6 vitriol for Free
On the way to Drakonta’s house, Sha presses against the door in the over-full backseat. She tries to ignore the feel of Calogero pressing against her side as he sleeps. It’s distracting and she needs to study Dr. Jensen’s journal again. Free steels himself for what he’s sure is going to be a difficult visit to the house where’d he’d been a prison for so long. He holds Carla Two close, petting her hair. Skittle concentrates on driving, focusing on the road and letting the long yellow highway lines guide his way, lulling him into half-hypnotized auto pilot. Snake brings him back every now and then with a touch.
Drakonta’s house is much the way they left it. His car is still halfway down the driveway, hood up from when they’d stolen the parts to fix their truck. What they didn’t take is strewn around it like guts.
“That’s Drak-k-konta’s house up ahead,” Free has difficulty getting the words out.
Sha looks up from the journal. “We’re here!” The dismantled car catches her attention. She smiled and softly put her hand on Skittle’s shoulder. “And extra parts!”
Skittle, ever the optimist, shakes his head. “Won’t fit. Wrong model. Wrong year.”
He slows down as he navigates the bumpy dirt road. It had only been a few weeks since they’d been here last, but the house already looked as if it’d been abandoned for years. Drakonta’s body should have been next to it, bloody at the head with bits of brain and skull splayed out, but it wasn’t. A trail of dried blood led away from the house.
Skittle goes to the bushes where he’d tossed the gun and carefully searches for the it. He finds it, but there’s only two bullets left.
Sha, obliviously still excited about the car parts, continues to smile. “My first functions were used in manufacturing. I’m pretty sure that I could find something useful.” As an afterthought, “Would Drakonta have any security measures?”
Free steps out of the car, still holding Carla Two’s hand, and shivers. “Drakonta used magic. He made plants grow out of the ground and fire appear in his hand.”
Sha’s smile turns to a dark and she gives her attention back to Drakonta’s car. She digs around under the hood, looking for anything useful they hadn’t taken before.
Calogero’s eyes brighten as Sha’s smile dimmed. “Really? A true wizard? I’d suspected, but none of my theories had ever panned out.”
Free nods, not as excited. In his free hand, he holds his guitar like a security blanket. “Want a tour of the house?”
Calogero nods emphatically. “Please.”
Free leads Carla Two, Calogero, Snake, and Skittle inside while Sha stays out, pulling wires and hoses off the engine and putting them in the trunk of their car.
The house iss large and most of it seemed unused for years. Layers of dust, more than could accumulate in just a few weeks, cover the living room and kitchen. Deeper inside, a bedroom with marks covering the walls. A locked door at the end of the hall and backdoor that led to a greenhouse garden. The place was old enough that it had an outhouse visible through the bedroom windows. Free kept finding himself tangled up in memories. Skittle stayed close to Snake, careful not to touch anything.
In the greenhouse, Free introduces Calogero to all the plants he could name.
“Interesting. These plants are useful in alchemical—” Calogero didn’t get to finish.
Sha, having taken everything she thought was useful, went inside to meet the others. As soon as she passes the threshold, every exit slammed closed.
Skittle glares silently at the door.
Carla Two moves closer to Free. “What happened.”
Snake kickes the door.
“Drakonta.” Free swallowes hard.
Snake slammes his hammer into the door. “Drakonta’s dead.”
Sha makes her way to the greenhouse. It was hard for her to not smile with that I-told-you-so smugness that came so naturally to her. “Hrm, looks like there is some security.”
Free had to force himself to not squeeze Carla Two’s hand too tightly. “Drakonta has magic powers. Maybe we thought he was dead but he came back.” He managed to let go of her and his guitar long enough to try to open the door. He could feel his tongue seizing up in his mouth the way it always did when got scared.
“There’s got to be an exit or something. Free?”
“Is Drakonta doing this?”
Free struggled with the door, the panic slowly seeping into him. “Glabarka!”
Skittle chewed on his nails as he watched the others look for a way out.
“Freidgle mak thebfreegamant!” Words were still new to Free and they failed him frequently. “Glorp glorp dsaga.”
Carla Two watched him with concern. “Free,” she started, but trailed off, not sure where to go with that sentence. But she’d doen enough. Just the sound of her voice melted the fear away from Free. He was a warrior. He was Samson and no tongue was going to get the better of him.
Snake scowled. “It’s his tongue. Doing that thing again.”
Skittle turned and went back into the house proper. He grabbed the first chair that looked heavy enough to break the glass and took it to Snake. Free shook off the last of the terror and closed his eyes. His breath became frosty and visible and the temperature around him seemed to drop. With his humor flooding the muscles of his arms and legs, he ran at the door. He bounced off it hard, slightly dazed from the impact.
Shaking his head, Free said, “Unbreakable.”
Snake hit the glass with the chair. Nothing. He screamed and smashed the chair into the glass. The chair came down in pieces, the glass continued to hold. He growled in frustration, tossing the parts left in his hand to the side.
