Act 01: Something Wicked Comes
It took Allan and Dionne almost a month after the defeat of Nekhbet—a corrupt sehashi who had come to be known as the Lord of Chaos named Vulturia—before they worked up the courage to go back to the site of her lair. Cory and Hatemi, understandably, refused to go with them. They had made it clear that they wanted nothing more to do with sehashi business after what had happened to Cory. Hana agreed to help with anything they found in the lair but had no particular urge to go there herself.
Despite what had happened and despite their differences of opinion regarding all things sehashi, the four girls stayed friends. They’d been friends for a long time before they’d become sehashi and wouldn’t let something like this get in the way.
It was another month after that before they were able to get past the rubble blocking the entrance and get down into what remained of the lair. The ornate columns had lost all of their vibrant colour and had toppled over. Large sections of the stone had crumbled away into dust. The small pool was full of sand instead of water. Morbidly, Dionne could see a skull partially buried in the sand. It didn’t look quite human.
Of Vulturia’s remains, there was no sign. The spot where she had fallen was empty. Her clothes had dissolved along with her body. Dionne went over to the spot and looked down, a feeling of helplessness washing over her. It made no sense.
Vulturia had been her enemy. She and her fellow Lords of Chaos had tried to kill her and her team mates. They had succeeded in wiping out Allan’s team along with their spirit guardian, Freyn. They were evil, servants and devoted followers of the Ssu-Ling—corrupt sehashi trapped at the end of the Great War—and sought their release. Yet, despite all the horrible things they’d done, all the pain they’d caused, Dionne couldn’t bring herself to hate Vulturia.
After all, Nekhbet was just a sehashi, like me until she was corrupted by the Lords of Chaos. It could have been a conscious choice, but it could also have been an accident, like what happened to Cory. Maybe she didn’t have a spirit guardian like we do who could help her or maybe they couldn’t cure the corruption in time. I just…don’t know. How could I hate her for that?
She shook her head. I need to focus here.
Dionne looked over at her older brother Allan. He was rooting around the crumbling wreck that had once been Vulturia’s throne. “Have you found anything yet?”
“Not yet, but I’m not holding out hope that anything survived. I mean, look at this place. In another month, maybe less, I don’t think there’ll be anything left.”
“We have to try on the off chance that we can learn something useful.”
“I’m not saying it’s a waste of time, I’m just saying we shouldn’t expect much. Documents are more fragile than stone.”
Dionne joined him by the throne. “Vulturia was an Egyptian sehashi before the corruption. Maybe she used stone to record things on.”
“Egyptians used papyrus more commonly than stone,” Allan reminded her. “It’s a lot easier than chiselling stone and, unfortunately for us, it’s also more fragile.”
Dionne sighed. We should see if there are any rooms besides this one. I don’t think that they would have all slept and eaten in here.”
“That’s assuming they needed to do either of those things at all.” He stood up straight and looked around. “I think it’s a good idea, though.”
“I’ll take one side, you take the other?”
“Deal.” Allan walked over to the opposite side of the lair, leaving Dionne to search the area around the throne.
Three exhausting hours later, Dionne slumped down onto the dusty, rubble strewn floor, worn out and frustrated. Allan had found a pair of rooms, but they weren’t useful. One was inaccessible with all the rubble in the way. The other was a simple room that had most likely belonged to one of Vulturia’s followers. There were bits of broken jewellery littering the floor. He had picked up the largest piece: a circular medallion with an unfamiliar symbol etched into it, and put it in his pocket, thinking it might be useful or maybe even valuable. It was pretty if nothing else.
Dionne’s search had produced nothing and it was getting to be too late for her to stay out much longer. If it hadn’t been for Allan telling their parents he was taking her out for a late pizza dinner she would have had to call it quits at least an hour ago.
Allan sat down beside her, pulling out the gold medallion, rubbing some of the dirt off it with his fingers. “We can come back another time.”
Dionne shook her head, wiping the sweat off her forehead with one hand. “This is my last free weekend for the next few weeks. I have tests to study for and all my extracurricular clubs will be starting up soon. Plus, I know you’re busy with your courses.”
“So this is it? All this work and you want to just call it quits?”
