Author’s note: This is the first draft of a chapter in part II for Seeking the Unknown. Expect spelling and grammar errors and that it will be touched up when the editing phase comes. I wanted to post it since I felt quite proud of it at the time of completion.
Ellis had been escorted in the cloud of his group through the hall. The bossy one went on ahead while the other four carted him into a room with walls of stacked chairs, tables, ropes, and props. It was as if the bossy one kicked dust up behind him in his excitement, he must not have since the stagnant air didn’t suddenly fill with coughing from anyone. The dim lights of the evening had no windows to penetrate, so torches of orange flame flickered light into the place. That they weren't blue and their emissions so unrefined, Ellis thought the torches must have been a cheap addition for where only unimportant eyes would gaze. Shadows cast by harsher lights and muted rumbles shifted from behind around the stage. More than where he had been the other day, it felt like he’d entered a cave.
The hairy one slapped Ellis on the shoulder, causing an instinctual jump. Jorm barely moved out of the way. Tightening his grip, the hairy one said, “I hope you’re as good with animals as you say you are. I need you to win here, break the beast!” He pushed Ellis slightly, enough to send him a step with the release.
Ellis turned to him, his frown dragging into his scraggly facial hair. He’d rather not be there; he worried how Kelnor would react to him being late. He’d eaten as he did every day, at the same point that the sun was in the sky, ready to leave once the shadow’s lined up with the floor’s edge. Instead of a polite farewell, they’d asked him to sit back down. They had plans for him which he hadn’t brought about enough courage to ask what were. After the last one, the tall one, finished dining they nearly pulled him along with them. He shivered as a cold breeze ran around his back. “Break?”
The hairy one emitted and displayed on his face: incredulity. “You’ll see. I’ve got quite a bit of money riding here.”
Ellis heard the bossy one shouting on the other side of the stage followed by a roar. Ellis felt a tingle as they did. He moved to see what was happening, noticing Jorm land back on his shoulder. He never felt Jorm there, but the colored light still distracted him, annoyed him. At least, Ellis felt, it was more familiar than the torch-lit room they group had dragged him to.
The bossy one stood center stage, pumping his fist in the air with words drowned by the sea of people. Ellis felt excited with the crowd at the words, though he really should have been afraid. There were a lot more than three or four the bossy one mentioned on Itwi’s asking. The numbers reached thirty or forty. They mobbed the stage platform, eager for how the bossy one described Ellis’s chances with the animal. Ellis didn’t want to let him down.
He gradually noticed it was only him and the hairy one around. He craned his neck back to look for the others, only seeing the still open door they’d entered from. He wouldn’t have to dig to get out, nor swim. He could easily just turn around and leave. His dilated eyes stirred a fluttering in his chest. “I should get going.”
“Weren’t you listening? I bet on you, you can’t just ditch me.”
Another roar of the crowed drawed back his attention. After it died, the bossy one shouted, “... the rumor child, Ellis! And he’s going to show us just why one he’s been hidden away for so long!”
Ellis recoiled into himself. He did remember, vaguely. They’d said something about animals, how Ellis so easily got Itwi’s solumkerd to behave. He thought they’d been joking when they asked if he could do it again. He nearly ignored them and when back to his book, nodding as his default response to get them to stop talking to him. He should have been paying more attention. “What am I doing again?”
The hairy one coyly smiled. “Oh, just breaking a beast like you do.”
Itwi, from the darkness on the other side of the stage, caught Ellis’ eye. She must have been looking at him for some time, as his noticing had her perk up. She mouthed something, though Ellis’s mind swirled too much to make out what she said.
The bossy one caught Ellis’ eye, pointing with a smug grin. Ellis felt a sudden compulsion. He beckoned for Ellis to come up on stage to the crowd’s anticipatory hoops and hollers. Ellis looked to the door, then for Jorm who’s light had vanished without him noticing. Before he could turn, before he could refuse, the hairy one shoved him out onto the stage. Ellis felt the loudness of his steps on wood reverberate up his legs.
The crowd hushed, whispers of confusion passing from one to another. His heart felt like it would give at any moment. His palms nearly slipped from holding his robe so tightly closed. The bossy one beckoned him further. He obeyed, eyes fixed to the ground. He obeyed when the bossy one told him to turn. Then he noticed it. He no longer obeyed when the bossy one told him to speak. He severed the strand, a sudden rush of relief spattered over him.
