tagMind ControlTristan's Tale Pt. 05

Tristan's Tale Pt. 05


Here we are again.

To everyone who's waited, and to everyone who's written to me: thank you. I read all your comments and e-mails. You were a great inspiration for me. This story is for you -- I hope it was worth the wait. Keep in touch!

Edited by Over_Red and John Smith.


It was near the end of class, and through a haze of exhaustion, I heard the words.

"Had enough?"

I choked down another lungful of hot, muggy air — the product of a full, unvented room of people fighting without windows or any sort of air conditioning.

I was in a crumpled heap on the floor, my eyes stinging from sweat. There was a metallic taste in my mouth, and most of my body felt like it was on fire, but in a dulled, almost numb kind of way. Somehow, that made it worse. Like the pain had settled into my marrow, and wasn't going anywhere.

Note to self: remember to dodge the punches. Otherwise, they hit you.

I put a hand down to try and push myself off the ground. My muscles let me know how they felt about that by sending jolts of pain through my arm. It shook as I sat up. I wiped my face, spreading the sweat onto my cloth pants. I wasn't wearing a shirt, and the beginnings of bruises were beginning to show, oh, just about everywhere.

My hair clung to the sweat on my forehead, and I pushed it back, taking a deep breath through my nose.

"Don't get me wrong," said Derrik. "I get a kick out of beating the shit out of you, but at a certain point I may as well hit the punching bag, know what I'm sayin'?" He squatted in front of me, smiling. His defined chest shone in the torchlight, his abs, rippling with muscle, raised up and down in calm, even breathing. Through half-lidded eyes I could see beads of sweat beneath his short, cropped blonde hair. Despite the sweat, his breath was coming easy. He wasn't tired, not in the least. And he was enjoying this a lot.

"Too bad you used your healing brew so early. I woulda told you that it's better to save it, but, know what, it just slipped my mind. Sorry, bro." He grinned, and I probably would have wanted to punch him in the face for that grin if that wouldn't have required me to lift the fifty ton weight that was my arm. I didn't even have the energy to make a quip about having nearly gotten him killed not too long ago. I shivered as the memory entered, unbidden, of the knife in his collarbone, of his scream. And the twist...

Pretty much every bone in my body wanted to liquify. Puddles. Puddles didn't have to put up with this. I could just be a puddle. That sounded nice. I was probably one punch away from being knocked unconscious, and it wasn't even the third practice of the day. I was a wreck. I'd had my ass kicked more times than I could remember, and in more ways than I thought possible. I ached everywhere.

And it was all my fault. In fact, I'd even asked for it.

Let me explain.


I was eating lunch, a few hours after leaving Dante at the Arch, the entrance to Moleh. I'd made the mistake of sharing the events of the past few days with Jules and Fred, who sat next to and across from me at meals.

"Stonekin!" exclaimed Jules. "I can't believe you're a rock now. Un-freakin-believable."

"He ain't no fuckin' rock," grunted Fred. "The only rock that's here is in your head. He look like a rock to you?" He jabbed a fork at me, onto which was speared a piece of grilled meat, the same stuff that was on my plate. It tasted like chicken. I hoped it was chicken. Around here, it was hard to tell what was what. Anything could be a hallucination, the product of Shae's — or the butterfly woman, as they called her — mind control on me. It was impossible to identify anything for certain.

You get over it pretty quick. The paranoia is easy to drop once you realize there's nothing you can do about being controlled. Just go along with the program, and hope you don't get killed in the process. I nearly had, the first day I got here, but they stitched me back up pretty well. In a weird way, I was proud of the semi-circle scar above my hip. Jet had given that to me.

That reminded me - I needed to speak with him.

"I'm not saying he looks like a rock, I'm just saying." Jules paused, thoughtfully chewing a roasted potato. "Actually, I don't know what I'm saying. What the fuck happened to you, again?" he asked me.

"It's sort of hard to explain," I said between mouthfuls of food. The boats were mostly empty, flowing past us on the water that bisected the middle of the stone table. Today, the ornamental dragon figureheads at the front of the boats dribbled thin smoke out of their nostrils. I didn't know if it was just a nice aesthetic touch or whether I should be terrified. Perhaps both.

We got our food last - I suspected we were supposed to be learning something about mindfulness. Really, though, I just felt hungry. "I basically saved a bunch of stone giants from these crazy bird-things with metal masks, so they accepted me as one of them. I got to see from their perspective for a moment, but it faded pretty quick."