“I guess so.” She stood up, her legs shaky from exhaustion. “I was hoping there would be something here that could tell us how many of these people there are or what brought them to Elysium Valley in the first place.”
“Is Laira still clinging to her artefact theory?”
“Yeah. She’s convinced that there’s a relic here that could help them locate one of the keys they need to free the Ssu-Ling.”
“We’ll probably never know.”
Dionne turned to face the wall, slamming her fist against it. “We’re in the dark and I don’t like it. There could be dozens, maybe hundreds of these Lords of Chaos out there planning an attack and all we can do is sit here and wait for it to happen. There’s nothing we can do about it!”
“Think about it, Allan. In every movie, cartoon, or story you’ve ever come across, the heroes can only ever react to the things the villains do. It’s the villain who controls the story; they’re the ones who make all the plans.”
“Well, yes, you’re right about that, but I mean you’re pessimistic about not finding anything. Look behind you,” he said as he stood up.
Dionne turned to see that a section of the wall had vanished. She looked at the wall under her fist and then back at the gap. “Maybe I hit a switch or something?”
“Either that or the mechanism keeping that hole covered has failed.” He walked over and looked inside. “It’s dark in there.”
Armed with their flashlights, the siblings entered the newly discovered room. This one was much more elaborate than the other two even though it was falling apart like everything else. Dionne imagined that it must have been very beautiful once based on what remained.
It wasn’t long before they found something. A small shelf beside the bed contained a book, two engraved metallic tablets, and an armful of fragile scrolls. Their elation was muted by the additional discovery that they were all written in what appeared to be Egyptian hieroglyphs.
“I guess we have some research to do before we can decipher these,” Allan said. “But it’s better than what we had before.”
“I should have expected this. Now I wish Cory would help us out. She’d probably love this stuff.”
“I’ll poke through the university library and see if I can find something that will help us translate these.”
“If this wasn’t sehashi business, I’d suggest talking to some of the professors.”
“That’s out of the question.”
“I’ll take the book if you want to take the tablets. The scrolls we can split between us.”
“Sounds fair.” He nodded. “I wonder if I could convince Cory to let me borrow Peltoren to help out.”
“I don’t know if she’s spoken to Peltoren since she got out of the hospital. The pendant she lives in hasn’t left her room since then either.”
Allan frowned, carefully putting the tablets and scrolls into his bag. “That’s not good. I was always under the impression that spirit guardians need to be spoken to or they start to fade away.”
“Laira says that Peltoren probably understands what’s going on and has put herself to sleep for now. This shouldn’t hurt her at all as they go dormant between sehashi partners to keep them from going mad with loneliness. She’s never heard of a situation like this before where a sehashi has refused contact with her spirit guardian after awakening.”
“I can’t blame Cory for her reaction though,” Allan said, shouldering his bag. “I walked away once. I probably would have stayed gone if it hadn’t been for you and Hana.”
“If we can’t get Cory and Hatemi back, will you keep on helping?”
He nodded, heading for the exit. “I’ll do what I can, but you know what things are like right now.”
“That’s all I ask.”
Monday morning came along as it always did. Dionne grumbled as she got out of bed when her alarm clock went off to go have a quick shower before putting on a clean school uniform. Downstairs, breakfast was waiting for her on the table. She nibbled on toast and bacon while she packed lunch. Her completed homework was already in her school bag along with the books she’d taken out from the public library on Saturday about hieroglyphs.
Laira hadn’t been much help with the documents she’d brought back. In life, she’d been an alien sehashi called Xiosh from a faraway place known as the Trios Cluster. As such, she had no knowledge of Earth languages. They were only able to understand each other because Laira was communicating directly to her mind as all Spirit Guardians did.
After saying goodbye to her parents, Dionne pulled on her long winter coat and headed for the bus stop. At that time of the day, it was only a fifteen minute ride to get from her house to the bus stop a short way down the street from Elysium Valley High School.
February was nearly over but the weather was still cold and there was plenty of snow on the ground. As much as she disliked snow, she supposed that it was good that there was still some around as the school had ski trips planned for the following week.
Her locker was her first stop rather than the cafeteria as was her usual habit. She put the books she didn’t need away and took what she would need for first period and then she went off in search of Hana.
