Title: Prelude to Calamity: Part Four
Author: Ayaia of the Moon
Fandom: Diadem: Worlds of Magic
Theme: 20. the road home:
Disclaimer: I own Diadem! Really! Am I lying? Yes! But I wish I weren’t…
***Strong PG-13/T warning! Contains scary stuff! You have been warned!***
Prelude to Calamity: Part Four
The trauma he’d recently endured had been harder on Score than he initially realized. Because although he thought he was fine, his mind connected this wound with the beatings of his childhood. Which explained the nightmares. This was all guesswork by Jenna and Shanara, who were joining forces to heal all of his wounds; mental as well as physical.
“Newsflash, guys: we should actually be focusing on talking to the Delphinians,” Score complained light-heartedly when the two came to examine his injuries for the third time that day. “I’m good. I’ll heal.”
Shanara looked at him, and her eyes were teary, and he sighed, lifting his shirt so that the examination could commence.
“They’ve gone back to their land,” Jenna said firmly. “We don’t need to worry about them.”
Score scoffed, but said nothing. Jenna refused to hear bad news, even if it was presented on a platter. She had gotten into her healing “zone,” and nothing could deter her.
She and Shanara positively fed off each other.
Score wanted to complain about how they’d never been this way with Helaine, but the truth was…they had. All of them had. He remembered Jenna actually passing out from exhaustion after coming through the portal to Rawn, because she’d been kidding herself about how much magic she had to help sustain the portal.
“How’s Helaine?” Shanara asked then, as if reading Score’s mind. He didn’t answer, and was glad when Jenna did. He didn’t want to talk about Helaine.
“She’s doing well, I think,” Jenna said, not looking away from one of Score’s cuts as she prodded it with her fingers, which glowed slightly. “When you consider how she was a few weeks ago.”
“Better in a ‘no, not really’ sort of way,” Score clarified, hissing in pain as Jenna prodded an infected wound too hard.
“She’s just been off since the Delphinians came,” Jenna said defensively, frowning at Score.
“She almost killed that Xena chick,” Score argued, frowning right back at her.
“Xenocleia almost killed you, Score,” Shanara said, reaching up and gripping his chin. She was frowning at him, and her eyes were still all teary.
Score flinched instinctively at the suddenness of her action, though, and her firm bravado was gone in an instant. He was immediately sorry. “My argument,” he conceded, pulling his shirt down to cover the bandages on his stomach, “is simply that I’ve been afraid of this. She’s kept everything all bottled inside…”
“And you think that she got carried overboard by those emotions when she fought Xenocleia,” Shanara finished. Jenna looked thoughtful at this, and the heaviness of their conversation was too much.
“Fought?” Score said, grinning, trying for levity. “I’d say ‘beat the shit out of.’ Or ‘damn near vaporized’”
Jenna chewed on her lip. “Should we talk to her about it?”
“Because when I suggested she take a break…that went well,” Score said sarcastically.
They met the Delphinians at Shanara’s castle, just to verify their level of strength. They claimed they were from one of the inner circuit worlds, but had insisted on meeting somewhere that wasn’t Dondar or Treen. And so they’d come to Rawn, their portal forming only moments after Pixel and Score had stepped in through their own portal.
“So…you’re fifth-dimensional beings,” Score said then, and Pixel groaned.
“We’ve established that they’re fifth-dimensional beings,” Pixel snapped.
“Our world is comprised of seers, and we live multiple timestreams simultaneously,” the extremely pregnant woman interjected cheerily. “This one is quite pleasant, because we are not ambushed by the dark one and killed with projectile bone weapons.” She was quite beautiful. Score could believe she was some kind of oracle from another world. She had blonde hair, held back in an intricate weave, making her look very young. She could have been around fourteen or fifteen, or she could have been in her late twenties.
“Please stand now, my lady,” the brawny one said in his deep voice. He wore a hooded cloak, and his skin was dark. Score suspected he was also blind. Stuff like blindness didn’t actually matter for a fifth-dimensional being, though, so he didn’t think more on it.
