2 The Yeti And The Stone
Qez blinked. Unfamiliar shapes were forming blurrily before his eyes. He could barely tell what.
He felt a tremendous jolt coursing through his entire body, all in the matter of milliseconds. It really hurt, in a way that numbed and sharpened him at the same time. But Qez could immediately see.
The sky above was acres and acres of a strange, light colour which Qez had never seen before. The wide, wide expanse of this new colour had spreads of foggy white in it that drifted across lazily. Far in the horizon, a creature Qez had no name for soared with widespread wings. And the smell of it all…so deliciously crisp, and bright, and different.
Qez stared in amazement. He was overwhelmed with the new feeling of openness, of fierce freedom, of wonderful, wonderful things he had never before owned. Dizzy…he felt dizzy. Why was he lying down? He tried to lift his head from the ground.
Another sudden burst of pain landed, somewhere in his stomach this time. His head banged back to the ground.
"Boy. Stop," a sharp voice ordered.
Qez looked up indignantly to see a being dressed in foreign dark-coloured clothing, with one huge foot stamped on his protesting midriff. It hurt. What more, this new being looked to be glaring at him with piercing eyes of another startling, bright colour he knew nothing of. Around the being's face, which looked fierce with the piercing eyes, straight nose and evidently frowning mouth, strands and strands of what struck Qez as very very long fur hung down in wild hanks that blew about in the slight wind. He rather guessed, that this was a advanced kind of talking yeti that had shed all its fur besides the exceptionally long part sprouting from the head. And he was fascinated. But then, the yeti might just eat him and his freedom would be short-lived.
"Are you…are you going to eat me?" Qez asked slowly and hesitantly. It had been so long since he'd spoken that his voice sounded almost disembodied.
The yeti's face gave a strange twist, with one of its eyebrows screwed up in apparent disbelief. Qez realized this yeti probably didn't like its prey asking stupid questions. Oh, well.
"Eat you? And why would I ever want to eat you, you undersized shrimp of a man?!" the yeti roared. Qez wondered what 'shrimp' and 'man' was. But he caught the word 'undersized'.
"But I'm not undersized," Qez argued indignantly. "I'm just skinny, I think. At least, that's what they tell me." All the while he was actually thinking, Now it's going to carry me off to a yeti cave somewhere and stuff me with yeti food until I'm fat enough to cook.
The yeti folded its arms and all but glared at Qez. "Are you trying to distract me, boy, or are you just plain stupid? If you're attempting to infiltrate our organization-" Here the yeti jabbed him hard in the chest with a pole-like object. "-I should tell you it will never work with one as pea-brained as you. Who are you spying for?"
"In-feel-trait?" Qez repeated blankly. "What's that?"
The yeti groaned in what must have been exasperation, and impatience. "Oh, confound it! Just answer properly, would you! Who are you?!"
Qez swallowed. A modern yeti was not something you wanted to anger. And he just did. With a sheepish grin, he replied, "If you mean what I am, I'm Qez."
"Qez?" the yeti repeated with an eyebrow raised in distaste. "That is the weirdest name I've ever heard."
Now it was Qez's turn to be annoyed. His name was all he had.
"Qez," he said with the most dignity he could muster even under the yeti's heavy foot and jabbing pole, "-is a perfectly good name. And a nameless yeti like you has no right to criticize my name, even if you are going to eat me!"
I'm dead, Qez thought glumly with one swift look at the yeti's face. Contorted with blown-up rage, it looked by far the strangest colour he had seen. The yeti stamped on Qez's midriff again with extreme force, bringing tears into his eyes.
"YETI?!" it screamed. "Have you no brain cells at all, boy?! What part of me even resembles a yeti, you…you…!"
And the being said words which neither yeti nor boy should ever know.
Halfway through the abuse the not-really-yeti was spouting at him, Qez, still watery-eyed with pain, managed to cut in and demand chokingly, "Then what are you? I think I'd prefer a real yeti any day!"
