THE SLATE OF VALE PART 15

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CHAPTER 15

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MORE TROUBLE

“I can’t believe we travelled all night” Jeff said, noting the delight growing in his stomach and the gladness in his eyes to blink the gold light again. Refreshing breezes were drifting over them, driving wide the horrible odor from the tunnel. The field of green spread through space, as far as the eyes could see, even the canopies of the tall trees sheltered the golden glow of the morning, but the peace and harmony was ever present.

“Thank the creator for the grace of day, I wonder…Jeff, tell me, do you know about the Snake Mountains?” Ema asked

“Off course I do. The Snake Mountains, where the night was perceived as day and the day was perceive as night. Funny, that was the scariest story I heard when I was still a little boy. Myths and Legends, parents are always fond of tales.”

“Could be true, I never believe Anadan wasn’t a real world until Raz and his friends pointed it out. Those adventure bed time stories could have happened or might be a sign of what’s to come. Myths and legend, could all be true, you never can tell”

“A sign? you sound ridiculous. Well, here we are” Jeff chuckled. He knew some of those childish folktales had truths hidden in them. His glowing hands and heightened senses were enough evidence to testify. But he wouldn’t admit he was giving it a second thought, not in the presence of Ema, so he joked with it instead. “Myths and legend led us here. Ema and Jeffred, legends of Anadan” he threw his hands in the air like the legendary Indiana Jones and laughed.

Ema scoffed his joke with a sniff. She was going through her stuff searching for something. Despite the gentle morning wind, her black jumpsuit still smelt as if picked from the pool of sweat and humus. The cascade of red hair, which initially was in a ponytail; now dangles swiftly behind her as she straightened and clipped a watch, she had collected from her bag, round her wrist. Jeff’s laughter ceased as he gasped and searched his bag too.

“Ema, how in the world did you get that compass, I can’t remember giving it to you” Jeff pointed accusingly. The wonder and surprise in his eyes was beyond comparison.

“Relax, I only borrowed it and I promise to return it once we get to the capital of Balom.”

“Is borrowing your word for stealing? Remind me to always have my things in check whenever we are together, Mrs. PP” Jeff said and watched Ema burst out with laughter.

“If you call me a pick-pocket for long, then I’m afraid I might christen my name in no distant time. You need to hear yourself say that” Ema mimicked Jeff and laughed again “Anyway, I will take it as a compliment, Jeffy boy.” She smiled and started unzipping her jumpsuit.

Jeff’s eyes seemed to develop mind of their own as they followed the opening mouth of the zip, which lay underneath her jaw bone. It exposed smooth necks, trailing down to revile perfect tanned skin, clouding the shoulder and showing slightly the clavicle bones underneath. No beauty can compete with Ema’s, any that he had seen. Reluctantly, with a great effort, Jeff turned the other way.

“Should’ve excused yourself.” Jeff swallowed, the image of her body still painted in his head.

“Sorry, this is a strange place. And besides, I badly wanted to get the stink off from my skin” Ema smiled, she noted the sweat wiping down the back of his neck. It was not her intension, but somewhere in her mind, she was happy that he probably was considering her beautiful. She couldn’t tell for sure, she desired him, more than anything that sometimes thinking of him tries to take her breath away. It would be wise to let time bring him to her, no matter how hard it seemed. She would not let out her feelings like this, not this way. The happiness that was swelling in her earlier on was now turning to guilt. Love and lust, she desired his love, not his lust.

“That didn’t explain why excusing yourself was so difficult. Matt really met his match” Jeff murmured and walked away into the forest.”

“What did you just say” Ema asked as her wandering thoughts jumped back into her body.

“Nothing” Jeff replied with a slight smile that never reached his eyes, glad that she was mistaking his desires for her as anger.

