When we reached the double doors, Doran touched nodes built into the décor of the grand doors in a specific pattern and a scanner appeared. He put his eye in front of the scanner and an affirming beep came from the door. As it did, large, visible gears in the door began to turn and the doors opened to what appeared to be an entire miniature city. “Welcome to Shellentar.”
The layout of Shellentar was mesmerizing. There were beautiful trees lining the walkways and fountains in the center of the round intersections. There were walking lanes for Wilvaroks and jump pads for Tilverhans placed higher up with marked landing areas near each of the main corridor. I saw a large multi-board near each entrance. I walked up to the one closest to me and pressed it. Interactive Map of Shellentar.
I began exploring the layout of the city and committing it to memory. Shellentar was round and was set up in five layers. In the first, outermost layer were residential buildings and exits to the surface. The second layer consisted of what appeared to be shops and markets selling different berries, grains, and other necessities as well as beautiful woven works crafted for Tilverhans and Wilvaroks alike. There also appeared to be shops which sold weapons and armor, something I had never seen before on Fortitude. The third layer was home to a few different restaurants and different entertainment venues. The fourth layer contained all military buildings and equipment prepared for the revolution. Here there were training grounds for Wilvaroks, Tilverhans, and mixed training grounds for both to compete and cooperate in. The final layer was a tower which reached at least thirty levels into the air. From this building, cables ran to each entrance which powered electro-magnetic carts shooting to and from the entrances. This building was the HUB building and contained the war room along with many other rooms, including a police system, a judicial system, and even an employment center.
“Alright Deran, Let’s go to the War Room. Should we take a cart or walk?” He gave me a look of intrigued respect. “You were only looking at the map for a few seconds and you already know where we are going? Impressive.” I gave him an affirming nod and a half smile, then we proceeded to the cart dock.
We boarded the cart which jolted us to the top of the HUB building in less than a minute. We were greeted by another group of Wilvaroks and Tilverhans, all but one of which bowed as we stepped off the cart. The one who did not was a beautiful Wilvarok with intricate prism silk threads adorning her horns and wrapping around her forehead and shoulders. She ran to the cart and wrapped her arms around Deran, helping him out. “Deran! What did that basha__ow!” Her words were cut short by Deran’s hand pressing into her shoulder. “Show respect to your new Lieutenant Commander Jushara.” Her concern dropped like an ingot of pitrinium and she threw Deran to the floor then turned a boiling glare to me. Vea’ayr looked as though she was about to speak, but I cut her off before she could. “Jushara, I am Sha’ayr. Deran challenged me to combat for your right to my title and was defeated. If you feel my leadership is inadequate, I will gladly battle you for this position.” Her eyes flickered as she toed the line of metamorphosis, then she clenched her hands together hard and stood high on her toes, forcefully flexing all of her muscles. She held this position for at least twenty seconds until her eyes returned to a strange purple color and she fell back to the flats of her feet.
“I see.” Her voice was almost alarmingly calm. “Deran is a fierce fighter, though a bit short-sighted at times. For now I will gladly follow and obey, but if you do not prove to be an asset to this movement, know I will challenge you and I will succeed.” I respectfully nodded my head and replied, “I would expect no differently.” Vea’ayr could not remain silent any longer. “Now, if we could continue with our plan…” Her words were quiet and concise, yet still somehow intimidating enough to have every one of us immediately turn and follow her.
As she walked up to the door at the end of the room, it slid open automatically and revealed an opening in the center. As she walked to the ledge, I expected her to wait for an elevator platform to come up, but she jumped off the edge and was followed by all the other members of our group. As they jumped, they fell only a few hands and were suspended in the air. “Well Sha’ayr, are you coming?” I looked at her and nodded, then nervously jumped off the ledge as well. Vea’ayr’s voice resounded loudly. “War Room, with haste.” As she did we began to fall and I let out a shrill scream. My hand dug into Brindel’s wing and his arm wrapped around me. We slowed to a stop and were floating in front of another doorway. “A little unnerving the first time, right? Gravitational Field Manipulation Elevator, or just GFME. A technology Vea’ayr developed as a way of eliminating threats. Your voice has to be found in the system for it not to drop you to your death and even if it is, ending your route with anything other than “with haste” will drop everyone except for you to their death at twice the speed of free-fall. Fast enough to actually liquefy you on impact.”
I slowly nodded my head, my eyes still full of panic. “So you couldn’t have warned me?” Brindel smiled and replied smarmily, “well, I could have, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.” I realized that the gravitational field had pushed us over the walkway and I put my feet on solid ground again.
As my feet touched the pitrinium floor, my panic subsided and I stood tall, trying to maintain at least a fraction of dignity. Deran came up beside me and whispered, “It’s alright Zetha, we all had the same reaction our first time on the GFMA.” I felt a bit of relief, not just in that I felt less alone in my embarrassment, but also in Deran’s support even after our initial meeting. Vea’ayr walked up to the double doors at the end of the pathway, closed her eyes, and pushed her hands against the doors. After a few seconds the doors quickly slid open and revealed a large dome-shaped room on the other side.
