So Far Untitled - Chapter 10: Harona's Choice
Harona hadn't trained this hard in decades. She had tossed off her 1890s-era buttondown shoes, and was crouched barefoot on the stone floor of the large room. The room was so large, that in the dim lighting, one could not see the walls. Harona held onto a large torch that flickered angrily, reflecting the same thing in her eyes. Her other hand held a small stick where a wad of wet cloth was wrapped around it. Her mouth was shut, and partially pursed in an odd expression. The bridge of her nose was white, and her brow furrowed in concentration.
Then she leapt from her position, and twirled in mid air. She landed her feet along a stone column, pushed off it and spun vertically like a top, slowing her arc. The cloth unwrapped into a long ribbon, and as she fell, it unwrapped around her and trailed behind like the tail of a comet. When she hit the floor, she bounded upwards and spun in the air again, landing gracefully on one foot, only to spring even higher, where she twisted in mid air, drawing the ribbon of cloth into a spiral. Then she fell downwards into an swooping arc, fell on her hands, which pushed back, and she twirled the ribbon in front of her. Just as the ribbon made a perfect spiral cone in front of her face, she took the barely lit torch and blew a huge spray of alcohol from her mouth, shooting a jet of flame through the alcohol-soaked cloth, igniting it into a huge code of fire that spread outwards, let the entire room, and coated a 20 foot diameter area of floor with a footprint of flame witch burned hotly for a few moments, then flickered out, and left a sooty ring in its wake just as Harona landed on the floor and returned to a crouched position; her hands outreached and holding two daggers.
"Very good," said Lady Sarcastia as the rod and torch clattered to the floor.
She looked at Harona stare at the floor, shaking a little, but not moving.
"Sorry to interrupt your practice, but we need to speak."
Ironic choice of words, mouthed Harona.
"Yes, you are a mute. But you speak as well as anyone, even if your voice does not reflect that. I have told the others to pay more attention to you, for you have a lot of experience--"
Did you come here to stroke the fur of my ego, or does your visit have a purpose? signed Harona.
"ON YOUR KNEES!" shouted Lady Sarcastia.
Harona paused, but then bowed before her, and stayed kneeled, her face towards the floor.
"I don't know where you picked up your insolence. No. I correct that. I know who did. But that doesn't matter right now, because I want to tell you something." Lady Sarcastia placed her left hand on Harona's head, and noticed the newly-tightened braids.
"When I was given this district by Lady Vapora, I was honored. But I didn't know the Great Depression was about to happen. Those were some hard times of all of us. The days before the Light That Changed Everything. But when Lady Vapora offered you to me, I was... stunned. Do you know why I was stunned?"
Harona shook her head in Lady Sarcastia's light grasp.
"I was stunned because of what a sacrifice Lady Vapora had made for me. I knew that if she gave up her claws, and she referred to you as her Right Claw, you knew that, right?"
Harona nodded as Lady Sarcastia removed her hand and started to pace, keeping her eyes locked on Harona's head.
"I was shocked that Lady Vapora had given me her Right Claw. After the wars between the demons and angels had ended, I didn't think I needed someone of your... skills. But Lady Vapora gave you to me as a gift. And I didn't know what to say or do with this gift. I must admit, many times I shuffled you to some menial jobs out of confusion. This neglect, plus the distraction after the Light That Changed Everything, never let a bond between us grow. I mean, yes, I sent you after some rum runners in the 1930s, and placed you on some battlefronts in the Second World War, but no real... face it, you were never my right claw. You were a vestigial need at most. So when you vanished in the 1950s, I almost didn't send anyone to go look for you."
Harona said nothing.
"Stand up, Harona. I want to see your eyes."
Harona stood up slowly, head down, and then raised it, looking blank and expressionless... as if her nonchalance was her defiance.
"Good. I want you and I to see eye-to-eye on this."
I know what you are going to say, mouthed Harona.
"Do you now? I bet you think I am going to give you an apology. Well I am not. I am going to give you, however, a chance to understand where we stand today."
