Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chapter 65: Cave of Bones

"Bare feet? Interesting choice," Kvornan says.

It's the cave, Fergus notes, from his dream. "I threw on a shirt, but I didn't think I'd be needing shoes," he answers, struggling to think back to--this afternoon? Fergus can't quite remember now, where he was or why he came here. "Do I need shoes?"

Kvornan shrugs, a small laugh escaping his lips, "Need shoes? I walked thousands of miles barefoot, back in the day. I still prefer to have the skin of my feet in contact with the earth. When it's not paved over--that's just uncomfortable. But I doubt you'll be encountering any pavement here. Monsters from your subconscious, maybe, but no pavement."

"This is a dream," Fergus decides, looking at Kvornan for answers, "Is this a dream?"

"No," Kvornan replies, "You opened a portal, something not many humans can do. Just me, actually. I used to think I'd be meeting your father here one day, but his explorations only took him so far. I've been expecting you to come here since you were born."

"I don't understand," Fergus says, "I think--I'm sure I meant to go somewhere else. MorcuCorp, they tried to take Tasha, our baby. I wanted to go--to find--" Fergus frowns, struggling to remember real events that feel like a dream, to grasp at his purpose and hold onto it.

"It's disorienting at first," Kvornan says, reaching a comforting hand to Fergus' shoulder, "Especially since you haven't taken any real spirit journeys yet."

"Is that why I'm here?" Frergus asks, "At this cave? My father said this is where he came for his first spirit journey."

"There's a key difference you're missing," Kvornan explains, "Your father came here in spirit only. His body was back on his floor at home, cradled in your mother's arms. You are here physically. This is no spirit journey. But, in some ways, it is. For you, anyway."

"For me? Why?"

"You know why, Fergus. You're special. Your unique combination of abilities, inherited from your ancestors, coupled with your birth on the day when the spirit realm is closest to the realm of the living; you can traverse the spirit realm in your body the way I can. And so, you can take a spirit walk on your real, physical feet."

"My father said, when he entered the cave, he was given a choice," Fergus says, looking into the cave's opening, unable to see anything in there in its darkness.

"It's different for everyone," Kvornan tells him, "But in the end, we all have to make choices. And those choices define us."

Fergus steps toward the cave's opening, glancing back at Kvornan, "Are you coming, too?"

Kvornan shakes his head. "That's my tomb," he says, "My people buried me down there with my mother and father. I think my bones must still lie there. I wrestle enough with my existence here, having to look at my remains is more than I care to contemplate. And, anyway, I cannot guide where you need to go. This is your journey, your spirit. You go alone."

Fergus enters the cave, an ancient tomb where his earliest ancestors, the human ones, anyway, are buried, their bones resting still in niches carved into the caves wall in the days when humans had just begun to use tools. Directed by Kvornan, the neolithic shaman who taught his people to build the stone circles, and who was the first to bury his parents in the the cave tomb he'd had them build. The history of the place comes to Fergus in a rush, and he could spend days just sifting through the images and scenes, but for now, he packs them away in his mental library to deal with what's in front of him.

The spirit of one of his ancestors, one whose body does not lie in this tomb. By the time Sterren of Avendale walked this land, this tomb was long sealed, the stone circle above it was a relic.

She stands now, between him and the bones of Kvornan's father, the first body laid to rest in this tomb.

"You were a lot like him," Fergus muses, the character of both his ancestors shaping in his mind as he remembers them, "Compassionate, dedicatd to service. Shaman, priestess..." Fergus drifts off, a line forming in his mind's eye, a line connecting from Ardax to Sterren, through his grandmother, Aouregan, through his father, Shadow, into himself, a line of ancestors, gifted with the power of magic, healers who served humbly, who sought to never harm in their practice.

That magic is his as well, and Fergus joins his long-dead great grandmother in a harmless display of the power he inherited from her line. His own father took the role of shaman onto himself, dedicating his magic and his very person to service, to helping people, to healing. It's a worthy goal, Fergus thinks.

"But all your magic, all your service and all your love couldn't protect you or your family," Fergus says aloud to the silent ghost. "I need more."

And with his words, Sterren disappears.

