Chapter 14:

The Observer and the Observed (Part I)

Candle in the Rain, Inferno in the Wind

“Kade, we have a problem.” Verakry insisted, somewhat stern with a twinge of worry, as the shadow robed figure appeared out of thin air next to a grizzled and decorated soldier.

“Do you ever come to me with anything else?” The stoic soldier asked, intently keeping his gaze on what was behind the observation glass.

“We need to introduce them soon. I fear the Astral’s growth has been explosive compared to the Umbral’s. If the Umbral does not come up with something, and soon, their meeting would simply be feeding the Umbral Point to the Astral Point.” Verakry stopped to see if Kade was understanding it’s point.

“I thought you wanted them together in a single being?” Kade finished, peering coldly in front of him.

“I need to confirm something with the Umbral before that happens. At this rate, I won’t get a chance.” Verakry explained.

There was a pause before Kade icily replied with, “Hear that Devose? He thinks your brother is going to eat you. Are you prey? Some ripened fruit, ready to be plucked and consumed, perhaps?”

“I am the weapon to end all wars.” The warborn answered calmly.

“Did you give it to him?” Verakry asked.

“Of course, and you were right, it was a gift. He didn’t take this seriously until he had some idea what he was up against. Now that he knows, well… see for yourself.” Kade answered.

Verakry turned it’s attention to the warborn on the other side of the observation glass. He was fast, weaving between the legs of the vastly larger insects. Without striking at his foes, without even touching them - each one he passed by was mowed down in an instant.

In this manner, Devose cut down insect after insect until none remained. Corpses of twenty or so giant black bugs littered the ground. Not one was left in enough pieces to so much as try and flee. He stopped, and something akin to his shadow concentrated around him until it became tangible, and enveloped him completely. The warborn turned, excruciatingly slowly, as though the dark encasing had slowed him down immensely.

Looking up to the observation window, Devose calmly stated, “Let us see just who is to be fodder.”

Verakry smiled and disappeared after stating, “Let him go and see who your Jungle Law favors. You should probably keep their playdate away from the dwelling of your pets though, or you will lose many of them.”

“Asshole.” Kade mumbled to himself before speaking up, “Think you can handle that?”

Devose answered not with words but action as his armor evaporated from around him. He turned and disappeared from sight with haste. The sun had just broken free from the horizon. It was going to be an eventful day.

Sphaere woke first. Sunlight beamed in from the opening in the ceiling of the basking chamber flooding the room with light, but she still couldn’t quite make out what was going on from the muffled voices around her.

Slowly opening her eyes, Sphaere saw Cekell standing up with one foot on her and the other on Rhystea. He was all bowed up, and was apparently being antagonized by some of the Lizardmen, who were only slightly attempting to muffle their voices.

After some snickering, they stepped back, and Cekell slowly lowered himself into a squatting position. In response, one of the Lizardmen stepped brazenly forward, and Cekell took a stand, bowing back up. As he did, it became apparent that he was tethered to a still slumbering Rhystea, who had his probe trapped between her head and shoulder as she used it for a makeshift pillow. This time she noticed a barrier form around them.

With more snickering, the lizardman stepped back. There was a slight pause before the barrier was dispelled and Cekell dropped back to a squatting position while glaring up at the scalekin.

Everyone’s attention was on Cekell, and even though he was standing on top of Sphaere, no one seemed to notice her eyes had opened. The Lizardman meant to approach again for another laugh, certain that the warborn was still leashed to Rhystea.

As Cekell started to stand up, Sphaere quickly dislodged his probe from between Rhystea’s head and shoulder, rousing her in the process. Without missing a beat, Cekell lunged at the face of the lizardman, who fell back on his tail out of surprise.

Rhystea was not fully awake when the other Reptilia Series in the room, as well as Sphaere, spurred her up with a roar of laughter. Cekell was wrapped around the snout of one of the scaleheads and frenzy chattering while staring him down, probe to eye.

Turning to an awoken yet puzzled Rhystea, Sphaere greeted her with, “Mornin’ princess, how’dja sleep?”

“On a rock… ugh…” Rhystea said with a stretch.

Not finding the situation nearly as funny as he had mere moments before, the lizardman was attempting to dislodge Cekell from his face by pulling on his tendril; but wholly underestimating the warborn’s determined grip. His buddies were laughing hysterically.

