Welcome back to Assassin's Retirement. Chapter 29 is close to 5k so it will be in several parts. Today, Zane wakes up down the rabbit hole...
Copyright Lexi Ander
Zane slowly woke to the scent of ash and incense. He frowned. There was also a warm weight draped over his midsection and he blinked his eyes open to discover why. The colorful mural that greeted him was not in his bedroom.
Wait. Hadn't he just been in the living room, arguing with Saja? Where did the animal—the being of smoke come from? Only Alonzo's softly spoken warnings had kept him from reacting.
"Everything will turn out fine," Alonzo had urgently whispered in Zane's ear. "This is my God, Tezcatlipoca. Remember how Medusa said Ella had woken something? This is what she was talking about."
Zane gave a small nod, not taking his eyes off the god made of smoke. There was something familiar, but not quite, about the figure, as if Zane had seen something similar in a dream. He attempted to follow Myranda's conversation with Tezcatlipoca as well as listen to Alonzo. Now that he was watching the god carefully, he could just barely discern a blanket of hazy smoke covering everyone lying on the floor. The only ones with their heads above the ethereal cloud were Raine and Cord. Even with Saja's yelling, no one stirred. If he was not mistaken, they all seem to be having waking dreams, their eyes glassy and distant as if they were seeing and hearing something completely different than what was actually going on. Was the smoke drugging them? Only Cord had moments of clarity, making eye contact with Zane. Each time, his expression turned soft and beseeching, holding a reverence Zane didn't understand.
"Whatever happens next," Alonzo continued in a hushed tone, "know that Tezcatlipoca won't harm you." Alonzo's urgency caused Zane's protectiveness to rise just before everything went dark.
Silently, Zane counted slowly, working to control his breathing as he stared at the mural on the ceiling, not really seeing it. As his racing heart slowed, he could better concentrate on the picture. Bright yellows, reds, and greens created a colorful mosaic of snarling creatures and feathered serpents, the colors deepening with the setting sun. He glanced to the windows. Their construction was obviously at a time before glass was used, the gauzy curtains billowing on the warm breeze as the waning light casting shadows. In Idaho, it had been early afternoon. Either he was far from home or he had been unconscious for more than a couple of hours, probably a combination of both.
Lifting his head, he looked around the room that was as big as a modern-day banquet hall. All the plastered walls were covered in detailed pictures of stylized jaguars and two-legged Jaguar-men in stages of stalking, hiding, and hunting. It all was quite captivating until the person draped over his lap shifted, drawing his attention to the massive bed he lay on.
What the hell? He'd assumed it was Alonzo with him but got the shock of his lifetime when his fingers grazed cool scales instead of silky black hair. Rising on his elbow, Zane almost forgot to breathe when he pushed aside the bright blue sheet to reveal a snoring lizard-man. Now he knew he had to be dreaming, but when he ran his fingers over the glossy red scales, they felt real enough. Glancing further down the lizard-man's body, he counted two hands, two feet, and a tail. The lizard-man snuffled, his snout was not as prominent as say, a dragon's, but not as flat as a human's face. Something niggled at Zane that told him he knew this person—being.
Zane studied the other bodies, lying around him in almost a perfect circle with him being in the middle. Skyld was the easiest to identify, laying on his side, wearing a dented suit of armor like a knight from the 16th-century. He looked so much younger sleeping, the scowl he always wore was nowhere to be seen.
If Skyld was here… Zane looked back to the scaled head laying on his stomach. Could this be Cord's Grendel form? That felt right. Glancing around again he took in each being, attempting to connect them to the people he knew.
A large sea lion with a luxurious coat the color of blue pearls reminded Zane of Prince. The ghostly wolf the size of a pony… Xander perhaps. Was that a fish-man next to him? Blue-gray skin, webbed and clawed fingers… and some kind of spiny fin on the forearms. The face wasn't monstrous, but more alien in appearance with a flat nose and big eyes. Even in repose, the being emanated ire and Zane could only guess this was Raine's alternate form. Next to him was a being of… Was he a tree? No, the skin looked like stone, but broad leaves and ropey vines covered the long body. Thick moss hung from the head, flowing down to hide the being's face. He smelled like Midnight.
The last being truly gave Zane pause, and he was glad he didn't have a phobia to arachnids. One the size of a large dog lay with its turquoise and orange legs curled under its body as it slept. That had to be Anson, which made Zane see Anson in a new light. As strange as these forms were, they did not distract Zane from the fact that Alonzo wasn't anywhere to be seen.
Scowling, Zane cautiously extracted himself from the Grendel, careful not to wake any of the sleeping beings. Though he wasn't scared, he was not in a place mentally to deal with them if they were aroused. He believed this place was a dream of some kind and wanted to get a sense of it first.
Once he was able to stand, he tiptoed out of the circle, glad the bed was on the floor instead of the platform. Could someone fall and break their neck in a dream? Zane didn't want to tempt fate. But once he was finally clear, he ran into another problem… Well, two. One, he wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing and there was nothing immediately at hand. The second, he was covered head to toe in ash. When he glanced back at the guys, he realized they were covered as well, they just didn't show it as prominently as Zane with his light skin. He wiped at the ash, but the motion only smeared the substance more and he gave up.
A hollowness formed in his chest as he wondered again where Alonzo was. He didn't like this growing sense of alarm. He'd spent years controlling his emotions, his expressions, his reactions. Here he was unable to force down the rising apprehension caused by this separation from Alonzo. It felt wrong… unnatural, and that feeling grew with every passing moment. It was as if he and Alonzo had been together every single day of their lives, never having been out of each other's sight, and suddenly he'd been set adrift… alone. It was completely ridiculous, but Zane wouldn't discount how he felt.
Table of Contents
Chapter Two - Normal is not supposed to be this hard
Chapter Three - Caught
Chapter Four - Crimson Comet
Chapter Five - Mountain Magic
Chapter Six, Part 1 - Harbinger of a Nightmare
Chapter Six, Part 2 -
Chapter Seven, Part 1 - Stolen Answers
Chapter Seven, Part 2 -
Chapter Eight, Part 1 - No such thing as heroes
Chapter Eight, Part 2 -
Chapter Nine, Part 1 - Dead is supposed to be... dead
Chapter Nine, Part 2 -
Chapter Ten, Part 1 - Gathering Allies
Chapter Ten, Part 2
Chapter Eleven - Combustible
Chapter Twelve - Standing His Ground
Chapter Thirteen - Choices
Chapter Fourteen, Part 1
Chapter Fourteen, Part 2
Chapter Fifteen, Part 1 - To kill, or not to kill
Chapter Fifteen, Part 2
Chapter Sixteen - Maricoxi Guardians
Chapter Seventeen - Coincidence?
Chapter Eighteen, Part One - Guns Ablazin'
Chapter Eighteen, Part Two
Chapter Nineteen, Part One - Reckoning
Chapter Nineteen, Part Two
Chapter Twenty - Mercy
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Two
Chapter Twenty-Two, Part Three
Chapter Twenty-Five, Part 1
Chapter Twenty-Five, Part 2