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19. The City of Sarkomand

After being left on a bare mountain top by the dragon, Balthazar, the group had spent the rest of the day finding a path back down again.  When they sheltered for the night, Rain continued a paper-based conversation with Algernon, revealing a disturbing gap in his memory around a being that he is mortally afraid. 


The rain may have passed, but Rain himself was still sitting propped up against a rock when the world outside the cave greeted the new day.  Bruce started the morning with his usual round of calisthenics and Rain took the opportunity to explain the written conversation from the night before.

“But what does it mean?”  Bruce asked perplexed.  It seemed odd that Algernon would not know he had written something moments after writing it, not to mention not know what it meant.  The kids could be secretive, but this seemed to be going to ridiculous lengths.

“It’s something he’s afraid of, above everything else.  The only thing is when you ask him what it is, he doesn’t know what you’re talking about.”  Rain conjectured out loud.  He’d been mulling over the implications of this missing memory all night and now had an audience, “It’s like something is actively working against us.  Something that can get into a person’s head.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it here, is there?“ The thankfully, pragmatics Bruce replied, “We’ll tackle that one when it comes.”
“I hope we recognise it when it comes.”  Rain messed with his hair out of habit , “Hopefully that’s not when we’re looking down its throat.”

“Hey, if I have to tackle it from the inside, I will.”  Bruce bragged, puffing up his sizeable chest before doubt deflated him once more.  A distracted air settled over Bruce and he busied himself packing up his few things.

Rain looked at Bruce with concern, “Hey, are you okay?”

“These places…they mess you up.” 

“They’re good for me.”  Rain smiled, and another tiny sun lit the cave signaling the start of the day to the others. His gaze came back to Bruce, recognising the confession of weakness for what it was, “It was scary from this side too. I’ve come to…lean on the good old reliable Bruce.  Fly off the handle, Bruce was too unpredictable for me.”

“Yeah…”  Bruce was getting uncomfortable with the attention.  Spotting Algernon he gestured to the youth.
“Talking of your current talents, have you tried that thought-stealing one on Algernon?”

Rain shook his head, “It seems that particular talent hurts the recipient.  I won’t be it very often in the future.”

“We could ask him…” And before Rain could protest, Bruce called across the cave to Algernon, “You wouldn’t mind if we had a look in your head, would you?”

“Oh no, “  Algernon replied emphatically, “ No more of that.”

“What?”  Bruce started to this interesting tidbit of news.  But try as he might, Algernon would now be drawn on the subject. 

After a cold breakfast of rations the group prepared to return to their trek down the mountain.  From the valley below, the regular beat of a drum and the tread of feet echoed off the mountains.  Looking over the edge, Bruce spotted a small group of six individuals, four carriers, and two in palanquins beating the drums.  Surprisingly these individuals were not the mongrel folk of the harbour, but a more reptilian body shape with the ones carrying being far more brutish in nature than the more delicate couple being carried.  

“Don’t know anything about them.” Peggy shook her head as Bruce described the group.

“Well they’re heading this way, what do you want to do?”

“Why don’t we have a chat?”  Rain suggested and stood waiting for the group in the middle of the path.

“Well I shouldn’t talk to them, I’m not the most tactful.” Peggy stepped aside as both Bruce and Rain look first at each other and then at her.
“Well, that’s some character growth.”  Bruce said as Rain quietly applauded Peggy.

“When people tell you to shut up enough you, get the message.”


Peggy, Celia and Algernon moved back into the shadows of the cave while Rain and Bruce waited for the strangers.  With a clatter of clawed feet and the misbeat of the drums the group of reptile people came to a halt.  One of the drummers looked down from his palanquin at the odd couple before them.

“You do not hold yourselves like slaves.” He said in a voice as rough as his scales.

“You are a very insightful person.”  Rain smiled his cheeriest welcome, “My name is Pavel.  So, you’ve had dealings with humans that have come before?”

The reptile head flicked up in what could only be assumed to be agreement, “I am Raks.  Your souls and body are both here, this is not usual among the slaves.”  Raks head twisted sideways so one eye could get a better look at the newcomers.  The action made him look more like his reptile and avian relatives and somehow less dangerous. 

 Bruce snorted a laugh, “You have a pretty good set up here.  I wouldn’t want to rak the boat.”  He punned, enlisting a groan from Rain and signaling the others to join in the conversation.

“You have been very gracious, “ Rain trying to draw the attention back to himself, “We’ve not had good relations since arriving.  The people of the town seemed very angry.”

“Yes, human aren’t usually so….present as you seem to be.”

