“Ground floor perfumery, Stationary and leather goods, Wigs and haberdashery, Kitchenware and food…going up.” Martin leaned back against the cushion of his sofa, half listening to Stephanie Guthercole announce the content on ev...
“Ground floor perfumery,
Stationary and leather goods,
Wigs and haberdashery,
Kitchenware and food…going up.”
Martin leaned back against the cushion of his sofa, half listening to Stephanie Guthercole announce the content on every level belonging to Grace Brothers Department Store, the lift girl’s voice spoken over vintage elevator music. The clicking and chiming of a cash register kept him somewhat awake as he watched the words Are You Being Served? appear on the screen while the camera progressed steadily throughout the fictional store.
He never understood why Charlie was so keen on this particular show. Its corniness was off the charts in his opinion—oftentimes so unrealistic that it was fucking ridiculous with its laugh track and the one-liners that only folks of that time found amusing. But Charlie always argued for it, saying that it was radical in its own right in terms of representing the lives of the working class in the twentieth century, how those at the bottom of the labor force were subjected to wage theft while employed as “low wagers.”
Out of the two of them, his late fiancée was the political one, often talking about the injustices here in London and everywhere else. Had she been around, Charlie’d know more than he would about Lianna and the, um, interesting turn of events. Hell, she’d actually collaborate with F.I.T.E., investigating the matter while running the risk of getting everyone killed. Whatever the outcome, Charlie would be more willing to deal with the group than he was—or Lianna, for that matter.
Lianna. Her words dug into him—not because she hurt his feelings but because he knew that her interpretation of Charlie was so far from the truth. Lianna didn’t know his partner from her left hand, so the fact that she’d even assume that Charlie would inflict harm on purpose was completely out of order. At the same time, she wasn’t exactly acquainted with a plethora of humans here on Earth, so he didn’t know what assumptions were flying around in that head of hers. To her, every “Hoonii” was a potential threat to her life and after what happened to her and her tribe, he wasn’t offended when she looked at him sideways.
But Martin sensed that, despite her posturing and insults, the woman was fucking scared out of her gourd. And, in all honesty, so was he. He knew absolutely shit about Lianna besides what she shared with him about that night. Outside of that, he’d yet to figure out who or what she was. Hell, he wondered if she were something that could potentially summon some ability to level his flat. Maybe that was another reason why they snapped at each other earlier—both were so on edge about the unknown that they were on the verge of losing it.
“First floor telephones,
Gents ready-made suits,
Shirts, socks, ties, hats,
Underwear and shoes…going up”
As the music continued to play, Martin lifted the bottle to his lips and chugged most of the bitter liquid in two gulps, lowering his eyelids a touch as it rushed over his tongue, down his throat and into his almost empty stomach. When he started this ritual five years ago, only three pints were required to construct a pathway to intoxication. But as time crawled by, five or more were required to initiate the warmth that only his favorite drink allowed him.
It wasn’t too long before the Guinness traveled to Martin’s head and made his brain feel fuzzy.
He wanted to wash today out of his mind quite honestly. It was shitty enough that he volunteered to deal with a temperamental Shuluan who barely uttered two words to him unless she needed something. But to travel all the way to the South End and be labeled untrustworthy by some demonstrator he had only laid eyes on a few days ago? To some degree, Martin understood why Lianna didn’t want to have anything to do with the lot of them.
On the other hand, F.I.T.E. was needed and he knew it. Regardless of Rumi and her bullshit, she had more connections and information than he and Chess would ever rub together. And then there was Naomi and her access to the black market. Martin only imagined how many of Lianna’s people were still in the Red District and how many Chess’s sister could rescue. If he started with that angle, maybe she would set her suspicions aside and at least consider the possibilities.
But that was a battle for tomorrow.
Martin opened his eyes again and focused on the telly, draining his last bit of Guinness as he watched the cast members appear as they were introduced. He released an exhausted sigh while he sank further into the soft cushions as the episode continued.