The pregnant woman stood, taking two steps to the right, and a portal appeared next to her. “Have I spoken false? How tragic,” the woman said, her eyebrows knitting together.
“They who come through mean no harm,” spoke the blind man. His name was Cyrus.
And two more of the Delphinians stepped through. They now numbered seven.
“Oh,” said one man, tall and lanky. “I do not like this reality. This is the reality where our parties become enemies.”
“Make them stop, Pix. Please. I can’t take it,” Score growled to his companion, who seemed fascinated more than anything else.
“So…explain more to us about this ‘dark one,’” Pixel said.
The pregnant woman frowned. “This reality is most peculiar. This is the one where we explain ourselves before the battle, and where I must leave to bear my child. It will be a girl.”
“We won’t be as strong without you, my lady,” the lanky one commented. “Seven is stronger.”
“The dark one will make seven. And the prophecy will be fulfilled.”
“The dark one’s name is Mahli Sindri,” said Cyrus. “He was born with our abilities, but the gift overwhelmed him, driving him to madness. He specializes in soothsaying by interpretation of languages. He can speak to insects and birds, and he derives other abilities through necromancy.”
Score blinked. “Like…dead guys?”
“Bones,” the pregnant woman clarified, her face expressionless. But when she spoke, Score felt a knot in his stomach. No. This wasn’t right. This was a whole new level of wrong and twisted.
“Of course,” Pixel said softly, though even his blue skin looked significantly pale, like he was sick in his gut, too. “He took the bones from her arm. And used them to make himself more powerful. To take some kind of power from Helaine.”
“It’s quite terrible,” another of the Delphinians said. “This is the reality in which you are the Triad reborn, correct? And now the dark one has the precognitive abilities of Eremin, who was born Emery Sheftland, and would have lived a good life, uncorrupted by magic and happy through her days had she not been raised by her brother Kain, who forced himself on her daily, causing her to go insane, to the point that she killed him.”
Cyrus looked at Score and stepped away from him as Score was suddenly violently ill on Shanara’s carpet.
“Interesting,” the lanky one pressed. “So we have entered into the reality where your companion will not join us? Not even to face the dark one and avenge her lost confidence and her lost bones?”
“Yes,” Score said firmly, spitting and then grimacing as he conjured water with his Chrysolite and washed the vomit away. He immediately evaporated the liquid into water vapor, all in the space of a half-minute. “Helaine doesn’t need to make this her fight. At all. We don’t even need to tell her.”
Pixel looked at him, his eyebrows furrowed. “I don’t know if you can make that decision for her, Score.”
“It’s fine, Pix,” Score frowned.
Score froze. They never used their given names. Not with each other. Not with anyone.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Pixel said again.
Score turned to Cyrus. “If we don’t tell her to come, will anyone die?”
Cyrus was silent for a moment. “This reality has two outcomes. Both may end in death. But both require us to leave straight for the dark one now. Should we stop elsewhere to detour, we will not be able to take him by surprise, and my lady’s child will be in great duress.”
“It’s fine,” Score repeated.
“Time’s a-wasting, Pix. You gonna help me form the portal, or not?”
“I’m fine, Pixel. God. I just want to go home!”
Pixel narrowed his eyes. “We’re staying.”
“I’m fine. F.I.N.E. Look!” Score gestured to himself animatedly, even shuffling his feet in a sort of tap-dance.
“You’re supposed to be taking it easy. Recuperating.”
“I can do that at home! We don’t have to be here, stressing Shanara out! Just let me help you make a portal—”
“No. Forget it. You weren’t even supposed to leave the hospital. The healers said the cuts were infected. They could have been poisoned, for all we know.”
“Doctors,” Score corrected irritably.
“You nearly died, Matt! You can’t just be ‘fine’ after a few days!”
Score’s eyes narrowed. Pixel had been doing that –pulling the ‘real name’ card, and it bothered him, because it forced him to be more serious. “I know,” he said at length. “Okay? I do. But it’s all I know how to do.”
Pixel sighed. “I’m just trying to do for you what you did for Helaine. Fair?”
Score snorted. “That was totally different.”
Pixel quirked an eyebrow.
