Kadrapraba stood and digested the news she had just received from her harvested humans who infiltrated the human protectors outside the dome. It appeared that at last she was not the only one who had begun looking into these humans. Once Anarra’s spies had discovered that she knew that the daughter of Turi lived, they had dispatched agents to rescue her. In doing this they had actually made direct contact with humans and had enlisted their help! The result of this assistance was that Asha was being brought back to them.
This use of a powerful human group was very troubling. Opening up to the humans was inviting danger. The High Mother suspected that should this mission to return Asha be successful, additional cooperation might naively happen and, while they were inferior, the humans might appear to offer significant enough support to weaken her in her attempts to become first amongst the Mothers. No, Kadrapraba needed to cause a falling out of any potential alliance. But how? The High Mother broke from her rumination and summoned her favorite pet, Octavia.
“Yes my Goddess, there is friction and discord amongst those charged with learning about you. There is a strong faction who subscribe to the belief that your people are exceedingly dangerous. This faction is led by a great military leader, General Spears. Perhaps we can exploit this disaffection. If we make it appear as if the government is betraying your worships, or at least can’t control its people, I suspect that High Mother Anarra would become unwilling to ally with them.”, Octavia proposed.
“Yess.”, Kadrapraba sibilantly whispered, “Perhaps if we push them to attack the group returning Asha and we come and ‘rescue’ the party, we will be seen in a more favorable light. Once in our possession, we can heal her and work to bring the child under our influence. With Asha in our hands it will also greatly complicate Anarra’s opposition to me as well.”
As she consulted with her advisors, it was decided that this attack should occur before they approached the dome to reduce the chance of discovery of their machinations. They would determine which human vessel was carrying Asha’s group and attack it with an influenced or even harvested human group. If all went well they would secure Asha and separate her from the rescuing women. If they could avoid killing the women they would, but if they had to die to gain Asha, so be it.
Kadrapraba started the plan in motion by tasking some of her daughters with discovering the travel plans and means of the group bearing Asha. Her daughters would also work to subvert the necessary elements within the human forces for the attack. They would be manipulated to operate under the belief that they were to subdue and capture the women for study. Once accomplished her own people would attack and ‘rescue’ Asha and the women...
Jill heard the fear and desperation in Carol’s cry, “NO! You are not dead! You can’t be dead! LOOK HARDER!!!”, and she pulled Carol into a crushing hug.
She held Carol in her hysteria all the while murmuring softly non-sense sounds. Jill’s heart filled with a fearful ache as she considered that she might not be alive. As she did this, the white around them dimmed as if clouds were covering the sun, and she could almost feel air, moist and cool like the air before an autumn squall. The kind of weather that puts the seal on the warmth of summer. She almost chuckled with the irony of this vision when she felt the first drops of her imaginary herald of summer’s end! She glanced up in shock to see dark grey clouds overhead and feel more drops. Carol’s hysterical sobbing denials sputtered out as the drops quickly intensified in to a downpour! Both looked up in distracted amazement at the manifesting storm.
“What in the hell?”, gasped Carol as Jill looked up in wonder. “It’s raining?!?”
“Looks like it doesn’t it?”, Jill responded in amazement. “Pretty cool for a dead person, huh! My sadness seems to have produced this.” Jill considered this as Carol looked between Jill and the now extant sky.
“You know, It would be a shame for a steady rain like this to be wasted on us, when it could be nurturing things...”, Jill murmured with consideration.
As Carol looked around, a deep and verdant forest came into existence all around them. Everywhere they looked the saw an incredibly lush terrain; complete even to the presence of forest wildlife stepping carefully about.
Carol stepped slowly away and bent to touch a large fern growing in the shade of a large fully grown conifer. “You just did this?!? How?”
Jill considered the question. “I’m not absolutely certain. I just reached out to that potential we used to make our bodies appear and pressed. Everything around me feels fluid; malleable.” Jill stepped up to a tree and ran her hand gently on the bark. “It feels as real as any I’ve ever touched!”, Jill marveled.
“No! Don’t you see? When I visualized my ghostly self into existence, I felt like a battery almost drained of power. You, with nothing but emotion and a thought brought all this into being. You don’t feel drained, do you?!?”, the last of her response was said in excited accusation. Hearing no denial her whole being almost lit up with joyful triumph. “I don’t think you are dead at all! I’m not certain what’s going on, but I don’t think ghosts can finger paint with the world.”
“Then where’s my astral cord?”, Jill asked.
