Author: Ayaia of the Moon
Fandom: Diadem: Worlds of Magic
Theme: #21. Violence; pillage/plunder; extortion
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 One
She felt horrible. Worse than she ever recalled feeling. Worse even, than that time Tyrus broke her leg. Or the time Dayfd boxed her ears until they were bleeding. She didn’t sense any noise. That’s what was ultimately unsettling about the whole thing. She didn’t know where she was, she didn’t know how badly she was injured…and she was alone.
It didn’t stop the ache in her arm – a dull resonant throb that seemed to pulse in time with her heart. When she tried to gauge the level of pain -- to move her fingers a little bit— she nearly passed out from the intensity of it.
Okay…she decided, in a sort of hazy stupor of blood-loss and incoherence. Moving is definitely bad.
She let out a sharp sound that might have been laughter, only to wince. …but laughing is worse…she finished her thought, grinning slightly as she remembered Score.
This was how Score dealt with pain, right? Laughed it off?
She opened a bleary eye, taking in her colorful surroundings, and mostly, her mangled right arm.
She couldn’t see how he did it. Score. There was really nothing funny about the situation.
She smiled nonetheless, and let herself drift uneasily to unconsciousness.
She’d been angry with Score before, innumerable times; this had been just another bout of their mindless bickering, and she couldn’t even remember what the catalyst had been to ultimately separate them, but she felt she should cool off a little before facing him again at any rate. That’s when she’d sought out Flame.
Single-minded in her new quest, she didn’t notice she was being followed until she heard her pursuer speak from behind her, in a strange, low rasp of a voice.
“The pretty lady is in want of companionship, my sweet. Yes, we shall accompany her. It would be only polite, after all. The pretty lady seems so lonely, with only her bones to speak to.”
Helaine turned then, her sword already drawn, furious that she hadn’t been alerted of the danger. But upon actually seeing the man, she faltered – she could suddenly understand why her magical warnings had not gone off, because this man had to be more than 70 years old. He was hunched and knobbled with age, bent almost double as he hunched a good five paces behind her, leering up at her through eerily inversed eyes – Where her eyes were white, his were black, and where hers housed brown irises and black pupils, his eyes seemed to have a thin boundary between the pupil and the iris (if there was a boundary at all); the color of this anomaly was a milky blue that made her wonder whether or not he was blind.
He blinked at her owlishly, and gave her what she only could assume was a grin, though he had few (very crooked and discolored) teeth and it was hard to tell. He leaned toward the small stick he held in his hand, whispering loudly to it.
“Yes, dearest, she is very pretty. The man who holds her heart is quite fortunate.”
Helaine noted in slight alarm, that the stick was topped with what looked like a small skull. The man looked positively primitive. He wore some sort of tan fur as a sort of poncho to cover his torso, and the same to act as a loincloth of sorts – most curiously, he had a small belt around his waist, onto which were tied three pouches of different sizes.
“Who are you?” Helaine addressed him firmly, though the grip on her sword was admittedly lax. She was confident she could best him in hand-to-hand combat if it came to that, but he appeared to be a mere man, slightly addled in his thoughts, but ultimately harmless.
This thought turned out to be her undoing.
It had shaken all of them. Jenna most of all. When they’d found Helaine…she had looked dead. Jenna had been the only one to step in; she’d immediately asked for some rags and water, muttering something about her wounds being superficial.
Except her arm.
All they knew…was that something had happened to Helaine. They didn’t know where, when…or how. She had all of her jewels on her, and Shanara was the first person they called, to get a second opinion; they bullied Oracle back and forth like a telephone until Jenna deemed it safe to move her to Rawn.
With the amount of blood she’d lost, Pixel noted, wherever she’d been attacked wasn’t where they’d found her. Score hadn’t yet said a word.
She was going to pull through; Jenna insisted as much, pulling out her long-forgotten bag of herbs from her ‘witch’ days on Ordin. It was a waiting game now. Shanara was exhausted, and Blink had spent up his own unique magic long ago. Jenna said it was best if Helaine was just left alone to rest for a bit.
Score’s first words since finding her were actually pretty insightful…for Score, anyway.
“We should…we should get her to a doctor.”
“One of your healers? On Earth?” It was Jenna who came up with this question. Her face was streaked with blood that they were all certain didn’t belong to her, and her tan skin seemed much paler than it usually was.
“Could she…will she survive a trip to the rim worlds in her condition?”
This, of course, was Pixel. Always thinking ahead. Score wanted to throttle him.
“Do we have a choice, Pix? Her life…her life is her arm. Maybe they can save it.”
All eyes in the room were unconsciously drawn to Helaine’s unmoving right arm. It was fine…from the elbow up. But below that…it looked more like a Halloween prop than a real arm. Jenna’s eyes caught at least three inches of bone from the forearm…that were unaccounted for. Gone. What the hell had happened that she was missing three inches of bone from her right arm?
“Do you guys know where Helaine went?”
Pixel shrugged; a gesture he’d picked up from Score after all the time they’d spent around each other. Jenna shook her head, looking back into her plate, tilting her head curiously at the dish Score had concocted for their dinner. She took a meager bite, chewing thoughtfully. “Wasn’t she with you?”
Score colored, digging into his own share of food with unneeded vigor. “She sorta got mad at me.”
Pixel grinned. “Whatever for?”
“Hell if I know,” Score muttered, but his cheeks stayed firmly red, and Pixel exchanged a knowing glance with Jenna, who managed a small smile.
“Are you worried about her?” was Jenna’s next comment. It seemed to catch Score off guard, anyway, and he mimicked Pixel’s shrug, stuffing a large bite of whatever-it-was into his mouth so he wouldn’t have to answer her.
Pixel finally looked slightly concerned. “Didn’t she have her jewels with her?”
Score nodded, chewing frantically at the food he still had in his mouth from his overlarge bite. Chewier than he’d bargained for…
Pixel grinned again. “Then she’s fine. Probably venting about you to Flame. I’m sure Thunder’ll give you an earful about it tomorrow.”
They’d all rue their words in the course of the next day.
Helaine blinked uncertainly, taking in her futuristic and unknown surroundings, noting that she seemed to have little bits of metal that Pixel called ‘why-ers’ attached to her person, and very much aware that her chain-mail was gone. Being the logical person she was, she took all these bits of information very well; she started pulling at all the different metal things, intent on finding her weapons and hurting someone…
Leaning over her, clamping a clawed hand fiercely over her mouth, forcing her to breathe in more of the powder in his smallest pouch. Disarming her is only too easy now, and he focuses on pulling off her leather arm-guards, smiling as he rips the right arm of her tunic at the shoulder. He whispers a different language to his eerie skull before plunging her own dagger through her forearm –
She swallowed convulsively as everything came back to her. She wanted more than anything to have her chain-mail – she felt so exposed; she redoubled her efforts to free herself from the little tubes and ‘why-ers’ that still attached her to some sort of ceaselessly beeping metal box before some strangely clad people came in to stop her from doing so.
“Helaine, it’s Jenna,” came the ghost of a whisper into her ear.
She froze, allowing the strange people to re-attach all of their little devices as she listened hard.
“We can’t use your Agate, so I came in here with my Obsidian,” Jenna explained softly. “But the magic is so weak here that I can only stay completely invisible if I don’t move.”
Afraid to say anything until the strange people were gone, Helaine held her tongue until they’d secured their trinkets to their satisfaction. As soon as they’d left, Helaine chanced a whisper of her own; “Where are we?”
“We’re on Earth. Score said the healers on his world could help your arm better than Shanara and I.”
Helaine said nothing else, wishing only that she was asleep again. Maybe then it could all be a bad dream.
“Okay…now I’m starting to get worried,” Pixel muttered, as Score looked up at the door for the fourth time in the last five minutes. “Would you quit it? You’re making me paranoid.”
“It’s not right,” Score insisted. “Something’s off.”
“So you are worried about her,” Jenna said decisively, a firm grin at home on her face, but Score didn’t share her teasing air. For once. He looked positively ill. He stood suddenly.
“I’m going out to look for her.”
“We should probably wait until morning,” Pixel said gently. “There are dangerous creatures here that only come out at night. It would be safer to just wait her out here. And Helaine can take care of herself.”
“I agree.” Jenna insisted.
Score didn’t heed them. And rather than let him brave it alone, Pixel sighed in long-suffering, gathering his jewels and chasing after his friend, Jenna not far behind.
Score pulled out a deep green stone that glinted strangely in the moonlight. Pixel recognized it not as his Emerald, but his Jasper. The power of Sight. Pixel couldn’t help the smile of approval that came to his lips. It was exactly what he himself would have suggested, and the fact that Score had done it without asking Pixel’s opinion said a lot for the exponential growth of his character since meeting the Earthling two years ago.
Score, however, instead of being reassured by what he saw, paled considerably. “Pix,” he said slowly, “Get your Ruby out. We have to find her now.”
Alarmed at the tone of Score’s voice, Pixel heeded his friend’s command, extracting his ruby from the depths of the pouch he carried them in.
“Why?” Jenna asked cautiously, as Pixel’s Ruby glowed blood red, pointing them in a northward direction. “What’s wrong, Score?”
Score just shook his head, setting a grilling pace for her to follow. “She’s hurt,” he said at last, and Jenna wordlessly double-checked that she had her Carnelian. It seemed they were going to need it.
