The House of Mist [Pt.3]

[Part 3]
Kell’s Throne Room, Downtown ruins, Seattle

+0 Days [+5 hours]

More Fallen had arrived over the course of the next half hour, filling the throne room. There were quite a few of the taller ones kneeling below the Kell’s platform. The one that could speak her language, he had finally introduced himself as Rykis, had told her that they were the Kell’s Barons. They controlled the largest of the outposts across the region. Rykis pointed out the one they called an Archon, he was bigger than the Barons, but just short of the Kell. Apparently, next to the Kell, he was the most important Fallen in the House. However Rykis lacked the English words to explain why.

Rykis had been pulled into the debate early on, so Nicole was completely in the dark; though she could diffidently see that things were becoming heated. Two of the Barons had pointed at her and spoke in aggressive tones. Even if the Fallen language seemed very harsh to begin with. They spoke with anger.

She could recognize some bits of honor in the way they acted though. Whenever the Kell spoke, all would be silent until he ceased. The Kell’s hands spread as if to calm the Baron’s arguments. He said something to her, to which Rykis returned to translate it.

“Guardian, what can you bring to the House, that we do not already have?” Rykis said.

Nicole thought; what did she have? The skills that had been granted by the light were unknown to her, and she was not aware of what the House of Mist had in its arsenal. “Well, what do you think, Ghost?” She asked privately inside her helmet.

The small icon appeared in the upper left corner. “Well, I told you that this was not a good idea,” he replied. “You probably want to sell it…” The icon vanished and the Ghost appeared in a flash of light.

The Fallen chittered at the appearance of the small machine, and its lightshow. Her Ghost turned back to her and nudged its intact fins at her, as if to edge her on. “What?” she whispered.

Sell it.” The Ghost came through her speakers, best if they did not want Rykis translating everything they were saying. “You saw how they reacted when you emerged from the tunnel.”

Nicole nodded slowly, now understanding what he was saying. “I bring myself; a Guardian, to the service of the House of Mist.”

Rykis translated that over to the other fallen, and that set off another fierce round of debating amongst the Barons. However, the Kell just sat back into his chair. Nicole swore she thought she heard a laugh from behind his mask.

“Think we sold it?” She asked the Ghost.

Well let’s hope we did. I don’t want to know what they’ll do if you’re not accepted.” He said.

“Hoping for it? I thought you were totally against this?”

Guardian, you are in a room with so many Fallen, and with a Kell at that. I have met many other Guardians who never have the skills to face one of them,” her Ghost replied.

“Oh… Shit.” Perhaps she should have insisted on bringing her sidearm in. Not that it would have been much use against this many Fallen. “I see your point.”

Again, she sat back against a collapsed pillar and watched the debate continue. A holographic map was projected by the Archon, displaying the area. The ruins of Seattle were overlaid in a grey color, as were some of the surrounding cities. Some spots were red, with an upside down trident like symbol in the middle. Nicole was not sure if they were even discussing her anymore. Perhaps their arguments had spiraled to another set of plans.

She leaned over to Rykis, who was still standing beside her. “What are they talking about?”

Rykis jumped a bit, obviously not expecting her to say something to him at the moment. He turned to answer her question once he had recomposed himself. “They are discussing the idea that we can use you in the fight with the House of Devils. Our Houses do not get along. Archon thinks that you can scare them away.”

Nicole nodded slowly. “I see…” Her Ghost was right though, she was not that experienced in fighting these creatures yet.

Finally, after what felt like hours of leaning against the pillar, it seemed like the Fallen had finally come to an agreement. Rykis, who had eventually resorted to sitting on the floor, stood up and gestured Nicole to follow him to the Kell. Nicole complied, slowly. She was not completely trusting anymore, which had been a bad decision in the first place. The alien-ness of the Fallen had finally sunk in. Rykis knelt before the Kell, so Nicole followed his example.

The Kell spoke, and Rykis translated. “Guardian, after much quarrel, I have decided to accept you into the House of Mist. You will take the rate of Dreg until you’re allegiance is guaranteed…” They both paused for a second and the Kell looked down at Rykis specifically. “Until you learn our language and ways, Vandal Rykis is expected to be with you at all times. Is this understood?”

Rykis looked up at the Kell, and then back to Nicole. It was impossible to read his face as an alien, and the mask over the bottom half of his face didn’t help either.

“I understand,” Nicole nodded her head, hoping that this was appropriate behavior.

Rykis was addressed directly by the Kell, so he did not bother translating it for the Guardian. “Vandal Rykis, take the Guardian to the ruined city across the lake. She will be given space in a suitable building. Is that acceptable to you, Baron Acskis?”

