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31 October 2012 @ 08:34 am
FIC: A Voice in the Dark  
Author: Osiris Brackhaus
Story Title: A voice in the dark
Part: 1/1
Rating: PG
Configuration: /
Warnings: /
Word Count: 7.700
Setting: 'Phoenix Empire' verse, see Phoenix Empire Timeline & Index
Characters: Bobby, Mandy, T’sule
Summary: A lot of things have changed since Bobby forced the local Youh’Kai to invite them to their celebrations one year ago. This year, he and Mandy are invited just like that, but it’s Nach’Tarr’s Night, and everyone’s got fears he has to face...
Feedback: Yes, please!

With a shrieking hiss of genuine terror, the Youh’Kai woman recoiled from Bobby.

“I come for your blood,” he proclaimed regally. “Surrender!”

Instead of an answer, the woman just gave a babbling noise, unable to take her look of Bobby.

Taken aback by her reaction, he cast a sidelong glance to K’rina and Mandy who were standing next to him in the hallway, out of sight of the poor Youh’Kai woman. But K’rina nodded firmly, her face sincere, clearly showing that this was more than a little prank they were playing. Shrugging inwardly, Bobby returned his attention to the covering woman.

“I come for your blood,” he repeated, this time using the Youh’Kai language as good as he could. “Surrender!”

Again, the woman didn’t do anything but cover in fear next to her table, her dark alien eyes fixed in sheer terror on the human adolescent at her door. Another Youh’Kai appeared behind her, rushing in half-dressed, apparently alerted by her panicked noise. He stopped dead in his tracks as he saw Bobby, his look shocked. But only a second later, his face filled with understanding, and he gave Bobby a tiny nod that looked oddly respectful.

“Darling,” the Youh’Kai said to the fear-shaken woman, calm and yet beseeching. “He’s coming for you. You have to talk to him.”

The woman finally tore her eyes off Bobby, whispering something hardly intelligible to what Bobby assumed to be her husband.

“I come for your blood,” Bobby repeated the traditional challenge for the third time. “Surrender!”

“He won’t listen to me.” The male Youh’Kai helped her onto her feet, steadying her. “He is your’s to appease.”

Now the woman looked back to Bobby, her eyes still filled with terror.

What could possibly have happened to her that a human filled her with such fear, Bobby wondered silently. And why the hell K’rina wanted me to inflict myself on her?

“My blood is mine,” the woman suddenly whispered, just barely loud enough to be intelligible. “To be spilled only at my choosing.”

She seemed to gain confidence with every word, her face still contorted by fear but also with resolve. Separating from her husband, even though her hand was still firmly clasping his, she took a step towards Bobby.

“But I see your claim.” she said, now in a voice that sounded almost normal. “Will food and drink be enough to appease you for another year?”

Now it would be Bobby’s turn to answer, only that K’rina had not told him what to say when she had roped him into this. Apparently, playing the monster on Nach’Tarr’s night had been part of the deal of being invited to the festivities inside the ghetto for a human. Not that anyone seemed to expect Mandy to be anything but a curious human girl. But then again, Bobby had introduced himself quite flamboyantly last year, and this probably was the price he had to pay.

“You are a courageous woman,” Bobby said, improvising wildly. “A drink will suffice.”

It seemed the right thing not to burden her with more than that, even though a full meal would have been customary. But K’rina had promised them a big party and buffet in the central hall, and he sure as hell wouldn’t miss that. His memories of last year’s Nach’Tarr’s Night in the ghetto were a little hazy, but if he remembered one thing, it was great food, great drinks, and a tremendously talented band of Youh’Kai making music unlike anything he had ever heard.

“A drink,” the woman replied flatly, apparently also a little bit at a loss. But her husband beamed silently, and nodded.

“I think a gorr would be right, don’t you think?” he suggested.

His wife nodded and disappeared into an adjoining room, fetching the suggested drink.

“I don’t know who sent you here, and how they managed,” the husband suddenly said, directly to Bobby and softly enough his wife wouldn’t overhear, “But you have no idea how much this means to us. Thank you so much.”

Bobby allowed himself a tiny smile and a nod, not really sure what great thing he was doing apart from scaring the shit out of some poor Youh’Kai woman. But it seemed to be considered a good thing, so he just went along.

The woman returned an instant later, carrying a small shot glass with a suspiciously oily fluid. She walked into the middle of the room and stopped there, apparently waiting for something to happen.

“Now go inside,” K’rina suddenly urged him from the sidelines. “Go, take that drink, be nice, get out.”

A bit confused, Bobby nodded, but then hesitated right before he stepped across the threshold.

“What the hell is ‘gorr’?” he asked. “Is it safe? It doesn’t sound safe.”

K’rina rolled her eyes. “It’s not poisonous to humans, if that’s what you’re asking. Now go!”

Braving a smile now himself, Bobby stepped inside. The woman’s smile was still shaky, but there was also an odd gleam of excitement and accomplishment in her eyes.

“Welcome to my home,” she said, the quiver in her voice hardly audible. Offering the drink, she added: “Here, take freely, and be my guest for the night.”