It is then his grandfather, Farrell, who joins him in the cave of his ancestors, appearing not in the form he wore in life, but as a cloud of sparkles.

Farrell's influence on his grandson had been personal and direct; Fergus had grown up with him, in his house, after all, and had learned much from him. The husband of a priestess, father of a shaman, descendant of dragons, fairies and werewolves, Farrell lived surrounded by magic, and though he was forced to accept it, he never put any faith in it, relying on reason and science to understand the world. He had wielded no superhuman powers, and yet had discovered the means to go beyond what ordinary magic can do, traveling through time, making himself invisible, crating a potion that could teleport back home from anywhere in an instant.

With Farrell as an example, Fergus had put aside his own magic when growing up, focusing instead on his studies, on logic and reason.

"You were able to protect your family," Fergus says aloud to the sparkling cloud spirit of his grandfather, "You rescued my grandmother from MorcuCorp's labs, and brought your family to safety." But that's not enough, Fergus thinks, safety in hiding is not enough, "But I need more."

Dismissed, the sparkles dissipate into nothingness.

Fergus is not surprised to see the spirit of his great-grandfather Reinier appear next, slayer of dragons, dressed in his armor. This man's memories had become so much a part of him that he had become a part of his own mind, contributing his opinions like some internal voice.

"I know what I've gotten from Sterren's line, and what I've gotten from my grandfather, but what do you have to offer?" Fergus asks him.

Fergus is surprised when Reinier grasps him by the shoulders and answers, "You are a Landgraab! That is a gift beyond anything the others offer."

"What is so special about being a Landgraab?" Fergus scoffs. 

"Look at your history," Reinier says, "You look to your magic to protect you, but you know magic has never yet stopped a Landgraab. You look to the genius of your grandfather, but you forget who created his mother. A Landgraab. You want the strength to not only protect your family, but to destroy those who would threaten you? You need to be a Landgraab."

"You would help me fight against your own family?" Fergus asks.

"If you want to win, you must let nothing stand in your way. Not blood, not family, nothing," Reinier advises, "It has been too long since a true scion of the Landgraabs has risen. You are my true heir, it is time for you to rise and take what's yours."

"Interesting choice," Kvornan opines whenFergus joins him at the stone circle on the hill above the cave tomb.

"You saw?" Fergus asks.

"I'm aware without seeing," Kvornan corrects him.

"Did I make the right choice?" Fergus asks, kneeling beside the shaman.

"You get to a point where it all becomes gray," Kvornan answers, "Right, wrong don't exist. At least, not until the results are in. Will you get what you're after? Will it be what you expected? Will it be more, less? Better, worse? These things are still up in the air, you have yet to pluck them down into reality. You've chosen to fight fire with fire, as they say. It's better than standing still to be engulfed. Or so you might think. There are some who swear by the cleansing effect of fire..." The shaman drifts off into his trail of thought, and Fergus smiles, reminded of his father.

Kvornan turns his attention back to Fergus, "Did you like them?" he asks.


"Bridgeport Ghost," Kvornan says, "I wrote those for you, to bring you to me. The way the book of fables I wrote brought your father. I'd never done a graphic novel before, though."

"What should we do?" Tasha asks, "Just wait for Fergus or...?"

Before Jilly can answer, the space in front of them, which had only moments ago been occupied by Fergus before he disappeared into nothingness, suddenly begins to glow with a swirling light.

"Maybe it's a portal?" Tasha suggests, drawing on her vast knowledge of science fiction and comic books. "It looks kind of like a portal...not that I've ever seen a portal. But if I were making a movie, that's what I'd make my portal look like..."

"Maybe I should go inside?" Jilly wonders, stepping closer to the maybe portal.

"I wouldn't. We have no idea what's on the other side. It could be, like another planet or something."

"But what if Fergus sent it?" Jilly asks, "I'm going in."

Jilly takes another step forward, and Fergus himself appears, walking towards them through the portal.

The portal closes behind Fergus as he steps completely into the room.

"How long was I gone?" he asks.

"Not even a minute," Jilly answers, "Where did you go?"

Tasha rushes forward to grasp his hand, feel his realness as she presses her forehead to his. It was less than a minute, but it felt so much longer.

"Don't be scared," Fergus whispers, "I've got you."