After the excursion into Vulturia’s lair on Friday, Dionne had been too tired to call Hana, so she’d done it Saturday instead. They’d discussed the recovered documents and the problems they presented. Unfortunately, Hana had been too busy that day with homework to go to the library with her, but promised to help her after school on Monday.
They had no classes together in the second term. For that matter, Dionne didn’t share any classes at all with any of her fellow sehashi. The only time she saw them at all at school was before classes started and at lunch. They all lived in different parts of the city, so they didn’t even take the same buses home. It made her sad as this was the first time she hadn’t been in at least one class with any of them. Not that Cory, Hana, and Hatemi were her only friends at the school, but they were her best friends.
She found Hana’s locker, but Hana wasn’t there. A glance at her watch told her that the last bell would be ringing any second now.
Her first class of the day, General Science, wasn’t far, but the student population would all be rushing to their classes to avoid being marked as late, crowding the hallways more than usual. As it was, she barely managed to get seated at her desk before the bell rang.
“You’re almost late,” a snide voice commented.
Dionne didn’t even bother to turn her head. “Good morning, Danika,” she said, trying to be polite.
The girl in the desk beside her, Danika Green, smirked, toying with the ends of her grey tie. “We wouldn’t want to ruin that flawless record of yours now, would we?”
She ignored the remark. Mr. Dawson had finished attendance and got up from his desk. Shortly after that he began writing on the board.
“Turn to chapter six in your textbooks,” he instructed. “Answer the following questions and hand them in to me when you’re finished.”
Danika looked at the board with a complete lack of interest. Rather than complying with the instructions, she opened her binder to a blank sheet of paper and spent the rest of the class doodling.
Dionne shook her head, trying not to let it get to her. Just because she’s semi-famous now she thinks she can do whatever she wants. The teachers ignore her, let her get away with slacking off in class. It makes me wonder what her grades are like. I know it’s not nice, but I hope she’s failing everything.
Social Studies was one of her least favourite subjects and had been for years, but it was becoming one of the best classes she had this term. It was a relief to get away from Danika. As a bonus, she was in the same class as Teir, a boy she’d shared several classes with in the first term and in the year before that. Separated from his friends Yan Diamono and Kousei Prince, he was almost a decent guy. He was the sort of person that got picked on a lot. Or rather, he would if it weren’t for his friendship with Kousei, one of the most popular boys in school.
Teir was usually willing to help others when they were stuck on assignments, something Dionne knew would happen to her eventually. She was already having a hard time keeping all the names and dates straight in her head.
Dionne looked over at his desk. The thick binder he hauled around with him everywhere was closed, showing the cover. She didn’t know what it was, exactly, but the picture was something from a science fiction movie.
He turned his head slightly and saw her looking at his binder. “Can I help you?” he asked blandly.
“No, sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.”
“Then maybe you should be more careful.”
Dionne stared at him. The outburst was very out of character for him. He was usually a very laid back and quiet person.
Teir sighed. “Sorry. Look, Dionne, you’re a decent enough person, but I really don’t want to talk to you, ok?”
“Did I do something to upset you that I don’t know about?”
“You stood Kousei up and didn’t even have the guts to apologize.”
“That was months ago!”
“You say that like it makes a difference. He kind of likes you and that hurt his feelings. You’re just lucky that he’s a cool guy and isn’t holding a grudge or shouting it all over the school.”
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll go talk to him later today.”
“Why couldn’t you have done that in the first place?”
“You really want to know?” He nodded. “Because I was embarrassed. I got home from shopping and fell asleep. I spent my whole weekend in bed. By the time Monday came around I remembered about the date and then it was too late. I thought anything I had to say would just sound lame. He didn’t say anything about it when I saw him that day so I just…assumed things were fine. He didn’t act any different.”
“He’s a cool guy,” Teir repeated. “It’s not like he can act like he’s hurt. He likes you, so he keeps it in so no one harasses you for it.”
“That’s…really considerate of him.” Teir looked down his nose at her. “Ok, ok, I’ll talk to him. I feel even worse about this now.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I’m getting tired of him being sad over a girl.”
