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Message in a Bottle

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Bare feet padded across the cool tile floors of a safe house, a place unknown to Brevard and his goon squad that she had not visited since her early days in Hellifyno. Dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a simple black tank top, the petite woman had just showered and brushed her teeth in an attempt to rid herself of the feeling of his hands on her skin and the taste of his kiss out of her mouth. After pouring a cup of coffee, the redhead flopped down at the small kitchen table in front of a notepad. Pen in hand, Zera scrawled out a checklist of things that needed to be done. A mundane task to be sure, and something countless people do on a daily basis.  This list, however, had the potential to either save the woman from future turmoil or to doom her to just that. She had been tracked here and that demon of a man that had plagued her nightmares since childhood had found her. Her secrets were kept in an attempt to help keep her safe but that was no longer the case. It didn’t matter where she turned or ran; he would track her down. Her secrets were no longer safe. Such secrets had destroyed the trust between her and Tetheon, the elemental dragon companion that was supposed to know her better than anyone else. And now? Only a few of her most trusted friends and allies knew the truth of who Zera La Fae really was. 

The list contained a series of bullet points of things that needed to be done. No order was given to them at the moment; she merely wanted to get the thoughts onto paper before they flitted away to be lost in the chaos of her cluttered mind: 

  • Find new safe places to crash and stash go bags should she need them
  • Invest in burner cells
  • Meet with a certain… less than reputable contact about procuring specific necessities
  • Set up a trust, under a pseudonym, so -he- couldn’t get his hands on it
  • Sell off a lot of her art pieces or move the more sentimental ones into storage for safekeeping
  • Leave something behind for her friends, the ones she had not had a chance to talk to personally, explaining what happened… and just where things went wrong.

Zera stared at the list and sighed. The last item, that was something she could go ahead and take care of now. Standing from the table, she removed the towel that had contained her wet fiery tresses and shook out the damp curls before setting up the camera and switching it on. Sitting before it, she pressed record on the remote and stared straight at the device as she began to tell her story. 

“I want to start by apologizing. I have been on Hellifyno for close to a year now, and some of you have actually had the privilege of calling friends… but I have lied to you and feel that I have deceived you all.” Her voice was different from normal. Usually, her tone reflected the accent common to the areas around Persistence, but her words were clipped, allowing the natural cadence and intonation of her native tongue to shine through in her speech.

“Officially Zera La Fae does not exist. There are no records of that name, no official documents on this world or any other. No deeds, landholdings, not even a paystub can be found with that name. By birth, my name isKalina de Lautreamont, daughter of Chan Maren Fallon de Lautreamont and Larene Forestier, child of Kotlwes, Etamara.” The woman paused for a moment as she pulled out an artist’s rendering of a man. Someone’s whose name had become synonymous with disgust to the petite redhead. “And this man, mesye Brevard Beauvais, is responsible for the destruction of the city and the mass murder of half of the Kotlwes.” The man in the picture was well dressed, a dapper feeling to his clothes displayed in the crisp lines of a well-tailored suit. The entire look about him gave an air of a well-respected person from good breeding. “In order for you guys to fully understand everything, it’s going to be a long story. Some of it may be a bit confusing since many people think the ways of my homeland are a bit antiquated and backward, especially if they are from a more advanced society, so get comfy. This is going to take a while.” Zera settled to the back of her chair, coffee in hand, and put her foot on the edge of the seat to rest the shin of her leg against the table. An old habit, one she couldn’t remember where or when she originally picked it up. With a sigh, she dove deeper into her tale, starting from the beginning. 

“Etamara, my former home, was an astounding place. There were many parallels to Earth-Prime as well as other worlds, but one significant difference between my world and others was an absence of magic and that it never underwent the continental shift and stayed as a single continent. My home city of Kotlwes was beautiful. An oceanfront city in the west with warm tropical breezes and a bounty of food year-round.” The corner of her mouth twitched at the fond memory but no smile formed as the sights, the smells, the sounds… things she had not thought of in a long time came rushing back.  