He stepped to leave the stage, to go for the door. The bossy one again demanded for Ellis to speak. Ellis didn’t stop because of him but because of the tall one blocking his exit. The giant wheeled a wooden crate onto the stage. It shook; something inside it hissed. A shape scraped by the holes, indescribable due to the harsh light’s cast umbra.
With a palpable tinge of anger, the bossy one told the crowd, “This will be the animal for Ellis to tame. A gorgon!”
The next moments were both spent in a flurry and torpor. The tall one ripped the crate’s side and swiftly jumped back. As the wooden palate fell to the floor, so did a slithering body. Writhing serpents crowned the creatures head, all biting at every direction, shouting. On two arms, the humanoid looked up with a mouth-less and smooth scaled face. Ellis tried to gasp as the creature encased his gaze in amber.
Ellis heard every heart beat in his ears. Each heartbeat that took minutes to get to. He could only watch as the viper recoiled then lunged at him, hands with claws like nails reaching for his safety. Ellis felt himself fall, his body not responding properly to the command of get away. Its eyes grew more wild with each beat, the slits of pupils already just a line. Each beat, Ellis fell closer to the floor, the snake seeming to grow larger over him.
He couldn’t break his gaze. The fear he felt only amplified by the fear emintated around him. Everywhere, choking, strangling. He wanted to scream. It wasn’t him who did so. And it wasn’t him who pumped in fear. It was those eyes. They were fear. They ruled the voice which screached over and over, “you won’t take me!”
His voice caught up screamed as he hit the ground. He saw the world go dark for a second then a pain in the back of his head. He couldn’t get away, not with the weight on his legs. The gorgon, it began to coil around him. The panic, more known than instinctual, pierced his body. The gorgon tightened to the terror, crushing his lower torso.
He saw everyone backing away. Not everyone, there was one that came towards him, an older man. The man shouted, raised a staff in the air. They weren’t going to be fast enough.
Ellis couldn’t remember, he knew. When attacked by an animal, there were two cases. One, the animal saw one as prey; Two, they saw one as a predator. If one could not run, hitting the animal in a sensitive area, such as the nose, might scare it off or give one time for either fight or flight. Most of the time, the animal would be scared of him, in which case he could make himself bigger, yell, or otherwise try to intimidate. He needed to act swiftly and without a chance for panic to make him think twice.
Ellis forced clarity over his mind. He found he had already grabbed the gorgon’s wrists, keeping it from mauling him. He kept it off of him with an ease that surprised him. It was frighteningly humanoid yet monstrous. The crown of snakes, they clanged teeth against a muzzle's metal. So too did the death grip it had him in not truly crush him. He could, to no real use, move his legs.
He lost his focus as he heard a man yelling at him. The person who ran was now climbed the stage. The bossy one passed him on his way to the back stage. No, Ellis had to focus. Was that crying he heard? “don’t take me, don’t take me, don’t take…” The gorgon’s crown shreiked self harmonization. The man was then up on the stage, brandishing a gnarled staff in both hands. The gorgon tightened its grip.
“Kel, Jorm, someone help!” Ellis wailed, vocal cords being pulled too taught.
“Don’t take me!”
Ellis forced air back into his lungs, trying to shift the gorgon’s weight to topple it. He was unsuccessful. Its amber eyes never left. Ellis felt the air be forced from him when responding. “Let me go.” His voice cracked. “I won’t take you!”
It continued to reissue its demand.
Ellis closed his eyes, stinging. He repeated himself each time it did. “I won’t take you, I won’t take you.” It tightened. Ellis could no longer move his legs, he could not feel his legs. He started to lose his grip on its wrists, keeping it away only on recycled breaths.
The man was nearly to him, taking a stance Ellis remembered from a book. He wasn’t the one in danger. He knew that the instant his eyes went back to the gorgon’s. Gems, brown and feral, pleaded with him. They needed help, just like Kel. They had the mark on their neck too.
How? How could he help? If he didn’t act, they were sure to put the creature down, like a dog who bit a stranger after being mistreated for it’s entire life. He knew he couldn’t let that happen, he had sworn not to let it happen. If he couldn’t physically overcome it, he could use a tool. He didn’t have tools. But, maybe, he didn’t need them.
He racked his mind for all he’d learned in the past week. The book’s he’d read? What use was creating air at his feet. What he’d learned from the group? Desrterifying creatures weren’t around to consume it into sand. The telekinesis training with Kel? He was using all his strength just to keep it from crushing him. The telepathy? He wasn’t strong enough. He needed to not second guess himself. He wasn’t strong enough, but it was all he had.
