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Author Topic: Charred Life (Rewritten)  (Read 18419 times)

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Offline Echo_River

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Re: Charred Life (Rewritten)
« Reply #45 on: February 04, 2021, 10:30:22 PM »
Narrative perspective is one of those things where you just gotta choose one and stick with it for the story (with a few minor exceptions... as with all things...). I like to write in 3rd Person Limited too, but I wanted to learn a bit about how to use Omnicient better and I found that one of the first articles on Google was pretty good: https://blog.reedsy.com/guide/point-of-view/third-person-limited-omniscient/ .
Ah, thank you for sharing the article! Yes, it cleared up some of the things I was wondering about, especially the "head-hopping" it describes, which you pointed out in some of the scenes. Third-person Omniscient would be interesting to write. I'm not sure if I've read anything with that POV recently.

I just think it makes things a little more difficult for you as the writer - your native people will just be referring to them like standard animals: "boars", "pigs", "lizards" etc, which removes some opportunities to describe the unique features.

But, an example of what you can do is have Dave make comparisons to what he is used to, and also have the people teaching him (the ones familiar with the outside world) explain creatures to him with those comparisons too.
Good point and great advice for going about it that I'll keep in mind, considering in the future animals aren't going to be the only "normal" things  that I'll be including. 

Really like the look of your re-vamped world-map too!
Eyyy thanks! It needs some more changes, but I'm pretty content with how it looks like at the moment.
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Offline NO1SY

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Re: Charred Life (Rewritten)
« Reply #46 on: February 05, 2021, 10:13:45 AM »

Third-person Omniscient would be interesting to write. I'm not sure if I've read anything with that POV recently.

In my experience it has really fallen out of favour in modern sci-fi and fantasy, since around the 80's... Coryn writes some things in Omniscient, so maybe he has some examples he can point to :)

Best of luck with your future writing!

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: Charred Life (Rewritten)
« Reply #47 on: February 16, 2021, 03:35:40 AM »
Third-person Omniscient
Wow that actually had a name, who knew :P

great sketches Echo, being an artist writer combo means that if you do get stuck describing something you can draw out something first and help resolve any issues with descriptions and stuff. But as you say, any variation from normal animals requires extra descriptions.
I would say depending on how annoying you find that, make a couple more fantasy and keep the rest the same. So a 50/50. You dont have to change every single animal to have some feature that it's Earthly counterpart doesnt have.

keep it up :P
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Offline Echo_River

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Re: Charred Life (Rewritten)
« Reply #48 on: June 02, 2021, 03:40:44 PM »
I would say depending on how annoying you find that, make a couple more fantasy and keep the rest the same. So a 50/50. You dont have to change every single animal to have some feature that it's Earthly counterpart doesnt have.

This definitely sounds more doable and fun XD Trying to figure out how much "Earth" to keep has always bothered me a little, especially when it comes to things like dates, sports, instruments. Like, would it still be okay to call a violin, a violin...?

Speaking of Omniscient POV... I've been hooked to a korean webnovel recently called Omniscient Reader's Viewpoint (there's also a webmanga version ongoing). It's a translated version, but I've been really enjoying the plot progression and characters. Amost forgotten the feeling of being sucked into a story... =w=

I've regained a bit of inspiration and motivation while reading it and was able to complete the next chapter.

- - - - -

Man, this chapter's given me a lot of grief these past few months. As you can see, I haven't posted any new material since February because I had to rewrite it at least three times. My prior attempt to the current version ended up putting a dark turn to the story that didn't seem to fit with the overal tone. Even though it had a lot of things I liked, I decided to scrap most of it...

Well, I hope it's better now. I had fun with it. Hope to keep momentum to do the next chapter as well!

Chapter 20: Prank Gone Wrong

Dae is back?
Shira slipped out of bed for the third time. Her throat, hand pressed protectively around it,  ached with a dull pain. She crept up to the door, movements silenced by the carpeted floor, and opened it a crack.
Dae stood at the far end of the big round living room in her signature robe outfit, two pointy ears jutting out of her hood, and a cloth mask hiding her mouth. Gran seemed to have gone to another part of the house and was not in sight.

How come? I was sure she was going to the Nionis. Did she forget something? Shira thought.
“W-what are you doing here?” Dae asked, her voice tense and undulating in a weird melodic manner. Two pinpoints of shock showed plainly in her wide eyes.
Closer to Shira, in the entryway by the backyard patio, Nuyori gazed silently at her daughter for a few moments. “…Snake pit, yes. I will head there shortly,” she muttered into the phone before putting it away.
Shira wished she could see what expression her mother was making. Was she relieved or upset? The woman started towards Dae, speaking in a calm voice that hinted at neither emotion. “I was informed that Shira had ingested poison… and I was just told that there was a possibility... that you had gone somewhere… but it seems that isn’t the case.”
With each step Nuyori took across the living room, Dae grew stiffer and stiffer. Shira went still, wondering what would happen. Though she was their mother, Nuyori’s presence as the Acor’s “Bear” intimidated even her own family.
Shira frowned and squinted at her sister, an uneasy,  sickening feeling creeping up underneath her mask. She should’ve been more careful coming in. Now she’s in for it. Didn’t she see the Birdie outside? Why didn’t she go to the Nionis?

Dae shrunk back under the looming stature of the Warden. Her eyes crinkled into happy smiling half-crescents. “Oh, about that! You see – I was just looking for Dave! Is he here?” She quickly gathered herself back, leaning away with the resemblance of an animal ready to bolt from the room.
Nuyori tilted her head sideways in a questioning manner. “I thought you wanted to talk to Gran about something?”
“Ah, that? I was just going to ask if she had seen Dave. I just wanted to ask him something.”
“Is that all?”
“Yep, that’s all, ehehe.”

If this had been any other time of year, Shira would have checked the sheepish laugh off as Dae having one too many fermented Zerakis grapes. But this wasn’t any normal time. In fact, it would be the perfect opportunity for the lurking  enemy to appear while the leader was away. And how odd was it that someone with the vehemence to club an apple to the moon would come back laughing?
That was when her uneasy feelings fell into place beneath her mask. Just as one can pick out their friends or family out of a crowd just by hearing their voice, or seeing their figure, or recognizing their walk, Shira knew the  person standing there, with Dae’s outfit, and Dae’s bow, and Dae’s voice, right down to the shadow she cast, just did not feel like Dae.
“I see.” Nuyori lowered her head.
“Mom?” Dae said nervously.
“It’s nothing.” Nuyori patted her head. “Stay here with your sister. I need to take care of something. Don’t give any trouble to your Gran. I’ll be back.”
Eh? Wait – mom?! Shira almost ran out to stop her, but it was too late. The sounds of the Birdie faded away into the distance and she was left - with a person who wasn’t her sister. Her head prickled from whirring thoughts. Oh no… oh no no no… This is bad. I’m by myself. They’re here for Dave, but they might come after me. Should I call someone? No, if they’re fighting, I’ll only distract them. I don’t have anyone else’s number. Wait…

Would anyone else come if I called them? Shira blinked in certain realization. The instant answer from herself was, Probably not. After all, hadn’t she been avoiding just about everyone all summer? A hollow feeling sunk in.

Somehow, she felt terribly alone right now.

Movement in the living room. Shira jerked back when the stranger’s face swung her way. In a frantic moment, she dashed back to the table by the bed where her daggers and phone lay.

A few options presented themselves. Daggers - she could fight them right now. Phone - she could try calling for help anyway.

Her hand hovered over the weapons for a split second then grabbed the phone. Defending in her weakened state would be foolish. The best idea right now was somehow alerting her Gran, whom she felt nearby.

Come on - come on - ! Her fingers quivered with cold, shakily tapping the screen.

A ringtone blared out. Her cell dropped from her hands. The unfamiliar sound continued from outside and cut off abruptly, followed by a strange female voice speaking loudly with no effort of secrecy.

“One of the wardens is coming! I’d give you all twenty minutes at the least. Might want to wrap it up quick, you know.”

The high-pitched timbre of the new voice bore no resemblance to the low rough manner of Dae. The cadence of their speech reminded Shira of a child, yet the way they spoke in such a smooth and calculating manner had to be of someone older.

“Dave Tiuruh? He’s not here! I think he must have followed the Heiress’ son. Hurry and cut him off! Huks said it’d be too troublesome to have all three of them in the same spot.”

