Trench Wars by WantedHero | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

CHAPTER 6 - The Truth About Lies

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Your life is navigated by the choices you make. Good or bad, right or wrong, each and every choice has consequences.

What no one seems to tell us, is that when we believe a lie our perspective becomes warped. It inevitably becomes impossible to make the right choices until that crooked perspective is made straight.

 

 

They plummeted into darkness.

Lili screamed, pushing air and sound from her chest, but no scream was heard. Instead, her body tumbled head over feet, again and again, for what seemed to be an eternity.

Far below them, or maybe it was above them, a dull light glowed. It was then that Lili could see silhouettes of Dax and Deloris tumbling likewise through the…air? No, she soon realized, the light is down, for it was now rising quickly to meet them…and she tried, uselessly, to brace herself for impact.

Without a sound, all three hit the ground…sending up mushroom clouds of dirt and dust around them.

“Hey,” Dax squeaked, coughing and trying to wiggle free of the indentation he’d made with his body, “that didn’t hurt.”

Lili and Deloris sat upright, then rolled out of their own craters.

“I think we’re expected,” coughed the gnome.

Lili brushed the dirt from her tunic, “Is that good or bad?”

The gnome pointed to a filing cabinet, “We’re about to find out.”

The dull light was bright enough to see by, but not enough to lend any comfort. Around them were cavern walls that reached up into the darkness above them, the stone black and jagged. The ground itself looked more like narrow sand dunes. Layers and waves of dirt, formed in ripples. Embedded in each and every one of them was a filing cabinet. Hundreds of them, tilted and buried, large and small, some rusting while others looked new and recently painted in a bland grey or earth tone color.

“Cheery place,” Dax mumbled. “What’s with the cabinets?”

Deloris slide down the embankment to the closest one jutting out from the sand. She read the small plate riveted to the metal. “It says Grade School on it.” It was a small thing, with rust spots all over its surface. “Each of you get to another one, tell me what they say.”

Dax hopped down and ran on all fours to another. “Swim Class,” he called, then ran to another. “This one says Family Reunion.”

Lili worked her way to the top of a hillside where a large, new cabinet protruded from the rock. “This one says Sanctuary.”

Dax let out a loud guffaw, “Hey! This one has your name on it, Lili! This should be interesting.” He reached out and pulled the handle.

“No!” Deloris cried out, “Don’t touch anything…” but it was too late. As soon as Dax pulled the drawer open, a paper inside jumped out and attached itself firmly to his face.

Annoyed, he ripped it off, crumpled it up and threw it to the ground. As he watched, the paper straightened itself out and flew up again, into his face. This time it was accompanied by several more from the drawer.

Deloris, I am detecting a surge in Wendell’s brain patterns.

The top drawer nearest to Lili flew open and sheets flew out in a row, like a deck of cards, pummeling her in the chest and face. She yanked and pulled at the thin documents, but it was no use—they knocked her to the ground.

“I think I know why, Cryo!” Deloris shrieked. She ran towards Lili, “Hang on dear, I’m coming!”

Try as she might, as soon as a paper was removed to open a breathing passage, two more would take its place. Dax was struggling so hard, he rolled down the hillside, scraping his face along the way—trying to rid himself of obstructions. “Gah!” he gasped, “They’re gonna…” he tore another paper from his nose and mouth, “suffocate us!”

“Why aren’t they attacking me?” she cried out. “Chuck!”

“I’m here,” relayed Cryo, using a modified version of the wizards voice, “what can I do?”

“Does Wendell have something against Dax and Lili? Because they’re being attacked and I’m not! Why would that be?”

There was a long delay.

“Think fast, wizard—they’re suffocating!”

“I’m only guessing, but Dax has only recently made peace with Wendell. The boy could be holding a grudge. As for the girl, I’m not sure. That’s all I can think of.”

One by one the cabinets exploded. Papers arced high into the air, flying at Lili or Dax, until both of them were completely buried under a weight Deloris could not budge. Lili’s hand, wiggling out from under the pile, clawed at the gnome, desperate for help, her legs twitching violently.