“Why not?” Peggy asked, her curiosity overcoming any concerns.  Rak’s head flicked around to focus on her.

“Here you are the anomaly. It should be asked, why are you so aware?”

“We’ve traveled…another way than most.”  Rain added

Celia stepped out of the shadows emboldened by the others attempts at conversation.  “What is your role, if I may ask?”

“I am a priest.  I teach and lead my people in a town far into the mountains.”  

“And the people of the city below?  They are not of your kind, who are they?”

When speaking of his home, Raks had shown pride in his people and culture.  Now that pride was clearly replaced with disdain.

“They are the Lang, the slaves of the Moonbeast.  They came to these shores long ago from across the sea.  Their town is Sarkomand.”

“Well, you have been a font of info…” Rain started as he made to step aside and let the group past.  

Peggy had other ideas and said, “Our people are being unfairly subjugated in that city.  What can we do about gaining their release?”

Raks, threw back his head and made several sounds like the cracking wood, a rough sharp sound that Rain assumed was laughter, “You wish to free the slaves?  I wish you luck in your battle.”


“For your side, perhaps.” Raks looked around the group now seeing all five of them. “Perhaps, slaughter.”

“What is the Moonbeast?”  Peggy added as Raks gestured to his bearers.  Raks turned and looked seriously at the group, understanding that no one knew about the Moonbeast.
“You do not know and you intend to make war?  You are courageous.”  

Intrigued by this statment, Algernon tried scanning Raks’ surface thoughts. The response was instant.  Raks flicked his head into Algernon’s direction, his black eyes boring into Algernon’s.

A bold move, little human. Said Rak’s voice in his mind and Algernon stepped back surprised.  Out loud, Raks addressed the group, “I was going to let you go, but after the little ones trespass…”  He gestured and the bearers as one readied themselves for battle.

Instantly Bruce stepped up brandishing his crowbar.  Rain stepped up beside him and inspired Bruce with a nod.  Stealing himself, Bruce looked Raks straight in the eyes and addressed the whole reptile party.

“If you start a battle, this will hurt everyone including you.”  He pointed his crowbar at Raks.

“We won’t be going anywhere except under our own volition.”  Peggy yelled back dragging Algernon out of the cave by the ear, “And Algernon says he’s sorry.”  She turned to Algernon speaking in a low voice that everyone could hear, “Dude, learn to read a room!”

Raks leaned back in the seat of his palanquin and quietly assessed the situation.  Human’s they may be, but these ones had shown themselves to be intelligent and capable.  He gestured once more and the bearers stood back at ease and picked up their burden to move on.

“Keep your little one on a leash.”  Raks growled as he passed Bruce and continued their way up the mountain path.

The group watched Raks and his group leave before continuing their journey.  The mountain path flattened out into softer foothill and eventually a grassy plain.  Buoyed by the mostly positive interactions with Raks, Rain made a stream of butterflies, fireworks, streamers and rainbow coloured balloons appear around the group.

“Your skills have certainly progressed,”  Bruce commented as a dove fluttered away and dissolved into nothing. “I noticed you don’t inspire as much as you used to, though.”

Rain shrugged, making a cloud of sparks that floated away over the shrubs before it too dissolved in thin air.

“I didn’t feel like I was helping that much.”  He acknowledged, “I know these abilities are only temporary, but…”   Rain stopped and turned to the group. “Do you guys mind if I stop and try something?”

It had been a long dry walk and everyone seemed happy for a break.  As they found soft grassy seats to sit and eat a few rations, Rain found an open piece of ground and started creating a new illusion.  It was definitely a couple, a man and woman standing side by side in western clothing, thirty years previous.  The woman wore a red scarf loosely covering her head and shoulders, bright metallic gold sparkled at her neck.  Other than that the image was fuzzy, details of their face were blurred or missing altogether.  After several minutes of trying to draw out more of the image, Rain let the illusion go and sat down heavily in the grass.  Slowing the couple dissolved, becoming see-through before disappearing altogether.

“Thanks.”  He said self-consciously to the group, “I just wanted to try that while I could.”

“Who are they?”  Algernon asked.

“I don’t know.  A dream.” Rain shook his head, his eyes staring into nowhere, “Do you think you could look…no bad idea, forget I said anything.”

“Why? Would you like me to look in your mind?”

“No. There are…things I would not want an enemy to experience. I certainly would not want you to have to.”

“Was she an evil stepmother?”

Rain sighed. This was well trodden ground for him, but rarely had he ever vocalised his thoughts to anyone.