"What about Julian?" Jilly asks, interrupting the touching reunion, "Did you find out where he is?"

"MorcuCorp has him, so I'm not going to be able to find him with magic. We're going to have to infiltrate them more directly," Fergus answers, "First, I need to get Tasha to a safe place. Back to Drake's Hollow. Once she's with my parents, you and I will take care of MorcuCorp."

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Chapter 64: Remember Me

"Tashsa, sweetheart," Fergus whispers, holding her as she breaks down in his arms, not surprised at all by her emotional turmoil. She just learned she was pregnant, was stalked MorcuCorp agents and then had his crazy family history dumped on her. He should have seen then that the shock had made her numb, and that when they made love that afternoon, she was trying to lose herself in the moment so she wouldn't have to think about the future.

"Everything is going to be all right, I promise," he says, hiding his doubts in his own ability to protect her and their child.

"I know," Tasha sighs, managing a smile as she twists herself to face him.

How can she know, when I don't, Fergus wonders. What did he do to earn her trust?

He could take her back to Drake's Hollow, at least until their child is born. In hiding, they might be safe, but Drake's Hollow won't be enough for her, or for him. They both want more, they want to live in the world, be a part of it. 

His thoughts race ahead while his body responds to her, his legs moving to support her as she rises in his embrace, and it's only asher lips meet his that he becomes aware again of his surroundings.

"We need a plan, to take down Morcucorp," he tells her between kisses, "We can't live in hiding like my parents did."

"Taking down a giant corporation is a pretty huge deal," she answers, kissing him a little more forcefully now, her mood swinging from despair back into the 'lose herself in passion' mode.

"I'm serious, Tasha," he whispers, "I've put a ward on this building, but that's not going to be enough. They aren't going to quit just because we got away this time."

She whimpers a little in response, clearly not wanting to think about being pursued by MorcuCorp agents again.

"Jilly. Shit, I should call her, They could be after her too," Fergus realizes, disentangling himself from Tasha's arms as he looks for his pants. He should have called Jilly right away. What if they already got to her? Where's his damn phone?

Before he can can dial her number, Jilly is pounding on his door, yelling his name like the building is on fire.

"Did they chase you here?' he asks as he lets her in his room.

"Have you seen Julian?" she asks at the same time.

"Julian? No...I thought he was with you?" Fergus answers. What part might the Landgraab have played in this, he wonders, chiding himself for not getting it together faster.

"He was," Jilly answers, gesturing in agitation, "I asked him to move in with me, right? So this morning, I went diving and he was going to come here and get his clothes and laptop and stuff. But when I got back, the breakfast plate was still out, my door was open and his phone was there. He didn't even make the bed. He always, always makes the bed." He hurried flow of words ends with a sharp sob.

"Jilly, MorcuCorp has made a move on us," Fergus tells her, "They were tailing Tasha today, I think they planned to abduct her."

"Abduct Tasha? Why? What does she have to do with it?" Jilly asks, confused, "Oh, but they must have taken Julian!" she gasps in realization, "Fergus, we have to get him back!"

"Hold on, Jilly," Fergus says, "Julian is a Landgraab, remember? This might have all been part of the plan..."

"How can you say that?" Jillyan demands, "You've been in his head! You know he's not working for them!"

"I know," Fergus says, though he's still not as confident of Julian's innocence as his cousin is, "But he's obviously being used by them in some way. His fake memories, his missing all points to MorcuCorp. Now that they've made a move against Tasha, maybe they decided to call him in."

"Call him in?" Jilly asks, her voice approaching a screech, "That's the same damn fucking thing as being abducted, Fergus. They took him, against his will. He's not one of them."

"Jilly, we don't know that..."

"Fuck you, Fergus."

"Okay, Jilly, I'm sorry. I can't help being suspicious of him," Fergus says, "Let's say he has been are we going to find him?"

Jilly frowns, not having aready answer for that. In her mind's eye, she saw herself kicking down some doors and throwing some punches, and dragging a maybe semi-conscious Julian out of a building. And then maybe the building blowing up after, like in the movies. But the world is full of buildings, and she can't kick all the doors down looking for Julian. "Did you get anything from his phone?" she asks her cousin.

