((10 - Homeless))
--everything was dark, and shadows, and that quiet humming again--
--and then out again.
Falling, falling, out into the void... Looking up, a crystal face, but... horizontal? Flat above, like a frozen sky...
And then something, a humming, a new noise, a whirring, gyrating...!
From out of the fog, a ship appeared, descending alongside them, edging below, finally swooping underneath them. It was the source of the whirring--metal and oblong and strange, full of tacked-on bits and pieces that didn't seem to belong. The narrow top of the ship was flat, and it slowed just enough that the falling trio touched down on it. Goat nimbly grabbed ahold of an exposed pipe, supporting himself.
Beside him, Owl landed in a heap. "Oof!" She collected herself, glancing around. "We're... saved?"
"But by what?" Skunk looked skeptical.
A round piece of the top of the ship lifted, and a woman popped her head out. "Well?" She jerked her head towards the hole she was standing in. "Get in, get in!" The woman was tall and broad-shouldered, with a shock of blonde hair. She scowled through the fog at them, glancing around as if nervous.
"Um..." Owl hesitantly got to her feet, only to nearly fall again as Skunk dashed past her, heading for the hole. Goat leapt past as well, following the other two women as they ducked inside. Owl finally followed suit, pausing as she did to notice the strange symbols all along the hatch, and along the edge of the hold.
The three survivors of Face looked around the inside of the ship curiously as they descended the ladder. Below was a small room, cluttered with essentials for living: mugs and cups, blankets, and everywhere, those symbols. On the walls, above the door that stood to the left, on the door itself, scrawled over everything. Owl's eyes darted across them, burning them into her photographic mind.
"So." The woman turned to them, once they were all inside. "Welcome aboard. You want to tell me what the hell you think you were doing?"
The three replied almost in unison. Skunk, unfazed, glared, "Huh. First, who are you?"
Owl quirked an eyebrow. "What we were doing?" she asked.
Goat grinned. "Thanks for saving us! I'm Goat," he said, extending his hand.
The woman took Goat's hand and shook it, almost too firm. "Jaz," she said. ((Penny Weber)) She gestured around her. "And this is Oliver. And YOU are damn lucky I came along when I did."
Again, all three spoke. "No kidding," the dark-skinned Owl muttered. "Thanks."
Goat quirked his head to one side. "But how does your machine leap?"
Skunk took a step toward Jaz. "Are you listening? I didn't ask your name, I asked who you are."
Jaz stood her ground, staring down the slightly taller woman. "I'm from Sector Four, investigating a distress call from Sector Seven. I know I'm a little far from home, but there was silence for far too long." The twin crystal swords strapped to her hip and back seemed to add emphasis to her words.
"Sector Four?" Owl sighed. "I didn't know there was a Sector One."
Their savior examined them all. "And you? What the hell were you doing up there? I'm surprised you survived long enough to fall off! You aren't even armed!"
"Hey, I'm armed," Skunk said defensively. "What do you call these?" She gestured to the array of knives clipped to her belt.
Owl's eyes zipped to her. "How many do you carry?"
She patted her belt, almost fondly. "Enough."
"Well," Goat began, "I was trying to ride a giant red thing with some kind of membranes that allowed it to leap without falling."
"And we all saw how well that turned out." Owl's temper was definitely getting the better of her now.
"I didn't leap far enough, and then we all fell," he finished.
Mostly ignoring Goat, Jaz took step a forward and grabbed Skunk's belt, examining the weapons and tools there. "Yeah, and these'll do you any good against the demons?" She looked into Skunk's eyes. "They're shit."
Skunk started a bit. "Demons?"
"What demons?" Owl frowned.
"What are they?" Goat blinked in curiosity.
Jaz stopped, and stared around her. "The fuck? You all amnesiac? Where are you from, that you don't know about the fucking hellspawn?"
"Language," Owl snapped, her motherly instinct kicking in.
"We're from Face," Goat supplied simply.
"...Face." Jaz raised an eyebrow, then held up a hand, completely ignoring Owl.
"Where the fuck are you from, that you have a flying contraption and spout shit about demons?" Skunk lashed back.
"Hang on, I can tell this is going to be a VERY fucking long story." Jaz rubbed at her temple with one hand.
"Seriously, language! Both of you young ladies."
"Shut up, granny." Skunk was clearly in just as foul a mood as Owl.
"Don't... don't you talk to me that way when we've co-survived a near death experience!"
"I don't even know how you survived that. It was a fluke."
"I was chosen, missy, same as you. We were BOTH meant to save Face."
"Well, newsflash, Face exploded."
Jaz let out a quiet snort. "Save face."