He couldn’t suppress the panic in his heart, so he would have to channel it. The angst, the dryness, the tears, he channeled all of it through the gorgon’s eyes. Further, past the corporal, a drill made of fear born of necessity. He came to her gate, baring down on her with a berserker’s cauldron of anxiety. He did not let up, forcing his essence into the gorgon’s. It tried it’s best to keep him out, the gate barred in burning iron. It wasn’t enough. Ellis broke through, tumbling head over heals into her conscious.
Fear gave way to fear. A feedback loop that did not start start or end with him nor her. The drill dissolved into herself, himself. They weren’t two beings, they were one in the same. They kept gripped the wrists and coiled the legs to keep them from hurting themselves. She knows he’s afraid, giving her confidence. He knows she’s vulnerable, giving him empathy. Ellis, Carrin, they looked through the infinite reflection of their own eyes. They can’t remember what happened a week ago. They remember living in a cage all their lives. They feel sorrowful for attacking despite intelligibility. They could be heard, despite the curse. They felt happy for the truth. They knew all along Ellis had been telling the truth.
It was a lot more jarring than his training with Kel. Even Jorm, that week ago, hadn’t been so unrefined in his enmeshment and severing. Carrin, she wasn’t strong. Not physically. Not mentally. She’d been alone. She didn’t have a friend to help her communicate. Everything for her from that point forward would be guesswork. Was that Ellis thinking that? He shook his head, something like her still lingered in his mind.
Carrin’s pupils dilated, her vice loosened. Her wrists were loose for a moment before trying to pull away. Ellis allowed for that. He wasn’t afraid anymore, but the adrenaline still galloped through his body.
“I’m sorry,” She said in a whisper. She turned her eyes up and away, bringing Ellis with them.
The older man stood over them, the staff shaking in his hands as he pointed it at Carrin. Ellis knew the staff meant something more than what it could be physically used for, something about it screamed danger. With his hands free, he flipped over, stumbling over Carrin’s lingering coil, shouting, “don’t hurt her, she’s just afraid!”
Carrin rapidly uncoiled and retreated into the box. “Don’t let him take me Ellis.” She made herself small, hiding in the shadow.
The man followed her with the staff, attention transfixed. “The thing’s a danger. It refused to obey me.” Feelings of anger flowed into the staff.
“Don’t.” Ellis scrambled up, grabbing the staff with both hands. He shoved to push it away, ending up fighting with the man for control. “It’s afraid.” He struggled with the man further, the wave of anger having retreated. He was stronger than Carrin, but not by much. Ellis knew he could overpower him if he could just get the right angle. “Can’t you see she’s not trying to hurt anyone!”
“Ellisir, she attacked you!” The man stepped back, losing the fight. “Step aside and let me end this painlessly.”
Ellis wrested the staff from the man, pointing it back at him. He raised his hands in defeat, though his brow trembled with fury. Ellis could feel the staff take something from him, after having asked. It would do as he commanded, willing to help him with whatever his will desired. It wasn’t animate.
Carrin slithered up behind Ellis, using him as a shield. She emanated worry, whispering for Ellis not to hurt anyone. Ellis, subduing his urge, pulled the staff back. “I swear to Shia above,” he took a breath, “it will not harm anyone.”
The man lowered his arms, still wary. “Then what do you propose to do, seir Aro?”
She’d spent her life in a cage. There wasn’t anything Ellis could do about that now. “I’ll take her back.”
“No,” Carrin said in a pitiful voice. He felt Carrin grab his robe. He instinctively pulled it from her, scared that she might expose him.
The man methodically lowered his arms to across over his head. He bowed saying, “as you wish.” Staying bowed, he looks up to Carrin, then to Ellis. “I should have guessed one of Aro would be so intense.” Then, he stood up to face the crowd. Ellis lost much of his vigor after seeing their faces, a mixture of horror and admiration. “There is no cause for alarm, everything is being handled. The show is over, please return to your activities.” He turned back to Ellis, expecting.
Ellis looked to the ground, offering the staff back to the man. “Sorry.” The man snatched it back. Ellis whispered, “I-I don’t know where her cage is.” The fired had died.
“Follow me Ellisir.” As he passed, he said quite enough that no one would hear, “we will discuss your punishment later.”