Cekell was not about to let up on him, thoroughly chewing him out with an exceedingly agitated bantering. The lizardman had finally grabbed Cekell’s tendril in both hands and was about to really have a go at him Rhystea called out his name.

“Cekell.” Rhystea called out, not entirely sure of what was going on. As the lizardman moved in an attempt to dislodge Cekell from his face, Cekell leapt from his perch and back to Rhystea, his tendril sliding right through the lizardman’s fingers.

“Are you picking on those poor Reptilians? What did they do to deserve that?” Rhystea asked Cekell as though she were asking a pet; contradicting her words with an enthusiastic tone, she scratched his forehead at the base of his tendril.

“Actually, they was pickin’ on ‘im while ya had a hold o’ ‘e’s tentacle.” Sphaere stated, matter-of-factly.

“Ugh, tentacle sounds weird, call it a tail or something.” Rhystea replied grumpily.

“Yes, yer highness.” Sphaere replied, otherwise ignoring her. She stood up, patted the dust off, and helped Rhystea to her feet. “Lets go get summa that fruit, an’ decide what ta do. I don’ think they gonna be stickin’ ‘round long ‘fore headin’ out ta hunt.” Rhystea gawked at her for a second before turning and heading out of the room. “Wut?” Sphaere asked, puzzled.

“Sorry, it’s early in the morning and I just can’t handle the way you talk. I’m sorry, I know silly, and it’s me, not you. It’s just how I was raised.” Rhystea admitted sheepishly.

“You was raised ta teach grammar?” Sphaere questioned with a smile.

“No, it’s like…” Rhystea paused briefly. “Your sarcasm. You use humor as a defense mechanism to deflect or placate the rest of us, or even yourself.” Sphaere had never quite looked at it like that, but it wasn’t… incorrect, so she frowned for a moment before deciding not to let it bother her.

Rhystea turned her analysis inward. “I am constantly looking for imperfections and… verbally making a mental note. I’m not any easier on myself, and I’m not trying to flaunt my intelligence. It’s more of an insinuated ‘in case you wanted to know’ kind of thing.”

There was a pause before Sphaere replied, “I cain’t tell if yer naggin’ ‘r ‘pologizin’.”

“I’m trying to explain. Sorry, I do that a lot.” Rhystea answered before sighing dejectedly.

Sphaere laughed before explaining, “I was jus’ teasin’ ya!”

“It’s too early for this. What were you wanting to make a decision on?” Rhystea deflected.

Sphaere laughed again before answering with, “I didn’ know if ya wanted ta go with us, but I also didn’ know how I felt ‘bout leavin’ ya here.”

“R010 isn’t going and will have a few contingent men sticking around. It looked like he had gotten somewhere with getting aid from the Aves, and had planned on helping prepare others. I was going to assist with that, and I had an idea for a weapon that would help them fight these insects.” Rhystea suggested.

“Yer not gonna show ‘em how ta make guns, are ya?” Sphaere asked, slightly concerned.

“I can’t tell if you're being serious or not, but no. Gunpowder would be hard to make, even for me. I did, however, notice a few really big shields. I was going to put a sigil on them to make them lighter and see about mounting some spearheads on them. Ram those into the insects for heavy damage while being safely protected.” Rhystea responded.

“Not a bad plan.” Sphaere noted, impressed. “But what ‘bout that buildin’? Checkin’ that out not our next step ta gettin’ out o’ here?” She concluded.

Rhystea stopped. They had just entered the feedlot, and Sphaere had given her something to ponder. She was mainly concerned with their safety, but Cekell had proven more than capable of negating the insect threat in it’s entirety, all on his own. She had not yet thought about escaping their current predicament, and this realization hit her like a stone. “Hmmm.” Was all she said.

Sphaere grabbed a few pieces of fruit, and her hand hesitated as she passed over the skewers. Deciding she still wasn’t ready for meat, she turned back to Rhystea, who was putting together a light breakfast for herself before flagging the attention of the scalekin cooking the skewers. Upon receiving his full and undivided attention, she asked if they had any boiling water, and was surprised when a cup of it was procured.

“Wazzat fer?” Sphaere asked, quizzically.

