The House of Mist [Act I Ch.9]
Northern Seattle Ruins, Pacific Northwest House Mist Territory +157 DaysNicole sighed. "The House of Devils seem to have been a real thorn in your side for a long time."The Archon let out a deep chuckle. "Yes, yes, they have been. Even back on the initial fleets, the Devils were the worst of the worst. Hence their name in your tongue." Marakis sighed and shook his head. His tone dropped. "They've been responsible for many atrocities against your kind, we hear a lot from the humans around here.""I do want to hear more about the humans here... but... what did you do to draw the Devil's anger?" she asked."Well... that is a long one. Centuries ago, while we were living on one of the moons of your sixth planet. The House of Devils managed to track us down. They held us hostage with their superior numbers and ships. We may have had more hardware, but not the crews to use it."He lifted a computer tablet from the table beside him and slowly swiped through it. "They threatened to wipe us out if we did not act as cannon fodder for their assault on what you call the Last City. There was nothing we could do about it." He brought an image up on the tablet and showed it to her. Smoke billowing up with a Spiderwalker in the foreground. Eliksni were grouped up around its legs, standing in the snow. A small village beneath the rim of something in the sky.Her Ghost appeared and looked at the image. "This is the Last City? Is this the battle of Six Fronts?"The Archon nodded. "I do believe that this is what your people call it."Nicole slapped the Ghost. "So you do know stuff!"He twirled around with the slap and stopped to blink at her. "It's not really useful information.""NoT uSeFul inForMaTiOn." Nicole repeated his words in a mocking tone "I don't have any memories of anything. All information is good information."The Ghost's fins angled down, giving him a frown look. "Okay fine. Once the Archon has finished with this info dump, maybe I can give you another."The Archon clapped all four of his hands together. "By the Great Machine, you two are adorable. Ghosts have a much better sense of humor than our Servitors.""Adorable or not," Nicole sighed and leaned back into her chair. "Please continue your story.""Right right," he paused. "The battle went on for an awfully long time, the Humans were defending the city well. Our Kell decided to take the chance and we retreated. We took all our people and ran. And when the Devils came for us, to make good on their threat; we sprung a trap."Marakis sighed and looked down at the floor briefly. "The Kell and his Barons stayed behind and held off the Devils as if Mist in its entirety was fighting back. Meanwhile they had the rest of us climb aboard our ships hidden beneath the oceans of the moon... when the time was right, we escaped. The ships jumped to warp immediately upon leaving the methane seas. I do not know what happened once we left, but from what we were able to work out, the shockwave from all our ships disabled the Devil Ketches and prevented them from tracking us here. As far as I know, our Kell and his barons fell in combat, except for Baron Acskis who he sent here to lead our warriors. Acskis has been angry about that ever since.""He feels guilty that he was the only Baron to survive and not to die with the others" Nicole gave a sidelong glance at her Ghost, remembering that initial shot blowing out her thigh after the first fight in the Pass. Acskis had a monologue about a battle against the Guardians that night before killing her."Indeed, many of the old guard perished in the fight with your Last City and the Devils." He shook his head. "The Kell wanted there to be an experienced military leader to advise his son, who took up the mantle of Kell.""I take it you may have had a run in with Acskis' anger?" He asked, noticing the look on Nicole's face."Yes... he shot me many times before finishing me off one night. Threatened to kill Rykis if we told anyone what happened." Nicole felt like informing the Archon was probably safe, and the best solution to that issue. Acskis had to be dealt with.The Archon signed and interlaced his fingers; his Ether mask bubbled as he took a breath in. "That is troubling... That region is frequented by Human caravans, causing problems with them can be a relations disaster. I will talk with the Kell... and as for you with your acceptance into the House, you can move wherever you want within our territory. I think you would find yourself safer here in... as you humans say... Seattle."Nicole nodded slowly; she did not want to leave her tower on the edge of the lake. Plenty of future plans had been made for fixing that place up. "Yes... I think I'll have to talk to Rykis about that."Marakis perked up at that. "You want to talk with the Vandal about moving somewhere else?" He shifted in his seat. "Consulting an Eliksni?""Well... yeah..." Nicole felt like she was on the spot. "Rykis and I have basically been living together for the last five months. I think he deserves to be considered... Speaking of... where is he?""I never considered the effects of placing an Eliksni with a newly risen Guardian full time..." the Archon