Chapter 13: Talk
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Gerald sat in a large dimly lit cave, he was not as he had expected alone. Rather there were others with him, men, women, and children even. 

"I'm trapped in a farm. Where the livestock are people"

For a while Gerald stared at his fingers, they were stained with his own blood, the blood was so dirty and dry it hardly looked like blood. Kael was going to die and he would be trapped here in middle of a corrupted zone waiting to be slaughtered like a pig. Gerald raised his head to examined his fellow prisoners a second time. Perhaps some of them could help, if he could gather enough well armed able bodied men they could arguably cross the corrupted region together. He tried to pick out the men from the rest but the cave was too dark for that. The only light came from strange blue glows scattered across the floors and walls of the cave. Only their voices clued him in to the presence of both genders.

He could feel the grey at the back of his mind, 'give up' it said 'feel nothing'. It would be so easy too, to feel nothing, to drift to his death half awake. Yet when he closed his eyes he saw their faces, they would not let him forget. They died and so now he lived, he couldn't give up. He had to try, he wouldn't be able face them if he didn't.

"You can die but first you have to get their vegence" he reminded himself "vengence first"

The thought of rising to take count and stock of the men crossed his mind but he didn't want to act in a manner unusual to new prisoners whilst he was cluesless about how things funtioned here.

"Watch first."

His mind made up he got on his knees and crawled over to one of the many poor sources of light. His wounds still stung, deviant or not he had been scarred for life. Hopefully none of it would be deep enough to permanently hamper his mobility. Crouching over the little blue light he stared intently... it was a palm sized cluster of tiny blue glowing mushrooms.

"What now... how am supposed to improve that..." he could feel the grey growing, the urge to give in.

The faces flashed before him again. He let out a slow breath and let himself feel. Tears streamed down his face slowly, he had forgotten what they looked like and now the faces changed. The expressions were the same, the shock, the pain, the blue eyes but everything else was gone. They died and so he lived and he couldn't even remember them right. He sat there and sobbed until the tears stopped coming, the grey was gone. He felt... better. 

If he couldn't create more light then he would simply have to make better use of the little he had. He had heard some War deviants could channel despair into a specific sub aspect. Carl was supposed to be one of them. If he could channel despair into perception then maybe he could- 

"Gaaaargh" a sound scream revebrated though the cave.

It was followed the sound of breaking bones and muffled screaming. It sounded like Kael! He was alive? Gerald rushed over to were Kael's body had been placed, his injuries forgotten in his fervor. Green puss rose steadily from Kael's skin until he was buried under a layer of it. Beneath the hardening subtsance Gerald could see movements. Shadows shifting behind the dome. He pressed a finger against the covering, it was suprisingly hard and warm.

Men and women gathered around Kael, curious to see what was going on. At first he felt the urge to drive them off, protect Kael but then he realised this was his chance to scout the men amongst them. If they seemed to pose a threat he would reveal his deviation and they would run. Or a deviant would emerge from their midst and Gerald would have to fight him. If he won, he would have found someone who could actually help him get out of where ever he was. If he lost? Chances are the deviant would spare him for his deviation. The thought that the deviant was the kind who would kill all other deviants without fail inorder to maintain sovereignty crossed his mind yet it was a chance he would have to take.

He could tell from their reactions that this was not something they had seen before. Kael's deviation was a big question mark, ooze plus a heightened sense of smell, the odd way in which the sense off smell manifested a lot later than the tentacles. It was all very strange, perhaps the was part of his deviation too. 

After a couple hours of the same thing most people went back to sitting on the ground and staring at the ceiling. Others remained, they seemed transfixed by it, an irregularity in a sea of monotony. In all that time only a few noteworthy things happened. 

For one thing no child came to have a look, which was odd, children were often more lively and curious than adults. There was something, some reaaon why the children were so reserved. The place was not safe, not for the kids at least. The possibility that they were cannibals lingered in Gerald's mind, that or some kind of external threat. All things considered he didn't doubt they faced external threats. Still it was the internal ones that bothered him.

Aside the lack of kids, two men drew Gerald's attention. Not because of any particular qualities they possessed but because of the wide berth everyone else gave them. Their appearances seemed quite ordinary, at least when compared to the other nude prisoners. One was in his late forties with one of the few men without a large beard. In fact it seemed some if the men were well shaved. How they even had blades to shave was a mystery for later. The other was young, hardly older than Gerald but a lot taller and skinnier too.

One of them was probably a deviant, if not both, they watched a while, muttered something between themselves and left.

"Maybe they have something to do with how food is distributed around here."

The longer time passed, the less it seemed like Kael was going to die, which was good. Gerald had heard some mentions of human test subjects and bad luck but whatever they were talking about, it seemed less likely now. Somewhere during those uneventful two hours Gerald had made up his mind. He was getting out of here, he could already see how they would do it... some of it. 

First though he would need to gather information and understand the rules down here, the safest way to do that would be by pretending to be an ordinary person. If Gerald had not made a mistake there seemed to be a forty or so people. Some had come in to watch Kael from tunnels that probably led to similar caves. 