Ignoring her, Rhystea made her way to an empty table. “I have only been concerned about making it through the night, I hadn’t given much thought to actually leaving this place.” Rhystea confessed bashfully as she sat down with her meal. Peeling Cekell off of her shoulder, Rhystea sat him down next to her. Taking the cup with both of her hands, she firmly presented it at such, sternly ordering, “Both hands!” Before handing it off to Cekell.

With an excited chirp, Cekell quickly set the cup of hot water down on the rock they were seated at, and abruptly slid both of his hands into it. Water overflowed the top, but not enough to make them jump up and away. He smiled up at Rhystea and chirped out a thank you.

“Howzat make ya feel?” Sphaere asked with a laugh.

Shaking her head with a smile, Rhystea confidently decided, “Yea, let's have a look at this building and maybe we can figure something out.”

They finished their breakfast while voicing their concerns, after which, Cekell was scooped up before they set out to find R010 to apprise him of their plans.

R010 was on the upper level of the gate with R208 and A212. R208 was psyching up his fellow scaleheads, they were just outside the gate performing last minute checks on their equipment before heading out. Even the curious turtle was waiting at the foot of the stairs to silently stare them down.

Rhystea approached with Cekell in tow and Sphaere trailing behind, climbing the stairs with an enthusiastic, “Good morning!”

R010 turned and likewise greeted them with a hearty, “Good morning!”

R208 was engrossed in being as loud as he could, and A212 ignored them all.

“Gimme Ceke, I’m gonna go take a quick look-see.” Sphere insisted.

“Aves scouts are out performing reconnaissance, there’s no need.” A212 chimed in without even looking at them.

“That’s awesome!” Sphaere declared, “I’m gonna go take a quick look-see. I’ll be right back.” Taking Cekell from Rhystea, she placed him on her shoulders. Without waiting for another word, she leapt over the side of the gate and charged a nearby tall tree.

“Well that one is raring to go!” R010 noted with a laugh.

The preparing Reptilia series and even a few Aves watched in awe as Sphaere stormed past them, ran straight up a tree, and flung herself high into the air as they arched back towards the gate.

Sphaere looked carefully, attempting to take in as much in as she could as fast as she could. She could see far, but she was looking for something rather specific. She could see the hot springs they had been using, and other water sources all complete with steam billowing out. She couldn’t make out any remains of the insects Cekell had disposed of the previous night.

Drifting slowly through the air, Sphaere could see a large bison not far from the gate, with others dotting the area. She could see two Aves darting around, and another perched up in a tall tree. Scanning for a full minute without blinking, she couldn't see any insects. An invisible weight seemed to have lifted itself off of her.

They were past the pinnacle of their jump and slowly descending back towards the gate, all eyes glued to them. “That didn’ look so bad, hopefully this’ll be jus’ a nice walk fer us!” Sphaere exclaimed as she took Cekell off her shoulders and hugged him tight, prompting an excited chirp out of him.

Sphaere landed on top of the gate, on one foot, right in front of A212. “yer scouts don’ seem ta be back yet. They shouldn’ be long, though; right?” She inquired haughtily.

“Showoff!” Rhystea exclaimed with a laugh.

“See anything?” R010’s eyes were lit up, not unlike an excited child’s.

“See anything strong and tasty?” R208 called from below, wearing the same look as R010.

Hopping down from the gate, Sphaere landed softly near R208. “Yea, there was one o’ those big, hairy critters not far from here. Looked like it had a few smaller ones grazin’ ‘round it too! Saw some o’ yer feathered friends runnin’ ‘round like headless chickens. Not one single insect though!” She answered gleefully.

“Ah, if it’s not far from here, maybe we can have it back before lunch!” R010 spoke excitedly.

“Then we can go get another!” R208 let out with a cheer, prompting his silent brethren to do the same.

“We still gotta investigate that bug base.” Sphaere added.

R010 and R208 fell silent. Even A212 opened his eyes and stared at her questioningly.

“I think we’d be satisfied just knowing where they’re coming from. I’m not so sure about paying them a visit…” R010 admitted.

“That’s fine.” Rhystea replied. “But there could be clues as to how we can get back to our homes there.” She had no doubt, in fact, she was confident.