"I," the being snarled, "am Aley Dwire. THE Aley Dwire. And if you're so anxious to know, I'm what they call a human girl. As if you don't know that, seeing that you're human yourself! I've met zombies with better sense than you have!"
"Human…" Qez mused. "Human…?"
His memory went blank. He had never heard this word before, and yet…it sounded familiar.
"I…you said…you're human? I'm human?"
"Do you aspire to be a yeti then, since it suits you so much better?" the Aley-girl retorted.
Absent-mindedly shaking his head, Qez tried to lift at least the upper part of his body. Human…
He continued vaguely, "All right, I'm sorry I thought you were a yeti. Can you let me go now?"
"No," said the Aley-girl.
Qez snapped out of his muse. "What?"
"No," Aley-girl repeated firmly. "You failed to answer any of my questions. Nobody is allowed a step into Halioth without an explanation, boy."
Aley-girl stared meaningly at Qez. He frowned. "So?"
"You're a menace."
With that, Aley-girl deftly pointed her long, pole-like object at Qez.
"It seems like one of their shoddy experiments to me. A single Wescan seal should have blown it to smithereens."
"That's what they probably want us to think! I think it's a trap."
"It does look different from the ones they've sent so far."
Qez awoke to the hushed whispers of some sort of debate. Again he was lying down, this time on a cold hard surface. He felt drowsy. Everything felt, and smelt wrong. Where am I? Qez last remembered feeling pain, shocks and shocks of pain that blacked him out. He longed to open his eyes now, but his distinct held him back. Danger.
Someone laughed, in a deep, sarcastic tone. Qez didn't like the sound of that laugh. He tried to breathe evenly, feigning a state of unconsciousness.
"You're all deluding yourselves. I'm thinking that Aley here simply slipped up a little in her work. End of story."
"Slipped up!" spoke a familiar voice, lighter and sharper and evidently angry. "You know I never slip up! You bare-faced moron!"
"There, there," a cool, calm voice tried to pacify. This voice sent invisible shivers down Qez's spine, somehow lessening his agitation. The arguing voices around him drew to a silent murmur. "No need for such language, Aley. Cicardaea, don't chide her. This is no small matter. I have a feeling about this particular one."
Qez felt the air grow tight. He could almost pictures the beings holding their breaths, waiting for some sort of response. He could tell the voice that had just spoken belonged to some sort of leader of theirs, and everyone was hanging on to this leader's every movement.
I have a feeling about this particular one.
It sent another shiver down Qez's spine, only this time it did not ease anything. He was terrified.
"Aley, where did you find this again?"
"I told you. By the borders of Cabraya, right along the edge of Gulien's Forest where the south of Halioth starts."
No weapons? Nothing out of place?" the cool voice probed gently. There was an awkward silence. Qez could feel some sort of force in the background, pulsing, pulsing.
Another silence followed, thick and ominous now. Qez wanted to scream. He could feel the weight of the atmosphere crushing him, suffocating him quietly. They are watching me.
Then, for a moment he thought he heard the faint, muffled sound of footsteps, followed by a distant creak. He felt the air around him grow colder. What was happening?
"If there's one thing I hate the most," the cool, leader's voice continued, "it's not knowing something. But I do know…"
More silence. And more, and more.
"I do know you're awake."
Qez's blood turned to ice.
"Why do you hide?"
No, Qez thought frantically. It's a trap. Lay still.
"Tell me. What do you think of the world? You see fit to rip me apart. Why ever this too?"