Ellis trailed him back stage and through the door. Carrin clung to his robe, forcing him to use both hands to keep it closed. The halls were mostly empty, but not empty enough. Ellis could feel the astonishment of onlookers as they passed. He grew annoyed with their gawking. What made it worse was that, when the man turned down a corridor, Carrin would quickly move to keep Ellis as a buffer. Ellis had to adjust his grip each time.
“Don’t you ever call for me. Do you know what’s going to happen now? They’ll ask questions. Then they’ll find out. You’ve doomed us.” Jorm sat on Ellis’ shoulder.
Ellis could barely keep his mouth shut. He didn’t have time for Jorm’s twaddle. And he accused him? When Ellis’ life was on the line? The fairy couldn’t possibly have such nerve. “Why didn’t you help.”
The old man responded, “What’s that Ellisir?”
“Sorry, nothing.” Ellis would deal with Jorm later. Maybe, when he’d boiled enough, he would break into Jorm’s mind and find out for himself why he didn’t help. Ellis hit his leg at the thought.
They were about halfway to the animal tower, where Ellis assumed they were headed. Maybe a bit more, he hadn’t been to this part of the building yet. He guessed from the memory of the map. Ellis switched his attention from the man to Carrin to Jorm. None seemed interested in him except for Carrin. She would look back inquisitively each time. The man had since been talking to a bejweeld bracelet, keeping his voice just low enough so Ellis could not overhear.
Ellis didn’t need speech, not in the world where he could enter someone’s mind. He reached for Carrin’s, tapping on her gate. She hesitantly opened it, only just enough for Ellis to find a cursory understanding. He tried to keep from falling in, keeping only a foot in the shallows. They didn’t share experiences, but did share feelings. It was like he’d felt with everyone, the aura they all had, but more intense, more concrete. He found he could make meaning from the feelings, like words without sounds or symbols. He assumed the same happened for her.
Why did they, the bossy one, take you?
I don’t know. There was a tasty live velur, they trapped me in a box. I don’t want to go back.
I’m sorry, I can’t do anything else. They would kill you.
She pauses her thought, images of herself being brought back into boredom and claustrophobia. I don’t want to die.
With her acceptance, Ellis broke contact. He came back to find they were exiting the building, into the, blessedly familiar, collondae. The break from the mental overlap wasn’t much smother than before. But, it was less enmeshed to begin with, so it wasn’t as jarring. He grew angry with the bossy one and the group. Why had they put this poor creature in such a stressful situation? They would have gotten an innocent creature killed. And for what? To torture Ellis? And why had they done that? He seethed.
Before entering the tower, Ellis is once again blocked by two imposing figures. It wasn’t the tall one this time two women. The left was large and burly, covered in dirt. She turned to her partner and bowed with the man, both having hands over their head. Ellis mimicked with both arms over and Carrin followed suit.
The woman who bowed with both arms across her belly faced Ellis. She —who wore a grandness about her, adorned in a striking yet simple suit— said, “Ellis Arois, the caretaker here will return the gorgon to her enclosure.”
Carrin, with defeated recognition, slithered to be by the burly woman’s side. The two exited through the tower’s door. It clicked after it closed. The words “locked” etched in on the plate. Ellis blinked at how fast she —who but only minutes ago attacked him— departed.
“Headmaster…” the man talks to her, explaining the situation, acting as though Ellis wasn’t there.
On the mention of Ellis turning on him, reserved shocked found its way, for the briefest of moments, on her face. “Ellisir, why would you so brazenly disrespect a professor?”
“The gorgon,” Ellis said, eyes to the dirt, “would have killed her.”
“And you would attack a person of high rank to protect a simple animal?”
Jorm tapped on Ellis’ shoulder. Ellis responded, “I would not have attacked him. I just didn’t want to let anyone get hurt.” He fought the tears behind at the dams of his eyes.
He felt her scrutiny. “Do you, Ellisir, have any idea what kind of danger you were in?” Ellis didn’t respond. “That animal, if it had bitten you, could easily paralyzed you for life, if not outright have you killed.” She loomed. “Had anything happened, I would have had to explain your death.” Ellis swallowed. “I will let this slide only once, as you are of Aro. But, if anything like this happens again, I can not permit you to attend here, despite your lineage.” She emphasized her last word.
Then, she left with the man. Ellis was alone, rather, was alone with Jorm once more. He was close to Kelnor too, though he knew he would have to go to the woods to get to him. He wouldn’t return to the building proper. The next day, he wouldn’t return to that group.