“It was! Helaine was…was ambushed! I was…careless.”
“I don’t buy it,” Pixel said, setting his mouth in a line stubbornly. “’Careless’ doesn’t nearly kill you. It doesn’t perforate your organs or tear through muscle tissue. ‘Careless’ doesn’t get you stabbed in the gut thirteen times.”
Score didn’t look away. In their lives, actually, yes it did.
“Score? Hold on.”
His head felt woozy. He couldn’t remember quite why he felt so terrible. He remembered, when he was twelve, and Brio had been smacking the story into his head. His head was pounding. He was gonna pass out.
“Wake up. Score, don’t die.”
Who said he was dying? Something pressed into his stomach, and he might have whimpered. It was too hard to heal from this shit with aspirin and death threats alone. He tried to open his eyes. Tried to gain a semblance of speech to inform Brio that they needed to go to the hospital this time.
The world had gone tie-dye. Cheerful purples and blues and pinks that made his eyes hurt with their brilliance. He blinked, and then shut his eyes again. Screw it. At least when he was passed out, he didn’t feel like microwaved death.
“You have to help me, Score. Help me move you. Score? Score?”
It wasn’t Brio. Brio wasn’t this nice. He’d be yelling at him by now to suck it up and move his goddamned ass.
“…just tackled her out of the way...”
“…need to get him help…”
“…never should have tried to cross into the next circuit…”
“…saved him. Risked her life…
“…he made her a portal. Got distracted…”
“…knives came out of nowhere. Kept coming and coming. She was throwing them all after another…”
“…she die? Did Helaine kill her?”
Score heard the words, but didn’t comprehend them. They were nothing more than noise, on top of the rolling nausea he was trying to ignore, and the pressure on his gut.
“Find something to laugh at, Score. If you die…I’ll kill you. Understand?”
And now his heart was thudding in his ears, and he knew he was going to pass out again.
“No. No. Score. Score!”
Helaine was practicing swordplay, hacking into a special dummy Pixel had made for her; easy to repair, and much harder to slice into pieces. Their woodpile was too high. “Yes?” she asked between attacks, not even turning in Score’s direction.
Score seemed surprised for a moment, but moved into her field of vision, though far from her (physical) range of motion, offering a polite smirk. “Pretty good, your Highness.”
“You’ve known this since the beginning,” she returned. It wasn’t snarky. It was factual. Left, Right, Parry, Lunge. “Did you want something in particular?”
In answer, Score moved a shoulder up and down. A half-shrug, cousin to the trait they’d all picked up from him in the time they’d spent together.
She hadn’t had a problem like this in years—a problem that was inside of her, and couldn’t be challenged to a duel. She’d been working hard to overcome her demons, though, and had made a lot of progress. “I’m doing well, now,” she told him then. “Much better than when you tried to send me home.”
A nod. “I…I only hope I can…do as well as you,” he managed. It seemed a difficult thing for him to eke out.
Left, Right, Parry, Lunge.
“I went to Delphi. With Pixel.”
“You went to visit the woman who tried to murder you.”
“Xenocleia. Yeah. I did. Pix was there because…they all kinda freak me out, you know? The way they talk about stuff that is happening in this reality? Versus the other ones they live in or whatever?”
“You regret going?”
“No…I…I’m confused about her. Shanara is mad. Pissed. But…I dunno. Is it…is that how you feel? About Mahli Sindri?”
Left, Right, Parry, Lunge.
“We shant discuss that. Or him, thank you.” She lunged again, and accidently decapitated the practice dummy.
She frowned at his apparent frustration and turned to him. “Are you so damaged inside that you can’t make up your own mind without the rest of the group’s consensus? Make a decision. Feel something other than sarcasm and bitterness.”
He looked hurt for half a moment. It gave away to anger. “God, Helaine. Why do I bother?”
“An excellent question. Stop bothering altogether and things would be much better between us, I can assure you.”
“Damaged. Let’s look at ‘damaged.’”
He wouldn’t leave in a huff. He had to have the last word. “You’re the most damaged person here! I try to talk to you and you bite my damned head off! I’m just so sick of talking to Shanara because she fucking flinches whenever I talk about—” he cut himself short. “Just…whatever. Forget it, Helaine.”