The Baron that held control of that area of ruins was one of the now outspoken members of the House who had called for killing the Human female. He was not pleased, but it was not his place to question the Kell. “Yes… I will also send it along with our next patrol near House Devils…”

After she has some time to settle in and receive some instruction, Baron,” the Kell advised. “Give her two days.”

It will be done, my Kell.” The Baron nodded and turned to exit the throne room, not with intently giving Rykis a kick as he passed by.

Nicole didn’t know what was just said; just that one of the tall Fallen kicked her translator, Rykis. It was a strange scene watching the aliens leaving the throne room; some went as far as to jump out through damaged holes in the walls. Rykis recovered from the kick and bowed once more to the Kell, before guiding her out of the cavernous space.

“Kell has granted you a place to stay for now, Guardian.” Rykis said.

“Oh, that’s good.” Nicole said, passing through the original doorway. She had not expected that, finding somewhere to live had been at the end of her list of things to do.

“Yes, however it is across the lake. It will be a few hours until we arrive on foot.” Rykis chittered, fidgeting with his lower arms.

“Okay, give my thanks to the Kell when you see them again,” she nodded.

Rykis took her up one of the main roads; the older buildings that flanked the path were over built by newer, more ‘futuristic’ expansions. However, both styles were equally overgrown by pine trees, ferns and moss; a lot of moss. At ground level, the remained of the city streets were almost unrecognizable below a layer of dirt and debris where plant life had turned them into natural looking forests.

Nicole did not know how she knew was natural forests looked like. The associated memories were without context, no people or animals, just empty mountain sides with trees and ferns as far as she could envision. What did she even look like? What if she looked like the Fallen, she had not seen herself yet; there had not been any decently reflective faces, nor had Nicole been really paying attention to that sort of thing. What did a Human look like?

“Wait-” Nicole called, “There’s something I need to see… Ghost, can you take me back to where you revived me?”

Her Ghost appeared in front of her in a flash of blue light. “Yes, I can. Are you talking about right now?”

“Yes, take me there now… please.” Nicole looked back to Rykis to see if he was okay with it. He did not seem to protest at all, so she followed her Ghost back down the hillside, towards the market area.

Rykis kept close on her tail, as her Ghost darted quickly around corners and through the various things that were hidden beneath moss and ferns. Any other Fallen in their path swiftly got out of the way of the running duo. They came up across the hole into the metro tunnel she had emerged from earlier in the day.

“Guardian, wait!” Rykis called, however Nicole had already dropped into the dark. The Fallen looked around and took a portable light with him before following her into the tunnels.

The collapsed and flooded tunnels made rapid maneuvering difficult; she slid down the crashed train car and into the maintenance passageway following her previous footsteps. The soft ticking in the distance behind her was Rykis trying to keep up. The internal clock on her helmet ticked away during the journey, almost three hours passing by in the dimly lit corridor.

Approaching the site, twenty meters ahead,” her Ghost finally noted.

She stepped into the ancient metro station, its arched ceiling had collapsed in for than a few places; however only one or two allowed the dimming sunlight to stream inside. Nicole looked over the railing and down to the murky water that hid the lower platform from view. There had to be centuries worth of rainwater and runoff down there. A barely functioning reader board just repeated a single word; Shoreline. The space fed no flashbacks of memory, there was just a disconnected familiarity with everything. “I guess the Ghost was right… no memories are coming back,” she thought to herself.

Her Ghost was hovering over an area of disturbed soil and upturned plants. “This is where I found you.”

Nicole knelt down and looked upon her grave. Still no memories; she sighed. The flak plate she had taken her badge from earlier in the day had shoved some of the dirt off of another item. She pulled the exposed piece out and found that it was a rifle, covered in moss. Nicole brushed the plant life off of the matte tan plastic, which felt very brittle under her fingers. Once again, it felt familiar, but nothing beyond that.

Suddenly, it vanished from her hands; dissolving into bright blue particles which faded away. “Hey! What the fuck!?” she looked down at her empty gloves, completely dumbfounded.

The Ghost lazily floated in front of her. “Sorry, that was me. Just a moment…” His fins twirled around the core and small sparks of blue leapt from the damaged stabilizer. And then, as soon as it had gone; the weapon reappeared in the air before her. The dirt and rust had been cleaned away. The plastic had been restored and the barrel was polished black. “The wonders of Glimmer,” The Ghost said, “It should be just fine now.”

She took the weapon from the air and ran her fingers over the small engravings that were now visible on its surface. Umic Industrial was clearly etched into the handguard over the barrel, the same company that was on her security badge. A larger ammo counter appeared over the small one for her sidearm on her Heads Up Display; the weapon had a full magazine, but apparently nothing in reserve.