The unspoken ‘and begone tomorrow’ was almost louder, and Bobby had to suppress a smile. There was something oddly empowering in being a monster, if only for a single night.

Politely, he walked over to the woman and took the offered drink. It smelled strongly alcoholic and disconcertingly moldy, but he braved himself and downed the drink in a single drought. It was some kind of brandy, that for sure, but definitely not made from anything humans would consider suitable for the task. It was hot and bitter and astringent at the same time, with a ridiculously intense aftertaste of rotting leaves. It took a lot more willpower to keep the stuff inside than Bobby had anticipated, but he managed with only a low groan escaping him.

“Thank you,” he whispered coarsely, his throat still numb with heat after the drink. “This will be enough for a year. I think I will not bother you any longer.”

“Until next year,” the Youh’Kai woman said, taking the empty glass back with a smile as wide as if he had told he she had won the lottery. “May Nach’Tarr bless you.”

Bobby felt a violent cough creeping up his throat and decided to cut the niceties short.

“Until next year,” he replied as politely as he could, before storming out into the hallway. Right into Mandy’s arms who waited for him with laughing tears in her eyes.

As soon as he was out, K’rina slipped inside behind him and congratulated the woman. Bobby didn’t really understand what was being said, as he was wrecked by a wheezing cough that brought tears to his eyes. Mandy sympathetically patted his back, and when the cough subsided, K’rina was with them again, the door behind her closed already.

“Now color my impressed,” she remarked with a smirk. “You’re the first human who doesn’t only manage to down a glass of gorr, but also to keep it inside.”

“He doesn’t have a gag reflex,” Mandy volunteered some information, her hand still resting on Bobby’s shoulder for comfort.

“Oh. Is he some kind of mutant?”

“No, just a slut.”

Now it was K’rina’s turn to blink in confusion at Mandy’s deadpan delivery. Bobby, on the other hand, had to laugh out loud, which triggered another coughing fit, though much less severe than the first one.

“Damn,” he finally croaked coarsely. “What was that shit?”

“Gorr?” Obviously relieved at the change of subject, K’rina rubbed the bone ridge behind her ear. “It’s a schnaps, made from special mushrooms and spices imported from Far’Gesh. We make it down here, it’s a very rare and precious delicacy.”

“Delicate, huh? You are so fucking weird down here.”

K’rina’s wide smile once more revealed two rows of very white and very pointy teeth. Apparently more flattered than insulted by Bobby’s remark, she gestured them to move on, deeper down into the maze of corridors that made up the Youh’Kai ghetto here in Bellingham.

Much like last year, the air was heavy with smoke and spices, music thumping up from somewhere down below. The Youh’Kai were busy all around, some in costumes, some carrying trays and pots of food, everyone in holiday mood.

K’rina and her human companions were given a few sidelong glances, but mostly, everyone treated them pretty much like normals. Compared to, say, the party in the Mostarda mansion where they had been tolerated outcasts at best, this was quite impressive. Also, even though they were surrounded by primitive aliens renowned for their temper and violent outbreaks, they felt almost safer than among humans. At least they felt significantly more welcome.

“What was this scene about, actually?” Bobby asked once his throat had calmed enough to warrant a longer conversation. “I was afraid she’ attack me.”

“I don’t think she would have,” K’rina replied with another toothy grin. “But even if, that’d been a good thing.”


“I’d have protected you.” Giving Bobby a serious look, she added: “N’tiri has had some... really bad experiences with humans your age. Nothing too unusual, but in her case, the fear stuck with her to the point she wasn’t able to leave the ghetto any longer.”

“And then you send me over to knock on her door, of all people?”

For a moment, K’rina seemed insecure what to say, but it was Mandy who offered an explanation.

“To face her fears, I think. To remind her that even though there’s monsters out there, she’s not helpless. Right, K’rina?”

The alien nodded. “That’s what Nach’Tarr’s Night is all about. Remind us of the power we wield if only we can come up with the courage to face our fears.”

“That’s pretty smart.” Bobby was genuinly impressed. Human holidays seemed petty and vain in comparison. “But wouldn’t it have helped more if someone had just talked to, what’s her name, N’tiri? There’s doctors for that, you know?”

For a long moment, K’rina looked at them, obviously searching for an answer to a question that seemed fundamentally alien to her. Finally, she made a gesture Bobby couldn’t place and replied: “Lûn is dead. We all make do, best we can.”

Turning around, she obviously considered the subject closed and continued to walk further into the ghetto, roughly to where they heard the music come from.

“Do you have any idea what she meant with that?” Bobby asked Mandy in hushed tones. “Who is dead?”

“No idea,” his girlfriend replied in much the same tone. “Maybe that ‘Loon’ was their local psychiatrist?”

Bobby only gave her a shrug in reply.

Whatever K’rina’s last remark had been about, it was forgotten as soon as they reached the large hall they both remembered from last year. Almost a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide, it must have been designed either as a warehouse or the main mess hall of the bunker.

