Makefits - Keys to the End of the World
*A Note: As compared to earlier chapters, I dropped some of the extraneous comments. I already had mixed opinions: nice notes but interrupt flow, so I got rid of some of it. Vlend and his cohorts will still drop in with a comment or complaint, but I decided to pull the narrator as a character. Since you've gotten this far, would love your thoughts on the decision. Thanks.
[Realm of Beings]
“I can't believe they kicked us out.”
“I can't believe they kicked us out.”
Vlend couldn't count how many times he had mumbled those words since he and his new Soul partner stepped out of the Fort Una office of one Chief Tort. It was 77. He had no idea how many times he had kicked the same stupid rock since leaving Fort Una and, essentially, his dreams behind. It was 34. And a half. He missed once.
After being interviewed extensively by the first man, the first man had given up and accepted that he was going to have to consult his superior. The man worried that he was going to end up a laughing stock amongst his coworkers. The worry was unfounded. The superior officer, Chief Tort, was in charge of the unit that placed anchors and Soul partners within the system to best utilize them and their skills. After scratching his face and giving his underling an annoyed look, he proceeded to ask Ziqtiki and, eventually, Vlend a series of questions that were not so different as the first series. After some thought, he offered this conclusion.
“We've had to send anchors away before, but it has always been for behavior issues or incompatibility with the lifestyle. Never have we sent someone away on the first day. I've never seen a powerless Soul before. The rarity would be impressive if it wasn't so... pathetic.”
For Vlend, this assessment was soul crushing. His whole life spent waiting for this moment, and it was done. Nothing. Useless. Back to the farm. But he wondered if he could even do that. If he had been a mage at least he would have a talent. Unlike anchors, they didn't have to go all the way to a military fort. Their ceremony was held right there in the village by family and village elders. And it was done earlier in life. Sure, those talents weren't as likely to lead to an adventurous life. One of Vlend's friends had received the gift of knowing exactly when to pick a fruit. It wasn't glamorous, but who didn't enjoy a perfectly ripened fruit. But he could have gotten lucky. One man in a neighboring village had been gifted by the Soul Kings with the ability to never miss with a sling. Sure, he had to be within 20 feet, but he was quite the small game hunter. There were plenty of mages in the military.
But Vlend was an anchor. Anchors weren't just in the military. They were prized in the military. Vlend's shoulders slumped with the weight of rejection. Behind him, Ziqtiki's second set of ears, the rabbit set, slumped as well. His, however, slumped with the weight of failure. They were dejected, tired, and hungry. Vlend had very little money remaining. He had saved just barely enough to make the trip, thinking, If I can just make it to Fort Una, I'll get my Soul partner, get accepted into the military, and then they will feed me.
Vlend sighed. “Let's go over this again.”
“I don't think I'll remember anything this time either, Vlend. I'm really sorry.”
“Well, let's try.”
“Hey! What are you...”
“CAN YOU HEAR THIS?!!!!” Vlend screamed as he held up one of Ziqtiki's rabbit ears.
“Ouch. It still hurts when you do that. But it only hurts my ears. Not those.”
“You really can't hear anything out of those ears? They're almost as big as you.”
“I told you. They aren't ears. My ears are up here.” Ziqtiki lifted the rabbit ears and let them plop down on top of his head and the cat-style ears.
“I'm very sorry. I know that Ziqtiki is good for something.”
Vlend watched him continue down the road. Ziqtiki had told Vlend already that the two ears? arms? in front were incapable of hearing, which ruled out spy work. He could hold things with them, but not tightly. Vlend decided that made them arms, even if they were useless arms. Actually, Ziqtiki had told him that their main use was for balance. To prevent what happened in the round stone room from happening. It was just that he got too excited to meet Vlend, and forgot to use them.
An idea hit Vlend. Not a good idea, mind you, but an idea.
“Aaaaahhh!! What? What are you.. Vlend! I'm worried. This... Ziqtiki thinks this is a terrible thing!”
“Just.. just let go! You'll be.. stop.. let go!” Vlend tried to stretch out the scared Soul's rabbit arms. He noticed that Ziqtiki's legs even felt like those of a chicken as they were wrapped around his arm like a snake. “It's not even that far down!”
Ziqtiki squirmed with added effort as Vlend got closer to the cliff that fell away from the roadside. “I told you, Ziqtiki cannot fly! And it is a long way down! VERY long!”
“I know! I get it. You can't fly. But what about glide?”
“No gliding either!”
Better judgment prevailed, and the two continued to walk. Vlend distracted himself by wondering where a Soul goes to get running shoes. Do they come off? Does he have feet like a chicken? Are the shoes his feet? The two walked.
“Explode things with your eyes?”
Sigh. “Mind Control?”
Sigh. “No. I told you, I only know that Ziqtiki is fast.”
“But you aren't. Quick maybe. But quick like a scared animal. That's not a power.”
“Which is why I didn't tell Mr. Tort that Ziqtiki is fast.”