"When you vanished, the rumors were true: I hardly noticed. It took me weeks until I saw a dragon in a New Year's parade in Chinatown that I realized I hadn't seen you in a while. I started to feel around. Further and further. Back then, I wanted Donnabel to be my eyes, and she was just awful. But she was better than nothing, and in a few months, she said she had found you on the other side of the United States in Chinatown. Training with a Harajuku."
"Which brings us to the Harajuku. A proud race, they are. I sent a messenger to ask you why you left. You replied you had never left, but was in training. A nice compromise. But I worried, because I know the Harajuku train with dragons, and like dragons, they show no loyalty, even to their own kind. They are like demons, but without the powers. But they also train demons, subdue them, and I knew that if they could subdue some of the most ferocious things to ever cross into our own dimension, they could handle you. I figured if you were kept busy, I wouldn't have to worry so much. After all, I knew you had the blood of the Consciousness in your veins, and treachery would be difficult at best. I would know if you left."
Did you know when the Half Breed left? asked Harona.
"Yes. It burns like fire. We all felt it. You and your pals claim not to have known, you were out having a party in Salem or something. I am not sure what spared you the horrible ripping and burning sensation she did to us when she left--"
She betrayed all of us!
"I never said that. I said she left us."
Harona momentarily changed expression in mild surprise.
"Yes, she left us, and why she left us is complex and multi layered. Her acts were against the consciousness. She killed children, and broke and old pact with your... Harajuku's master's daughter. She did some horrible things... but did she really betray us, Harona?"
I... uh... um...
"Your trio only know a small part of why the Half Breed was born. You know nothing of her past. But that's not what I am here to talk about. This is about you. Now, I worried when you trained, and finally spoke to Lady Vapora, who was so shocked I had let you go so far away, she nearly dropped her Mint Julep in her onion soup."
Harona let a smirk momentarily escape. She had forgotten that Lady Vapora has a passion for mint and onion.
"She screamed at me for hours about what might happen. The Harajuku were not to be trusted. The Harajuku were using you for something. How dare I let her go? Oh, Harona, she went on and on until I agreed to get you back. So, I sent for you to return, and you refused. This was not a position you should have put me in, but you said that you had been entrusted in the care of a small child, which made no sense. A babysitter? Harona? Who once killed 90 German soldiers in a desert battle with a stone and pocket knife? The one who fought off the Salamanders in the sucking flames of the Bombing of Dresden? The one they sent to kill Grigory Rasputin? I thought our messages were being mistranslated.
"So, with Lord Coalpitch's help, we travelled to San Francisco and found some allies... and I used that term loosely... of Harajuku we freed from Tule and Topaz during Executive Order 9066. I am surprised they even remembered us, but one of them said she knew your new master, and went to go talk to her. I don't know if she ever did or not, because Dragon Leader of all the West Coast, Fu Lin, was brutally murdered along with his wife. A crime that shall forever haunt me...
"Anyway, I was the one who had to ... tell Fu Lin's daughter, you know. None of the Harajuku wanted to, and I don't know HOW they would have managed to pull that off, but they were FURIOUS when they saw me with this crying dragon hatchling. They refused to help me any more, and left with her. I didn't see her until last year, shortly before she died. She was sent to stay with her grandfather or uncle... it's so hard to tell those words apart from each other in dragon tongue... anyway I searched for a while, and then was was about to give up and return home, when I heard on the police radio about an unusual explosion in the Haight Ashbury district."
I am sorry about that.
"Yes, and I don't expect any more apologies about that. As I stood with you, shaking in the wet ruin of that coffee house, you said something to me... do you remember?"
"What was it you said?"
I... I said I rejected you and your... your...
"You said you rejected me and all gate Keepers. You called us all shallow liars holding a peace that will collapse upon us in the worst way, and then you tried to kill me by telling me my past."
Harona was silent.
