Chapter 2:

Signals

The Melancholy of a Whimsical Half-Elph


The engines buzzed lowly through the silent night. In the distance were the brightly lit lights of Frederick. The high beams stretched miles onto a wet, empty road. After centuries of isolation, vegetation had overtaken the pavement. The enticing scent of passing rain lingered in the forestry environment. Crescendo looked from the transport’s sunroof, glimpsing the trailing spotlights mounted on the vehicles. Alejandro and Enne looked through the window, finding nothing but trees. Enne could see the haggard expression on her partner’s face through the faint reflection.

“Allie,” Enne said. He slowly looked at her. “Get some rest.”

“At this rate, we could arrive wherever we need to be,” Alejandro replied.

“You haven’t rested well?”

“No… Not since we arrived, and with this? Where do I even begin?”

“You can start by talking to me.”

Alejandro massaged his face as he sunk into his seat. Part of him felt insecure about revealing how he felt. His fears and doubts were all he had. If not for Enne, he’d find himself in different straits. She clasped her hands over his when she shifted her body toward him. Alejandro looked at her through the side of his eyes, finding the concern written on her face.

“Enne… We’ve been going through the motions. No, I have. The worse things get, the more I doubt.”

“Doubt? Doubt can be a powerful agent, but—”

“So is hope,” they said. Enne nodded as he flashed a weak smile.

“Just don’t lose heart,” she whispered. “We’ll find a way. I—I promise.”

Alejandro noted the divisive tone in her voice. She wasn’t sure herself, too, but she followed her response with a smile in typical fashion. Her heart pounded when she looked into his eyes. The thought of lying was unbearable. Alejandro overlapped her hand with his.

A commotion outside interrupted them. They arrived at the quiet station. They glimpsed faint lights leading to a train station and the silhouette of a large object on the tracks. Crescendo looked below to see them ready to venture out.

“You two done with your heart-to-heart?” he asked.

“It seems abandoned now,” Alejandro said.

“That’s the problem. We just passed the first checkpoint. Ain’t no one out here.”

“Do you keep a heavy presence here?” Enne asked.

“These tracks lead to the rest of the settlements,” Alejandro said. “Neo-T’Rach is just north of here. That girl came all the way from here just to miss Frederick.”

“It don’t make no sense,” Crescendo said.

Perhaps not everything needs to make sense, Enne thought while observing their surroundings.

Vehicles were still parked without signs of use. Crescendo remained in the middle of the pack as his henchmen proceeded ahead. Enne and Alejandro remained in the back, assessing the area. Much of the city seemed long abandoned. Broken concrete and deteriorated buildings lined across the sizeable station they approached. The station appeared to be the only hospitable place.

“Where the hell are they?” Crescendo asked. His question went unanswered. “I can’t pick up anything. All right, everyone, fan out!”

Enne winced, wondering what he would pick up by looking around. Like Alejandro, he was a wanderer, but they specialized in using mana. Their senses were like any other human otherwise. She focused on the energy the desolate building emitted and discovered faint signals. Since Alejandro and Enne arrived, she felt the same sensation throughout the city.

“How many people do you typically have stationed here?” Alejandro asked.

“That’s info I can’t give you.”

“Not that it really matters,” Enne said. Her comment fanned his irritation as he looked over his shoulder.

“You got something to say, sweetheart?”

“Whoever you had stationed here isn’t here. It’s too quiet. Even the wildlife seems absent.”

“How the hell do you know—”

When he turned, he saw Enne gently tap her ears. He grunted when he turned away. She chuckled when she saw Alejandro’s smile. She continued: “You think these ears just make me cuter?”

“I just wanna know what the hell is going on here,” Crescendo replied. “We thought the train was just behind, but—Aw, shit.”

When they reached the platform, they discovered the massive wreckage from the west. Crescendo’s breathing struggled as he walked to the edge of the platform. He flailed his arms angrily as his henchmen proceeded to the train. Alejandro hid his amusement when he turned to see Enne hone in on her surroundings. Besides themselves, there was nothing else in the area.

“How the fuck are we supposed to get shit through here?” Crescendo sighed. He turned to the couple, visibly astonished. “How the hell does this even happen?”

“Maybe we should investigate in the morning,” Enne said.

“Morning? We’re already here! I wanna know who’s responsible for this.”

“You’re not thinking the rebels did this? I mean, look at that. From what I can’t tell, no explosives were used.”

“These are crafty sons-a-bitches. From what I hear, they also have a wanderer.”

“A wanderer?” Alejandro repeated. Crescendo shrugged his shoulders after looking at him.