“Maybe what you see isn’t an astral cord. Remember when we came here, where ever ‘here’ is? I felt like a piece of taffy being pulled when it was happening. Maybe a part of me got left behind! Maybe what you see is the taffy thread going back to the rest of me.”, Jill puzzled out.
Jill nodded slowly and began grinning with relieved hope. “You know, you could be right! When I looked at you after first seeing the cord I could sense that a vital spark was missing. I also tracked it and felt that it is down that cord. Maybe you just have a serious case of literally split personality!”
Carol snorted and laughed out, “Bitch!” Carol then looked up and still chuckling said, “So are you going to keep up with drowning us?”
Jill and Carol then spent what felt like a timeless period roaming this forest Jill had created. It seemed as real as anything they’d ever experienced and felt as if it were a fully formed and complete ecology. They marveled at all they found, from plant life to wildlife. They even saw at a distance a puma stalking its prey.
Neither could believe that Jill’s mind could summon all the fine requirements to mind for this creation so they theorized that what ever this place was, it had to use the initial creative motive as a concept template and then the process of creation would steal or copy patterns from another reality to properly manifest the idea. They tried to prove this to themselves by having one of them make something to confirm the thing matched what they experienced on Earth. These creations proved as real as they could test. For example, they at one time created a pile of delicious chocolates and gorged on them. Right up to the point where they almost became sick from eating so much chocolate and Carol even dealt with an unpleasant and unexpected bout of the runs from too much richness!
They also confirmed that while Jill was unaffected by the act of creation, Carol was more limited. Any act of that type seemed to put a drain on her reserves. This necessitated Jill, as she had done before, feeding Carol energy. It was during these feedings, that Carol and Jill noticed another thing.
Each time Jill would push this vital energy, the force would echo down the cord to her missing parts and when the echo returned Carol’s body changed a bit. The changes weren’t harmful, and Carol always assured Jill that she felt more vital than before but her physical appearance did change.
They didn’t know it, but each change caused her body in this strange plastic place to come more into line with her body on Earth. As the changes became more apparent, she began to look less and less like a normal human and more and more like an elemental spirit, inhumanly perfect but wild. Carol was alternately thrilled (for she had stepped firmly beyond just pretty) and concerned (because she was also a bit scary). Jill for her part, however, showed no such concerns and felt that if Carol had shown the tiniest bit of sexual interest, they would have been pleasantly occupied for weeks!
As the seeming days progressed to weeks, they began to notice other qualities of the place they had (created?). Once started, this world seemed to progress normally. The other major quality they began to see were “new” elements that appeared! Without conscious effort on Jill or Carol’s part, one afternoon they came across a clearing in the lush forest that hadn’t been there previously. In the center of the small clearing was a small circular slightly raised pool of black water. It was framed by a wall of stone, maybe 2 feet in height. The stones were smooth and used no mortar. The stones were shaped so precisely, however, that no water escaped.
While they didn’t understand its appearance they would occasionally sit by it to relax and ponder or meditate. Jill found the pond especially soothing and would usually spend an hour or so around nightfall just sitting and taking in the quiet.
Carol, for her part, found herself more restive and spent more and more time moving through the wilds. Increasingly she would find and follow the wildlife. Not to hunt, as she or Jill could call food into being when they desired, but simply to track and observe. Slowly she found her ability to move silently and stealthily improving to the point she could play a game of ‘tag’ with these wild animals. She would track them and approach them until she could gently touch them to their great startlement.
Being simply animals they would usually immediately run after the touch, but as Carol never hurt any, their fear of her lessened as time went on.
Jill for her part also wandered, but she also spent more time playing with the reality around them. With some chagrin, she’d discovered that she had a vain streak and her original ‘male’ lack of attention to clothing had evolved into an appreciation for finery. As a result, she often spent time creating and trying on all sorts of clothes and accessories. She found she favored long flowing dresses, similar to her ‘hero’ costume. Graceful lines that didn’t restrict movement and fabric that was soft and silky became her default. With the proper jewelry and sandals she truly felt beautiful. She would create other things as well.
One of her favorite creations was Carol and Jill’s place of rest. She had been in a particularly dense and lush area of the forest and had been thinking it reminded her of wild places she’d read that the elves of Tolkien and other authors had lived in. As she let her mind drift on these visions she felt moved to play and had called to the wild. In response the forest growth had moved and shifted. In an organic fashion the trees and bushes grew and entwined with each other until an enclosure had formed complete with a bed room and living room. The bed was also organic in nature but made from the softest plant life so that laying on it was one of the most soothing experiences she’d ever had. “Dang! This place does good work!”, she thought with pleasure.