"You tried to kill me in furious anger. It was then I realized what the Harajuku had done to you. They had enslaved you, letting you suckle from their vacant breast that fed you lies in the form of training. I believe that the very Harajuku that is under my roof, right now, is that same Harajuku. They may all look alike, and have the same name, but they have subtle differences. And the moment she picked you to carry her things, I knew she was the one. I knew the moment she got you alone, she'd find some way to make you feel sorry for someone, and use that human emotion of loyalty against you."
Harona did not move.
"Yes, you may be morphus, and who knows what the hell all those gills are doing under that dress. But you are a trained killer, not a born killer. You were trained by Lady Vapora, and fueled by your past. You are one of the few Gate Keepers who can look at the time before the Crossing, and face it openly without crumbling to dust. But as wet, soggy charcoal fell on our hair that fateful day in San Francisco... you found one other Gate Keeper could look back."
Harona nodded with gritted teeth.
"I could. That's what makes me a Lady. I have powers that you don't. And that INFURIATED you. You took a slash at me, and as I ducked, you fled into the steaming streets of the night, past some firefighters, and over a hill. I didn't see you again for several years."
Harona nodded again.
"I thought you went back to the Harajuku, and imagine my shock when I heard you were seen on some battleground in another dimension. Fighting alongside some huge... jellyfish helium bag-like creatures. Huh. I wouldn't have expected a race that could be popped would have lasted a minute with you. But you breached a peace that their harvesters had been trying to keep. So I was sent to find you. But you hid, and I didn't find you. This sort of thing went on for a while, didn't it?"
Harona flashed her eyes at Lady Sarcastia, but did not say anything.
"So finally, I had to ask an elder wyrm to take care of it. Luckily, Jason was more than up to the task. And when his people caught you and brought you back to me, I put you in stone right away. Right?"
Harona nodded, but her face twisted in defiance.
"I could have killed you. I could have left you entombed with that insufferable singing toy cart until your stone turned to dust. But what about that pair of eyes that was bad at seeing? Donnabel? She had become my conscience. She found you, dusted you, and read to you. She wanted to give you a second chance. And guess what? I did. I gave you a second chance in less than a decade, and you were very obedient."
Harona said nothing, but her defiant look faded.
"I had Donnabel stay with you, because while she wasn't the best Gate Keeper, I thought your skills were complementary. I kept the package guarding and delivering interesting. Then, when Sad Fairy needed a companion, I saw the very anger flash in her eyes that Lady Vapora saw in yours, back in that ditch in Baltimore. Sad Fairy was only 8 when she turned, and she kept the Halloween costume she was wearing when she was beaten to death my her own father that Halloween night. You found her in the emergency room, remember? All battered and bloody. You said it was a shame, she looked so cool. That was the first time I ever heard you express compassion. So I spent some time with her as she died, and she crossed under a full moon. But her anger didn't quell. Not at all. My mistake was I hadn't turned someone so young before, and she's still fighting the years of abuse she endured under her so-called human parents. And we all know she's going morphus with those wings and antennae. From butterfly fairy princess to moth that hunts in the night. But it was like a magical click. Together with you and Donnabel, you made a good team."
Harona looked wistful.
"Yes, things were good. For a while. Then Donnabel pleaded the case for M... the Half Breed. That's when it started to go wrong. She was a BAD influence."
Harona almost cracked a smile again, and turned her eyes up.
"Yes. But it wasn't all fun and games. You four ended up in one fiasco after another. Then she showed her demon side one too many times, and I had to show her that she had an... another side as well. So I sent her to mingle with humans. She had to learn how they sympathized. I didn't want her to expect to be full-demon, as she cherished and practically worshipped as being superior. She had another destiny. But she didn't do too well with humans. Sadly, I didn't leave her very well supervised, and when I found she was mingling with a young dragon... I tried to put a stop to it, but it led to problems."
Harona started to fidget.
"I can't divulge those problems. She had a lot of trouble dealing with that other half. She didn't know who she was, and started to collapse, and became schizophrenic. There was a LOT of screaming. I kept you guys away from her. Why did you think that was?"
