Remnants * Chapter One * Shades of Grey
Commander Slade Gaewrn led his small regiment through the antechamber, a beige moon lighting their path along the sculpted, red rock wall. A sense of foreboding enveloped him as he wondered just how an unannounced, midnight visit by strangers might be welcomed; and just how to explain to a community unaware that their enemy had surrounded them.
“And all the air a solemn stillness holds.” Slade motioned to his lieutenant, Ellogan Skirrow for them to enter an ornate stone passageway.
“Words from your eighteenth century poet?” Ellogan ducked as he entered the aperture.
Once through the entryway, they faced a magnificent river rock structure with beige roof tiles that locked perfectly together like clay goblets lining a shelf. White and blue lights flashed upward from behind the apex, and distant music from a celebration pumped through the air.
“Aye, Thomas Gray.” Slade reminded his partner, then denoted with a nod towards the building glowing against the sky in front of them, “Our treasure lies in there.”
The lieutenant pointed to Slade’s pant leg, torn in an earlier altercation, “Can you make it, brother? Or shall I carry you?”
Slade feigned a scowl, then gave in to his friend’s joke, “Only if you clip your hair, Skirrow, otherwise the men might think I’ve taken up with a lover.” Slade smirked, but noticeably took on a more purposeful gait.
“They know you better, Commander.” Ellogan laughed.
Slabs of quartz lay decoratively across the desert floor. The troop passed discreetly by a dry, terracotta water fountain, Slade ran his hand through his hair and sweat trickled down his back. He couldn’t wait to leave this heat and abscond to the mountains, permanently.
“The captain will demote me -- have my skin strung up like a deer’s hide when this charge ends.” He used his hands to accentuate his words in a nervous rhythm, “He bid us to ride in, warn of the impending Arunduel attack and ride out -- no involvement -- a message mission only.”
“You might have apprised him of your ghost.”
Slade pursed his lips. “You may be right.”
Ellogan gave a boastful smile. “Of course I am.”
The music echoed as the battalion entered the breezeway propelling them into the heart of the festivities. Two lovers, filled with revelry, clung to one another as they stumbled along the wall. They stopped and warily leered at the herd of men all dressed in the same leather armor and capes with hoods. A glimpse of fear shadowed their crocked faces and then the couple pulled one another quickly out of the way, cowering.
He fingered his sword in his sheath.
“We may not be seen as friends.” Ellogan mimicked his commander, hand on blade.
“I think we can count on it.” Slade slapped him on his back hoping to relieve the mounting tension.
The music and the cheers choked out all final silence of the night as they left the ingress and stepped into an atrium, open to the star-filled sky. A mass of people were shouting and pumping their arms toward the arena in front of them where a blonde crooner belted out a heartfelt melody above a clash of guitars. Three tow-headed young men accompanied him, along with a harmonizing, raven haired, beauty holding a blue guitar.
Despite the promise of the captain’s wrath for using a mission for his own purposes, Slade held a delayed longing for this day. This city of Mojisola held a mystery treasure with the promise of limitless power. Two opposing kings had sent dispatches to find it. He had his own reasons for coming here, and he’d arrived just ahead of the pair of envoys, determined to locate the cache first.
In the Baron’s high courtyard, Cadence Grey peered through the blue brume of the stage lights and, looking over a thousand expressions, her gaze settled on a face obviously examining each person around him, searching everywhere but the platform of musicians in front of him. The oddity made her uneasy. Her bioelectric power guitar reverberated, and she grasped it tight as if it were a log floating atop a raging river.
As the last chord rang out in triumphant climax, Judah Grey threw his arm in the air in celebration and chanted, “We are Shades of Grey. Thank you and good night!”
Shades of Grey. The sound of that name rattled a buried hallow in her heart. It made her feel left out. Father had framed the name and hung it on his family of musicians long before they’d adopted her.
“We palpated the pulse tonight, Cadie!” Judah, her eldest brother, winked as he slid in next to her –shoulder to shoulder. Beads of sweat glistened on his face, and the particles of dust floating in the smoky luminescence resembled stardust. They took a bow, and cheers lifted.
Cadence giggled with excitement at his words and thought about the founders of the Skorda Festival. They would be proud to know that a simple treaty between two tribes in 2203 had grown to such magnitude -- one thousand people. There may not be a restoration of the ancient, information-technology era, but maybe earth’s 5oo years of medieval-like existence could see new days.
Movement caught her attention. The intruder now drifted, then he stopped and stood square facing the theater. His shoulders burst from under his cloak, as he oscillated his head in a controlled scan of the crowd.
Eli and Moses moved in beside Judah, their guitars strung over their shoulders. Nathanel slid in between them pushing hair out of his face with his drum sticks. They all bowed together and the platform shook from the applause.
“No more campfire concerts for us.” Cadence smiled at her brothers, and they all stood straight.
She reminisced, thinking back to the many years of acappella singing and acoustic guitars as the Grey family traveled the badlands declaring the Narrow Path. Mojisola and its bioelectric power had certainly added dimension to their passion -- launched it from bliss to euphoria.
