This is what’s been keeping me from the drudgery of housework this morning!! Hope you guys enjoy!!
Sacha always though the rules never applied, not to her anyway. She was wrong! There are no rules! Only survival.
The harsh electric brightness reflecting off the silver tube of rapidly spinning metal that maintained the generator would have left Sacha with burnt holes instead of eyeballs, if she didn’t have goggles on.
There was no way she could even see her reflection, never mind actually pinpoint the solid core of the power source that kept everything running in the House, from lights, to machinery, even the water closets and waste. She imagined herself, though, scraggly hair scraped back into a tight ponytail, with those stupid green eyes that Thais claimed were like the colour of wet leaves after a summer shower, but, Sacha scowled, Thais was occasionally a damn romantic, when she wasn’t being a task master.
Right on cue, Thais snapped Sacha out of her reverie with a verbal blow that hurt even more than getting smacked in the face, ‘Stop admiring your reflection and get back to doing something useful.’
Sacha turned and stuck out her tongue at the shorter woman who stood with arms folded, clad top-to-toe in resin protected leather and a permanantly stoic expression that never even wavered.
‘Fine,’ Sacha grumbled. ‘But would it have killed anybody to put windows in these damn walls?’
Thais rolled her dark eyes up to the ceiling as if she’d get support from the rusting girders. ‘Please.’ She sighed. ‘Help me.’ When she got no answer, Thais returned her attention to Sacha. ‘Just do it.’
‘Alright, alright.’ Sacha stomped over to one of the many control panels that littered the room like a vast collection of antique junk nobody could bear to throw away.
Thais called after her. ‘Can I trust you to get on now or will I get back and find you gawping at that damn generator again like a dumbstruck girl meeting her betrothed for the first time?’
Spinning on her heel, Sacha grinned. ‘You know we’re not allowed to marry in here…’
Her humour died when she was met by a frigid stare from Thais that could probably cut through ice and, Sacha hoped, was due to the fact a one-eyed automoton loomed over her shoulder like a ghoul.
Or maybe, my jokes really are crap like Thais keeps pointing out, Sacha thought, her mind unable to focus on the reality of what was now in the room. It was never good when a Keeper showed up.
The Keeper opened it’s copper skinned mouth to reveal real teeth that was a morbid contrast to all the metallic contraptions that allowed a cold monotone to emit from its piston controlled vocal chords. ‘Worker?’ It fixed Thais with one pale eye and a mechanical one of cogs and gears with no eyeball.
Thais swallowed and obviously resisted the urge to throw up all over the Keeper’s bronze polished skeletal body that was part flesh and bone and part machinery, undressed and exposed as a woman, or what was left of one. Thais merely nodded and lowered her gaze in a gesture of rehearsed respect.
Observing her actions like one of the Keeper doctors who watched their experiments squirm on the table, the guard Keeper waited a moment longer than was comfortable.
‘Good.’ The Keeper wheezed out a single word, twisted away and clanked out of the room as if to make the point that if it wanted to be heard it could and that it’s visit had been a lesson in vigilence.
Thais let a long, slow breath and gave Sacha a meaningful glance before she too left the room, but in the opposite direction of the Keeper. Thais vanished down the corridor leading to the mess hall.
‘That just leaves you and me,’ Sacha remarked to the spinning generator core. It ignored her.
Sacha gave it the finger, which was pretty pointless, given inanimate objects don’t give a shit what she thought about them, but that gesture of defiance made her feel better.
It did make her think, which was always a bad sign, according to Thais. However, that didn’t stop her from connecting the dots and considering the central core was a lot like the damn Keepers, taking care of the Workers and maintaining systems without empathy. She gave them the finger too, when they weren’t looking of course. Another thing that made her feel less depressed, but changed nothing.
Oh, yeah, it was supposed to be an honor to be worked half to death and fed on dry sawdust she got assured was food and good for her, despite the fact it almost broke her teeth and choked her.
