a large telescope facing outward into the sky, and a parabolic window with which one could view the university and the surrounding gardens. There was too, a glimmering little object, one placed non-descriptly on a shelf of tomes ancient and modern— What appeared to be a scales of some kind...
What is this? This feeling tugging at me. It doesn't make any sense, what is this?
Bradford walked in the direction that the force was pulling him, pretending to admire the tomes and maps, until it led to a shelf full of books from all ages. Looking, he saw a small shinning object, the thing that was pulling him. It was a scale, not exactly what he expected, but he picked it up.
Lazarus watched Bradford stroll away, wondering just what he intended to do. Watching him steal something off a shelf, Lazarus distanced himself a bit further away, ready to run if needed.
This fool is going to get us killed!
"Ah, Sir!" the professor interjected toward Bradford. "If you are intrigued by any of our studies, we can promptly produce a copy for your taking to your homeland, or if you would like a souvenir of some kind...?"
Well, it has worked so far, I guess I'll just keep playing to his ego, he seems nice enough.
"You do me a great deal of honor sir. If it is not to much trouble perhaps I could take this scale for when I return home. It is certainly a simple tool, but it is wonderfully crafted and something about it just calls to me. Truly this must be one of the best universities in existence."
Bradford looked over to see Lazarus, clearly relieved, inching a little farther away from the door which he had been ready to bolt out of only moments before.
Lazarus visibly calmed down, faking a quick smile to the Professor.
What's Bradford doing? Why is he grabbing that?
"Yes, a souvenir, quite astonishing work in here I must say.
The professor happily allowed the sailor to take the scale, almost prodded him to, hoping it would serve as some sort of advertisement for the school. As Bradford lay his hands on the item, the object began to glow, or so it seemed to him. A feeling, almost as though a humming, came from Bradford's map, as though something were happening...
Hearing a strange humming sound from his map, Bradford quickly excused himself from the room, leaving Lazarus with the professor. Once he was out of the room he opened his map and looked at it.
It became apparent to Bradford that his map had changed. The green and white markers had combined presently, and a new blue one had appeared somewhere else. It was no wonder that this was his new destination. Bradford had not told anyone yet that his "star" had been found, however...
Bradford returned to the room where Lazarus and the professor where talking.
"I am sorry gentlemen, I felt lightheaded for a moment there, but I am better now. Perhaps we can continue our tour, I am sure the doctor here would be interested in seeing the universities medical facilities or libraries."
Lazarus gave the Captain a peculiar look.
What is his deal?
"Yes, let us continue this tour good sir."
As the professor led Bradford and Lazarus through the university grounds Bradford urged Lazarus to fall back a little bit.
"This scale is my star! I felt it pulling me when we got close, so be on the lookout for something similar yourself. We have to go somewhere else once we get our stars, but I didn't intend to leave you here alone."
Lazarus stared at the scale.
THIS was the star? It certainly is NOT a star. The oddness continues.
He whispered back, "Fine, let's make this quick."
Similar to myself?
"Perhaps we can see something, uh, surgical goo sir?"
"Ah! You must be interested in our research in medicine and human physiology. Straight away, my dear sirs." The professor guided Lazarus and Bradford to the medical department of the university. Here there were models of all different parts of the human body, peculiar vials and flasks, and shelves of literature. "As you can see, we have done much work in the field of medicine and the science of the human form. It is both beautiful and fascinating to examine, don't you think?"
A vibrating sensation came to Lazarus when they entered the room.
As the doctor carried himself in the chamber of the university pertaining to medicine and the human body, a most unusual thing presented itself to him: A small flask perched on a high desk, colored all dark, on which a gold-colored wreath was wrapped around, and on which a label was imprinted with the title: "Elixir of Life."
Lazarus stared at the bottle.
Must be some form of tribal hoodoo. Probably crunched up grass soaked in dirty water...but still. It seems so...interesting.
Lazarus ponders over this odd feeling of reverence for the bottle. Despite his best attempts to ignore it, eventually his will collapses and he grabs it for a closer inspection.
Ah, that bottle must be his "star". Did I look that foolish when I felt the stars pull? Probably.
Bradford started chuckling to himself.
As Lazarus picked up the bottle, it began to glow with new color. It was as if was alone painted with meaning where everything else was dull.
Simultaneously, Lazarus' map began to vibrate, and illustrated a new location with a red dot on the elegantly simple map. This could mean only one thing.