Who… is that? Shira froze in place, holding her breath as her heart thumped against her chest. She wanted to look out and at the same time didn’t, caught in that horror that grips a person facing the unknown. But her anxiety won over. If a confrontation was unavoidable, she’d rather have eyes on them first.

Slowly, she reached down to her phone and picked it up. The voice out there had gone quiet. Puzzled, she stealthed up to the door and peeked out.

Whatever she expected to see, it wasn’t the empty living room.

What? I know they’re still here - how could they have -

Then the voice spoke again and Shira gasped, inducing a series of painful coughs that she couldn’t hold back.

They were on the other side of the door.

“I’m going to get started here. If you mess up, I’m not sticking around, got it? You’re also going to get busted if you don’t take care of the Warden, you know. See you later, then!”

It was pointless to hide now or even try a surprise attack. Shira stumbled to the wall that would be behind the door if it opened. She sought her Gran’s number again. Her eyes stung from the coughing tears, making it hard to see the text on the screen.

For some reason, she couldn’t accurately press on the right button, such was the trembling in her arms. The door handle rattled. She bumped her head on the wall. A bottle on the table fell over. The whole ground was vibrating -

Shira heard the screeching of an animal.

Hee hee!

People were shouting outside.

Someone was laughing in her ear.

Dae’s head stretched through the opening door and said in the stranger’s singsong voice -

“Hey there, girlie.”

* * * * *

Kegh..!” Roun stiffened. For a brief moment, the road in front of him spun and he leaned low over the wolf’s back. “Quo – stop - I can’t breathe –”
Quo skidded to halt and Roun stumbled off, holding his chest. It was like something was squeezing the air out of his lungs, making his heart beat faster. Even though he wasn’t moving anymore, the ground kept swaying and the trees kept tipping back and forth.
This has to happen now?
He felt for the pouch on his right side and dug through the contents with sweating palms. First, he grabbed the small bag containing the black pills from Healer Swallow and jammed five of them into his mouth. After swallowing those, he pulled out a wooden thin tube the length of his thumb. Puny red seeds rolled out of it, translucent like absorbent pearls. He took only two of these, then rested against the side of the road, waiting for the dizziness to subside.
It was about a couple of minutes before the tightness in his chest subsided and the world stopped spinning. Quo whimpered in concern for him while staring suspiciously at the wooden tube. Roun saw him and flicked his nose. “You can’t eat Spax Berries. You were born under the favour of Universa Energy. I don’t know what the conditions are going to be when we get there, but I’m going to need them.”
Spax Berries. Only tough to harvest because of their spikes and locations in the Deep Woods, they served for more than just another food for the Acor. It wasn’t the Spax Berry itself they wanted, but the Spax Berry seeds. Although the unstable areas they grew in were dangerous for humans, the berries themselves seemed to have adapted to this by producing a strong resistance in themselves which, if processed properly, served as a fast-acting stimulant that enhanced one’s physical ability and senses.

Wardens carried these around all the time. They were normally restricted from the common villager but, being the Heiress’ son, Roun was able to obtain a few tubes from his mother some years ago.
Sorry I have to use them for this, mom.
Roun felt his head clear up considerably as he stood up. The ground was much steadier under his feet. He could see the entrance marker to the Nionis just a few more hundred meters down the road and made his way there on light feet. Quo followed him cautiously, ears laid back and muscles tensed, no doubt remembering the last time it came there.
But there wasn’t a person in sight. “Enn said she would meet us here. Did they go in already? They should have arrived before us…”
Black dirt rose like dust and clung to the moisture on his boots as he ran over to the black archway and stared up at its lonely figure. As many times as he’d been here, he could never get used to the thin black trees, stretching into the forest ceiling like burnt skeletal arms.
“Quo, can you trace Dae?”
The wolf sniffed and sneezed, raising more black dust.
“I guess you couldn’t, if she travelled the way she usually does.”

Roun glanced back at the road, then at the path leading in. Aside from the soft whistle of the wind through the branches he didn’t hear anything else.

Gritting his teeth, he motioned for the wolf to leave. “I can’t wait for them. Go find Enn and tell her I’m going in to look for Dae. Then go find a warden, any warden you can find.”
Quo whined, reluctant to part. Roun gave the furry head a vigorous rub before sending him off northeast. He hoped the wolf would at least find someone at the Hall. Unfortunately, based on how empty the forest felt, he doubted Quo would find help any time soon. Where had all the wardens gone?

Sucking in his breath, Roun passed under the archway and ran deeper into the forest of ebony trees. Just as with the Tiuruh and Hakara areas, the main living area of the Nionis was distanced from the main road by a trail. And a lonely trail it was, marked solely by lanterns emitting orange light  nailed into the wood on each side of the path. For the next minute, all he could hear was his own breathing and his boots thudding against the parched earth.
It’s too quiet. Beads of sweat formed on his head. The way Shira was hurt even though she doesn’t participate in the Warden’s Exam… the Nionis wanted Dae to react in this way. If that’s the case, they’ve probably set up a trap of some sort. But why does it feel so still?
It was possible that Dae had not launched an offensive yet. In the best-case scenario, he would get Dae out without anything starting. Otherwise… well, he could still talk it out with Huks and try to explain things to the wardens. He hadn’t started this after all.
Speaking of which, Roun knew the south part of the forest to be cold and sinister. Why did it feel like it was getting hotter instead?

At that moment, a flash of orange shone through the trees, followed by the noise of something crashing down.

“That... doesn’t sound good.”

The radiant glow flooded the sky and an arid wind swept from ahead where Roun could see the outline of houses.

“Well... there goes the plan to not start anything.”

* * * * *

Fifteen minutes had passed since Dave left Gran Cera’s house. At first, a sense of urgency had pushed him forward. Perhaps because of the incident with Shira from today as well as the events of the past few days, his body tired out a lot faster than he’d expected.

Dave stopped on the side of the road to lean against a tree. He was out of breath and his body was aching all over.

“I think,” he gasped. “I think I need a new pair of legs.”

The voice piped up brightly, Legs, huh? Let’s see if we can’t do something about that.

“Do you have something?”

Not at the moment.

“You had me hopeful there for a second…”

We shouldn’t dally long here. Who knows when a Warden or a Nioni might come by.

"But... there isn't anyone?" Dave observed his surroundings. Apart from various small creatures hiding in the bushes, he couldn’t sense any other beings around. Even the Main Hall at the top of the hill slumbered.

Come to think of it, his dad said he would be back late, but he never mentioned where he was going. If he were to go by the definition of a ‘village’, then no one was ever too far from the other, right?

Then why did it feel like it took so long to get from place to place? Dave shook his head, wishing he had access to a Birdie. But there weren’t any wardens in sight and without a warden’s permission it was impossible.

Dave took a deep breath to calm himself. Refreshed strength came back to him little by little as he let the cool night air wash over him.

If you don’t get going now, it might be too late when yo-


Dave gasped. The voice went quiet at the same time they heard a clear whistle. Holding his breath, the teen stood straight with wide eyes.

“It’s that sound!”

The same sound that he heard in the backyard and during training. Distracting thoughts and activities out of the way, he could hear it clearly.

It’s coming from ahead.

Dave pursued the ringing noise. It lead him straight along the road untilt a red archway appeared to the left. When Dave stopped in front of it, the whistling came clearly from the area beyond. Brown trees with white leaves lined the well-maintained path.

“This is the Hakara’s area.”

Didn’t they say they would help Roun?

Dave frowned uneasily. He left the main road and passed under the archway.

Hey hey, what are you doing?

“You know what happens whenever that noise starts.”

It was a sound that heralded bad tidings. Was it a coincidence it was occurring the same time the Tiuruhs were in a state of confusion? Or was this a double strike like last time?

Again, he was crossing over the many meandering streams. This time, Dave had no time to admire the bioluminescent water plants. He kept his eyes ahead, trying to get a glimpse of the shining lake. Was it because it was dusk that it seemed much darker than before?

The whistling continued to get louder. Sometimes holding a tone, sometimes fluctuating. But it didn’t disappear.

He listened harder. At the training grounds, he’d thought he was imagining words, but it seemed he hadn’t been mistaken. Whispers of someone’s voice entered his ears with the sound.

