And what do you know? After the harrowing incidents of chapter 5 (Elaina’s death, the pastor’s death, the resurrection of the murderer, etc.), things get
worse better– I don’t know. Do they get better or worse? You decide I guess. Enjoy. As a side note, this chapter gets pretty gruesome, so if you want something lighter, check out Elena’s version of chapter six.
Too fast. It’s happening too fast for me.
Nathaniel reeled. He had been beaten. No! He had not. Not yet. Six– six– why six? Why was there a confounded six on the end of the note? It didn’t add up, there had to be something more. He was missing something. And Elaina! He had to find her. She was the mystery he could not solve, the puzzle he could not decipher, and, he realized, the friend he never had.
“Argh!” Nathaniel cried out, dropping to his knees and driving his hand through his tangled hair, something he had not done in years.
“Sir! Sir!” It was Charles, running along the path Nathaniel had taken. Nathaniel looked up, the haunted look in his eyes startling Charles quite badly.
“What is it?”
“Kath’rin, she’s,” Charles gulped in some air, for he was fairly out of breath. “Something s’wrong with’er.”
Nathaniel got to his feet slowly and followed Charles as the excited guide led him back to the campsite. Nathaniel realized what the detective had been talking about now. And Nathaniel had not even seen a murdered body yet. He thought– Then as Charles stepped forward, something swung down from the trees and smacked the leading boy in the face. Nathaniel heard a sharp exclamation as his eyes followed the downward trajectory of Charles.
Looking up, Nathaniel felt his body go into utter shock. His eyes took in a mutilated face with eyes gouged out and hair ripped as he sunk to his knees. The chest had been slashed, ribs crushed, and both arms were missing. As darkness closed in on his vision, Nathaniel realized hazily that the corpse was wearing Elaina’s clothes.
Nathaniel could not been have out for more than a few seconds before he sat up straight. Charles was in the bushes gagging and throwing up; he did a lot of that, some part of Nathaniel’s brain perceived. Nathaniel pulled Charles up by the collar roughly; he looked terrible. Despite this, the guide managed a weak, “What would y’like sir?”
“Come with me,” Nathaniel said shortly, leading the way back to the campsite. Purposefully averting his eyes from the body, he gave it plenty of room as he followed the trail that he had so recently taken.
When Nathaniel reached the campsite, he saw a figure lying straight on the ground beside the fire that Charles had relit. Going over beside Katherine, Nathaniel put a hand on her shoulder and shook her. She did not move. Then Nathaniel realized her eyes were wide open and that she was staring straight ahead, unblinking. God, not her too? Nathaniel felt for a pulse, and was relieved to find that she did indeed have one.
“She must be halluci–” Nathaniel’s dialogue to Charles was interrupted as Katherine sat up, shoving the former onto his back as she did so.
“No! No! Stay away from me!” she screamed, then burst out sobbing.
Nathaniel felt like his world was crumbling around him. He felt cold, so cold. His blood was like liquid ice being pumped from an even icier heart. He automatically noticed Charles crouch beside Katherine to comfort her, but he did not register it, and falling limply onto his back, Nathaniel closed his eyes and tried to sort out his mental disarray.
Nathaniel was running from something. He didn’t know what. Then he looked over his shoulder and saw that it was death. He was running from death! But he began to feel tired, and soon he felt like there was no need for him to run anymore. Surely death would be better than running endlessly?
He woke up.
Katherine was sitting, hugging her knees and staring at him quietly. Charles was out by the fire, snoring serenely. Nathaniel noticed a picture of a smiling little girl in a locket that hung out from under his shirt; Charles’ little sister, Nathaniel thought vacantly. Birds chirped overhead, and Nathaniel could hear the chattering of monkeys in the distance. It was all very peaceful, and the events of the previous night could have been a nightmare, except for the missing person.
“We must go,” Nathaniel said, standing up. He desperately wished to ask Katherine about her hallucination, but revenge against those who had murdered Elaina gripped his heart and set him on one course and one course only. Charles awoke instantly at the sound of his voice.
“Where to sir?”
Nathaniel carried a rifle, while Charles held his scythe in his hand. The latter had adamantly refused when Nathaniel had offered him the use of the other rifle. Katherine was lagging behind, occasionally stopping to admire some flower or another, and acting altogether like a carefree little girl.
“Why?” Nathaniel asked Charles, as he shoved through the underbrush.
“Escuse me sir?” Charles said, not fully comprehending what Nathaniel meant.
“Why no rifle?”
Charles was quiet for a moment, then he said in a low voice, “I shot m’cat,” then his voice went up several semitones as did volume. “Th’gun was not s’posed to b’loaded!”
Nathaniel began laughing, but there was a hollow ring to his mirth. Then he said darkly, “You did not shoot your cat. You shot– your younger sister.”
Charle’s face contorted and then became wretched.
“I ‘ad jus’ come back. Sh’knew she was s’posed t’stay away from th’gun! Nex’ thing I knew, sh’d shot herself through th’ead. I didn’t meanitt! Th’gun was not s’posed to b’loaded!”
“This is a wretched little party isn’t it?” Nathaniel observed evenly as he stepped into a clearing. Before him was a giant pool of water, and behind it was a large temple. The sacerdotal stone structure loomed before them like some great grey and green giant, for it was covered in vines and moss. Nathaniel looked at the temple keenly through brown eyes. Then he murmured, “Now, key, what door do you unlock.”
Nathaniel stepped forward and stubbed his toe on something. Bending down, he picked it up. It was not very big, but was an iridescent piece of layered metal with a strange line pattern across its surface. Nathaniel did not know why, but he felt the urge to have it on his necklace beside the cross that his father had given him in time long past. There was a hole through the piece of metal in the most convenient of locations, and Nathaniel found himself wondering if it had been used as a pendant to a necklace.
Turning to Charles to tell him about the plan of action, Nathaniel saw the guide gaping in shock, and looking back at the temple, Nathaniel saw why. What appeared to be a robot was emerging from the entrance to the temple. It was very damaged, and as it shambled around the pool of water in front of its residence, Nathaniel could see that its parts were primitive in the utmost. Yet it was a robot. What people group could have been so advanced as to construct robots?
The ramshackle robot stopped before them, and Nathaniel saw that it was in even worse disrepair than he had first realized, and it made him wonder even more what sort of people could have made something like this that could survive through the ages. His keen eyes took in wood body parts and crudely made metal joints, along with a head containing eye sockets so deep that the shadow they cast on the visual orbs enclosed was near black. Then to his surprise – though little could surprise Nathaniel before, and even less could amaze him now – the robot began speaking.
“I am AB 34, guardian of the celestial temple of the People, and you have just retrieved a piece of the Artifact. Please come with me.”