“Wow… good work,” Nicole congratulated her Ghost. “But where do I get more ammo for it?”

“I can generate ammunition for you if you have an ammunition synthesizer, that takes regular Glimmer, or I could use some of the ammunition cartridges that Fallen use.” The Ghost turned to Rykis, who had finally caught up with them. “Do you have any spare ammunition for her?”

Firstly, Rykis looked exhausted, but then appeared more surprised that the Ghost would talk to him directly. He nodded slowly and reached into one of the pockets on his belt. He pulled it out and offered it to the Ghost, his lower arms fidgeting slightly. “Yesss… Ghost… But it is for our weapons, not Human.”

“It will work, observe;” The Ghost emitted a light from its eye and the ammo cartridge disappeared from the Fallen’s hands, causing Rykis to jump. The Ghost turned around and a magazine of bullets appeared in a pouch on Nicole’s chest plate. “It’s simple as that.”

Rykis looked astonished at what he had just witnessed. Nicole laughed a little at the alien leaning over the Ghost with his hands up to his mask. She stood up and walked a few meters to the edge of the upper platform and squeezed the trigger. A single bullet leapt from the barrel and flawlessly struck the water surface, obliterating a lily pad.

“It works right. I think…” Nicole commented.

“I would hope so.” Her Ghost replied with a bland monotone voice. “I fixed it.”

Rykis approached her and lightly tapped her shoulder. “Guardian… I believe that we should be on our way before your star fully… sets.”

“Fine… just give me a few more moments.” Nicole nodded and walked across the platform, just taking in the space. She spied a surveillance camera hanging up on the ceiling. It was aiming towards the general direction of where she had died. “Ghost… there isn’t any chance you could pull the data from wherever that was recorded, could you? Or has it been too long?”

Her Ghost hovered up to the camera and scanned it with its eye. “There is a chance, I am detecting some power still feeding the network; the server may still be salvageable, but it will not be here. The data would be stored at the offices that ran security for this system.”

“I see… that’s a mission for later then.” Nicole spun around and walked back to Rykis, who had picked up her old ballistic helmet and was examining it in his hands. “I’m ready to go.”

The Fallen gently set the helmet back down and stood. “Good… It is a good thing I collected some supplies before we departed…” He shifted his footing and looked like he was about to say something else, but held whatever he wanted to say. Instead the Fallen turned and started to walk towards the metro stations exit.

The stairs to the surface were covered in grasses and other plant life; everything had layers of grime and moss glowing on it. Rykis looked around and then pulled a device from one of his pockets. “That way,” he pointed towards the mountains that were just barely visible in the twilight. “Our destination is on the other side of the large lake in this area.”

“Then off we go…” Nicole pushed passed the taller alien and stated their trek across the valley.

Six hours later, the only good light they had to go off of was a lamp that Rykis had kept in his bag, and Nicole’s Ghost. His eye thankfully doubled as a high powered flashlight; he stuck close to her shoulder. The low lying ruins were heavily overgrown, and the land had sunk back into marshland over the last few hundred years. Nicole wanted to explore these ruins, to see what is left of the civilization she lived in; unfortunately it was just unrelenting walking at the moment.

Nicole could see the outline of a city in the moonlight. There appeared to be some kind of artificial light sources in the buildings as well. That gave her hope, but it was probably more of the LED lightbulbs that burn forever. She glanced over at Rykis, who was holding a small sphere; a map of the area was displayed there were several pulsing dots behind them. It was hard to read his emotions, but his eyes seemed to convey worry. “Is something wrong?” She asked.

“There should be a patrol sent to meet us,” Rykis replied. “But they are not here yet.”

“How do you know that?” Nicole questioned.

“We prepare for House Devils, lined the area with sensors, we tripped a few.” He waved his lower hands across the holographic screen.

“Ah… okay, will they know it is us?”

“Probably not- They are expecting us to come from the bridges.” Rykis shrugged. “But patrols do not shoot on sight; too many Humans have wandered through here.”

Nicole found that last bit quite interesting, so perhaps she would run into another Human after all. They walked on and passed through a dimly lit intersection. The yellow light was blinking endlessly at its lowest setting. The air smelled off, a bit like ozone; she wasn’t sure how she knew what that smelled like. Rykis stopped suddenly and knelt down, picking something out of a puddle Nicole turned and watched him turn the strange pistol over and aim towards a wall.

“This is one of our shock pistols, at a high charge… Something happened here.” A faint clicking noise drew his attention to the distance. Immediately he ducked down and waved her towards a position behind a crumbling wall. “Devils, they are still here.”