And both of them, both Lazarus and Bradford, had achieved their goals. Now, where would they go?
And would they stay friends?
The professor laughed as well. "I see you have some interest in that old thing!" With a cloth from his robes, he wiped his greasy forehead. "Please, I assure you that it is not the elixir of legend. That is merely a curio produced as a means of motivation for our doctors. The ability to cure all disease and prolong human life is the goal of our physicians, after all."
Lazarus gives an attempt at feigning enthusiasm at the professor, to wrapped up in the elixir's effect to do so well.
Is this my...star? It's so magnificent.
Able to pull himself together for the time-being, Lazarus inquired if he himself could be granted a souvenir in memory of this grand tour. A quick look is flashed to Bradford, confirming the object's stardom.
"You'd like to bring that home as well? Feel free," the man said, shrugging. "We'll just have it replaced next week, most likely."
And so the two competitors had received their prizes at last. Now, it was only a matter of returning to the place they had been sent off from, and they would have their reprieve.
Or perhaps they could stay a little longer? It might be interesting, after all, to explore this foreign city.
With Lazarus having found his star Bradford was ready to move on and figured the best way to do it was to continue flattery.
"Thank you for your hospitality, but we actually must be off for the day. Would you mind if we return to study in more detail tomorrow? This is a truly impressive university."
Bradford drew his flask and took a quick swig before turning back to the professor and Lazarus.
"Yes, yes, that would be most excellent. You must be fatigued after your long journey from abroad, as I am sure you are not from anywhere around these parts. Feel free to explore our various inns and have a good rest, my men. I am most happy that we have been fortuned to meet with such enthusiastic visitors. If perhaps we could discuss pursuing relations with your home nation, for a funding of their own sciences?"
Lazarus nods in agreement to Bradford.
"Yes, my, uh, colleague is correct, truly splendid. I would be loathe to spend the entire day here and forget all these wonders, when I can rest for the day and write down my thoughts."
The fool is drinking again.
"Indeed professor, while I can only speak for our astrologers and the like myself, I believe that every scientist in my nation would kill for just a day here. When return tomorrow we can begin discussing that. For now we will take our leave though. Come doctor, we must be off."
Bradford nodded to the professor and walked, somewhat unsteadily, out of the room.V. The Court of the Gray
Jenna woke up, she was lying in some farm somewhere. She got up, and as she did, a parchment fell out of her pocket. Opening it, it revealed a map. After examining the map, she looked around. Jenna, completely confused, decided that she needed to figure out where she was, and as such walked up, and knocked on the door of the hut. The crudely-constructed door of the hut opened to a man wearing a long beard and a leather cap. He motioned for his wife to come over. He rasped in a rough Syriac voice, "Yes? Who are you?" The man stood in the doorway, thinking her a foreign traveller.
"Um, Mister, can you tell me where I am?" Jenna inquired. She figured she must be in some Middle Eastern country. It better not be Iran. My boss would fire me if I went there...
The man in the hut answered the woman, "You are in Ci... you are the Kingdom of Barzakh. Where do you come from?" The man moved aside to suggest she come in.
Jenna stepped in, "Thank you for answering my question. I am from the United States. May I ask you, where is this Kingdom located? I have never heard of it."
The peasant family had Jenna sit at their table, a low-lying wooden plank covered with a thin leather skin and dried, woven grass. "United States? We are not familiar. Barzakh is my home country, but I am not good with the geographies. So I am sorry that I cannot help you with where you are going. You may stay here for the time being." The mother in the house stared silently, tending to a baby.
Jenna replied, "The United States is a powerful Republic. I actually work for the government! I work for the Treasury Department. If you would be so kind, can you give me a change of clothes, and can you tell me where I can find the nearest settlement?"
"If you do not have clothes," the farmer agreed, "we will be happy to offer some for you." The farmer and his wife grabbed from their storage a tunic and long skirt, as well as a matching tie-cap. "Please, cover your head. We will give you directions to the nearest city. You can change outside."
"Thank you so much. I really appreciate it."
Jenna went outside and changed. She then came back in for directions.
"You may leave your old clothes with us, if you so desire." The farmer discussed with his wife the directions to the nearest city, then returned to Jenna. "You will follow the stream seaward all the way for some miles. The large stream we mean. It will be near the house. You should not miss it."
"Why do we not just show her?" the woman of the house said.
"Ay-yah! She can find it on her own. We cannot be travelling all out of our way to help every barbarian."