Right now, it was a more a dimly lit cave than anything else, it’s origin only betrayed by the angular corners. There was a large bonfire burning in the middle of the hall, with the smoke pooling on the ceiling and venting passably trough some unseen passages. On the far end, a handful Youh’Kai were making music, an odd mix of large drums and metal pieced banged with a jackhammer, an electric guitar and two singers that seemed to sing both together and against each other at the same time. Throughout the hall, long tables had been set up, so mismatched they looked like salvaged from the junkyard, which they probably were. Countless Youh’Kai were bustling everywhere, placing food on the tables, carrying drinks, laughing, sparring, making out in the dark corners.

It was loud enough one had to shout, it was hot and sooty and moist. It felt like the heart of a giant anthill filled with humanoid, vaguely reptilian and potentially man-eating ants. It was intoxicating.

Giving Bobby’s arm a tight squeeze, Mandy squealed with delight. It looked like the beginning of a tremendous night.

Laughing gently at her guests’ excitement, K’rina motioned them onwards, steering them through the milling crowd. Occasionally, there were some remarks shouted in their general direction, some in Imperial, some in the guttural language of the Youh’Kai. But it was friendly banter, some challenges, and even a few compliments on their ‘freakishly perfect’ costumes. They arrived at a cluster of tables near the fire, where they were introduced as K’rina’s friends. No more explanation seemed necessary, and almost as soon as they were seated, both Bobby and Mandy found themselves with drinks in their hands, some food in front of them, and the whole table arguing loudly which food would be safe for humans to eat as they were so very sensitive.

“Well, Bobby managed to down some gorr, earlier on, so I don’t think we have to worry.” K’rina informed her clique, only to be met with disbelieving stares. “A full glass, and he kept it all in.”

Instantly, the whole table erupted in loud cheers and challenges, with one of the male aliens leaving abruptly to fetch his family’s bottle of the vile brew to see if there was any truth to K’rina’s story.

“What are you doing to me?” Bobby asked K’rina, leaning over to her so closely his cheek touched the bone-ridge on her face. “Wasn’t one glass enough?”

“Last year, you were one of Nach’Tarr’s horde. Now you’re a guest, and have to play our games.” Giving Bobby another toothy grin, she added: “Don’t worry, little softskin. You’ll do fine.”

Not really reassured, Bobby nodded and leaned back.

So much had changed in the last year.

Loosing Wayne to some silly accident was the big hole in his life, but it seemed to Bobby everyone else was disappearing, too. Soon after they had lost Wayne, Dimple had smoked some cheap dakka that had left him in a drooling stupor for three days. He never fully recovered, and now barely spoke and only walked up and down the pier all day, his eyes all blank. Kiki had gotten pregnant, presumably by Ed, and both were now working at the factory until the baby came. Their little gang had suddenly, silently, stopped existing, and now it was only him and Mandy left.

It was a scary feeling, and the idea of maybe loosing Mandy, too, made him want to scream. In a few months, he’d finish school and he had no idea what to do, or where to get work other than in the stockfish factory. All his future was a dark, broiling void of uncertainty, and he hated it and yet didn’t see any way out of it.

“Bobby!” Mandy’s insistent yell kicked him out of his brooding. “For fuck’s sake, I need a hand here!”

Looking over, he found his girlfriend sweating and smiling, her chin and hands covered in some greasy sauce, flushed and laughing and having the time of her life.

“Help me get my shirt off,” she said, grinning, gesturing at her greasy hands. “It’s too hot in here.”

Of course she was right. This close to the bonfire, it was sweltering, and most of the Youh’Kai were going shirtless, anyway. So he helped her out of her shirt and pinned up her hair so she could continue devouring something that looked suspiciously like palm-sized beetles in some oily sauce without messing up her outfit. The humidity made her eyeliner run, anyway, and she looked weird and messy and happy and actually quite wonderful.

The guy with the bottle of gorr returned, brandishing it like some kind of priceless artifact and actually gaining a murmur of renown from his friends. He settled at the table right across Bobby, producing a small shotglass.

“Now let’s see if K’rina’s been bragging, softskin!” he said, full of bravado but also with camaraderie. Cautiously, he filled the glass with a mere teaspoon full of the vile brew, pushing it across the table. “You think you can manage that?”

Casting a sidelong glance at K’rina, Bobby found her grinning her toothy grin and nodding.

“That’s how we drink that stuff,” she explained with a snicker. “N’tiri has been very generous.”

The challenging Youh’Kai had no clue what they were talking about, but slowly Bobby was beginning to understand where this was leading.

“I don’t know, I’m just a human,” Bobby said with a tone somewhere between shy and insulting. “You think you can match what I drink?”

Loud laughter erupted around the table, everyone delighted at the human who had the guts to challenge a Youh’Kai.

“Of course I can!” was the bellowed answer. “I am Youh’Kai!”

Loud cheers followed his claim, his friends clearly egging him on.

“Of course you are.” Trying to imitate K’rina’s carnivore grin with his own human teeth, Bobby attempted to raise the bet even higher. “Though maybe that’s too easy for you. You think you can match double of what I drink?”

This time, the cheers around the table were definitely less enthusiastic.

“Sure I can. No softskin will beat me.”

“Maybe my skin is softer than yours,” Bobby replied as evenly as the noise allowed. “But you never swallowed like I do.”

This remark made Mandy and K’rina break into grunting laughs, giving each other high fives behind Bobby’s back, while the challenger and his friends looked politely confused.

