Happy Wednesday, everyone!
So here it is, Wednesday! Time, once again, for another installment of Machinations of War. However, as your eye eagerly scans down the page, seeking out more of the story you simply cannot wait week-to-week to continue reading ;) you find what looks like a repeat of last week’s chapter. I know, your immediate reaction is, “What the frack! I waited all week for nothing?!” but NO, wait! Don’t click away just yet, dear loyal reader! Yes, this may look like a posting snafu, where I simply botched this week’s episode, republishing the same chapter again, but if you’ll look toward the end of the chapter, you will notice that this week’s version has an extended ending. I reworked last week’s chapter, adding an additional 467 words—driving our storyline, just a little bit further.
You may be thinking, “Why? Why would she do this?” Well… I did express my overall displeasure with this particular chapter in last week’s introduction. I was chiefly disappointed with the ending, as it felt uninspired, lackluster, downright boring! I was so disenchanted by the whole thing that Alexander and I did the unthinkable, we had a face-to-face meeting to discuss and plot the course of the ending of our story **(if you remember, in the beginning of this project we decided that the catch would be that neither one of us would know what the other was writing from week to week. We wouldn’t read the other’s chapter until it was published on the other’s blog. Therefore, while this was a collaborative effort, we weren’t actually collaborating on the story itself).** Well, it felt as if our story, hell the entire universe, was meandering, and we had been having so much fun writing this story that we didn’t want it to become a chore we merely needed to see to the end. So… after nearly three hours of collaboration (okay, yes, yes… our conversation did meander off-topic a bit now and again!) we mapped out the last stretch of our first serialized novel. We agreed on 25 chapters in all, and the final chapter will be posted on December 24th. Barring any unfortunate tragedies befalling one of us because no one ever really knows, right? And yet, that would really suck for those of you who have followed our little writing exercise since its inception, because you wouldn’t get your spectacular ending! :D
Without further rambling, I give you Chapter 15, version 2. And, if you happened to have read this chapter last week, just skip down to – “So, what am I?” Natalie asked dejectedly.” That’s where the new content begins. :)
Jahnal Forest – 536 AC
The ragtag group of unlikely collaborators gathered around the smoldering remains of their campfire. A small pile of embers, it still managed to ward off the night’s chill, yet was invisible to the routine patrols of the Creator’s sentinels. After the disastrous events at the Library, the patrols had increased exponentially, in an attempt to capture those responsible. The soldiers patrolling this particularly unsettled wilderness were uncannily stealthy in their surveillance tactics. Nevertheless, their camouflage was wasted by the glow of their blue-hued eyes, which flooded the forest floor with an odd luminescence wherever they went.
Natalie had led them all to the refuge of the thick woods, deep within the Jahnal Forest. While the two remaining members of the Triad had originally balked at accompanying Natalie, she assured them it was in all their best interest to combine forces, “At least in the short-term it ensures all of our survival to fight another day,” she reasoned. Begrudgingly, Long and Reyes agreed.
“It’s been decided then?” Rafe asks, his arms tightly wrapped around Aislyn, as if he believes his mere presence will keep her safe.
Standing, Natalie replies wearily, “I guess so. There’s not much to be decided, since you refuse to leave Aislyn’s side, and these two,” she points at Long and Reyes, “must report back to their commanding officer.”
Long’s head shoots up, “The Queen!” she retorted.
“Your Queen hasn’t reached the Capitol City yet,” Natalie snidely replies.
Long smirks, “Tell me Seraph, which side are you fighting for? Because I’m rather confused at this point.”
“You fight for truth. Tell them that.” Tizona’s voice echoes within Natalie’s mind.
“I am fighting for the truth. Whose truth, I am determined to uncover. That is why I will continue the mission bestowed upon me by the Creator.”
“Do you seriously believe the Creator will absolve you of your deliberate act of heresy?” Ailsyn asks incredulously.
Natalie sighed deeply. “No Aislyn, I don’t. I am as acquainted with the wrath of the Creator as you, hence why I am not eager to accompany the four of you back to the Capital City. I have no desire to join a battalion marching northward. The Creator’s mission for me will take me far away from the fighting, so that I may gain greater insight into this chaos.”
Natalie secretly surveyed the faces of those sitting around her, easily discerning their feelings of aversion and hostility toward her. “Insurgents, the lot of them,” she thought. Yet she understood their hatred. They saw standing before them a symbol of the Creator. She was merely another weapon in his vast arsenal. “Perhaps they are right,” she mused. “I’m not even sure of what I am anymore.” She had transformed since taking on the sword Tizona; the weapon had altered her not only physically but emotionally as well. At times, she had a creepy feeling that there was someone else coexisting within her body and mind. The notion filled her with a sensation of repulsion and horror.