“My father, Fallon, retired from a prosperous military career, became a valued member of the government and a trusted adviser. Larene, my mother, a renowned philanthropist known for her gift of music. My siblings – an older brother, Raynor, following in my father’s military footsteps and Zenith, my younger sister that worshiped the ground he walked on. We were happy, but things changed after I turned 13 and got news of my pending marriage.

“Engagements for the more well off families were common once girls reach their teen years. They tended to be long term – a minimum of three or four years. In lieu of rings, which is traditional in some cultures, we gave tattoos. A sigil representing the family of the bride is placed on the inside of the fourth finger, closer to the heart so even if she moves to a new home her birth family is always close.  This occurs when the engagement is agreed upon by the families and is announced. The husband’s sigil is placed on the outside of the finger, closer to the pinky so strangers could identify them even if they are unaware of their name.” Zera held out her hand and splayed her fingers to look at the family crest tattoo that marked the inside of her ring finger before holding it up to the camera for those viewing to see it as well. The marking was a combination of swoops and darts looking similar to a symbol used for strength. There was not, however, a marking on the outside of the finger. “My betrothed was a… well, to put it bluntly, Brevard has always been a manipulative, smarmy asshole ten years my senior. I never liked him, couldn’t stand him actually.  Needless to say, the prospect of being forced to marry such a man did not sit well with me. And yet, the engagement was celebrated. He was an up-and-comer in the political world and could charm anyone with that fake smile of his so many viewed the upcoming wedding as a blessing from Bondye. He had everyone fooled but me and the results ultimately became a nightmare.

“For years my objections were regarded as merely as a girl that did not want to give up her childhood. Raynor was quite a bit older than Zen and I, so by the time all this was going on, he was pursuing his own life.” The redhead paused for a moment to take a sip of coffee before continuing on.  Hopefully, by this point, she had everyone’s rapt attention and the message wasn’t cut off due to boredom. “My family had a rich military heritage. Every child for five generations joined the Etamara guardsmen.. and yet I had no interest. I would constantly avoid training and other responsibilities in order to duck off into the woods and draw the surrounding landscape or get lost in a book within the library. This defiance only added to the assumption that my suspicions of my fiance’s intentions were unfounded.  It took years and the closer to the wedding date things got the more desperate and depressed I became. Finally, about half a month before the wedding, with my mother’s help we convinced my father to call off the wedding. Little did I know at the time, but the unrest I was feeling was a reflection of political turmoil that was being carried on behind the scenes.”

 

“Brevard was not acting alone; there were others as well. A subsect of the populace that was unhappy with the state of affairs and aimed to gain power, a group who later became simply known as konsèy la. My marriage was the linchpin in their plans. When it was canceled… it forced their hand.” Zera paused to clear her throat. This is where she usually had trouble relaying the story, but still, she continued, determined to give them the whole truth that she never told Tetheon. “A coup was staged. In a single night, the prominent government leaders and officials were wiped out… but they didn’t stop there. Fearing that their families may know political secrets, they too were all targeted. Family, friends, classmates… all gone in a matter of hours.

“My mother found my sister and me first and told us to run, so we did. The city was awash with chaos; rioting in the streets, buildings on fire, looting. Amidst the confusion Zenith and I ran, making our way to the city’s edge when I was tripped, my ankle got caught in a storm drain. That’s when -he- caught up to us. He gave me an ultimatum. Even if all he ever wanted was power, he still wanted my hand. I could relent and agree to the wedding… or I could choose death. Before I could even respond Zenith took up the blade of a fallen guardsman and stood between the two of us. She…” Zera bit her bottom lip and just shook her head. Everything was coming back to her. The screams of fear and agony as people were murdered in the streets, the hot feeling coming off the buildings and the smell of burning hair and flesh… the sickening sound that bastard’s sword made as he ran it through her little sister’s chest right in front of her. 