A bit like all the one-sided doctrine the Keepers spoon-fed everyone they deemed beneath them, Eiliat saved the world, the generator protects us, blah, blah, blah…
Sacha pulled a face, what the Book of Eliat didn’t say was how boring it’d be or that Keepers would see Workers as parts of a machine they didn’t even understand themselves.
Not all Workers knew everything about the House or the generator, how they got here, what they were being punished for, and more importantly, where the damned exit was.
Workers basically survived on a verbal code passed down through many generations of the more experienced who handed down their knowledge like precious heirlooms. Apprentices, which were few and far between these days, or rather these past few years, listened and learned. Or they died failing.
Something I can’t afford. Not after Trall got himself killed trying to be a hero. Sacha glanced down at her gloved hands, protective leather hiding a multitude of scars and the sins of her own stupidity.
Sacha clenched her fists. Idiot, you should’ve let me die. Now I’ve got an entire floor to run on my own, you bastard, why’d you have to leave…She sucked in a sharp breath that seared her lungs…
That’s when she saw the damn thing and thoughts of self-pity went out the door. Great. A red light on the console blinked like a constantly winking eye, telling her what she could already bloody see.
One of the thousands of power globes was out. Again. Might even be the same one she changed yesterday. There seemed to be an issue with the exchangers. She sighed, another damn problem.
She approached the curved panel of the main concole that also served as a protective outer ring, preventing anyone getting too close to the random static charges the core gave off as it spun.
Dials and wheels covered much of the dull grey metal, accompanied by the occasional winking of a small light, of which, most were in the green.
Although, it looked like today was going to be one of those days…
‘God’s damn it,’ Sacha cursed, bit her lip and hoped no-one heard and glared down at the step that just tried to break her neck when she caught it with the steel-capped toe of her booted foot.
The worn bit of wood was sunken at the center from the constant stepping of boots onto the thick timber over decades, maybe even, centuries, Sacha wasn’t sure, only that it’d tried to maim her.
‘You stupid…’She muttured, glaring down at the step and aiming at a kick, but she stopped halfway and slowly dropped her foot back to the floor.
Her vision quickly adjusted to the darker shade of gloom that was barely lit by the generator and all the power globes set into the console…a flicker of illumination passed across the outer casing…
Sacha’s breath caught in her throat when that brief light showed intricate carvings of vines with hundreds of delicate flowers intersperced between and surrounding delicate scrollwork.
It was like the sort she’d seen in that damn book Trall kept hidden in his padded jacket like it was more important than the Labors of Eiliat.
Sacha smiled at the memory. It’d been during a rare slow day when nothing much happpened, but talks of dreams and wishes that’d never happen and…certain other things that had to be kept secret from Keepers and other Workers, not just because of gossip, but children were forbidden here.
Almost immediately, Sacha’s smile evaporated, no chance of that from a dead man, no chance of anything now…Trall was gone because he opened his mouth one too many times. His life snuffed like a disused candle and discarded like trash, burnt up in the furnaces, his body not even given last rites.
All down to the stupidity of one man who couldn’t just let things lie, couldn’t accept failure, couldn’t let someone else take the blame. Oh, the Keepers claimed it was an accident, but Sacha knew better.
Thinking of Trall and the things he’d said, Sacha rubbed her thumb over a hard lump stuck on the foliage as decoration. Her eyes widened slightly as the intense yellow of colored glass was revealed.
Rocking back on her heels, Sacha realised centuries of grime led her to wrongly assume the outer casing of the console was metal like the rest, when in actual fact, it was wood, and at some point in its history someone had strived hard to make it look half way to pretty. Except, why bother?
A soft buzzing forced her to remember why she was actually here and the final words Thais gave her before they were interrupted by the Guard Keeper.
Straightening up, Sacha glanced over the console. ‘Damn it,’ she muttered, thoughts of finding out the reason for making such effort on a machine abandoned in favor of current problems.
Frowning, she tapped a flashing globe next to the one that’d already gone dead. The steely blue of its inner light flared and then faded in quick repetition as if it were some secret message like, oh, what was it Trall said…she chewed on her bottom lip as her mind tried to find the memory.
