PWD #03: And I Alone Escaped To Warn Thee
And I Alone Escaped To Warn Thee
Summary: On the stranger's shore, the brothers McBride pay the boatman's toll.
Date: 02/01/2012 (OOC Date)
Related Logs: The Faithless Death of Gods; String of Flames; Boskirk is Burning; Going Down to Die
Bear Phin Thaddeus 
Piraeus (???)
PWD #03

Between amped up training and seemingly continual shifts on Alert status, Phin's life has become a blur of waking up, duty hours, and then promptly crashing when they're over. With occasional meals and showers in there somewhere, though he's not being as frequent about either of those as would be ideal. He's just gotten off a 12-hour stretch that included rather punishing sessions of Predator training, so he just returns to his bunk, climbs in, and faceplants. He's deep unconscious not long after his face hits the pillow.

Between amped up training and seemingly continual shifts on alert status on the deck, Bear's life has become a blur of waking up, duty hours, PT, and then promptly crashing when they're over. With occasional meals and showers in there somewhere, the former at least as frequent as ever. He's just gotten off a 12-hour stretch down on the surface that included rather punishing sessions of combat readiness drills, so he just returns to his bunk, climbs in, and faceplants. He's deep unconscious not long after his face hits the pillow.

/Smells like home,/ said some of the people returning for their second tour if Piraeus — though the McBride twins, shiny and new to the planet as they are, have no such recollections. The planet smells much like any planet does, in late winter; dry, cold air; the faint, dusty scent of dead leaves; cigarettes, tylium, and exhaust from the base's people and machines.

Odd, then, to be dreaming of being down upon Piraeus's surface and for it to look and smell like spring. Piles of slush lingering under the trees, buds on the branches — nature ready to spring back to life.

Odder still for each of the twins to realize they're not alone — and to look over and see their brother standing there, looking right back at them.

The oddness of being on the planet's surface might register for Phin, for a second. Maybe two more, when he looks over and sees Bear there with him when he turns his head. But it's not a feeling he dwells on. He has a tendency to overthink the waking world, but dreams soften the oddities. "Hey," he says with a grin.

Bear has never been accused of overthinking anything. "Hey," he replies to Phin, a little surprised, puzzled for a moment, but whatever. He rubs at the back of his head and looks around. "Warmed up quick," he comments, "Didn't think we'd see spring just yet."

/Up ahead/ seems the way to go, as if some sixth sense is urging one along. Something /important/ there, perhaps. The reason for this sudden thaw? An explanation for what brings the two brothers together?

/Up ahead/ is a footpath, not particularly narrow or forboding, through the forest near Sheridan. The rutted path is covered with tree roots, slippery with melting slush, and as is the way with dreams, it takes only ten or twenty steps along the path before the clearing behind is gone as if it never was. Birds sing in the branches, the spring sun shines down — and up ahead a faint noise grows louder with each step. Voices — many voices — in conversation, each overlapping the other into an indistinct murmur.

"This place might not even have normal season cycles. Brave new world, bro," Phin says with a broad grin. He's pulled ahead, up ahead, by that compulsion along the footpath. Toward the voices. "There's somebody up there. Race you!" And, without waiting for a response, he bounds forward. That initial burst of speed gives him a lead, but if Bear plays along it won't last. He never could beat his brother at physical games. Not that it ever seemed to bother him much.

"Yeah, guess so. Who the frak knows?" Bear agrees. He starts ambling forward until Phin takes off at a run and he laughs, "Cheat! You're gonna need a bigger headstart than that." He races after Phin, catching up quickly and then jogging alongside him as the speed towards up ahead.

The run is invigorating — especially with the chilly fog that's creeping in. The pale blue sky grows shrouded, the brilliant sunshine gets hazy, and the air is heavy and thick with the smell of green growing things.

/Up ahead/ abruptly becomes /here/ as the twins navigate a sharp turn in the footpath as it hooks around an outcrop of stone — and there stands two young men, watching them calmly. They wear loose robes, the sort a priest or priest-in-training might wear, of the same indistinct grey as the fog.

"I don't care," says one. His voice is smooth, his tone bland. "It doesn't concern us," says the other.

"Woo!" Phin hollers, laughing as he runs next to Bear. He holds out his arms, straight, as if pretending they were wings. Like he could fly away if he just ran fast enough. Once they reach here he skids to an abrupt stop before the priests. Standing up straight and somber, as if he'd been caught in the act of doing something against the rules. Or was delivering himself to some sort of contrition.

Bear bats at one of Phin's arms, and turns to backpedal in front of him around the bend, secure in his lead. And then there are priests and he turns abruptly, stumbling to a halt beside Phin. "Uhh. Hey," he says. He looks at his brother, then back at the priests, and then slaps his twin's shoulder with the back of his hand and says, "Come on," moving to try to go around the robed pair.