In the mist of her connexa with the Higher Ones, Lianna often returned to the Kaddani Jungle that hid itself deep within her subconscious mind, her thoughts of her True Place providing the peace she hungered for. She knew that she was surrounded by an illusion, a fragment of her subconscious invoked by the True Ones whenever she prayed for solace from her circumstances. This often disheartened Lianna, but it furthered her resolve to one day return with her people. While here, the one called Martin Keating and the human planet were the least of her worries. In fact, Lianna honestly harbored none when the Gooktai allowed her soul to journey back to the Jungle, to the only home for which she would spill her blood.
Lianna’s eyes soon stopped on the webs of thick branches that shielded the secret entrance belonging the Shuluan Village. Only the Orlotae and the Spirit Council were aware of this passageway, both orders utilizing their abilities to protect it from enemies. From where she stood, Lianna noticed that it managed to remain intact, meaning that no one—not even the hooniis—detected its presence.
Lianna began walking down the clear narrow pathway, drinking in the freshness of the massive trees that hovered over her. The long soft leaves that hung from the branches nearly eclipsed the Gooktos Su, yet shards of the True One’s light shone on Lianna’s skin and face, warming her, comforting her with the cool breeze brushing against her. She reveled in the sweetness of the melodies of the birds’ wings and trees with tips that pierce the Spiritii realm.
What was most refreshing were the Orlotae garments that once again hugged her body, her sword resting in its leather cover fastened to her hip. When on Earth, Hoonii garments oppressed her frame because her warrior suit produced a stench after three suns of wear. But through her connexa, she donned the dark green dress that allowed her to blend in with the leaves and tall blades of grass during tribal battles. This and reuniting with her fellow Shuluans ordinarily excited Lianna’s spirit.
Yet as she moved forward, she instead felt restiveness rising within her, clinging to her thoughts like mud after rainfall. It initially occurred when she was on the Earth plane, eavesdropping on the hoonii’s correspondence with the members of F.I.T.E. She heard the tribal members disagree with her strategy—even to the degree of expressing apprehension to her host. She furthermore detected the fluctuation of his tone when he spoke to F.I.T.E. The volume of his voice descended when someone inquired about Lianna’s judgment about the tribe and the reasons why she would not cooperate with such a group. She was unsurprised when she heard the human’s resolve to speak with her in the morning before he ended his conversation with the tribe members.
Regardless of his attempts, Lianna would not allow the hoonii to dissuade her from her decision. The moving images on the website indicated that F.I.T.E. was menacing, often disregarding their personal welfare and that of others. Their transparency and irresponsibility would only attract attention to both her and her host, which in turn would lead to peril or worse. And if she no longer existed, who else would search for her people? Even if she survived whatever danger occurred, the tribe possessed no ability to return Lianna and her family to the Kaddani Jungle. In her mind, F.I.T.E. served no vital purpose and even corresponding with them stole time from her utilizing the hoonii and his knowledge to locate her people.
But at this moment, Lianna would not allow the tribe’s foolishness disturb her peace. Her primary purpose at the moment was to enter her village again as she always had in her streams of subconscious, to hear the welcoming cries and feel the warmth of love when her family encircled their arms around her.
Yet as Lianna continued towards the entrance, the fragment of solace she clung to faded as the disquiet grew stronger. When attempting to ignore it to maintain her composure, her spirit would not allow it. Perhaps it was due to the other hooniis learning of her existence or the severity of her current circumstances and the potential danger they would eventually encounter. Whatever the reason, Lianna felt herself succumbing to her elevating trepidation with every movement, the illusion the Gooktai connexa granted her no longer being a source of comfort.
Suddenly, the warmth that once lightly touched Lianna’s arms disappeared into nonexistence, the sudden chill raising the hair on the back of her neck. She halted, brows lowered with confusion while noting the dimness hastening over the path, the swaying leaves. The songs of the winged creatures that soared above her were hushed and replaced by an ominous silence.