The room had chairs only around the perimeter and had electronic nodes at each chair. One chair was much more ornate than the rest, with the chair to its left almost equal in its majesty. Vea’ayr walked to the largest chair and motioned for me to sit in the one to the left. I sat and watched her apply the nodes to her hands, then copied the process.
The rest of the group followed suit, and before long everyone was ready to begin the meeting, stoic and still like garden statues. With a wave of her hand, the lights in the room faded to complete darkness for just a moment until the room lit up with a beautiful map of our galaxy. “Alright, we have our new Lieutenant Commander joining us today, I would like introductions from all of our officers. All but Sha’ayr, report in ranking order. I am Vea’ayr, Commander of the Thorns and founder of Shellentar.” Jushara sat to my left and stood to introduce herself. As she stood, a bio of her rank, qualifications, skills, and achievements appeared in the cloud of stars. “I am Jushara, Commander Regent of the Thorns, ten thorn master of subterfuge and sabotage, mind flaying, and bending blades. My greatest asset is my mind, and my greatest unforgotten deficit is my grit. I strive to teach others my strengths and to humbly learn from their expertise in my weaknesses to further strengthen our cause as a whole.” Brindel sat to her left and stood next. “I am Brindel, ten thorn master in grit and leadership. My greatest asset is my physical prowess and my greatest unforgotten deficit is my magnearch knowledge. I strive to teach others my strengths and to humbly learn from their expertise in my weaknesses to further strengthen our cause as a whole.”
“Fhandrick, Beta General. Ten thorns for Mind Flaying and use of the Magnearch. Just awful with bending blades. Will teach you to wield a Magnearch if you will teach me to twirl a dagger.” I recognized Fhandrick from the docking area. His unorthodox introduction in the war room greatly contrasted that of our first encounter, but no one seemed to act as though it were out of the ordinary.
The next officer was stunning. She was a Tilverhan, standing a few hands taller than Brindel, but with a much leaner build. She wore a woven silk garment which flowed down her back like trickles of water down a rock face. Her muscular structure was much more lean than Brindel’s, but her smaller frame would definitely make her more dexterous. Her hair was braided into beautiful strands, each with its own unique braiding pattern. She was beautiful, and as I looked about the War Room I could see I was not the only one who thought so. I felt a pit in my stomach as I noticed Brindel’s unwavering eyes. “General Regent Cesylla! Ten thorns for composure, my weakness in blocking thoughts. I will always work with my Wilvarokan comrades to strengthen my mental shield and will teach all my fellow thorns how to stay at peace and focus on the goal as opposed to the obstacles preceding.” It was evident that she had earned her thorns of composure. Her voice was sweet and persuasive, yet still firm and confident. The way Brindel looked at her I hated to like her, but I couldn’t help myself.
The next to stand was a shorter but much broader and stronger built Tilverhan than I was accustomed to seeing. He appeared to be much more powerful than Brindel and had scars covering his body. His voice bellowed with a depth that caused the webbing of my feet to vibrate. “ALPHA SERGEANT DAMERION! NINE THORNS FOR WHIPS, ARCHES, AND GRIT. I NEVER WASTE TIME BLOCKING THOUGHTS. THOUGHTS NEED NOT BE BLOCKED IF THE ATTACKER IS ALREADY DEAD. I DON’T GIVE THEM TIME TO THINK, ONLY TIME TO BLEED.” I could feel my eyes welling up from the intensity of his voice. The entire room shook as he sat back down.
Another female Tilverhan stood up. She was small in height and frame compared to the other Tilverhans, but had very powerful looking legs. She had two fairly large daggers strapped to her back perpendicular to the ground and two much larger blades crossed above them. Her eyes were narrow and her hair cut short and spiked in all directions with the tips dyed different colors. “Aurilianni, Beta Sergeant reporting. Nine thorns in bending blades and strategizing, unforgotten deficit is whips. Just can’t seem to get the hang of em’ if you know what I mean. Created my own style of blade fighting for Tilverhans though if any of you wanna trade in your whips.” She nodded at Damerion and cracked a smile. “How about you muscles? You could cleave someone in half with one swipe!” Damerion’s stern face did not falter as he replied, “I PREFER TO KILL FROM A DISTANCE, LESS TIME FOR THEM TO REACT.” Aurilianni responded with quick, sharp wit, “Yeah, how’s that working out for you big guy? Seem to have a lot more scars than I do. Ah well, maybe we can have a tutor session sometime? You show me your whips, I show you my swords, split a bottle of wine, grab a bite to eat?” Vea’ayr cleared her throat and Aurilianni turned her head. “Sorry Commander, got caught up in the moment, y’know?” As she sat down and winked at Damerion, I could almost swear I saw him smile a bit.
Finally Deran stood slowly. He still seemed shaken from before and his voice was strained with pain. “I am Deran, Sergeant Regent. I have eight thorns in bending blades and using a magnearch. My greatest deficit, officially, is my grit ability, but in light of recent events I would say unofficially is my arrogance. I am sorry, Sha’ayr.” I smiled and nodded to Deran as he sat. He forced a grin across his face, though he was almost too weak to do so. I did not realize how draining a mental attack, or mind flaying as they were calling it, could be.
