This is a very-very short version of my pet-project, I welcome every constructive critique.
“Horses died out.” Vyria replied when Den enquired about her horse-riding experience. That, and it happened days earlier, was the last time a genuine smile broke through his bitter anger.
They had to share saddle. The pain was getting easier to bear, and the ache concentrated in Vyria’s mind instead. She sensed Den’s suppressed tension all along, and it hurt her. He seldom communicated during the journey nor when they stopped near a spring for a break, but she knew he kept his ice-grey eyes on her.
At least, the breeze caressed her face and the pale grass equally. Vyria leaned forward onto the mare’s neck, giving up to the fatigue. They passed by a village with huts sunk in the ground, riding among small hillocks and thirsty pastures.
The Sun reached the peak of the horizon, and it seemed to be pinned there. The air vibrated. Or was it the optical illusion her dehydrated body drove her into?
Den changed direction towards an acacia shrubbery. Once in the shadow, he assisted Vyria off the horse. “Strip off there.” he pointed at a clearing.
She straightened her spine suddenly with a flash of indignation in the emerald eyes. “No.” she hissed through her dry throat.
Den tipped his head aside, eyebrows wrinkled in a grimace.
She backtracked slowly. “I know you are angry at me just don’t do this. Don’t force me…”
The words dropped in his brains meaningless, then he composed them. He approached Vyria so fast she couldn’t escape. His breath bristled the hair of her neck. “Perhaps, this is what you expect from me. I’m a savage man, afterall.” he muttered in her ear.
She slipped away. Now Den saw the fear on her face, so he backtracked as well, with an awkward, half-hearted laughter. “Not for my pleasure. You are weak.” he waved towards the sunny patch again, “Feed yourself, it’s safe. I wait here.”
Vyria tugged her long dark hair as always when embarrassed. “You’re so nasty.” she threw out rather to calm herself. She heard the reply on her way off.
“Coz’ you always offend me.” Den growled. Still, he followed the slim, olive-skinned figure. “Drink first.” he reached out the flask.
Back in the shadow, laid on the ground, Den remarkably paid no attention. Chewing on a blade of grass, he observed his worn boots. However, he couldn’t help imagining Vyria as she undid her shirt, offering her green back and shoulders to the Sun. The leafy skin reached down to her waist and small white flowers sat along the main nervure. He remembered.
This woman was his fate. Then a sour, tangy thought destroyed the rising fantasy. He, Den, was her fate in fact. Rage, shame and fear flooded his mind. He couldn’t carry on anymore. He set his feelings right, hoping he will not scare Vyria. Creatures were able to sense others’ emotions.
“Sit down, please” he tapped the grass when Vyria has returned. She crouched at due distance. “We’re close.” Den went on, now sitting upright, leant against a tree. “I need to know why you want me to take you to the Heart.”
“I tried to explain.” Vyria sounded cautious. “But you’ve never listened. You threatened me, you gagged me…” she flicked in the air.
Den released a sigh. “Because, as you were aware before I told you, your people is not allowed to enter our land, let alone the capital city. I protected you from yourself. And you let me down. Tell me why?”
Scanning his waves, Vyria concluded he was honest and truly sad. She cast a glance of pity. “I’m going to die.” she uttered at a calm tone.
“I know that.” Den nodded. “I’m asking you to tell me why do I have to take you to the Heart where you’ll be killed? I intended to let you leave.”
“As I said, ” Vyria struggled on her feet, “I’m dieing.” she cast a cool side-glance at Den. “ My condition is specific, it won’t affect you or your people. My only chance is the founding father of this land.”
“What?” Den jumped up. “The First? He was buried four-hundred years ago! This is insane!”
“Listen!” she raised her index finger. “A new disease appeared in our city, not a proper epidemic yet, but we noticed it. My lab spotted the infection that killed women soon after the yearly blossoming. They silenced us; the governors’ council regarded the panic a higher risk than the illness.” She paused. “I tested myself too, regularly. I got it.”
“You are in blossom.” Den groaned, grabbing her hand.
“Yep.” She tore herself off gently, leaving Den frozen, stunned. “Unless we stop this, our race is doomed. If we fade away after our short fertility season, our people will perish. And here I came up with my idea, a kind of parent-cell therapy. Do you know what’s that?”
Den shook his head.
“I cut it short then. I think if we could find a sample of the original genome sequences of our plant-nature, we could find a treatment.” She paced the undergrowth for a moment, monitoring Den. He looked devastated but calm. Vyria expected an eruption of anger, or delusion. Both, maybe. She poured the whole thing at one go. “The man who is still First in hierarchy for you was the first green centuries ago.”
Den has drawn apart from her. “The First had brought peace and order to our people after the Short War, he saved the last resort of humans torn by disease and civil war.” he mumbled the words engraved in his mind since childhood.
“This is the second chapter of the story.” Vyria stated.
Den stared at her, not angry nor sad, rather empty. Within minutes he lost everything he regarded worthy to live for. Vyria’s safety and his oath to protect the First’s heritage were not in contrast anymore. Despair and lies were all he owned. “Please go on.” he resigned.
Before she unveiled what hasn’t been common knowledge amongst her people either, Vyria encircled her arms around Den’s chest. He returned the hug.
“The First’s name was Dr William Harris Jr, the son of the researcher leading the team behind the gene editing project that created us. Confident enough, Dr Harris senior trialled the technology on his offspring. By the time the Short War and its long-lasting consequences hit the planet and had revealed the fragility of civilisation, young William had grown into a ten-year-old photosynthesising healthy boy.