"We're going to stay here," says the first young man, as the second nods. They turn to watch Bear start to move around him, with faint frowns creasing their placid features.

"It doesn't matter," says the second young man. Both of them watch the twins until they return to the path — at which point they shrug mildly to eachother and turn back to watch the way from which Bear and Phin came.

Ahead of them, the sound of many voices in conversation grows louder, and they are no longer alone — other robed figures, some alone, other in pairs or groups of three, stand along the path. They watch the twins as they go past, seeming faintly confused that they're going /this/ way instead of /that/, but say nothing.

The fog grows thicker, chill and clammy, making the smell of last autumn's leaves hang thickly in the nostrils. The birds still sing, but quieter and further away; perhaps the voices up ahead have spooked them to more distant trees.

Phin nods aside to his brother and lets himself be led. He defers to Bear automatically, and usually has, whoever gets called 'sir' by chain of command rules now. "What're they saying?" he asks Bear, voice low, straining as he tries to make out the many voices. "I can't understand what they're saying."

Bear looks at the people looking at them, and frowns. "What the hells?" he asks, "Why're they looking at us like that?" He shakes his head at Phin and shrugs, "I don't know. "Hey," he calls to one, "What's going on? You got a problem?"

At first it seems like the fog is clearing — but in fact it's the forest that clears, out toward a vast open space. The slushy spring earth has become muddy and sodden, with pools of standing water here and there. The trees are replaced with tall, scraggly marsh grasses, many of them trampled…

…by the people. So many people; more than the Orion brought to Piraeus, all of them in those bland, indistinct grey robes. All ages and ethnicities, and all of them talking mildly amongst eachother, not so much facing the twins, as setting their backs to whatever lies ahead.

/I don't care. It's nothing. Don't worry about it. Relax. It's not my decision./ All of them reassuring eachother in those bland, unconcerned tones; all of them frowning gently at Phin and Bear if they press onward.

One of those nearest to Bear is a middle-aged woman, the wrinkles upon her face suggesting a sour temperament, though she now bears the same placid expression as the others. In a gentle schoolmarm's voice she answers Bear: "There isn't a problem. There isn't any reason to fuss." A young girl next to her nods and chimes in, "It's always been like this." Both of them look at the twins and nod. See?

Phin slips in the mud, reaching out a hand to steady himself on Bear's shoulder to avoid falling. "This isn't…is this still Piraeus?" he asks. The middle-aged woman most directly, though he looks around at the other faces as if they might hold more answers. "Where are we? Where'd you take us?" That question is shot in an almost accusatory way at the priests. Or toward the last spot he saw those two priests.

"Uhh," Bear looks around, and shrugs, "Why wouldn't it be?" He is more interested in all of the people, watching them stream past, standing up on his toes to try to see where they're coming from. "What's going on?" he asks the middle-aged woman. Or the child, he's not being choosy, "Where're you all going?"

It stands to reason there are marshlands /somewhere/ upon Piraeus, but wherever they are, they're not near Sheridan. It doesn't /feel/ like Piraeus anymore; it feels very, very far away from home.

The two calm young men in the robes may well be back there somewhere, but the fog has long since shrouded them from view. Where did they take the twins? The clammy fog has no answer.

"Nothing's happening. We're staying here." More nodding, more gentle frowns at all the questions. "We're not moving. It doesn't matter."

Another voice picks up this refrain, then a third, and a fourth, until it becomes a nonsensical mantra. Beyond the throng of people and their overlapping voices, as if in counterpoint, can be heard the sound of waves crashing against the shore. As the voices ebb and flow, so does the sound of the water.

"What doesn't matter?" Phin shouts, to anyone and everyone. He's agitated now, by this strange place, strange press of voices. "C'mon!" he motions Bear to follow him as he tries to run toward the more familiar sound of waves on the shore.

"Where'd you come from, then?" Bear asks, frowning harder. What is going on, this is confusing, "What doesn't matter? Is this some sort of weird cult shit? Why are they chanting? I frakking hate chanting," he complains to Phin. Especially creepy chanting. When his twin heads for the waves he goes with him, saying, "I take it back I don't think we're on Piraeus anymore. Where the frak are we?"

They have answers for Bear, as the twins twist through the crowd, for what little understanding the answers bring. Three kilometers west of Old Man William's homestead, says one. Forty-third Avenue NW, says another. They could be any colony, any city, anywhere. The further they go, the more vague the answers get — until as they break through the last of the throng, the answers are a susurrus of all Twelve Colonies.

