Chapter Six

Septi knelt beside Dr. Hamilton, next to Guin, who was shaking with silent sobs. The world seemed to stop for a couple of minutes as the two women sat side by side beside the corpse of a great man, the teacher of the both of them. Septi gently closed his eyes and kissed his wrinkled cheek.
“Dr. H, you will not have died in vain,” Septi whispered, standing up and carefully stepping away from him. “Guinavere, I can’t say anything that doesn’t sound completely vide (empty). Just know that he was a great friend and help to me, always willing to heal my cuts and wonuds, and be the father I never had.”
“He was, too,” Guin said, raising her tear stained face to look at Sapti. “Always a kind friend. Though I never knew him as a father, I don’t begrudge you that.” Septi smiled slightly, and fought tears herself. Glancing around, she saw that several of the combatants who were still fighting were down the hall, and were approacing quickly.
“Guin, you may wish to go,” Septi said, her voice quiet and urgent. “Go before you are killed as well.” Guin looked down at the body that was formerly Dr. Philip Hamilton, and sighed, then looked back up at Septi.
“Not without my father and my brother,” she said, her voice filled with a determination that Septi knew wouldn’t be changed. However, someone screamed at that moment, and some scuffeling noises distracted Septi. Turning, she saw Mes wresteling with a large, rough looking man who was attempting to choke her, from the looks of things.
Septi flicked her wrist instinctively, and threw her dagger fluidly. It embedded itself up to its handle in his back, and he dropped. Mes fell with him, his arm still wrapped around her neck. Septi ran up to retrieve her dagger, and pried his dead hand from it’s grip on Mes.
“Where have you been?” Mes gasped, standing up and staring at his maroonish blood, which was still oozing from the wound. “The battle’s going on and you’re no where to be seen.”
“Well excuse me for killing Steppe,” Septi snapped, giving vent to her emotions and kicking the body hard. “And Pat. And witnessing Dr. H’s death.”
“Steppe’s dead? You killed him?” Mes asked incredulously. “Septi, you killed Steppe?”
“Yes, I killed Steppe,” Septi said, slightly impatiently. Then, glancing around and spotting a couple of unfamiliar mutants running towards them, she added, “Mes, two problems, heading this way.” Mes nodded and spun. An aura of sheer hypnotic power pulsed around her, and Mes looked  like one might expect an ancient goddess of war to look like, with her long black hair flying loose and her eyes alight with anger and a mysterious strength, a shimmering light surrounding her. ‘Though the pjs kind of ruin the effect,’ Septi thought, amused by this in her highly emotional state.
“You will take your dead and go,” Mes said imperiously, the power filling the hall. “Go!” she repeated. Septi felt the power pulse with Mes’s heartbeat, and watched as the intruders stopped dead in their tracks. One of them seemed to be trying to fight it, his face working furiously, but the other, as well as all of the other invaders still in range turned and left, picking up corpses and their wounded on the way out of the hideout. Mes was sweating as she fought to maintain control. Then she dropped suddenly, a knife in her shoulder, and her power taking too much strength out of her for her to continue standing. Septi spun, daggers back in her hands and quickly knifed Mes’s attacker. The bloodlust was back as Septi withdrew her dagger from the fatal woundspot.
Septi spun on her heel and ran off, throught the hideout, listening for sounds of any remaining battle. She quickly located the last of it and started fighting like a machine. She had no idea how long she had been fighting, nor did she care. All she knew was that this had to end once and for all.
“I’d tell you to go home,” she informed a fresh corpse. “But it’s a little late for you.” She booted it away and turned, a little surprised to find herself face to face with a bloody Oracle. He spoke quickly and quietly to her, not as surprised to see her as she was to see him.
“This battle will be the decision. Which ever one survives willbe the leader.”
“And if we both survive?” Septi asked.
“We’ll worry about that then,” he said, smiling slightly. He turned and left her, his cloak billowing as he walked away. Septi turned and punched a random intruder in the face. He staggered back, crashing into the wall behind him. Septi growled slightly under her breath, simply livid.
“The nerve of him!” she grunted, wrestling a board from a now attacker and braining him with his own weapon. The board, which was thin and flexible, splintered and snapped in two, and Septi pitched it. “He thinks… that just because… ai! Steppe made… him deputy… not my hideout, buddy… that he can do…. I said not my home! whatever he wants!” her words were punctuated with blows. Several mutants lay dead or injured and/or unconsious at her feet, and a fine trickle of blood was seeping from a cut on her shoulder.