...through… noticed… holding on…

Like a bad radio signal, Dave couldn’t grasp everything, but little parts deciphered themselves.

The next moment, his lips parted in shock. His steps faltered and he stopped as his eyes looked up in front of him.

“What… is that?”

Oh my.

The path came to an end. But instead of the glimmering water surface, the road was clipped short by the presence of darkness. All of the lights Dave expected to see were gone.

“Where is the lake?”

It wasn’t that the water had dried up, or that all the plants in the lake were dead. Rather, the whole forest from one point on was hidden from sight by a void. It was like a sheet of paper of the darkest shade had been placed before his eyes. Or in this case, a wall of pure black blocked the road, stretching without end to the side and into the sky.

The wall gave off a cold wave of air, similar to that of a freezer. Apart from that, Dave couldn’t understand what he was seeing. Goosebumps rose on his arms.



Hahaha! I can’t believe it
. The cackling of the voice suddenly rang through his head.

Dave broke from his trance. “What is this?”

A little trick, like all the other tricks the Nionis have played so far. Don’t touch it, The voice snapped when Dave reached towards it. You’ll alert whoever’s casting it.

“How do you know about this?”

Hm? Something like this is easier than thinking. But focus. Right now, this wall is an obstacle. We need to take it down. Find the one putting it up. Go towards the sound.

Dave followed the directions and headed right alongside the wall. It continued straight as far as the eye could see, passing through tree trunks and branches. At a closer look, even though it was pitch black, the wall seemed to squirm and pulsate, forming an uneven surface.

The whistling filled his ears like an annoying siren now. Dave splashed through brooks, trampled on the little plants, and clambered over ornamental rocks, his ear honing in on it.

We could also overpower it. But you’re not capable of doing that right now. The voice continued talking in an analyzing manner. Their power levels are weak, but their output is large. I’d like to know who taught them this.

Dave struggled to focus between moving quickly and listening. It was strange how increasingly talkative his unknown companion was becoming.

Once you find them, target the user. The wall should come down once you break their concentration. The voice broke off in sinister chuckles. If my circumstances were better, I might have liked to increase their potential...

“What are you talking about?” Power? Output? User?

Dave grew only more confused the more the voice rambled on. Unlike before, the wordy intelligence it was expressing was alarming him. If the madness that Warden Eono contracted happened to him…

It couldn’t hear his thoughts, but it must’ve sensed his worries.

I’ll teach you how to do it, the wall.


Only if you want.

Dave paused at a stream before jumping over it. “Okay.”

Heads’ up.

The whistling now was deafening and sounding more like someone’s voice.

Dave looked up. A girl in black sat on a branch, her hands stretched towards the wall and her mouth open. He automatically took out a blade to throw when another figure appeared in front and startled him.

“What - ” Dave skidded to a stop. He’d been so focused on following the sound he hadn’t noticed the presence of the black-clothed boy guarding the base of the tree.

His abrupt appearance made the other yell in surprise. “What the -!”

They wielded their weapons at the same time.



A short sword struck down Dave’s dagger, followed by a stab that he barely dodged. Belatedly, he remembered Roun’s rant about daggers not being strong main weapons and wished he had at least brought a staff.

“Goudi!” The girl sitting in the tree sounded panicked. As if responding to her emotions, the whistling and the wall wavered together.

“Keep focusing, Licist!”

“You guys don’t look like Hakaras,” Dave observed.

You are always a bit late on the uptake, aren’t you?

The sword swinging violently at him verified his guess.

Dave raised his weapon again to block and gasped when the heavy strike sent tingles through his hands to his arms. Fending against a slice aimed for his head knocked him sideways as he failed to get firm footing. The strength behind the strokes astonished him.

Do I retaliate? Do I hit him? Dave flinched with each impact. Goudi steadily pushed him back. The decisiveness in his attacks didn’t let up. A scary feeling pressed upon Dave at that moment. What would happen if I don’t? 

Trying to create some distance, Dave jumped back and readied a second blade with his other hand. However, the suddenness of the encounter had thrown his bearings off and he forgot what was behind him.

Watch out!

The warning came too late. Pitch-black darkness rose up front behind. He braced himself but the impact he expected didn’t come. His left shoulder sunk into something soft and cold. A portion of it that brushed his face burned like dry ice. He shuddered.

“Uwah!” Dave tried to pull out, but the black wall gripped him like sticky dough. In his turbulent vision he saw Goudi rushing at him.

It suddenly reminded him at how far the Nionis had gone to cripple the other families. This guy couldn’t be thinking of...

Throw it at the girl! Now!

The voice didn’t lose its head. As always, its orders moved him like a programmed robot.

Dave raised his free right arm. Goudi lunged forward. Just before the point contacted his skin, Dave threw the dagger. He didn’t have to look. The weapon flew like it knew where it was going, aimed with the precision of a string attached to its target.

Licist gasped and broke her form to dodge it. Immediately, the whistling cut off.

With it, the suction on Dave’s shoulder loosened. The blade in Goudi’s hand drew a thin line across his arm as Dave plummeted backwards. The entire sheet of black collapsed without a trace into the ground and the lights of the lake streamed through the air. Everything hidden behind the dark curtain reappeared.

The impact to his head stunned Dave. Not missing the chance, Goudi appeared over him and rammed the tip of the blade through his shoulder.

“Aa-aah!” The sensation of an object puncturing through his skin caught Dave by surprise. A myriad of upsetting  emotions washed over him.

The nerve of - !

“Put the wall back up! Put it up!” Goudi yelled urgently.

“I’m trying! I’m trying!” Licist’s voice cracked.

The sword - the sword - Dave grabbed the blade with his bare hands, overcome with the thought that he had to take it out - he had to -

Dave, calm down.

What had he been thinking, rushing in without a plan? It came to him now that he had thought it was going to be easy. Straightforward. He just had to stop the person making the sound. He had stopped her, but actually getting hurt in the process...

He hadn’t expected to be…

There now...

His frenzy was subsiding. Something was odd. The shock from the stab was wearing off. He felt a strange sense of clarity when he realized that the essential part of this moment was missing.

“How the -!”

Goudi reeled back with a fearful gasp. Dave looked at him and saw the expression he should have been wearing instead.

“Cret! You’ve got to be kidding me!” Goudi backed away, his face paling.

Raising his head to see, Dave was met with an unexpected sight. Where there should have been blood, a pattern of dark swirls surrounded the area where the blade punctured. The same markings seeped from his hands where the blade cut them.

Yet he felt no pain. The unpleasant sensations that should have accompanied this weren’t there at all.

Dave yanked the short sword out and the black markings vanished, leaving behind no wound nor scar. He sat up quickly, taking in fast breaths, and looked down at his trembling hands. It was the same result.

Dumbfounded, he looked up and saw shocked expressions on both Nioni children.

Goudi shouted, “How come you have that ability?!”

Dave never got to answer him because a young woman in a bright colourful robe appeared out of the blue and struck the Nioni down. Goudi crumpled to the ground. Licist shrieked and scurried off her perch to run away, only to be surrounded by the other Hakaras.

“Che, we’ve wasted too much time here,” said a cold voice.

After making sure the Nionis were secured, the young woman, daughter of the Hakara Head,  turned to Dave.

“Where’s Roun?” Enn demanded.

* * * * *

Even though Roun personally disliked the Nioni Family Area, he had a feeling Dave would have still wanted to see what it looked like.

The main section was a massive clearing, bordered by trees and closed over by a lightless forest ceiling. Very few plants grew in its dark soil. Its open space, unlike the Hakaras, made one feel vulnerable and small.

What few trees that stood in that space were placed distantly from each other and circled by pale wooden houses built in thick ring formations around them. Ash-grey paths wound through the residences in wobbling lines.

The moment the trail ended, Roun stopped.


A group of Nioni children stood in the middle of the path. Their jet-black attire, ranging from shirt and jeans to fully traditional tunic and robes, fluttered in the sputtering winds like the garments of a grim reaper.

They looked as startled as he was and both sides tensed up, expecting the other to move first.

Fortunately, nothing happened. This was why he’d decided to come through the front door instead of sneaking in like Dae might have done.  It made sense to attack someone trespassing on your property in a suspicious manner, but not if they’d come by the conventional method, aka under the archways.

- Hehe…

Small gusts brought little whispers to his ears. A part of him grew cold.