The ground is a sodden tangle of trampled grass and treacherous rocks, leading toward a rocky and reed-choked shoreline. In the distance, half-cloaked by the fog, stands a tall man with a quarterstaff, fighting against throngs of people trying to overwhelm him with sheer numbers. For every person he pushes back or clubs to the ground, another struggles free of the mud to try again.

And behind them? A wall of turned backs stretching as far as the eye can see, the drab grey robes melting back into the fog.

Phin leans on Bear to try and keep his footing on the rocks. He frowns as he tries to connect the disconnected answers they get about where they are. But, when he sees the man with the quarterstaff, that's where his attention locks. "Should we help him?" he asks Bear. He sounds unsure, wincing as one of the figures is clubbed.

Bear squints through the fog at the man and says, "I don't know. I guess? He's the only one not acting like the rest of them? Maybe he'll tell us stuff." He heads that way, scrambling over the rocks. He isn't trying to race ahead anymore, keeping a close eye on Phin as they go, occasionally reaching out to steady himself or his brother or both when one of them slips.

The waves crash and throw back foam like a great body of water, but the damp gusts of air smell brackish and stale. Nearer the shore, where the uncertain footing of trampled grass gives way to the more certain (but more dangerous) footing of wet rocks, all manner of detritus can be seen in the pools. Human detritus — scraps of torn clothing, a water-logged sandal, a cheap children's watch half-filled with sand, smashed cellphones… and the closer to the fight, the more and more trash piles up.

A million precious things, all of them ruined.

Closer to the fight, more details make themselves clear. The man is huge, seven feet tall or more, with a wild-man's beard and scraggly hair, his limbs sinewy, his skin leathery from untold years at sea. His eyes are lost in shadow beneath his brows. The quarterstaff he uses is not a quarterstaff at all, but a massive oar, the wood black with age…

…and the throng attacking him are doing no such thing; they're trying to get away, fighting against eachother to get clear, as he brutally herds them toward a large, open boat. Packing the boat nearly to capsizing are a press of people with bloodied, bruised faces. Some weep brokenly; others sit, numb and dejected.

Phin pauses, briefly, to kneel down and pick up the broken child's watch. He palms it and keeps going, with Bear, toward the man with the staff. Though once he's close enough to see what's really going on, he freezes again. Putting a hand on Bear's shoulder, to try and halt him as well. "Stop it!" he shouts at the staff-wielding figure. "Let them go!"

| dudes with backs turned | McSexytwins | boatman and dudes |"

Bear slows to a stop on his own as they get close enough to see the man and his battle more clearly. He reaches out an unnecessary hand to block Phin's path, watching. "I don't— I don't think we should help him," he says, "I think we should go." But where, Bear? He looks around, at a bit of a loss, and then just points vaguely back in the direction they came from, "Come on. Let's just head back."

"You mean just leave them?" This idea does not sit well with Phin. He eyes the figure, and his staff. "Maybe if we can grab that…" He gestures to the quarterstaff. "Maybe we can stop him. Maybe get those people free."

"I don't know, Phin," Bear shakes his head, "I don't think we can. I've got a bad feeling about it. I don't think we can help them. I think we should get out of here." But he doesn't head off, or try to pull Phin away, hesitating. "Maybe we could take him? If I had my frakking rifle…."

The boatman spares nobody. A woman tries crawling past him; he wrenches her back by the hair and stuffs her into boat with the blade of the oar, where she's lost from sight in a tangle of limbs. A young boy is jostled back and forth amongst the adults until the butt of the oar cracks down and a shrill scream pierces the murky air. The boatman stoops, scooping the child up by one leg, chucking him into the boat as well. It lurches back and forth, water splashing over the gunwale.

The shouted demands pause him, though, and he straightens, fixing the twins with his stare. All that can be seen of his eyes are twin pinpricks, as remote and cold as a distant star — and somehow, with that stare, comes the knowledge that this is no man that looks at them, but something else.

He snorts once, with infinite contempt, and turns to step into the boat. (Muffled screams, a few cut off abruptly, can be heard as he does.) He starts to push the overloaded boat out into the choppy sea, oar-blade scraping on the rocks. And for want of a rifle, the frakking rifle…

"I think I can get it," Phin says, dropping his voice to a whisper now. "No. I can get it. I'm fast. If nothing else, I've always been fast, if nothing else…" Deep breath, and he murmurs to himself, "Shed down a kindly ray from above upon my life, and strength of war,…that I may be able to drive away bitter cowardice from my head and crush down the deceitful impulses of my soul…" Another deep breath. "If you can shoot him, I bet I can do a runner, pinch it."