"We should help her still..."
The farmer turned to Jenna. "You should be fine? Good?"
Taken a bit aback by the Farmer's abruptness, she said, "Of course. I am sure I will be fine."
She then left the house, and began fallowing the stream towards the city.
Sarumani stretched out his arms onto his back
"Um... This,.... This must be it..? The map..."
He reads the 2 dots, the bright verdant one and the blank white seemed so close as to what they were not so long ago... or where they? He had no idea.
Jenna continued along the path of the stream, getting closer to the city.
He craned his head to look at the girl
"Is.. Um... Yo-ou.." He poked her arm "Is this it..?"
"Um, I believe so... Oh, what is your name, mine is Jenna"
She is asking my name?! she is asking my name. play it cool takashi, just... act natural.
Sarunami places his hand against a non-existant wall to lean on, a trick he learned during early-school.
"Jenna..? Thats weird. I mean cool bro!" Takashi didnt want to stick out again, american boarding school had been the worst years of his life. But he did learn some tricks, he hoped.
"I'm Taka-I mean.. Axel! Yea, thats my... name... heh, yeah Axel..." Takashi smiled timidly
"That's an interesting name. Hey, we should work together to find this star!"
"huh.. So.. it was you? I saw you, and some others... They must be off somewhere."
Takashi forgot he was talking to someone and stared at her, then to the ground, then looked at her to see if she was looking then stared frontwards and started walking forward
"Excellent, lets head into the city!"
"That's what I'm doing... Do you have any idea.. what we are searching for?"
Takashi looks around and notices how awkward he must look in bright red MQronalds uniform
"Where did you get those clothes?! I didn't get any clothes..."
"Oh, some nice people at a farmhouse gave them to me!"
Takashi paled all over. he had heard the news. About the wars, he didnt pay attention but he knew something from the news and his friends: Something something oppression
He edged closer to her
"I read about these types of societys.... Let me handle this! They will respect me more, and probably wont rape me if Im alone."
"Nonsense, I a member of the US Treasury Department. Stay with me and we should be fine."
"Nonsense?! They hate Americans! Just say you are Japanese like me, and we are seeking.. An airport, for transportation. There we can depart, and-"
then it struck him
"Craaaap... Those stars! Well, I guess that plan is out. But, still. We need to have a convicible story as to why we are here!"
"Axel, we should be find. We will find you some clothes, then we can keep our heads down."
"I can't wear those clothes! Im not a barbarian!"
Then takashi looked down at his own assortment, and thought how stupid he was for thinking about his station. he was just a painter, not a famous one!
"Fine... but... What do we do... If you know, we find some of those others..? What if we are looking for the same stars and they are all in the same place?"
"That would be marvelous. Regardless, we need to work together. Safety in numbers?"
"A-are you saying...suggesting... we combine all-together? I don't know, that seems.. What if they try to kill us?! I've seen those survivor shows I know what goes down!"
"Hm, well, we can't plan for everything. I don't like that. Regardless, lets get you some clothes, them we can find our stars."
She's nice. too nice. Then takashi looked at her eyes, and wondered what her face would look like prettier, then he started thinking about her... and what she would look naked. oh no! Not this again! thought takashi, he tried think of something else as his blush crept his neck
"Let us depart!" With that they entered the city
Jenna, Axel, Siegfried, and Lauren had all arrived in the city at this point, and out of coincidence found themselves in the same square at the Eastern end of town. A statue was found here, the visage of a proud but decayed-by-elements warrior shining triumphantly over a lemon vendor, the posterior of the stone mount covered in bird feces.
"Praise be to He above on this wonderful day," a milky-eyed seller said as a requisite prefix to his advertisement: "Why not bring home a treat to your family?"
"And here we have," explained a tour guide to foreign visitors, "the most magnificent statue of a national hero of ours..."
"What in the world is going on here?!" a working-man demanded. "Yesterday the price was twenty under that! This is a scam, right thievery I tell you!"
"Please sir, there are other customers waiting. If you'd please..."
A medley of shadows played on the floor of the city, people's sandals brushing the fine coat of sand on the tiles of the marketplace and forming little patterns lasting but a few seconds which could possibly form some piece of art if only the people would look at it but they had no time to—
"Ho!" Siegfried shouted, stepping into the bustling quarter.
"So what do we do now Siegfried?" Lauren asked while looking around nervously. She hated being around so much people and the amount of action was becoming unbearable. She finally looked down at her feet and played with her hair while waiting for Siegfried to answer her.
