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Thread: The life I didn't dream of

  1. #1

    The life I didn't dream of

    Act I – The Expedition

    Why am I recording this, I am not sure. In a few weeks, a few months or a few years, I might feel the urge to look back on those events, on what has happened to me. I might also simply discard this old recording unit. I don't know. I can't know yet. All I know is that I presently need to gather my thoughts, and prevent them from ruling me like they have been doing in the past days.

    I am Asha, born in Jobe to Jarod and Ariadne Valentine. A researcher in mind and heart, thriving for answers to an enigma that still eludes us today.

    All my life, I have admired the work of my parents, and marvelled at the reports they would write about these areas lying beyond the portals. Mysterious names danced in their logs – Nascence, Elysium, Penumbra, the Xan, the Source. Mysterious data was attached to them, before they sent them to the Council every month, dutifully sharing their discoveries without any second thought. I grew up surrounded by specimens of odd plants, holo-recordings of animals whose shapes were all but usual, dark rocks and unknown chiselled devices, and computer terminals constantly processing countless hypotheses regarding the Shadowlands. For on them we had laid our eyes, and in them I had walked as well, when my father deemed me strong enough to follow them briefly in the shady groves near Jobe Research.

    Shadowlands. The lands where no sun ever shines. The lands of ancient races. The lands where a hundred of secrets lay buried, forever leading to a thousand more.

    It was no surprise that by my eighteenth birthday, I spoke of my decision to walk in my father's path, and embraced the career that he had set as his own and thanks to which he had met, many years ago, a lovely young archaeologist by the name of Ariadne Skalgrim. This was to be my life, and someday, I was certain of this, someday, the Valentine expedition would bring an answer to the enigma of oblivion, an answer to the existence of the Brink, and to the reason why it kept on devouring our lands without a sun, little by little, year after year.

    And this is how it began, the year before the land-dwellers were allowed to cross the portal, when the young student that I was joined the Expedition.
    Asha Valentine

  2. #2

    Act II – Attraction

    Theon Vaughan was a doctor working with my father, and I won't hide the fact that at some point, I had a serious crush on him.

    He was born in Jobe a well – at the time, there was no way a land-dweller would have been allowed to join our research teams. An extremely smart man, with too bright a smile and too sharp a mind. I think my father first mentioned his name when I was twelve, but it wasn't before I worked with him that I truly understood how important he was to our expedition. The Shadowlands have always been a dangerous place. No matter how skilled our biologists and archaelogists were, we could not afford any of our team members going missing, or be down for days due to a bad wound. The expedition had to keep on moving, and people like Dr. Vaughan were those who allowed it to do so.

    Everyone liked him and trusted his abilities. I, too, took interest in him, and appreciated his kind and helpful personality – should I say more than that, even? His little quirks, his smiles, the gleam in his eyes, the thorough reports he would write, processing recording after recording, in his tent when most members of our group were asleep... I was too young for him, I suppose – barely a grown-up woman, still a girl in many aspects, too engrossed in my studies and research to pay enough attention to other human beings, much less to the opposite sex.

    He could have twirled my own mother around his finger if he had wanted to, and in a way, he probably did. As for me, all he needed to do was lay his gaze on me, and cast me a warm smile, and the rest of the world would cease to exist.

    But this was before the ruins of Hali, before the Song, and before the woman-looking creature whose eyes were pools of darkness. After that, I could not love him anymore.
    Asha Valentine

  3. #3

    Act III – The Song

    On a fateful day of January 29480, we took to explore a set of ruins bordering the eastern edge of the Brink in North Elysium. My father had not dared to make us set our encampment near the area itself, and thus we had decided to remain at a safe distance.

    I still remember the first word we managed to decipher on the external wall of the first house. Hali. Thus we named the ruins Hali – Glory – according to what we had previously found in other ruins.

    Every day, I would walk there with my parents or another of the scientists to collect samples and try to read more of the mysterious writings on the walls of what could have been temples as well as houses. I took glee in helping Maria, our linguist, and soon enough, we decided to share the task, and take care of different areas of that odd village.

    We were too excited to notice much of what happened around us but was not directly linked to our research. I was probably too deeply focused on what was keeping me busy day and night at that time, letting my thirst for knowledge devour my mind. I was becoming quite decent at figuring out the hidden meanings behind the hidden meanings – too much and too easily for my own good, dare I say. And yet, I could not put my finger on what was wrong, on what felt so wrong.