Harona paused, and then realized she was asked a question. She shrugged and said, I guess so she wouldn't be a bad influence?
"No. I did it to save your lives. And good thing, too. When she killed a dragon, I realized it had gotten out of hand, and got Jason to help me control her. But it was too late. She had opened up a portal to the Realm of the Dead, and vanished."
Harona's eyebrows raised. I thought that Realm was way beyond being a Gate.
"So did I. But she is a demon, and nearest Jason and I can figure out, must have sacrificed a human. I don't know of the final events before she left, but it left Fu Lin's daughter dead and the Eye Walker, that dragon's human companion, near death. She poisoned him. He might have been the sacrifice, I don't know, because he smelled like a Death Gate, but had somehow survived."
Harona hadn't heard the whole story until now, and started to look pensive.
"I saw you and Harajuku look at Donnabel at the table. I don't know what you have planned for her, but the Harajuku is not beyond killing her."
Harajuku... not THE Harajuku... THE Harajuku is plural--
"Skip the damn formalities, Harona. I know what you must be feeling. Fu Lin was your master's master, and I may not know a lot about Harajuku, but I know they worship dragonkind unconditionally and unquestioningly. I know Fu Lin and his daughter must have meant a lot to you. And until now, you connected his daughter's death with ... the Half Breed. The Harajuku is going to make you hate Donnabel. She will try and turn you against me."
Harona shook her head emphatically. Her eyes conflicted.
"My eyes told me of this event weeks ago. And no matter what I have done, it keeps unfolding. I am having trouble keeping control. Donnabel is missing, and I am worried."
Harona looked alarmed for a second, then regained her composure.
"Yes, Donnabel went missing a few hours ago. She is completely not reachable by any means, and the only things I can think of are that the Harajuku is blocking my sight, or she is already dead."
Harona's eye began to twitch.
"I can't tell you what to do. I could lie and say you will do what I ask, because I am your Lady, and you will obey me and the consciousness to the end. But you have, even at your best behavior, only done three quarters of what I asked. That other quarter is VERY worrisome right now. I need to know where your loyalties lie."
They lie with you, lady Sarcastia, Harona said, starting to kneel.
"STAND STRAIGHT!!! And don't feed me lines, Harona. Both of us are old enough to know what those sound like. Reflexes said in fear. I need to know!" She grabbed Harona and shook her, looking at her eyes. "Are you still loyal to the Gate Keepers??"
Harona twisted in the grip, and then looked away with her eyes closed. Yes. Yes I am. she mouthed as a tear went down her face.
Lady Sarcastia let go of Harona, watching her step back into the darkness of the room.
"I can only hope Donnabel can be found," Lady Sarcastia said, backing out of the room. I hope the same for you, Harona... she added to herself as she went back to her chambers.
From the shadowy depths of the large stone room, a lone figure in a kabuki mask stepped forward, her long black robe gliding with no effort or ripple. She stood behind Harona, who was till staring at the door Lady Sarcastia had exited.
"She is not subtle," said the Harajuku.
She knew you were here, signed Harona.
"You sound certain of that. My certainty does not have value."
Is it true? What she said?
"You tell me."
The Harajuku I trained under would not allow herself the luxury of political intrigue.
"That Harajuku has been gone for more than 5 decades. Where do your loyalties lie?"
They lie with Fu Lin's loving memory of his daughter, mouthed Harona, but did not face Harajuku to let her see.
"I do not know what you said, but it does not matter. We will deal with their... Soot Man. It will give us time to plan, Harona. In the meantime... keep up your practicing. The Dance of Fire was weak, and did not fill the room with enough heat to warm the walls. The first lesson in... dragon magic... you get... will be after you have mastered flight and fire."
Harona's delight jumped into her chest as she started to practice with renewed vigor.
All text copyright 2005 Grig Larson, all rights reserved. No reprinting without permission