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Ari

The Donning of Harness (IC, Solo)

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Central Puerto Rico, the northern side of El Yunque('the Anvil'), July 25th 2013

Subito had ended up going to Puerto Rico alone with his family. Cerys was busy, Serge doubly so, and the rest had either graduated or were hard at work preparing for it. That had turned out to be a considerable blessing for the muscular teen, as the sudden explosion of familial visits and reunions with laughing cousins was something he felt would have been hurt if he'd dragged someone else along for it. He, Galanta and Rodrigo had finally been allowed a day to wander the island before the celebratory meal, and the trio had quickly taken advantage of it and their maternal grandparent's closeness to the mountain to trek up its slopes. Subito was in his usual white shirt and jean shorts, and had found an excellent seat in a rock shelf partway up the northern face. He looked out at the island from that vantage point, quietly watching the slow sway of the trees stretching to the horizon, the movements of birds, the stealthy creeping of grounded animals and the distant glimmer of the sea. He felt a sudden, powerful connection to everything he sensed, and all the myriad of things built by humanity just out of sight. Here at last he could learn the truth.

 

Steeling himself, he whispered 'Dama, I ask leave to enter your dominion and hear from your mouth what this knight means, and why you refused to explain. I will surpass any obstacles you place before me, and defeat any foe who stands against my quest  My permission is granted, Herald. And you shall hear it and understand. Since you have already seen the bridge, the pool and the rest I will only say this: do not retreat. Be strong, I must not guide you once you enter.'

Closing his eyes he willed the beating of his heart to a slower, stronger rythm, gradually attuning himself to the island. The books lent to the young paragon by the mages of Parkhurst had been amazingly helpful and complete, describing meditation techniques for mental and spiritual travel that could take you almost anywhere imaginable. Of course, he reflected, cracking an eye open and smiling, the books would have been useless without Mali's help  teaching him how to meditate properly. Settling back into stillness and silence, arms laid on his crossed legs and hands turned upwards, he opened the inner eye and walked out of is body for the first time, drawing back an invisible curtain on the universe and passing through to the other side with a rush like being flung backwards by a deluge. Recovering himself, he stood up and looked around.

 

The change was immediate. The world was watercolors now, the rock around him had gone from the uneven brown patterns of unending erosion to a solid mass of light gray stone, the air was abruptly motionless and filled with the smell of perseverance and hardihood, and the forests before him were transformed into an immense tangle of vivid greens and browns that perfectly hid what his senses told him was a riot of barking, shrilling and baying animals. The sky was overcast with golden clouds shaped like mighty birds of prey under a blazing sun. Below him on the green pastures stood two he knew at a glance depsite their filmy appearance: Galanta looked like a statue of steel, resembling an Athena he had seen pictures of; the other was a towering stereotypical Spanish knight in armor that glistened blue, the helmet shaped like a fishes' skull though Subito knew his cousin Rodrigo was inside. The reminder of his strange curse suddenly made the patriotic paragon's visit just a little more eerie, and Subito grappled with a momentary surge of guilt at just letting Claremont's veterans take care of him, and not finding a way to cure him in the months before. Around the ghostly pair ranged hundreds of sheep in armor of their own, grazing on the grass. They looked like if someone had heard that armor was supposed to be practical defensive wear, and decided that they were better than that. Every inch was intricately carved and sculpted in a different way, and the gold and silver used to make the figures gave the herds the impression of a large field covered by wandering metal barrels.

 

Climbing down from his perch, Subito glanced up at the now literal iron anvil crowning the mountain and grinned despite himself. Sauntering northwards through the mysterious herd at the mountain's foot, he nodded politely to the massive ram with blood-dripping horns who seemed to be in charge, surveying the rest from a boulder. <"Don't suppose you can tell me anything"> he said aloud, scratching the sheep behind the ears fondly and starting when the ram butted his hand aside as it answered flatly <"I can. The caretaker of this island excepts you. Follow the path and do not stray"> without a backward glance he jumped down and vanished into the clanging mob.

 

Staring after the animal, Subito turned away with a muttered <"Ooookay then, guess that's all I can expect from these weirdos"> glancing around he caught sight of a small dirt track leading away to the north through the forest. At the mouth of the woods yellow eyes glittered at him. Meeting the stares grimly, placed a hand over his heart and said crisply <"Dama, I ask that you not grant me your power while I am here. You pro'lly weren't gonna anyway, but still. I'll be with ya soon.">

 

With a shake of his curly hair, he set his jaw, squared his shoulders and marched into the gloom, the forest blocking the light almost utterly as he was swallowed up.

Edited by Arichamus

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A while later...