It was then that Deloris took notice of the writing on one of the slips of paper. She snatched it up. It was a personal note. Another next to it was in a different hand writing.

Accusations. Rumors. Acts of cruelty. Her mind raced. Why isn’t he attacking me?

In a flurry of anger, she stood up and screamed at the top of her lungs, “THAT IS QUITE ENOUGH YOUNG MAN! KNOCK IT OFF!!

Thousands of sheets stopped their arc in midair and floated harmlessly to the ground.

Shaking her finger at the darkness above her, “Dax and Lili are here to help you, Wendell. You may not think that, but they’re risking an awful lot to be here..so stop acting like a child!” She reached down and scooped up some of the papers at her feet. Scanning the words, she let out a loud sigh. “I know you’ve been hurt—but most of this is garbage. As a mother, I can see it plain as day!” She picked out a note in blue ink. “Take this for example. I bet this rumor was started because of your kind nature, not because you did something wrong. These boys were just jealous, that’s all. And this Billy,” she held up a sheet, then shook it at the darkness, “He was hiding his own fears by picking on you.”

She scanned another and started laughing so loud, she simply crumpled up the paper and tossed it over her shoulder. “Oh please! A name like Bertha Barkowitze should have been the only clue you needed!”

Tossing all the papers from her hand, Deloris looked up, pleadingly. “Not everything is your fault, Wendell. Don’t you understand that? I can tell by what you’ve been holding onto that you have a good heart. You care for other people and you care about how they feel. That’s not a weakness or something to be ashamed of. It’s an admirable quality that few allow themselves to nurture in today’s world. But you have to let some things go! You can’t expect someone to do better than they have a capacity to understand, sweetie. That includes you.If people expect you to be perfect, they’re  fools.”

The papers slowly slid from Lili and Dax. Both sat upright, gasping for breath.

Deloris smiled. “We all make mistakes, Wendell. We all mess up and choose the wrong way from time to time. That’s part of growing up. Part of life. Part of learning. So long as you keep a soft heart, it’s learning in motion. Because if you have a good heart, the rest is just practice.”

The ground began to rumble. At first it was faint, but the intensity grew until Deloris lost her footing and fell down beside Lili.

“Is he ticked off at us?” Dax panicked, but the gnome just smiled and pointed at the far wall of the cave.

“I don’t think so. Look.”

A hole, several stories high had opened in the wall.

When the rumbling stopped, they climbed over the hills to get a closer look. Unlike the cavern they were in, there was no light emanating from the hole.

“I-I don’t like the looks of that,” whispered Lili, grabbing hold of the gnome’s sleeve.

“Cryo, how is Wendell doing?”

His brainwaves are even and steady, Deloris.

“See?” she said gleefully, “If he was actually angry at us, there’d be a dramatic spike in mental activity. That means no threat in the cave and we’re safe to proceed.” And she entered the darkness.

“Man what I wouldn’t do for a torch,” complained Dax, stumbling over his own feet in the dark. Suddenly a light flared in his hand. “Woah!” he cried out, quickly holding the wood away from his face. He looked at both Deloris and Lili, “Did you see that?! I just…did magic! Me!!”

“Not exactly,” the gnome giggled, “but close enough. That’s some strong mental imaging you have Dax, to address your own needs in someone else’s mind.” She patted him on the shoulder as she passed, “Well done.”

He smiled to himself and scratched his chin, “I wonder if it works with beer?” He snapped his eyes shut and thought of fountains of ale, overflowing clay mugs in his hands.

The gnome snorted, “I said needs.”

The tunnel turned out to be very similar to the cavern they came from, with the exception of the light. The walls were sharp and jagged stone, but the floor was flat, which made it easy to navigate by torchlight.

Deloris?” came Cryo’s voice from above.

“Did you hear that?” asked Dax. He stopped mid-step and cocked his head to the side. His gigantic ear twitched several times.

Excuse me Deloris…” Cryo repeated.

“Wait a moment, Cryo,” she snapped.