At the beginning the professor had turned to the flora, aiming to create harmony ending famine and the exploitation of Earth alike. “Vyria tore a cluster of acacia, the sweet petals melted on her tongue. “Yes, we eat too, but not as much as you have to. Anyway, parents-to-be young people gathered from all over the planet to subscribe to the program.”
The horse finished his relaxing gallop, and she returned to Den. He patted her, the last faithful being he trusted, on the neck.
“You mentioned he was a doctor too.” said Den. “The First, I mean.”
“Yes, he was for a while.” Vyria searched for the right words for a moment. “He became a very unhappy man. His mother, well…” she pulled a sad smile “was like you.”
“Like me??” Den frowned.
She dared a giggle. “She was in a spiritual-naturalist cult, pretty much what this community is built on. Poor William had found himself in a trap, especially when his parents’ split. Mrs Harris had been so obsessed for motherhood she engaged in different alternative practices, diets and trainings and…” Vyria uttered the term reluctantly “superstitions. Then, when his husband gave her a son, she couldn’t accept him.”
“Sure?” Den cut in. “Our legends say the First has had a close, blessed relationship with his mother. It’s a gold standard for all of us, mothers and sons.”
“He fought for his mom’s affection, certainly. So he joined the same minor cult, to get accepted by her. Then, and I’m confident you have a legend for this as well, she fell ill.”
Den’s nod confirmed Vyria’s guess.
“Although it was an easily curable condition, Mrs Harris refused medical treatment. She died during a cleansing meditation, surrounded by her fellow believers.”
“This bit matches our tradition.” Den noticed.
“This is all.” Vyria settled on a trunk. “William burnt his father’s lab down, with Dr Harris inside. He destroyed his father and his work. Everything.” she buried her face behind her palms. “Pity they kept their research offline.”
Den squatted at her feet, his head rested on Vyria’s lap. “How will the First save you?”
She fingered Den’s long brown hair. “I’m going to upset you.” she said.
“Never mind, I’m in a need of some comforting routine.” he grinned.
“Okay, then.” she laughed. “So, we cremate or compost our dead, I can’t acquire a sample from the early Greens. I fled my homeland to get to the grave.” she bent forward, looking into the grey eyes framed by small wrinkles. “I placed our future in your hands, now it’s up to you wether you help me or not.”
The sacred, forbidden Heart was hidden under the ruins of an ancient city. Mother nature has reclaimed the territory from skeletons of towers, weather-torn walls and the mouldering concrete; but the chemically contaminated dead patches held their lifeless position.
Underneath, at the edge of a three-dimensional web of tunnels and caves, there was a prison. Vyria observed the artificial light, the shiny, soft walls, the lightweight fixed furniture. Again. And again.
She couldn’t believe her ears and eyes when Den handed her over to the authorities of his land. He said he obtained precious information from Vyria. They locked her and she hasn’t heard a voice since. A guard placed a tray with food and water twice a day and once she found a new home-spun dress, tailored for her with an open back and high neck.
Vyria was over the first shock when she sat in the corner devastated; over the rage when she kicked the stool, and she had thrown the plate against the wall. She was almost over the self-flagellation, for he broke her down. He promised he was going to assist if she would have followed the instructions. Den escorted Vyria through the checkpoints, down to the tunnels, put out to the officers’ curiosity facing no resistance.Wasn’t the tactic obvious? He manipulated her all along since they’ve met, chasing her from anxiety to easement back and force until she opened up.
The door opened. It was Den. “Good news!” a wide smile deformed his ugly nature into a handsome conman, Vyria’s verdict was.
“You’ve got promoted?” she grimaced.
“I can’t.” he marched in the cell. “I’m too young for the Main Council. Come.”
“With you?” Vyria pulled a face, sitting on the plank-bed, knees pulled up. She pointed at the tiny, dead petals on the floor. “You’re almost there. My time is running out, so leave me alone.”
“I’ve seen this coming.” Den remarked. “Sorry for the inconvenience, believe me, this was the most luxurious accommodation I could arrange for you. I have been interrogated, not you. And,” he towered above Vyria “I arranged an audience for you. Take a pull on yourself.”
She startled up, attacking Den against all her odds. “I won’t make it easy for you this time! Drag me along, you…” her fists dived on his chest, “you double-faced moron!”
He endured the beating easier than her tears. “Stop it.” Den grabbed her wrist. “Violence is my job and I don’t want to use it.”
“You promised.” she sobbed.
“I promised to help.” he pushed her off. “I didn’t promise to commit treason. Come with me now.”
A long, narrow path led to the grave, its stairs graved in the rock. Guardians accompanied Vyria, and Den was only one of them. The Main Council waited on the top of the hill fenced by a composite wall, made of stone and timber.
The plateau, larger than it seemed from below, scattered white flowers ruled the meadow. When Den escorted Vyria to meet the Main Council, a buzz rose across the garden.
Eyes shut, she gave herself over to her fate. Bees covered her back, collecting and distributing pollen of the small flowers.
“Stop the witch! Protect His Holiness’ garden!” a middle-age bald Council member shouted. An elderly lady took her headscarf off, exposing her grey hair just to cover Vyria’s back. A guardian pulled his gun out, he was disarmed by Den who covered Vyria on her way down the stairs.
“Hey” he pulled her in a side corridor. “I didn’t expect this.”
“ Just get me out of here.” She smiled. “I’ve got the sample!”