Chapter 15: The Order
“Sorry. But you’re scaring them,” she said.
“I know. It’s okay. You guys should be worried, I mean, the battalion group is big, real big.” He fidgeted with his buttons, failed to undo one, and instead wormed a finger under his shirt.
“I’m coordinating shards now,” said Atrocity. “People are preparing. It’s the Chillcrafter I’m worried about.”
Frix nodded, understanding the part about people preparing. His finger found his wound. Or what was left of it. He felt lumpy skin instead of raw scabs.
“So, you came back to warn us,” she said. “Because you were dreaming?”
“It was even when I was awake,” explained Frix. “The bloodlight… or I don’t know what your people call it. Red streams, like a fountain… and…” he couldn’t find the voice to say ‘you.’ It was too… it didn’t seem like a thing she’d want to hear. It maybe wasn’t a thing he wanted himself to hear either. Mossa’s face flashed in his memory, and he felt hot with guilt.
“You felt the mindtether? Well enough to actually visualize it?” she said.
“You—my goodness you are hungry aren’t you?”
Frix had started crunching down on the apple’s core. Some seeds dribbled out onto his lips and he popped them back into his mouth. Now he was embarrassed as well as guilty. Atrocity smiled, and her eyes drooped and flickered. It was too interesting to not stare.
Then she lifted cupped hands, offering a pile of nuts and little puffy things… they’d appeared from thin air.
“Did you just…” he began.
“Cropforth Artwork, that’s what it’s called. On short notice, you’ll have to accept simple fare. Pinenuts and wheatclouds. Nothing savoury, but it’ll top your guts up faster than appleseeds.”
“Crop… forth.” Frix grabbed one of the puff clouds and bit in. It was basically bread, but more dense. It was the richest thing he’d eaten in weeks and he happily accepted the whole pile of food, trying not to notice too much when their fingers brushed in the exchange.
She let him munch for a moment, then said, “So, you said you could see the mindtether. Looks akin to a big bright plant, or maybe a fire sending sparks aloft, like little stars that want to go back home.”
“Mmm!” he said, nodding, his mouth full.
“That is very strange, Frix of Bit.”
“Hmm?” he said, swallowing as fast as he could.
“You don’t have a crystal,” she touched the spot on her shirt above her heart. “It shouldn’t have been so… poignant and clear to you without one. Seeing and feeling the mindtether is something every little kid aspires to. It’s a big deal when they’re old enough to be soulbind a crystal. I mean, you get rare cases of savants that are unnaturally tuned in, but…”
“But what?” he said, finally able to talk. He resisted another mouthful.
“I need to reference something. A second.” She went back to her tranced out mode, eyes flashing and flickering. He took the opportunity to eat some more as he studied her surreal glows and shimmers.
Then she was back, and looked frustrated.
“What’s wrong?” asked Frix.
“I’m not getting any sync from the archive in the Barrow. Or any other source.”
“I’m guessing that’s bad?”
“It’d normally be strange. But if what you’re saying is true about the Chillcrafter then…” She stood up, went to the door and cracked it open. She said something to Boyd, and he came into the room. He gave Frix a nasty glance, then went into trance-mode himself.
When he was done, Boyd said, “Nope, you’re right. Nada. Nothing new since this morning.”
They both looked at him. He crunched a nut, unsure how to help.
“Frix, you said your people were half a day away?”
“Mhm.” He swallowed. “It takes about one sun by foot from Starfire but I'm guessing they'd move a little slower with the size of the battalion, to coordinate and such. They hadn't started to mobilize when I was at the outpost, they were still prepping weapons and stuff like that.”
“Weapons…” Boyd said, blinking fast.
Atrocity looked at the floor, eyes moving in little twitches. Then she looked up.
“It’s coming now,” she said.
Frix opened his mouth to protest, but then the notion snagged on him. If they knew he was here, and they assumed the element of surprise was gone…
He sat up straight. “Roots untangle me, you're right. You're right, they'll strike with the vanguard.”
“What? What's this mean?” Boyd backed up a step.
Atrocity’s eyes were going again. Frix wasn't sure if she could hear, but he said, “They’ll come fighting. They’ll come in waves. If you resist they'll kill. People will die. And if you can't use the bloodlight then you'll lose.”
She skewered him with a look. “So what, you suggest we just lay down and let them take our home? No Frix. I don't think so.”
“Die?” Boyd shrunk toward the door.
“Not lay down, Atrocity. You run. They won't have time to surround the north. Run, get help.”
She shook her head. “We risk getting cut down in the farm. And we’re too far from any other stone. No, we have to have the temple. It's our only shot. Light the pyre again, drive ‘em off, then get help.”
“What if you can’t get to the temple? What’s the backup plan?”
Atrocity shut her eyes and rubbed the side of her head. “The backup… if we don’t have control over the stone then it’s done. So we wait it out. We…”
“If you lose the temple,” Frix interrupted, the word temple sounding natural as it appeared on his tongue, “then we make a break for the north, okay? I can’t stay. The Head of Spark will execute me herself, I guarantee it.” Saying this out loud suddenly made it very real. Now that his stomach wasn’t commanding his attention, he came to realize that he was in a very serious position.
“You’re not going anywhere, Falsesparker,” Boyd said, through trembling lips.
“If the Chillcrafter does what I think she will, then you’re not going to be in any shape to stop him, Boyd.” Atrocity nodded at Frix. “If we lose the mindtether, then yes. We’ll go north. There’s a transport in the wood bay that will help give us distance. I’d need your help to navigate once we hit heavily wooded areas.”
“Deal,” said Frix.
“Stay here. I’m going to the temple. My brother and sister are coming with if we break, I’ve instructed them to meet you here.”
Frix wanted to protest, but he realized that walking around a town that was primed to fight his people would probably be a stupid idea.
“What are you gonna do?” he said instead.
“I'm going to go save my temple.”
And with that, she swept out of the room.
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