Owl turned to her. "The place," she explained.
Jaz shrugged, and threw some of the blankets in the cabin to one side, uncovering some bench-like seats. "Siddown. Y'want something to eat? All I've got is long-flight rations, but..."
Goat perked at the mention of food. "Rations? Can I turn them into sandwiches?" He paused. "And by 'can,' I mean 'may.' "
Owl smiled at that. "See, nice and respectful. I know a certain officer who would learn from that..." The older woman smiled sharply, resisting the urge to glare at Skunk. Skunk had no such restraint, and stared coldly at Owl, then Goat, distaste openly evident on her features.
"No, really, SIT DOWN." Jaz' voice made it clear should would accept no arguments. "And then I want you to talk to one another, and then I want you to tell me where the hell you're from and what you were doing, in a coherent, logical--well, logical as possible--story. And then..." She looked at Skunk. "I'll do the same. Okay?"
Owl stalked over to the bench and seated herself. Skunk did the same at the far end of the bench, eyes fixed on Jaz.
Goat, still standing, started to speak. "Well, we lived on Face. The only city we knew existed."
"The only anything we knew existed," Owl continued. "All there was around us was... mist and caves." She bit her lip. "And now there's nothing."
As she paused, Goat picked up the slack. "Well, our government sent us down below the city, on a mission! To, uh, find out what was making the cracks below the city."
Owl watched her host quietly. "We were told... we were the last hope."
Jaz was moving about the room, arranging things, but very much listening. "Below the city. What was below the city?"
"There were these caves, these tunnels, down there," said Skunk.
"And spikes," Goat added.
Skunk nodded. "Crystal spikes."
"Made by some sort of shadow creatures," Owl began. "They filled the cracks--"
Jaz spun, cutting Owl off. "Crystal."
"It was attacking us, yeah." Skunk looked slightly wary.
"Violently so." Owl rubbed at her newly-healed shoulder.
"Yes. Controlled by some sort of... darkness." Goat continued the story. "We found safety around a pillar."
Owl swallowed slowly, looking at Jaz. "The pillar seemed to... keep the spikes at bay. We spent a night around it."
"But then... Spider attacked it." Goat shrugged.
"It was full of red light..." Skunk's voice trailed off as she saw Jaz staring at her. "What are you looking at?" She glared back.
With undiminished enthusiasm, Goat carried on. "The light hurt us, but gave us power. Protected us from the darkness."
"It stopped the darkness," Owl contributed, watching Jaz's face. "Where the red was, the darkness wouldn't go."
Jaz finally moved, at that. "Shit. SHIT." She paced back and forth. "You're not kidding. You seriously--SHIT."
"Oh for the love of--LANGUAGE!" Owl cried.
Jaz rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. "Listen. This is... very bad."
"No shit," Skunk grumbled. "So spill."
Owl glowered as well. "We figured that out when our home exploded."
Jaz shrugged them both off, shaking her head. "The spikes... they're not what you should be worried about. At least, as long as you do what you're supposed to..."
Skunk's eyes narrowed. "And what's that?"
"They're..." Jaz gestured in the air, trying to grasp at words. "They're good. They protect the cells, the demon cells. That pillar? You were never supposed to get that close to it. The spikes were trying to keep you away."
Owl's eyes popped. "Demon cells? What did we do when we broke the pillar?"
"You released them. Those particular demons, whatever the fuck they were. That's... that's bad."
Skunk scowled. "Can you give us some straight answers? You said we were supposed to do something.
"Not... it's not what you're supposed to do, but what you're not." Jaz shook her head. "Which is what you did. Release the demons. The shadows, the spikes... they're like... like guards."
"I think I get it." Owl nodded slowly. "We were meant to stay in our city. We're supposed to stay put. Not bother the demons."
"Pretty fucking stupid guards," Skunk scoffed.
"Well!" Goat laughed. "It's a bit late not to do that. And I can't leap through time!" His playful smile went unreturned by his companions.
Jaz looked at Owl. "This city. Tell me more about it. Where did you come from?"
"It... I don't know. It was home," Owl answered, thinking. "Made of arches, and crystal. We all lived there. We thought it was the only place to live. It was surrounded by sheer rockface. It was the little center of the universe..."
As she spoke, Goat had begun to speak, mostly to himself. "And people would say: 'Oh no! We're stuck out on a ledge with nothing to eat, except uncombined food elements! We'll just have to eat them! What a tragedy!'"
"It..." Owl felt tears roll down her cheeks. "It's gone... but for a while it was the entire world. For generations."