Leaning across the table, Bobby angled for the bottle of gorr, uncorked it and filled the glass to the rim, much to the astonished and slightly worried remarks of the other Youh’Kai around the table. His challenger looked positively daunted.

A little intoxicated by the overall mood, Bobby was going to milk this moment for all it was worth. He calculated that now that he knew what was coming, he ought to be able to drink another glass without so much as watering eyes, maybe even two. He sincerely doubted his challenger could match this.

So Bobby rose from the bench he had been sitting on, and took off the t-shirt he had been wearing. It was hot enough anyway in here, and he figured his pale, smooth skin would look especially alien among all these mostly dark-skinned, calloused Youh’Kai.

He was just about to say something snotty as suddenly, a blood-curdling scream pierced the noise. For a moment, all conversation died down around them, all of the Youh’Kai looking a little queasy. But then someone broke into cheers, and within an instant, the whole hall was applauding and toasting.

“What the hell was that?” Bobby asked, bending down to K’rina next to him.

“Just one of us, getting his Ba’ata.” Seeing Bobby’s complete lack of understanding, she tapped the bone ridge under her eye and added: “The ritual markings on our bones. Painful like nothing else, but a great honor.”

Shooting her an insecure grin, Bobby returned to his shotglass full of gorr. However kind and welcoming these aliens seemed, he mustn’t ever forget that they were aliens. Fucking crazy beetle eaters, all of them, as Wayne would have said.

With resolve, Bobby returned to his attention to his challenger across the table. Miraculously, two more shotglasses had appeared in the meantime, both filled with gorr and standing in front of the Youh’Kai.

“Are you ready to stand by your word?” Bobby asked loudly.

Instead of an answer, the Youh’Kai rose, slapping his chest in confirmation. He had short, dark hair, his skin was a deep olive green-brown. Not unusual for a Youh’Kai, but still very alien. He wore threatbare army fatigue shorts where Bobby had his usual skinny black jeans, and they could have hardly found a pair looking more different if they had tried. Staring each other down across the table and their drink, Bobby could tell by the sleazy smile on Mandy’s face that they presented a neat picture that could only be improved by getting it on, at least in her dirty mind.

Wordlessly, Bobby raised his glass and downed it in one. The first wave of disgust was stronger than expected, but Bobby managed to hide it expertly by thudding the glass onto the table and then throwing it over his shoulder against the wall.

The aliens at his table exploded in howling cheers.

His challenger didn’t let him wait, and downed his first glass in much the same manner. Only when he hurled the glass over his shoulder, it ended up in the bonfire, making the flames spark blue and green. The Youh’Kai shuddered and hissed, gritting his teeth, but didn’t seem like he was going to be sick on the spot. Cheered on by his friends, he picked up the second glass. His skin had taken on an odd mushed-peas complexion and he sweated even stronger than before. Eying Bobby over the rim of his glass, he forced the drink down in several small gulps, turning paler with each of them. But he finished his glass under the cheers and yells of the surrounding Youh’Kai, grinning and snarling at the same time.

Bobby waited until the cheers had died down a little, then picked up the bottle and an empty beerglass from on the table. “Ready for the next round?”

The Youh’Kai’s black eyes widened in surprise and genuine disbelief.

But before he could reply anything, a loud commotion erupted behind Bobby. Several Youh’Kai entered the hall from a side entrance that had been covered with heavy drapes, carrying another one between them. At first, Bobby thought the Youh’Kai was unconscious, and seeing that he had blood flowing freely from what looked like a nasty, frazzled wound to one of the bone ridges on his head, that seemed only fitting. But the Youh’Kai was gesturing faintly, and instead to some sort of doctor, was hoisted onto one of the chairs and then onto a table, cheered by everyone around.

The Youh’Kai around their table joined the celebration instantly, applauding and cheering like all others. K’rina just gestured them to applaud, apparently saving her explanations for later.

“He got his first Ba’ata tonight,” she yelled as soon as the din had calmed at least a little. “You heard him scream!”

Disconcerted, Bobby looked at the bloodied Youh’Kai who couldn’t be older than himself. His head and face were still covered with blood, his hands were shaking, and he looked like keeling over any moment. And this was what these aliens did to themselves voluntarily, Bobby wondered with silent dread. Let’s hope I never find out what they do to their enemies.

“We have a real priestess of Khastai here tonight!” K’rina continued her yelled explanations, oblivious to Bobby’s slightly appalled expression. “It probably hurt many times more than normal, but he gained great honor!”

Bobby was still wondering if he dared to ask who or what Khastai was when he felt Mandy’s long fingernail insistently poking his side.

He looked around to her and had to grin – wearing nothing more than her slacks and her bra, her wild hair piled up onto her head, her make-up running with the heat and the sweat and the beetle-barbecue sauce, she looked feral. Right as if she had never partied anywhere else.

But Mandy’s face was serious, and she pointed Bobby towards the bonfire. It took him a little moment, but then he saw his drinking-duel partner standing next to the fire, looking seriously wobbly on his knees. Everyone else was still cheering the newly scarred hero, but of course, Mandy had kept her eyes open.