    One evening, as the year was following its course through spring, I found myself still working late at night, fighting with a particularly difficult translation. Time had flown away without me realizing it, and I was vaguely wondering if I should stop or not, when I heard the voice.

    It wasn't a beautiful voice, although it could carry a tune quite well. Just the average voice of an average woman, I thought at first. But here, in the deep silence, under the eerie whirlpool of the Vortex in the sky, it carried a depth and a power that I had never experienced in the past. Before I knew it, I had jumped to my feet, and started to walk towards where that unexpected chant was coming from. In it, I recognized words I had laid my own eyes upon, here on the walls, days and weeks ago, and I wondered, I wondered who else among us would be here with me.

    She stood on the edge on a broken column, face raised towards the Vortex, a long dark cloak wrapped around her body, a heavy hood covering her head. From where I stood, I couldn't see what she looked like, but it didn't seem important at that time. The shadows of Hali were all around us, setting the backdrop for this unnatural encounter, and while my scientific mind wanted to inquire about her presence, the other me, the quiet, young Asha, only wished that her song would last forever.

    Maybe minutes, maybe hours passed. When she stopped singing, she seemed to acknowledge my presence for the first time, and slowly turned to me. The shadows followed her move. All I could make out, from under her hood, were a flash of deathly pale skin and two large eyes made of darkness as well, empty and emotionless. She wasn't part of our expedition, nor did she seem to be one of the land-dwellers from Rubi-Ka, whom we had met during our previous travels. She didn't utter a word, her gaze wandering on me, as if to analyze every single cell of my being. And then, in a swift move that could not be that of a human being, she let herself drop from the column, and walked back into the shadows of the woods nearby.

    Another eon later, I felt like I should follow her, but she was gone, and with her the magic of the moment flew away, the last drop of magic at the edge of the Brink.
    Asha Valentine

  4. #4

    Act IV – The Betrayal

    We thought we were untouchable – invincible, wrapped in our neutrality, in our status of scientists, in our constant thirst for discoveries and understanding. How mistaken we were.

    Theon betrayed us. Theon sold us, cursed be he, and not even my father could have predicted what happened.

    After I heard the Song, I came back to our expedition, silently made my way to my tent, and finally managed to fall asleep, still in a daze. I knew deep in my heart that nothing would ever be the same. Unfortunately, I was right.

    Right before what we considered to be dawn there, soldiers in black armors of a kind unseen in Jobe circled our encampment, woke us up brutally, and forced us to come out and gather. He was with them, the all-too-kind Theon, his smile harder all of a sudden, his eyes revealing another kind of gleam, one of certainty, of arrogance, of leadership. Of course our own guards had not had the opportunity to defend us; the traitor had taken care of this, and put drugs in their share of the dinner food. He let us know that much. And his smile, oh, his smile! "Sorry, Doctor Valentine," he just said. "We wanted it, you see."

    We were separated, my father taken by a group, my mother by another, myself left in the care of the traitor. The interest he had taken in me was different, much like I was to understand later on, and it wasn't only my research he wanted.

    He brought me to the city of Rome, to a laboratory which he was responsible of, and I realized how we had been lied to from the beginning. For years, he had been a mole – one that had sold his soul to another bidder while playing the part of a proud citizen of Jobe, an agent turned to spy on us, regularly report about our group, and finally lay his hands on the results my parents had been gathering since before my birth. He took it all, their research, along with mine, and handed it to his new masters in Omni-Tek, depriving us of our hopes and hard work, but most of all of our freedom.

    He deprived me of more than that, too. More than I could ever tell. He threatened to get rid of my parents if I was to attempt anything, if I refused to do his bidding. He deprived me of true love, of the light of the twin suns, of the presence of my family, of who I was, of the most precious things a woman my age could dream of.

    Instead, he gave me hate and anger, and, unbeknowst to him, the means of my escape.
    Asha Valentine

  5. #5

    Act V – Wrath

    My father is dead. I know it.

    I was in the lab in which Vaughan had locked me, forced to assist him in his research, pretending to focus on my work. When the sound of voices was heard on the other side of the door, I did as I would normally do when left alone – I eavesdropped, and overheard the guards behind the door talk of my father, of how he had finally managed to trick the insurance system they had made him register with, and put an end to his own life. What happened to my mother? I could not find out. But from that day on, my anger took a shape. It sprouted from my mind, from my feelings, from my whole being. It slowly built itself around a raw core of darkness and violence, hiding in the shadows at night, when I was lying motionless in my bed, eyes wide open. It grew between my hands, fueled by a rage I had never felt before, and by memories of times when I had still been full of hope.