“I don’t hear anything,” whispered Lili. She looked puzzled at the gnome, “Do you?”

Deloris shook her head.

“Come on!” Dax blurted out and bolted down the tunnel.

The sudden change in lighting caught both women off guard and they stumbled forward, trying to keep up.

Deloris?

What, Cryo?!” she yelled,  huffing as she jogged.

Dramatic spike in mental activity.

She grunted, “Right.”

“Dax, where are you going!?” Lili cried out, but Dax didn’t stop. Within moments, however, even she could pick up the faint echoes of screaming in the distance. There was also a red and yellow light flickering at the end of the tunnel. The air quickly turned hot and dry. Over and over the sounds repeated, followed by unanswered plea’s for help. Both Deloris and Lili caught up to Dax at the mouth of the tunnel. The elf stood there, turning his head slowly from side to side, ears twitching in the hot wind.

They stood at the edge of a grove. Before them was a village, burning.

Dozens of homes and trees blazing, flames leaping from one structure to another, consuming all that stood in its wake. Peasants ran about in terror. Men carried scythes, clubs and crude looking swords, calling to one another and rushing in one direction, while the women gathered and lead children the opposite way. Hundreds were fleeing into the woods at the far edge of the village.

“What’s happening?” cried Lili, trying to be heard above the screams. “We’ve go to help them!”

Dax was undaunted, “That’s not what we’re here for!” He stood in place until he was confident he’d found what he was searching for. “Come on!” he yelled, “This way!”

“But where are we going!?” she called after him.

“We’ll find out soon enough, dear,” yelled Deloris, giving her a push from behind.

The heat was so intense, they had to turn back several times. Houses collapsed in their path, tossing flaming rubble in their way. Dax led them around clusters of leaning buildings, to avoid being trapped between the blazing structures.

“I hear it!” Lili cried, pointing to what looked to be an orchard, “It’s a child!” but Dax was already running. Both women followed, dodging the clusters of peasants trying to escape the chaos.

At the center of the grove, a lone child stood, screaming for help.

Dax slowed down and bent over, panting. The child wasn’t even looking at the village. His attention was completely focused on the forest in front of him. Again and again he screamed, pointing at the wall of trees, shrieking as if his limbs were being ripped from his torso. Finally Dax reached out and placed a hand on the child’s shoulder.

“Hey,” he said as reassuringly as he could without breath, “it’s ok, we’re here.” At the moment of contact, the child flinched and jumped away from his touch. Dax stood there, mouth gaping open.

The child couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. Dark, wavy hair and crystal clear eyes that reflected the red and yellow of the flames behind them. But what caught Dax’s immediate attention was the tiny yellow smiley face in the center of the child’s black t-shirt.

“Wendell?” he choked out. “Is..that you?”

A large branch snapped behind the wall of trees. The groaning wood echoed in the darkness as it fell, finally snapping off, leaves brushing against its brothers. Wendell screamed and fell back behind Dax.

Red eyes, brighter than the flames of the wasted village, appeared in the black gaps of the forest. First a dozen, then two, then hundreds of eyes appeared, until the forest looked as if it were about to catch fire itself.

“Mahan’s pink panties,” Dax cursed, “what are they?”

Reaching through the trees came claws and clubs, swords and chains, armor and beast. The vallen horde had arrived.

But these were not like any vallen Dax had ever seen or fought. These were giants among giants, the smallest towering at least ten feet over him. Their maws were filled with needle sharp teeth and claws so long, they looked like short swords and scythes grafted to their skin. These were not beasts of prey, he thought to himself. These were demons from hell.

Again Wendell screamed, piercing Dax’s thoughts and yanking him back into the moment. The suffocating smell of burning wood and flesh drifted across the fields, now mixing with the pungent oder of the giants. The closest creature took one look at the child and grinned. The kind of grin that wiped away all traces of hope.

It reached out its yellowed claws and Deloris screamed herself.

In a blur of movement, Dax intercepted the attack, snapped off a claw and stabbed it clean through the back of the beasts hand. It reared, roaring in pain and anger, but Dax stood his ground. Hands held out to his sides, shielding the boy—he stared up into the face of the horde, now fully emerging from the forest.