“Go help him,” she urged, almost pushing Bobby in the direction.

The way she had emphasized the ‘help’ didn’t leave any room for discussion, and Bobby didn’t waste a moment to ask why. So he walked over to the bonfire, pushing through the milling Youh’Kai, until he was standing right next to his challenger. He was staggering, his eyes half closed, and still sweating profusely.

“You need help?” Bobby yelled, trying to make himself heard.

The Youh’Kai grabbed his hand, steadying himself, and tried to answer something. But Bobby had been on enough parties to know what kind of convulsions this was – he barely managed to step beside his newfound friend before he puked violently, a neat arch of food and drink all over the bonfire’s rim. Holding the Youh’Kai steady, he heard a shout from their table and looked back.

Someone had finally noticed their friend missing, and was now pointing at them. The Youh’Kai at their table looked worried and embarrassed, but Mandy seemed rather angry. She gestured sharply at Bobby, and once again, it took him a moment to understand what she wanted of him.

Apparently, she didn’t want him to win the challenge.

So Bobby turned his attention back down to the Youh’Kai he was still holding by his arm and waist, and concentrated to remember the taste of gorr. It worked almost as good as putting a finger into his throat, and soon enough he was standing there, heaving the foul drink onto the floor, adding to the same puddle his challenger.

Instantly, their table broke into roaring laughter, probably with a lot of pointing and jeering. But a sidelong glance at the Youh’Kai at his side confirmed that Mandy had been right. His new friend looked at him with a an acknowledging nod, grateful that Bobby had saved him from greater embarrassment.

Wiping his face and spitting into the fire one last time, he seemed much more sober now. “Seems neither of us was Youh’Kai enough,” he said with a chuckle and a pat to Bobby’s shoulder. “I am T’sule, by the way.”

“My pleasure. And I am Bobby.”

“Come on, let’s get back and laughed at together.”

Slinging his arm around Bobby’s neck, T’sule steered them back to their table, where they were greeted with sneers and laughter, but thankfully also two big glasses of cold water to get the taste of partially digested gorr out of their mouths.

Bobby was just wiping his face with his poor t-shirt as a sudden silence fell over their corner of the hall. Everywhere around, conversations ground to halt, and even the band stopped playing. An elderly Youh’Kai had emerged from the entrance they had brought the newly scarred youngster earlier. Slowly, she shuffled along the wall, looking around, while everyone around her seemed to avoid her gaze. Only a handful Youh’Kai rose and looked at her directly, some of them egged on by their comrades.

“What’s happening?” Bobby whispered to T’sule, as K’rina was too far off for a polite question. “Who’s that?”

“This is G’dina, the Khastai priestess,” T’sule replied, his eyes firmly on his hands. “Looking if there is anyone else here deserving her blessing.”

“And why is everyone looking down?”

T’sule glanced up, shocked. “Look down!” he hissed, physically taking Bobby’s head and turning it away from the old priestess. “Only look at her if you want her to notice you!”

“And if she does?” Bobby asked before he could think better of it.

“She might bestow her blessing on you.”

“You mean, she’ll scar me?”

“If you’re lucky, yes. If not, well, Khastai is the Goddess of pain and truth – can you imagine anything hurting more than the naked truth?”

That, indeed, was a scary thought.

What would she tell him? That it was his fault Wayne was gone now? That he was a fool for hoping his life would encompass anything beyond a soul-destroying job at the factory? That he had failed to rescue his mother? To give a proper home to his younger siblings? Bobby knew all that already.

The truth could hurt like nothing else, T’sone was right about that. But it also meant that you had certainty.

With an inward sigh, Bobby looked up, searching for the priestess. She was standing only a little off, currently staring down a handful of young ‘warriors’ in front of her. As if she had felt Bobby’s gaze, she turned around, cackling, looking right at him.

“Softskins!” she exclaimed merrily, “and I thought it’d be a dull evening.”

A murmur went through the Youh’Kai, and not all of it sounded friendly.

“What are you doing?!” K’rina asked across the table after a short look had confirmed her fears, but Mandy put a calming hand on her shoulder.

“Let him. He’s made up his mind.”

He had, indeed. But now, looking at the priestess taking her time to shuffle over to their table, he didn’t necessarily still think it was a good idea. Because apart from the fact that the priestess was by far the ugliest Youh’Kai he had ever seen, she looked pretty much insane to him.

Naked except for a simple skirt, G’dina was scarred all over, like a burn victim trying to hide her disfigurement with tattoos and brandings. Her forehead was shaved, her remaining white hair falling onto her back in ratty dreadlocks. Bobby was sure that if he managed to drag her into a human quarter tonight, she’d make a perfect monster to knock on some unsuspecting family’s door. There was something in her hobbling gait, in the maniac intensity of her stare, that made all warning bells in Bobby’s head go off.

“You, the white softskin with the hair like fire.” G’dina finally said, her crooked finger pointing dramatically at Bobby. “Come with me.”

He rose, suddenly uncomfortably aware of all eyes resting on him.

“Thank you, Mother G’dina,” he said, trying to sound polite even though he didn’t have the faintest idea on how to address a Youh’Kai priestess. “But I would not like to take the honor of your blessing from anyone else here.”