The crowd quieted as their father, Jadis Grey, mounted the stage and accepted delivery of the voice amplifier Judah was holding out to him.
Father hooked it to his smock and ran a hand over his smooth, shaved head accentuating his muscles recently enlarged by his construction work. “Thank you. We’d like to express our gratitude to Baron Bodane for granting us a home. The desert has become much too dangerous to drag my missionary family through. And the camp he has financed? Well, thank the Lord for the Baron’s conversion!”
The applause swelled.
His hooded cloak – her eyes flicked back the dubious invader. That’s why he stood out. Who wore a coat out here in the desert? Or maybe the alert in the back of her mind sounded because she now noticed several others with him, all dressed in the same black, cowl infiltrating the crowd. But she knew better. More than likely, their presence had stood out because her déjà vu premonitions had returned.
She put her hand to her temple. Abruptly, and without her permission, her mind revealed glimpses of the future but only a short period in advance. The newcomers shifted through the crowd in her mind’s view, and seconds later they did in reality. Father’s voice speaking to the crowd mumbled like two men yapping simultaneously, one voice taunting and the other lagging mockingly behind. She heard the crowd’s laughter in her head, and seconds later their faces cracked into smiles, their laughter echoing in her ears.
Unexpectedly, Judah slapped her on the forearm; she frowned at him sharply in surprise. Due to her forced daydream drawing her attention to the mass in front of her, she’d missed the fact that her family had gathered near the front of the stage, hand in hand ready for prayer.
The flashes of the future halted, for the moment. Her cheeks lit on fire with blush and she realized she stood, holding her guitar, gawking into the crowd like a lost prairie rat. Her brothers contemplated her with a scowl that questioned her sanity. Of all the pictures flowing in her mind, why could there not be a warning of her embarrassing discordance or the slap for that matter?
Father cleared his throat --a cue for her to snap out of it, “As I was saying, I’d like us to pray and ask for this war forced upon us by the Citadel of Arunduel to end.”
A few voices shouted “Amen”, and most of the crowd bowed their heads, save the neighbors bolting for the doorways escaping the odd behavior of the Jesus freaks. They loved the entertaining music, but a prayer meant an admission that God existed.
As Cadence put the guitar on its stand, adjusted her bodice, and joined her family, the fact of the return of the déjà vu premonition and all that went with it dawned on her fully. Her clairvoyance never showed happy, fortune telling scripts but rather warnings of impending disaster. The last time this happened, it gave her only a second’s warning to lift that branch, brace it, and launch it into the desert panther’s neck. A miracle. She glanced up at the scar on Judah’s collarbone sticking out from his white cotton tunic. He’d nearly bled to death from those claws.
Does father see the prowlers?
In that instant, as if he’d heard her thoughts, the interloper’s stare locked onto hers from under his cover glaring directly at her, and she froze. She couldn’t move.
Did he seem familiar?
New pictures started to flow through her mind, not the same kind of visions she’d experienced in her younger days. These were nightmare images grasping and haunting her and laughing at her. Her feet grew unsteady.
A female lying in tall grass, her hair blowing in the wind – yellow eyes -- a male’s hand lifeless against a rock – yellow eyes — strips of sunlight shining through a forest -- a scream echoing in a clearing — more yellow eyes. Then they were gone.
“In Jesus name, Amen.”
She shook her head and caught her balance as those around began to bustle with conversation and movement. Judah started to get up, but Cadence pulled on his arm.
“Yeah.” He bent his leg underneath him.
“Who are the cloaks?”
“The outlanders with cover in the middle of August?”
“Oh – the Rekal. And they’re called cooling capes-- filled with compressed carbon dioxide. One of Uncle Adly’s old inventions.” He pulled his arm from her and stood.
She knew Judah thought he’d blinded her with his insight into bioelectric charged gasses, confused her with knowledge of Uncle Adly’s inventing genius. Hardly. Her state of mental uncertainty came from his factual reference to the Rekal. A name known only in fairytales.
Around the campfire, stories of good deeds done by a band of brothers protecting the northeastern mountains flourished. The troop’s practices were not always honorable, but their motives altruistic. Recited Rekal legends held up the same spirit found within ancient fables like Robin Hood, Johnny Appleseed and Superheroes. Did they not?
She laughed. Her brother must be joking. “Jude. The Rekal? They are mythical -- a fable for children.”
“Yeah? Tell that to them.” He pointed at the aliens with his chin, as he picked up conductors from the stage.
His nonchalant tone made her feel like an outsider on an inside joke and she said, “That’s like saying Santa Claus made it through the continent shift of the 2500’s, and the North Pole is near the Sheridan Ridge.”
His musical chuckle filled the air but quickly trailed off as he became distracted by something.
Surveying the area she discovered his preoccupation. A curvy damsel in a sparkling outfit traipsed forth, her dark skin gleamed under a crown of pinkish-platinum hair and her eyes shone like black gems of adoration. Cadence knew her subsequent questions would go unanswered.
