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Waking Beauty

Part One; Awakening of the Abomination

Chapter One

    Cramps was by far the biggest understatement ever made since the beginning of civilization.  The beginning of civilization, now there was a thought almost interesting enough to stray my thoughts from the twisting, agonizing feeling in my gut, stretching down, down, down my thigh and turning my knees into mush.  Only moments after dissolving my ability to stand my calf began to shrink, expand, pulse...  I lost my ability to even describe the pain after that.
    Perhaps I was a werewolf like in the old legends, because it always happened at the full moon.  Of course, there were five full moons in a month, but my moon was Kobok, or at least it was until we moved onto Kobok.  How could my gazzi-cursed sire allow us to be banished to the same cursed moon that brought me into the depths of hell each and every month without fail?
    “Eshana!  Hurry up, if you’re late for dinner again father will hang you by your ankle!”
    I tried to block out the high pitched voice of my always-logical, always-helpful, always-on-time, always-perfect older sister.  She didn’t have cramps.  For years she’d forced to me to take the worthless miden tablets.  She’d say, “At least some of our genetic code is the same, and mother never had any problems with miden.  Why would you?  It’s all in your head.”
    Perhaps miden was really just another term for torture.  They not only didn’t help, but they made things worse.  I’d sworn off of all pills after my first try, and then been forced to go against it when I’d lock myself in my room for two days, refusing to eat, talk or even move.  I was half afraid to breathe.  For the second time in an hour, and the zillionth time in my life, I wished I had been born a man.
    “Eshana, I’m going to come in and fetch you if you don’t come out.  I’m not going to deal with our father being angry.  I’d rather deal with blazing mammoths sworn to ravage Kobok entire then another night of his raving.  Now come out.”
    “I can’t,” I whispered, from the floor, scarcely able to form words.  How could I eat when maggots were crawling inside my skin?  How could I move when my legs were made of putty?  
    Her footsteps faded, allowing some small portion of my anxiety to fall away.  My room smelled of suffocating mildew, and I was sweating out a life supply of water to make it worse.  My nose was going to burn off my face no doubt.  
    Earthquakes threatened to bring the house down, or was it just the angry footsteps of my father; Lord Dreek, the ever-impressive, ever-imposing, and ever-angry noble who “managed” the justice registry.  In truth, he did nothing other than be the said impressive, imposing, angry noble.  It was only that he did these things amongst the ordinaries who were employed by the registry that gave him the title, Executive Manager of the Integration Department of the Justice Registry.
    Even his title sounded impressive and imposing.
    Another earthquake alerted me to my father’s intrusion on my temple, or should I say jail cell?  His imposing voice alerted me to my impending punishment, though what he said could be discerned through the snakes burrowing into my ears.  I was glad he was lowering his voice, because it was making my headache even worse.  They even were considerate enough to turn the lights out..
    I woke up to lightning striking me.  When it hit for a second time I realized it wasn’t lightning, but a belt.  My senses were working again, the cramps had subsided, but now I had to deal with the lashes.  Medieval punishment that it was, Lord Dreek wasn’t even lenient with his more favored offspring, and I was far from favored.
    Sometime between my back being struck by lightning and then being set on fire, I fell back into the blissful darkness.  Someone had once said life was pain, and I couldn’t agree more.
    My next hour in the waking world was under the torment of my wounds being dressed.  Devika was pacing the room like a hungry mut waiting to be fed.  From my vantage all I could see was her feet passing me by over and over again as she ranted on about my stupidity.
    “Now you’ve really done it, and there is nothing I can say to make him change his mind.  Even mother won’t help you after this one.  How could you miss dinner with the Headmaster of Marduke?”
    How could they manage to schedule so many “opportunities” for me at that time of the month when they knew that I was completely incapable of doing anything on the same moon cycle every month?  Not that my father would ever listen or understand, but surely Devika or mother could have had a say in some of these arrangements.  Did they really believe I’d rather be curled up on the floor crying rather than painting or eating dinner?
    “...packing you off to Puk!  You think Kobok is beneath us, you have no idea what it will be like for you on Puk!  For goodness sakes the place has more slaves than citizens, and likely not a single uncorrupt noble family on the planet.”
