S1| Ep10: Into the Woods (上)
April 20, 2011
From the water she rises. Three long, angry scratches run down her pale back.
Are you the goddess of this spring?
Silence, but for the soft rippling waves. She does not turn.
“They called me a goddess, once.”
Her hair shadows her face in a dark, damp curtain.
Thank you for saving me!
There is no response.
The sprites said I shouldn’t come see you anymore. But I think they’re just jealous.
Still no response.
A low, distorted buzzing whine pierces through the night, growing louder and louder.
Ow! What is that —
Slowly, slowly, her body twists. The tangle of her hair lengthens and uncoils, lifting from her face, snaking across the water.
Dull eyes, cheeks sunken and hollow. Teeth, sharp and glinting from a broken, rotting mouth.
There is no time to even scream.
* * *
A pressure on her shoulder. Intan flinched and scrambled upright.
Hadil’s grinning face loomed over her, blocking out the pale gray light of morning.
“Not really…” said Intan, reorienting herself. She had been lazing about on the banks of the lake again, and had apparently dozed off. The previous night’s party must have taken more of a toll on her than she’d thought.
“Oh? Sure looked like one to me!”
“Just a weird one. I think it had something to do with fish?”
Hadil laughed and plopped down beside her. “It’s not even close to lunchtime!”
The rebel leader’s photographs, Intan thought. The Headmistress had been in them — Intan was almost sure of it. But it was the other woman who troubled her. The sense of familiarity, the feeling that she ought to recognize her…
“What made you wanna come here anyway?”
“There’s nothing to do in the dorms.”
“No, I meant here. To the Academy.”
“I wanted to fly –” Intan began, but Hadil shook her head, suddenly solemn.
“I know,” she said. “I wanted to build. But you didn’t have to come here just to fly. You had Minis back home, didn’t you?”
“Minis aren’t the same.”
“I know,” Hadil said again. “And it’s a cushy job, bein’ in the military. But if there’s another war…”
Intan thought again of the photograph. She pulled her knees to her chest and leaned her head down. “There’s someone I absolutely have to find.” After a moment, she added. “I have to give back what was lost.”
“Someone? You mean one of the teachers here? Or a soldier?”
“I don’t know,” said Intan. “I think she might have been a goddess.”
Hadil gave her a puzzled look, then laughed and fell back, arms crossed behind her head. “Hmm, well, I don’t really get it…”
“What about you?”
“Well, like I said… I’ve been fixing up Minis ever since I was a kid. I guess I wanted to move on to bigger things. But… I’ve been thinking, recently.” She hesitated. “Classes have been really great, I mean, I’ve learned so much while I’ve been here, stuff that my Ma never had a chance to teach me. But I’m starting to realize, there’s so much we still don’t know about the Dolls. Stuff like, what were they used for?”
“You didn’t know?” asked Intan, surprised. “They protect the land and all who dwell within it.”
“Well, yeah, but I meant before. You know? Back before the upheaval on the mainland, before they found the first one. Before they took it apart and started building new ones to send off to war.”
Intan opened her mouth to explain, realizing that Hadil had misunderstood entirely.
But Hadil was already rambling on about other matters. “And those weird malfunctions — I looked into it, y’know, and it seems there’s been a history of stuff like that happening, especially in the past few years. That’s when I realized — it can’t all have been tampering. But if it wasn’t tampering, then that means something is fundamentally wrong with the newer models. I bet that was what happened with that accident in the beginning of the year, too. That’s why the military wants it all hushed up!”
“What about the other one? The faceless Doll, without a pilot?”
“… That, I don’t know,” Hadil admitted. “I’ve fiddled with some of the Minis around campus, but no matter what I try, it just doesn’t seem possible. If only they’d let me take apart a real Doll…” Then she brightened. “I did find out about those Red Demon models though! There were only a couple of them built, back during the early days of the war. They were notoriously difficult to handle, see. It’s weird though, you’d think they’d have been laid to rest along with the others in the junkyard. I wonder how the rebels got their hands on them.”
Intan sighed. This was no good. No good at all. Her head was all a jumble. If only she could take one of the training Dolls out for a while… But the students were prohibited from using the Dolls during break. Indeed, the overcast skies were emptied of the usual Doll formations and exercises. The only evidence of life was the dormitory complex floating on the surface of the lake, and the handful of students wandering around on the top level for a breath of fresh air.
Some distance down the shore, several gathered crows took wing, startled by some imagined shadow.
Intan leaped to her feet, inspired. “I know! Let’s go exploring!”
Hadil propped herself up. “Exploring?”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time for lunch!” she called back, already heading towards the tangled green growth of forest in the distance.
* * *
Hadil followed after her, panting slightly.
“Whoa, hey, Intan, slow down!” As she caught up, she added, more nervously, “This is out of bounds! I know we’re on break, but…”
“Don’t worry! We won’t get lost!”
“That’s not the problem — what are you planning to do in there, anyway?”
“Make offerings to the Guardians!”
“I should have visited from the start! But there was never any time…” Intan slowed to a stop, and looked around. “This way!”
In her excitement, however, she forgot to watch where she was going.
Intan looked up to see that she had run right into a very familiar person.
“You!” said Eguzki, smacking his forehead. “Why is it always you?”
“Did you come to explore too?”
He shook his head, clearly agitated. “No! No. What are you even — never mind, I don’t want to know.”
“Did something happen?” asked Hadil, who had just finished untangling herself from some vines.
“Did something happen?” he repeated, and his face contorted suddenly in fury. “Hell! Yes, something’s happened! That damned Kasih — she’s disappeared!”