“Algernon, I could tell you a fairytale about them. How they loved their little boy and one day, through no fault of their own they lost him in a wood. I can tell you that, but it wouldn’t be true because I don’t know what is true. I just don’t know.”

Bruce sat up, and cleared his throat, “I once knew a Cambodian man who had lived through the horrors of Pol Pot’s reigime. I told him I was impressed he got all ten of his children out alive. He nodded and rattled off their names, first the boys and then the girls, though who was older than who got a little mixed up. He said eleven names and confessed to having lost one.

“I’m sorry,” I said knowing that the death of even one child was still a hearbreak.

He replied, “Oh no, you missunderstand, we were running for our lives and when we got on a bus that could take us away from the fighting, we counted and we had one less child. We lost them.” Bruce directed his gaze at Rain. “Being a parent in wartime is tough.”

Rain stared back silent and still.

“So Rain, tell me another fairytale, ” Algernon returned to the topic, “Tell me a dark tale about the couple and the little lost Rain.”

“Ah, ” Rain smiled sadly and confessed, “I can tell you that there was no Rain at that time. Rain only ever exisited for you. I like the thought that my friends, call me Rain.”

“Are we friends?”

Rain genuinly smiled then, “Oh yes. Apart from family no one but a true friend can mess you up as well as we do. Yes, we are friends.”

“Preach brother!” Bruce agreed making them all laugh.

“What were you called?” Algernon asked not long after.

“I don’t know. I do know that when they found me, they called me Tobias.”

“The name you said in your sleep that first night.” Algernon almost jumped from his grassy seat when he put the two together.

Rain nodded.

“You know I hung with bad people. The name Tobias is linked to very good people and I don’t want the two to mix. I think here in Dreamland, it’s pretty safe to tell you. But I can’t use that name on Earth.”

For the rest of the walk in the countryside, Rain was quiet, stumbling along behind the group deep in his own thoughts.  As a result, everyone saw the two panther-like beasts stalking through the tall grass to the side the path, except him.  Bruce moves to intervene, but before anyone could say a word, the creatures had chosen the weak one from the herd and pounced.  Both Rain and Bruce are bowled over by a 190 kg beast each, six legs striking out with readied claws.  Bruce shoved his one aside, but Rain was completely blind-sided and confused about what is going on until the teeth of his beast sunk into his shoulder.

Ignoring the one circling him, Bruce pulled out his crowbar and swung at the one on Rain, missing as it ducked away. It growled into Rain’s neck, daring someone to take its meal.  Celia’s knives were in her hands as she swung out and hit the same beast, slicing into its thick hide.  Behind her Peggy focuses her thoughts on the beast and instead of screaming.  The Strange made the air shimmer between her and the beast and the cat flinched but did not let go.

Algernon stood back and sized up the beast for a levitation.  Unfortunately, the six-legged cousins to terrestrial panthers were twice as big and twice as heavy as even Bruce.  In frustration, he aimed his crossbow and fired as it flinched under Peggy’s assault. The bolt sailed into the grass.

“Hey!  That bloody hurts!”  Rain cried and focused his thoughts on the beast.  If he could enthrall it, it would stay still enough for the others to come to the rescue.  The enthrall worked to gain the beast’s attention.  Realising it had its prize already, it picked Rain off the ground and started running away.

The second cat now turns its attention to an easier meal than Bruce, Peggy standing just behind.  Seeing the attack, Peggy side-steped the cat easily, giving it a kick in the side on the way through. The cat snarled in frustration.

Bruce was only concerned with the one stealing away with Rain.  He tried running after the beast, but even with its prize, the cat had the superior speed. It would not be long before it was out of sight.  Celia turned her attention to the cat on Peggy, slicing the air with her daggers.  One missed as the cat flinched under Peggy’s boot, but the other found a weak spot in the creatures armoured hide and it sunk in to the hilt.

The cat now carrying Rain was only a black small smudge in the grass.  Algernon knew he wouldn’t get another chance.  He drew up his crossbow, check his sights, aimed, and fired.  The bolt streaked for the grass, along the flanks of the beast, and sunk into the fletching just behind the front legs.  The giant cat collapsed dead, falling onto its prize who lay still and panting underneath it.

Peggy dealt with the last cat, pulling out her hand crossbow.  Seeing that this prey was too much to deal with, the second cat ran and was soon lost in the grass.

“I know what these are,” Algernon said, putting away his crossbow, “I remember reading about them, they’re called aurumuorax.”

Bruce trotted up to the dead aurumuorax, panther or whatever and rolled it aside to find a bloodied and torn Rain wide-eyed and panting.

“If…if you say…get up and…walk it off…”  Rain said as Bruce pulled him up using his good hand.