He’d been expecting something different. It didn’t make sense, really. If they’d wanted to set a trap, might as well make it a surprise too.

- He came, he came.

Perhaps that was why he felt all the more unsettled when he realized another thing.

The area should have been lit by orange lanterns.

Roun looked past them.

The forest, previously chilly and dark, was illuminated by the ominous orange light from flames gnawing the top of one of the houses.

Roun had a feeling he would find Dae where the trouble was. “Guess it’s true what they say about the blaze that burns the brightest…” he muttered.

The problem was, had she or the Nionis done it? The crash from before worried him.

Normally, Roun would be alerting the residents of the hazard himself. Judging from the shadow cast faces of said residents in front of him, there was no need. They already knew. And yet no one moved.

But there was something even more strange than that. He should’ve been hearing people making a fuss or working to put it out.

By everyone, he meant - the wardens, the parents, aunties, uncles, or the elderly. No one was sitting on the porches. No light shone in the windows. There was no sign of any adults in the Nioni Family Area. The fact sunk in and he was stunned.

He hadn’t heard anything about this. Sure, he didn’t pay attention to the Nionis in general, but…

“Where is everyone?”

No Enn Hakara or Dae Tiuruh in sight either.

Roun licked his dry lips. The seeds of the Spax Berries had not fully kicked in. He could feel his heart starting to pound again from the short run. He drew in slow breaths, feeling like he was trying to suppress a motor that wanted to shift to a higher gear.

Did I just walk into the Nioni Family Area by myself? Roun thought, My siblings will never live it down if I get lynched by a group of kids…

He didn’t like this. The Nionis were acting strangely. Their auras exuded more than just confidence from having ‘a way to avoid getting caught’, as Enn put it.

The mood was like a young student walking into a classroom only to realize all his classmates were in cahoots against him, or like a hero entering a dungeon full of cackling goblins, or more appropriately, like a mouse that had tumbled into a pit of snakes that eyed it all with the same hungry condescending glare.

No one spoke to him. None of them held a weapon. They just stared. Stared and smiled.

Any other day he might have been unnerved, but he had something he had to get done tonight.
I don’t see Huks. Don’t tell me he’s gone to make himself the final boss?
More figures crept out from the trees behind him. Of the ten or so crowding in, there were barely any children over the age of fourteen, the youngest at least seven years old. That meant they were all younger than he. He considered glumly that no matter which way the potential fight went, it looked bad for him as the oldest and the only armed one.
After determining they weren’t going to attack him, Roun broke the silence awkwardly.

“I hope you and your family are doing well.”

- Haha… -

- ‘Doing well, haha.’ -

The formal greeting caused more giggles to erupt from the group, but they didn’t answer him.

“I’d like to speak with Huks. Is he here?”

- Don’t tell him. -

- Here we go, here we go. -

Roun gritted his teeth and took a step forward. He didn’t have time for this. The line of children flinched, but didn’t budge.

“Is Dae here?”


One of the children in front of him finally replied. A smile spread across the girl’s face. Roun didn’t recognize her. Had there been this many children in the Nioni family?

- Is she here? Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t.

It was the child beside her that said that, before bursting into laughter. Then the Nioni on the other side of the girl went off as well. Mirth spread to the rest of them until Roun found himself trapped within a ring of laughter.

A chill ran down his back. His face darkened and his eyes trembled.

Ba-dum. Ba-dum. Badumbadumbadum.

Without warning, pain came back to his lungs as his pulse spiked. Roun desperately struggled to keep his breathing steady, to hide any weaknesses.

Fortunately, they seemed not to have noticed, caught up in their little game, because the next moment, the girl yelled out.

- Why don’t you come and find her?

- Come and get!

- Hahaha!

With that declaration, they scattered like a flock of birds.

“Hey, wait!” Roun blurted hoarsely. Dark liquid dripped from his mouth.


Light flashed from above. Another flame leaped to life on the already burning building.

Staring up at the collage of dancing shadows and rustling fire, Roun was reminded of a previous time where the world seemed to be burning. There hadn’t been anyone to help him back then, and there wasn’t anyone now. At that time, he had run ahead anyway. And now, there wasn’t anyone telling him not to go. Wiping his mouth, he broke into a sprint and headed towards the fire.

The path led him past the houses with shaded windows towards the middle of the area. The temperature rose every second and a hazy film permeated the air. Roun covered his mouth with a cloth mask, pushing forward while tears stung his eyes. Soon, he arrived at the place covered in the most smoke where a familiar figure stood in the doorway.
“Huks!” Roun choked. The taste of blood cascaded off his tongue. He’d taken many pills to stop this reaction from happening. Why weren’t they working?

Huks saw him, shot a smirk in his direction, and ran away. Before he disappeared behind the houses, his hand slid across the door posts, leaving two clear lines in the wood. Huks had been blocking the entryway. Now he was gone, another figure became visible.

Dae sat inside the building filling up with smoke. A post across her legs trapped her.

Another bright flare lit up the sky. Fire crept down the timber supports at an alarming pace. It was obvious what would happen at this rate.

“Are you serious?”

When Roun had considered the possibility of a trap, he’d almost been hoping for something more elaborate, like what they did in the Tiuruh area. Falling trees, hostile animals, and poisonous berries included. He wanted to see what tricks they were really carrying up their sleeves.

This method was so straightforward Roun wanted to smack himself with a facepalm. Did the fact that he knew he was walking into it even make it a trap?

He could almost see Huks’ train of thought when devising their plan of action. Roun’s younger sister could have cooked this up.

For his side of things, Roun could blame this on poor preparation. On the fact he’d done nothing to stop Huks before this. On not prioritizing the right things. This was why Dae would never stop chewing him out about his lack of initiative. At the end of the day...

Roun slid through the doorway just as falling debris crashed to the ground behind him. He didn’t miss spotting the small cuts left by Huks on the door posts. Just as he thought those wouldn't be enough to break it...

The door way split horizontally in half the moment he entered, as if set off by a trigger. He rolled towards Dae and shielded her from falling bits of splintering wood as the front of the room caved in. A muted glow from outside was the only light in the smoky haze.

He didn’t stop to think how irregular things were playing out. Everything was getting hotter. His body was growing heavier. Quickly, he worked on pulling the post off Dae’s body while the boards above them creaked dangerously.

The archer’s eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving. How much smoke had she breathed already?

“Dae! Wake up!” Roun strained to lift the wood. A pang throbbed in his chest and he nearly dropped it. Then in a sudden heave, he threw it aside.

A wave of nausea hit him. Roun ripped off his mask to let blood pour out of his mouth. He dropped to his knees beside Dae and shook her shoulders. With surprise, he saw they'd tied her ankles together and her wrists to a wooden support.

“Huks, you are really -” Roun coughed violently. He pulled out a knife and started cutting the rope around her wrists. How had she managed to get like this?

In the corner of his eye he saw little flames crawling down the walls.

"Dae - we have to get out -” Roun freed her wrists and started to put her over his shoulder.

As if the building was cursed to act against his intentions, something above them snapped. Roun looked up to see a beam dipping towards him and shot to his feet to catch it. The weight fixed him to the spot. He felt if he moved, either he or the ceiling would break. Other fractures began riddling the boards in streaks.

"What the cre..." Dropped on the floor, Dae awoke with racking coughs. She winced as she tried to move and found her feet bound.

"The knife," Roun wheezed. His legs threatened to buckle. "You have to get out!"

A crash from the floor above brought Dae to her senses. She grabbed the fallen knife and wrestled weakly with the ropes restricting her ankles. It was sluggish work against the suffocating temperatures beating upon them. She still managed a strained, “Don’t you dare - let that go.”

“Just - hurry -” he couldn’t even form the words or see properly. When he opened his eyes, they stung and his vision swam.

The wood made a dangerous cracking noise. His muscles felt like metal strings about to snap. It took him everything he had to keep it from toppling on Dae. He couldn’t see an opening they could safely get through. Was this how it was going to go down? Thoughts clustered in his mind, denying the incoming fate.

He should have listened to Dae. He should have done something before this. Again, he’d failed as the Heiress’ Son. Failed as a warrior. Failed as an Acor…

Nevermind trying to pass the exam. What was the point when the families were literally at each other’s throats? When did it become so important to be better than others?

No wonder the Nanrot had left the Acor alone for so long. May as well leave them to destroy themselves, right?