ignored Nicole's question and spoke quietly to himself in his own language. Thankfully Rykis had been a good teacher. He seemed to be in thought for a long time. "Well... how close would you say you two are?"Nicole glanced up at the Archon, a bit of a blush and unease across her face. "I... would say we're pretty close."He chuckled. "I do not think that he was going to come, I can have one of my associates get him and bring him here."She nodded. "Yes, that would be nice, thank you."The Archon summoned a Vandal from somewhere nearby and assigned them to find Rykis. Hopefully, they will come back with the right one; Nicole was not sure if Eliksni had last names but at this point she was too afraid to ask."If they are able to track him down, they'll bring him here. There must be more questions you would like to ask?""What made you stay here, in the ruins specifically?" She asked, it was not her first question, but keeping in line with the story he told would make it easier to remember."Ah well that was simple. The Ketch carrying our main Ether producing Servitor was damaged while escaping the Arcology, the ship crashed into the bay just off this city, and the wreckage was too twisted to free it. At the time it was our only Servitor of considerable size, we could not abandon it."The Archon waved around, "Now we have many servitors, and we've built a place for us and the Human survivors that wish to take a chance on us. Mist has spent the past centuries forging a place where we can atone for our failures with Humankind. We are not a large house, but we hope it is enough."Nicole gave him a smile. "Well I do hope that I can help with that." She believed this Eliksni was telling the truth about their motives. Absolutely nothing she had seen so far told her anything different, but the view of life she got in the ruins across the lake was not exceptionally large. "What about the Humans? What can you tell me about them?" There had been a handful of Humans at the admittance ceremony, some wearing House Mist garb, and some not."Oh Humans, they're wonderful. There are maybe a few hundred living across Mist Territory, primarily in their own enclaves that are mostly self-sufficient. We trade regularly with a few scattered settlements out across the mountain passes as well, but those haven't been seen since the Devils took up residence there."She frowned, from what she had heard from Rykis the settlements out there have been quiet for years. 'I see... with the pass cleared will we be making a trip out there to check on them?""Likely yes, we also need to restore contact with the Mist crew over at the hydroelectric dam. Flybys with the Jackwings during the battle last month showed that the humans and dam looked to be faring well. But we have not heard from them in a while. Plus, the locals have asked us to check up on some of their people that were out of the flightpath.""When do you think we'll head out there and do that? Can I go with them?""I do think that you will definitely be on that team." He replied. "Make no mistake there. They will want you to meet the locals." The Archon stood and motioned for her to follow him outside. "I anticipate the Kell sending you and the team out in the next few months, they've been doing too many missions lately, we need time to rest and recuperate.""Then I would like to visit the humans that live here, is that possible?" Nicole asked, passing through the doors behind the Archon."That is something we may do. I can have the Vandals bring Rykis to meet us there too." Marakis replied."Well, I'd rather speak with them on my own, if you don't mind." She wanted to speak with the other humans on her own terms, and not have the Archon intimidating them. Their opinions on the House of Mist would help her ultimately determine her own thoughts about the trustworthiness of Mist from the Human perspective. From the Eliksni perspective, they seemed alright so far.He walked her out to an old reflecting pool area underneath the tall art installations she had seen from the air. Various sculptures were surrounded by plants spiraling out from the center. It was obviously well curated. "I think we can do that." The Archon nodded. "Come, to the Skiff"Nicole followed along to the waiting ship; the rain finally having let up. The Archon must have some sort of non-verbal communication with those that work around him, the oversized Skiff was powered up and ready to go as soon as they boarded.They did not travel far, and the Skiff stayed low over the rooftops. It headed northwest, over the trees and crumbling buildings. Crossing the old docks, to a large steep hill covered in old low-rise buildings. The structures here looked like they were somewhat newer than the buildings downtown; however, they were far more overgrown. Small trees and bushes sprouted from the tops of buildings, the long unkempt remnants of rooftop gardens and greenspace.On the other side of the hill was a wide flat area, ringed in a much smaller version of the wall that surrounded the Seattle area. The buildings inside were not very overgrown, many looked like they were still maintained. The area butted right up against the steep hillside that