She slid into cover with the Fallen, and peeked out to the street beyond. “They likely saw us,” Rykis continued. “Be ready.” He pulled a rifle off of his back and readied it, the tip lit up with blue electricity with a subtle whine.

Nicole nodded and checked her weapon’s magazine, even though her helmet displayed an accurate count; muscle memory from memories she no longer had. “Alright, good to go.”

Her Ghost’s icon appeared on screen. “I haven’t got the resources to synthesize you a grenade, but if I do during this fight it will appear on your belt, on your left side.”

“Got it… Anything on the tracker?” She asked.

Nothing yet… wait-” The Ghost paused and a sliver of red appeared on the edge of the tracker. “Movement, just outside my range.”

Rykis looked over his cover. “That was one of the Devils.” He stood up and opened fire at some target Nicole couldn’t see. “Kill them, before they kill us.”

She called upon some knowledge deep in her mind and leaded out around cover, brought the rifle to her shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The rifle kicked and sent a burst of bullets towards a small fallen, missing its lower arms. Her Ghost tagged it as a Dreg, and the taller ones as Vandals. The wording seemed random but it was not the first thing on her mind. The Dregs fought strangely, one hand held a pistol and some kind of electrified blade in the other; they just charged head-on into the gunfire, leaping over cover and running right to their position. They were fanatical.

Slipping back into cover to reload, she saw that Rykis was marked as a Vandal as well on her Tactical system. Vandals were fighting smarter, using cover and only popping out to fire, yet they still seemed a bit amateur to her mind.

The Dregs went down easily enough; she was feeling the thrill in her chest, heart beating faster. She was getting cocky; they just ran straight into her bullets. It was exhilarating. Nicole stood from cover and started to fire randomly in the direction of the attacking Fallen; laughing maniacally.

However, in a building across the intersection, a Fallen Vandal charged his Wire rifle for the shot. All she saw next was a flash of light, felt a jab of pain, and then there was nothing.

It was not exactly nothing. She felt something, like a floaty feeling; but nothing around her, just mindless blackness. Then suddenly there was a shock to her system. Feeling returned to her consciousness and she sucked in a deep breath of air. Nicole opened her eyes to see Rykis and her Ghost looking down at her.

She sat up and rubbed her face, her helmet was missing. “Wh…What happened?” Nicole muttered.

Rykis answered first. “You dieded.”

“What?” She died, how was she still here?

Her Ghost ‘blinked’ and twisted its fins. “Well to be more precise, you were shot by a Wire rifle and your head exploded.”

“But… how am I still here?” Nicole stuttered.

“Oh… did… did I forget to tell you I could do that?” the Ghost said. “Yes, I can bring you back from the dead, as long as there is enough ambient Light around. I just waited for Rykis and the others to finish off the Devils before I felt it was safe to bring you back.”

“Well, that’s great and I’m glad you can. I fucked up.” Nicole sat up against a section of dilapidated wall. “Wait, others?”

Rykis waved one of his arms towards another group of Fallen sifting through the Devils’ bodies. “Some of the patrol survived; waited to ambush House Devils but they found us instead.” He shook his head. “You must exercise some restraint while fighting Guardian.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I will… This was just the first time in this life.” Nicole finally pulled herself back to her feet. “Are we going then?”

“Yes, they will stay behind, but we can continue to the town.” Rykis pushed passed one of the Patrol members and set them back on track to the city in the distance.

Their eventual arrival wasn’t anything spectacular. It was the dead of night and hardly anything was happening. They passed the odd patrol, at which they only gave Rykis a nod before continuing on. It was quite obvious what additions the Fallen made to the old downtown sector, circular metal pods were sticking out of human structures and emanated light from a few window like openings. Nicole spied a few wood additions that definitely weren’t original construction, so not everything the Fallen built was metal.

There was a large dome in the middle of what probably use to be a park. The forest that had regrown around it had been cut away a long time ago, but some of the stumps remained. The structure itself was painted white and black, and banners of the same color hung on poles and rungs. She had seen some of those while in Seattle too, it must be ceremonial or something. Rykis was taking her to that building.

“This is where Baron Acskis resides.” Rykis said. “He will assign you a housing unit for your stay here.”

“Didn’t you say he was the one that didn’t like me?” She asked.

“That is correct. However most likely he will assign you a place in one of the empty towers,” Rykis said. “He would dare not oppose the Kell.”

“If you say so, Rykis,” Nicole shook her head. She grabbed the helmet from the clip on her hip and placed it back over her head.