“Still like this place?”

“Not much…no.”

The group took a short rest as Bruce patched Rain up and Celia noticed that they were on the edges of the ruined city.  Parts of wall, broken streets and ruined fencing were visible poking up above the grass.  She surmised they were in the suburbs of what must have been a large city, something like her beloved Seattle, but on a smaller scale.  For all her looking though, there is no life of any sort.

“Should we split up do you think, cover more area?”  She asked as she informed the group what she’d found.

“It’s not a safe place to split up.”  Rain replied testing his new bandages.

“You’re just saying that because you have two big wounds in your arm.”  Bruce joked packing away his first aid kit.

“Sounds right.”  

“Could you make us look like the Lang? Or make us invisible?”  Peggy asked Rain as they started back on the path.

Rain shook his head, “Making a moving illusion is difficult, once you add bodies interacting with it I couldn’t keep it up for long, but…”  He thought a moment and from those standing in front of him seemed to disappear, the road empty where he had been standing moments before.  From beside and behind him he was still visible, he’d created a two dimensional illusion on an empty road.  

The group were soon in the shadow of crumbling buildings, overhead walkways, and overgrown courtyards.  Footsteps of a small group of people echoed from above and Rain created an illusionary terrain to hide them from above.  Looking up, two of the Lang guided a small group of humans along the raised walkway, one ahead and one behind.

Bruce pointed out the humans shuffling stiffly in a line.  They seemed completely unaware of their surroundings and certainly looked as mindless as Raks had suggested.  Barely dressed, they were in an assortment of underwear and bedwear if anything at all.  Where the small of their back were visible, the group could see two small burn marks either side of their spines.

 The one in the lead looked down at where the party were standing, but saw nothing but the empty lane.  He continued to direct the group around the courtyard and through a gap in buildings until they were all out of sight.

“Do we save them?”  Bruce asked concerned, they didn’t look like they were up for much.

“Ideally.”  Peggy replied sharing Bruce’s concern, but with no idea how to go about it.

“Where do you think their souls…their minds are?”

“Back on Earth?”  Algernon theorised, “They only came here when they were dreaming.”

“Yeah, but did they go back again, and leave these husks behind or…”  Rain mused quietly to himself unable to even vocalise that this was the fate of those who didn’t return.

“Well, I think we should follow them at least.” And Bruce stepped out into the courtyard and started looking for a staircase up.  It didn’t take him long to find a set of working stairs and the group followed him up and through the two buildings after the party of slaves and their captors.  

The walkways were rotten and mostly metal and had seen a lot of use.  Still, Bruce marched along the walkways following the slaving group.  The two Lang’s turned to see Bruce walking up to them seemingly alone. Realising he was exposed, Bruce ducked behind a metal beam.  Unfortunately, it was a lot slimmer than the well-muscled Bruce and provided no protection at all.

The others rolled their eyes and each prepared for battle. Using a cloth, Peggy carefully pulled out the rod that had supplied the whole Wurtz household with electricity, thanks to an imprisoned mother.  She held it in front of her, ready to strike at the first opportunity.  Celia moved into range, loosening her daggers.  Bruce turned to look at the Lang guiding the slaves from behind and their gazes locked.  He felt himself being pulled in and realised he could no longer move his limbs.  With all his will he turned his gaze to see Rain hiding behind a pile of rubbish, still cradling his bandaged arm with his other hand.  Bruce’s protective instinct kicked in and gave him the strength to shake off the mind control effect.

“Hey,” he said groggily, “they have a mesmerise.”

The Lang leading the slaves walked back along the line of oblivious human to his companion, in time to see Bruce turn and shoot.  The bolt struck and the battle was on.  

From her hiding place, Peggy stood up and hit one with her rod.  He jerked back like he’d been hit by a bolt of electricity.  Peggy noticed a bar on the rod appear to show it had charged up slight in the attack.  Celia ran out of cover and attacked, missing with one hit and succeeding with the other.  Algernon shot his crossbow at the second Lang as Rain steped out of hiding in front of the first and attempted enthrallment.

“This is a very unusual place.” He said as the Strange energy left on his words.  The Lang looks down at Rain, its eyes clear and focused.

You are a talented one. The Lang spoke in Rain’s mind followed by feelings of disgust and admiration. 

“Ah…thank you?”

The Lang that had been surprised by Peggy turned on her, raking the space where she’d been standing with its claws.  The one on Rain did the same, but being used to slow slaves was not prepared for the Rain’s speed.  Having watched his enemies now, Bruce gained an insight into how they fought. They were physically weaker than humans, but their great strength was their mind powers.  He shot and hit the one on Rain who turned to a hate-filled gaze on him before falling to the ground, dead.

