Serpent Sand

Ella looked up towards the sky, a dark cloud hung on the horizon, promising more rain than this part of the world had seen for decades. But as she and Brandon drew closer it soon became clear that the cloud was in fact smoke, the smell of burning filling their nostrils.

Under better circumstances Va’Lohren would have been a sight to behold, but the spires and turrets of buildings just gave the impression of chimneys as smoke billowed out of the city centre.

The pair went into the city, directing themselves by listening to the commotion, the strange cries and calls echoing around the city. In the middle of the city stood a square, strange bodies littered the floor, neither human nor belonging to The Fated. In the middle stood a huge podium with a stone ramp leading up to the centre. Flanking either side of this huge construction were two immense poles.

A Gateway stood proud between the two poles. But it was unlike anything Ella or Brandon had seen. Usually you could see straight through unimpeded, like looking through a window. But in this instance colours crackled across the surface, rippling like water. Ella’s hair started to stand on end.

Groups of The Fated stood around, paying no attention to Brandon or Ella, focused entirely on the portal. Four of The Fated stood at the base, hands raised, chanting something that sounded strange, yet familiar, to Ella.

The portal started shrinking in size, but the rainbow lightning that was arcing across the surface grew in fury. All of a sudden a huge arm appeared through the portal, its skin matching those of the bodies on the floor. Ella knew that this thing was colossal. The arm retracted.

The chanting grew louder as they struggled with the portal but then, all of a sudden, the chanters were blasted away. The pressure seemed to drop and everything that wasn’t secure to the floor started moving towards the portal. As the power of the suction grew, screams arose once they realised what was about to happen.

“Run!” Ella grabbed Brandon’s arm and tried to drag him away, “come on.”

Ella knew they wouldn’t make it away in time even if they employed all their powers but she started to run anyway.

Just as she turned, the portal opened again to its full height and the suction grew, the screams growing louder. Ella and Brandon, along with hundreds of the Va’Loherinians were dragged through in an instant. The portal crashed back together as if made from elastic, snapping shut with a devastating explosion.

People screamed. Buildings collapsed. Reddish sand blew throughout the city, covering everything. Huge Gateways opened throughout the city. Human in appearance, but with long slender limbs, creatures came storming through.     The creatures were attired in battle armour. Swords drawn they charged civilians cutting them where they stood. Men, women and children slaughtered because fear rooted them to the spot. Even if they could run it wouldn’t do much good. These creatures were fast.

            The sand was blowing faster, more and more coming through the portals as they opened around the city. She heard the screams over the other side of Royal Park. Sprinting towards the sounds she all of a sudden skidded to a halt. She wanted to go aid the people in trouble but something compelled her to stop. Suddenly sand blew through the park out of nowhere. Ella covered her face, the sand stinging the back of her hand, she could feel it cutting her skin. Then suddenly she couldn’t feel it anymore, although she could hear the sand rushing past. She lowered her hand and saw through the reddish sand a stream of golden sand coming towards her. It didn’t seem to be blown, but to slither through the air.

            As the sand got to Ella a sense of peace came over her. The sand wrapped around her, serpentine.

            Images rushed through her mind, and she felt an incredible power settle inside her, instantly she knew things, more than she wanted.

“We are The Fated,” she heard in head, “and we run.”

Ella floated, or at least that’s what it felt like. Nothing surrounded her, she hung in a void, she had knowledge of this from the Infusion, but it should only last for the briefest of seconds before you were on the other side of the portal.

Thoughts raced through her head, she worried she would be trapped in the void forever. She tried to shout out and even though she heard herself in her head, no sound escaped her mouth.

Something reached out and grabbed her arm, looking around she could see nothing, but as she focused on her arm a hand materialised, she traced this hand to its source and a man appeared.

Ella finished her first drink and was half way through her next before anyone came over to the empty seat. With a tip of his hat the stranger sat down at the bar and waved the barman over. Ella stole a few looks as she pretended to look behind her. He was dressed in old combat pants, desert patterned and he wore a black neck bandana. He pulled this down and knocked back his drink. Sand clung to his body and clothes, the skin of the desert. Something was special about this man, Ella could tell. She couldn’t help looking, it was as if she was drawn to him for a reason she didn’t know. All the other patrons didn’t seem to notice, to them he obviously seemed normal, no-one glanced at him oddly, yet she keenly felt a strange power emanating from him, but then it vanished and she could only vaguely recall what it felt like.

The mysterious man looked at her whilst she was stealing a look and met her eyes.

            “Hey there, I’m Brandon.”

            “Ella,” she said, and without missing a beat offered him her hand.

            Brandon’s eyes flicked down to the guns holstered at her hips, and looked back at her with a smile.

            “I assume you’re a Watchmen then?”

            “I’m just passing through. I highly doubt this town has a guard, they seem like simple folk.”

            “True.”

            Not knowing what to say next, she chose to say nothing.

            “Well I’ll be seeing you Ella.” Brandon got up and left and was quickly lost in the crowd of the inn.

With a silent gasp she tried to speak out loud, but again the sound was only in her head, “Brandon?”

“Ella?” She heard back, “what’s going on?”

Suddenly, the nothing changed. In the distance a black speck appeared, looking like it was miles away, but with no point of reference it was hard to judge. Within seconds it was upon them and Ella and Brandon flew through the exit portal and emerged into a charred clearing a little above ground.

Gravity took hold and dragged them both to the ground, the air exploding from their lungs.

Brandon groaned as he got to his hands and knees, Ella following suit. Ella instantly keeled over, falling back to the floor.

Ella exited the solitary abandoned house she had found. It stood there, defiant in the middle of the desert. She had taken shelter here from the heat and the man from the inn, Brandon, had showed up seeking refuge as well.