“Hehe.” Obviously, G’dina was amused by Bobby’s attempt to unruffle a few feathers. “Who said I give out blessings tonight? What a silly idea.” But she seemed to think about it, and added: “If any of these shitheads give you trouble, I’ll tell their friends a few secrets. Now come.”

Despite the feeling that he was now in definitely over his head, Bobby untangled himself from the table and followed her. The Youh’Kai they passed stared at them, either in open surprise or barely veiled hostility. But it was also clear they respected G’dina’s decision, even if they didn’t like it.

Bobby wondered if the stories were true, if Youh’Kai priests were really gifted sorcerers and in league with sinister demons. G’dina sure looked the part. But then again, she also looked like some bag lady who spent most of her time shouting obscenities at complete strangers on some parking lot.

Braving a smile, he followed her out of the hall and through the makeshift curtain of heavy blankets, wrinkling his nose at the wet dog smell noticeable even despite all the smoke in the air. Behind the curtains, there was merely a small room, bare except for two chairs and a low table cluttered with the contents of a worn rucksack lying under it. In the unforgiving light of a single incandescent bulb, Bobby could make out several knifes, a few small saws and drills, all crude and apparently hand-crafted. Also, they were still wet with blood, looking almost black in the bluish light.

Rather unexpectedly, G’dina grabbed his hand, stroking his arm with her gnarled, disfigured fingers.

“Softskins,” she said softly, almost to herself. “So much skin, so little bone...”

There was no lewdness in her touch, only professional interest, much like a butcher admiring an especially tasty looking animal.

“I have never seen hair like this on a human. It’s a rare color, is it?”

“I think so.” Bobby shrugged. “Red is rare.”

G’dina’s attention suddenly snapped to Bobby, her black eyes staring directly into his, searing and far too intense to feel sane.

“Don’t try to be polite around me, pretty one. We both know you’re the only one with that haircolour you have ever seen.”

“I...” Bobby started, trailing off as he realized she meant her words exactly as she had said.

“We also know that I am the ugliest woman you’ve ever seen,” she continued to drive her point home. “And you are the prettiest human I’ve seen so far. You’re also the prettiest human you have seen, even if you don’t believe it.”

Bobby managed not to reply anything, even though only by the fraction of a second. She was dead-on right, he realized, though so far, her truths were not exactly painful. He shrugged a vague consent, curious to see where all this was leading.

“You’re also much too smart for this dump of a town, and you don’t believe that, either.”

By now, Bobby couldn’t suppress a grin. There was something very refreshing in talking to someone he could rely on to speak the truth, as warped and weird as it may sound.

“Is there anything else you can tell me that I don’t know yet? Or maybe even something I do believe, after all?”

“You’re a cocky little shit.” Grinning widely across her yellow teeth, G’dina meant this as insult and compliment in equal parts. “You’re full of insecurity, but you’re also full of courage. I like you.”

The last bit was delivered with a small wink and a smack of her lips. Bobby wasn’t sure why, but he would have bet a hefty sum that he was in no danger at all. Maybe the alien was a bit off her rockers, but none the less she seemed genuine. Not nice, or fair, or even sane, but honest to the bone.

“Can you tell me something I don’t know, yet?” Bobby asked on a more serious note.

“I? No.” As if trying to find something else to occupy herself with, she suddenly started gathering the bloodied tools on the table, wiping them clean as much as that was possible with the red-stained rags she had. “Maybe you want a tattoo? I can do those. Not much less honor than a ba’ata, if done properly.”

“I came to hear the truth.”

Looking up from her work, she suddenly looked even older than before, and genuinely concerned.

“I am not good enough to give you a tattoo, anyway. Still learning that craft, and you definitely deserver better.” She sighed wearily. “See, cheated myself out of another good chance to train.” Forcing herself to smile, she continued. “I can only tell you the truth, but I sense you know most of it anyway. For those things that are hidden, we need some help.”

“Did I... did I drop the ball on my family?”

G’dina laughed at the expression, a throaty, hoarse sound. “You did as good as you could, and you did well.” She waved him over and took his hand again, her eyes taking a distant look as she added: “Your mother and siblings are on their own path, and you have done all you could to help them along. You have to let them go and take care of your own life, if you want to do right.”

Nothing new there, Bobby thought with a hardly audible sigh. But it was good to hear it, none the less. “Thank you.”

“Pah.” G’dina slapped his hand, not too gently. “Don’t thank me for some crap every freak in a traveling circus could have told you. You came here for the truth, and you haven’t even asked a single proper question.”

“So, what about my future?”

“That is not a question.”

“Then... what should I do once I finish school?”

For a long moment, G’dina didn’t say anything, her mouth working soundlessly. Only now Bobby realized that she had holes in the sides of her nose, dark pits in the pale blue skin of hers. Several of her fingers were missing their last digit, and by the symmetry of the disfigurement, it didn’t seem like an accident.

“That’s the most stupid question I’ve heard in a very long time.” she finally said, apparently forced to tell her opinion by whatever strange codex she lived by. “Try another.”