Yes! That’s it. She stopped making a meal out of her own skin. It was morse code, but, she tapped the thin glass, it’s just a machine, it doesn’t have a mind, so how can it ask for help…?
The globe stopped abruptly and rapidly darkened to indigo as if it somehow sensed her rejection and was sulking. Sacha shook her head. Don’t be an idiot, it’s just a machine.
Unscrewing the first globe from its setting, Sacha thrust the empty glass into a pouch hanging off her belt and started on the second which had finally stopped acting weird and had taken on a faint hue of powder blue, the right shade for a globe about to snuff it. She removed it and for a while, held it, gently, like it was a small puppy or something and not just filaments and glass.
She had to admit, there was something odd about it. Sacha stared at the sphere, half hoping it’d somehow tell her what it wanted, but the globe, carefully balanced on her palm, dimmed even as she held it, dying, until the thin glass turned cold and dark in her hand. So much for epiphanies.
Shrugging off her disappointment like she did most things that didn’t work, she slipped the lifeless globe into the leather pouch with its companion attached to her belt. Metal workings and various clips for devices and implements made something that simply held up her fire retardant trousers into a tool all by itself. It was gadgets galore. Her expression soured, if only she knew how they all worked.
Reaching into a second pouch attached to her right hip instead of the left, gloves catching a little on the lining of soft wool, she used both hands, bringing out two spares. Heavier than the empties.
And despite goggles protecting her eyes, the intense shine that gave the illusion of liquid diamonds trapped inside the glass made her squint against the jagged glare reflecting back at her like a bright light. If she was foolish enough to tilt them the light would flow and shift like water, only it wasn’t.
Having a globe break and getting any of that stuff on clothing, never mind flesh, was like how she imagined skinny dipping in an acid bath would be, while at the same time getting struck by lightning.
And was yet another horror she really didn’t want to dwell on. Sacha avoided looking at her gloved hands, knowing full well the consequences of rash mistakes.
And she’d been considered lucky. Not bloody likely. She grit her teeth and tried hard not to risk glancing into anything remotely reflective and being forced to see what’d been left of her face.
Not quite a monster, but some of the other so-called men made it clear she hadn’t been all that attractive before, but now they wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot barge pole. Bastards!
Thais liked to joke they didn’t know what they were missing, dark eyes holding Sacha’s gaze for a moment too long until Sacha glanced aside. Maybe Thais wanted more, but Sacha couldn’t give it.
Even though, Thais tried hard to be a good friend, like before, when they’d hung out as a trio, had a laugh, but the only one who could help Sacha with her scars and that was herself.
And that, she winced, might never happen. Sadly, Thais didn’t understand. Right now, I can’t tell her what I truly feel or that I’m just using her as a lifeline to cling onto in the shit storm of my life.
Sacha stuck the first globe into its casing and twisted, but even that was a metaphor of her life, the lies she told Thais when she wanted to share a bunk, pretending to be happy, saying everything was alright, pulling away when touched. I’m a cold-hearted bitch. I don’t deserve anyone who cares.
She knew it was cruel to keep Thais clinging to false hope, but Sacha couldn’t bear to lose another person she cared for. For now she stayed quiet about her and Trall. She kept many secrets, what was one more? Or, maybe i’m being big-headed and Thais is just being a friend. That’d be about right.
Replacing the second globe, Sasha ignored the wobble of green eyes and smear of pale skin that was her face reflecting across the glass and inserted it next to the one she’d replaced a moment ago, before guilt ran its course and took over her thoughts like a virulent disease that had no cure, not yet.
Stepping back she checked her work and console to make sure no more globes were about to go out. Except, her expression soured, that damn light was still flashing. What’s going on…?
A gust of cold air made her flinch and Sacha turned expecting to see someone, anyone, coming in through the exit that led to a mainly disused yard where Workers were supposed to asemble in case of fire. Unless, she thought bitterly, they decided to be all heroic and get themselves killed.