“You don’t think girls are something to be sad about?”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m kind of a nerd. Girls avoid me. I’ve gotten used to it so it’s not something I worry about. Kousei is cool and popular and deserves an appropriately cool girlfriend. I’m not saying you’re cool, but you’re nicer than most of the girls he hags out with.”
“Do I need to worry about Yan being mad at me, too?”
“Yan?” Teir laughed. “He doesn’t care about this. He enjoys teasing Kousei about girl stuff. According to him, relationships are stupid.”
“That sounds like Yan.”
“Square things with Kousei and I’ll call it good.”
The bell rang, signalling the end of class and the beginning of the lunch break. Hungry high school students poured out of their classrooms, making their way towards the cafeteria. Dionne knew that Hana would be there, sitting at the usual table. Cory, who had a free period right before lunch, would already be there. Hatemi was in the same math class as Hana, so chances were good that she’d be with them.
When Dionne arrived, however, Cory and Hatemi were nowhere to be seen. Hana was alone, her lunch sitting on a plastic tray in front of her: a donair, fries, and a drink.
Dionne wrinkled her nose at the smell of the beef in her friend’s wrap as she sat down and took out her own lunch: a turkey sandwich, yogurt cup with granola, and a can of apple juice.
“They’re eating somewhere else today,” Hana explained.
“What’s going on?”
“I know they’re not keen on sehashi stuff so I told them we needed to talk about something related to that. If they’d stayed, it would have been ok, too, but I figured they should have the option.”
“So?” Hana asked after swallowing a mouthful of food. “Did you find anything?”
“I learned that hieroglyphs are a lot more complicated than I thought.”
“So we’re no closer to learning why they were here.”
“Not really. All I have is a few words.”
“I take it none of those words are useful.”
Dionne shook her head as she opened up the yogurt cup, stirring the granola into it. “I wish I knew someone who could help, someone other than Cory.”
“The problem with that is that we’d have to explain about sehashi to whoever we get to help us,” Hana reminded her.
“I’ve had moments this weekend where I wasn’t sure that would be a bad thing.”
“Are we still going to the library after school?”
“Only if you’re up for it. I’m going regardless.”
“I said I’d help, so I’ll tag along but I don’t know how helpful I’ll be. Research isn’t my strong suit.”
“Trust me, I remember the travesty that was your tenth grade social studies essay. An extra pair of eyes would come in handy.”
“Will Allan be there?”
“No. Now that Reading Week is over he’s back in class. He said he’d go through the university’s library though.”
“Good to know. Their library is impressive. My brother took me there once.”
“Want to meet at the bus stop after fourth period?”
“Works for me.” Dionne took a large bite of her sandwich.
“Slow down there! No rush to eat, you’ve got a spare next period.”
“They don’t allow food in the library. I’m going to try and get some more work done.”
“Good luck,” Hana said, picking up a fry. “You’re going to need it.”
Hana stood at the bus station near the school, glancing frequently at her designer watch. She had a spare period at the end of the day so she had arrived at the designated meeting point a little early. It was cold enough outside to make her wish that she’d stayed in the school like everyone else. There wasn’t much wind, for which she was profoundly grateful.
In the distance, she could hear the bell ring to signify the end of another school day. The sound carried easily down the street. She looked at her watch again.
Dionne should be here soon. I think she has Lit last period. That’s not far from her locker. Even at her slowest it shouldn’t take her more than five minutes to get here.
She looked around. Students were arriving at the stop, getting on the buses they needed. Even after almost three months, Hana still felt very strange being at this bus stop. A small part of her was grateful that there were people around.
I’d think this feeling would have passed by now. It’s been a long time since Slither attacked me here, since I met Teerla and became a sehashi. I know the Lords of Chaos are dead and gone, but my stomach still feels funny every time I’m here. I don’t like it, but I can’t walk away from this and leave Dionne all alone. As unhappy as I am I can’t make her do this by herself. No one should have to. Besides, walking away because I don’t like this bus stop would be as silly as if Dionne walked away because she had bad feelings associated with that spot on her street where she met Slither for the first time. It’s silly and petty and others have better reasons to walk than that.