“Okay...” Thinking for a moment, Bobby finally felt like he was getting a grip on how this game was played. “What question should I ask you, Mother G’dina?”

This time, she laughed, cackling and showing her teeth that were just as maimed and modified as the rest of her.

“Told you you were a smart one!” Nodding, she sat down on one of the chairs, gesturing Bobby do do the same. “It is Nach’Tarr’s Night, and he likes you. He might be willing to part with some of his secrets. You should ask me what your future holds, no holds barred, and see what he’s willing to share.”

“At what price?”

This time, G’dina smiled proudly and nodded. “Smart one, didn’t I say? There’s always a price, isn’t it?” Wagging her head, she considered for a moment before she replied. “Nach’Tarr can’t be bought, nor bribed. All he demands is trust, to accept the dark with neither fear nor wish to hide.” Hesitating for another moment, she added: “But even if he answers, his reply will only tell you the inevitable. It will happen if you want it to or not.”

“At least I’ll know.” Bobby replied with a shrug. After all, any ‘prophesies’ he would get would be the ramblings of a self-mutilating Youh’Kai crone. Nothing he’d be too worried about. “Let’s get it on.”

Seeming both excited and a little daunted, G’dina nodded and rose from her chair. “Just remain sitting where you are,” she explained, “and don’t show any fear. I’ll tell you what to do.”

Be a good boy, don’t move. Bobby had heard that particular order more often than he would have liked already.

G’dina shuffled through the room in her odd gait and switched off the only light. Instantly, darkness enveloped them, only a small sliver of orange light coming through the curtains from the hall. The music out there was playing loudly again, and Bobby could hear the boisterous laughter and chatter of countless Youh’Kai revelers.

“I’ll pray now, for a while,” G’dina’s voice said behind him. Her bony hands settled on his shoulders, softly as birds but unnerving as spiders. “If you have to do anything, I’ll tell you. Yes?”

“I’m fine.” Bobby replied. “Go ahead.”

Softly, the priestess started talking in the language of her people. Guttural sounds that could mean anything, although Bobby caught a word he knew every now and then. Her hands on his shoulders were growing heavier, her prayers more nonsensical.

Was there really a point to this mumbo-jumbo, Bobby wondered.

“Ask me, softskin child.”

The voice came from right behind Bobby where G’dina was standing, but it was not hers. It was a man’s voice, deep and soft and beautiful like nothing Bobby had ever heard before. Strong, calm and comforting, it was the kind of voice you’d hope to hear when you awoke from a nightmare, telling you that all is good now.

Bobby felt his throat constrict with unexpected emotions, completely out of his stride that a simple trick like an imitated voice could touch him so deeply.

“Ask me, child.”

“What does my future hold?” Bobby heard himself ask, still wondering how G’dina managed to change her voice like that. Then, on a spur of a moment, he added: “What do I have to do to get out of here?”

Bobby heard the person behind him exhale in a wide smile. “Do not worry, softskin child. Fate has you already in it’s thrall, coming closer every day.”

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Bobby registered that it was suddenly completely dark in the small room. There was no longer light coming in from the bonfire, nor could he hear anything from the outside. There was only him, and that voice.

“All hinges on your answer to the dragon’s question. If it is wrong, you stay, you wither and die.”

Despite the words, Bobby found himself moved and comforted beyond reason, the prick of tears in his eyes. Had she drugged him?

“If your answer is good, you will steal the heart of a fox, you will put your soul on display for millions, and you will save the life of the most evil creature in existence.”

While Bobby still tried to figure out the meaning of this weird piece of bullcrap, the person behind him said: “Never sell yourself below your price, softskin child.” Bending down until his face was right next to Bobby’s ear, bringing with him a scent of incense and gentle rain, he added without a chance of doubt: “All will be well.”

There was no chance in hell this was still G’dina talking.

“What the fuck?!” Now finally creeped out of his skin, Bobby jumped off his chair and paced through the room to where he remembered the light switch, bumping his shin against the table on the way. It took a little searching for him to get the light on again, but when he did, there was only G’dina standing there behind his toppled chair, blinking owlishly.

“Huh? What?” she asked. “Did anything happen?”

“You ask me?!” Bobby’s heart was still racing, even though he couldn’t say why. “You changed your voice, and told me some fucking crap about dragons and foxes and -”

“NO!” G’dina suddenly yelled, covering her ears. “No, no, no! Don’t tell me!”

Taken aback, Bobby stopped mid-sentence. Suddenly, he remembered how honest-to-the-bone she had been only moments ago. That cheap roadshow trick with the changed voice seemed so wrong, so unbefitting her reaction now, that he was completely at a loss.

“Don’t tell me,” G’dina repeated. “I don’t remember anything. And if a god shares his secrets with you alone, you don’t go spilling it to the next best person.”

“You think a god came down to Bellingham to talk to me?” Bobby snorted. “You’re crazy.”

“I may be unhinged, but I am not crazy.” G’dina’s voice was firm, but even she seemed to be unnerved. “I believe it was a god who spoke through me, but to you, maybe he’s something different. A spirit, or an ascended alien, or something. Whatever it was, you have the attention of some powerful folks, and I want as little to do with them as I can.”