“Don’t touch the child!” he growled.

The creatures laughed, but Dax only answered with his own grin.

“I know you’re scared Wendell, but it’s alright. I’m here.” Reaching back, he felt for the child and found a shoulder. He gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I should have been there for you. From the very beginning, I should have been there—but I wasn’t.” He choked out the words that threatened to consume him. Thoughts of having to port away at the waterfall, endless days of searching and worrying that he’d made the wrong choice. “I swear I tried. Every day I tried to find you, because I didn’t want you to be alone. Abandoned…like I was.”

The vallen stepped forward and Dax refocused his attention on the enemy. Teeth barred, he gave a roar that echoed over the blaze and screams of the village, “SO HELP ME IF YOU TOUCH THIS CHILD I WILL RIP OUT YOUR THROATS WITH MY TEETH!” Chest heaving with near bloodlust, Dax tensed to lunge. For if he was to die, then meeting his end while protecting one of the true innocents he’d ever known was a good way to go.

A small, sweaty hand slipped between Dax’s fingers.

He thought for just a moment that his heart would break from the strain. There was no way he could undo the choices he had already made, but he could make new choices, starting now. Right now.

Dropping to one knee, he turned to Wendell. “Maybe we can’t do this. I don’t honestly know, Wendell. But what I do know, is that I will never stop helping you. I will never stop trying.” He tried to muster a smile, but it felt awkward, “For as long as you have to carry that thing in your chest, I’ll be there for you. Win or lose. Together.”

The child squeezed his hand and smiled.

The horde roared in fury. Women and children screamed in the distance in response. But the child Wendell simply turned and glared back at the beasts. He kept a tight grip on Dax’s fingers.

Pointing up at the monsters, the tiny yellow smiley face turned to a dark shade of red.

“Go away.”

The horde paused. They looked from one to another. A few stepped back once, but most scratched their heads, unsure of what to do.

A bright white light flashed from the child’s eyes, the circular shape of the Ithari glowing beneath the mägoweave on his chest. He took one step forward, letting Dax’s fingers drop.

“Now.”

Crashing and colliding one with another, the vallen horde fled in terror. Trees snapped and fell as they shoved past one another, yelping and hollering until the darkness fell once more into the gaps of the forest and all was quite.

“You did it!” Dax cheered, dropping to his knees and opening his arms wide.

Wendell turned and smiled. “Thank you,” he whispered, “you heard me.”

Dax nodded, “I heard you.”

Then Wendell vanished. The whole of the village blew away in a single wind…and night turned abruptly into day.

“What is going on?”

Deloris shook her head, “I don’t know, Dax. This is a lot more complicated that I could have imagined. Wendell has so much suppressed fear, frustration and hurt.”

“Look,” whispered Lili, “Over there, by the water.”

The forest was gone, replaced with what looked to be a small island. A large platform with black, curved spires sat in the background. A Prime Gate. Wendell, now his current age, knelt in the grass at its base. In front of him was something large, wrapped in white.

“Oh no,” whispered Dax.

Lili looked to him, then back at Wendell. He wasn’t moving, but people were walking towards him, single file. People with blue skin. Men and women, walked past Wendell, saying something—some even leaning down or placing hands on his head or shoulders. Dozens passed, speaking in hushed tones.

“Do you know what this is?” Deloris asked, “Where we are?”

Dax nodded. “We’re in Erimuri. Among the Iskari. The white cloth is a young girl. She was…Wendell’s friend.”

Lili’s brows furrowed as she watched the kind-faced counselors of the world pass by the hero of the gem, offering their condolences. Neither Deloris nor Dax moved any closer. They just stood there, watching.

“What do we do for him?” she whispered.

“I…don’t know, dear,” said Deloris, “this isn’t something I can relate to.”

Lili looked to Dax, but he simply stared at Wendell, unresponsive.