“Ah!” Skittle gingerly touched a small crack in the glass. “Look.”
Snake brightened. “So it IS breakable!”
Sha left quickly to find something more structurally sound. Free left with Carla to see if there was another way. Snake continued to pound at the glass with his hammer to no avail.
Sha found fireplace tools and put her hands over them. Her body lost it’s human appearance. Blue electricity flowed over the tools, melting them together. Then they became something else all together. Grinning, she handed the brand new ax to Snake.
Snake took it. “You just made this?”
Sha grinned and nodded. She loved being useful.
Calogero stood next to Free and Carla Two at the locked door. “What’s in here? This man seems to have been a gifted alchemist.”
Snake swung the ax at the glass. Sparks flew. He made another sound of frustration and touched the glass. “Hot. It’s hot.”
Sha stepped forward. “May I?”
Snaked handed her the ax.
The workshop door cracked as Free hit it.
Calogero smiled. “Again, young Free.”
Sha held the ax, letting the heat diffuse for a bit. She hefted the ax. “You might want to stand back.”
Skittle moved behind Snake as Sha’s human face fell away again, revealing the robotics underneath.
The workshop door breaks as Free tackles it again. Calogero cheers.
Sha strikes the glass with the ax and more sparks fly. The metal of the ax is beginning to break, but there’s no further damage to the glass. Skittle goes to find another chair.
Free heads into the workshop. A rush of cold air passes over them. Carla Two keeps close to Free.
Sha puts some flakes from the glass into purse as Skittle gives Snake another chair. The chair breaks. The glass still does not.
Snake drops the broken pieces. “I don’t get it.”
Sha tosses the ax aside as it reverts back its original form. “Unless we find something stronger than that glass, it’s pointless. I’m going to see how the others are doing.” Sha meets up with Calogero.
Calogero and Sha look around the workroom in amazement. There are two tables on either side of the room with a number of different magical components, brewing equipment, and chemistry equipment on them. The slab where Drakonta did his experiments on Free and the rod he beat him with were still there. Free’s blood dried and cracked on the surfaces. Near it was another table with a single lead nail driven deep into the top. The positioning was odd.
“I recognize some of this,” Sha says, surprised at the condition of this room as compared to the rest of the house. “I could do a lot of research in here!” She caught sight of the nail and looked closer. Lead was the most worldly of all metals and surely an alchemist that was so careful with the rest of his lab wouldn’t have a random nail just sitting there. Still, there were no symbols to identify and it’s place on the table seemed random at best.
Free points at the table, not quite able to walk up to it. “Bad table. Drakonta did bad things to me on this table.”
Carla holds his arm. “It’ll be okay. He’s not here anymore.”
As Skittle takes another look at the glass, a chill passes over him. He rubs his arm and thinks of following Sha, but then something wraps around his leg and pulls him down. With a yelp, he grips onto Snake’s arm as he falls.
Sha puts her hand around the nail and pulls it out. Her head is filled with the sound of screaming. She covers her ears, but it doesn’t help. And then she realizes that it’s Dr. Jensen screaming.
“Hey!” Snake shouts. A vine was curled around Skittle’s leg and squirming it’s way higher. The vine led to a gaping maw formed by two leaves and full of thorny teeth. The gun clatters to the ground, sliding out of Skittle’s reach.
Free rushes back at the sound of Snake’s yell. The air goes cold around him as he sends strength to his body.
Snake grabs Skittle’s arms and tries to pull him back. “Stay with me! Free! Grab… something!”
Skittle stayed silent, but gave Snake a look that said, “Yes, that’s the plan. Don’t fucking let go of me.”
Sha’s ZPM core starts to heat up. “No!” Her voice was flat and mechanical.
Calogero touches her. “Sha, come back to us. Where you are, you are not now. Leave that place and return here.”
Free punches the plant maw with all his might. The thick plant body cushions most of the blow.
Sha stares at Calogero as if he were someone else. “Dr. Jensen! Please, Malachai, wake up!” She sobs, but it’s a tearless, robot imitation.
Another vine shoots out toward Free, but hits the wall behind him.
Around Skittle, the vine tightens, forcing a yelp out of him. He tries to pull himself closer to Snake. Skittle could feel his ribs grinding against each other.
Sha’s flashbacks stop as Calogero grips her arm and says again, “Sha, I’m not Dr. Jensen.” Sha looks at him as the humanity returns to her face. Then something throws him back and he slams against the opposite wall and falls to the floor unconscious.
Carla Two and Sha both yell his name. Sha stabs the nail back into the table and backs away from it, toward Calogero.
“I don’t think you should leave it,” Carla Two says. “You got attacked after you grabbed it right?”
Sha shouts, “Then I hurt him!” She checks to make sure he’s okay.