Seeing her this distressed tugged at his heartstrings. “I am sorry? I just – I just wanted to know.”

“So you did.” Gathering her composure again, she forced herself to smile. “Did he tell you anything useful, after all?”

“Not really, mostly some really weird shit.”

“Sounds like him.”

“He told me all would be well, though.”

Bobby had meant this to calm G’dina, to tell her that there was nothing to worry about. But the effect could not have been more different if he had smacked her with a jackhammer. Suddenly, all her daredevil attitude seemed to drain out of her, and she staggered back to the chair she had been sitting on first.

“He really said that?” she all but whispered, her eyes moist.

“Yeah. ‘Was the last thing he said.”

“Those exact words?”

“All will be well.”

Wordlessly, G’dina clasped both her hands over her mouth, tears streaming from the corner of her eyes, her body rocking slowly back and forth.

Completely confused, Bobby stood there for a moment, but he just couldn’t bear the look of the old woman completely loosing her shit in front of him. With a few steps, he was at her side, gently putting a calming hand onto her skinny arm.

“Shh...” he said as gently as he could. “I am sure he meant it as a good thing.”

G’dina looked at him as if he hadn’t understood a single thing that had happened and broke into loud laughter despite the tears in her eyes.

“Oh you blessed clueless child,” she said, hugging Bobby firmly with her skinny, scarred arms. “I am sure he did.” Giving a deep sigh, she pushed Bobby away again and held him at arms length. “Don’t worry about an old woman like me. Just remember, if ever you want a tattoo, you ask for me, and I’ll be happy to oblige.”

“Okay...” Gently untangling himself from her, Bobby wondered if he had broken her last bits of sanity. “If I ever get a tattoo, I want something in the colour of my eyes.”

“Sure.” G’dina nodded, wiping the tears from her face. “It’ll be my honor.”

“Sure.” Giving her an insecure smile, Bobby asked: “Can I go now?”

“Of course.” She gave a vague wave of her hand towards the curtains. “Go, party like the others, have fun. I’ll be here for a while, getting my act together.”

Bobby was still completely at a loss as what to make of her reaction, so he only nodded her a respectful good-bye and left through the cheap, wet-dog smelling curtains. Had he really been talking to a deity tonight? Or had it just been the parlor tricks of an unhinged old woman and the gorr speaking to him?

But whatever it had been, he decided with a shrug, it could wait until tomorrow morning. Tonight, there was a party to join, and there wasn’t a sombre thought in the world that couldn’t be drowned in beer.

Or in another glass of gorr, for that matter.

idolme922idolme922 on November 1st, 2012 12:30 am (UTC)
“I may be unhinged, but I am not crazy.” This made me laugh as I thought of myself!!

This is really, really, CREEPY in a wonderful way: gods, aliens, really?

Beautifully written as alawys! So glad to see you post something...it's been too long!

*Hugs you* Alana
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on November 1st, 2012 09:24 am (UTC)
Thank you, dear!
Well, we've been playing around with the humans for a long time now - it's about time we get to know the other players in the game. :D
As always, much more to come.
triptyxtriptyx on November 1st, 2012 06:17 am (UTC)
Oh my goodness gracious!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Its 1 AM here and maybe I AM UNHINGED right now being Halloween and having some alcohol in me and reading this really, REALLY nice story but....I HAVE A THEORY!!!!!!!

Of course tomorrow today, just later it will sound ridiculously, but now it makes sense!!! O_O :D :D :D And at the same time, how, why? HOW!!!!!! >:D >:D >:D
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on November 1st, 2012 09:26 am (UTC)
LOL don't we all feel unhinged at times?
But please, if you still remember come dawn - tell us of your theory, yes? Pretty please? PM one of us, and we'll tell you honestly if yo' right :D

Thanks for commenting!
triptyxtriptyx on November 1st, 2012 10:35 pm (UTC)
And in all my intoxication obsession I forgot to say I am still inconsolable about Wayne!!! :(
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on November 2nd, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
Who? Wayne? Forget him. Never gonna appear again. Never ever.
BerthaBlueberthablue on November 1st, 2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
I have no idea what half of this meant but I can't wait to find out! Bobby's just such an awesome character!

"But you never swallowed like I do." I just about died reading this :D
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on November 2nd, 2012 04:58 pm (UTC)
Hehehe. Yeah, Bobby is his own special kind of awesome. I love writing him, especially his powerslut moments. ^^

Thanks for commenting!
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on November 2nd, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
And of course we're all going to be around when Bobby figures out what the prophesy meant. I am so curious if you (all and any of you) will figure it out before him. :D
hinky_hippohinky_hippo on November 2nd, 2012 04:12 am (UTC)
Oh wow, how lovely! I'm at a bit of a loss as to where to begin. G'dina is such a brilliant character. I cannot wait to see what Bobby's future holds!

Thank you!
osirisbrackhausosirisbrackhaus on November 2nd, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
My, thank you for reading and commenting!
If you liked G'dina, wait until we meet Khastai. Hah!

Thanks again.
hinky_hippohinky_hippo on November 3rd, 2012 12:30 am (UTC)
Hey now! Not nice - no teasing!

*grabby* 8)