“Are you going to stir them up and bring them back to our doorstep?” A212 asked.

“I thoughtcha overgrown road runners ate bugs?” Sphaere retorted.

R208 got a kick out of that, but before he could incite the rest of his Series, R010 cut them off. “I don’t think you would provoke an attack and bring it to our home. But I don’t think that I can knowingly send my Series into their den.”

“That’s fine.” Rhystea responded, “That’s our fight and we have no intention of dragging anyone else into it.”

“It wouldn’ hurt fer ya ta see where they’re holed up anyway.” Sphaere insisted. “Can yer men take down that big beast by themselves, or didja want us ta get that fer ya?” Sphaere remarked snidely.

There was a pause. The Reptilia Series had indeed taken down one of the creatures Sphaere was referring to, but it had taken much planning and preparation. “Are you saying you can take down an iron hoof on your own?” A212 scoffed.

“Where I’m from, they separate the men from the boys and show off by seeing who could ride on one of them angry critters fer the longest. They call the thang rodeo!” Sphaere half cried out.

“You ride on things like that?!” R208’s eyes lit up.

“Don’t get any bright ideas!” Rhystea connected the dots and there was cause for alarm.

“Ahem!” R010 commanded in a bid to calm them. “Is there a reason we shouldn’t do it the easy way and work together? We both stand to gain from bringing one down, and I wouldn’t have you overexert yourself before running off to stir up a nest of trouble.”

“It’s not that I don’ wanna work together, it’s jus’ that…” Sphaere started as she lift Cekell up, “I jus’ don’ know how well ‘e’ll work with a group. Cekell chirped in vehement agreement.

“That…” Rhystea paused in a fleeting attempt to logically ascertain what could possibly go wrong. “Could cause issues.” She admitted with a sigh.

“So the rest of us are just there to carry back your prey?” A212 sneered.

“Could we…” R208 looked as though he were about to beg. “Ride it back?”

“Scalehead!” Sphaere commented with something reminiscent of affection.

“Think you could drive it to us and have Cekell put it down right outside the gate?” Rhystea suggested.

“You always come up with something!” R010 boomed before composing himself by clearing his throat. Rhystea beamed. The three Aves scouts that Sphaere had spotted earlier approached, and A212 darted off to meet them at the base of the gate.

“Are you really going to go seeking out those giant insects?” R010 asked them, calm yet clearly concerned.

“I am.” Sphaere insisted.

We are.” Rhystea corrected her.

“You hairheads are really something else! I can’t wait to see you riding that thing!” R208 misconstrued.

“Nobody is riding anything!” Rhystea corrected him. Cekell let out a chirp from atop Sphaere’s shoulders as if to correct her.

“Think ya can handle bringin’ that thang here?” Sphaere questioned R208.

“Yea, iron hooves aren’t too smart. They just charge headlong after whatever aggravated them and trample everything in between.” R208 explained.

“I can only imagine!” Rhystea retorted with a laugh.

A212 was ascending the stairs when he chimed in, “Sounds like we have ourselves a plan.”

“That’s right, delivery boy! Yer gonna bring us some prey, an’ we’re gonna do the heavy liftin’!” Sphaere detailed the plan.

“Lets get on with it then.” A212 replied as he turned and headed back down the stairs. R208 cheered inaudibly, inciting his brethren to reciprocate, before following after A212.

“This gives me time to ask the smithy about those shields, and perhaps prepare some more rocks.” Rhystea stated before heading off to do just that.

Sphaere and R010 were left alone atop the gate to watch over the hunting party that was heading out. “Should I follow ‘em?” Sphaere asked.

“Do you doubt them?” R010 questioned.

“I don’ doubt that there’s more than one thang ta be ‘fraid of ‘round here.” Sphaere riposted.

“But the nest of those insects isn’t one of them?” R010 countered.

“Never said I weren’ ‘fraid o’ them, I jus’ cain’t let that fear stop me.” Sphaere shot back.

“Well said!” R010 stated, with a smile.

There was a short pause before Sphaere admitted, “I feel like I should follow ‘em.”

“Why don’t you take another look from up on high?” R010 suggested.

Sphaere turned and faced him. “Now yer talkin’!” She smiled before hopping over the side of the gate to go and have another look-see.