Free follows his punch to the plant with a kick. He connects with a hollow sound.
The vine monster manages to pull Skittle closer to it’s mouth, dragging Snake with him. The vine tightens again and something in Skittle’s chest pops. He yelps again.
“Don’t let go of me!” He begs Snake.
Carla carefully approaches the nail. “What about this? Why not use the nail against the glass? If it’s powerful enough to…” She trails off, looking at Calogero sadly.
The second vine manages to grab Free.
Snake holds on tightly, his anger at the plant beginning to boil to the surface. “Skittle, I’m not letting you go!”
Sha continues looking over Calogero. “I don’t want to grab that thing again.”
Carla says, “What if I grab it?”
Free hits the plant again. Skittle manages to a little loose. The vine slips down to his waist before regaining its hold.
Carla tries to pull the nail out, but can’t. Reluctantly, Sha wraps her hands around Carla’s and the two of them get it out together. Everything in the room suddenly flies off the walls at them. Sha defends Carla, trying to bat things away. Sha covers Carla as they run back tot he greenhouse.
She paused slightly when she saw the monster. “Great! Everything’s trying to kill us!”
Carla hands Sha the nail and points at Snake’s forgotten hammer.
“Brilliant!” Sha grabs the hammer and steadies the nail in the crack. “Stand back!” And she swings at the nail.
The monster pulls Free into it’s mouth and the teeth start to close in on him.
The nail bursts through the glass and every window in the greenhouse shatters, raining a million shimmering pieces down. The plant’s maw drops impotently closed on Free like a large, leafy blanket.
The leaf protects Free. Sha and Snake pull Carla and Skittle, respectively, back into the hallway. Skittle is slower as he tries to catch his breath and a shard of glass lodges itself in his ankle.
Sha cheers. “Victory!”
Free gets out of the plant and kicks it.
Carla rushes to his side. “What happened?”
“Hell if I know. Shit.” He crouches to tend to Skittle’s foot. “Stay very still.”
Skittle nods, but pushes his bloody shoe away from him with his good foot.
“I think it was a magic trap,” Free says.
“Possibly. A thermal reaction to the nail,” Sha says, tearing off the hem of her shirt and wrapping the nail in it. “It can make Sha burn,” Carla says.
“It wasn’t the nail,” Sha corrected. “I heard screaming when I picked it up. I-I saw bad things. Terrible things.”
Calogero steps into the greenhouse. “It does appear that the nail contains some important properties. Free, do you remember anything about that particular thing?”
Free shrugs. “Drakonta sometimes played with that nail, but he never moved it. His magic was the strongest in his workshop. He could turn lead into gold and do things beyond the imagination in this place. One time he hit me and broke my jaw, but he did even more amazing things than that.”
Sha and Snake get Skittle back to his feet, but he refuses to put the bloody shoe back on so they help him out to the car. Snake gives him comforting assurances that he can change pants when they get outside. At the car, Skittle takes off his sock with two fingers to keep from touching it too much and tosses it aside. He changes his pants and leaves the bloody ones on the ground, disgusted with them.
At Free’s insistence, the others look around for something else that could be important. Free finds an ornamented leather box full of small human bones. Calogero stays in the workroom, exploring it. He explains that it’s a clean room and he do both Snake and Carla’s elixirs here.
Carla says, “Everyone, look.”
Sha looks into the box. “They look like children’s bones.”
“I wonder what he was doing with those,” Free says.
Sha walks that way. “Well, maybe he was using them to bring back the child’s soul in you. According to all the research I’ve compiled so far, that’s what Prometheans are in it’s most basic means. Resurrected souls. Most of the time there’s a corruption wiping clean previous memories, but I would guess sometimes they could bleed through.”
Carla shakes her head “No, guys. I mean over here.” She motions and everyone follows her to the basement door. “It goes someplace, but it’s locked.”
Skittle looks up at Snake and frowns. “Dropped the gun.”
Snake says, “I’ll go get it. You stay right here. Out here where you’re safe.”
Skittle gets up and tries to follow Snake. Snake puts his hands on Skittle’s shoulders, holding him in place. “You’re hurt. Stay.”
“Don’t want to be in a horror movie.”
Snake fought back a smile that would betray his usual demeanor. “All right, but I’m carrying you.” Reluctantly, Skittle agrees.
As they meet up with the others, Sha explains, “You realize if this goes further in there could be more traps.”
Free nods. “I know. But I need to know. Maybe there’s something down there that could help.”
Sha breaks the padlock.
In the basement, they find lots of maps and pictures. Pictures of Free’s creator. Carla Two explains that she thinks she knows him. That she thinks he killed Carla One and created her out of the body. Making her Carla Two.
Free points to a place on the map. A place in Canada.
Sha shakes her head. “It can’t be.”
Skittle looks at Sha questioningly.
Sha continues. “Those maps. That’s just outside of Prince George. It’s where I was created.”