“Whatever, just be fast you hear, we don’t have all day.” Jeff heard her say, but he wasn’t paying attention. The girl was really out of her mind. Was it growing up in slums with no privacy or was she just trying to show him herself. No, he wouldn’t think about that, she was beautiful and could be called an angel. He knew deep down that he felt something for her, but Matt had already declared his interest, it would be a betrayer of friendship if he too start poking his nose in the same shoe and that, he can’t do.

Jeff walked deeper and deeper into the forest and later found the bed of a dried brook–under a bamboo tree, between two large stones which were chest high and cupped shape–and decided to change there. He changed into a pink shirt, with white on the collar and a jean. Until his hands felt the hair almost covering his Pinna, did he realize that his coal dark hair was becoming long. Although there were free barbing saloons in the academy, couldn’t remember when last he had a good hair cut.

Jeff picked up his bag to leave. He could see a blue bird picking on the rock close by and a rabbit trying to hide under the shadow of a tree trunk. He smiled and tried reaching for the bird which was closer, but that scared the bird and it flew away. Jeff watched it with happy eye, how wonderful it is to be free as a bird. The bird had blue all over its feather, until now Jeff hadn’t seen the white fur underneath and the black pair of legs.

The warmth of the sun filled him and the soft tender arms of the air captured his lungs, he didn’t know when he tithed his head backwards and closed his eyes, inhaling the air greedily as though he was competing for it. Jeff felt relief, from having breathed foul air for almost six hours in the tunnel, and not for the fact that he was out of the school walls. For one thing, he couldn’t believe that he was actually out of the walls of the academy. He never saw this day coming, he was actually hoping that he would not see the outside of the school walls until his graduation day, when all the school would cheer and call out his name. When the principal would shake hands with him and hand him his certificate. He had envisioned joining the army afterwards, getting married to a good wife and also taking care of his mother. He never for once saw this day, all thanks to Raz and his friends and their speculations of the apocalypse. Only God knows if what they say is true or not. Jeff frowned and opened his eyes when he heard footsteps behind him.

“Ema, can’t you just maintain your distance…” he trailed off. It wasn’t Ema. It was the keepers, about three of them all in polished white armor that could serve as a mirror anytime. The red light from their dark visor beeped constantly as if daring him to move. They looked down and towered over Jeff with active light swords, beaming dangerously with red light. None of them had the electric gun, which was quiet comforting to Jeff.

Jeff elevated his gaze and studied them with narrow eyes, the fright lying somewhere in his adrenaline was almost surfacing. What were they doing here? Were they sent by the school authority? These robots are fast and taking down three of them won’t be easy, especially when you are unarmed. But the keepers never operated on their own, so if there were three here, that means the person who had their control might be close. Jeff leaned behind the green covered rock and scrambled with his hands, trying to find anything to arm himself. His eyes never left the three keepers who attacked him immediately when he picked up a dry bamboo stick.

“Whoosh” Come the sound of the light sword of the first keeper, which passes by Jeff, missing him by the hair, and creating sparks on the rock while pushing into the air some of the greens in the rock. Jeff used the bamboo stick in his hand and smashed its helmet with all his might. The robot lost its balance and crushed over the rock, dropping its light sword in the process. Jeff picked up the sword swiftly and destroyed the robot. He shifted his weight in an acute angle, missing the other who jumped over trying to collide with him but ended up crashing on the rock behind him. It was much easier for Jeff to cut off its head. There was not enough room here and the keepers were trying to trap him between the two large rocks.

Jeff noticed and scrambled out like a spider, giving himself enough space to fight, least he dies and be forgotten here. The third keeper slashed his sword horizontally but Jeff, calling to mind all the seasons he’d had with Raz, stoop with a spinning motion and sliced the robot in half, from its insulated tube abdomen. The robot dismantled in pieces with twitting sound, exposing wires and sparks.

Jeff panted and wiped his brow. What in the Hero’s city were the keepers doing in the middle of nowhere and why had they attacked him? The keepers were built to maintain, peace and dignity and not to assault anybody in any form. Jeff extinguished his Light sword and turned the keeper before him. He found the clip of the brain plate and forced it open the.