She looked up at the stars; they were the one constant you could rely upon when your world was turned upside down. Little pieces of wood stuck up here and there, and over there the sand was a little depressed, almost as if following what was once a street. At the end of the would-be-street she noticed a slight shimmer on the air, like the heat shimmer of a hot surface. But she knew what this meant, The Fated were about to come through.

            “Brandon!” she yelled.

            Brandon was through the door in an instant and just as he realised what was happening, the high pitched, ululating noise followed by thrumming, filled the night.

            The air was ripped open, and through the rent in space came five of the creatures. A roar of rage burst out of Brandon and he fired his rifle taking out two of The Fated in one shot. Ella was impressed. The creatures moved extremely fast and appeared to almost vanish, or so they thought, they didn’t know Ella had been Infused and she could move as fast as them.

            What did surprise Ella though is that Brandon had the ability to. She drew her pistols and gunned down one of the creatures. The two remaining enemies split, one after Brandon and one after Ella. The creature took a swipe at Ella but she dodged back and took a shot, killing the creature before it even regained its balance. Brandon made short work of his combatant, killing it a second after Ella finished up.

            Brandon stood over its body and fired into the back of the skull. A look of madness was in Brandon eyes, she could feel that strange power emanating from him, slightly different this time, but as before it vanished just as she become aware of it, and the madness faded from his eyes. Looking down at the corpse, seeing the gore he had just created, Brandon looked appalled.

            “I think we need to have a chat,” Ella said, “now.”

            Brandon and Ella talked and recounted their tales to each other, Brandon revealing he had the powers that Ella had but it fluctuated between being either really powerful and dominant to just being mild.

            “So that’s why you had that outburst?”

            “Yeah, though it only seems to happen during battle,” he replied, “over the years though it’s got more frequent.”

            “And what happens when it happens outside of battle.”

            “It won’t.”

            “You seem so sure,” Ella said.

            “I’ve already had to surrender some control to this thing, I won’t surrender any more to it.”

            Ella was skeptical but let it slide, for now he didn’t seem a threat but she would have to watch him.

            “Over the years have your powers grown along with the outbursts?”

            “A little, not in strength, more in stamina, I can use my powers for longer,” Brandon replied. After a brief silence Brandon asked, “what’s next?”

            “I’m heading to Va’Lohren, to find answers, how about you?”

            “I can’t let you go on your own now can I?” he said with a smile.

Ella screamed in pain as the last of her memories came rushing back, she remembered everything now. She drew in a deep breath and opened her eyes. It was night time, two moons hung in the sky, one brighter than the other. The dual moonlight provided enough light to see her surroundings clearly.

“Brandon?” She yelled. Brandon emerged from the tree line to her right, a Va’Loherinian walked a few paces behind him. “Behind you,” Ella drew her pistols and took aim, hesitant to shoot in case she hit Brandon.

“Put your gun down, it’s fine.”

Slowly she lowered her gun, finally holstering it at her hip.

“You must be who he was talking about.” The words were strange on her ears, like the chanting in the square. If she concentrated hard enough she could decipher it.

“Yes.” The word left her mouth and she understood what it meant but it didn’t sound like her native language. Brandon saw the confusion on her face.

“I know, it’s weird right? It’s because you’ve never spoken it before.”

Ella looked the stranger up and down, now she wasn’t desperately fighting against his race, they were actually quite a beautiful race.

“My name is Vi’shiel but your friend here has taken to calling me Vish, either is fine.”

Ella looked to Brandon, feeling out of her depth, but he seemed extremely calm and almost relaxed. Deciding to just go with it she said, “I’m Ella.”

“He has a lot to tell you,” said Brandon, excitement filling his voice. “You were out a while, so he filled me in while we waited.”

“Come, we’ve found space to sit just beyond the tree’s, away from all this destruction,” Vish turned without waiting to see if she followed.

Ella followed Vish and Brandon through the trees for a few yards finally emerging into a small clearing. They had dragged logs into the centre to form a seating area. In the middle of the makeshift benches, branches stood in a pile, ready to be ignited if it got too cold.

Vish started the tale of his people, it was nothing she didn’t already know from the Infusion. The Fated believed they were the chosen ones, fated to rule the cosmos but then their world had been invaded by creatures, like the ones that littered the square. The Fated were a violent race by nature but the sheer terror and strength of these new invaders caused them to flee.

The Sen’gahl came flooding through great tears in space, but more violent than the controlled portals The Fated used. They were bent on conquering, Vish and his people had put up a fight to protect their home world but in the end they had to give up.

“We opened portals and escaped through them, for whatever reason they had zoned in on this world.”

“We were scared, for the first time in our recorded history we were brought to our knees. If there was one race more powerful, what’s to say there wouldn’t be another? We didn’t know what we would encounter. We saw strange yellow lumps of moving metal, stone buildings as high as the sky. People screaming, cries of battle, or so we thought.

We needed to get a footing in this world if we had any hope of surviving. Everywhere we went we encountered resistance, but there were a lot of us.”

“What about the white sand?”

“It was sent out to get someone from your race to come to our side, act as a go between, the reward for doing this was the powers, but as far as we were aware it didn’t work.”

“So how many more people like me and Brandon are there?”

“No more than five.”

Ella was stunned. She knew a lot of what she was told, but the sand hadn’t informed her she was meant to act as envoy. All she remembered after that moment is waking up, the world changed. Sand blowing furiously everywhere, it deteriorated everything.

The temperature had started to drop, Ella shivered, “so what now?”

“We find out where we are, and how the hell we get home,” Brandon flashed a reassuring smile, but she saw uncertainty littering his face. That said, he had put forward a good suggestion.

Where were they indeed?

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