There wasn’t a worker or, dead god’s forbid, a Keeper, and so she inched forward. A thin pale line cut across the dirty floor tiles and curiosity dragged her feet toward it regardless of potential danger.
When she got there she found the heavy iron-studded door ajar. There was a thick scrape cut into the tiles from the opening and closing action of previous usage. That was all normal. All expected.
Sacha frowned. The usually solid wheel set in the middle of the door and kept it sealed was slightly bent as if someone had used excess force to wrench it open. She leaned forward, and hesitated…
Bare footsteps tracked out into the fine white coating of powdery snow.
Sliding her protective goggles up to rest on top of her head Sacha narrowed her eyes against the harsh glare of natural daylight even as she tracked the evidence that led away from the door.
Even though every bit of common sense she possessed was screaming at her not to be an idiot, Sacha squeezed through the gap and out into the circular yard. It was empty except for the footprints.
She scanned the high walls of dark red stone that surrounded the House, streaked by dead vines of old ivy and crumbling away in places, Sacha wondered why there were no Maintenance Keepers.
Hugging herself in a futile effort to keep warm, she considered why anyone would come out here, especially barefoot? It certainly wasn’t a Keeper. They had claws for feet, or bone, or just metal pads.
There had been no alarm to exclaim soomeone escaped, plus, the footprints didn’t lead to the wall anyway, so they weren’t trying the old folly of Graven’s Blunder. Named for the man who did just that and dropped away to his death into the flesh eating mist pumped out of machines located far beyond the reach of any Worker seeking freedom. No runner could survive long enough to reach them.
No-one knew why the fog didn’t just creep over the walls or get into the House and neither did any Keeper who was willing to lower their apparently high standards and actually converse with a Worker.
Sacha contemplated going back into the House and forgetting what she’d seen, just let some self-important Keeper come down here and deal with whatever the heck this was all about.
Except, it was too good an opportunity to pass up, right? Sacha glanced back over her shoulder at the open door. I can get back in anytime, no-one will shut that thing and besides, no-one will miss me.
Even the thought of how pissed Thais would be if anything happened wasn’t enough to stop Sacha moving further away from the stifling heat of the generator and the mind numbing repetition of her job.
She looked around, dismissing broken shards of pots interspersed between mildewed benches of rotting wood and rust caked metal, all deacying and spreading a dark, bloody stain across the stones.
Before the Keepers got all paranoid and starting locking doors and barring the few windows that were dotted through the other rooms and corridors, this yard was a meeting place for the hundreds of Workers who used to keep the House running smooth like a well oiled machine that hummed instead of rattled and wasn’t patched with resin tape in the hopes it wouldn’t explode.
That was before Eliat stopped sending new Workers.
Now this place is like the rest of us, slowly falling into that Hell we’re not supposed to think about, never mind believe, not since Eiliat replaced the gods with steam pistons and cold hard iron.
Deep down she knew this place was forbidden to Workers, except in an emergency, but this was a gift she simply couldn’t refuse. She tilted her head up to the leaden sky and smiled.
Spots of ice landed on her upturned face and stuck her tongue out, allowing the cold snow to melt on her tongue. She hadn’t seen snow, never mind outside for such a long time. It was so…She froze.
Someone close by was crying. No, she corrected herself, sobbing.
Without thinking, Sacha strode across the yard until the blood stopped her. A few spots here and there, ominously black. Not good. Logic screamed for her to go back and lock the damn door.
In typical fashion, Sacha did the total opposite, slipping a flat-headed screwdriver from her belt and gripping the rough wood handle like it was a well-fashioned blade, despite the fact it merely a tool.
Not that it mattered, right? She was sure the person weeping had to be around the next corner, but when she finally got there, she found herself in a sort of alcove that led onto a stone walkway.
Sacha hesitated…rustle of cloth and slap of bare feet hitting frosted stone, echoed, leading deeper into the shadowed gloom of hanging plants and white marble columns streaked with run off from the rain. It felt wrong. It could be a trap. A trick, a stupid Keeper test, or one of their sick games.