“It’s because of Zenith and the time she gave me be fending him off that I was able to get free. I fled, running all night to get away from the city I held so dear.  Over half of the citizens died that night.” She paused to take a sip of coffee only to find that her cup was empty so she set it on the table. “Fearing what I knew, mercenaries were sent to either kill me or drag me back for execution. I was an easy scapegoat for all the turmoil the city faced, and of course, konsèy la swooped in to ‘fix’ the mess that had been made… 

“So I ran, and I continued to run. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years. Country to country, realm to realm. It was by luck that I stumbled upon a portal and was able to leave Etamara, but still, I was followed. It was a year or two ago that I got word that civil war broke out that ended in catastrophe. An explosion on par with the force of a small sun was detonated or so the story goes. Nukes… I think that’s the name most people call them. The only thing left where Kotlwes once stood is a barren desert wasteland, but still, I ran since word from home was spotty and often outdated when and if it did arrive. Most of the mercenaries quite coming but a few held out hope for a large payday. 

“Back around March I was tracked down by a headhunter after a bounty and caught. I managed to get away after a few days and went into hiding.” Zera sighed, knowing this last part is most likely where she messed up. “So I went home for a time to see if there was anything left. The stories I had heard were true. The climate had shifted and the once lush green environ was naught more than ruined buildings, rubble, and a vast expanse of sand. There were whispers, rumors that Brevard was still alive but I gave them no heed. And then one day, I walked in the balcony loft space that overlooks my art studio and there he was sitting at my kitchen table waiting for me to step inside as if it were where he belonged.” There was a sneer that formed on her face, her distaste for the man palpable through the video. “Once again he gave me an ultimatum – marry him, return home with him, and leave everything and everyone in Hellifyno behind or watch as he destroys everything I hold dear by finding my friends and loved ones and turning them against me one by one.

“What really spurred me on to make this, to finally get everything out in the open, was another encounter that happened yesterday. Brevard wants to meet again, in a public location to talk things out, saying that he will send a courier with the date, time, and location. He -claims- that I will be left alone until then, and that such a public meeting is to ensure both his safety and my own.” The petite woman, for the first time since she hit the button to record all of this, looked worried. “I.. don’t believe him, but he said that if I blow this off, it is no longer a question of if he will have me, but when and how. He even threatened, no – promised, that if I tried to run that he will do the same thing to my friends what he did to Zen. I cannot and will not risk that, not again.”

Zera lets out a long deep breath and looks down while biting her lip for a moment before looking back up to address the camera once more. “I have a contingency plan, in case things go wrong and preparing this message is a part of it. In the event that I should disappear, it is going to automatically be uploaded to you all. Things have already been set into motion and I pray to Bondye that what I have done hasn’t set things in motion that will cause an even worse fate than what was previously in store for me. I hope it never comes to that but you never know. Just… just know that I love all you guys, and thanks for being with me through it all.” 

There is a wry lopsided smile on her face as she raises the remote to the sensor on the camera and presses stop, the image of Zera blipping off as the recording comes to halt. The message was complete and the cogs of her plan were set into motion. The message was securely uploaded and was ready to be sent out if a certain code was not entered at regular intervals. Hardcopies were also made and given to different delivery services with instructions to send them out only after receiving a specific message from her. 

For being from a world with limited technology, the normally cheerful and perpetually smiling woman was finally showing that she was more than an aloof artist. She was cunning and had learned to rely on the experiences that had helped her evade Brevard Beauvais for close to a decade. He would come to learn over the long haul just exactly who she was and what she was capable of. Hazel eyes scanned over the list she created one last time before tearing off the top four or five sheets and burning them all. She didn’t need it anymore and didn’t want to leave any pen impressions behind on the subsequent pages. The flames reflected in her eyes for a moment until there was nothing left behind but a pile of ash.

“Se pou jwèt la kòmanse, msye Beauvais…”

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