Birds chirped and flew past them, the cool breeze moist and perfect. Curving walls of giant crystal towered over them on every side, jutting out from the water. There was nowhere to go. No bridge or walkway…just the scene in front of them. She was curious. Wendell died to save her. Now he kneeled and mourned the loss of someone he knew. Maybe this was an opportunity to witness first hand the value he had for life—to gain insight into his mind and heart.

She stepped forward, making a wide arc, so as not to disturb the proceedings. The soft words spoken by each of the Iskari grew louder as she approached. They were not offering condolences at all—they were cursing and criticizing him.

“You failed us,” said one.

“She never should have trusted you,” whispered another.

“Our people will die because of you,” said another and on it went. Person after person, each using a soft tone and loving motions, berated and demeaned Wendell, laying their frustration and accusations upon his shoulders. Lili watched him wince at each touch.

“You will never amount to anything.”

“We are lost.”

“We never should have trusted you.”

She silently drew closer. She could suddenly and all too clearly feel the pain of this young man. Someone who didn’t know her, yet willingly and selflessly gave his life…so she could keep hers. Why did you do it? she asked herself. These people hate you for what happened, so why would you care?

“You are nothing, Wendell.”

“Our faith was misplaced.”

“The Ithari chose wrong.”

With each comment the blue-skins made, the more Lili cringed. It made her angry.

“It is not true,” she said aloud. Then in a near shout, “You’re not giving him a chance!”

The line stopped as one. All faces turned and stared at her. All the faces, that is, except Wendell’s. He continued to focus on the body under the white cloth. His shoulders rounded, the burden of loss and the pain of self-loathing pushing down, determined to crush the very life from his soul. Dark circled formed under his eyes and he reached a hand forward, to steady himself. Yet he said nothing.

Lili looked back to Deloris and a saddened Dax. “What do I do?” she pleaded.

The gnome sniffed and shook her head, “I don’t know.”

“Kyliene died at the hands of a possessed creature,” Dax spoke coldly, “I think it was after Wendell and grabbed her at random.” He stopped, reconsidering his words, “No, not at random. It knew this would hurt Wendell. It knew she was important to him…and there was nothing he could do about it—but stand by and watch her die.”

Lili looked down at the hero…the one on whom so many were placing their hopes and faith. It’s too much responsibility, she thought. Being too young for so much responsibility. I know what that feels like, Wendell. The expectations of others, drowning you, crushing you…and sometimes we wish for an end, don’t we?

She knelt at his side. His face was contorted in pain—teeth biting into his bottom lip. His eyes were clenched tight as each whisper stabbed at him.

“You betrayed our trust.”

“The innocent suffer because of you.”

“You have failed everyone.”

Without thinking, Lili reacted. Reaching over, she slid her hand into Wendell’s. His fingers were cold as ice. It was uncomfortable for her, not just the cold that didn’t dissipate with her touch, but being so personal with this boy she didn’t know yet. But the lies, the pain, she thought, this must stop.

“It’s not true,” she said again, this time softer. She stared at Wendell and focused on his face. “You have not failed everyone.” Reaching out, Lili gently lifted Wendell’s chin and turned his head, guiding him to look directly at her. He blinked twice, but there was a vacancy in his expression.—his attention in the distance. “You saved me.”

His expression did not change. The Iskari however, scowled. Yellow teeth in blue flesh, barred openly in outrage.

“Pretty little girl in her pretty little world,” they whispered repeatedly. “Fool she is, to think he will listen. Fool she is, to even be here!”

Lili did not answer. She forced herself to smile at Wendell instead.

“…and I am grateful,” she choked. Her heart beat strong in that moment. In that undeniable truth. She was grateful—and she should have realized that sooner.

One by one, the Iskari turned and departed, leaving them both kneeling at the side of the wrapped body.

Lili looked down at the girl, lying under the delicate white cloth, cold and empty as a shell. What did Deloris say? Mental imaging? She struggled to remember the words the gnome had used. Create your own needs in someone else’s mind. That’s it. She had experienced death in her own lands, when she had lost her mother. People gathered and gave their last words to the deceased woman. It had been hard to let go, but she had learned a most valuable lesson. One that touched her heart…and stayed.  Lili had been taught that those who pass often watch over their mortal tabernacle until the final goodbyes had been offered.