Lianna flicked her attention up towards the sky and she found that Gooktos Su was buried beneath…shadowy cords of darkness. They traveled across and over the trees, obliterating the serenity of the blue and green with a vast murk. She watched in horror as the threads began to intertwine, twisting around one another as darkness began to lower onto the roofs of the trees, their branches, the bark, stripping life from the plants by scorching them bare before reducing them to ash.
“Shiy!” Lianna cursed as she turned and hurried towards the entrance. She had to warn her warrior clan and her people. She hoped that the Counsel sensed the threat beforehand so the tribe could evacuate. If—no WHEN she arrived, she would battle the enemy with her family-in-spirit to avoid another ambush. She would be prepared this time.
Lianna tore through the wind rushing over her face, through locks of hair as black as the terror chasing after her. She stifled screams of pain when specks of hot ash landed on her shoulders and arms, shielded her eyes to protect them from the falling debris. Occasionally, she would leap over or evade the remains of charred branches or winged creatures to avoid the strange monster charging after her.
She lifted her hand to shield her eyes and quickly looked at the secret entrance. She was close to approaching it…or was she? Whenever she attempted to hurry near it, the entrance slid from her grasp as if it feared her touch. Lianna responded by running faster, praying to the Gooktai to grant her the ability to take flight. But the entrance sped further away, mocking her by rebelling against even her greatest efforts.
Meanwhile, she sensed the murk advancing behind and over her, its evil poisoning the jungle while it drained the life out of all it cloaked. Lianna felt her own energy waning due to the constant speeding, cursing her body and its limitations when the dark cords suddenly coiled around her legs, her torso and arms.
She cried as the darkness burned through her flesh, forcing upon her the stench of smoldering muscle and fresh blood. The more she struggled against the restraints, the tighter the grip, choking the breath out of her body while the leather melted onto her chest. Lianna watched the secret entrance continue to move away from another wave of darkness, feeling herself growing weaker when the powerful cords bombarded the weakened branches, breaking through the barricade that once guarded and protected her village.
Lianna felt her body surrender to the suffering inflicted by the evil, the pain dulling her senses and draining her ability to struggle. Suddenly, the realm slowly faded at the moment she heard the terrified screams of her people…
Lianna snapped her eyes open, gasping for air before scrambling to her feet. She then desperately looked around her chambers for any evidence of the impeding darkness, sword in hand and standing defensively with her weapon raised. When she found no trace of the evil in her chambers, she rushed towards the entrance and out of her private space, hurrying downstairs and though the Main Room before snatching the door open.
Lianna ran out of her home and stood by the doorway, sweeping her eyes over the hoonii’s chambers to locate the darkness that had appeared in her vision. Yet she found nothing and her ears only caught the sounds of unusual melodies blaring from the moving image device in the Main Room. Though she failed to locate the hoonii from where she stood, she occasionally noticed a sliver of his long shadow created by the lanterns embedded in the wall above his head.
Lianna lowered her sword, sighing while slowly descending into reality. Both she and the hoonii remained unharmed, yet the feeling of uncertainty lingered as the thoughts of peril clung to her mind. It was an omen—a warning that danger was forthcoming. The dusk suffocating her was the spirit of a malevolence aware of her existence—one that would rather end her than allow her to leave this planet alive. No. They were no longer secure in the hoonii’s chambers and had to depart this place at once, vanishing undetected. By remaining, they only risked being apprehended by their oncoming enemy.
Lianna scanned her surroundings once again before she moved away from her entrance towards the edge of the altar. She then leaped off the edge and easily landed on her feet to dash towards the door leading to the hoonii’s Main Room.
“Dear Gods,” Lianna prayed softly. “I pray you show me answers, that you show me any possible danger that may arrive.”
Lianna had not even touched the side of the massive entrance when she heard thunderous booms coming from the Main Room, the sound vibrating throughout her tiny body. Stopping at the door, Lianna reached down inside her boot without hesitation and pulled out her sword. She then peeked through the slender gap, wondering who was beating on the door during nightfall. It was too late to warn the hoonii of the potential evil awaiting them, but she silently hoped that his potion either failed in numbing his common sense or unlocked some innate ability within him to fight.