    Had she just said Puk?  The smallest and most ostracized moon of Rienak.  I’d be taken there in a coffin if I was to be taken at all.  My teeth clenched.  My own sister would let this happen.  Nobody would save me, nobody would defend me.  Had the last seventeen years of my life taught me nothing?
    They didn’t lock me in my room, which gave me hope.  I had never been caught sneaking out before, and they didn’t think that I had the guts to run away when they believed I wouldn’t face the Headmaster of Marduke due to some fear or other mental or emotional issue.  No one could believe I was really being devoured alive by spiders, being stabbed with needles and suffocated when I showed no outward signs of bodily harm at all.
    At two past midnight I had finally compiled all that I was bringing with me.  One change of clothes, my paint brushes, a dreadfully small selection of paints, my heavy cloak, my sparker, my interplanetary passport, my entire savings (pitiful as that was) and filled the rest of my sack with food from personal stash.  (I wouldn’t eat much of anything that could be found in the kitchen.  The government’s food was about as trust-worthy as a starving thief.)  I considered my celbot for a moment, then thought better of it.  It could locate me, and I didn’t want to be located.
    Several steps down the hall, round the corner, down the stairs, carefully, quietly.  Patience, a virtue I was still struggling with.  Excitement flowed through me, raising the thrum of my heart to an audible level.  Then, as sure as an executioner’s axe, the anvil of cramps returned.  It was all I could do not to fall down the stairs, forget being silent.
    My skidding stopped at the landing.  I heaved for air, trying desperately to focus on my escape.  Small feet walked down the wooden hall, softly approaching my abject heap.  I tried to raise to my feet, only to let out a grotesque moan.
    “Shana?”
    I looked up, the effort burning my neck.  My youngest sibling, Talut.  His cheeks were red under his peach fuzz as though he’d been running or had a nightmare.
    “Help me,” I breathed.
    “What do you want me to do?”
    “Just get me to the door.”
    “Where are you going Shana?”
    “Please,” I squeaked.
    He climbed the last few steps to the landing and put his shoulder under my arm.  He was strong for his size, unlike me.  He hoisted me to my feet, leaving me too dizzy to see.  I felt like I was going to vomit.
    “Are you okay?”
    “No,” I whispered through the haze.  I blinded stumbled down the stairs, his support the only reason I was able to move at all.
    “Will I ever see you again?”
    His understanding completely confounded me, and though I wanted to thank him, to hug him, to tell him he shouldn’t listen to his older siblings or father, I could do nothing but stagger blindly out the door.  I supported my weight on the post of the porch, waiting for my vision to return.  Talut looked like wanted to follow me but just then someone came thundering down the stairs.  He slammed the door shut.
    I had never managed to move farther than I had already come while in the midst of a moon-time onslaught, but then again, never had I more of a reason to move.  Banished all the way to Puk?  Was my father mad, or just cruel?  I hoped I’d never know.  I ran.

Chapter Two

    The pain of running wasn’t nearly as bad as the pain of stopping.  My lung filled with freezing ice with every gulp, threatening to expand and burst.  I was two quattes short of my boyfriend’s house when I collapsed in an alley-way.  It was an excellent shortcut when my brain didn’t balk at confined space like a horse balking at a lion on it’s back.
    I was doomed to choke on the smells of piss, bile and beer and other smells created by big bother’s poison.  As a child I had never known the immense ghettos of our five moons that kept Navarok so peaceful.  Not that Navarok was some utopia, but it was blessed as an angel’s rump in comparison to Kobok.  
    Glass cut into my fingers as I tried to push myself up to a standing position again, but it was no use, not even the warm blood seeping out of my fingers could distract me from the heaving of my lungs, the squirming vermin inside my belly, or the fire in my legs.  I cried silently, unable to take the glass from my fingers.  
    Cramps.  That’s what the physicians told me over and over again.  Miden would surely help, Devika said over and over again.  Nobody believed me, except perhaps Talut, my pubescent little brother.  Fat-lot of good that would do me.  On that thought, I collapsed.