Four minutes later, Dionne came running up, out of breath. “Sorry,” she panted. “I was a bit late getting out of class.”
“The bus won’t be here for a few minutes anyway.”
“Hana? Are you ok?” Dionne asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Seeing the look on Dionne’s face, she shook her head. “I keep expecting Slither to pop up. I know it’s irrational and stupid but I can’t help it.”
Dionne smiled, understanding. “I have a hard time walking down my street at night for the same reason and I’m pretty sure that Cory and Hatemi avoid the train station where they met Tigron.”
Hana managed a weak smile. “At least I was here and not at the mall.”
“I had to fight at the mall that one time. I don’t recommend it.”
“That sure explains your missed date,” Hana teased.
Dionne groaned as the bus pulled up. “Oh not you, too!”
The girls got on, flashing their city transit passes, and took a seat as far back as they could.
“What do you mean, me, too?”
“I spent the end of my Social Studies class being lectured by Teir about that. I had to promise to talk to Kousei before he’d let up.”
“To be fair, you should have done that months ago.”
“Don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’ve been kinda busy.”
“I know that, but Teir and Kousei don’t.” Hana paused. “I know Teir. He doesn’t give up that easily.”
“I told him something about feeling embarrassed and it seemed to work.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think he’d drop it that easily.”
“You should still talk to Kousei.”
“I know that. I’ll call him when I get home.”
“If you need it, I have his phone number.”
“So do I, it’s in the school directory.”
“That’s his home number. I have his personal one.”
“How did you manage that?”
“I may or may not be a little obsessed with him,” Hana admitted, squirming. “Stop looking at me like that, he’s the cutest boy in school and also happens to not be a tremendous jerk like the others.”
“You’re not getting any argument from me, but that doesn’t explain how you got that number.”
“Promise not to tell?”
Hana leaned in close to Dionne’s ear and whispered, “I bribed Yan.”
“Yan cares about only three things: dancing, photography, and his two friends. I got my hands on an old style camera at a yard sale not long after I started going to EVHS. I figured that I’d need it for something.”
“That’s clever of you,” Dionne said, impressed.
“Isn’t it?” Hana asked with a smug look on her face.
“Too bad your obsession wasn’t over all things Egyptian. We’d probably have this figured out by now.”
“You’re probably right,” Hana laughed.
The bus pulled up to the stop just outside of the train station. The sign hanging over the entrance had no words written on it but the gold dragon logo told them all they needed to know about what route the train would take. They got off the bus and went inside to wait on the platform.
Given the time of day, it was strange to see the platform empty. Not a single person was waiting there, not even any of the uniformed transit enforcers. Hana and Dionne exchanged a glance, reflexively grasping at the pendants they still wore beneath their school uniforms.
“I’m getting a weird feeling about this,” Hana commented.
“Me, too,” Dionne added.
“Do we want to look around or get out of here?”
“Personally? I vote for running away, but if there’s danger here we should take care of it.”
Hana sighed. “Then we should find a spot to change that isn’t monitored by security cameras.”
It took a few minutes to find such a spot. Hana Dawson and Dionne Archer once again assumed their sehashi identities as Pyre and Archer. Together, they went back out to the platform to take a look around.
“Nothing,” Pyre grumped.
“I don’t get it,” Archer said, leaning on one of the support pillars. “This feels bad but I can’t see anything.”
A deep laugh echoed around the platform, jerking both girls upright.
“Poor little sehashi,” the voice said, coming from everywhere at once. “So confused and so lost!”
“Where are you?” Pyre shouted.
“More to the point, who are you?” Archer demanded.
“You haven’t earned the privilege of knowing my name.” The shadows near the ceiling moved and then a woman landed in front of them.
She was taller than Pyre and Archer by a couple inches at least. Her long hair hung to her knees and was two different shades of green. The hair in front was darker than that in the back. The navy of her top and Capri-style bottoms was identical to the shade Pyre and Archer were wearing. The woman’s legs were wrapped in blue and purple cloth and ended in clawed feet, suggesting a reptilian species, as did her small wings and long tail. In her gloved hands, she carried a blue staff topped by a wickedly hooked silver blade. Even at the distance they were standing from her, they could see the etching along the edges of the blade. She tucked her wings in and planted the bottom of the staff on the ground beside her.
