Marli watched as her huge mutant arm crumbled to dust. Around her, she saw the same happening to the others. She looked over to where the remains of the soldiers had laid before being covered by the carcasses of the creatures. Those soldiers had exploded, Freeman said. Was that what would happen to them now?
She looked around at the others, each with similar concern on their face, as a couple of soldiers helped Freeman out the audience room. He looked in a bad way, covered in ichor and blood, but at least he was alive.
Quentin, still cowering behind his throne, was watching them intently. Now they’d lost those extra limbs, Marli and her friends were not quite the threat that were a few minutes ago. Would he change his mind again and have them seized?
“Are we going to explode now?” Jaxx said, echoing everyone’s mind.
“Apparently not,” said Red, walking over. “It appears whatever happened to those soldiers, was not the same as happened to us.”
“Most interesting,” said McArthur, leaving Quentin’s side to join them. “I wonder what might account for the discrepancy?”
“Does it matter?” Quentin called over from the back of the room. “I want men with pickaxes mining gems before more of those creatures appear.”
A couple of soldiers hurried out.
“And bring some buckets of water to clear up this mess,” he called after them.
But the discrepancy McArthur had noticed did matter to Marli. What was happening to her and her friends. And why was it so different to the experience of those poor soldiers?
“The orb as well,” the old man continued. “Why does it tear reality when young Jaxxon here touches it, and not when anyone else does?”
“I wonder…” said Gynea.
She looked over to where the orb lay beside the throne. She started over towards it but Drummond stopped her.
“I just wanted to see…” she started.
“We’ve had enough tears in the world for one day,” Drummond said.
“No,” said Quentin, emerging from behind the throne. “The girl is right. We need to know if this is something limited to Jaxxon or whether you all have the talent.”
“My Laird,” McArthur said. “Who knows what else could come out of another tear?”
“Who knows what riches they might possess,” he replied. He carefully stepped over the bodies of the ants to reach the edge of the cave. He reached in and touched the sparkling walls.
“This,” he said, “could solve all our worries.”
“But your soldiers,” said Red. “They’re not equipped to tackle what may lurk in these other worlds.”
“With this fortune, I could not not only properly equip them, but afford a full army.”
“My Laird!” McArthur protested. “The Clanlands are peaceful.”
“Not for out here, you idiot. In there. You don’t want our people going hungry this winter. This is how we solve it. If we can’t eat the food from these worlds, we’ll gather enough riches to be able to afford it from the other estates. Heck, we’ll ship it up from south of the border if needed.”
Marli couldn’t argue with Quentin’s logic. He was a self-centred son of a bitch, but if his aims meant people didn’t starve this winter, she could support it.
“Of course,” she said to her father, “that relies on Jaxxon here opening the tears.”
Laird Quentin sighed.
“What do you want?”
“A quarter,” Drummond said.
Marli stared at him.
“What?” he protested. “The cranig desperately needs repairs, and I’d rather not have to rely on hunting to fill our bellies.”
“Very well,” said Quentin without a second thought.
Marli was shocked. Her father was more likely to plot and undercut than ever agree so readily.
“But,” he added, “I want your full support on this.”
Drummond looked at Marli, seeking approval.
She shrugged. No doubt her father would pull some con on them at one point or other, but he’d do that whether they were sharing riches or not.
“OK,” she said. “But the first sign of any side effects and we stop.”
“Woo,” cheered Jaxx. “We’re rich.”
“Steady on,” said Red. “We still need to understand why we’re able to open portals and grow extra arms and everyone else just explodes.”
“I agree,” said Marli.
Just because they didn’t explode this time, didn’t mean they might not the next. There was risk to this plan, something she didn’t want to frighten the others with just yet.
“Something must have happened before the troops found you,” McArthur said.
“We went into the portal?” suggested Gynea.
“So did the troops,” McArthur replied.
“The crystal!” said Jaxx. “It exploded, remember?”
“What crystal?” Quentin asked, still trying to pull one of the gems from the cave wall.
“When we searched…” Jaxx started.
Marli interrupted. She wasn’t quite sure she wanted Quentin knowing about Professor Brennan. Not yet at least. She had her own questions for the good professor, such as how he knew that there were things to be found in the bog in the first place.
There’d be time in the future for that, but for now, it made sense to keep that information from Laird Quentin.
“What he means,” she said, “is that when we found the orb it was encased by some form of crystal.”
A serf came into the room carrying a pickaxe. Quentin snatched it and began hitting at the rock that surrounded the gem.
“Where’s this crystal now?” he asked.
“It exploded,” Jaxx replied.
“Knocked us clean out,” added Red. “We came to, hours later and found the orb in its place.”
“Interesting,” said McArthur.
“Jaxx then picked up the orb and was able to open the tear in the world. The rest you know.”
“Were there more crystals or just the one?”
Marli couldn’t be sure what else was in the bog. Only Professor Brennan might have an idea of that. But, if there were more, and Quentin was able to give his troops the same talents as her and her group, then they’d no longer be of benefit to him any more. And knowing Quentin far too well, they’d be double-crossed for sure.
Quentin pried the gem from the rock and walked back into the room admiring his treasure. It looked more real brought into this world.
“This alone will fetch a fortune,” he said, holding it up. “We need to open new tears and find what riches they contain.”
“If we do,” McArthur said. “I’d like to try the orb with someone else and observe the results.”
Quentin pointed at Gynea.
“We’ll try the girl,” he said. “She was first to grow an arm.”
Marli went to speak, but Red beat her to it.
“No,” he said. “It could be dangerous. If anyone is to try, then I’ll do it.”
“And I’d like them to try the fruit again,” McArthur said, “and see if they can repeat the mutation.”
Marli wasn’t so sure about that. She was even more wary about the fruit than she was the orb. They might have just been lucky the first time.
“Sure,” said Drummond. “I’ll try it, even if the others don’t.”
“Good,” said Quentin admiring his jewel. “We’ll try again first thing in the morning.”
“Might I advise we try somewhere other than the audience room?” McArthur said. “Somewhere closed so that if something does come out, we can easily contain it.”
Marli felt uneasy. Had she agreed to an alliance that would help her little group, or had she involved them in something that was just going to spell trouble? As much as logic told her that being warm and well fed this winter was a priority, she couldn’t help but feel this pact with Quentin was going to bite them all in the arse.
This chapter had to give out a lot of information over few words. I think I made it clear why the heroes can mutate and the soldiers can’t but in doing so I think the truce between Quentin and Marli was a little too easily reached.
If I were revising this, I think I would look at the early chapters and question whether there was a clearer way to establish our heroes abilities. It currently feels a little clunky and having to explain things to the reader by chapter 8 gets my spidey-sense tingling.
As usual with a first draft, there’s all the usual misspellings, grammar fails, typos and incorrect usage of words.