Sacha spun round and nearly planted her nose into a wall that had randomely blocked her path. ‘No!’ She smacked the granite blocks, pounded on them, finding them real enough to hurt her fists.
‘Right, you bastard.’ She thrust the screwdriver’s blunt edge between the stones, trying to force it into the almost non-existent gaps until the damn thing snapped at the handle, metal end pinging off worn stone slabs and landing in an overgrown border where it stood straight up like a planted marker.
This is crazy, walls don’t just appear. Sacha glared, but the stupid wall didn’t get the message.
‘Well, fuck you then.’ Sacha walked off quickly just in case any other walls popped out of nowhere to trap and maybe even suffocate her into a slow and gruesome death.
‘And what do you think you’re doing?’ A sharp female voice caused Sacha to jump, but before she could twist around and claw the intruder’s eyes out, hard fingers dug into her left arm and spun her about until she came face-to-face with the sour expression of a thin faced woman whose dark eyes were bottomless pits sunk in her sallow complexion, stretched tight as parchment across her skull.
Sacha’s just stood there, gaping like a stranded fish, whatever she might have been about to say dried up like the spit in her mouth and all the thoughts in her head.
‘Are you deaf as well as stupid?’ the woman demanded, clawed hands pinching Sacha’s upper arm until it started to tingle with numbness.
‘I’m…I don’t…’ Sacha stammered, knowing how stupidly dumb it made her look, but right now she really couldn’t think of any way to tell this woman she was supposed to be dead.
Except the woman wasn’t paying her any attention right now, she’d turned her gaze away to stare down the path, then her head jerked up, nostrils flaring like an animal catching the hunter’s scent.
Sacha yelped as the woman lurched forward, taking her along for the ride. Walls blurred to grey, as she tripped over the uneven stones, stubbing her damn toe, but she didn’t even get chance to cry out or ask the woman to stop hauling her about like a sack of old spuds. All she could do was keep running and hope neither of them fell on their faces or ended up tangled in a pile of broken limbs.
Finally, the woman slung her into a shadowed doorway and sheilded her with the bony remains of a slender figure that couldn’t really afford to lose more flesh. She now looked like a skeletal caricature of that old oil painting hung up in Memorial Hall and instead of the gothic victorian dress of black silk, she wore grimy scraps of an old shirt that barely covered her modesty.
‘You have no idea what you’re doing, stupid, idiot girl,’ the woman hissed, gripping her harder and forcing Sacha to cringe, not only from the acid spite of the words but also from her stale breath.
‘You shouldn’t even be here.’ The woman took Sacha by the throat and lifted her at least a foot off the ground. ‘Better if I kill you now,’ the woman rasped harshly like she hadn’t spoken in a while.
Sacha’s kicked her heels against the peeling wood of the door making the rusted hinges squeal, a substitute for the cries she couldn’t make as the air was slowly choked from her body.
‘It’ll be over soon,’ the woman assured through gritted teeth, jagged fingersnails biting into Sacha’s throat, silken warmth of blood trickling into the hollow of her collarbone.
A metallic scrape freaked her would-be killer enough that she let Sacha drop to the ground, leaving her to cough and hack until she could suck some oxygen into her lungs.
The woman fled whatever monster she thought was hunting her and was likely causing her manic behaviour. Either that, or she’s got a fetish for strangling complete strangers, Sacha considered wryly.
‘Unarel,’ she muttered as she rubbed her sore throat. ‘What a bitch.’ She couldn’t believe she’d just seen a ghost of a missing Keeper, presumed dead. Yet still very much capabale of trying to kill me.
Sacha struggled to her feet. She held the decaying doorframe until the feeling of light headedness passed and she felt halfway to normal again. Whatever the Hell that is right now.
She staggered down the plant-shadowed walkway in the hope it would lead her out this nightmare she was living, but honestly, she doubted it’d be that easy or whether there’d be a happy ending.
And who’s going to mourn me, other than poor Thais? Who’ll even bother to make a story about my disappearance or even care that a Worker vanished in a puff of smoke, well snow at least.