In spite of pursuing these personal hobbies of exploration Carol and Jill spent most of their time together. They shared discoveries and fears. Jill enjoyed the feel of excitement and anticipation of Carol stalking in the forest and Carol loved the simple joy Jill got from discovering and enjoying being beautiful. Their closeness only strengthened as the indeterminate time progressed. They were living in a place of peace and beauty and found their time there largely blissful.
The only blight on their happiness was that there were only the two of them. They came to miss their friends. They both missed Maggie’s down to earth pragmatism. The missed Gary. They missed his open heart and how they could easily ‘tweak’ him and leave him sputtering. They missed Samantha, who lived life with the volume knob turned to eleven. They even missed others like David Feber, Mr. Carrendon and Mr. Grant.
Unfortunately, neither knew how to return to them. They didn’t even know what or where they were! They felt confident they were in an alternate reality but how they’d gotten here wasn’t clear. Jill couldn’t clearly remember as all had been consumed by the agony she’d been experiencing.
Jill and Carol sat by the pond one afternoon reminiscing over their friends and histories. Jill fondly told how, when she was a little boy, she/he would pretend play with his friends. As most children did, Gill often played “Cops and Robbers” but his variant on the game was “Heroes and Villains” (he loved comic books). He would endlessly play at being Superman, pretending to fly around and stopping criminals. He even almost broke an ankle once when he ran off the top of a detached garage roof so he might “fly” to intercept another friend who was the villain! The girls leaned into one another laughing and Jill wondered if he would have played the same games if he’d been a girl.
Carol chuckled and remarked that as ‘girly’ as Jill had become she doubted she’d be willing to risk getting dirty. Jill chuckled and was about to deny it, when she froze.
“Did you hear that?”, Jill asked with a strange intensity.
“Hear what?”, Carol asked with puzzlement.
Straining to listen, Jill heard it again. “A little girl’s laughter!” Jill reached over and seized Carol’s arm. “There! Can you hear her!?!?” Ever so faintly the two heard the gleeful sounds of a little girl’s laughter. As they focused, the joyful sounds grew louder and they began to make out the sounds of the little girl and others squealing with excitement. Carol and Jill looked at each other with joyful amazement then looked about for the source of the children playing. Carol glanced down and her eyes grew to the size of saucers. With hands shaking with excitement she pointed to the pond.
Jill followed Carol’s gesture and looked into the pond. In it, she could see a scene. A handful of children were chasing about a glade within a park after one another. The children were playing a game not unlike what Jill had described her childhood self playing, under the indulgent gazes of several mothers. One boy was running about yelling, “Watch out! I’m Torch! Better do what I say or else!”
Others yelled that he needed to surrender or they would shoot him. One girl, however, wasn’t satisfied. The sweet hispanic child, wearing a pretty pink dress, went to a park bench near an overhanging tree and proceeded to climb up into it. From there she made her way onto an overhanging branch a dozen feet from the ground and from there threw her arms up yelling, “Surrender Torch! I’m Lady Astia and I’ll stop you!”
One of the mothers saw this and rushed towards the little girl, screaming in fear, “NO Mary! Don’t move! You’ll fall and hurt yourself!”
Distracted, Mary looked at the panicked mother who was rushing towards her, “Mama? I’m Lady Astia!” Seeing the terror shining in her mother’s eyes little Mary grew suddenly afraid as well and began to move which disturbed her balance. This caused her foot to slip and she began to fall backward off the branch.
The mother, understanding she was too far away wailed in despair as she in her mind saw her precious Mary’s potential death. “NO! Please Oh, Mother of God No!”, the mother prayed.
Jill and Carol watched in horror as the child began to fall, tumbling head first. Instinctively Jill reached down into the water in a desperate attempt to catch the child. As her hands pierced the surface she felt a strange resistance, as if she were pushing at some sort of membrane. The more she pressed the more the membrane stretched towards the child and the harder it resisted. With all her strength she pushed forward until, as the child spun towards certain injury or death, she felt her hands grasp the child. With all her rapidly diminishing strength she slowed and reoriented little Mary so that she came to land safely on the ground. As the last of Jill’s strength was spent she saw little Mary looking into Jill’s eyes with childlike wonder, “Lady Astia! You saved me!”