Jaz bit her lip. "I'm sorry, I really am. But if you could come with me, we really need to get moving. I don't know who you are or where you came from, originally, but you're in trouble now." She opened the door with symbols on it and stepped through.
Skunk rolled her eyes and got up and followed. Owl, still crying quietly, followed as well, a bereaved expression twisting her face.
"And I'd say, 'Never fear! I, Goat, shall leap to your ledge and turn your food into sandwiches!' And they'd say, 'Huzzah! We're still stranded on a ledge, but at least now we've got sandwiches! Thanks, Goat!'" The boy's voice trailed off as he realized he was alone. He let out a forlorn sigh, and followed the three women through the door.
"So where are we going?" Skunk's tone was angry, but flat.
The passage had led to a room, cleaner than the first. The walls were still covered with symbols, though, and diagrams as well. Anatomical drawings of horrifying beasts, technical drawings of all sort of outlandish weapons, and more personal sketches. One wall of the room was a large window, with a huge panel below completely covered with dials and switches, and strings leading to other things in the room.
"Okay, what the fuck are those?" Skunk pointed at the anatomical drawings. "Those..."
"...beasts." Owl swallowed, wiping at her tears.
"They're demons." Jaz pointed to one, vaguely worm-shaped, with strange feathery wings. She gestured at a segment of it. "Here, here, and here, these are good to eat. The rest, though, is either too tough or too bitter."
"Demons," Owl breathed.
Skunk raised a skeptical eyebrow, scanning the various drawings.
"Oh, and we're going to Sector Seven. Hell if I know what to do with you guys, maybe someone there will. Maybe not. Maybe they're all dead. But there's no way I'm turning around now."
"Wait, we can't..." Owl's voice was raising to shrill pitch. "We can't leave Face! Or... what's left of it!"
Jaz pulled a string and lowered a seat from the ceiling. The whole ship had a very patched-together feel. She sat down, then spun to face Owl. "Oh? And what else would you suggest we do?"
A sudden sharp feeling echoed through the minds of the three survivors of Face. CENTER.
"Center!" Goat exclaimed, as Owl whispered the same alongside him.
Skunk looked at them. "You guys heard it too?"
Goat blinked. "Wait, what?"
Jaz's hand went almost instinctively to the handle of the curved crystal sword at her hip. She leaned forward in her chair, just watching.
"Sector Seven... where is located?" Owl inquired. "I mean, you have all these sectors... where is Seven? In relation to the others."
"It's farther outward than Four, but still pretty far in the Void." She narrowed her dark eyes, darting looks from Owl to Goat. "Quite near the... center."
Skunk's green eyes widened slightly, and Owl's jaw dropped open for a second.
Goat's constant grin just widened further. "Another city... I can't wait to see it!"
"Let's go." Owl didn't care about home anymore. That voice, that feeling, those begging people... they were still in her thoughts.
Jaz paused. "Why?"
"The Center. We have to get to the Center."
"Could be a trap," Skunk mused.
"No way, not like this." Owl's voice was firm, strong.
Skunk glared at her. "We know nothing about the center."
"The voice, you both heard it right?"
"Why would it say Center just then? Unless Seven IS the center. So yes, thank you, Jaz, we'd love to go."
Jaz looked at the woman, confused. "Why? WHY do you need to get there?"
"We need to get there... because... There's a chance to get that last hope back." Owl set her jaw. "We have to take it."
Ignoring Owl, Skunk said, "She just thinks we need to go, but we don't know anything about it. I for one would like some information first."
"Skunk! What was your family like? In Face? Did you have any?" Owl's icy blue eyes were hard. "I did. I want to see them again."
"Let's go to Sector Seven and find out," said Goat.
Jaz put her hand to her chin, thinking. "Shut up, all of you. I need to think."
Owl scowled at being ordered to shut up, but obeyed. Skunk stared oddly at her, with a dead look in her eyes. Shaking her head slightly, she turned to Jaz. Owl raised a hand to her face, as if it could shield her from Skunk's glare.
"You were right next to a demon Pillar." Jaz turned her eyes go Goat. "You said it gave you POWERS." To Skunk. "You heard voices, telling you to go the center."
"By powers, we mean it healed us and protected us from the darkness," Goat explained.
The older woman nodded with each point. "It healed up gaping holes from the spikes." She gestured at her shoulder.
"Yeah, some protection," muttered Skunk. "Now I'm stuck here with you lot."
"On the other hand..." Jaz sighed heavily, and spun back to the control panel. "I have NO IDEA what else I'm going to do with you, and there's no way I'm traveling the month back to Sector Four with you idiots. So yeah. What the fuck." The pilot sighed again. "Let's go to Sector Seven."