“Hey! I think that's the lights of the town up ahead!”
The town of Crest became visible to the hungry, tired, and depressed pair as they topped the hill they had slowly been making their way up. It was originally known by a different name, but that name was changed after so many travelers mentioned that it was a welcome sight after cresting one of the hills on the road to either side. It was one of two villages that acted as gateways to Fort Una City. Vlend had come through the other via a steam-pushed carriage on his first trip.
As only military members and family were allowed to stay in Fort Una City, it had been the duty of Chief Tort to promptly kick them out. He wasn't a man without a heart, however, and took pity on the two. The man had pointed them in the direction of this town, with instructions to look for a small building with the words 'Fate Assessor' over the doorway, and told them that the lady there could help them. Normally, Vlend would have stayed far away from such a shady sounding location, but the chief had recommended it, and Vlend was desperate. He needed hope of any sort. While the good chief had been helpful, he hadn't been particularly encouraging. His parting words were, “She's your only hope. Though, if what you want is to be in the military, what you need is a miracle.”
The town was small, so despite Vlend's directional ineptitude, the two found the place rather easily. It helped that everyone knew of the place, and was able to point them in the right direction. It was a small building of wood construction. Nothing about it stood out from any of the other buildings, but it did, in fact, say 'Fate Assessor' on a sign protruding from the wall above the door. Not knowing whether it was more like a shop or a home, the young half-elf knocked before entering. A broadly smiling, older lady in a white and green wrap dress with a gold sash met them half-way inside. The shout “HUUHH!” rang in the minds of both Vlend and Ziqtiki at the sight of the dress, and both were struck with an uncomfortable bout of deja-vu.
The elderly lady took a look at Ziqtiki for a long moment, her eyes roving up and down the Soul from furry cat ears to sneaker-ed chicken feet. She made a motion with her mouth as though she were literally chewing her thoughts, and then turned her gaze toward Vlend. The cheerful, helpful grin that the woman had been wearing soured, and didn't so much fade from her face as run from it. It aged her already elderly appearance by a good thirty years.
“What? What's the matter?”
“You ask me, 'What's the matter?' They tell you why you see me?”
“No, I.. No. They just said that you could help me.”
“That what they say, now?”
“It was.. well it was suggested that you could help.”
“That so? Hm. Hmmm,” the lady with the poofy grey hair rubbed her chin and wobbled away toward a counter. “They give much credit. Too much to me. See, I deal in talent. You- have none. I make no money off you. No good. Take and get out! You waste beauty sleep.”
Vlend took the small card that the woman offered, looked at his Soul partner dejectedly, and then angrily before turning and leaving the odd-smelling shop. Both pairs of Ziqtiki's ears wilted, he stood silently for a moment, and then followed Vlend out into the narrow rock street.
Vlend shuffled through his pockets. The smart thing to do, would be to find a place outside to sleep, and conserve what little he had for more meals, but Vlend hadn't slept in an actual bed in weeks. Sleep had been found on the ground or in a bouncing carriage. After the disappointment of the day, he wanted to, at least, be able to rest comfortably. Ziqtiki followed behind as Vlend went wandering in search of a place to eat and lay his head.
The restaurant didn't seem too bad. It didn't seem too good either. It had decent food, but its patrons were suspect, at least in Vlend's eyes. Though, Vlend wasn't so paranoid as to think that every stare directed their way was made with evil intent. Seeing a Soul wasn't uncommon. Especially not for somewhere so close to a major fort. It was less common for one to be seen in an eating establishment. It was rare to see one eating there.
“Can you stop eating? I understand rabbits like lettuce, but we are on VERY limited funds here.”
“I am NOT a rabbit!”
“Cats don't eat lettuce. Therefore, rabbit. Staring at someone like that doesn't count as a power. Therefore, useless rabbit. Hey! Aren't you worse than useless? You're a negative. Aren't you supposed to exist off of my spirit energy or something? Why are you eating?
“Because I'm hungry.”
“Who has ever heard of a Soul being hungry. I've heard of some that eat because they like the taste, but never of one being hungry?!
“Hey! Don't grab food and run! Come back here! I have to pay for this!”
Because of Vlend's inability to pay his bill to the restaurant, the remainder of that night was spent lying on the ground beneath a stand of trees. Also, the two will likely be arrested should they ever return to that town again.
[Vlend] “I want to point out that I ate very cheaply. And even though he did eat a lot of it, lettuce is not that expensive. BUT, in his hasty attempt to run, that chicken-legged hairball forgot to balance himself. Again. He toppled over backward-
[Ziqtiki] “I did not topple! I tripped.”
“He toppled over backward and tripped the waitress. She spilled
her drinks. A man slipped in the spill. He hit a table. Table
flipped a plate. Food splattered on a gentleman. Man was carrying a
bottle of youth elixir. Youth elixir reacted with the food. There
was a.. boom and.. a fire.. doctor's fees. See, Ziqtiki- net
negative. Turns out Demon Eyes are much wiser than they get credit for.