Jill then collapsed, utterly done. Carol rushed over and pulled Jill’s limp body out of the pond. “Oh my God Jill! Do you know what you just did?!? You reached through and saved that little girl!!”
Jill looked up into Carol’s eyes and weakly chimed, “Yay.... go me?” Her head fell against Carol’s breast, “I’m gonna take a nap now...”, and she closed her eyes...
Charu, Kadrapraba‘s 3’rd daughter and one of the agents the High Mother has sent to work on the humans, looked at the major who lay sleeping. As one of her protectors stood guard, she knelt down by his head and ever so gently placed fingers at his temples. Closing her eyes, she focused on the man and worked to force his mind deeper into sleep. Shortly she could feel him enter a dream state and she began to whisper to him. Quietly, she spoke to him. Telling him that he needed to capture the “aliens”. That his leader demanded it. He would be a hero for arranging the capture. She worked to amplify his concerns on the humans that had been brought into the dome.
Charu continued speaking quietly and gently pushed to intensify his need to follow her suggestions. She was confident that with a few more soldiers under her influence they would be certain that the humans here would attack and betray Anarra’s people. Now that her sister had found the date that Asha and her group would be on the river, they would be ready to carry out the ‘rescue’.
Slowly, carefully Charu and her protector left the major’s room and then with the assistance of a harvested soldier made their way to the barracks room of the Sargent that would be pulled into the mission. Once there, she repeated her efforts and pressed on his vulnerable and sleeping mind his mother’s wishes. With this effort, influencing rather than harvesting, there would be no casual evidence to Itimori or De’elen that the soldiers involved were acting not of their own volition. They would seemingly act out of loyalty to the military leader and a distrust of her people. If captured they would simply be humans at odds with other humans.
The next morning, Charu was ushered into the presence of her mother.
Looking at her daughter she asked, “Is it done my child?”
“Yes Mother. We have primed the needed humans and know when Anarra’s team will approach. The soldiers will do as we want and intercept the vessel bringing Asha. During the assault we will attack as well and take Asha.” Charu looked at her mother and continued, “I understand Asha is injured, but what is the nature of her injury? Will she resist our rescue?”
Kadrapraba shook her head and replied, “No, she is in an unnatural sleep. What I have heard from our spies in Tirielen suggests she tried to do far more than she could, and over extended herself when at a large gathering of humans. Backlash from her efforts have shocked and injured her. Likely she has retreated to protect herself and simply needs to led back to consciousness. We will do this and while she is still in the weakened state we should be able to handle her and instill loyalty to us.” The High Mother then moved to a tray with two goblets and a decanter of wine. Pouring glasses, she handed one to Charu and continued, “You have done well my daughter! You have my pride at the skill you displayed to manage the humans without having to fully harvest them. While the harvested have their uses,” Kadrapraba nodded to her favorite who was keeling quietly by the sofa, “evidence of our manipulation is far too easy to discern. Far better that we mold their natural feelings. For humans at least, it is ultimately better since we can take little sustenance from them.”
Charu preened at her mother’s praise. She sipped from her goblet and turned back to her mother. “If we succeed, you will obviously gain power, perhaps even ascendency. What will you do?”
Kadrapraba considered her goblet and then looked out the balcony window. “We are living in difficult and tragic times Charu. Only a short time ago we were part of a great people. We were an empire that numbered in the tens of millions. The Ripping stole us away. The Ripping hollowed our spirit when we were cast here. We are terribly vulnerable until we heal and grow more numerous. Before we knew of the humans I simply thought being first among my peers was an exercise in vanity. But no more.
The humans. For all their cleverness with tools I can see we are now few and surrounded by beings scarcely greater than animals.”
She looked at her pet Octavia. “They are an aggressive race, however. Their history is rife with war and destruction on a scale we can’t imagine! In just their last Great War, over 70 million; 70 million died!” As Charu paled as she digested this news, Kadrapraba walked over to caress Octavia who closed her eyes and leaned into the touch like a happy cat. “We have to assume that left to themselves they will inevitably try to destroy us. For we are guilty of the greatest of human sins: We are different.”
Kadrapraba then looked back at her daughter. “The other Mothers do not see the threat clearly yet. I do. I must lead our people so that we might ensure our survival.”
Charu stared, shaken to her core, as she came to grips with war on the scale that her mother had related. With a quavering voice she posed the obvious question, “What can we do?”