“A girl from what I hear, too. A real bitch, that one.”

“Eh, that kinda comes with the territory.”

Enne covered her mouth to withhold her laughter. Crescendo rested his gaze on the building next to them. The door was cracked open. No bullets, no blood. It appeared everyone had vanished.

“Well, if we’re really going to look,” Enne said. She pointed at a dim light on the second floor. “We can start here.”

Without awaiting their response, Enne entered with Alejandro trailing behind.

“H—hey, don’t leave me out here!” Crescendo yelled.

The air was still and cold. The moonlight cast an eerie glow throughout the hallway windows. Her eyes searched the ground for anything: blood, bullet shells, but when they reached the well-lit living quarters, there was nothing of note. Beer bottles littered the few roundtables. The orderliness betrayed any thought of chaos despite the musky cigarette scent.

“Something is definitely off,” Enne said.

“Yeah, no shit,” Crescendo replied. He walked over to the table full of stacked documents in the corner.

“You’d think with a train wreck, there’d be signs of a storm of bandits running out,” Alejandro said. He approached the locked gun cabinet, nudging it gently as the other looked over. “Their guns are still here.”

“What?”

“C—Crescendo!” a young bandit approached. His face revealed horror as he caught his breath. “We—we found bodies of the crew.”

“Any signs of the people stationed here?” Enne asked.

“Huh? No.”

“Ya think these rebels had a hand?” Crescendo asked after setting down the documents. He shifted his gaze toward the couple. “Ain’t nobody here. I can’t even sense their vitals.”

Alejandro furrowed his eyebrows before glimpsing Enne as her eyes shifted toward them.

“Wait, you’re saying no one stationed here is present?” the young bandit asked. The shaken tone of his voice was enough to pique Enne’s interest.

“You seem to know something we don’t,” she said.

“Huh? No… It’s that—This area has a history. A witch that roams the lands.”

“I’ve been through here plenty of times, kid,” Alejandro said. “There’s no—”

Enne waved down his comment, allowing the young man to continue. The young bandit looked at them as though ashamed by what he had to say. She found a peculiar innocence within him, not meant for this line of work. When he wouldn’t speak, she insisted: “Go on… Please.”

“They say these lands are haunted,” he replied. “A few miles north from here is Burkittsville. Ain’t nobody up there, but—”

“You know how long we’ve occupied this region?” Crescendo asked. His measured strides intimidated the bandit into silence. He looked him in his eyes, nodding as he processed his fear. “And all of a sudden, some entity is just gonna do what it wants? Shit…”

“Well, bullets aren’t going to stop it,” Alejandro said.

“Yeah? Well, someone’s gotta answer for all this!”

“Unbelievable,” Enne sighed. “We can be dealing with something interdimensional, but you’re more concerned about… cargo?”

“Inter-what?” Crescendo winced. “Sounds like some jargon Nuri would say.”

“Nuri?”

He cleared his throat before continuing: “Eh, forget I said anything!”

“That name… Is it my—”

“I said forget I said anything.”

Enne withheld her bitter response. She said: “It can be an entity that can exist on both planes. I have a bit of a hypothesis, but—”

“All right. You kinda lost me. These big think things aren’t my forte. Al said I can’t kill it with bullets. That’s all I care about.”

Enne and Alejandro remained behind as Crescendo went upstairs.

“I’m finding it hard to believe you have any associations with these bandits,” she whispered.

“Any ideas on the signals he’s talking about?” he asked.

“You picked up on that too? I thought you’d know.”

“Well, it ain’t radio signals.”

“The city is very unlike Gardenia. We didn’t use our central power for the things they had. It… wouldn’t be impossible, though. And they have Elven tech. Those hover bikes and mech… Some seem updated from the schematics my father kept.”

“Wait a sec. You never showed me those.”

“You never asked.”

“Why the hell would I ask if you gave me access to the—Hey, I’m talking to you.”

Enne looked around once more, scrutinizing the peculiar nature of the mass disappearance. A disgruntled Alejandro wondered what Enne sought as he sat against the table. She stopped at the last table, kneeling down to take a closer look. Enne narrowed her eyes, hearing Alejandro shuffling steps. He paused when she shot a glance. Her eyes were filled with suspicion.

“Is it possible that going between dimensions could leave residue?” she asked. Alejandro’s confusion couldn’t have been better expressed with his strange mischief.

“I suppose that depends,” he replied. Enne smiled at his deadpan delivery. “What are they coming in and out of?”

“Mind out the gutter, old man.”

“I noticed these spots outside too, but didn’t know what to make of them… Other than puddles.”