Reyes stood abruptly, grabbing his gear off the ground, “Well, if it’s all the same with you, we’re going to hit the road. It’s better to travel by night. Easier to hide from the Creator’s goons.” The others stand as well, murmuring in agreement, as they gather up their own meager provisions. James hurriedly moves over to where Natalie is standing, prompting a hearty laugh from Reyes, “Good luck with that one.”
Natalie quickly scrutinized James. Turning to Reyes, she counters, “He’ll do just fine.”
Reyes looks at Long and they both begin to laugh, “Sure. You keep telling yourself that.”
Both Reyes and Long squirm impatiently as they wait for Rafe and Aislyn to ready for the long journey ahead, as the four set out in search of Alexander’s camp. Rafe seems unusually distracted, lost in thought, his face set in a grave frown. Annoyed, Reyes strides toward him, rapidly waving his hands in Rafe’s face, “Hello?! If it pleases you, Sir Skerrett, we’d like to leave sooner than later!” Insulted by Reyes’ insolence, Rafe angrily grabbed the amulet from around his neck. Slipping it off, he discreetly coiled the necklace into a small ball, hiding it in the palm of his hand. Casually, Rafe called out to James, beckoning him over, “James, over here.”
James wandered over, “Take this!” Rafe ordered, inconspicuously slipping the necklace into the palm of James’ hand, then closing his fingers tightly around the treasure. “You need to place this amulet around the Seraph’s neck.”
“What?” James asks, bewildered.
Rafe smiled gently at the scrawny former priest, “Trust me.” With a quick pat on James’ back, Rafe turns, joining Aislyn, Long, and Reyes as they take their leave.
Nonchalantly, James walked backed to Natalie, yet was careful to keep his distance. “We ready?” he asks casually.
“What did he want?” Natalie asks, as she grabs her bag.
“Nothing, just wanted to wish me luck.”
“He’s lying.” Tizona says.
“Tell me something I don’t already know.”
The days passed with little camaraderie developing between James and Natalie. Each time James attempted to engage Natalie in small talk, he had the unnerving feeling he was interrupting an already established discussion, one that he hadn’t been privy to. It was as if the Seraph was always engaged in conversation and he was merely an intrusion. He found though, the farther they travelled, the less he cared about developing solidarity with her. James had never traveled this far eastward before, he had spent his entire existence on the western coast and was used to the sea life. As the thick forest began to wane, the soft sponginess of the mossy ground cover was replaced by hard-packed dirt. He noted with great delight, the farther eastward they traveled, the more desolate and unforgiving the landscape became.
James thoroughly enjoyed the desert expanse, which he noted with surprise, housed a plethora of hidden creatures. The diverse flora and fauna of the region had adapted to the harsh environment, but these lands were far from barren. However well concealed, the animal life was abundant. It wasn’t until after sundown, that James realized the fullness of desert life. In the crisp, coolness of the moonlit night the sounds of the unknown unnerved him. His imagination ran wild with speculation of what exotic wildlife was out there, waiting to pounce, tearing his flesh from his bones.
When morning came, the desert reverted to its seemingly uninhabited self. James gathered his sundries, heading down to a nearby pond, which he and Natalie had discovered the previous evening before setting up their camp. Alone, he savored the untouched beauty of the desert. Growing up, the paths had been cleared; the journeys already completed. But not here. Here, in the vast expanse of the high desert one was forced to create their own trail. He learned quickly that they had to discover their own elusive water holes or risk imminent death. Life was much more precarious in the desert.
As he reached the pond, he was surprised to find Natalie emerging from the water completely naked. She saw him but did not shy away. Embarrassed he tried desperately to avert his eyes, but found he couldn’t. Captivated by Natalie’s strong physique, yet womanly softness, James stood transfixed, his mouth agape. She strode passed him, retrieving her clothes.
Finally composing himself, James quickly looked away, ashamed. “I’m deeply sorry milady.”
Indifferently, Natalie pulled her shirt over her head, slipping it down over her exposed breasts. “It’s a naked body, James.”
“But the teachings of the Creator say…“ James stammers, but Natalie quickly cuts him off.
“-are wrong? I don’t agree with everything that is taught.”
“But you’re the Seraph, you…“
“-must agree with the Creator? No, no I don’t think so. I never said I understood why he chose me for this mission.”
Self-consciously, James removed his clothes, and quickly headed into the water. “Why do you think he chose you?” he queried.
“Honestly, I can’t say. If the Creator is truly the proclaimed omniscient authority they say, then I truly don’t understand his choice of me for Seraph.” Natalie replied.
The sword, propped up against a nearby tree, suddenly began to emit the now familiar blue hue of the Creators’ agents. This time, however, the ephemeral outline that Natalie had witnessed in the old Lorne Abbey materialized before her once again. “I can enlighten you as to why he chose you,” it scolded.