Her mother closed her eyes as tears began to fall from her cheeks. “They are lesser beings, but they are beings that can unleash weapons that have the power of the Sun itself. If we can not convince them to leave us alone we may have to plan for acts that are beyond monstrous. Charu, you should be made aware of the potential price we may have to pay. Go you now to my Mistress of Strategies. She will explain to you the nature of the ancient weapons. From her you will learn of the nature of our most terrible tools.”
Charu bowed and left the chamber, her mind lighting with fearful speculation. All her people had learned of the “Ancient Wars”. A terrible time of violence where whole populations had be devastated. She knew that in those times terrible weapons had been used but speaking of them was forbidden. Now she was apparently to be taught about them, perhaps to even prepare for their use?
She descended into the palace until she reached the Chambers of the Mistress of Strategy, Nabitha. She knocked and was instructed to enter.
In the chamber she saw the mistress as she examined several documents. Nabitha Looked up and smiled at Charu. Smiling warmly, she spoke, “Charu! Delightful lady. It is not often I am graced with your company. How are things with you?”
Charu responded she was well and after a period of pleasant conversation, Charu informed the mistress of the High Mother’s decision to bring her into the preparations revolving around the possible use of some of the Ancient Weapons.
Nabitha’s visage assumed a haunted look and she said, “I never thought that our people would ever even consider making use of such terrible things, but what we have learned of the humans tells us that they have different and perhaps as equally powerful weapons of death. Things that they have even used with in living human memory! We have to be prepared...”. With a deep shudder, she began to walk out of her chambers, calling for Charu to follow.
Together, with escort, they left the palace and to a rail transport that ended near the boundary. Once getting off they were led into the forest leading to the actual wall and allowed to leave the protective barrier entirely. once outside of the safety of the wall the escorts led them further into the wilds until they made their way to a camp where the human population of a very small isolated village had been gathered and corralled.
“You have come to me at a seminal time in our preparations. We are ready to test the efficacy of a weapon we are considering.” Nabitha with a determined but slightly sick cast to her face moved into a round tent that had a number of women within. Several, were moving about but a few were seated around a modified shield matrix while a final woman was restrained in a seat so that she couldn’t move a muscle, but was forced to star out of a window at the villagers. Just out of he reach was placed a misshapen crystal of grayish red. If not for the ‘wrongness” it emitted like an evil radiation, Charu would have thought it a large if poor quality quartz.
Charu could see the women move with a terrible sense of focus and duty, and her unease at the preparations quickly grew. “Why is that woman restrained? And What have you done to that shield matrix?”, she asked.
The Mistress of Strategy gestured to each and explained, “The matrix has been adjusted to provide a different type of shield than that provided by our men. It has been adapted to shield minds instead; hence the women gathered around to power it. The restrained woman will be part of the weapon.”
After confirming they were ready with the woman directing the others, one of the support women moved next to the restrained woman and applied an injector to the side of her neck. Then she carefully moved the crystal so that the woman’s fingers touched it. She then quickly retreated.
At first nothing happened. Then the restrained woman shivered. Gradually She began making small and strange sounds. These sounds progressed to dark moans, then finally to inhuman growls and snarls as her whole body shuddered and wrenched in the restraints. As she stared with maddened eyes out of the tent froth began bubbling from her mouth and her fingers pressed frantically to the crystal.
Charu could then just barely sense something unbelievably ugly. Nabitha, who was stiffly standing next to her pointed out the window.
The villagers were milling about the fenced enclosure. At first all Charu could see was the occasional individual who reached up to massage their temple as if to fend off the beginning of a headache. Then they started to flinch and twitch slightly and their expressions soon became taken over with annoyance, then anger, then unreasoning maddened rage.
With wild and insane eyes the villagers started to turn on each other. Attacking and tearing into who ever was near with such savage and animalistic fury that Charu had to fight from becoming sick.
She forced herself to watch the madness. She saw a mother pulled down by her own children who launched onto her and tore meaty chunks of flesh from her as she plunged her fingers into the eye sockets of the infant she had been holding. Young and old. Family and strangers. They simply and indiscriminately savaged anyone they could see. With in minutes they were all dead.
Charu’s mind came to the understanding that this might be something her people might be forced to use. Suddenly she could no longer stand what she’d seen and the princess turned away and dropped to her knees, violently vomiting. She crouched there and emptied herself, hearing in the background the animalistic snarls of the woman turned weapon.
“Oh Goddess help us!”, she choked as she wretched. “Help us!!”
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