“Explain the bodies outside, then?”

“The attack came after whatever happened here.”

“Even though they were in the same vicinity?”

“Why not at once?”

“This is crazy talk. We have to contend with the events that happened, but if it deals with something that defies time, then we have another thing coming.”

“Eh… Imagine people hundreds of years ago. They had so little understanding of the world. We realized things through a… 3D scope when there were several layers.”

“String theory?”

“Sorta.”

“That’s not a satisfying answer, either.”

Enne swung in his direction. Her misguided benevolence was expressed in her cheeky smile. Alejandro raised an eyebrow. She finally spoke: “As such is the world. Come on. Before Cressy assumes we’re doing dirty deeds.”

“I’m sure that’s the least of his concerns.”

“You think they can hear us?”

Alejandro narrowed his eyes. An odd question considering they spoke lowly enough.

“Don’t give me that look.”

“I’m not sure how to answer that.”

“The question was simple.”

“Not by the tone of your voice, it was.”

“Assume it’s more than clunky trinkets leftover from the Elves? If the bandit network has deep ties with them, who’s saying they don’t have something more—intrusive? There’s no way they haven’t already listened to us, especially since they know who we are.”

“En… Ugh. We’re just passing by.”

“Through a meat grinder, perhaps.”

“I get it. We can’t trust them, but what else are we supposed to do? Either way, they’ll tip off the government about your presence.” Alejandro took a brief pause.

“You don’t take this as some kind of coincidence? I’ve been getting bread crumbs about my lineage, and this has been the biggest break!”

Alejandro’s silence was deafening as the floorboards above creaked. Something was amiss. Without signs of struggle or abandonment, they were left to wonder. Suddenly they heard a blood-curdling scream echo throughout the building: It was that of the young man. Alejandro and Enne rushed up the stairs, discovering blood pooling from a dimly-lit room. Crescendo panted as he staggered against the window. Alejandro’s gaze fixated on him; He massaged his neck while looking back. The young man remained motionless with his eyes open. A knife was lodged in his heart.

“The hell happened?” Alejandro asked.

“This asshole tried to attack me,” Crescendo replied. Enne wasn’t convinced as she walked over the body.

“I almost forget you and Allie have the same kind of strength,” she said. “Breaking his arm would’ve been more than enough.”

Crescendo met her scrutinizing eyes. Before Enne could raise the question, gunfire erupted outside. She rushed to the window, hearing a screeching metallic whistle disturb the frantic gunshots. Crescendo winced in confusion as he shuffled toward the window. The muzzle flashes lit up sections of the tracks while the clouds slowly blocked the moonlight.

“The fuck is going on?” Crescendo asked.

Enne opened the window to jump out. She landed on her feet and sprinted to the scene. The tips of her silver hair cut through the air as she gained speed. The metallic whistle echoed again. Her eyes searched the darkness. A silhouette flew against the town’s skyline. The sound was oddly familiar, but she didn’t know from where. It eventually dove at the bandits, whose bullets did little to hurt it. Enne pivoted onto the roof and sprung further.

“Everyone, take cover!” she shouted.

Mana coursed through her, tightening her muscles as she summoned a bow. Her body twisted into position to take aim. Enne observed the strange metallic sheen below the cloudy background. She let the arrow go. The air distorted as electricity sparked in its speed. The creature shifted, barely nicked it as it flew past it. Her arrow exploded into a brilliant light that shook the ground.

Enne caught another glimpse of the creature as it flew toward the forest. She heard a strange crackling the entire time, only dying down upon its disappearance. It had the body of a dragon, but its face was hard to discern. She landed on the edge of the station’s roof. Her bow disappeared when she slung it to her side. A pair of shuffling footsteps perked her ears. Alejandro looked on with her.

“What the hell was that?” he asked.

“Part of the mystery,” she replied.

Crescendo’s wheezing prompted their stares. He gasped for air as he looked at them. Enne still found his story about what happened unconvincingly. More things seemed amiss when she saw the overturned train. Could the creature have done it alone? How was it tied to what they’ve discovered thus far? Enne knew she wouldn’t get answers from him.

“That was a big ass bird,” Crescendo said.

“A bird?” Enne repeated. “You have things that big around here? And nocturnal?”

“Y—yeah!”

Alejandro glimpsed Enne through the side of her eyes when she turned to the hills. The moon slowly emerged, shining light upon her. A mischievous smile was what he saw.




One of the creatures introduced so far is ingrained in Maryland's founding... with a twist, of course! Leave a like and comment; You can also follow my IG: erii1776

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