Peggy reached out to the one she was fighting and linked minds.  Instantly the fight and anger went out of the Lang and instead Peggy’s hands balled into fists.

“I think something has happened to Doctor Peggy.”  Algernon said as he levitated her away from the Lang standing quiet and still.  The Lang’s eyes followed the movement confused and unsure of what it was looking at.  Celia held her attack, but stepped out of reach just in case.

“Oh no.” Rain walked up to Lang and looked up into its confused face, “Are you okay?”

“Rain, this is weird.” The Lang said out loud looking at its oversized claws.

Floating above their heads, Peggy reached down with the rod and tried striking Celia. Celia ducked out of the way and kept well back from both the Lang talking to Rain and the Peggy being held up by Algernon.

“This is not time to experiment, Peggy.” Celia added unsure where to look.

“Dr Peggy, I suggest you lie down and allow one of us to tie you up.”  

The Lang glared at Algernon.  “Yeah? Good luck with that Algernon, do you want me to take your other ear?”

“You are in a superior body,” Algernon thought for a moment looking up at Peggy thrashing uselessly against his levitate, “Would you like to kill your body before you get sent back?”

“What? Now hold on.” Bruce was looking between the Lang acting unusually, Peggy acting weirdly and Algernon suggesting the murder of a group member.

“No, I want to see what this body can do.” The Lang protested, jumping up and down on the goat-like legs, “Wouldn’t it be useful to have access to a body like this further into the city?

Rain started pulling paracord out of his sleeve as Bruce readied his crowbar.

“Listen you, allow yourself to be restrained. This is your last warning.”

“Shut up, Bruce I’m thinking.”

“Maybe you can tie up the body yourself.” Rain offered the paracord to the creature, “What happens when you’re sent back to your body, Peggy?”

“I can control…” The Lang said just as Bruce swung his crowbar and cracked it across the head.  The Lang fell into a heap in front of a shocked Rain who turned around and instantly enthralled Bruce.

Peggy’s body jerked and stopped trying to fight against Algernon’s levitate.

“Algernon, will you please let me down so I can smack Bruce with his crowbar?”  Peggy asked her voice strained and only barely under control. “How dare he take away my agency, like that!  Like he owns me or something! He wasn’t the one on the inside! He didn’t know what it was like!”  

“Peggy, we really couldn’t risk you losing control over the Lang.”  Celia tried reasoning with Peggy, but even when Peggy finally went silent, she floated arms crossed tightly in front of her staring straight ahead.  Eventually, Algernon had to let her down and he gently put her back on her feet.  As soon as he did however, she stormed over to Bruce readying a swing with the rod.  Rain released Bruce from the enthrallment and ducked out of the way as Mummy and Daddy fought.

“How dare you hit me!”

“I didn’t hit you, I hit the monster.”

“Well then you hit the wrong one!”

“I wasn’t going to hit you!”

“I am always me no matter what body I wear!”

“Me or mean?”  Algernon interjected.

“Both.” Rain replied as the argument continued.

“Look I couldn’t take the risk of that beast waking up, it had mind powers!”

“So do I!  I was in control of that beast and I don’t appreciate you taking that from me!”

“I was protecting the party!

“Well maybe I don’t need your protection!”

A sudden silence fell over Bruce and Peggy.  Peggy was still vibrating in her fury.  Bruce was confused and annoyed that he was being abused for his justifiable actions.

“I’m going to tie up the creature before it wakes up, if that’s okay with you?”  He said breaking eye contact with Peggy and pulling out a rope.

“I’m sure I don’t have a say in it.”  She replied bitterly walking a short distance away and sitting on a pile of rubble.

As a distraction to the fight, Rain was focusing his attention on the slaves.  All five, three men and two women, were completely unresponsive. 

“Break free.  Come towards my voice.  The darkness is not worth your life.”  He said quietly from one to another, encouraging them with all his gifts, but nothing made an impact.

Algernon checked each of the slaves’ surface thoughts and sensed nothing, they might as well not be there at all.  He told Rain as much.

When the Lang was trussed up, Bruce joined Rain among the slaves.  

“Wake up!” He shook one, Their head lolled on but they did not awake.

Rain looked at the slaves and grimaced.  He didn’t want to do it, but there didn’t seem to be another way of finding out what was going on.  Using Dream Thief, Rain reached out and tried to steal the dream of one of the slaves.

To be continued…

Published by Miztres

I'd just like to say a few words... nee phtang! fribble

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