Takashi scanned the square looking at each of the faces. After he saw lauren and Siegfried his face went pale and he tried to hide his own face
he poked her.
he couldnt wretch out the remaining words and simply pointed at them then ducked his hand away
"We should go talk to them. We might be able to work together."
"But, what if they... Don't want to work with us? We could follow them... Maybe their maps say more then ours do."
"Nonsense, I bet they are perfectly nice people. Come on!" Jenna walks over to the other two.
"Uh, fine.. If we die though, I will blame this on you."
Takashi follows closely behind her, almost hiding behind her frame
Siegfried quickly grabbed Lauren's arm and moved to the side of a building, stepping to a fruit and grain shop.
Shit, he thought.
"Psst... Jenna.. They have moved into a shop, if we follow them they will know we are following them! What if we cause a scene?! Do you know what muslims to do prisoners?! They torture them!!"
Takashi kept following her even though his objections, not wanting to be alone.
Jenna steps into the shop and says, "hi"
Wait, why is he pulling me? Lauren thought as she was dragged into the shop by Siegfried. He shushed her when she tried to ask him that very question. It was just then that Jenna stepped into the shop and said, "hi."
"Um, hello." Lauren said staring straight at the ground. She leaned over to Siegfried and whispered into his ear, "What are we going to do? They might not be friendly."
Takashi tried to tell something to jenna
"The-there's a girl!... And that guy... What if they attack us? We don't have anything to defend ourselves.."
Siegfried, hushing Lauren again, and with her dashed outside, spying an empty region between the walking people and quickly maneuvering across to the other side. He urged Lauren to come with him up a ladder at the side of a housing complex.
Meanwhile, in the market where they had just left, Jenna and Takashi were still looking for the two, having heard a voice. It was as if they had turned invisible.
"Jenna, Um. There isn't anyone here. Besides... The natives."
Takashi half-waves at them as he looks around the shop
"Maybe they're hiding because they know we were following them?"
He then begins to look all around the store
"This makes no since. I heard voices..." Jenna's voice trails off as she looks around.
Lauren climbs up the ladder after Siegfried quickly. They didn't see us. How did they not see us?
"Jenna, we don't really have time for this. Obviously they were some kind of trick, if we stay here too long we might catch up with something we would rather not.... I say we just follow our maps. I know which direction mine is after walking so long."
Takashi nervously looks around and the staring eyes, knowing that if they do something to attract attention, they might end up in some type of Authority station for questioning.
"That was the weirdest thing ever... Lets go" Jenna turned to leave the store.
Siegfried turned to Lauren, and declared very seriously, "We have to find your star immediately."
He understood the situation well and would take no risks in dealing with anyone, intent on completing the objectives as outlined as quickly as possible.
It wasn't clear what gave Siegfried this demonstratedly high motivation. Perhaps he was simply adapting to the situation and acting intelligently based on what he knew about how the game worked, with recognition of the power of the authorities that existed.
"Do you have any idea what direction it's in?"
Takashi followed Jenna out of the door, making sure to keep her closer than usual.
Lauren looked at her map and figured out the general direction of the dot. "It looks like it is that way." Lauren pointed to the center of the city. "Wait, let me try to measure how far away it is."
Lauren tried to estimate the distance to the best of her abilities. "I think that it is close to that big doomed building." Lauren put her map away. "So are we going to head that way?"
"That seems to be the best course of action," Sieg agreed. "It looks like we could reach there in 15 minutes if we take the main roads. Keep in mind the layout of the streets that you can see now. Come, let's hurry."
Sieg found another ladder on the opposite side of the building from which they climbed it, motioned to Lauren, and began climbing down. I hope she doesn't fall...
It was clear that Siegfried has some of the best abilities in this game, taking care against potential dangers and navigating ably. He didn't look the part of a great fighter or intellectual, but clearly he had a way of figuring out how things worked and how to accomplish tasks effectively.
Jenna pulled out her map and looked at it. The dot appeared to be in the direction of the port.
Turning to Takashi, she said, "my dot seems to be that way. Want to go get it first?"
"Uh.. Sure! It's not like I have anything better to do, and I did agree to help you. Let's hope it doesn't take too much time."