Rykis walked her up to the entrance to the dome; it was sort of like the Kell’s throne room, only the guard did not ask her to surrender her weapon. He and the other Vandal talked for a few moments, when another Fallen came from inside to collect them.

Her helmet labeled this Fallen as a Captain; however they were not wearing armor, instead they wore just their mask and a shirt that looked more like a piece of cloth draped across the body. They were slimmer than some of the other fallen of that size that she had seen earlier in the day, wider hips too. If Nicole had to guess… she was face to face, well face to about midsection, with a female of the Fallen species. The female spoke to Rykis, but he did not bother to translate.

They were led to a room somewhere along the edge of the dome, where they found the Baron sitting at a table with a large fish before him. His mask was off, hanging off to the side of his face. Another first, but Fallen faces were inherently strange to her, the two mandibles over an actual mouth. She did not know what her own face looked like, but it was not like that.

The Baron pulled the mask back over his face and clipped it on. He took a breath before speaking, to which Rykis translated for her. “So the Guardian made it. Perhaps you will be a valuable addition.” He grumbled. “I have given you quarters in tower twenty seven. Your translator will be the only other occupant, understand?”

Nicole nodded; again Rykis handled the meat of the conversation.

“Good, I expect you to be out with a patrol by midday.” He said. “Show me that you can be trusted with this House.”

She nodded again, “I will… sir.” Rykis probably made that sound much more regal for this setting.

Rykis once again translated the Barons words, seeming to remove the hostility from his tone of voice. “Then do that and leave my dwelling.” Rykis looked back towards the way they came, “That means we should go now.”

“Yes, I can sense that.” Nicole followed him out they met another Fallen outside the dome.

“This is Vandal Jasix, she will show us to tower twenty seven.” Rykis said. “I have worked with her before, she knows some of your language.”

“Oh, that’s good.” Nicole said, looking up at Jasix.

“Yes, hello Guardian,” Jasix said. Her tone was much more accepting than the Baron’s. “Our Baron wishes that you be up early yes? Let us go quickly.”

“By all means.” Nicole motioned for her to lead the way.

Rykis stayed at Nicole’s side while Jasix took them through the forested streets of this ruined city. It was not far, but there was more than a few blocks between the Baron’s dome structure and the building that he had chosen to house her in. The building itself was small compared to the structures that made up the city’s downtown core; it only appeared to be eight stories tall. The lower levels seemed unsuitable for her to live in, the trees and ivy coursing through the building; however, the upper four seemed fine to an extent.

“This is where you are to stay,” Jasix said. “You are allowed any space in the building to call your own.”

“Okay…” Nicole nodded, “I’ll see what I can find in there…”

“Good luck, Guardian.” Jasix returned Nicole’s nod. “If you require…” She stopped and asked something to Rykis.

“Water.” he replied in English, answering the question Jasix must have asked.

“If you require… water… then there is a vat for use at the resource depot. Buckets are available for your dwelling when it is needed.”

“Oh, thank you.” Nicole waved to the Vandal and walked over to the entrance to the building. It looked like it had been some sort of hotel at one time. The overgrowth only extended so far into the lobby, but there was not really anything of interest there. Her Ghost appeared and provided light for her as she passed through the arched doorway and up an old escalator. The second level looked to be mostly massive rooms filled with rotten furniture. The outer spaces were filled with plants and rubble, but the core of the building was mostly intact.

The third floor was obviously not for the guests, a large Employees Only sign was mounted on the door. The floor contained a massive kitchen and service corridor. There were trays and dishes that sat untouched on carts for centuries, but still nowhere for her to call home.

Nicole skipped the fourth floor and went straight into the fifth. The rooms were along the edge of the a balcony that looked down to the fourth floor; a pool that now looked more like an indoor swamp sat slightly overfilled in the center. She walked to a corner room and kicked open the door. The room was large, but everything was heavily water damaged. Nicole figured that all the rooms would be something close to this.

“Hmm… roomy; could use a bit of work though,” her Ghost wondered aloud.

“Well it’ll do… for now.” Nicole poked the small ball.

Rykis knocked once on the door from the hallway. “If this is what Guardian wants… I will set up on the floor below.”

“Okay that works. I’ll uh be here until morning.” She said.

He nodded once, and turned to leave. “Farewell.”

Nicole shut the door behind him and then flopped against it, sliding to the floor. She took off her helmet and looked up to the Ghost, cracking a nervous smile. “So how’d I do?”

“Well I think you’re going to do just fine.” He replied.

“Oh Ghost… am I even going to be able to do this?” She asked. “Like live here and survive this world?”

“Of course you will. You’re a Guardian, and Guardians can do anything.”

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