Hearing the unfamiliar voice, James turned abruptly in the water, “What the hell?” he exclaimed.
“I am the spirit of the sword, Tizona.”
James scurried out of the water, dressing hurriedly, his modesty all but forgotten. “So the teachings were right!” he exclaimed. “And if I had to venture a guess, Tizona is merely an alias. Am I correct?”
The being seemed overtly pleased by James’ insight, “Possibly,” he responded.
“You are known as Samjaza. Am I right?”
Samjaza began to clap excitedly. The ephemeral form he had taken suddenly materialized into an eerie humanoid form, thinly covered in a yellowed membrane with discernible red veins crisscrossing the transparent skin. Natalie stepped back, taken aback by the sudden appearance of this new form.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Natalie asked, incredulously.
“I had to be certain that you were friend, not foe, Seraph. I am now convinced of your loyalty.”
“Foe?” Natalie spit out angrily, “Weren’t we both supposed to be fighting for the Creator?”
“Not this time,” Samjaza says. “You wonder why he chose you? It’s because he didn’t, I did. In his arrogance, he has placed his trust in me again. After waiting for centuries, it is my time to rise up and take what rightfully belongs to me.”
Natalie looks between James and Samjaza, confusion spreading across her face, “I don’t… I don’t understand.”
Samjaza leaned casually against a nearby rock, “Long ago, Seraph, my brother, Mammon, and I attempted to rule humankind alongside the Creator. However, as time passed, we found his rule to be far too narrow in scope. There was so much more that could be accomplished, yet the Creator would not hear of it. Therefore, we attempted to overthrow him. We learned the hard way that a dictator will not abdicate voluntarily. We underestimated his abilities, and lost. My brother flatly refused to bend to the Creator’s will and was exiled. I, on the other hand, proved much more diplomatic. These swords,” he pointed dismissively at Tizona, “were mere vessels for our life form. I found it rather comical Seraph, that you believed you brandished me, but it was I, who wielded you. Both you and the sword are useless without me.”
Natalie, overcome by this newfound knowledge, felt the ground give way beneath her feet. She reeled from the sudden realization that the Creator was merely exploiting her, and this creature standing in front of her was a parasite gaining strength off her long held anger and hatred.
“So, what am I?” Natalie asked dejectedly.
“A vessel, nothing more. You, Seraph, are just another fail-safe to ensure that I adhere to his rules.”
With grave urgency, James questions, “What would happen if Natalie were to turn on the Creator?”
“He will have her killed. By my hand.”
“But you’re the one…” James trailed off, confused, as Natalie plopped onto the hard ground, lost in her own thoughts.
“James, Rafe gave you something before we departed the Jahnal Forest, did he not?”
Suddenly flustered, James looked quickly between Samjaza and Natalie, unsure of how he should answer the question. Natalie looked up at James, the question and his prolonged silence, snapping her back from her reflective state. “Did he, James?” she demanded.
“Yes, he did,” James stammered. “He gave me an old necklace, and ordered me to place it around your neck.”
Samjaza smiled roguishly, “Oh, it’s much more than a necklace, James. Please,” he motioned toward Natalie, “Give it to her.”
James reached down into his pants pocket, pulling the coiled treasure from its hiding place. He strode over to Natalie, warily placing the necklace in her hand. Natalie examined the necklace curiously, studying the amulet’s ornate design. “It is pretty, but I don’t understand.”
“Did you notice how Daenella stopped moving when Rafe tackled her?”
Samjaza points at the necklace, “That is why. The amulet has the ability to cut the Creator’s link with his creations. Tizona is much too powerful to be nullified in this way, but if you connect the two…”
Natalie grabbed the sword. As she cradled it in her lap, she inspected it more closely. Deliberately, she began to dangle the necklace over the blade, inching the amulet, bit-by-bit, ever closer. Without warning, an opening formed on the bottom of the hilt, the newly formed cavity outlining a perfect complement for the amulet.
“DO IT!” Samjaza urged, “Connect the two!”
Gingerly, Natalie pushes the amulet into the newly created opening. As the amulet unites with the sword, Natalie feels the power of the Creator diminish. Her extraordinary strength, unusual speed, and the unnerving feeling that she was possessed, were suddenly gone. The sigil on her chest ceased its incessant glowing, the sword no longer shined blue, and Natalie felt a tidal wave of relief wash over her.
“Better?” Samjaza asked.
“Yeah. I feel like… like…”
“Like you’re no longer a puppet? I know. I feel it too.”
Samjaza stares triumphantly toward the two moons, slowly rising in the western sky. “So, what do you say, Natalie, how about we redefine our own outcome in this battle? It seems our fates are no longer predetermined and inescapable. No longer are we mere agents of the Creator. You and I now hold the power to rewrite our own future!”
**P.S. Next week Alexander will finally get his chance to post his Chapter 16. I promise! :D