With that the two head toward the dot on the map.VI. An Overman
Anastasia pulled her self up, opening her map, she mused at it, wondering its meaning. She then looked around the palace around her. The palace was filled with an Oriental grandeur, stacked with teardrop-like domes and minarets, painted in marble whites and gilded gracefully. The stately abode was surely that of a prince, if not a king. A garden adjoined the main walls of the palace, and it was here that Anastasia was dropped. There were guards present, though none in Anastasia's exact location, as it was not every day that someone came falling from the sky. The palace guards numbered around ten, each armed with a ceremonial spear. They did not appear to notice Anastasia, who was out of their line of sight. Anastasia took stock of what was around her. She was hidden, but surrounded by guards. She was in a fancy, Arabian style palace. She first thought she must be in Saudi Arabia, but that didn't make since. She was last in Russia. She decided that this was some kind of hypnosis dream that either the FSB, or Americans were testing on her. Well, she would play their sick game.
What would father do? He would try to blend in of course.
With that in mind, she began looking for a way to sneak past the guards so she could find some clothes. A T-shirt and jeans wouldn't cut it in Arabia...
A prince was walking in the garden when he came upon the Russian girl lain disheveled in the bushes. "Ach! What is this?" He appeared more worried than frightened. "Guards!"
Anastasia, shocked by the sudden appearance of the Prince did the first thing that came to mind... she stood up and curtsied. "My Lord, I am sorry for startling you. I am afraid I am lost. I was hiding so that no one would make fun of me while I was lost. I am very, very sorry my lord."
The prince looked about, thinking he saw some dark-colored animal near the palace. "It is nothing," he said to Anastasia. "Please, are you in need of anything?" The guards had approached by then, the prince whispering something to them. A guard started, but quieted himself.
"My Lord, if you would be so kind, would help my find my way? Also, may I have a fresh change of clothes? I would be most appreciative. This is if it is no trouble for you, My Lord."
She did another curtsy.
The prince declared, "Change of plans! We will be receiving in this interesting foreigner in our palace!"
"But my lord," a guard objected.
"Please, it is ever so boring always to have the same faces. Let us bring this gracious lady in to our court." He turned back to Anastasia, almost forgetting to ask her take on that. "Is that fine with you?"
The guards squinted with disdain, thinking she may have been some kind of spy sent from the west. Perhaps there was some army coming soon by ship?
"O, of course my Lord! I am extremely humbled by your hospitality!"
Anastasia, to no ones surprise, did another curtsy.
I don't trust this man, but he is a prince. He might be useful. Regardless, I must keep a close eye on him.
The Prince and his guards escorted Anastasia into the royal palace. They passed through the atrium, the central halls, and one of the wings before arriving in a dining hall. "Please, be seated," the prince implored as he slid back an ornate chair for his guest.
There were high vaults in the chamber, from which hung crystal chandeliers. The stonework was magnificent, giving the impression of cultured antiquity.
Anastasia sat and said, "Thank you My Lord. I must say, this Palace is gorgeous. Can you tell me anything about it?"
Anastasia, while marveled by everything was still thinking clearly. Although the Prince was very attractive.
The prince happily replied, "Yes, I can tell you everything about it. But please, have something to eat first." He whispered something to a guard, who promptly ran to the royal kitchen. "You will be waited on shortly. May I suggest the roast lamb?"
The prince appeared to be receiving Anastasia very well despite her appearance being so unusual and so sudden.
Anastasia replied, "That is most wonderful My Lord. May I ask who this wonderful Palace belongs to? Also, My Lord, would you be so kind as to tell my your name? I feel hearing me say My Lord must get a little tiresome."
I need to get information out of him, and get out of here. Then again, if I could get into the machinations of this Kingdom, I might be able to find the star quicker. This Prince must be the key to that. I shall stay for this dinner at least.
"My dear lady," the prince began, "this palace belongs to my father, the King of Barzakh. His Majesty is the lord of a great kingdom possessed of beauteous mountains, lush green plains, and happy people. The land is an ancient one, whose history dates back to... my, I am getting ahead of myself, aren't I? Ahem, may I introduce myself as Prince Aali. I am the fourth son of my father and the chief portrait-maker of the court. And would you be so kind as to give me your name?"
"I am Anastasia Alexandrovna Vetrov, My Prince. My father was a sp, special consultant for my government."
[I]Gah, I reviled to much. He will probably ask me where I am from. What do I do then?
"A special consultant for his government? How intriguing. Where do you hail from, if you do not mind me asking?"