There was a surprising degree of freedom, and a total lack of guards. Naturally ordinary people couldn't take advantage of this, even if they escaped this place the first corrupted creature they ran into would be their end. If he and Kael escaped however it would be different, they could watch out for themselves. This time though they didn't have to go it alone, hence his need to examine the men. He also needed a blade really badly, perhaps he needed to pay one of the shaved men a visit later on.

Gerald sat down back against a wall, trying to figure out how he was going to join the masses. So far he had, 'force himself into the next group activity' and 'talk to a random stranger'. Neither of the seemed like a sterling plan but he couldn't think of anything better. The problem was solved when a group of men and one woman approached him. When they got closer he noticed he recognised two of the men. The clean shaven adult and the boy.

"Why are they here?"

"Da ya know that man?" One of the men asked. 

"What?..." Gerald sputtered, confused.

"Da ya know him" the man repeated pointing at Kael.

Gerald paused to take it in. They were here because of Kael, of course they were. A possible deviant was either a boon or a risk, they had to find out which.

"Yes, I mean no... I know who he is I just-"

"Shut up! Da ya know him or not?!" Another man uninterrupted.

"He used to be part of the group I joined but I, but he was a deviant and I was just the new kid. I really don't know him that well!" Gerald prattled, sweating visibly.

"Well, what can he do?"

"Erm, he's got like a good sense of smell. Plus he's strong and fast, some kind of hunter ability. I don't know"

"How come ya the only two that got caught?"

"There was a flock of black birds. I was going to die. He picked me up and saved my life. We must have gotten separated from the others. When I woke up we were in the pit already"

The shaven man started to laugh.

"He didn't save you. The death cloud can't get past heavy objects, the best thing to do to protect against them is burry yourself. He used you as a shield, if anything he owes you his life" the man said, speaking like a lord from the other side of the ranges.

The men looked back at the shaven man, he gave them a curt nod and continued to look ahead.

"Listen kid we got rules. Ya follow em, ya live, ya don't and ya starve" 

"..."

"Can ya fight?" 

"Yes"

"Good, when ya friend wakes up explain ta him how important it is that he follows the rules. That he understands his place."

"What rules? What is this place?"

"Soon kid. Ya find out real soon"

The men walked away, breaking up into smaller groups as they did. Only one person remained, a lanky woman whose appearance he couldn't make out behind the gloom and her own mask of dirt and unkept hair.

"You should eat" she said, pushing something soft into his hands.

He starred at the small white peices she had given him.

"Mushroom"

"Like the lights?"

She gave him a wry smile and started walking away. For a minute Gerald didn't know what to do but then he made up his mind and followed after her. He couldn't stand the silence and the loneliness, he needed the pressence of people to help keep his mind of things. 

Whilst they walked he watched and listened. The men outnumbered the women which was not suprising. More men were willing or capable of risking their lives in despaired regions. The women that did were often deviants or the children of deviants and therefore likely to deviate. 

The few women he saw were never or rarely alone, either they were with a man or perhaps a child. He was starting to get a feel of the social structure of the place. The good news was he had found the men he needed. The very same ones that interrogated him, the ones who were sure of themselves and felt they run the place. They were the kind of men he'd need if he was going to get out of here. He would have to be careful Kael wasn't killed for being a threat. First though this woman was obviously linked to one of the men from the group that questioned him, if he followed her, she would lead him to the people he was looking for. 

The days passed in a slow grind of monotony. Gerald could feel his santiy slipping, the absence of day and night and the mind numbing repitition threatened to drive him mad. Eva, the woman he had followed said it happened often enough, most people took their lives within the first month. 

Those that passed the first month where considered safe. Yet Gerald wondered if they were the truly lost. Holding on to life merely so you could end up as a meal a few months later. At least if you killed yourself properly your body would rot before the snake men found it.

'Work' was the nauseating act of growing mushrooms in their own faeces. Gerald had few other choices. The snakes didn't restrict their movements along as they stayed out of the snake nests but no one was stupid enough to look for food outside the network of tunnels. Perhaps when Kael woke up... if he woke up they could try together but for now he'd wait. 

Thinking about it, falling into the snake hole was not such a bad thing. They had somewhere Kael could pratice his deviation in relative safety, a little work and they'd have a team of men who'd wandered these forests before. Honestly he wasn't sure why more of them hadn't left already, there had to be something he didn't know. Something he was missing. He had restrained himself from asking direct questions because he didn't think the current leadership would be happy about him borrowing some of their better fighters and he didn't want anyone to know what he was planning. Perhaps it was time to do so anyways. 

Sudden movements in the corner of his eyes caught his attention. People were gathering around Kael. Now that he was listening for it he could hear a weak thumping.

"Is he waking?" Gerald wondered, jumping to his feet.

A lot of time had passed, how much exactly was anybodies guess and Kael was more than happy to forget it all entirely. Unfortunately for him it seemed like that would not be feasible for a time.

When he came to he was in a dome made of green puss but he didn't need to wake to know that. He knew a lot of things he hadn't known before now. Some the fragment told him, others he... intuited. The knowledge was more of a curse than a boon however and he wished he had spent more time not knowing more than he had had, he cursed his wishful thinking earlier. In a moment of hubris he'd doomed himself. He needed to fix it, but that would take time and Kael didn't believe he had a lot of that.

He been concious for more than a couple of hours but he still felt like staying in his shell perhaps even forever. Hiding here wouldn't change the truth however and the growing hunger pains promised his exit would be sooner rather than later. 

"This is good. The snake things didn't eat me perhaps they threw me away once I got slimy. I have a much better chance of surviving as I am now and once I am safe I can get my old body back" 

His resolve somewhat steeled he clenched his fists a struck his encasing once with his might but all that earned him was a solid thunk, the case was strong and he was weak, by the third strike he could already feel the exhaustion seeping into his bones. His newly formed muscles were aching dully. 

"I might get my wish after all. I am not sure I can break it. I am just too hungry and tired" 

Fustrated his new tail lashed out. Ordinarily it's thin length would have failed to damage the shell but the needle like bone tip struck shell and pierced it.

"I forgot about... no I only wish I had. I guess it can't be helped"

He punched holes through the casing with his tail and broke free with a final feeble swing of his arm. All of a sudden the shell was breaking apart from the outside. Someone was helping him.

"Gerald?"

A hand gripped him by the shoulders and pulled him into the light. Cleaning the slime gathered around his eyes Kael realised 'light' was an overstatement. The place was so poorly lit, he shouldn't have been able to see his hands before his face, only he could. The darkness barely affected his ability to see, the colours were muted but asides from this it almost seemed he could actually see better than before, perhaps he could.

"How am I sure that its dark. What if it's just how my eyes see things now. No it's not my eyes it really is dark but why did I, do I know that?"

"Instincts, you assimilate instincts as well as form. Interesting."

The fragment, the voice in his head that took control of his body and killed Rufus and then killed the snake thing.

"Calm down Kael it can only take control under specific conditions... but what if thats not true? It told me that after all what if it's trying to lull me into trusting it?" 

"I believe your current line of thought is unhealthy"

"SHUTUP!"

"Kael?"

Gerald was looking at him wide eyed. Kael knew what he was seeing a freak, a beast, his new body. His eyes were inhumanly large and shaped like a reptiles' no they were reptilian, deep green with black vertical slits, his skin was leathery and no longer brown but rather a dull grey, his legs and arms seemed the same but Kael knew the power they would possess once he was rested and fed, the tips of his fingers ended in ivory claws, his head was bald and smooth, his muscles were visible and had the appearance of being sculpted from stone, poison swelled in glands positioned in his throat, to be delivered by his curved fangs his forked tongue was too long to be human and too thick to be reptilian and of course he had a tail, a long sinuous thing that ended in a pearl white pointed bone. A form to match his desires, he'd been such a fool.

"I am hungry" he said eager to distract from his appearance. Not that mere words could manage that. His voice might have acheived it though. It had a strange raspy quality to it that hadn't been there before.

He could smell the fear wafting from the strange naked people that circled him but Gerald, Gerald had a pensive calculating look and Kael was reminded of the sort of person his travelling companion was.

"Where are we? Why are people here? How did you get past all the snake guys? Don't you have any food?"

Gerald seemed to return to the present, he took a whitish brown loaf from a dirty pocket and handed it to Kael with dirtier hands. The loaf smelled like mushroom and the hand like shit, Kael had the mind to refuse it but his hand stuffed it down throat before he could make out the words. 

He needed more, he had lost body mass due to waste and inorder to create the dome. His deviation sent signals to him that made him feel anxious and uneasy. It wanted spare resources for repairing wounds, improving his form and for use incase of emergencies but he didn't even have enough to meet his current needs. No it didn't want more that was wrong, he wanted more.

Gerald must have noticed his hunger cause he pulled out a bundle of white and brown and again Kael wolfed it down. Kael's nose told him that Gerald was out but some of the people around him had stashes of their own. He met their astonished fearful gazes and knew he couldn't ask or take from them. Wait he had it, the source was down a tunnel to his left. The thought of more shit stained mushrooms made him sick and yet eager. He was about to set of when he heard a voice behind him.

"If I could have a moment of your time"

The man who spoke held himself like he was entitled obedience and was confident in his intellect whilst very doubtful of Kael's. Not that Kael could blame him, he looked like a frigging beast. The man was flanked by a boy, this one was less sure of himself and had strange silver coloured veins.

"Deviant"

"I am in a bit of a rush" the raspy sound was particularly noticeable this time.

"I assure it would only take a while"

Why was the man speaking like that. They were, wherever they were, a long way from society, to bother with false courtesies just seemed... false. As if to answer his question his nose caught a familliar scent. Snake person! They hadn't escaped! Perhaps he should hear the man out maybe he could explain what the hell was going on.

"Fine, lets talk"

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