    I woke at noon, the sun directly overhead.  The only hour the alley experienced sunlight.  I hadn’t forgotten where I was in my sleep.  No jolt of recognition like there would have been if I had really slept.  The sunlight had illuminated the dark corner of my mind I had been hiding in, and there was no more hiding to be had.  
    I brought myself to my feet.  My jeans were badly stained and wet.  My over-shirt was worse, being that it had blood all over the cuffs.  Gritting my teeth and desperately trying to think about not going to Puk, I plucked the larger pieces of glass from my fingers.  This, of course, caused a lot more bleeding.
    I pulled off my over-shirt.  If this had been some holographic I probably would have ripped the sweater into nice little neat strands.  Yes, I was crazy, but I wasn’t that crazy, and unfortunately I wasn’t even that strong.  I made a meek attempt to at least rip it into two parts by holding it under my arm and biting at it.  Luckily for me there was a small hole where the arm-holes met the body of the shirt and I was able to tear an arm off of it.
    I felt foolish emerging from the ally with bloody parts of a sweater wrapped around my hands, but not half as foolish as I did when I arrived at my boyfriend’s house.  Lucky for me it was Boktag, the eighth day the week, when the only people at work were the militia, and independent shops.  Ah, I used to dream of having my own independent enterprise, but alas, familial disgrace takes away any liberties outside of imperial jurisdiction.  I could only ever have an education or career or even child if first reviewed and accepted by some imperial nobody who said I could on his whim.  
    Tentatively I considered knocking the door with my foot, since my knuckles were so far out of the question.  I also considered fleetingly going somewhere else, but nowhere came to mind.  I had alienated everyone I met ever since we moved to Robok, everyone except Makoto.  
    I tapped the door with the tip of my shoe, not nearly loud enough for anybody to hear.  The door swung open on my fourth tap.  I hopped backwards on one foot, surprised, not even committed to knocking yet.  To my horror, Leanna opened the door.  I turned to run, but she grabbed my arm.  My face hardened with defiance.  I hated my weakness.
    “Wait, it’s not what you think,” she said.
    “What do I think?”
    “You think everyone in your family would just let you be sent away to Puk,” she answered.  Makoto came up behind her and added, “I’d never let that happen, even if I had to steal you right out of your father’s clutches.”
    I smiled.  Leanna released her grip on my arm and then simultaneously they took in my disheveled appearance, ending their gazes at my bloody wrapped hands.
    “What happened to your hands?” Makoto asked as he ushered me in.
    “I... slipped and fell in an alleyway,” I lied, lamely.  I had never told Makoto about the “cramps.”  I didn’t need another person to tell me they didn’t believe me, and men generally didn’t make for good conversation about womanly ailments even when they weren’t out of the ordinary.
    Leanna gave me a sideways glance but didn’t correct my lie.  Neither of them pointed out that it was noon and I’d clearly left the house before sunrise to go on a walk that should have taken me less than an hour.  I was thankful that they both accepted the lie.
    Leanna agreed to keep her silence about my whereabouts and about Makoto’s existence on the promise of my future favor.  If ever our father’s wrath were to land upon her, I was required to give her sanctuary.  It was an easy enough agreement, since I’d hopes of leaving the moon with Makoto.  This agreed upon less than two hours after my arrival (over a delicious home-cooked meal compliments of Makoto) and Leanna was preparing to leave when a clamoring of bells sounded the ruin of us all.
    Leanna froze, her hand on the door handle, her face paling.  “It can’t be,” she whispered.
    “The lovely bells are only ever sounded for this particular occasion Leann,” Makoto said, clearly much calmer than I, “We must brace ourselves for a changing in era.”
    I couldn’t really hear him through the din in my head.  King Cademonik, and Queen Lavori of Navarok were dead.  I peered out Makoto’s front window and saw black being hung down the streets, citizens ripping off their colored scarfs and stuffing them into their satchels or purses.  The month of mourning would begin today, meaning everyday would be Boktag for the entire month.  No hopes of getting a ship to Navarok now, even if that was still what I desired.