Then came was a smooth metallic sound, like something sharp being drawn. It rang, in a sharp clean, almost musical arc in Qez's ears, alerting every muscle in his body. Eyes thrown open, he instinctively rolled over and took a flying leap into the air, landing on all fours at the opposite side of the walled chamber they were in as a deafening crash took its place where he lay half a second before. A furious snarl echoed around the chamber, like the sound of a dangerous wild animal. The snarl, Qez realized, was escaping his own bared teeth as he tensed in a crouching position. He found himself glaring across the space at a tall being with its hands gripped on the handle of a gleaming sword lodged in a pulsing slab of stone. The ground was strewn with pieces of the same kind of stone which sent up small spires of smoke wherever they lay. The being with the sword smiled as it pulled out the sword with a smooth ring, causing the halves of the stone to collapse to the ground in a crashing heap.
"There now," the being said, in the cool leader's voice Qez had heard earlier. He took in the leader with narrowed, distrustful eyes. A tall, slender figure cloaked in white billowing material. The stuff he had taken for yeti fur when he first saw Aley was smoothed up in an elegant twist on the leader's head, and it was of a pale, almost white but not quite colour. The leader looked to be of the same species as the Aley-girl – only far more mature and dangerous. Her cool, light-coloured eyes,
set in a sharp, elegant face, saw all.
In the few seconds he took in summing her up, Qez decided he deeply disliked this leader. He lunged.
A force blasted him backwards. With a loud THWACK, Qez smashed against the stony wall and slumped downwards, his head whirling. He heard something whizzing through the air towards him. Qez dodged. He skidded on all fours, ignoring the stabbing pain in his palms where the sharp pieces of stone had cut him when he landed.
He was angry. Really, really angry. Qez snarled again, as the sword flew straight towards his heart again in a flash of gleaming white.
So she wants to play games now, does she?!
Qez braced his feet and hands, readying to jump out of the way. He bounded forward, his body arcing over the sword, leaving it shooting to the far right where he had nearly chosen to jump towards a millisecond ago. Qez grinned in spite of himself as he leapt his way across the chamber, and started circling it in huge strides.
I want freedom.
Everything around him whizzed by in a white-grey blur as he ran, round and round, faster and faster. The same gleaming sword followed him at intervals, always landing with a loud, swooshing clang in the ground millimetres after him. Qez's eyesight was still sharp, perhaps made sharper, through the roaring grey blur. He could see, with perfect clarity, where he was going, and more importantly, the figure in billowing white whose face was tipped up in mild amusement. Qez felt more hate surging through his limbs. Fool, was he?!
A small black rectangular block carved with strange symbols, strung round the leader's neck on a knotted piece of shimmering string caught Qez's eye. The symbols on it seemed to be glowing, pulsing in an invisible way, in a colour not unlike the colour of the sky Qez had seen earlier. A dangerous, pulsing sky. He had felt the same pulsing just now, while lying on that slab of stone feigning unconsciousness. The leader had used it to make sure the Aley-girl was telling the truth. And it's what's stopping me.
Driven by the indignation and anger at how a mere piece of stone was stopping him this way, Qez felt himself lifting off the ground mid-circle. His mind seemed to click with a different level, and it was like delving through the folds of a million rolling waves before finding just the right one. Like a password, Qez shot through the leader's barrier with an inaudible whump. As that happened, the small rectangular block with the symbols was thrown forward from her neck by an immense force that made Qez feel as if his face would peel off by the skin. Wind roared in his ears. And suspended by the string, right in front of his eyes, was the thing he wanted to destroy so badly.
The forcefield vanished in an explosion. Qez spiralled to the far side of the chamber, the black stone flying along on the thread of string clamped securely between his teeth. A stinging, painful sensation shot along the side of his waist and legs as he fell past to the ground with a thud.
Qez lay on the ground, his breath coming in short, ragged puffs. The side of his face lying on the hard ground felt cool. Disoriented he stared at the blurry black shape lying a few centimetres away from his teeth. The glow it emitted was faint. Fading away. Good, he thought savagely. He felt queer. Qez coughed, with an effort. Warm, sticky substance splattered out of his mouth, staining the ground. It went on dripping from his aching teeth in alarming amounts.
For the first time since he was here, Qez felt truly scared.