Jeff gasped.

“A flame card!!!” he exclaimed, afraid to admit to the fears that were giving his goose bump. He picked up the red chip from the mother board of the keeper and observed its features under the rising sun. The yellow lines trailing down on both side of it and the red in the middle crisscross at the upper and lower side. With the rays of sunlight passing through it, the chip always resemble a burning card, hence the name flame card. The red chip was popularly known as a flame card, which was only inserted during a war, yet even during wars it was dangerous to insert these cards. The flame card is a technology that makes the keepers very strong, fast and agile, but the after effect is that they become very aggressive that they kill anything in sight, even the one controlling them. That’s why the only people allowed to posses such cards were the top officers in the military.

“Help me” came a soft voice in Jeff’s head. Jeff needn’t ask who the voice belong to before he saw himself running to the direction. He had been carried away by the abnormality of the keepers that he had forgotten his friend. He felt panicked growing inside him. The appealing whisper in his head had been filled with agony and talks more about someone who was desperately in need of help. Jeff ran and ran with all his might, using his hands to knock out any leaf of tree that stood on his way. It would have been encouraging if he’d remember the route back to the place he’d come, but now he finds himself wandering with his bag behind him and calling out to Ema, for he was lost.

Jeff paused to catch his breath; he was sweating profusely and smelled of dirt too. His heart was pounding like a drum and seemed to be coming up to his already dehydrated throat. He wiped his brow and looked around but could only see green petals everywhere. “Why was I so stupid?” he blamed himself “I should have stayed around and not wandering far away like a wild animal” Jeff tried to spit but his mouth was too dry. He opened his right palm and studied the Flame card again. Just when he stretched out his hands to throw it away, the flame card started beeping with red tiny light. “It must be trying to locate its controller” Jeff thought.

The flame card only beep when he placed it on the westward direction and like a compass, the beep was more rapid when he moved westward. Jeff followed its lead and moved westward. He was unsure where the flame card was taking him but it was the only option he’d at the moment. The air was moist and the sun peach over the horizon, giving out rich gold light with little heat. Jeff walked for a very long time, his feet were weak and his throat was dry, but he kept on walking, with gaze plastered on the flame card. His once racing heart was now back, to its rhythmic beat and his initial sweaty brow was dry and cold.

Unknowingly, Jeff tripped over a root of a tree and fell, rolling over and down to the base of a small hill. He had been paying attention more to the flame card than the surroundings.

Jeff coughed and sat up weakly, his head was throbbing and his muscles arched. The flame card had stopped beeping but Jeff stared with wide eyes when he realized where he was. He was back at the spot where he’d left Ema. Dry brown leaves littered the ground but the little undergrowth under his feet, were all lying down showing that there had been struggle here. Two paces away from the point he stood were five dead keepers, pulping out smoke like roasted chicken. Five keepers with the flame card in their brain? Ema really wasn’t bluffing when she said her expertise was fighting. Her black bag was on the floor and was open, revealing her sport-light red H-board. The black jumpsuit of the academy was on its mouth, like the bulging tongue of a dead animal. Her make-up kits littered the floor, together with her Sol-X device.

Jeff picked up the bag with tear filled eye, he looked around calling out to Ema but the only reply he got was the continuous song of the birds on the tree. Jeff turned in a three sixty degrees and was boiling with range, Raz and his friends had tricked them into coming out here, they had betrayed them. He found fluid in his mouth and spat with confusion, what was he to do at the moment? He couldn’t go back to the academy now. The fence was already up and won’t go down until the next day. He was still in his dilemma when the flame card in his hand started beeping again. The beep this time was weak and was pointing to the westward direction.

Jeff tucked Ema’s H-board into his bag and collected some of her Sol-X, the rest he left behind. I’m coming for you Ema, he said in his thought as he ran westward. The farther west he ran, the stronger the beeping of the flame card.

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