She watched him storm away. Back toward the castle, heading in the door. “I think it’s okay,” she called weakly after him.
“What?” he turned toward her, just when she’d half-hoped he hadn’t heard her speak.
“For you. You…think things through more. You don’t make decisions right away. Even from the beginning…you never trusted easily. But you are fair. You…are a fair judge of character.”
She bristled. Who was he to keep turning it on her? She treated him differently, and she knew he saw it. Saw how she didn’t joke with him or argue like they used to. She was fine with Pixel. Jenna. Flame. But when she tried to be nice to him…he did this. Like his problems had something to do with Mahli Sindri, or those terrifying hours of torture, or anything else.
“Is it too hard now? You aren’t as lethal without your surprise attack? Do you think it makes you a better fighter? Ambush strategies are for cowards!”
Her friends stood among those watching; wondering if she’d become unhinged, or if she would really go so far as to beat someone to death…
Another thrust. Another lunge. The practice dummy’s body fell into three pieces, joining the already severed head.
Score had already disappeared inside when she looked up again.
Score was familiar with this particular hospital; He recognized it as the same hospital he’d come to when he’d gotten a broken nose. There could only be one hospital in existence with this horrible smell of burnt macaroni. Rumor had it that there’d been a fire, and that, since the Bowry sucked ass, they hadn’t scraped together enough funds for a proper fix-it-up, so they’d done a band-aid solution and bribed the building code people to look the other way.
When Brio broke his nose, he’d thought that the smell was just a side-effect of not being able to smell things properly. When, afterward, he’d come again, having gotten a broken rib or two, he knew that it was just the way the place smelled.
He’d been charged with strict bed rest, so the multiple stitches holding him together wouldn’t bust. He felt a swoop of dread in his stomach when he felt like he was being watched, and tried automatically to banish it; it was Jenna, or that tall, blind Delphinian who’d become Score’s second shadow.
It was neither. It was Helaine. He automatically shifted in his bed, wincing at the unnatural pulling sensation on his stomach. *Helaine? Where are you?*
*I’m in the room next to yours. It’s empty. I was trying to find the window to your room, but you don’t have one. It is entirely unacceptable.*
Score blanched at how bossy she sounded. She sounded…normal. In his head. *The Bowry sucks ass, Helaine. They can’t put windows in every room.*
*Why are you here?*
*Stupid place to spend your free time, I think. This place is really freaking boring.*
Yeah…she probably did.
He didn’t say anything for a bit. They hadn’t had a conversation that hadn’t gone wrong in a long while. Like a long-unused muscle he was remembering what to do with. She seemed content to let the silence stretch, but he broke it at last.
*I…never got to say ‘thanks.’ So…Thanks. For…for saving my ass. And stuff.*
Lame. Beyond lame. But she still said nothing.
*This is the part where you answer, Helaine. Sneer at me and say it was nothing.*
*You spoke with Mahli Sindri.*
No hyperbole. No beating around the bush. Score was flummoxed, then remembered she couldn’t see him. He suddenly craved his Jasper, so he could at least see her.
*Um…yeah. I did. How did you—*
*I…I guess I just wanted to see what kind of psycho would…do what he does. I needed to know. How did you know I—*
*What did he say?*
Score scoffed aloud, and wondered if it would make its way through the weak magic on an outer rim world. Whether Helaine would know the way he was rolling his eyes, the way their telepathic links sometimes informed them. *Nothing that made a lick of sense. I think…I think he’s cleverer than he lets on, though. He comes across as crazy…but he’s really savvy to what others have that he wants.*
*Why did he come?*
*I don’t! I…I guess I suspect, but--*
*What do you suspect?*
*What’s with the third degree? How did you even know I saw him?*
*What do you suspect?*
He swore aloud, before glancing at Cyrus, who slept on, seemingly unaware of the silent conversation. A part of him was actually pleased the conversation was going so well—better than their conversations had gone in months, actually—and this part overrode his annoyance at her brusque manner.