Presently a servant arrived, carrying a platter of salads, hummus, and pickled vegetables to the table. Leaving the appetizers, he intoned rather formally, "What would please my lady to dine upon this fine day?"
"What ever you feel is best! I am not sure what is the best food here is, My Lord."
Must avoid the origin question...
"Well, let us hold off on the food question for write now. These little snacks should suffice while we chat." Just then the servant returned with some ice-filled glasses, into which he poured a thin, milky drink. "Please, would you like some arak? And how, heavens, did you get here?"
"My Lord, araraka, sounds lovely. Also, the story of me getting here is quite mundane, nothing so fancy as falling out of the sky!"
I hope he buys this. Anastasia thought desperately. He could have me killed!
"Mundane?" The prince laughed. "Mundane, my lady, nothing is mundane to me. Oh how I love to hear all sorts of stories from travellers o' the land beyond. Would you endeavor to give me at least a tidbit of your tale?"
As the prince and Anastasia continued to converse, more and more empty glasses appeared on the table. My word, the prince thought, I've never seen anyone able to drink this much in such a short time, much less a young girl like this! Still, it seems her face is beginning to redden...
In her origin story, Anastasia recounted many feats she had performed, including beating back a Mongol army and personally killing twenty soldiers with her bare hands. She further explained her feud with Stalin, who she had clashed swords with before stabbing in the head and disrupting his mental machinery. "How fascinating," the prince indulged her, knowing that while these stories were most likely fictitious they were certainly entertaining. "My, it is getting late. Have you any place to retire?"
"No, mmy lord. I don't have anywhere to stay..." Anastasia replied, clearly quite drunk.
"Fortunately we have a guests' chamber here. Would you like me to guide you to it?" The prince re-examined her. "Or do you need... further assistance?"
Anastasia steps just slightly closer, just close enough to make the movement obvious, but not enough to be threatening, "Any assistance you may offer is wonderful my lord. I am afraid I might not like your guest chamber. Is their anywhere else you can assist me in finding?"
"Are you sure, dear lady? You will find it is quite luxuriously decked, with many servants to wait on you if you so need. Of course, I could not deny you being able to rest in my own chamber. Then I would be happy to use the guest room, of course..."
Hm, clearly this Prince is dense...I need to be a bit more forceful.
"My Lord, I was more wondering if the two of us should spend the night together in the same room? I may need watching."
I hope that gets threw to him
"Need watching? Well, it would be extra work for me to stay up tonight, but I'd be happy to entreat you given that you are such an interesting person. We can converse further tomorrow when you are more lucid. Please, this-a-way to my chambers." The prince stood up and waved her towards the adjoining halls.
Oh, my god this Prince is dense! What will it take! A frustrated, and still very drunk Anastasia thought. She fallowed him into his room.
"Here we are," the prince exclaimed, presenting the elegant chamber. "After you." Here there was a magnificent rotunda, painting with what seems to be a divine detail. Then, below it lay a canopy bed, covered in a translucent purple screen and projected upward with a jeweled tower. A chest here, and there, and there was a desk at which he probably kept his personal effects. It seemed really a room suited for a prince, and Anastasia was in it.
As soon as the door was closed, and the Prince and Anastasia were alone, she turned around an kissed him. After she a few seconds she pulled back and said, "O, I am so, sorry. I am so sorry my lord."
The prince, having received an unexpected kiss, blushed profusely and stepped away, almost collapsing but steadying himself and sitting on his bed a few feet away from Anastasia. "I, ahem, I've never received such affection before from a woman. Save, of course, for the ones of the court my father appointed to wait on me, but I have never had any interest in them..."
"I am sorry I startled you my Lord. I just find you to be a very kind, and sweet man. You are also very attractive. I can go if you want."
I wonder if he will take this, the still drunk Russian thought.
"No, please, please stay. And, uh, make yourself comfortable if you like," the prince stuttered. He had begun to lighten his noble robes into more casual wear.
"My Lord, perhaps it would be an interesting experience if the two of us spent the night together?"
If he doesn't get this, he is the most dense person ever!
"That would be interesting..." the prince affirmed, still unprepared for what was about to happen...
Jenna and "Axel," as well as Lauren and Siegfried, were quickly approaching the city. Its southern temple's minaret penetrated the fair sky, its university was adorned with enormous domes, noise of human activity exhuded from everywhere, and caravans oversaw the flow of richest goods...
"OKHUYENNO! That was, amazing!" Anastasia was a little out of breath. "That was one of the best experiences I ever had."