That’s what I need, she repeated to herself. I need you to see what I have seen Wendell. To feel what I have felt in my own heart. Closing her eyes, she drew upon those memories. Called them out from her mind and heart—drawing from that love and acceptance she’d felt from her mothers spirit during the burial. Help me mother. Please…help this boy who saved your daughter.

“I know what this departed one would say, if she could speak to you,” Lili said softly. She opened her eyes. Wendell’s vacant stare was gone, and he was looking intently at her.

A slender blue hand slid out from under the cloth. It slipped between Wendell’s fingers, perfectly intertwining with his…and warm.

He flinched at first, but didn’t pull his hand away from Kyliene. Instead, he looked back at Lili and she nodded.

“I cannot forgive you for what was never your fault,” whispered Lili.  Tears ran down her cheeks and the blue fingers squeezed lightly, lovingly. “Just know that I am at peace, Wendell.” The fingers then released their grip, the warmth within the flesh seeping away. The last words rose from under the white cloth—a distant whisper in a last breath.

“I will always be your friend.”

The blue hand lightened in color and fell off his knee, into the grass.

Kyliene’s body and the environment slowly faded away, sinking into the grass until all that remained were the four.

“Thank you,” Wendell whispered to Lili, releasing his hand from hers.

“You’re wel…”

“Good to see you back to semi-normal kid!” cheered Dax, bounding up and smacking Wendell in the forearm.

He raised an eyebrow, “Semi-normal?”

“Well,” Dax grinned, “you were never really normal ta begin with, were ya…so that’s an improvement if ya ask me.”

They both laughed.

“What are you guys doing here?” Wendell at each of them, but his gaze lingered a moment longer on Lili. “And where is here?”

“You don’t know where we are, kid?”

“Not a clue. Just feel extraordinarily tired. Like I’ve been running non stop for days.” He looked at the gnome curiously.

Deloris smiled and held out a hand, “Hello…Wendell,” she looked completely flabbergasted, “Deloris. Deloris Hind—uh, Teedlebaum. Yes. Deloris Teedlebaum.”

Wendell laughed, “Are you sure?”

She blushed, “Quite. What’s the last thing you remember?”

Wendell scratched his head and frowned. “Chuck took me up to one of the apartments in the tower. At Til-Thorin I think. Got into bed, stared at the fire until I fell asleep…then she was holding my hand,” he pointed at Lili.

Dax frowned. “You, don’t remember the battle?”

Wendell scoffed, “Battle? What battle?”

“That battle where…”

The ground lurched beneath their feet.

Deloris, Wendell is experiencing a giant spike in brain activity. His heart rate is climbing to critical levels.

Reaching out and grabbing Dax’s arm, the gnome whispered, “Stop!” She looked at him sternly, pulling him closer, “Don’t say anything that might trigger his memory.”

Dax yanked free. “Why not? He’s talking crazy, doc. He’s not thinking straight!”

Unsure of what to reveal, she looked between Dax and Wendell and said plainly, “He’s endured too much, Dax. That’s why we haven’t woken up. There’s an unresolved issue or issues Wendell needs to deal with.” Looking at Wendell, she smiled nervously, “Something bigger than anything else…and he knows it.”

Dax grumbled, “What do you mean? We found him, didn’t we? He looks awake’n spry. Have someone pinch him—or slap him. Let’s go home!”

They seemed to be in the same field where they started from. Green grass swayed in the wind and the two flowers grew nearby, casting their curious shadows upon the little rock. The only difference was this time, there were clouds. Huge, black, billowing storm clouds, racing across the sky from every direction across the horizon…all making their way to where they were standing.

She looked at Wendell nervously. “That’s completely up to him.”

“Me?” Wendell laughed, “How am I supposed to know what to do. I don’t even know where we are!”

Lili’s voice was calm and warm, “We’re in your mind, Wendell.”