dropped down to the beach, where the water still lapped against the sand. Once the Skiff had done a flyover, it lowered down to an open area outside the wall."What is this place?" Nicole asked, hopping out once the Archon disembarked."This is one of the local enclaves that the Humans have. This site is arguably older than our habitation of the ruins, but they did not seem to mind once trading started."Now that they were on the ground, Nicole could see a gate built into the wall. Either side was flanked with House of Mist banners but other, much older, banners blew on a pole above the gate. She had seen one down at the old base... Steilacoom. It was all over that place; painted on rusting vehicles and in tatters on poles. She had to guess that it represented what this region was way back in the Golden Age. The other banner on the pole was not the same layout as the top flag. It had a black and white sea animal superimposed on a geometrical shape. She had seen that before. The faded words on the bottom were not needed for her to recognize the UMIC company logo, the same one from the ID she had found on her old body armor. Thinking on it, she actually did recall the top banner from the card too. It had just been too faded.She walked forward, taking the lead ahead of Marakis. This was something she wanted to do, finally really meeting fellow Humans.Her Ghost appeared over her shoulder and looked around the wall. "Seems a bit more hastily built than the other one," he commented. "Last minute construction during the collapse?""Maybe, you can ask when we get inside." Nicole replied.The Archon remained by the Skiff, respecting her wish to meet alone. Nicole approached the door and it began to swing open.On the other side was an older scruffy Human. He was dressed in a worn bright yellow poncho, reminding Nicole that it had been raining just minutes before. A rifle was slung over his shoulder. He gave her a once over, and stopped on her Ghost, who was giving the old electrical control panel a digital prod. His face lit up. "Guardian! Welcome to Fort Discovery!" He waved her inside excitedly. "Come in, come in."Nicole smiled and hurried inside. "Please, call me Nicole." The doors behind her slid closed, leaving the Archon outside with the Skiff. "What do I call you?""I am Pedro Luzana, sort of the person in charge here." A woman, also wearing a poncho jogged up to them as he led her through their small village. "And this is Athena Miller, my second in charge."Nicole nodded to them. "Well it is good to meet both of you. I think the two of you are the only humans I've yet to meet face first.""Right" Athena drew out the word. "You're that new guardian that Mist found poking around the old tunnels, aren't you?""Well, I wasn't just down there on my own accord. That's where my Ghost rezzed me." Nicole followed the two as they walked further into the 'fort'.From the air, this place had looked deserted, and while not as overgrown as the rest of the area, definitely not livable; however from the ground, she could see that most of the overgrowth was on top of awnings and that the ground level was decorated and clear of plants. Human children played in the covered porches of the houses while the adults busied themselves, but everyone waved at the Guardian when they passed."Semantics." Athena said.Pedro chuckled and put his hand on Athena's shoulder. "I'll tell you, when we heard that a Guardian had shown up down in Seattle, we were worried that all this stuff here would come to an end. But then the word came that you wanted to join up, everyone was relieved."Nicole cocked her head to the side. "As you probably heard I don't know much about other Guardians; them showing up would be bad?"He shrugged. "Guardians have a habit of shooting at anything non-human and never asking questions. We've never seen one up this way, but stories get passed from the trading caravans. They also like to round up any 'refugees' as they call 'em and send them down to that 'Last City' of theirs." He put his hands up in defense. "Not to say that living in the wildlands isn't dangerous elsewhere, but we've been lucky to have the House of Mist as neighbors.""Well that's honestly relieving to hear," Nicole said. "I wanted to talk to someone here one on one so that I could find out if this whole Mist situation was okay. All I really know was what Mist told me since I woke up here.""Mhmm, what we carved out here is good... well, what our founders made has worked well. I'm a third generation Fort Discovery resident. My great grandmother made her way here from a settlement beyond the mountains that got raided by another Fallen House." Pedro had led them to a collection of tables outside of a mostly open building. She could smell food and heard sizzling from inside. "Please have a seat. We can keep talking here."Nicole plopped down in a seat, she had to adjust her new cloak so that it did not bunch up behind her against the chair back. "So, you called the House of Mist your neighbors? Their Archon said that you were part of Mist."He sat across from her, and Athena took the seat beside the both of them. "Well yes, we are technically part of the House, but