Arguing with Pixel was too hard. Arguing with Jenna or Shanara was like kicking a puppy. At least Helaine gave him the satisfaction of a verbal sparring match done right. Like it didn’t even matter if he made his point as long as they riled each other up enough in the process.
*It…might have been random. But with all the realities their people live in at once, the others said it had driven him mad. I think, having the advantage of knowing how things would play out, he wanted personal gain, which is such a weird concept for the Delphinians that they didn’t even consider it as a possibility of his insanity.*
*You knew this and said nothing.*
She sounded betrayed. Pissed beyond reason. Score frowned.
*Of course I didn’t know! This is guessing! This is me thinking about it for months!*
*Selene told me. The Delphinian woman. She said it was the reality where I discussed Mahli Sindri with you. To compare what we knew from speaking with him.*
*Did—did you go to see him?*
“A portal shall open. Your visitor must make haste if she wants to cross through.”
Score jumped at Cyrus’ voice, and felt Helaine’s thoughts slide away.
Helaine looked up from mending her practice dummy (quite badly) when Jenna entered the kitchen area, determinedly going through her bag of herbs.
“No. I won’t have you smearing more of that foulness on my person,” she said, frowning.
Jenna sighed. “I’m not preparing my bag for you, Helaine.”
Score meandered into the room, saw Jenna, and looked like he was at battle with himself, wanting to turn around, but Jenna saw him.
“Hey, Jenna…I didn’t know you were in here…”
“I ran out of bay leaves. I thought we’d have some here.”
“I thought we were done.” Score sounded whiny.
“Not until Shanara and I say so. You’re lucky we’re not still enforcing your bed rest.”
Score deflated in the face of Jenna’s determination.
Helaine used to wear that same look. Seeing it on someone else must have been amusing to her, because Score looked her way and scowled.
Helaine raised her eyebrows and continued her sloppy stitching.
“Aren’t you, like, wiped out? Do you get tired of stitching everyone up?” Score was trying for levity, wincing as Jenna’s fingers lightly pushed on one of the deeper cuts. She frowned, looking at him briefly before concentrating again on her task, her fingers emiting a chilling glow.
“Should I? I’ve never known anything else.”
“Well, before you we just had Shanara. Now…I feel like we just expect your help.”
“I’m not as good as all that. I can only make wounds disappear if I see them.” She shot him the barest of glances, and he smirked.
“As opposed to my chronic smart-mouth? Incurable, I’m told.”
“You could have spoken to the consult they offered. It’s important to be healthy in body and in mind.”
“I didn’t think you went for that stuff. Psychiatrists are way after your time, my friend.”
“You are so opposed to the idea?”
She said it nicer, but Score wanted to wince at how familiar the conversation sounded. Things he’d said himself about Helaine.
He took a deep breath without Jenna’s coaxing, and felt the pulls of the stitches on his skin. Most of the stabs had got him in the gut. He’d had a nasty laceration on his arm—a defensive wound—and the doctors had been sure he’d be heavily scarred.
They didn’t know Jenna and Shanara.
“I was just taken by surprise. I was trying to get Shanara out of here; Making a portal by yourself is no picnic in the best of circumstances. And Helaine used that awful teleportation spell…But then again, she was always better suited to physical combat than I was. Even in the beginning. I grew up on a diet of pizza and cold terror. She actually learned to defend herself.”
Jenna said nothing.
Score frowned. “So…what? You’ve never screwed up something when it didn’t go according to plan?”
“My mistakes,” Jenna said carefully, looking away from his many little stitches and into his eyes, “never got me multiple stab wounds.”
“Touché,” Score muttered.
Jenna smiled. “I’m glad, though. You’re protective of us.”
“So are you,” Score pointed out.
Jenna flushed with pleasure. “Of course! We…we’re a family. You…all of our team…are more family to me than I ever had.”
Score returned the smile, letting the silence sit for a minute, but he looked at her seriously again as she moved to rub some salve or other over his wounds. “If…If we’d have found her sooner…do you think…could you have saved her arm?”
“It’s never good to dwell on what might have been,” Jenna said by way of answer.
The silence that followed was uninterrupted for a long time.