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Hopes and Dreams; [Private: Wendall]
Topic Started: Tue Dec 5, 2017 1:06 am (290 Views)
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They had built the temple within view of the Vine-Covered Wall, an ancient structure stretching across twenty miles of countryside. It was a quarter of the way between Kellen and the rising Torokh Nation, right on the big old road that could fit three wagons abreast. Temple staff sheltered any weary traveler for no fee, even those who didn't even believe that the Thunderhead Beast existed. Keelin knew a couple people who claimed to have met a god-beast in person, but she could never bring herself to buy into it completely. It didn't make sense for there to be creatures in this world that were so large and yet so hard to find.

She remembered sitting on one of the upper viewing decks that evening, reviewing a booklet of Celestial research and watching some little blue-and-brown birds flit around. They kept coming to and from the vines that gave the distant ruined wall its name, perching nearby to peck at some seed-covered decorations hanging from the temple eaves. Usually the presence of birds so close put Keelin on-edge, but their quiet little chirr noises coupled with the warm gentle breeze made the whole experience surprisingly pleasant. Plus, these birds weren't white. Their eyes didn't flash an unnatural shade of gold as they watched her every movement. In fact, they could've cared less that she was nearby. They only had two wings and two legs, as they should. No harm in enjoying Chaon as it is, she told herself, kicking back.

The sun dipped below the Wall, then below the horizon. At least it should have. Keelin didn't recall seeing the sky go from dark blue to black. Her attention remained on the words printed in the pamphlet in front of her, and yet there was that strange sensation of time dilating -- like she was dreaming about being awake.

Smelling smoke, Keelin blinked and looked up from her reading. She pushed up the brim of her hat. Turned around in her seat on the observation deck. Sure as anything, lines of black smoke curled from the door to the interior. Some billowed from the nearby windows.

That was right when the flames licking at the support beams burned through. There was nothing Keelin could have done to stop herself, and the entire deck, from falling.

No one was screaming.
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In another night he would be home with the Torokh, and far away from Branse.

That wasn’t altogether true. He’d made a promise, and intended to keep it, however much the premise burned him. It seemed pointless to pursue the research when he doubted he and Branse would ever recover from this latest incident—and even as he thought that, he knew somewhere deeper inside of him that they would cross paths again, that of course they would be all right, that this was just another segment of a larger pattern and one day they could be good.

One day.

It was Branse he was thinking of when he smelled the smoke. At once his mind took him to two different places: the Khandgai village and the old farmhouse. This wasn’t the smoke of a campfire, but instead a smoke that burned his throat, the inside of his mouth, a smoke that smelled like murder—

Trembling, and biting back a rise of incoherent panic, he looked up. He saw the observation deck. He saw the flame eat through the beams. He heard the wood creak.

And then he heard nothing.

It was as if no time had passed. One moment the deck was on fire. The next it had collapsed. Blackened wood scattered across the ground. Ashes were still thick in the air. Dazed, his head aching as if with an obscene hangover, Wendall became aware slowly of a deep throbbing in his knee. A broken beam lay over his leg. How had that happened?

Why didn’t he remember it?

As he managed to sit up, he watched as other people, some already standing, milled about the scene, slow and ghostly as if awakening from a trance. The wooden beam rolled easily off his leg, most of its weight compromised by the fire. Standing slowly, his knee could hardly tolerate his weight, and throbbed with protest as he bent the joint so he needn’t hunch over.

People had died.

People had died in the fire.

It had happened. Again.

“But what happened?” he asked of no one in particular. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. I ought to be helping, he thought, I’ve got to help—

Help them what? Collect bodies?

Find survivors

“Dammit, shit,” he said. His knee protested loudly. “I need—a little help here.”
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There it was again. That weird disconnect. Like she was a bystander to her own shitty life. Half of her wondered if she was a pinch away from waking up and realizing that everything that had happened to her up to this point had been a cruel illusion engineered by a bunch of marble-sculpted abominations.

Keelin opened her eye. A sharp pain in her ribs, among many other places more mildly, reminded her that this was probably real life. Once her mind caught up with everything that had happened, she snapped and forced herself onto her feet as quickly as she could. Her whole body protested. She nearly wavered on the pile of rubble that was once the deck, screwing her eyes shut and trying to make sense of everything. What's wrong with me? Why can't I think straight?

A voice demanded help in the near distance. Keelin's mind latched onto that order like a shipwreck survivor clinging to a piece of wreckage. Nothing else existed, because nothing else made sense. There were a handful of other people standing around, staring at the remnants of their temple. Keelin looked at what they were looking at. The fire was already over, and no one could wrap their heads around it. Just from the looks on their faces, it was clear that everyone had experienced something even odder than the calamity itself.

She made a beeline for the young man who was struggling with a leg injury. "What happened?" the elf blurted out. It was obvious that he wouldn't know either, but saying the question out loud felt strangely comforting when mired in complete and total confusion. Without a thought she was sliding her arm behind the stranger's shoulders, holding him up as naturally as if they'd been comrades this whole time.

In front of her, the handful of temple staff or travelers who'd been outside the structure before the... strange gap in time were finally coming to their senses. One of them, a man covered in tattoos shaped like storm swells, started yelling at people to help him rescue survivors who might be trapped inside.

"Hey!" just shouting made Keelin's ribs scream in white-hot pain. She nearly dropped the nameless stranger. "Don't go in there! The fire's already over! The whole thing could--"

As if proving her point, the massive multi-story temple groaned and cracked from its own charred weight. The portions still standing looked like they'd crumple from a single stiff breeze.
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“What happened?” asked the woman.

“I don’t know,” said Wendall. His voice was distant. While looking at the burned out temple, he was looking also at the Khandgai camp, the farmhouse—each thorough destruction left nothing to do but stare and sink into his own festering ineptitude.

Her arm slipped around his shoulders. Wendall still didn’t look at her. Dazed with bewilderment, he couldn’t stop looking at the blackened remains of the temple. His chest hurt. The whole area reeked of smoke and ash. His throat burned.

“I-I don’t…”

You failed again, you couldn’t help them, you couldn’t save them you couldn’t do anything—

“I don’t understand,” he gasped at last. And then, taking the stranger’s lead, “Don’t go in there! It could fall!”

That’s all you can do? Shout?
Yeah. That’s all you can do.

Somewhere in the distance the high alarm of a fire brigade began to fill the air. Wendall had blinked: one moment the fire was starting, the next it was over. Whatever spell happened here hadn’t happened elsewhere, and a crew of people to help was here, arriving, the siren growing louder.

“Do you—remember? Anything? I just—two seconds ago I was—and then—”
Edited by Wendall, Sun Dec 17, 2017 10:15 pm.
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