 

The tangle of undergrowth and formless trees seemed to represent all forests on the island, so there was quite a bit of variety as Subito made his resolute way down the hazy trail, which by now(whenever 'now' was, time seemed soft as mud here) was starting to be less of a trail than a very vague suggestion of one, no more solid than when he had begun. The gloom hadn't slowly lifted like he had expected either, remaining as a constant murk in the air that made evading the grasping branches that much more annoying. The heat was the same as it had been outside, which at least wasn't too bad, it was just warm enough to stave off the eldritch chill that seeped from where the eyes watched. The sounds had changed however, they had gotten worse. Before Puerto Rico's flyer had just endured the odd grumble, growl or hiss, now there were actual voices murmuring and whispering accusations, making offers that burned his cheeks to hear them, urging him to go back. Those last he had been trying to talk to for what seemed over half an hour of pointlessness.

 

"Danger awaits...leave while you can..."

 

"You wanna be more specific? I could stand known' more about what's going on here"

 

"Leave...the chains draw tight..."

 

"Wait, chains? The Chains of Lemuria? Slave's chains? What do you mean?"

 

"Go back...go baaaaaaack!"

 

"Fine, be that way"

 

After that he remained silent, trudging on with uneasy questions whirling in his mind. The vision he had seen in Parkhurst's scrying pool had clued him in to the fact that there were challengers waiting, but the creatures hadn't seemed the sort to just make spooky whispers to try and scare him off. And the voices were different, for all the meaning that had in spirit land where how you talked could probably change in a heartbeat.

 

Then he recalled that as the island's champion he was tied somehow to the land, and the disquieting idea that this was its way of warning him very abruptly presented itself. He was considering that when he banged his unprotected shin on the rock at the crossroads. Steeping back with a harsh twitch of the lips, he surveyed the flattened megalith curiously. It bore a rough picture showing a field, with the field strewn with chains that were broken on the left hand, and whole on the right. Above the field were two wheels, one made of horns and surrounded by branches, and the other made of spikes surrounded by water, interlocked with blood dripping from where they intersected.

 

"Just a guess, the chains thing means evil, and the water means from far away, so left hand it is! Thanks road sign, dunno why you're there, but you're a pal" Subito shrugged and took the left path, only for his first step past the rock to land on stones, and he found himself standing before a green pool.

 

Behind him, the broken chains reattached with a *snap*.

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Taking a quick look at his suddenly-changed environs, the sturdily-built teen quickly realized that the forest around the pool was almost like a set on a stage, ethereal and misty while the deep green water was solid enough, brief glints from the sun flashing on it. Here too he caught glimpses of unfriendly eyes, but they seemed somehow more remote, less threatening. The only other solid thing was the small, rough green door standing over the stream trickling into the pool. That and its bronze lock.

 

Taking the hint, he crouched down and searched carefully for any signs of life within the water. "Thank God the sun's not too bright" he muttered under his breath as his eyes flicked from likely spot to likely spot "Or this'd be impossible..."

 

At times like this he wished fervently he had the quick mind and wit of most of his classmates. So far he was pretty sure there was nothing for it but diving in and taking his chances.

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After a few seconds the boy shook his head, closing his eyes against the glitter and glare that danced on the water and distracted from anything the pool hid. Muttering irritably Subito shook off his clothes, piling them on the drier part of the bank under a tree. Taking a moment to stretch his muscular limbs and powerful back before heading into the pool, he stretched his toes in the sand, enjoying the feeling of the sun on his tanned skin before walking confidently into the water with hearty splashes, and thanks to his mystic patron he didn't need to spend any time acclimating himself to the startlingly-cold pond.

 

Wading out until his head no longer stood above the surface, Subito took a slow breath and dove, crashing into a new, quiet world of green mist dappled with sunlight, the only sound in the water his own breathing, and a soft rustle of something heavy dragging across the sand. Suddenly uneasy, the Puerto Rican teen glanced about, searching for what was making the disquieting noise that was so familiar...

 

Greenscale lifted his bulk out of the soft mud of his lair, a massive python easily twice as long as the boy was tall and thicker than his legs, cold yellow eyes fixed on its raucous prey and a body as green as the forest slithering almost noiselessly towards it. However long it had slept in the pool, lashing out at whoever had dared set foot in the water or even take a drink, none could say. But it had awoken now filled with an evil cunning, and Greenscale was now very hungry.

 

Subito caught sight of the beast looming out of the gloom just before the snake lunged forward, darting past the Herald and looping around to pin his arms to his sides with coils like steel! Another loop seized him around the thighs, and his feet were deftly caught mere seconds later! Nearly panicking as he felt the strength crushing him, the muscular teen thrashed about wildly before he managed to recover his wits and try to coordinate his limbs, but by then it was too late. The reptile's head drifted out of the murk to peer into the boy's burning hazel eyes. It leaned closer, until Subito could feel the water moving as its tongue flickered, and it whispered "The Master of Chains bids you welcome. Struggle not, I will merely take you from here and remove you to your own world. You cannot best me, mortal."