Yeah. That doesn't sum it up, does it? But there isn't really any satisfying or accurate way to bullet-point a fight for your life.

"What's it like, being a rock?" asked Fred, curiosity wrinkling the lines of his face beneath a black beret. He was old - I had no idea how he managed to survive here. Old, maybe, but tough enough. He had an "old sailor" kind of strength and vitality to him.

"I don't think they're just rocks," I said. "I had this weird awareness, like I could see everything around me underground. There's this life to it." I shrugged. "I don't have any of it now. Apparently they'll welcome me anywhere in the world. This world, anyway."

Jules barked out a laugh. "Right. Good luck getting out of here, man. First draft people haven't even left yet, and that was, what, thirty years ago? Only one's who get to go out are the Odieh, and that's just for special assignments."

"Well, some people go back," said Fred. "Most of 'em, I heard."

"I don't buy it," replied Jules. "Why would they send you back home? Why not just off you?"

"Hey, I don't know. I'm just sayin', the story is you get to go back."

I thought about mentioning Jed, but I decided to wait until I'd had dinner with Dante and heard more about him. The way rumors spread around here, half of Moleh would know I was a rock before sundown.

Not that that meant much. Day and night don't seem to obey any sort of fixed pattern, here, and the insides of the building are all lit with strange torches which flicker, but give off constant light. It's pretty much the same as back home -- more or less. But the differences -- the stars, for instance, are all weird and clustered together -- are enough to remind you that nothing is really the same.

"It might be that I never get to see any other stone giants," I said. I ate a bite of chicken. Of all the things that may or may not have been real, for some reason, the food was what seemed most suspect. "All the same, it was a pretty amazing experience."

Fred laughed. "Maybe for you - you've got crazy in your bones. I can't even imagine what kind of man goes out looking for trouble like that. You could have been killed!"

"Nah, I had it totally under control," I said. Jules and Fred rolled their eyes - I'd told them how I'd only just barely got my Chi out in time to save my life, and how I would have probably been a messy pile of shredded Tristan if Jade hadn't tricked the bird creatures and given me an opening.

"Tell you what, I know one thing," said Jules, "And it's that I ain't leaving these walls 'till I've got Set. That's for sure."

"I'm with you there," said Fred. "I can just imagine Jade out there, controlling those things. They were big, you say?"

I nodded. "Huge. Bigger than Thomas." They hadn't been that big, but the lie was probably for the best. I didn't like the idea of a swarm of people running off to see the stone giants. And no, not because I wanted them all to myself.

Okay, maybe a little. Life in Caer'Aton had a tendency to be pretty hectic (and the understatement of the century award goes to...) and I liked the idea of having my own private grove with the stone giants. After I'd touched one's finger and shared its awareness, I felt like they were more than just these fantastical creatures I'd discovered. It was strange, and it doesn't make sense even to me, but they felt like family. I haven't had family for... Well.

That's why I didn't want other people in the grove. The stone giants were shy. They were terrified. For all their size, they didn't have an aggressive bone in their body. Or any bones for that matter.

But what do they do? Play tree harps, and take care of the grove. They wouldn't like all the extra company. Outside the arch, when I'd become stonekin, I'd understood the stillness of their consciousness. The stillness of stone.

So I hammed it up a little, speaking loud enough to make sure the people around me could hear without shouting. "I gotta say, it was one of the scariest things I've done in my life." I said, prodding at my lunch. "I don't plan on leaving again anytime soon. The giants, they didn't seem too aggressive. But there was something in their eyes... Something sinister. And the screeches of those birds, it was enough to make your ears bleed. And get this. The birds were partly made of metal. Spooky as all hell, like something out of a nightmare." I chewed thoughtfully, and looked around. "You don't really know how nice it is to be safe until you miss death by half a breath. Jade saved my ass. Lucky for me, she had Set. I don't plan on any more excursions until I'm reasonably certain I won't get pancaked by the first thing I see."

Fred gave out a low whistle. "Glad you're safe and sound, sonny. Table wouldn't be the same without you to complain about my complainin'."