If only father could see me seducing princes! Father...is dead...I am alone in this place... With that, tears began to role down the young Russian's face.
"Please hold me."
The prince had fallen asleep next to Anastasia and she was now away from anyone she really knew, naked, with the promise that she would likely die in a few hours. But she remembered there was something with a map, and it felt as though she should be going somewhere...
Anastasia could feel her knowledge slipping back. She also knew she needed to more fast. Sliding over, she reached over the bed and fished out her map from her pants on the floor.
The red dot seems to be close to me. I need to move.
She then turned and tried to wake up the prince.
"Huh? What? What is it? Queen?" the prince drowsily mumbled, waking slowly with eyes still half-closed.
The dot indeed seemed close to Anastasia. If only she could get some closer look at the rooms of the palace.
"Whatever do you need? Please, excuse my appearance. I am at your service."
Sighing, Anastasia rapped herself in a loose sheet. She then knocked on the inside of the door of the room.
The knocking was answered within a minute by a palace guard. "Hello? Your Highness? What is your need?"
He had not been expecting anyone other than Prince Aali, of course. With the guards' ability to break through doors if need be, and trained sense of suspicion, Anastasia would be in quite a predicament if her situation were not explained adequately.
The guard waited outside the door for a reply.
Anastasia, goes and pushes on the Prince, "Their is a guard at the door! I need you to talk with him! Wake up!"
The prince didn't respond to Anastasia's urgent pleas, being under the heavy tar of sleep. He must have been tired after what was no doubt a long evening ending in a heavy exertion. So Anastasia was stuck in a precarious situation of how to explain who she was and what she was doing in the prince's bedroom.
The guard knocked again. "Your Highness! Is there something you need? Hello?"
Anastasia, thinking fast, quickly opened the door, and peaked only her head out.
"Oh, sorry. The Prince is not waking up. May I help you?"
The guard readied his spear and sternly compelled the girl: "Identify yourself!"
He was obviously very serious, and perhaps used to compromising of the palace by infiltrators.
He could not trust anyone. Perhaps this would be a time for Anastasia to end her stay...
Or perhaps this would be the time for her to shine, weaving masterfully a fictive history...
Anastasia stared at the spear, "Sir, I am so sorry. I was brought here by the Prince for his, pleasure. I just would like some clothes, than I shall go. Is that okay?"
The Guard stared suspiciously. "Do you not already have clothes with you?"
He was prepared for some kind of scheme being abreast, given that the prince had not shown interest in courtesans before.
"Why did you knock anyway? Has something happened? ...And your name."
Anastasia had to move fast. She did the first thing she thought she could do. She broke into tears.
"I am so sorry. I am a guest of the Prince, and we had dinner. We also drank a lot, and after that, one thing led to another and we ended up here. I just want some clothes. Please"
Anastasia then fell to her knees, still crying.
The guard grimaced and grabbed Anastasia's forearm. "Come with me." He still had his spear in the other hand, looking rather sharp, his chest and head covered in plates of armor. His muscular, dark limbs proved a heavy contrast to the fair and comparatively petite Ana.
If there was a way out of this, if only this would end...
One could not discern what the guard intended. Only time would tell.
Anastasia stood up, trying to stifle her tears, which were real by now. She then fallowed the guard.
"Where are you taking me" she managed to get out.
I hope he isn't going to kill me. He is so strong.
The guard clutched Anastasia with enough force to bruise her skin. Seeing her crying, he gestured the spear at her throat and commanded, "Have some control."
Though trying to appear strict and disciplinary, the guard was more perplexed than anything. Why was she there? Was there a problem with the prince? Did he not like her? Surely this was not a normal one of the servants here. For one thing, she did not seem able to control her appearance. The guard had not seen the girl before, and so immediately brought her to the head eunuch for inspection.
"Hail," he greeted the official. "We have a problem here. Do you know who this is?"
Anastasia was terrified. For one of the few times in her life she had no idea what to do.
I must be at a concubine registration or something. Oh, I am so doomed. I don't know what to do.
Anastasia had stopped crying, but only out of fear. She was slightly shivering.
If only the Prince had waken up. I don't know what to do!
"Good evening," the eunuch began. "No, I don't believe so. Is she new here? I do not believe I have seen this one."
The man got up and scanned her from the side and back, looking for anything identifying.
"Ahem! My girl, do you have a name?" This eunuch seemed to be a scholarly type, wearing spectacles on his thin nose and possessing a curled, white mustache.