    Then, an unlikely smirk appeared on my face.  This meant my family’s disgrace was over, and that I wouldn’t have to smuggle myself back into Navarok, I could return on my eighteenth birthday with no questions asked.  I embraced Makoto, who took my fierce grip as a need for comfort, for he stroked my hair ever so gently.  
    My moment of revelation passed, and I remembered that I had three months before I turned eighteen, and that my father would have me sent to Puk, that my mother and eldest sister would do nothing to stop it...  And that if our King and Queen were dead that it meant war.  I clung to Makoto even more fiercely, not sure I could comprehend the world anymore.
    “I should get home,” Leanna said, “I’ll...”  She paused, and looked me in the eyes, “Goodbye Eshana.”
    “Goodbye,” I said.

Chapter Three

    I stayed with Makoto during the mourning month, languishing the hours away watching his vast collection of holographics.  He had a surprising amount of horror films for such a peaceful guy.  When I wasn’t watching holographics or cleaning I was painting.  It felt good to be able to paint without my father or Devika bothering me.  I was free to paint the sky, the flowers, the moons, or even twisting, turning, toiling swirls of color with no particular form.  Nobody, not even Makoto, seemed to understand the simple pleasure of putting the wet brush to the paper.
    One morning, I woke to him shouting over his celbot.
    “...will not be caught traipsing after her like some sort of lapdog!”  I could see through the crack in the door his face reddening.  “I’m not your yes-man,” he raged, beginning to pace, “I don’t take orders from you.”  I heard him press the button to end the call.  It began to buzz again the moment he’d pressed the button.
    “No, no, I’d never...”  The was a long pause.  “Yes, of course.”  His voice turned from angry to embarrassed, “I would never imply...  Yes, right away.”  He passed by the door again, redder than before, and terminated the call.  I heard him slump against the wall and let out a long breath.  
    I pretended to sleep when he entered the room moments later.  
    “Eshana?” he said, quietly, “I know you’re awake.  Listen,” I opened my eyes.  He looked very apologetic which.  I squirmed uncomfortably.  “I have to go to Morik on official business of my master.  My envoy may be out there for months as her representatives.  You can’t stay in this house while I’m gone, it wouldn’t be safe, and if you were found, I wouldn’t be able to protect you.”
    “Why can’t I come with you?” I asked.
    “Impossible, and what a monster that would make me.  Morik is no place for young girls to shlep after their lovers.  Codes there are stricter than you can imagine, and you’ve too wise a tongue for their policies.  I’d hate to see you mute from their brutalities.”
    “Then where would you have me go?” I demanded.
    “Where do you wish to go?”
    There was one question I didn’t need to think about.  “Navarok.”
    He nodded, my answer was exactly what he’d expected.  “You’re not eighteen for another two months.  Shall I smuggle you on my way to Morik or should I make arrangements for you to stay here for another two months?”
    “I want to leave when you leave.”
    He nodded again, “We leave in two hours.  Pack your things, and anything you’d like to take with you from this house.  I’ll only be able to send you off with enough money to buy your stay for a few weeks, after that you’ll have to make it on your own until I come for you.  You’re a big girl, you can do that, right?”
    I nodded grimly, knowing I had no work experience and that I’d be an illegal immigrant  on my home planet.  
    “I have my own preparations to make,” he said briskly, “none of which involve the bathroom.  You’d best get in a good bath before we go, it’ll be a long trip.  I have a number of errands that are much closer than Navarok to attend to, and I can’t afford to come back and do them anon.”
    With that, he turned on his heal.  No affection, no kiss, no warmth.  It was almost as if the person or people he had spoken with on his celbot had changed his entire character.  As far as I knew he was an envoy for a secretive noble who had Makoto travel in his steed along with several other representatives.
    I packed a number of things from his household, like soap, which ran a high price on Navarok since it was almost entirely imported from Silik which held almost all of medical and body industry in a stranglehold.  It wasn’t much cheaper here on Robok, but soon enough everything would start to look like it cost a fortune, weather it was morning soup or a bar of soap.
    We entered a subshaft almost exactly two hours from the time he left the bedroom.  He selected a one seated vessel, leaped in, motioning me with the swish of his finger to get onto his lap.  I smiled, how romantic.