Jules smiled. "Outside's scary as a motherfuck, sure. I don't like the idea of trying my hand against the world. It's a miracle I don't have a mental breakdown, you know? It's nuts, we just got zapped here, and now we're training like it's just the thing to do. Doesn't seem too scary, we're all people here. But stone giants?" He shook his head. "Thinkin' of the outside sends shivers down my spine. But, now, with Jade, see, that's some real power there. And beautiful too, I bet you she charmed the wits right off those creatures. You're a lucky man, Tristan."

Fred nodded sagely. "If there's one thing you and me won't ever fight on, Jules, it's women. Jade is smokin'."

Jules noticed my cheeks burning red and laughed. "Aw, lighten up. We're just poking fun at you and your girlfriend."

I looked around. "Well, what do you know, there's Jet," I said, eager to avoid talking about Jade to these guys. Things weren't settled between us - not really. And if I said anything, knowing Moleh, it would get around to everyone in under a day - probably even Jade. I wasn't looking to have that happen. Not that I knew what I wanted. Just not that.

But nonetheless, the thought of Jade brought a smile to my lips. Sometimes, you can tell where you're at in the broader context of your life. It's hard to pin it down, but there's that feeling, right? That subtle little tug, that small nudge that lets you know how you're doing.

For me, it was a lightness in my step as I'd returned from the Arch. It was the quiet, sparkling internal smile that never went away. It was the feeling whenever I felt air on my skin, as if I could really feel every moment I was in, and each one was pointing me in the same direction. Jade and I had done something amazing, and we'd done it together. Something beautiful was starting. Something so beautiful it terrified me.

But, it's strange, it was like my fear didn't even matter, that what the future held was unavoidable. I could be afraid all I wanted - afraid of things going wrong, of me making a mess of it all or of being rejected. It didn't matter. Something was happening. It was electric. I didn't want to talk about it, and definitely not to these guys. It was my little secret, one I was sharing with only one other person. The kind of secret that didn't need to be told, because it had already been said without words, shared between our eyes as we'd walked away from the stone giant grove. I wondered when I'd see her next.

I almost missed Jet as he passed by. He was dressed to the nines, as usual, in an extravagant white suit more appropriate for a regal ball than an eating commons. His slim glasses were placed primly on his nose. His black hair was pulled back in his usual short ponytail, and his long, thin sword, slightly curved at the end, hung at his side in a black leather scabbard. It was his Chi -- and although he could make it appear and disappear at will, I'd never seen the master swordsman of Caer'Aton without it.

Well - maybe not of the whole of Caer'Aton. I still hadn't met the other peoples yet, or seen the other parts. I was just in Moleh - Caer'Aton'Moleh, to be specific. Caer'Aton was a word in Shae's tongue -- Caer meant "we have fled". Aton meant "to sit". Combined, Caer'Aton meant something like "sanctuary." And Moleh was the word for human.

A distinction she needed because apparently there were entirely different buildings than the semi-crescent I'd been abducted to, housing other sentient beings. The stone giants and the half-metal birds were one thing. But other living, breathing, talking peoples? It was so crazy I couldn't even begin to wrap my mind around it.

I cleared my thoughts. "Jet!" I called out as he stepped past me.

"Yes?" he replied without stopping.

"I wanted to-"

I paused once I realized he wasn't going to turn around. I looked at him, then at my food. I'd only eaten a little since I'd spent so much time answering questions. Stifling a sigh, I wolfed down a few big bites, shoveling the food into my mouth. I downed some water, and then nodded goodbye to Fred and Jules before running to catch up with Jet. He was always the first one out, despite sitting the farthest from the door. That meant he got his food first, but still. That can't be good for your digestive system.

He'd already made it out the doors and was walking up the stairs.

"Hey, so-"

"Yes?" He cut me off, though his tone remained neutral. I grimaced inwardly. I forgot that he wasn't like most people. You had to be all efficient with him. To him, I was just another student. One he'd nearly had his class pelt with what I suspected were beanbags, earlier today, all because I was late to breakfast. Excessive? Maybe. But then again, I had the scar on my side to remind me what lengths they went to here to train you.

"I found my Chi," I said. "And brought it out." I was breathing deeply from the short run to catch up to him. The Course, I suspected, would fix that soon enough. At this point, I was still only just starting most of my classes in earnest. This was my fourth day or so of having a regular, normal schedule here.

Not that it was in any way regular or normal - it was absolutely, profoundly insane. Just, you know, consistently so.