* Score, is it the practice of your people to hold the people they are treating hostage? *
Score came into the room, wanting to smile at the tone that Helaine still had, even with her Agate. It was the only way to avoid suspicion with the doctors and nurses, since the three had said they’d just found Helaine on the street. Helaine had to speak to her companions only with her Agate, because if the doctors suspected that Helaine already knew her ‘rescuers’ then they might start suspecting anything else; that it was really them who’d attacked her and left her for dead, or perhaps that they were trying to hide something. (Which they really were, but that was hardly the point.)
Jenna had been sent to Rawn, back with Shanara, to rest. She’d covertly been helping the doctors heal Helaine, under the cover of her Obsidian, but using two stones at once drained her quickly, no matter how much magic Score and Pixel would lend to the cause. It had been well worth it, though, when, after sleeping fitfully the first few days, Helaine had woken up and immediately demanded that she be released from her captivity.
Pixel had been working with Score, using his Ruby in conjunction with Score’s own Jasper to determine Helaine’s improvement. Score could ‘see’ the status of Helaine’s health, and Pixel could ‘find’ the source of any infection or pain and when Jenna wasn’t resting, she’d help eradicate it, or else persuade the resident to fix it without arousing suspicion. They never would have thought to use their stones this way if Pixel hadn’t been so adamant in thinking the situation through entirely. Score was glad that the boy was able to keep a level head about it.
* If I must be here, I demand that you let me at least have my dagger. *
Score rolled his eyes. * Why? This place is well-protected. What could get in?*
Helaine chose not to answer, instead, avoiding the question altogether. * Can’t we just go home? Closer to the heart of the Diadem? Jenna’s magic will be stronger, and she wouldn’t have to strain so much to finish healing this. * She waved her bandaged arm pointedly around, sighing loudly when Score merely shook his head in answer to her question.
Truth be told, he was worried about her. He wanted to make sure she was all right before taking her home; especially after it had been revealed by Jenna that Helaine couldn’t even stand to be alone in the room. Her arm might be getting better, but Score wasn’t worried particularly about the grafted bone taking to her skeletal system – that’s what they had Jenna for – no, he was worried about what was going on inside her head.
* Perhaps if you let Jenna persuade these healers, then they’d release me * Helaine tried again.
* No dice * Score reprimanded, shaking his head again.
Helaine’s face arranged into what could only best be described as a pout, though she’d fiercely deny it. * Why not? * she demanded instead, glaring at him. * I feel absolutely fine. *
Except that you’re not. Score mused to himself, sighing and shaking his head. And we can all tell.
Score looked up, saw Pixel, and offered a strange sort of grimace that he supposed could pass for a weak smile.
“She’s gonna be all right, you know. With your healers, and with Jenna, she’ll be fine.”
Score nodded, but he didn’t look convinced. “What happened to her?”
The normally blue-skinned boy sat down next to him, shaking his head. “I dunno.”
Score leveled him with a look. “Seriously? You wanna try that on me? You’re the one with the inside scoop.”
Pixel frowned. “What makes you think that?”
Score sighed. “Benefits of macking on Helaine’s personal healer.”
At that comment, Pixel blushed furiously, and Score was bemused for half a second, having never seen Pixel blush without his blue skin. He’d have to give his compliments to Shanara for her clever spell.
“Jenna didn’t tell me anything that she didn’t tell you,” Pixel said at length, choosing to ignore Score’s comment for the time being.
“So, what? We have nothing to go on? Pixel, there are three inches of bone missing from her freaking arm! That’s not an accident!”
“I know,” Pixel said calmly, even as Score’s voice grew impatient and angry. “But that in itself tells us a lot.”
Pixel paused, looking Score straight in the eye. “If it wasn’t an accident…then we have to assume that it was deliberate.”
For all the frailty and weakness he’d appeared to have, the old man had been surprisingly spry when he’d decided to make his move. Helaine’s was amazed at his sheer speed, not to mention his dexterity when he easily evaded her thrusts. And then he simply disappeared – vanished into thin air – and reappeared behind her, his knobbled hands rubbing some sort of powder under her nose.
Her vision blurred – white spots popped insistently at the edges of her eyes, and she furiously tried to ignore them, but it seemed the more she fought, the faster she lost herself – she found herself falling to the ground, heart pounding in her ears.
“What are you to gain by this?” she bit out fiercely, as the old man leered over her like some sort of demented toy, whispering to his skull.
“Bones,” he said simply, rubbing more of his powder under her nose.
“Damn you all; leave me alone,” Helaine hissed, pushing away Jenna and Pixel’s frantic hands as she reached her fingers into the cast once more.
“Helaine, you have to leave it on! At least until we can get you to Shanara!” Jenna cried, pulling Helaine’s healthy hand insistently out from the cast on her injured arm. “It will give your arm time to heal!”