    Piloting a vessel of any kind required five years of training, something that could rarely be afforded, thus, the most common transport aside from various tamed created were subshafts and airshafts.  The vessels were entirely automated and incapable of leaving their tracks.  The only controls we ever touched were the “destination” and “go” buttons.
    I’d read in one of my elementary legends book about a time where all sorts of air crafts and land crafts roamed with scarcely any regulation at all on who could use them.  As with all things inside the legends books, you could only believe with a discerning hear what was plausible and what wasn’t.  The thought that people as hotheaded as my father might be aloud to pilot something was completely ludicrous.
    We left the Konnaji “island” rather rapidly and headed for Nona.  Almost all shafts on Kobok were subshafts for the obvious reason of the humidity.  There was so much hot moisture that most of the moon was completely consumed by impassible, uncharted swamps.  There few livable areas consisted of high bedrock.  One of these areas was Konnaji, which was my home ever since being banished from Navarok when my family was disgraced six years ago.  
    We got off in the merchant district of Nona, which more like a collection of bums and drug pushers than merchants to my eyes.
    “Stay here, don’t leave this booth no matter what happens.  I’ll be back in just a few minutes,” and with no further explanation and no opening for me to question, Makoto disappeared from my sight.  To my complete displeasure, he’d left me in a tea-leafs booth, which was about the most boring place he could have left me.
    I muttered to myself under my breath and peered at a collection of tea leaves.  They looked like tea leaves.  Who’d have thought?  
    “An idle brain is a gazzi’s workshop.”  I spun around to see an old man standing interminably close, sipping a cup of steaming tea.
    “I’m not idle.  I’m...”
    “Excuses are always mixed with lies.”
    “Are you accusing me of being a liar?” I demanded.
    He sipped his tea, entirely calm.  “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.”
    “Isn’t that an ancient proverb?  One from the legends tales?”
    “And what is a legend but an old story which people can not remember if it’s true or not?  And what is truth but the mass opinion of what’s right?  And what do the masses know but what they are taught?  And who is to teach them but legends?”  The old man’s face looked to have more cracks and crags than Navarok’s moon; Morik, but his eyes gleamed bright.  The light within him hadn’t diminished along with his body.
    “Who are you?” I asked.
    “I am whatever you say I am young miss.  Just know I’m not as mixed as you.”
    I blinked, for the steam from his cup seemed to grow hotter and thicker at just that moment.  And when my eyes opened and cleared, he was gone.  An angry looking middle-aged woman took up his place and demanded, “are you going to buy a bag of tea?  If not, you can leave my stand.”
    In no mind to argue, I left her booth for the busy street.  
    I wandered into and out of several small booths.  I was shooed from one for not buying anything, fled another from the rank smell, and left another after being on the receiving end of a deathly stare.  I tried to remain close to the tea shop but catongus wagons crowded the narrow paths between the tents and I dared not squeeze next most of the shoppers.
    After Makoto had been gone for about two hours a woman distinctly lacking in teeth approached me, muttering, almost to herself, “Fine thighs, scrawny arms, shinny hair, yes, yes, you’d do nicely...”  I backed away from her, but she grabbed my wrist with an iron grip and stared into my eyes.  “Your blood is tainted, but that won’t bother none the badgers.”
    “I...  I don’t know what you mean, miss.  I really have to be...”
    “Coming with me,” Makoto jolted my spirit from my blood as he clamped his hand on my shoulder.  The woman backed away and disappeared between two tents, looking like a rabbit who’d just spotted a wolf.
    “Why didn’t you stay with the tea leaves?” Makoto demanded on our walk back to the subshaft station.
    “The lady told me to leave,” I said defensively.
    “And I told you to stay.  What’s the difference between what I told you and what she told you?  I would think that the difference is that what I say is more important.  Perhaps you thought differently.  Perhaps you thought to listen to her because she was there and I was not.”
    I had no response to that.  We dodged a catongus cart just before reading the subshaft which splattered Makoto with dirt.  He cursed under his breath something along the lines of “filthy...  nobody wants your...  cargo anyway...”