Flames of Bedlam

Ch3.4 .. Finding the Way

I was hesitant about letting an Invader, even one with a name, walk around unrestrained in our camp. But Levi argued that if she was going to assist us with our search, we needed to treat her with the same respect that we’d treat anyone else.

That’s debatable.

I did give in to allowing her motion-freedom, but I kept a close eye on all of her activity, and ensured that Levi was awake and on watch when I slept. I guess looking back in retrospect, it might have seemed all very silly to Levi. She was, after all, more of a misplaced child than anything else. The longer she traveled with us, the more that I saw of that.

Once her apprehension of us faded, Horizon wasn’t unlike any other curious child I’d observed. Only, this one was an alien to this world. She loved nature. She loved learning about the plants and creatures. She took it all in like a sponge, hungry for knowledge of everything she could get her hands on.

In Levi, she found a willing native who spun her tales of his people and filled her desires to know about the world as he knew it. In me, she just found dark glares.

She still tried to talk to me. She tried hard to make gestures of friendship. I didn’t want any of it. But I have to admit she was really stubborn and clever in how she approached it all. If nothing else, Horizon had a good head on her shoulders.

She also knew maps.

When Levi showed her his map, her eyes lit up. Literally. Invaders have eyes that glow from time to time. I haven’t figured out the way that works yet. Just like eating with a mask on. I really wanted to know what she did with those plants…

Anyhow, the map.

She got really excited when she saw his map for the first time.

“I know this!” Horizon told us. “We studied it in a survival class.”

“You had a survival class?” Levi scrunched his eyebrows at her.

She tilted her head, imitating one of his mannerisms. She’d been with us too long already. “Of course we did. This is a new world with lots of dangers. Before we went in the field, we needed to know what the land was like, what the food was like. Things we could eat. Things that might eat us.”

Horizon eyed me after that statement. I tried really hard not to smirk a bit about it, but I failed.

Instead, I covered it up with a demand, “What good does that do us?”

“Do you know where we are on this map?” she asked.

Levi nodded, “In round abouts. We just passed Seven Falls earlier today, which is right about here.”

He tapped on the map with one finger lightly. She leaned over to investigate and traced her own gloved hand along the image.

“We need to go like this,” she told us. She was indicating a route through the valley.

“And why, may I ask?” I crossed my arms with a scowl. I didn’t like the sound of an Invader telling us which way to walk. “It’s not only taking us out of our way, it’s taking us back several days.”

“I know of something there. I can get supplies and maybe things to help us find the Dragons.”

“Maybe things?” I echoed. “That’s not very clear or compelling.”

“I doubt anything would translate,” Horizon told me with a blank look.

She may as well have said: It’s nothing that a low-thing like you would understand. 

I bristled about this and she took a step back. She still didn’t know how to deal with my expression of anger. But Levi did.

“He’s right,” Levi said, agreeing with me for once. “This is taking us far out of our way. Are you sure that what we’d find there is really worth the detour?”

“Yes,” she said with that hint of determination. She was always trying to prove herself to Levi. “Please trust me. The way that we are searching, it’s going to take so much longer. But if I can get there, I will show you a much better way.”

“–to die,” I tacked on to the end of her sentence.

Horizon gave me an expression that I’d taken to understand as a frustrated disapproval. “I have not done anything to put your life at risk this far. My goal is your goal — to find and stop the Dragons from attacking my people.”

I just grunted and crossed my arms. “That doesn’t mean I’m ever going to trust you.”

“I will show you!” This almost didn’t need to be translated into our language. As if she was learning to use some of our own words.

This was both disturbing and intriguing.

“Okay. I’ll bite,” I responded smoothly. “Show me.”

That’s how we ended up having an Invader lead us directly into an Invader camp.

Well, that sounds more dramatic than it really was.

Horizon did lead us to a camp, but it was one that was already ripped to shreds by the Dragons. From what she said, I gathered this was the outpost she’d worked in before the strike happened, which was the reason she knew where it was.

The place had taken a beating. I couldn’t tell if it was one or multiple Dragons that made the attack, but most of the make-shift buildings were either leveled or knocked on their sides. Machinery was scattered and broken, swept over a large radius around the camp. We were stepping over pieces of metal long before we made it to ground zero.

The area was streaked with char and debris, though I didn’t see any remains of Invaders themselves. Either the Invaders mostly got away, or the Dragons didn’t leave the bodies. This made me shudder a bit. As destructive as I was when I attacked, I never took the bodies away.

Invaders probably tasted terrible.

Horizon tried to keep a neutral expression on her face as she walked into what had once been a thriving outpost of her people. Even I could tell she had a hard time looking at what it became, and sifting through the memories of the attack.

The sound of her increased breathing was heavy to my ears. Her mask even fogged up from the inside as she fought down whatever impulses rose within her at the sight of the wreckage. For a while, she couldn’t move. Her slender body stood rigid, hands balled into fists on either side to keep them from shaking.

Levi being Levi came over and offered her a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Horizon was taken aback by the motion, looking over at him as if her people didn’t do such things. After a few kind words from him, she figured out what he meant by the gesture. This encouraged her to shake herself out, and finally stride into the wreckage with a determined step.

“Not much we can probably do…” Levi noted. Whether he meant do to support Horizon in the face of this, or do to help her find the things we came for, I couldn’t tell.

“Why do they keep on?” The words escaped me before I realized I’d spoken them.