"Phin," Bear says, a note of uncharacteristic caution in his tone. Though given their earlier race maybe being concerned about his brother relying on his speed isn't so farfetched. He catches the end of the prayer and joins in. His rifle suddenly appearing on its strap at his back, and he swings it to the front, continuing under his breath, "Restrain also the keen fury of my heart which provokes me to tread the ways of blood-curdling strife." He takes aim, "Rather, O blessed one, give you me the boldness to abide within the harmless laws of peace…," and fires at the boatman, a three round burst carefully targeted at his head and chest.

Phin waits until Bear's gotten his shots off, though he doesn't wait to see if they hit. He springs forward, to try and jump, and grab the figure's staff.

The murmured hymns seem to charge the air, and the words resonate as if echoed by unseen mouths. They ring perfect and true as they never have before — as they always ought to have, perhaps — and it feels as if the entire galaxy is holding its breath.

CRACK. CRACK. CRACK.

The boatman staggers, and the boat lurches wildly, water splashing over the sides again. He puts a gnarled hand to his upper chest, where bright red spills out between his fingers and blooms wetly across his salt-stained robes. His other hand is clenched around the oar, and as Phin darts into the surf to pull it away, he strikes out with it.

The boat can always hold one more.

Phin runs fast and flies high, grabbing the oar that's swung at him. He does not manage to wrest it from the boatman's grip, though. Instead, as he's holding it, the figure uses it to shove him down into the surf. He struggles against it, but he can't manage to get the weight of it off his chest, or his head above water. There's the sound of coughing and spluttering, before he's pushed deeper. The figure is trying to drown him, and doing a pretty good job of it.

"…avoiding strife and hatred and the violent fiends of death." Bear finishes as he watches the boatman knocked back and bloodied. And then he is swinging the oar and he shouts, "PHIN!" and fires again, full-auto this time, at his twin's (luckily very tall) foe. He charges into the surf, emptying his clip before swinging the gun behind him again and diving in to try to drag Phin to safety.

Down, and down; for such a shallow surf, it's somehow a long way down until Phin's back is ground into the rocks below. The blade of the oar crushes precious air out of his lungs, and as the bubbles float up, the sound of his brother's voice and the gunfire drifts down. Louder still is the creak and slap of water against ancient wooden planks.

Shot again and again, the boatman staggers, nearly tips the boat entirely before regaining his balance (by leaning harder on Phin, below) and sliding his hand down to fresh blossoms of blood. His gleaming pinprick eyes lock on Bear and he speaks. His voice is… impossible. Deep, resonant, all-encompassing. If it said to kneel, all would kneel; if it said to die, one's heart might stop. "ARES HAS NO DOMINION HERE," says the boatman. "THESE SOULS ARE MINE."

Bubbles rise to the surface as Phin coughs, and the surf splashes as he struggles against the oar. And then…it stops. All movements under the water, all signs of him struggle for air below.

"Phin!" Bear shouts again, just before he hits the water. Down and down he goes, eyes wide, lungs full of breath tightly held. He searches for his brother, reaching for him where he fell, following the oar down. He pulls to no avail, finally surfacing again in a rush of bubbles to gasp a breath. He looks up at the oarsman and then dives towards the over-full boat, jumping up to throw his weight on one side, heaving it down and then down again, setting it rocking, further each time, until it goes low enough for water to begin to pour in. "Magnanimous… unconquered… boistrous Ares," he recites with each breath and each shove, "Fierce and untamed…whose mighty power can make… the strongest walls… from their foundations shake…."

Like one of those nightmares where the descent into a basement somehow takes a million steps, as soon as Bear goes under the water's surface to search for Phin, the sea seems fathomless. The oar stretches down and down — and Phin must be at the end of it — but it's so far away.

Too far away.

So Bear dislodges the other end — and all the implacable might the boatman wields with his oar is found lacking against rough seas, an overfilled boat, and a brother's determination. The final heave submerges the far gunwale, and the wailing, sobbing 'passengers' spill into the water, followed last of all by the boatman.

Freed and floating up to the surface, then, is Phin. Mouth open and airless, eyes wide and lifeless, fingers limp and chill, it is this combination of sights — and the horrible, wrenching knowledge that he is dead — that Bear wakes with.

Bear wakes back in his bunk, sitting up abruptly, teeth in his lower lip and a breath drawn into his lungs like he's about to shout. He holds it a moment, and then empties his lungs in a rush, leaning his forehead onto his knees for a couple more gulping breaths before his heart stops clanging in his chest.

Phin wakes as well, back in his bunk, still among the living. Coughing and gasping for air. "Frak…" he murmurs, rolling onto his back and sitting up. Breathing almost desperately to get air back into his lungs. "Frakking nightmare…" he mutters, wincing as he straightens. Something smarts. He looks down at his bare chest to see a quickly darkening bruise. A long, straight line, like the base of a boatman's oar.

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