Unbeknownst to everyone but Verakry, Devose watched these events unfold from a well hidden distance. This warborn was as still as a statue on his perch up in a tree. Verakry could barely contain the rising exciting within.

“You still want to try getting on top of it?” A212 asked R208 as they approached the iron hoof.

“How would I get on top of it?” R208 asked, reluctant to give up. “I can’t very well climb up his legs, he might have something to say about that.

The creature they were referring to towered over even R208, and had paid them little mind since taking notice of them, and instead prioritizing the act of turning grass into fertilizer. “You go climb that tree, and we’ll maneuver this thing underneath it - though we’ll have to aim it back that way.” A212 proposed as he pointed in the direction of Demihome. “Are you sure you really want to do this?”

“I can’t NOT do this!” R208 proclaimed as he headed towards the tree A212 was talking about.

“Alright.” Was all A212 said as he shook his head and turned to give orders to the others.

Slowly they grouped up and approached the iron hoof. It eyed them suspiciously before snorting and opting to keep its distance. Exploiting it’s caution, the scale train - conducted by A212 - steered the creature into position.

Without hesitating, R208 lunged from the tree and onto the back of the buffalo’s neck and attempted to yell the beast into submission as he held on for all he was worth. Spooked, the iron hoof reared back on its hind legs before slamming down with all it’s might and flinging R208 hard to the ground.

A212 figured something like this was going to happen, and before the iron hoof could trample R208 into mud, he had sprinted to, leapt up and drove both feet hard into the side of the creature's head. Kicking off to launch himself into a run, he raced back to Demihome without so much as looking back. He could hear the creature's fury bearing down on him from behind.

Rhystea had etched sigils into the shields, and the looks she got as she hauled them all, unwieldy as they were, into smithy all by her lonesome, were priceless. She explained her request to the Reptilia running the forge, of wanting to mount some spear heads on the font of these shields. Upon seeing how light they were, the smith hopped to work with loud enthusiasm, and not just the kind where hammer met steel.

Rhystea then proceeded back to the gate, with several rocks in tow to work on while she waited. She approached the stairs leading up shortly after Sphaere had landed from taking her look-see.

“Well?” R010 questioned her.

Sphaere sighed, dejectedly. “That bad, huh?” Rhystea chimed in.

“Well… they had just gotten ta the critter… and R208 was climbing a tree.” Sphaere detailed what she saw.

“Uh-huh.” Rhystea urged her on with a laugh.

Sphaere went on to explain, “I’d go have another look-see… but I imagine I ain’t got time. They’ll probably be here soon.”

“You ought to get in position then.” Rhystea insisted.

“You ain’t gettin’ this one?” Sphaere asked with a laugh.

“Heck no! Besides, this is your show!” Rhystea insisted again.

“Pft! This was yer idea!” Sphaere insisted back.

“I would rather teach them to make guns.” Rhystea remarked defiantly.

“Ok, ok! Yain’t gotta declare war over there, Ms. merchant o’ death!” Sphaere shot back before hopping over the side of the gate.

Getting into position, Sphaere recalled Cekell from her shoulders. Snatching his probe, she aimed it at the direction the beast would be coming from. Cekell gave her a curious chirp in response. “Don’t miss.” Sphaere articulated as she spoke slowly, careful so as to not be misunderstood.

Cekell peered up at her with a confused look on his face. “Ya better not miss!” Sphaere commanded.

Cekell forgot what they were talking about and curled up in her arms. He pointed his probe at her and questioningly cocked it to one side. “Yain’t gonna miss!” Sphaere tried reassuring herself.

Cekell answered with a chirp. “An’ I never doubtedja!” Sphaere insisted. Confident that Cekell wouldn’t let her get pulverized, Sphaere waited anxiously. She wouldn’t wait long, for soon after, she could hear the beast pounding its way toward her.

A212 broke out of the tree line first, but the iron hoof was not far behind. The few other Aves Series were only a short distance behind them, but no Reptilia Series were amongst them.

Sphaere grabbed and pointed Cekell’s probe at the beast bearing down on them. “All I ask is thatcha don’ let ‘im murder us.” As A212 and the buffalo approached, Cekell wiggled free from Sphaere’s grasp, and plopped down on the ground in front of her.