"No," Fergus shakes his head, "Nothing. MorcuCorp is good at cleaning up after themselves."

"Well, that's something Julian has in common with them," Jilly says, joking her way through her anxiety, "Everything has to be put away. He makes everything look untouched when he's done."

Fergus presses his lips together, "It was sloppy of them to let themselves be seen by Tasha like that," he muses, "I suppose her being pregnant was a surprise, so they got a sloppy in their rush to get to her...still, you'd think they could do better."

"Tasha's pregnant?"

"Oh, yeah," Fergus says with blush, realizing what he just blurted out, "That's why MorcuCorp wanted her. You said Julian was going to come here for his laptop? Maybe we can get something from it."

Julian's room is a short walk across the hall from his own, but Fergus still feels the need to throw on shirt before leaving his room.

"Well, there it is," Jilly says, nodding her head toward Julian's laptop on his coffeetable.

"You really asked him to move in with you?" Fergus asks under his breath, "You're moving awfully fast, don't you think?"

"Says the guy who's having a baby already."

"That wasn't planned..."

"And I didn't plan on falling in love," Jilly answers, "But here we are."

"You know, there's a possibility that Julian is a clone," Fegus says as he sits down with Julian's laptop, "Like my great-grandmother Pearl was. Created in a MorcuCorp lab. If he's really turned against them..." Fergus catches Tasha's warning glance as Jilly bends over herself in grief, and he shuts up and turns his attention to the screen.

"It's going to be all right," Tasha whispers soothing lies as she rests a comforting hand on Jilly's.

"I should have been with him. I should have protected him," Jilly moans.

Tasha makes no response except to squeeze Jilly's fingers. It could have been her, Tasha thinks, but Fergus saved her in time.

"Why would they take Julian and not me?" Jilly asks, raising her head suddenly. "I mean, if he was theirs, anyway, why take him back now?"

"I think something must have gone wrong with their plans," Fergus mumbles, "I had thought they might have programmed Julian to seduce you, but maybe not. They were always more interested in Farrell's line than Elliot's, so why would they send an agent after you now? No, they planted him here for me, his attraction to you was..just him. Being with you might have broken him."

"Broken him?"

"I mean, from their point of view," Fergus explains, "He was still operating under some kind of hypnotic compulsion, but when he was under control of himself, he gave you his phone, and promised to stop seeing his 'doctor'. Julian had become yours, which made him no longer theirs."

"Fergus, we have to get him back," Jilly insists, growing frantic as she imagines what they might do to Julian if he was no longer of use to them.

"I'm sorry, Jilly, but there's nothing here," Fergus sighs, closing the laptop in frustration, "If there was anything on here, it was wiped completely."

Jilly growls, holding her head in her hands, "We have to do something!"

Something, yes, but what? Fergus wonders, tapping his fist against his forehead as though it might shake an idea loose from his subconscious. His grandfather Farrell had faced the same problem once, when MorcuCorp had taken Auoregan and he didn't even know where to begin his search. "If only I had known how simple it really is. You can be anywhere, anywhen, you want to be. You just have to see it," The words echo in Fergus' mind, spoken in his grandfather's voice, but it takes a few more moments for Fergus to remember that those were the words Farrell's ghost spoke to him in a dream. Dreams, of course, are not always just dreams, his father had taught him that.

"You just have to see it," Fergus repeats the words out loud now, standing as he begins to weave a spell. 

"Fergus, what are you doing?" Tasha asks,watching the light show that flies from his fingertips as the magic flows from him.

"In Bridgeport Ghost, Brandon Hawksquill travels through time and space through a visualization process," Fergus answers.

"Hawkfeather, his name is Hawkfeather," Tasha corrects him, suddenly seeing the similarity in the names, Brandon Hawkfeather...Brannon Hawksquill, "What are you doing?" she asks again, her voice breathy with awe.

"They do that shit all the time," Jilly comments, obviously less impressed with the show of lights.

His father had told him he had a gift, the ability to pas easily through different realms. Like his almost namesake in Bridgeport Ghost, he only had to see it...

And he could go anwhere...anywhen...