Pyre and Archer each took a step back. “Let me guess, you’re the new threat we have to deal with.”
“That depends on what you do next,” she replied. “Hand over what you stole from Vulturia and walk away. You won’t be harmed if you do. Persist in this and you will suffer the consequences.”
“What will you do with that stuff?” Archer asked.
“This is none of your concern.”
“Actually, it is. If we’re going to make an informed decision, we need to have more information.”
“That is a private matter.”
“If it was so private, then why was it so easy to get a hold of?” Archer challenged. “You should know that we’ve already decoded part of those documents and it won’t be long before we finish the job.”
One of the dragon woman’s green eyebrows arched. “Is that so?”
“Do I look like I’m lying to you?”
She narrowed her solid green eyes. “Those documents will allow us to finish Vulturia’s work. She believed she knew the location of one of the five keys. She was killed before it could be confirmed. We were sent here to do so.”
“And if one of those keys is here?”
“We will take it and leave in search of the others.”
“So, if I understand correctly, you expect us to let you walk away with one of the keys that will help you unlock the cage the Ssu-Ling are trapped inside?” Archer asked and the woman nodded. “You must be out of your mind!”
“I advise you to consider your options carefully. Is this worth your life?”
“If the Ssu-Ling are ever freed, our lives won’t be safe.”
“You’ll forgive us for turning down your oh so generous offer,” Pyre added.
The dragon shrugged, her small wings opening. “I was prepared to offer you and this pathetic hole in the ground some degree of immunity when our Lords are free, but I see now I was being too generous. You give me no choice but to kill you and take what I want.”
“Go ahead, but you’re going to have a hard time finding them.”
“Rest assured, we will do so eventually.”
“Elysium Valley is a large place,” Archer said. “How do you propose to search it?”
“You know so little about the Lords of Chaos. We can track the things which belong to us.”
“So…it gives off a smell or something?” Pyre asked.
The dragon swung her weapon forward, the sharp blade mere inches from Pyre’s throat. “This conversation bores me.”
Pyre jumped back, hitting a pillar. “So are we going to fight now or are you just going to glare and shove a pointy stick in our faces?”
A sinister grin spread across her face. “My pointy stick as you call it is the least of your problems. Fierce Dragon Illuminate!”
Flames erupted from the ground around Pyre, coiling around her like a dragon. Smoke appeared where it made contact with her skin. Pyre screamed in pain.
“Golden Arrow Flash!” Archer shouted. The points of yellow light hit the dragon square in the chest but it had no visible effect.
The fire around Pyre dissipated and she slumped to the ground. There were angry red welts on her skin.
“You defeated Vulturia’s cell with abilities as weak as that?” She sneered. “Pathetic.”
“We’re just getting warmed up. Blazing Arrow Barrage!”
“Phoenix Fire Ignite!” Pyre added, pulling herself up into a crouching position.
The two blasts of fiery energy merged, but the dragon blocked it with her weapon before they could get close to her. “An admirable try, but not good enough. Divine Punishment!”
Pyre and Archer got out of the way as a pillar of light formed where they’d been standing, scattering in opposite directions. “Blazing Arrow Barrage!” Archer shouted again, managing to hit the dragon’s tail this time.
She whirled to face Archer. “An interesting strategy-“
“Phoenix Fire Ignite!” Pyre shouted, attacking her from behind.
She turned slightly to face Pyre with her weapon still pointed at Archer. “I suppose you feel clever at putting me in this position. Very well. Enjoy your little victory while you can as it will be short lived.” She walked away, vanishing after a few steps.
Archer ran to Pyre’s side. “Are you ok?”
“Fine, I guess,” Pyre replied, wincing. “These uniforms protect better than our old ones did.”
“Even so, that looked like it hurt.”
Archer helped Pyre to her feet. “Do you want to keep going to the library or do you want to call it a day?”
“I’d like to just get home,” Pyre admitted. “I think we learned more from that dragon lady than we would have from any book we could get our hands on. Nice bluffing by the way.”
“Thanks. I’m surprised she bought it. Come on. Let’s get you home.”