The desk where he sat had a number of files on it, one of them probably a table of names of some sort.
Well, I guess telling my name can't hurt. I don't know what else to do!
Franz opened his eyes and saw the sky above him. Thank God I am no longer in the air with that wretched creature. Franz was having a panic attack right about now. He wasn't entirely suited to being whisked away to some land and given no control of the situation. Calm yourself damn it! It is during these time you take control yourself! With that Franz sat up and stared at the scroll in his hand. Later, first get your immediate surroundings under control. Then you can look at the God forsaken scroll. So Franz stood up and looked about him.
Franz's locale was perhaps the most ill-fated thus far, being in a mountainous range teeming with a population of none else but pulverized rocks, insects, and small birds. It would be a hard trek to civilization, which would prove a hard challenge for a prim aristocrat as himself.
Franz looked down at his map and saw that it was just a green dot and a white dot. What the Hell is this? I guess the green dot is me? Whatever I am just going to have to, ugh, hike. Franz looked around him and decided to take the path to his left. Out of all the possible places I get stuck on top of a mountain. He was not very experienced with walking long distances and he knew that he would be soon cursing life and all of its misfortunes.
Somewhere deep in an unknown location sat a forest. It was entirely vacant except for one single creature. A sinister looking black cat. He had been sitting up in one of the trees seemingly watching for something when just then something caught his attention. The champions. They're here. The cat let out as large of a smirk as his glowing feline face could allow. He knew this was going to be fun.
Jumping out of the tree, the cat immediately took on a humanoid form. He was tall with long flowing black hair. Naturally he appeared quite sinister as a human too and it had always been a curse of his. It was hard to gain the trust of others, even if just for the purpose of deceiving them. Oh, but deceit was fun. He had learned it all so well while back in Romania. "Where to now? Who looks to be the most interesting to play with?" The humanoid figure spoke up and placed his long slender finger onto the map he held in his other hand. "Ah, the palace it is. That is where I must go." The man looked back down at the man and let out another smirk before once again transforming and whisking himself off to his chosen destination.
The cat continued wandering around the palace grounds until he grew bored. He had a short attention span and had to move on if there was a lack of excitement. He tracked down another he perceived as much more exciting. The Austrian. He was seemingly lost in the mountains somewhere, a perfect opportunity to mess with his mind. Within seconds that is where the cat whisked off to.
"Hallo. Wie gehts?" the cat spoke to the man in the best German accent he could manage. He knew it would be odd for a human to witness a talking cat, but it was all part of the fun. It had been effective before to give the humans a spook by speaking to them in human languages.
"Eine sprechende katze?" Franz looked down at the black cat that had just asked him a question. What strange things are happening, this can't be anywhere that he had heard of. "Well I guess it isn't the strangest thing that has happened today. I am well if you must know. How are you? Oh but I forget my manners, my name is Franz, what is yours?"
The cat took on typical cat behaviour and began rubbing itself against this man's leg. He knew he might as well get affectionate. At least earning a minimal amount of trust would be helpful for what was to come. Besides, who would distrust a cat anyway? "You can just call me Grigore." The cat spoke before again putting on a huge smirk. "Where are you headed to, Herr Franz?"
Franz knelled down and stroked the cat's fur. "Oh nowhere my good man. Just trying to find a way down this mountain." Franz looked around and sighed. He then lay next to Grigore and continued petting him. "So Grigore, what brings you to this God forsaken mountain?"
The perfect opportunity had presented itself. Franz seemed to be lost. Grigore just had to act as a "guide". He knew the way, but this man didn't. "I can guide those who are lost. Only if they want to of course..." The cat explained putting yet another smirk on his face.
The mountains where Franz had been deposited were not too far from the city, but it was hard to tell from here. The monotony of the rocky country could cause anyone to get lost, even natives that did not have a detailed map or guide on their side. So it was either he tried his best on his own, with the possibility of starving out here, or he risked trusting the somewhat suspicious creature that had appeared at his feet.
Franz stared at Grigore for a minute before speaking. "You just had to add that last part to make it sound creepy didn't you?" Franz shook his head and stood up. What are you doing? This is obviously a trap. But I don't know if I will ever be able to get out of these mountains. Franz then looked down at Grigore. "Fine, lead the way. Nothing better to do."
The cat would lead Franz on, though whether it was being truthful in its guidance was still to be questioned.