"Fergus!" Tasha calls out, rising in alarm as her boyfriend disappears, leaving behind a faint shimmer of magic, which slowly dissipates into the empty air.

"I've never seen them do that before..." Jilly says, as shocked as Tasha.

Julian wakes up into what he assumes can only be a nightmare. The walls are too white, the room too empty, too sterile, even for a hospital. And he doesn't remember being in any kind of accident, or being sick...

"What do you remember, Mr. Landgraab?" a woman's voice asks him. It's a familiar voice, but not the one he wanted to hear.

"Dr. Wiseman? Where's Jilly?" he asks, "Is she here?"

"What's your name?" the doctor asks him, ignoring his own question.

"Julian Landgraab," he answers, 'What happened? Why am I here? Where's Jilly? Is she okay?"

"Mr. Landgraab, I've released your mind from the hypnotic repression., You should remember who you are now."

"I know who I am," Julian answers with rising frustration, "I need to see Jilly. Now."

"Tell me what you remember."

"Too much," Julian whispers, trying desperately to hold back the sudden flood of memories, "These aren't my memories," he insists. He's not that man. He can't be. "I'm Julian, Julian Landgraab. I was born outside of Aurora Skies..." he repeats the history he believed, the one Fergus Brannon had suggested was manufactured for him. He remembers, that too, those snapshots of a life he had believed was his own, and he grasps at them, trying to maintain that fiction. 

Tourmaline watches the exchange on the monitor outside the cell, her own frustration rising as she watches Geoffrey's struggle with himself. Dr. Wiseman had assured her that once she released his memories, he'd come back to himself. But nothing about this operation had gone as promised, and Tourmaline is done with waiting on others to deliver.

"Do you remember me?" she asks Geoffrey, striding into the cell.

"You shouldn't be in here," Dr. Wiseman says, rising from her chair.

"'re dead..." Julian says, remembering things he doesn't want to remember, seeing images witnessed by another man. Not him. "P-P-Peridot?" he name comes to him, unbidden.

"Then you do remember," Tourmaline says, "You're Geoffrey Landgraab."

"No," Julian insists, with much less confidence, "I'm Julian."

"Julian was a fabrication," Tourmaline says, "You know this. You remember. This was your plan Geoffrey."

"You're trying to trick me!" Julian shouts, refusing to accept what she says, even though he oes remember what she says. "I'm not Geoffrey! I'm Julian"

"Julian, please, calm yourself," Dr. Wiseman says gently, trying to soothe him.

Tourmaline casts a sneering glance at the doctor, "Julian? You aren't seriously going to play along with this delusion."

"You're going to be all right, Julian," the doctor continues, ignoring Tourmaline's disgust, "We're going to leave you alone to get your mind settled, then I'l be back to explain everything," she says.

"I don't trust you," Julian seethes, "Take me to Jillyan now!" he calls out as the doctor grabs Tourmaline's arm and walks out of the cell with her.

"What the hell was that?" Dr. Wiseman asks once they are out of Julian's earshot, "You've set his transition back. It' going to be harder now for him to adjust..."

"I'm not the one who is fucking this operation up!" Tourmaline shouts, "You said he'd be himself again!"

"He will...eventually," the doctor answers, "But he needs to ease into it. He's become too invested in the persona and life he took on. Confronting  him the way you did just pushed him back into his corner."

"The Brannons are on to us by now," Tourmaline says, "We need Geoffrey back."

"Going after the girl the way you did didn't help matters," the doctor says coldly, "Geoffrey would have been a lot more subtle about it. And he wouldn't have failed."

"No?" Tourmaline asks, "How many generations has it been, now, Dr. Wiseman? This whole operation has been nothing but a failure since the beginning."

Julian collapses back down onto the narrow bed, staring up at the sterile white ceiling. Memories tell him this is one of many such facilities, that he's deep underground and there's no escape, not even for the man who designed them. But they aren't his memories.  He's sure of that, and nothing the doctor or anyone else says will convince him otherwise.

"Do you remember Isla Paradiso?" Jilly's voice asks in his memory, "Do you remember camping out with me under the stars? There's our past." It's just a couple of weeks worth of history, but it's all Julian has that he can believe in, and he holds onto it, reliving every moment with her, and refusing to remember anything else.