The ground lurched again.

Deloris, Wendell’s vitals are spiking. You need to calm him. He is on the verge of a seizure.

“Did you hear that, kid?” said Dax, pointing to the sky, “You need to calm down!”

Wendell looked at the elf as if he’d lost his mind, “Hear what?”

The gnome leaned next to Dax and whispered, “Cryo is attached to us, not Wendell—he won’t hear a thing. It’s a safety measure or us, to prevent mental and emotional feedback.”

Again the ground lurched, but this time they all heard thunder nearby. The wind immediately picked up, tearing grass from the ground around them. Blades whipped through the air, shooting past them at such speed, wherever a blade touched exposed skin, it cut.

“Ow!” shrieked Lili.

“What’s the matter?” Wendell asked.

“It cut me—the grass!” she called back, trying to be heard over the howling of the wind. Again thunder boomed across the sky.

Deloris shielded her face, her eyes locked on Wendell. The wind, the sound, all of it…wasn’t affecting Wendell in the least. Grass was now whipping about, raking at their flesh, wind pulling at hair and clothes, making it difficult to stand their ground…and yet Wendell stood between them, completely untouched. Even his hair laid peacefully across his forehead without a strand out of place.

“Deloris,” shouted a voice above them. It was Nat and he sounded frantic. “If you don’t calm Wendell down, he’ll go into cardiac arrest! We’ve had to restrain him. His body is flipping about, uncontrollably.”

Yet Wendell stood there, completely calm, hands in his pockets. Even the smiley face on his t-shirt grinned back, giving Deloris a quick wink.

Dax tugged the gnome closer, “The t-shirt, that’s the key! It shows the truth about what Wendell’s feeling! He can’t lie with that on.”

“But,” she frowned, staring at the grinning smiley, “it’s happy and calm—which doesn’t make any sense!” She flinched as a blade of grass slit her cheek.

The clouds rolled over their heads and plunged them into darkness.

Lightening flared, followed by a deafening BOOM!

The ground rumbled and reeled to and fro, throwing the three visitors off their feet. Less than a stones throw away, the ground cracked open. Splinters of light shot upward, freed from the confines of its prison.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRUMBLE!

The ground shook violently, throwing chunks of debris into the air…unleashing light across the landscape. Slowly, a giant shape pushed its way up through the surface of the grass. Lightening cracked again and again, electricity striking the fragments of dirt, exploding them.

“What is it?” shrieked Lili, crawling closer to Deloris and Dax. Wendell stood frozen now, completely enraptured by the object rising from the ground.

“I don’t know,” the gnome shouted, “…but I don’t think Wendell is doing this at all.”

“What?” yelled Dax, “How can that be? We’re in his mind!”

Deloris shook her head, “No, we’re in THEIR mind. Look!”

Breaking free of her underground confinement, a giant replica of the Ithari lifted up and hovered over the pit. Humming and rotating, it floated…under layers and layers of heavy metal chains. Brilliant white light seeped out from between the links, flooding the world of Wendell’s mind. Clouds quickly evaporated overhead, but the wind increased.

This time, however, the wind affected Wendell as well. His hair and clothes flapped briskly against his skin as he walked towards the gem.

“Wendell!” Dax shouted, “Kid—don’t do it! Come over here—let’s think this through!” But his words were swallowed up in the fury of the storm. Winds so powerful, they were forces to lie upon the ground, heads down, or be blown away.

“Hang on!” Deloris shouted at the top of her lungs.

“He’s bleeding!” shouted Nat’s voice above the wind, “We’ve tried sedating him, but the Ithari seems to be counteracting anything we try. Your own vitals are all on the rise as well—what’s going on in there?!”

Deloris gritted her teeth as she raised her head just enough to get a glance of Wendell. He’d made his way to the pit. She could see the glowing silhouette of his body in the wake of the gems light.

“We’re pinned down, Nat,” she choked into the wind, watching Wendell lift a hand to the Ithari. “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Wendell’s finger touched the surface of the gem.

 

…and everything went black.

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