The circle had made its way back to Vea’ayr. I was excited to see what her standings were and wondered how the rankings were decided. As her bio appeared, I was amazed. “Commander Vea’ayr, ten thorn savant, strategist, and leader with ten thorns in ingenuity. My weakest unforgotten deficit is my mind flaying, but I will be revaluating at the end of this cycle. I am pleased to introduce a new captain to our ranks. Every, please join me in welcoming Sha’ayr as our new Lieutenant Commander. Though not yet officially evaluated, I know she will surpass all our further expectations for mind flaying and, once taught our shadow walking techniques, will be a master of subterfuge. Like me, she was born with talents that far surpass that of any natural Wilvarok. You will be in charge of training her for the next Turn. You have each been given a training schedule for this Turn, uploaded straight to your multi-boards. Every cycle she will be retested, and if by the end of the Turn she has yet to prove herself, she will be demoted to Sergeant Regent and the next in line at that point in time will be promoted to Lieutenant Commander. Do we have any objections to these changes? Open floor rights apply.”
Vea’ayr motioned for me to stand. As I stood, Jushara sprung from her seat. “I pledged my loyalty to the Thorns and to Vea’ayr’s leadership. Without her, we would still be under persecution; disorganized, scared, and each alone. We would have a goal but not purpose, an idea but not an ideal. I trust her judgment and urge you all to do the same. Welcome, Zetha.” The other captains stood and used their right hand or hands to grab their left shoulder forcefully. “Welcome, Zetha!” The words resounded and reverberated through the dome room, causing chills to run across my skin.
Vea’ayr held her hands up and the room fell silent as the display in the middle faded. “Now, a toast to our new Officer. Deran?” Deran opened a hidden panel in the wall and presented a bottle which he passed down to Vea’ayr. She took a long drink and proclaimed, “To the thorns! We are the natural growths along the stem of our society, representing the painful truth.” The bottle went back to Deran, who took a drink as well. “We are the ones who truly protect that society, though to those looking to destroy it we are simply a nuisance.” Next was Aurilianni. “Even if one of us is removed, the rose lives. Even if we are all removed, the rose still lives.” Damerion: “BUT THEN WHAT PROTECTS THE ROSE? NOTHING. WE ARE ITS ONLY REAL PROTECTION.” Cesylla: “And even in our destruction, we will leave a sore festering in our enemies.” Fhandrick: “And our sacrifice will be noticed, and those who see it will begin to question.” Brindel: “Why would anyone destroy the rose, the perfect representation of harmony and beauty?” Jushara: “They will realize the rose cannot be destroyed, for they are part of it. The roots do not dig deeper to spite the bloom, but rather to nourish it. The bloom does not flourish to spite the roots, but rather to give them purpose and reward for their hard work. The thorns do not exist to harm individuals, but rather to protect and preserve this balance.” She handed me the bottle and whispered into my ear what I needed to say. I took a drink of what I soon found to be an unsettlingly bitter and viscous liquid. “We are the thorns of the rose and we will protect our garden.” At that moment, all the Officers shouted “Thorns of the Rose!” and Vea’ayr motioned her hands for all to be seated.
As we sat back down, Vea’ayr grabbed my arm to keep me standing. “Sha’ayr you are dismissed. I want you to become familiar with Shellentar and you cannot do so from this room. I wanted you to meet everyone, however we are discussing plans already in motion for the remainder of the meeting.” I nodded and replied, “Understood Vea’ayr. Could Brindel come with me to show me around? It is all a bit overwhelming and I don’t want to get lost.” This was a rouse to talk to Brindel alone as I had already committed the map of Shellentar to memory, but it seemed to backfire. “As our Alpha General, Brindel must be present for this meeting. Deran has only been a Captain for a few cycles and I am certain Jushara will be willing to catch him up to speed. Deran, do you have the energy to complete this task?” I tried to get a reading on his thoughts to see if I could see if he was really up to it, but to my surprise I was unable to read him. “Of course Vea’ayr.” Deran forced himself out of his seat and removed the nodes connecting him to the War Room. I did the same and followed him back to the GFME.
As we were about to step off the platform, I grabbed Deran’s shoulder and turned him to face me. “Deran, are you sure you are okay? You look completely drained.” He nodded his head, almost falling over has he did. “I am fine, I just need something to eat and some sleep. I will show you around a bit, we can go get some food, then I will show you to your new home and will go get some rest.” I reluctantly nodded my head and we both stepped off the platform and into the GFME.
We hovered for a full minute until an alarm sounded. “PLEASE STATE DESTINATION”. I nudged Deran and he shook his head violently to try and regain his focus. “Sorry Sha’ayr. Ground Floor, with Haaa__.” I looked over and saw that he had fallen unconscious. I grabbed his arm and tried to reach for the platform, but it was too late. My eyes dilated and filled with panic as my inevitable demise grew closer and closer. One day in the Thorns, and I am already going to become a casualty of war.
Thorns by Kevin Copenhaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.