Bitter thought after bitter thought welled up.


Fear clutched at Roun. Then sadness.

I still haven’t repaid you for everything.

Then anger. Then disgust.

Then hopelessness. Then hatred.


A harsh laugh broke apart his lips.

“Dae,” Roun’s voice cracked as he yelled.

“What?” Dae snapped back.

Roun shouted over crackling sounds overhead. “I’m sorry for letting you all down."

“This is not the time to be spitting out sentimental -” Dae cut through the rope and staggered to her feet.

Another hunk of wood crashed to the ground near them.

“I’m also sorry for being such a letdown.”

“Do - your self-reflection - afterwards...” Dae was staring at him wildly, her eyes probably drawn to the blood streaming from his mouth.

“I’m also sorry,” Roun croaked out,  “if I let this down!”

"Roun!" Dae reached out to him.


The sound of collapsing supports exploded in their ears. Unable to keep itself up, the ceiling broke apart and two stories of wood and fire rained down on them.

Notes to self below. I'm keeping these here because I have a poor memory for little details. Avoid reading if you want to be spared details c:
NTS: Previous Version Notes and Revisions
Chapter 20 --

Version 1:
1. Quo/Ayay (I forget which one) - Their report of seeing Dae is actually false.
2.. Dae - Reconsiders her actions and doesn't actually go to the Nionis. She tells Nuyori about the Nionis, resulting in Nuyori leaving right away.
3. Dave - Chasing after run. Conversation with voice.
4. Roun - Meets up with Enn Hakara. Confronts Nionis. After a few words of exchange, someone from Roun's group attacks the Nionis first, resulting in a fight. Roun finds Huks who starts revealing his hand.

Version 2:
1. Shira - Boldly steps out to confront intruder. Fight ensues. Felt too OOC.
2. Dave - Encounters a false Dae. Fights them and exposes their identity, witnessing one of the "tricks".
3. Roun - Fails to meet up with Hakaras. Finds the entire Nioni Area on Fire. Villagers are in chaos. Fights his way through a burning building to save Dae before it falls on them. 2x more dramatic than current version.

Version 3 (current):
1. Shira - Realizes the intruder is a fake. Hesitation whether or not to fight (more in character). Trick 1.
2. Dave - Feels something wrong with the Hakara area. Encounters Nionis. Trick 2-3.
3. Roun - Fails to meet with Hakaras. Encounters Nionis. Finds Dae. Trick 4.

- More scenes for Wardens and Chief
- Shira's throat hurts and she can't speak
- Dave's voice is getting more talkative
- Roun's condition is worsening

No one is perfect . . . that's why there's erasers and extra paper.
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Re: Charred Life (Rewritten)
« Reply #49 on: June 28, 2021, 11:01:31 PM »
Hallo o/
Another month, another chapter. My research for this chapter was pretty interesting - explosions, boars, dams, and whatnot. Oh, and canal locks.

Music listened to most while writing (Find it helps when I listen to certain songs on loop):

- "Blessed Messiah and the Tower of AI" (cover) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THoIEF4pyak
- Aimer "I Beg You" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVP8te7nvOo
- DAY6 "Shoot Me" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2X2LdJAIpU

Books read during:
- Isaac Asimov "Foundation Trilogy: Second Foundation"
- Ryogo Narita "Baccano: 1705 The Ironic Light Orchestra" (volume 11)

Chapter 21 Turnaround Prank

Nioni Family Area   

Huks stared down as the building over his rivals folded in on itself with a decisive whump. Crackling fire consumed the ring of houses, springing as jovially as jumping children upon the cackling timber that continued to snap and crumble in an irreparable pile. The flames reflected in his tense gaze. Though the plumes of smoke and the fierce heat that smarted against his face even at this distance should have assured him, he held his hand at the ready in case it hadn’t been enough. Roun had a record of being incredibly resilient.
One minute… two minutes… Only after he ascertained that nothing living stirred amidst the burning for a whole five minutes did he let himself relax. A grin spread across his soot-smudged face. No one would be climbing out of that heap for a while.
Standing up on the roof of the houses across from the scene of destruction, Huks lifted his arm high into the air and shouted out.
“All clear!”
A racket of voices human ears couldn’t hear stirred from below.
- We did it!
- Hahaha!
Little figures scuttled out from the shadows where they had been hiding, watching, and holding their breaths in excitement as the rehearsal of the past three weeks played out on their stage, their turf, in a successful and thrilling run. Three weeks! Their preparation had been impeccable. The curtain had fallen on their final act. Each member of the cast, from the youngest seven-year-old to the teenage of sixteen years, pranced into the open for curtain call, laughing and sharing high-fives. They smiled innocently and chatted without guilt.
A strange harmony the vocalizations made. Over the low plain mumble natural to mortals, a secondary layer of otherworldly sounds was being transmitted at the same time. Some might describe it as whistling, ringing, or the unwavering melodic tones of a fairy hovering beside your ear. Just as with their normal voices, each one “spoke” with a distinct colour and texture, from high and energetic to low and calming. The overlaying of the “sentences” weaved together into unique spontaneous music.
The language didn’t need words, but they understood each other perfectly as if there were. It resonated pleasantly. And best of all, no one else could hear them. It was this form of speech that allowed them to remain detected for the longest time. Out of all the things they were taught, Huks marked this technique the most useful.
He came down to join his fellow Nionis. He felt a sort of pride as he looked into their bright faces, a release of the oppressed finally getting the better of their opponents after being second-to-best for so long.
“Good job, everyone.”
They had eliminated their major contenders.
Roun, the Heiress’ Son, who always looked down on them and the Acor traditions.
Dae – she was just annoying.
And Dave. Well, Loon had briefly reported that Roun’s cousin was coming, but Dave was new. Dave was weak. What could he do alone?
Aren’t we going to tell Teacher?” someone asked in their Other Voice.
After Loon, Licist, and Goudi get back.” Huks checked his phone, but saw no new messages. “We’ll report to Teacher together. We dealt with Roun, but I don’t want to call a victory until we’re sure the rest of them won’t cause trouble.
I hope Teacher will be pleased this time…
Huks hoped so too. He didn’t really care about the other Tiuruhs. They were small fry. To him, no threat stood to endanger them anymore. They’d gotten rid of the things standing in their way, the ones that might ruin the future of Acor.
After thinking about it, Huks smiled in satisfaction. One might call it a nasty smile, but for the first time in a while he felt pretty good about himself.
Perhaps the bud of exultant emotions circulating around the group was the reason why only one boy, a nervous type who couldn’t stop worrying, picked up on something happening behind them all.
It was an at first soft but then slowly and steadily growing –
Creeaaaaaa - !!