“I need no time to heal,” Helaine snapped, pulling away from Jenna’s grasp, even as Pixel wrestled her to the bed.
“Stop pushing yourself so hard,” Pixel grunted, holding her firmly in place, even as she continued to struggle against him.
“I’m trying to itch my arm!” Helaine exclaimed, yanking free of Pixel’s grip and inching her fingers once more under the cast. “Unless that’s too strenuous for me!” Her last comment was laced with sarcasm as Jenna and Pixel, looking quite stumped, backed off to let Helaine figure out her dilemma on her own.
Score, who’d been watching the spectacle, rested his forehead in his hands, exhausted from spending so much time here. Discussions with the doctors were confusing, even when Jenna used her Citrine to get them to explain themselves in more readily understandable terms. The reality was that Helaine had clammed up, refusing to speak to anyone about what had happened to her. The fact that Helaine was only fifteen years old made it hard to conduct proper tests, because she wasn’t able to make such decisions for herself. Short of forcing Lord Votrin into coming to Earth, the most they could possibly do at this point was have her discharged so that Shanara could look into her injury properly.
Lord Votrin had been informed of his daughter’s misfortune. Though he was on better terms with her now than he had been in the years past, he refused to be a part of any of her ‘witchery,’ and so refused to come and see her.
Helaine said she didn’t particularly care.
Score knew that part of her did.
She had relaxed around this man when it became apparent that he was no stranger to flattery. Upon telling her his name – Mahli Sindri – he had wasted no time in asking for her own. He’d been most delighted at her simple ‘Helaine Votrin,’ exclaiming that in his culture there was a name similar to hers – Hjördís – which was so fitting, considering it meant ‘sword goddess.’
“Most delightful, is it not, my sweet?” he crooned to his skull.
“Why do you speak to that…that skull?” Helaine found herself asking, grip tightening on her hilt in case he took offense to her pointing out his obvious lapse in sanity. To her surprise, the man grinned.
“Ragnheiður? But she is my teacher. Why shouldn’t I speak to her?”
The man Mahli Sindri laughed – in itself a disconcerting sound – and Helaine felt a little stab of embarrassment, finally releasing hold on her weapon.
“But yes, my dear, we have not asked sweet Hjördís of her unique build, nor of her strange aura,” he whispered loudly to the skull, looking expectantly at Helaine, who just looked at him in confusion.
“Why, Hjördís, it’s as if you read this beggar’s thoughts! Ragnheiður and I were just discussing your bone structure; but we should not be surprised! Ragnheiður, did you not see she possesses the stature of a warrior!”
Helaine flushed, berating herself immediately for being taken in by his compliments. She wasn’t being a very good warrior if she was standing here, listen to this old man go on about how amazing she was!
“But Ragnheiður, this aura is most peculiar. It is like the soothsayers of our village.”
“Where do you come from, Mahli Sindri?” Helaine interjected, watching in surprise as the old man disappeared before her eyes, reappearing at her side an instant later. Her ability to predict her opponent’s next move allowed her to turn to where the man would appear a fraction of a second before he actually did appear, and this appeared to entertain Mahli Sindri greatly.
“So you see, Ragnheiður, she is like us, isn’t she?”
“What did you just do?” Helaine asked in surprise; her hand went to her side, ready to draw her sword.
“It is a gift we possess – Ragnheiður and myself – we are able to go anywhere –”
Mahli Sindri disappeared once more, and Helaine looked around, just in time to see him reappear behind her.
“—in the blink of an eye,” the old man finished, looking delighted at Helaine’s palpable surprise.
“Are you…a magic user?” Helaine asked, looking at the skull – Ragnheiður – and wondering if there was more to it than met the eye.
Mahli Sindri cocked his head at her, again disappearing, then reappearing to Helaine’s left just as she turned to look at him again.
“But she can predict where we will appear! Not even the soothsayers could do that when they wanted to catch us! Delightful, Ragnheiður, simply delightful.”
Helaine gasped in surprise as he leapt towards her, taking her hand in his own; his knobbled fingers gently squeezed the leather gauntlet she wore, as he muttered to himself in a language she didn’t recognize.
“Hjördís, this ability to find Mahli Sindri no matter where he disappears– it is within you?”
“What do you mean?”
Mahli Sindri looked up at her, grinning in that eerie way that made her shiver.
“In your bones?”
“I…suppose that’s possible…but I don’t know.”
As Mahli Sindri disappeared again, reappearing at a greater distance, conferring with Ragnheiður, Helaine had to wonder what was going through his head. She was certain she could handle it, though. She even found herself grateful for a stimulus; she’d feared she was going soft without anyone to challenge her fighting skills. And even tracking his movements through his strange ability was better than nothing.