Obviously one of the Kaleidoscope kind, the young woman bore their special tint in her hair and skin. The beautiful aberration came about much like the albino, but about 90 times more frequent. Father termed it God’s gift for the merging of the races.
Judah, himself, may not be kaleidoscopic, but he reflected a picture of the perfect union of physique and charm. He reminded most girls of Eve’s Adam, Bathsheba’s David, Arwen’s Aragorn, or Juliet’s Romeo. Cadence knew him only as brother. She wondered: of all history’s and fable’s beautiful male lovers -- who among them had sisters?
Suddenly, a voice bellowed from across the courtyard, and the area fell silent. Cadence froze, instinctively knowing from whom the voice came.
“You talk of oppression, Jadis Grey, and yet receive shelter from a Baron who terrorized the villages of Doranyca for decades.” The orator possessed a musical accent with authority that brought fear to her bones.
The crowd had thinned, and now those who remained fled in the direction of the nearest exit. With the world at war everyone recognized haunting trouble, and at the first sign of danger, knew to flee.
Father moved forward. “I assure you the Baron has mended his ways, sir. He has opened the doors of his estate to all who need shelter.”
The foreigner tilted his head quizzically, “Seems you have the better portion of those amends, preacher, I’ve witnessed the mayhem you call a refugee camp.”
Cadence felt sick from the insinuation that her father lived in luxury while the other refugees lived poorly but she could see he wouldn’t let the words affect him, because he merely said, “We are working to rectify that.”
The foreigner shook his head in disbelief “Aye, but are you aware that every weapon that is used to terrorize the Doranycan desert these days was invented -- purchased right here from the Baron himself?”
Father cleared his throat hiding his animosity, “You know my name sir, may I know yours?”
“He is Slade Gaerwn, from the northeastern mountain forest of Pyotr Zaltana and a respected commander in the ranks of the Rekal.” The Baron’s voice belted out from behind her making her jump.
That name again? How mystifying to hear it used outside of a bedtime story.
The Baron Adly Ray Bodane walked up next to her -- a round aristocrat with spiky hair and dark skin. Cadence knew he had a reputation as a warlord, but the Grey family knew him as Uncle Adly Ray. He’d been a family friend since she could remember. Not only had he given the Grey family a home, but he supported and built a camp for refugees just outside the walls of the city.
Uncle Adly Ray ignored the harsh accusations hurled and spoke in a gentle voice, “Slade, what Jadis Grey says is true. All are welcome in my city, but you are far from home. Why do you come?”
“I’ve come for the girl.”
“What girl?” Father flipped his head toward the Baron, his face full of fear. He seemed to know something.
“The girl with the tattoo.” The speaker, Slade, ogled her direction.
Cadence, slid her hand over the back of her left bicep. She usually concealed the marking on the back of her arm. Of all the nights to dare a corselet!
Her mother always insisted she camouflage it, even crafted outfits that would hide it. Sometime in her forgotten childhood the tattooist engraved her arm with a sketch of a parchment containing markings from an unknown language. The tattoo ever reminded her that she could not rid herself of a buried life before she’d been taken in by the Jadis and RaHhannah Grey.
Her heart stopped as Slade encroached upon the courtyard expanse, his boots crunching in the dirt.
She grasped on to her father’s arm.
Petrified - she asked, “Why me?” surprised her voice could push through her dry mouth.
Slade Gaerwn appeared to smile. His neck tightened underneath his collar, “You might inquire the same of your father, or the Baron here.”
What could he mean by that?
Uncle Adly Ray balled his hands into fists, “I do not think I will let you torture this child, Slade. She presented a question to you. And seeing you’re the trespasser, it might be you should give answer.”
He did not hesitate, but acted unaffected by the Baron’s anger, “My lady, the rumor of hired enforcers reached Pyotr Zaltana several months ago. Both the kingdom of Arunduel and of Neena Avari paid to recover a girl with a tattoo. She possesses something they want. It’s taken me a long while to find you Cadence Grey.” He said her name with sarcasm. “We’ve only reached Mojisola after an embroilment today with Arunduel swords at the Wash Divide. And I assure all of you, we have arrived here only just ahead of them.”
“Why would you come all the way across the desert for a girl? My daughter? These are ravings of a madman.” Father tossed his arm in the air as if waiving the Rekal off.
“Ravings? Perhaps you’d care to join me on Mojisola’s watchtower.” Slade said nonchalantly.
He didn’t sound angry, just arrogant. As he turned, the wind stirred and his stole ripped through the air like the wings of a bat in his wake. He withdrew through the side corridor, and, on cue, his corps followed him like marching ants trailing.
The new, alien vision recommenced telling her nothing of the future, just yellow, laughing eyes dancing in her mind. Yellow eyes and oceans of bonfires and a lifeless hand on a rock. The mind trip repossessed her mind, and it took all she had to follow the ants and try not to let anyone else know, because this time they would not call her a soothsayer. No this time they would call her cracked. She truly had slipped into insanity.