* * * * *

Tiuruh Family Area
Shira sat behind a door being opened by an intruder disguised as her sister.
I’m not here. I’m not here. I’m not here…
Repeating these words to herself was but a vain spell to keep Shira calm. A mere three centimeters of wood were all that prevented the Nioni from seeing her. Shira curled up, knees hugged against her chest. She dared not move. She dared not breathe. The skin beneath her mask burned with a fierce cold.
What would they do when they found her? Take her hostage? They’d already tried to poison her and they’d succeeded in breaking the will of the Tiuruhs. The Nioni had mentioned ‘getting started’. Did it have to do with what was happening outside?
I’m not part of this. I don’t want to be here. I need to get away from here.
Meanwhile, vibrations continued to buzz through the wall. Objects on the dresser rattled. If she had a clearer mind, she could have guessed what was causing the quake. But the door stopping in front of her toes took all her attention. Shira stared wide at the edge. Her heart beat with the pitter-patter of a small bird.
The shadow of the stranger fell across the carpeting in front of her. She saw the eyes of the stranger - darker and narrower than Dae’s - sweep over the room. For a second, she thought her heart would stop beating when those eyes flicked onto her, only for the gaze to glance away again without recognition.
“Huh? That’s strange, I’m pretty sure she was in here.” The childlike voice whined in disappointment. “She couldn’t possibly have left?”
“Shira!” A woman’s urgent voice called through the house. “Shira, where are you?”
Gran…? Gran! Relief washed over Shira, cooling down her masked face immediately.
The imposter’s shadow disappeared. Then a green dress swept into the room. Shira shot to her feet and clung to Gran Cera tightly. Startled, the elderly lady reached for her hands and clasped them in a warm grip.
“Come quickly. Irian boars broke through the fences. Head to the cellar for now until things calm down. Where did your mother go? Dear Cretanneh, one thing after another. Why is this summer so filled with bad omens?”
That’s not it Gran. Shira was only slightly glad she wasn’t required to speak. She peeked out, but saw no one else. Where did that Nioni go? How come they didn’t see me?
Hee hee!
Breathy screeches from outside were all it took for Shira to regain her awareness. Several potted plants crashed to the ground from their shelves following the rumble of hooves passing by the house. Leaving the bedroom, they picked their way through dirt, leaves, and shattered clay as they hurried towards the back patio.
Shira balked on the deck. Red dirt smeared the garden in ugly streaks. The berry bushes she and Dave had been picking from that afternoon were all upturned and trampled on. The garden Gran Cera worked hard to plant in the spring and cared for everyday was reduced to nothing in minutes.
The left side of her face burned cold once more. Her mood soured.
“Quickly – quickly!”
Due to the rural intentions behind its design, the house had no basement, only a cellar accessible from the outside. The bulkhead doors appeared undamaged amidst the rampage. Gran started to open them when Shira heard a familiar voice coming from out front made her freeze. Her eyes darted until they fell upon the scene playing out in the rest of the village.
Pure disarray.
Several dark brown boars, retriever-sized babies and mini-truck large adults, ran amok through the roads. Creatures that should have been fended off by the fences were invading the residential area, their ire ignited from finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. They tore through wood with their tusks. Others trampled over plants and knocked down fences. Chickens and pigs blinded by fear scattered in bawking squealing cacophony.
Not everyone had gathered their wits. A few grown-ups whistled for the wolves while others pulled out tools to fend off the beasts, but no one took lead to give organization. Younger kids cried at the explosive noises. Many were rushing for the cellars and bunkers just like Gran and Shira were, or observing from second floors. To the adults, it might’ve seemed like a technological malfunction was the cause, but all Shira saw brought on an alarming déjà vu. 
This is what happened at the training grounds!
And the instigator of that experience surveyed the chaos from the roof of a house across the road. Still wearing Dae’s robes, the Nioni gloated openly at the scene, high-pitched laughs unmistakable above the commotion.
“Shira!” Gran called to her, but all other sound was lost to the girl.
You think this is funny? Shira scowled, her right eye burning with anger. She forgot her earlier fear as each giggle increased her disgust.
Two were types of people Shira hated. The first type was Roun, someone who had all the ability to do something, yet decided not to. The other was the one that thought it was okay and even a good thing to use those abilities to hurt other people. This type encompassed a large range of people, many of whom she had not actually seen, but whoever fell within this category Shira could only identify as her enemy. And this Nioni was now one of them.
You’re just like those stupid people that attacked Acor six years ago!
A surge of rage took hold of her and she had the intense urge to grab the imposter by the neck and –
The imposter peeped out a strangled cry as she was lifted up by the back of her collar with a single hand. In a split second she was dangling over the side of the roof like a cub in the jaws of a bigger animal.
A tall and black-clothed figure now stood behind the Nioni. Shira blinked. She swayed as her dark emotions cleared away like a morning fog bathed in welcoming sunlight.
But I thought she left!
“Shira we have to – Nuyori! What are you doing?!” Gran Cera let out a scream. She viewed the same scene as Shira, only in her eyes she saw a Warden, her own daughter, threatening to drop a figure wearing the trademark animal-eared robe of her granddaughter from a building. It was a questioning action that few others witnessed.
Perhaps she glimpsed them watching her. The Warden looked back at them silently. Shira met her hidden gaze and understood what she had to do. Around them, the trampling boars had yet to be subdued. It was a situation she and Gran Cera could do nothing about.
Locking onto Gran’s arm, Shira tugged urgently towards the cellar stairs and didn’t let up until the doors closed behind them. Even though they heard the muffled crashes and the Zerakis made walls shook, she wasn’t as scared anymore.
She didn’t know if Dae was okay. She hoped Roun had found her, and that Dave had found Roun. Maybe they had gotten themselves into trouble again. Or maybe they were on their way back now. When her throat healed enough, she would have to have a talk with each one of them, starting with Dave.
I hope this night passes quickly. I hope things go back to normal.
Whatever else was happening out there, Shira comforted herself that this was not as bad as the situation six years ago. After taking Gran’s pills for her throat, she felt tired and drowsy.
But everything is going to be okay now. Mom is here.
Then, Shira fell asleep.

* * * * *

Outside, twenty feet off the ground, the Nioni posing as Dae was sweating buckets.
“Hey there, girlie,” a deep woman’s voice whispered in her ear. It came from the one holding her, their face hidden by the brim of a wide black wooden hat.
“W-warden?! Wha – You – !” Fear settled into the girl’s shock-stricken face.
“That’s the nice thing about automatic travelling systems.”
Warden Nuyori had never left to begin with. She’d known from the start that the girl wearing the pointy-eared robe was not her daughter. After sending the Birdie back to the garage, she’d waited to see what the girl would do.
As she’d suspected, the imposter was from the Nionis, a family the wardens had been keeping an eye on for a while. However, it wasn’t solely the Nionis under surveillance. They’d been told to keep tabs on all four families over the past three months.
“You seem to want to be part of my family very much, Loon Nioni.”
“W-what?” The girl became flustered at hearing her name, desperately grasping the warden’s wrist as she eyed the open air below.
“Lose the outfit.”
“Saying…saying that is a little –”
“You can’t do it?”
Loon paused. Conflicted emotions twisted her face for a few seconds before fading into resignation. It was then the change occurred. The surface of her clothes rippled with the effect of a rock dropped in a puddle. “Dae” and the pointy-eared robe fell away like a rapidly receding tide, flowing off with the swiftness of water down a drain. When the flow of clothes stopped, there was no Dae left, just a girl in a black dress, her hair done up in pigtails. Loon’s face flushed red.
Nuyori remained expressionless, appearing unsurprised at this transformation, though there swirled around her a contemplative air.
“Get rid of the boars.”
“H-huh?!” Loon’s face fell further. “I - that - you see - I’m here on orders...”
Nuyori glanced down. She needed to wrap this up and leave as soon as possible. The villagers were still scrambling to organize themselves in order to redirect the boars back outside the fences. No wolves came to aid. Not surprising, since the majority of them were at the Adsoku Family Area, backing up the wardens there.
Sighing softly to herself, Nuyori put the sputtering child under her arm, stepped forward, and jumped off the roof, one hand holding onto her hat. She heard some parents scream during the two-storey drop, but she landed without any problems. The stupefied child she stood up on the ground in front of her, facing the length of the road.
Then she placed a firm hand on Loon’s shoulder, preventing her from moving. Coming down the middle of the road in its full eight-foot height was the biggest, huskiest boar, blowing hot steam air into the chilly evening breeze through its flared nostrils. A glint flashed in its sunken red eyes and it let out a deafening squeal that shook the leaves in the forest ceiling.
Loon squeaked and shivered. “Wait - ho-hold on a moment!”
“Waron.” Nuyori had pulled out her phone. “My apologies. I have a few things to settle first. I’ll be a bit late.”
The ground bounced under their feet. Dust clouds filled the air. The boar had at least been seven-hundred meters away. Within four seconds it crossed a third of that distance.
“I-I said I can’t do it!” Loon struggled to break from the grip, but Nuyori didn’t budge.
“No, it’s nothing to concern yourself about,” the warden replied calmly to a question.
350 meters.
“Mrs. Wa-warden?!” Loon quivered all the way up to her head.
200 meters. The scars and knotted hair on the coarse battle-toughened hide were visible.
“As far as I know, only Roun, Dae, and Dave are absent,” Nuyori said.
100 meters.
Loon screamed. “I’ll do it I’ll do it I’ll do it!!”
10 meters.
Nuyori hung up, pulled Loon away, and twirled right as the boar’s tusks lunged within half a meter. A massive brown wall seemed to whoosh by them, so close they could smell something foul and earthy in its wind. As the creature swerved and prepared to charge again, she drew her small hammer from her side and threw it at the boar’s leg. A disturbing crack rang out. The boar screeched and plummeted head over heels, its dead weight flinging up a trench of dirt before it smashed into someone’s porch, bringing the roof down.
Loon stared with bulging eyes behind her, jaw slack. Then her knees buckled and she fell on her butt as her skin colour fluctuated.
The warden pointed at the body. “Start with that one.” She picked up her hammer and twirled it back onto her belt. “And don’t even think about leaving.”