I shook my head. Now I needed to explain myself. Such a bother. “The Dragons. Why do they keep attacking like this? I’m not there telling them to destroy these outposts.”

“You don’t have to be,” Levi told me grimly. “They’re driven by Chaos. Because of that, they’re never going to stop until someone stops what drives them.”

“I still don’t understand.” I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I was really thinking about all this. “I mean, all I know is that people keep tossing around words like ‘Chaos’ and ‘Flames of Bedlam’ but I don’t really know what it is.”

He was quiet for a moment, running his hand over a blackened piece of twisted metal that was speared into the ground. “All we have are words to describe something so vast and terrible. We don’t know what it is or where it came from. We just know it gets inside a person and drives them to consume. Like these Dragons are.”

“Like I did,” I muttered. “Only, I was the one who invited the Chaos in.”

He opened his mouth to reply, but a shout from Horizon ripped us away from the conversation.

An Invader shout is a strange, almost animal sound. We didn’t know how to translate it, so we both just came running, thinking she might be in danger.

Ugh. Did I really just admit that. Can I just… take that back? Like this: thinking she might be in danger. 

Anyhow, she wasn’t in danger. She was just doing this thing I later learned was called “geeking out.”

“I found it!” She waved a hand to us as she saw us rounding around the bend. There was a delighted glow in her eyes as she motioned to a round, flat object that looked little next to nothing to me.

“Oh… uh…” Levi sheepishly sheathed his blade. “That’s great?”

“What is it?” I asked flatly.

“I’ll show you,” Horizon almost chirped the words in excitement. She was making good on her earlier promise to me.

I just rocked back on one heel with a scowl. “Will it explode?”

Her frustrated face was all I got in return. Then, without another word, she drew a pattern with her gloved fingers across the surface of the circle.

It came to life with a glow of mechanical wonder. I don’t know where the light within it came from – it had no crystals or any other energy source I could see. I could make out an image spreading over the face of the circle. It then bounded off the screen, projected in the air for us all to see.

Levi and I both jumped back, startled.

Horizon delighted in our response. I wanted to growl that she’d laugh at us, but I was too amazed by the lights of this non-magic thing.

“It’s a —” She tried to give us the name for the device, but it came out as a jumble of sounds that didn’t translate.

“Picture circle?” Levi suggested in lieu of a proper name.

“Levi,” She sighed. “Picture circle?”

He just shrugged.

For once, I was less concerned about names. “What’s it doing?”

“This is the kind of map we use,” Horizon told us.

As she pointed out through the projection, it fell into place to my eyes. I was so taken by the image at first, I couldn’t tell what it was. I leaned forward, my mouth open, looking like a complete dullard as I gaped openly.

“Watch this,” she whispered. When she tapped a place on the map, it enlarged and suddenly, instead of just seeing lines and squiggles, we actually saw an image of the mountain range. The river. The forest. The hills.

Levi gave what sounded like a soft swear under his breath.

“You can see everything with this,” I was stunned. This must have been how they overran this world so quickly.

“Not just that,” she noted. With a motion of her fingers, she returned to the original map. She selected a few boxes along the bottom, and the view of the map changed. Suddenly we saw glowing dots that pulsed here and there, and icons that showed machines and other symbols.

I saw Dragons.

“What is…”

“The bright boxes are our remaining settlements,” she explained.

There were still a lot of those. Many more than I’d ever been aware of.

“Those include smaller camps and outposts, so it’s not as huge as it seems,” she clarified. “Things have been very disconnected since we lost the main city in the First Attack.”

My attack. I was kinda proud that they were calling it the First Attack, but I didn’t say anything. She still didn’t realize I was the Dragon who did that. I wasn’t sure if she was aware that I was a Dragon at all. She only knew I was the one who sent the Dragons.

She motioned to other symbols. “Here are the places that have been destroyed, or that we’ve lost communication with. Here are where some of our troops are stationed… or in some cases, the last known location of troops.”

Levi stroked his beard, contemplating just as I was. We now had a device that told us the location of the Invaders and their war efforts. This was beyond helpful.

“And these,” Horizon indicated red Dragon icons, “Were the places that Dragons have struck or were recently sighted.”

“Oh!” The sound escaped me, sounding more excited than I meant it to. “It can tell us that?”

“Yes,” She beamed. It may have been the first positive reaction she’d gotten from me, and she treated it like a breakthrough. “Even better, this… Picture Circle… is tapped into our -garbled word- which provides a constant stream of updates. So we’ll know where the sightings and movements are as long as other outposts continue to mark Dragon sightings.”

Levi spoke that little swear under his breath again. Then he looked at me, “We’ve been doing this all wrong.”

“Tell me about it,” I murmured.

Horizon spun her hand over the image, making it go away. “Oh, there’s a lot more information in the -garbled word- than just maps.”

“And you would provide this to us? Enemies of your people?” I asked.

“If that means I can help save them from the Dragons, yes,” she said. Then her eyes glittered mischievously. “Besides, you don’t know how to work it. It won’t respond without the proper gestures.”

“Of course,” I grumbled.

Then she did something even more astounding. She picked up the Circle, and with one motion, shrunk it down to the size of a coin and fit it into a slot on her suit.

“D-d-d-d-d-jjjj….” Levi stammered.

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Horizon just made this little chitter-giggle sound. I really can’t blame her. The Invaders may have done a lot of terrible things, but that kind of technology was… Well, I was glad that it was on our side for now.