    In my dreams, I would see her gaze, her gaze of darkness, more defined than ever, bearing thousands of promises of revenge.

    I started to remember it all in precise details, little by little, piece by piece. The small ruins near the edge, dark and silent. The strange writings and twirly symbols on the walls of those dead houses. The oddly-shaped creatures carved in stone by the Xan who had once lived there – the Xan, or whoever else had built that place. I remembered a few words, a few names, lines that could have been a prayer, images that could have been of ancient saints or gods. For several nights in a row, I dreamed, and with each dream, anger took a more definite appearance. Dark eyes, silent voices, a mental scream that only I could hear. I would feed on those names, acknowledge them as my own. I would imagine lost songs and crying voices. Hali. The glory that had died, and the glory I would revive.

    I remembered the Song, and the Song grew louder, sung by the haunting voice of that unknown woman-shaped creature. I started to doubt, too. Had I indeed seen a woman, back there, or was my mind just putting images on the words I had read? This soft voice, quite average in tone and quality, but so mesmerizing... This voice, it sung of pain, of loss, of tears spilt over the ruins of a city. The eyes are here, flew the words on the wings of time, here, in Death's other kingdom. Remember us – remember us – remember us...

    Whether she had existed or not didn't matter in the end. The Song gave a more definite shape to the storm raging in my heart. I heard its name, the name of fury and revenge. This, too, I had read on the walls. This, too, I made mine, amidst the turmoil of feelings. Anger at the soldiers. Anger at Omni-Tek. Anger at Theon. Anger at myself, for having once been infatuated with him, silly girl that I was.

    One day, when Vaughan had thought me subdued enough, and left me only in the care of a couple of guards, I uttered that name, unleashing a torrent of wrath, and without a second glance for the torn walls and cries of agony my Hastur was leaving behind us, I made my way out of that wretched place.
    Asha Valentine

  6. #6

    Act VI – Freedom

    I ran away, not knowing where I could find any shelter, only aware of the fact that I had to put as much distance as possible between me and the lands controlled by Omni-Tek. I didn't know if I could go back to Jobe – who knew what lies Theon Vaughan and his superiors would have fed the Council regarding our disappearance? Come to think of it, I might not even have been safe in a neutral-aligned area, given the troubling events surrounding them, and which that awful corporation had had a hand in.

    I only thought about leaving, far, far from the South, far from Rubi-Ka, even. To leave, to run, to hide, in the hopes that Vaughan would forget everything down to my existence. Through whompas and dark alleys, through Grid jumps and hasty night walks, I managed to reach the gates to ICC, and made my way to the first shuttle bound for the Morningstar.

    I am not proud to say that I actually did not pay for the ride – what would I have paid with, anyway? Lost as I was, both in mind and in my surroundings, I was ready to wreak havoc again and again to force them to take me on board; fortunately, they were in such a hurry to have theshuttle leave, before another wave of attacks was announced, that security controls were quite lax on that day. I was able to sneak in unnoticed, and if someone ever saw me, they sure did not raise a fuss about it.

    There, at least, I would be safe, and could figure out a plan, or so I hoped.

    I had hoped in vain. Hardly had we left the shuttleport that the Kyr'Ozsch launched the dreaded attack. I'm still not sure how I survived, poor stowaway hidden among the luggage and crates. Unable to keep control, this time, again I let the anger out, the anger and the fear, and gave it the shape of Hastur. He protected me, certainly, even though his howls and outbursts of violence were not exactly aimed at doing that, but simply at destroying what stood between us and the rest of the shuttle.

    Our pilot still managed to go back to the shuttleport, half-crashing the small ship into one of the docking bays. And I decided that it was a sign, a sign that I should not run away, but stop cowering and fight back for what was rightly mine – my life, my dreams, my freedom. I had to bid my time, gather my strength, and be ready for the day when I would have to deal my blow. I also had to return to Jobe, too, in the future and let them know of what had really happened.

    There was only one solution my heart was willing to embrace.

    I walked to the Clan recruiter, there on the platform. Without a word, I signed his form, and walked to the teleporter that would take me to Athen.

    ((The end.))
    Asha Valentine

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