* * * * *

Hakara Family Area

Snap snap!
“Hey. Wake up.”
You should answer her.
“Huh…?” Dave blinked. The sound of swishing water brought him out of his daze.
Enn was flicking her fingers in front of his face. “Did Roun go to the Nionis already?”
“Uh – ah - yes...”
Enn’s normally composed face came as close to a grimace as he had ever seen it. “Che, he may as well be a chicken in a fox’s den. He’ll have to fend for himself.” A motion of her head sent her fellow Hakaras away, but not in the direction of the exit.
“What are you going to do?” Dave blurted.
“Draw our swords.”
“You’re going to join Roun?”
“I can do better than that.” The daughter of the Hakara Head smiled. It was the first time Dave had seen her do so. The should-have-been benign expression with the intentions of goodwill completely removed from it suited her ill. “The Hakaras will serve the Nionis their due on our own terms. Peace can only remain where there are those to keep it.”
“Uh, right.”
“Are you okay?”
“You should return while you have the chance. This isn’t a time one wants to be caught out.” With that advice, Enn followed after her kin traversing along the side of the lake.
“Wait…” Dave’s knees buckled the moment he tried to stand. A heavy weight stopped him from rising. He drew slow breaths as his eyes wandered over the surroundings. The two Nionis were gone, taken away by the Hakaras. Staring at the glimmering water in a daze, it dawned on him he could see it now with the wall of black gone. Hidden crickets chirped to him. After all the commotion, it was eerily quiet.
How strange. He didn’t know why, but he felt strangely tranquil. Or maybe the bewildering moment had numbed his emotions. He was probably just in shock. The tremble in his arms told him he was not okay.
Lifting a hand, he patted the tear in his shirt where the point of the blade had cut. No matter how much he felt for it, the wound didn’t exist. The same went for the cut on his arm. Only his ripped sleeve served as evidence for the attack.
Dave gripped himself. Little by little, his focus returned. Backtracking, he was reminded why he was out here in the first place. He wanted to catch up with his cousins. On the way, he ran into Nionis. Enn took care of them. Now what?
Was Roun okay? Dae?
As he thought, he couldn’t go back. Bracing against a tree, Dave forced himself to get up. He didn’t know the state of affairs happening away from his eyes, but there was someone who could give him answers right now.
 “...what did you do earlier?”
The voice replied, I helped you.
“What was that?”
Did you want to get hurt?
“I don’t care about that.” Dave punched the bark. He felt pain this time.
“What exactly is going on here? You better have something to say about this. Not having the same information, I don’t know if I can trus… Look, we all thought this started with the Nionis pulling cra – uh, crazy stunts. But there’s something else too, isn’t there?”

For a while now, a feeling of vague familiarity had haunted Dave. He first noticed it when he talked with certain people and he’d even felt it during that brief encounter with the Nionis, before the other had shouted, “How do you have that ability?”
“I don’t like being kept out of the know. I’ve already been in the dark for too long. So.. I want to know… is this all happening because of you?”
Me? The voice sounded astonished. I thought you were onto something but then you go and reach the wrong conclusion. You’re misunderstanding something.
“Then what?”
The voice seemed to sigh. I think it will be easier to understand if you go with those Hakara and see for yourself.
And from here on, you might want to save your surprise for the surprising stuff.
Those words. Hadn’t Roun said that?
Because if you are surprised here, you may not be able to see what is happening next with the right point of view.
Dave jumped. The hollow sound resounded from the far end of the lake like faint thunder. “What was that?”
Don’t you want to find it all out by yourself?
“Wait, it can’t be – the Nionis again?”
The second boom spurred Dave to move. He could run again. He was running towards the danger again. He wanted to see for himself. That way, his questions would be answered, and he wouldn’t be running blind anymore.
With these thoughts, he headed for the origin of the reoccurring crashes, the clear sparkling lake water beside him. As he got nearer, the thundering became sounds of colliding between two solid objects, bringing the clogging of dread to his thudding heart. He heard no yelling or indication of fighting. Was it a one-sided attack?
A thin strip of dark grey blotted the edge of the lake and Dave almost ceased up. But this barrier didn’t rise to the sky or block his path. It wasn’t until he saw the gates in the structure that he realized what the grey mass was.
“It’s a dam,” Dave exclaimed. He jogged past it to look over the edge, expecting to see a dip in the land, but the water level was the same. “No, a lock?”
“Something like that.” Enn walked up to him from the opposite direction. Two of her team stood by the gates holding the water of the divided section from the other end. “I thought you would go back.”
No, she didn’t.
“Enn – what’s happening?” If they weren’t fighting, what was that –
- sound?
Instead of responding, the young woman nodded her head towards her group and led him over. They were all looking down on the other side where one of them, Agikan, stood at the bottom of a ten-foot-deep trench pounding on the gate with his bare hands. A single punch put a massive dent into the metal.
On a closer look, a black substance coated those hands. The same black as the wall and his blade-pierced skin. There it was again, that familiar feeling.
“What are you doing?” Dave gaped.
“Ideally, we would open the doors from the control station, but none of us have the access codes to operate it.” Enn explained as calmly as if she were talking about a dessert recipe that didn’t come out quite right. “I’ll have to ask my mom next time, if she forgives me for this.”
“No – I mean – but – “
“It’ll give in one more,” Agikan, panting and sweating, called up to them.
Enn nodded. “Do it.”
Coils of black wrapping over his whole arm, Agikan took a stance, drew back his fist, and threw all his weight into it.

* * * * *

Nioni Family Area
“Eek!” The worried Nioni boy couldn’t believe it. He knew they should have waited a little more. Their abilities were still so new. Infighting had always been a bad idea. Pranks were childish after all, weren’t they? His parents were going to chew him out for this when he got back –
These griefs twirled uselessly in his mind after the creaking, growing so gradually nobody noticed until it was too late, hit its peak. No one saw exactly what happened next.
In an instant, the houses behind the group were levelled with a sharp bang. The crash flung up a black dust cloud which, including the smoke, created a dense screen, hiding the surroundings from their eyes. Residue noise from the impact ached in their ears.
After blinking at each other dumbfounded, a chorus of annoyed voices broke the stunned silence. Some even laughed at the randomness of what had happened.
“Hey, who sabotaged my house?!”

“Looks like you’re sleeping over at my place tonight.”