He stopped in the hallway, and turned to face me, his face expressionless. A little tired, maybe?

"Show me," he said, pushing up his glasses. I'd mentioned it earlier to him in class. He'd told me to talk to him after class, but we'd been interrupted by a giant freaking dragon -- sorry, wyvern, according to Dante. Not that I knew what the difference was.

I looked nervously around at the empty hallway. "I'm not going to be attacked by Jasper, am I?" I remembered what had happened the last time someone took their Chi out. Granted, it had been Jade attempting to murder Derrik (which was both terrifying, and pretty hot) but I wasn't going to take any chances.

"I have given you the necessary permission," replied Jet. His hands were clasped behind his back.

Alright then. "Uh, stand back a little," I said. I didn't know how it would come out - this was all pretty new to me - and didn't want to accidentally stab him.

"Why?" he asked, raising a severe eyebrow.

"Because I might cut you on accident," I said, taking a few steps back since he didn't appear to be inclined to move.

"I am in no danger from your dagger," he replied. "I do, however, have many other more important things to do. There is a wall in my office that needs staring at, for instance. So please, show me."

I grinned. If he was expecting a dagger, he'd underestimated me. I put my attention on my Chi, that familiar part of me that I'd trained with and then finally wielded. It wasn't a place in my head, or even a familiar sensation that I had to pin down. It's hard to describe - it was just, me. I was it, but it was me being this particular thing. It was so strange to me, that in the Chi room, I'd spent all this time talking to it as if it was anything else than me. I'd been talking to myself the whole time. I'd known it, but not like how I did now, once I'd taken it out and felt how easy and fluid it was to wield.

I willed it into being, expecting to find the huge, blue-green greatsword in my hand as easily as I had in the stone giant grove.

Nothing happened.

Jet eyed me critically as my eyebrows shot up in shock. "What." he asked, making it sound like a statement, somehow.

"I-I don't know," I stammered. What was going on? I pushed my will into my Chi, but it didn't budge. It was there. It was right there, in me. As me. "I don't understand, it worked so easily before." What was happening? I concentrated again, then a third time.

Frustrated, I looked up, like a stumped student taking a test, and saw a cluster of unfamiliar stars, clumped too close together, like the Seven Sisters but brighter. The mural on the ceiling shimmered slightly, as if in the midst of a gentle breeze. The strange, waving paint gave the stars the appearance of twinkling, and I got the sense that they were mocking me. That there was a presence to the wall and it was laughing at my expense. At my inability to access my Chi.

I gritted my teeth and furiously clenched my hand open and closed, open and closed. "Come on," I muttered. "Come on."

Students were starting to file out of the meal room. Jet wasn't going to wait for me forever. Smooth as a river, he grabbed one by the shoulder, a deeply tanned older man wearing a saffron cloth wrapped around his body.

"You are a Seer, correct?" Jet asked the man, whose eyes were wide with surprise and fear at having been so directly addressed by Jet. Say what you will about Jet's excessive formalities - the guy commanded respect. Some of the people in the hallway sketched hurried bows to him as they passed.

"Y-Yes," stammered the man.

"Look at Tristan and tell me if he has found his Chi." Jet's flat tone implied that doing anything else simply wasn't an option.

The man straightened his posture, and fixed me in his gaze. "Child, have you ever had this done to you?" His voice was rich and creamy and wavered a little. Jet's presence will do that to you -- I couldn't describe it, but it was like he just imposed himself on the space around him. He held you in it.

"Yeah, once," I replied, thinking of the time Jade had Seen me. She'd recoiled, apparently overwhelmed by how much my attention was focused on her. You can't blame me, though. Jade is a warm fire in a cold and endless night. You can't help but stare, and move closer, hands outstretched toward the heat.

The older man composed himself, and then without warning, his posture stiffened. His pupils dilated.

I felt a tingling warmth spread across my body, diffusing through my skin and into me. I blinked, momentarily startled - it was the same feeling I'd felt when Jade had Seen me.

Report Story

byIncomingPornDuck© 103 comments/ 184996 views/ 380 favorites

Share the love

Report a Bug

31 Pages:123

Forgot your password?

Please wait

Change picture

Your current user avatar, all sizes:

Default size User Picture  Medium size User Picture  Small size User Picture  Tiny size User Picture

You have a new user avatar waiting for moderation.

Select new user avatar: