Something Old, Something New

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Nom De Guerre by Crimson Tao (Sunday, May 20, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Calling by Astra Kyne Murdock (Sunday, May 20, 2007)

(posted Sunday, May 20, 2007)

Omnium rerum principia parva sunt. "Everything has a small beginning."

"What the hell is this?" Sarge demanded, shoving to the fore of the group.

At the same time, Sera backed up a pace, then went down on her own knee so she could look into Vickie's face. "Please," she begged, as Vickie's intensely blue eyes met her own. "Please, you mustn't--this isn't--"

Vickie ignored the Sarge's increasingly angry demands for an explanation, first from her, then from Red, who only shrugged. "Eldest, I will obey you, but that does not make you any less than what we both know you are," she said, very quietly, sheathing her sword again. They both stood up, and Vickie cast a glance over at Sarge, whose eyes blazed with anger in the firelight. "Just because some are blinded by their own preconceptions and can't see what's in front of them--" She shook her head. "I'll want my own explanation of how you landed here, Eldest," the tiny fighter continued. "But that can wait."

She whirled and faced Sarge. "You want to know what this is?" she said, and there was just a hint of mockery in her voice. "Well you say that, but you won't believe it. So I'll tell you what you will believe. She's clean. Cleaner than anyone we've ever had with us. They're all clean. Happy?"

"No," Sarge snorted. "But it'll do fer now. We stand here pallaverin' any more and we make it easier for Them to find us. Let's make tracks while we've got dark t' cover us."

He still looked angry. He felt angry. Vickie had done something he hadn't expected, giving Sera so much deference, and he didn't like it. After a few moments, Sera decided that he could just get over not liking it. Vickie had been like the others before she had seen Sera; on the surface, she looked as normal as any freedom fighter could, but beneath that bravado, she "felt" hopeless, but with a kind of grim determination to see this through to the bitterest end. Now hope flared in her, lighting her up from within, and her face was like a torch.

They did not trek the rest of the way to this new HQ; they moved like guerilla soldiers through hostile territory, a small group at a time going from one patch of deep cover to another. A sensible precaution; Sera had her shields "soft" and her senses open, and she could "feel" the Fallen at a great distance, but still hunting for them. What she could not feel were the unmanned drones, which could be anywhere, and probably were.

One thing she sensed that made her near giddy with relief. They, the Fallen, did not know that such a thing as Sera was with the rebels; They thought only that They were hunting down the remnants of organized resistance, and so were taking Their time about it. That was a gift past all worth. If They had known, They would have spared nothing, stopped at nothing, to take her and anyone with her, and their urgency would have filled this territory with hunters.

The terrain grew more extreme, which was good. That meant better cover, more hiding places. By this time all of the little groups had separated, one from the other, and if she had not been with Vickie, Sera might have been alarmed. But it seemed that all the counterparts of the people she knew were leaders in this rebellion, and Vickie one of the most trusted in that select group.

At last, her little group--her family, Vickie, Red and one other man--paused at the side of a stream-bed. The forest was as quiet as only the woods could be in the dead of night. She could hear nothing of the ones that had gone on before them, only the murmur of the water. "I hope your kids aren't claustrophobic, Eldest, because it's time to crawl," Vickie murmured, then went down on hands and knees in the shadow of a thick bush--and vanished.

Red followed her; Ratt, who had been watching closely, did the same. With a slight shiver, Sera followed on his heels, literally, as he crawled forward--into the side of the mountain, into a tunnel, or cave-opening, that was literally just big enough for them to crawl on hands and knees with their backs touching the ceiling. She had not gotten more tha a few feet in before there simply was no more light. In the absolute blackness, the only sounds were the ones being made by those in front of, and behind her. There was, at least, a draft here, moving air kept it from feeling as if the walls were going to collapse around her at any moment.

They might have been crawling for an hour when she sensed a change ahead of her; Ratt suddenly started scrambling rather than crawling, the floor dropped a little and the ceiling rose, and light bloomed ahead of them. Another foot or so, and there was Vickie, Red, and Ratt standing together; the light came from a dim blue globe floating above Vickie's head.

"We can walk from here. There's more than a dozen entrances scattered all over this mountain," Vickie said, her voice echoing in the cave, as the rest of the party tumbled out into the open. "We try not to take too many people in through any single one of them. Now, Eldest, since there is no one here to object to hearing the whole truth--how does an angel come among us? I thought They had walled your kind out forever."

"Prosaically enough, Victoria, through a Portal," Sera sighed. "And I am not precisely an angel. I am fully incarnate. I can suffer, die--and I can love a man physically, love him with all my heart, and bear his children."

"So I see." Vickie raised an eyebrow. "And just how did that come about? Talk while we walk, we still have a long way to go."

By the time they all reached the cave-complex that would be their resting place--not home, never home they were no longer "Victoria" and "Eldest" but "Vickie" and "Sera," and even the skeptical Red seemed to have accepted Vickie's judgement on just what and who Sera was. This Vickie was a warmer-hearted, more empathic creature than the one Sera knew; she also had not suffered the terrible betrayal and torture that "her" Vickie had in the days before she joined CCCP, which had left the latter covered with hideous burn-scars from chin to soles until her own healing magics managed to mostly erase them.

This Vickie had never had that experience; her world had been coming under the control of the Fallen completely by the time she went Underhill to learn her trade, and her own parents, dead now, had been beginning to understand that things were going very, very wrong with the world. They had sent her there to learn war. They were murdered before that schooling was complete

This Red, alas, still had the shattered face that their own Red had gotten rebuilt, the result of his nascent powers going wild as a young man. Neither of them seemed to care; they were as solid a couple as the two Sera was familiar with, and she carefully concealed how rawly envious she felt of them.

"And of course, Sarge and the General don't believe in Underhill or the Elvenkin," Vickie was saying as they began to hear the distant sounds of people echoing through the caverns. "It doesn't help I can't show them. So I doubt that either of them will be convinced of what you are by my telling them."

"But why can't you--" Sera began.

"Because I am the Last Mortal Knight-Guardian of the Last Gate," Vickie replied, with the pain of an exile in her voice. "I closed that Gate behind me when I finished my training and I won't reopen it unless--well, I didn't really think there could be an 'unless.' They would love to get into Underhill; the power there, all the creatures They could enslave, even the Unseleighe know better than to let Them break through. For once, the Seleighe and Unseleighe united as I was about to be dubbed; for the first time in centuries they agreed on something--that neither of the races wanted to risk Them finding a Gate and getting in. The Gate will not be reopened unless the last of Them is gone from this world, and frankly..." Vickie just shook her head. "...They're winning, and we all know it."

For one moment the sheer, weary hopelessness in her voice made Sera want to cry out with frustration.

"...but that was before you came." Vickie's chin came up, and the light was back in her eyes. "With you--I know, I know there is only one of you, but don't you see? You don't have hope, you are hope!"

"Darlin' we're about to hit hardass territory," Red cautioned. "Ya might want to back off on the metaphysics..."

Vickie nodded. "Ten-four," she replied, and then they were being hailed by the sentries, and just beyond the sentries, the Sarge waited, with his face set like stone and a slightly dangerous look in his eye. Sera sighed. Was there no way to win this man?