All she could was creep along the path and despite it being banned by Eiliat, pray she was being quiet, so she didn’t startle Unarel, or get mangled by whatever else she claimed was hiding in here.
I need a weapon, not a shitty screwdriver that breaks at the first sign of hard work even if it was a magically appearing wall. A blade would be nice…
Sacha snorted, not that I know how to use one. If I get so much as a tiny paper cut I ball my eyes out…Sacha halted. The weeping that had so effectively drawn her into this damn maze was gone. In fact, Sacha scowled, I haven’t heard so much as a peep since that crazy Keeper tried to choke me.
Glancing at her surroundings, Sacha’s expression and mood darkened further. Now she was in a courtyard of some kind where a huge marble fountain was center of attention, least it might have been more impressive if it was actually working, gushing water that sparkled in the sunlight instead of being caked in grime like the rest of this place and cast into gloom by all these damned plants.
Refusing to move, Sacha considered the excess of all this expensive stone, the carvings, massive tubs that held wildly overgrown plants…all made of the same pale, white marble…
It was all so odd. She’d been in the yard before and it never remotely looked like this.
Dropping her gaze, Sacha scuffed the edge of her boot against the gravel, carefully raked into a swirling pattern that nudged the edges of her memory like a forgotten thought.
In fact this whole place seemed…familiar. Except, it couldn’t. She’d never seen this. Had she? Was she here before? In the past? Another life maybe? She chewed her lip again, thoughts racing away as she stared aimlessly at the patterned gravel that kept her pinned their like a butterfly to the felt.
There it is again! Sacha stooped and swabbed the drob of blood off the front of her boot, rubbing the congealed fluid between her fingers. She rasied the gloop up to her nose and sharply recoiled.
It’s oil…That can’t be right…Sacha wiped off the gunk on her trousers, leaving a black streak on the thick brown canvas that just melded into all the other marks on the chemically treated fabric.
Standing, she narrowed her eyes, noticing a slight flicker to the foliage as if it were a mirage out in the desert trying to fool her into thinking she’d found sanctuary.
Just before he died, Trall said the Skill used by Immortals was used to trick prey with fake images and personas, like a…Glamour, he called it. Except, the gods are behind the Gate? Aren’t they?
Taking a cautious step forward, she stumbled. Her eyes blurred…Something’s very wrong here…
Her heart pounded. Breathing was too hard a task. She felt like she was floating. Nothing seemed real. Her pulse suddenly slowed. She wasn’t tired, it was like…she frowned…I’ve been drugged!
Cold seeped into her slumped limbs and pressed against her. How…? Sacha gradually rotated her head and faced a slab of metal that was so close to her face she touched with her nose.
Instinct urged her to get free. She tried to pull herself out of the metal box holding her like she was just another part of the machine, but something sharp tugged uncomfortably at her skin.
Sacha dropped her head down to look. She croaked something, impossible or whatever, while she gawped at all the tubes and wires inserted into her limbs.
Her arm was startlingly bare and really white as if all the blood had been sucked out, along with her brains apparently. Evidenced when she prodded her fire damaged skin, rough scars and contrastingly smooth flesh…’Shit,’ she hissed when she caught one of the protruding tubes.
She looked down, portions of her clothing had been cut away, leaving her exposed and vulnerable, clad in the rags of her shirt. No wonder I’m cold, her mind mumbled.
‘Told you…’ a familiar voice rasped into the gloom.
Sacha turned her head. ‘You’re in here…’ She gasped as cold liquid seeped into her arm.
‘Yes,’ Unarel sighed from the shadows. ‘Seems they’ll accept anyone now.’
Sacha really didn’t have the energy left to speak, or tell Unarel to go fuck herself or whatever. They were both stuck in this Hell, no point being picky about the company.
Rolling her eyes, Sacha glimpsed a polished black mirror, warping and twisting as the drugs took effect, seeming to draw it closer until it completely filled her vision and drowned her in its depths.