they let us run ourselves. We trade with their markets, help them fish and farm, even assist in the repair of things. Some bits of our old tech still need the Human touch. Do you drink?"Nicole hummed to herself as she thought about the relationship between Mist and the Humans here. Everything seemed to be working fine with them. "Drink?" she asked, a bit confused, of course she drank water."Alcohol or beer? You know that sort of thing." Pedro replied.The look on Nicole's face was probably response enough, as Athena broke out in a laugh. "I don't think she knows what that stuff is, Pedro.""No? Right you're newly risen." He looked back into the building over his shoulder and got the attention of another Human inside. "Peter, can you get a cider for our Guardian guest?" The man inside nodded and disappeared deeper in the building. Pedro turned back to the table. "We'll start you on something easy," he laughed.Nicole gave him a quizzical look. She had been alive for five months now, only eating what the Eliksni were eating, and drinking water. The food was good, but the water was just water. The other human, Peter, brought out a couple mugs and set them on the table. The amber liquid inside fizzed a little. "What is cider?""Well, it's a drink made from apples, or other like fruit. We used to get a lot from across the mountains, but that hasn't happened since the Devils closed the pass. This cider here has a kick to it. I think you'll like it." Pedro took his mug and had a sip.Taking the mug from the table, Nicole looked into it, and gave it a sniff. It smelled bitter, but with a hint of something her mind said was fruity. The deep, not forgotten part of her head said it was apple Shrugging, she took a sip and let it wash over her tongue. Instant regret. While it started out alright, the after taste was just not good. "Well... it's not bad." She winced. "Never had anything like it before." She set the mug back down on the table. Intent on getting back to the conversation, she looked around and then back to Pedro. "Is there anything bad about Mist? Or the situation?"Lowering his mug, he set the now empty glass back down. "Eh... not really. They seem really eager to let us be most of the time. I don't think I can think of any incidents in my lifetime that come from Mist. Occasionally a small group of Devils will make it past the perimeter and bother us at our wall, but that's extremely rare."Nicole thought back to the first night she was rezzed, and the Devil ambush she and Rykis ran into on the other side of the lake. That had been within the supposed safe area. She had put a stop to a lot of those when she helped clear the pass. "So, you think I should trust them?"Pedro and Athena both nodded at the same time. "Hell yes," he exclaimed, "Like I said, Mist has been good to us, and having a Guardian here might just boost the stability of the area to where we start attracting other people.""Might attract things we don't want though," Athena pointed out from behind her own mug of cider."And that's what I'm for," Nicole nodded, understanding."Exactly." Pedro laughed. "Hey Nicole, if you ever have any other questions, feel free to stop by. We'll be happy to help out.""I think I'll do that. I like talking with fellow Humans." She laughed too.After a bit more talking, Athena looked up from the table and waved to someone approaching. "Hey, Rykis. What brings you around?"Nicole looked up and over to see her Vandal walking down the road, waving back to Athena. "Neh-cole asked for me to meet here," he happily replied."Well come on and take a seat. Been slow at the market?" Athena asked.He came over and took the last seat at the table, the chair barely able to fit his larger frame. "I have not been to market for a while. I live with Neh-cole to help her adjust.""Oh really?" Athena gave Nicole and Rykis a look. "You were the one that got thrown to the Guardian?"Rykis laughed. "Yes, I was. The only English speaker within the Captain's reach. I thought I was going to die. But Neh-cole was nice.""I had no idea what was going on when I came out of that hole." Nicole added. "My Ghost had told me about Eliksni, but you all didn't react like he thought.""In my defense, I got my knowledge from encounters with the House of Winter, and what I learned from the Last City." Her Ghost finally spoke up from her shoulder. He had been flying around looking at things across the fort, and finally returned with Rykis."Well glad everything worked out." Athena said.Rykis looked over at Nicole's full mug of cider. "Are you going to drink that?" he asked.She shook her head and pushed it over to him. "I think I'm going to have to work on that. It's not really my thing.""It's an acquired taste." Pedro said. "Once trade resumes with the eastern settlements, we'll have more to try."Rykis took the mug and unlatched his mask, then proceeded to down the entire glass in one go. "I missed this."Others from the fort began to make their way up to the table, and Nicole spent the rest of the day talking with the others that lived there. Children liked to poke her Ghost who decided to project a bunch of colors and lights to keep them entertained. It was a good day.