 

To add to this threat, it opened its jaws wide enough for its long fangs to emerge. Keeping his muscles tensed to force some slack in the serpent's powerful hold, Subito replied "Not thanks! I'm not backin' down for you or any other monster, Greeny, now let go or I'll bust out, beat you senseless an' tie you in knots!"

Edited by Arichamus

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In answer the snake relaxed its coils for a fraction of a second, then, while Subito was disoriented from the sudden release, all but crushed the life out of him with a brutal squeeze! The young Puerto Rican's vision faded and flickered as the air burst from his lips in a cloud of bubbles, and he heard as from a great distance Greenscale say "Is that so? Seems you have naught on your side save brag and air, lumbering ox. Should have trained your skills instead of relying on your powers. Where's your strength now you need it, mm?" The next instant the python swung loose the coils looped around the boy's chest, then pulled them tight with punishing force.

 

It was almost the end for Subito. For one horrible moment he could feel his ribs strain and heart pumping frantically, knowing that it couldn't last. He would fail, he realized 'It's gonna kill me here, I'll never know what this was about, or even why the Dame wouldn't tell me, never see my mother, father, Galanta or Cerys or any of the others again... Not. Happening!'

 

With a silent yell of rage and strangulation, Subito tore a numb arm free and levered the living steel away from his torso, crying out as the flood of oxygen to his body brought with it an equal flood of pain. But this galvanized him into action, as the Herald of the island turned into a whirl of powerful arms and legs and ought himself free, inch by desperate inch, from the embrace of Greenscale. With a final effort, Subito kicked away a grasping tail and spun into a ready position. The pond bed was under his feet now, and he could fight underwater without much more difficulty than on dry land. 'Still,' he thought anxiously as the serpent drifted and circled him, 'no use getting cocky.'

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Swirling around the boy, the reptile observed its enemy for a little while, seeming to drift rather than swim in a leisurely sort of way. Circling to keep Greenscale in view, Subito somehow felt the attack before it began, darting to the side as the snake lunged for him, jaws swinging open to uncover its fangs that scored the water! Hissing with rage, Greenscale began to whip back out of range, but it had made a fatal error. Grabbing the snake with his left hand Subito drew back his right fist and smashed it into the skull of the venomous beast, tossing it away from him and swimming back himself, breathing quickly as his eyes bored into the monster. 'Gotta have an openin' in my defense somewhere, but what is it?' His still-agonized chest and newly throbbing knuckles at least kept him on his toes, reminding him how all-too human he was in this world.

 

The snake twitched, and his reverie instantly broke. Dropping into a ready position, the muscular teen's mind spun through what it might do now. Attack from the side? The back? Grab him by the head? The green water clung to his throat as Subito gulped nervously. 'Man, I wish I WAS better at fightin', wouldn't have so much to worry about...here it comes!' Greenscale suddenly thrashed out to his full length, glared at its young foe, and swam straight past him, quick as an arrow. "The rest will be more of a challenge young ox" he snapped, vanishing into his lair with an emerald flash.

 

Subito relaxed, staring after the lizard for a long time before he dared move. Shaking his head with a grimace as pain lanced through him, he set to work combing the pond-bed for the wretched key that had caused him so much trouble. The water blocked and amplified light maddeningly, but at least he didn't have to deal with the sun dazzling his eyes. Pausing before a skeleton half-buried in the mud, he shuddered. "I mighta joined him, and done nothin' good here at all" he murmured uneasily "maybe this wasn't such a good idea, huh?" he asked the world at large, lips quirking glumly at the silence that followed. Beginning to turn away, a flash caught his eye from somewhere within the depths of the dead skull. Remaining still as he gathered resolve, the Hispanic teen turned back, swam up to the corpse, and very gingerly slid his hand into the skull, fishing about until he closed on a hard ring of metal. Dragging it out with all haste, he sighed in relief at the sight of an ancient, rusted key ring clutched in his fist.

 

"How'd you get this in ya? Guess I'll never know. Thanks though, whoever or whatever you were, hope you're restin' peacefully" Subito said to his deceased benefactor, making the sign of the Cross over their body before kicking off for the surface. Emerging with a splash, the glistening youth took a second to adjust to the feel of breathing air instead of water, and air drifting over his body instead of liquid pressure. Putting back on his clothes after sunning for a while on a drier part of the pond's bank, the young paragon approached the door, steeling himself for the next part of his journey.

 

The door was overgrown with moss and strewn with vines sprouting the serrated leaves of the Hypolepis, soft pink flowers dotting the ground before it. Clearing away some of the plant growth with his less painful hand, he slid the key jerkily into the rusty lock and twisted it sharply. With a creaking groan the green door slid back, revealing a rocky mountain plain under a stormy sky dominated by an enormous fortified stone bridge.

 

"Well," Subito said quietly "'least I've got a chance." With that, he walked towards the forbidding structure.

 

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