“I thought we agreed on just the one??”
“Don’t look at me! Only Huks, Loon, and Licist can do that!”
“Think again,” Huks growled back. For the next few moments, all one heard was coughs, grumbles, snickers, and Other Voices inside the cloaking dust. Rays of the fire made each person but a silhouette. Huks breathed into his sleeve as he squinted at his comrades’ vague figures. The earlier celebratory mood was dimming.
His Other Voice bypassed the need to open his mouth, a useful thing in the current toxic air. “Alright, ‘fess up. Who was goofing off?
Wasn’t me. I swear. Although, maybe that slice from earlier might’ve done it…?” someone spoke up.
You saying it was me?
Even though the crash had startled them, no one thought it could be the work of someone other than their own. They’d had plenty of accidents during their training after all and shook it off as another. Whoever’s house it was, they would have to sleep over somewhere now.
Well, who else? The others aren’t back yet. Where are they?
Huks frowned and checked his phone again. “Dunno. No word back from them yet.
Maybe they ended up enjoying themselves too much. Wait, what if it’s the Wa-
The what?” Huks turned his head around when the voice cut off. He hadn’t been keeping strict track of his group and the emptiness of the dust and smog to his right made him scowl. In his normal voice, he shouted, “Hey!”
“Cret, can we finish up here? We can’t see a thing,” another said with a sneeze.
On top of the smoke and dust, ashes started drifting down on their heads. With the present condition of the fires and sooty dusty air, it was a bad idea to linger long.
Huks clicked his tongue. Another glance for messages proved fruitless. Either the three stationed in the other areas were too lazy to check their phones or they’d gotten too full of themselves and their newfound abilities. They could catch a scolding later. He was their Teacher’s best student for a reason.
In his Other Voice, Huks directed the scattered members to regroup around him. There was one final set-up to be made. A present for the wardens to direct the blame away from the Nionis. A smile crossed his face as he recalled the final directions from their Teacher.
The Wardens would come to find the Nioni Family Area on fire, put it out, and ask what the Cret had happened. Being the only witnesses in the area, the Nionis would point to the number of arrows, clearly Dae’s, stuck to the houses. Fire arrows weren’t old fashioned, right? After a scuffle - which they could say she started – Dae had unfortunately fallen victim to her own scheme and Roun, trying to save her, had perished as well.
Then the Wardens would do their investigation to see if everything added up. Those in the Tiuruh area would say that Dae ran here on her own, but they wouldn’t find any other witnesses, since everyone shortly after would have been wrapped up in trying not to get killed by boars.
As for the Hakaras… They’d been stopped by a black wall? What imaginary nonsense. And what reason did the Hakaras have to leave, in the direction of the Nionis no less? There would be questions and questions and questions, but few answers. Again, the Wardens would have to pretend that they couldn’t tell anyone the details of the investigation because they had no idea. Isn’t that what they’d been doing for the past few weeks anyway?
And Huks knew, for all their searching, they would never be able to link all three incidents to the Nionis. At least, even if they did, it would take them a really long time. This plan, relying on the chaos unfolding throughout the village and the absence of the wardens, would be steeped in mystery so thick they wouldn’t be able to see the bottom of it.
“That is, if Loon and the others do their job properly.” Huks was growing increasingly irritated at their lack of response. If he had the ability to split himself, he would have conducted the whole plan himself. As of yet, that was impossible. And so he was stuck with giving orders and hoping for the best.
Then the Warden’s Exam would come around and there wouldn’t be any Tiuruhs to compete with, no Roun to upstage them, and no Dae to sully the reputation of the Acor. So what if the dead were mourned? What if the Nionis were suspected? Teacher’s words took priority over all that. All they had to do was follow Teacher. If they wanted to win, they just had to remember what Teacher told them.
“No mercy. No hesitation,” he whispered to himself.
That’s how they were going to wrap this up. Without hesitation. Rushing into an obscure future covered by a thick black wall…
Huks’ brought his attention back to those waiting before him. He opened his mouth when he noticed an irregularity in the picture there. “Hold up, where is everyone?” Of the eleven Nioni children supposed to be there, he counted only seven murky heads. Notably, the missing were the heads under eleven years. “You think good job means go play now? Where are they? Someone go fetch them. You go.”
“I’m pretty sure they’re just over there.” Rolling her eyes, the girl selected for the task turned around lazily. Her eyes and nose scrunched up from the excess of airborne impurities while she hesitated to separate from the security of her kin. She had only started to take a step forward when a faint sound from within the smoke caught her ear.
And without warning…
…a small metal object rolled out of the darkness towards her. It took her a second to figure out what it was, but that second cost her.
The girl’s eyes widened in recognition. “Wait, what the - ?!”
At her alarmed yelp, all turned to look in her direction when a flash brighter and more intense than the fire burning down their homes stung their eyes.
Great Cret!
Everyone covered their eyes on reflex, but not before the light had made its mark in their vision. Along with the visual attack, a wail more piercing than a stun grenade explosion rang in their ears. Its sound resonated like an Other Voice, but its vehemence was nothing like music. The cry, deafening and crude, grated against their minds, drowning out their Other Voices.
Flas – trobe??
–ard – ns?!
–ought you said the rest– n’t act–!!
Get rid of it!” Huks bellowed, but his words didn’t reach them. The Nionis, keeling over, fumbled for their weapons out of panic. Covering their ears did nothing. They couldn’t shake off the bright afterimages in their vision. They were blind, deaf, and defenseless sitting ducks.
So neither Huks nor the other seven Nionis saw the arm emerge from the dust cloud to fling a bagful of white powder, falling as a fine mist, over them –
- or the arrow, shot from the roof of a distant house into the white mist, that sparked with a gunshot bang when it struck the ground.
The moment the modified arrowhead made its flicker, the fine white mist burst into brilliant sheets of fire that ripped right through the company of Nionis. Though it was gone in a flash, the searing blast from the dust explosion was no circus gig. All seven children were knocked flat, writhing and screaming as hot gusts of wind scorched their skin.
H-help! A-aa-aaahh!
Anguished cries rose to the darkened sky.
Blood splattered onto the ground. The Nionis, who hadn’t received a single bruise for all their meddling, felt misery for the first time as they received second- and third-degree burns.
Huks dug his fingers into the dirt. All he could do was focus on breathing, not even realizing the harsh wailing had stopped. His ears were bombarded by the crying of the others and yet he didn’t register them. Pain tormented all parts of his body from his face to his toes.
What?! Who?! The injuries sought to place a blame. Who did this?!
Fighting against the biting sensations, Huks forced himself onto his knees. He cursed their carelessness. How had none of them noticed the attackers? Was it due to the smoke interference? Sensing around him, he found his whole group had been taken out, in one move no less.
Was it the Tiuruhs? The Hakaras? The Wardens? They all wondered.
But the rest of the Tiuruhs were too frightened to act. The Hakaras were trapped. And the wardens shouldn’t be anywhere near right now.
Then that meant…
“Damn you, Tiuruhs!” Huks staggered forward on his knees as he drew together his remaining energy and expanded his range of senses, something normal humans couldn’t accomplish, to find their opponent. But because of Teacher… One thing after the other became known to him like one feeling out objects in a closed box. He would find them. And when he did – !
Beside him. Bodies – his team and their terror sprung at him.
Further on. Buildings – all empty and catching fire one after the other.
Further on. Trees – many many trees. An agitated forest.
Further on – four blurry figures, small and still, were at the main road. Huks gave a start. The younger Nioni kids – what were they all doing there?!
Further on – Water.
Huks gasped and came back to himself. For two reasons. He’d collapsed from dizziness. And... his hand had bashed into something in his way. He swung his head wildly, trying to see past the light spots from any angle. Before he had glimpsed the fletching, his hand had already identified the long thin metallic stick ending in a sharp ruptured tip.
An arrow.
The realization struck Huks with bewilderment. Along with what he’d seen, a flood of thoughts roiled in his brain.
No. There was no way they could’ve –
He was given no time to finish thinking because it was then that a presence made itself known to him. And like a knife point to his throat, a monstrous pressure drove through him and Huks knew he should not move.
He shouldn’t move, but at the same time, he had to see.
Lifting his head, Huks stared at the haze of swirling smoke. Something was coming towards him from the darkness beyond, exuding a massive aura that called on his being to respond with uncontrollable shaking.
Huks forced himself to speak, his Other Voice whistling weakly.  “Teach… Teach – er?
An inkling of hope sputtered. That’s right… they could still overturn the situation if that person helped them. Only Teacher had a presence like this. Teacher had helped them up to now. Teacher said they had to remove the threat if they wanted to beat the Tiuruhs. So then...
Wait, why had he wanted to beat them again?
The Something appeared, and his hope turned into confusion, then into overwhelming fear.
Two pinpoints of purple light glinted on the face of massive, encroaching darkness. A purple so sharp he couldn’t break his gaze away from it, and a darkness so deep that it sucked up all of the confidence he had left. Like one trying to see the end of a lightless tunnel, Huks’ mind was rapidly crumbling as it faced something it couldn’t begin to comprehend.
“Aa–aah–!!” The instinct to keep still now urged him to run, to flee from danger. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to escape –
The hysteria lasted for a second.
Stumbling forward in half-burnt clothes, a figure emerged from the haze and the massive presence vanished. Huks’ fright died down, but not his shock. As he looked on, his mouth flapped wordlessly. Even through impaired eyesight, even though the face was painted half-black by ashes, and even though Huks knew – believed – the person before him should have been buried underneath fire and wood, he could not deny the existence of the youth there, whose features were clearly lit by the ongoing blaze.
As he stopped a distance away from the Nioni, Roun coughed up a black liquid that trickled down the sides of his mouth and dripped onto his clothes, which looked like someone had dumped a bucket of ink on it. He tried to wipe it off, ended up smudging soot across his chin, and gave up with a shrug. In an exhausted voice, Roun remarked with the hoarseness of one who has just woken up.
“Fire really is the best way to get rid of pests.”

Will add Notes to Self later \o/
« Last Edit: June 29, 2021, 05:15:06 PM by Echo_River »
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