The tiredness, malnutrition, and the blood loss finally overwhelmed Septi’s adrenaline rush, and she fell to the floor with the world spinning wildly out of control. As she fell she grabbed at the wall, trying to keep from passing out, but the floor lept up to meet her as her body gave way.

“Is she dead?”
“I think she’s just unconsious. See? She’s moving.” Septi moaned and fought to open her eyes. She felt a sharp jab in her side and she curled up in a ball. “Told you so!”
“But you’re poking her!” The first voice protested.
“No duh,” Septi moaned as she was jabbed again. “Up you get, sleeping beauty.”
“Raram, stop!” Septi now recognized Mes’s voice as the first voice. “You’re gonna bruise her if you’re not careful.” Septi smiled faintly as a thought errupted in her mind.
“I will not,” Raram said, jabbing Septi again. Septi moved quickly, catching Raram’s wrist firmly without opening her eyes.
“Don’t do that again,” she murmured, opening her eyes finally and blinking in the dim light. She was laying on the floor in the hall, surrounded by corpses. Mes and Raram were kneeling beside her, and the relief on their faces was obvious, despite the fact that Raram’s was mixed with a bit of pain as Septi gripped her arm a little tighter than she would have liked.
“Told you that you shouldn’t be doing that,” Mes said, sticking her tongue out. Raram aimed a kick at her, but was stopped by Septi’s grip on her wrist.
“You two, stop fighting,” Septi said, pulling herself into a sitting possition by using Raram to do so. The world spun slightly as all the blood rushed to her head.
“You okay, Septi?” Mes asked, staring at her, concerned. “Because you look about as well as Oracle.”
“Ouch!” Raram yelped as Septi’s grip tightened on her arm. “Septi, I’m losing feeling in my hand, could you please let go?” she said through tightly gritted teeth. Septi glanced at her, slightly surprised. Realizing that she was still gripping Raram’s arm so tightly that her knuckles had gone white, she released Raram.
“What about Oracle?” Septi asked, her voice tight.
“He’s not entirely well,” Raram said quietly, distancing herself from Septi a bit. “He’s- well, you’ll have to see for yourself.” Septi snorted slightly and crossed her arms.
“I have no desire to see that traitor,” she said sharply.
“Even if the traitor is dieing?” Mes asked slyly.
“He’s dieing?” Sept was shocked, her sympathy winning the emotional conflict that had been going on inside of her all night. She glanced from Mes to Raram and back again, trying to see if they were messing with her.
“Yeah,” Raram said, brushing a loose strand of hair from her face. “He sent us to find you.”
“And why’d he want to see me?” Septi said, her ager coming back as she remembered that he now had control of the entirity of the VI4C. “So he can give he the job that is rightfully mine?” her voice was scornful and mocking, and she was aware just how childish she sounded.
“Um, yeah, that was the gist of it,” Mes siad, avoiding Septi’s glare. Septi laughed derisively.
“That creeper really needs to get his head out of the clouds,” she snapped.
“Septi, aren’t you being a bit unfair?” Mes asked her. “Sure, he’s a creeper. But he was an overall decent guy, and he sure didn’t choose to take your place as deputy. That was Steppe’s choice.”
“You weren’t the one he was creeping on,” Raram muttered under her breath, rubbing her arm subconciously. She shifted her weight uneasily, then continued. “He was nice enough, until he got weird.”
“The point is,” Mes said, giving Raram a cross between a pitying glance and a glare. “That you shouldn’t be this mad, Septi.”
“You say I’m wrong to be angry at him?” Septi asked shortly. “He could have refused the job.”
“And wind up dead,” Mes said, watching Septi with confusion in her eyes.
“So?” Septi asked, knowing that this was completely unfair of her, but not caring. She’d put up with crap too long, and it was affecting her temper.
“Septi, are you as hearltess as Steppe?” Mes asked her seriously, backing out of Septi’s range. Septi stopped, the words cutting deep, and stared at Mes, wanting to hit her but knowing that if she did so she would be proving Mes right. “You protested Steppe’s ways, and yet you are just like him. You turn on your friends, you get angry over the stupidest things. Septi, this isn’t you! this is Steppe!”
Septi’s anger got the best of her, and there was a loud ‘smack’ as Septi slapped Mes. Hot tears of anger and hurt were pouring down her face, and Mes looked at her with a concerned look.
“You don’t know what I’ve-” Septi began.
“I do, Septi!” Mes cut her off, begining to cry as well. “I do. You don’t know everything that has happened. It’s not just you!”
“I know!” Septi shrieked at her, letting all her pent up emotions out at last. “I know it’s not just me!”
“You know it but you don’t act on it!” Mes shouted back, wiping her eyes.
“Action,” Raram broke in matter of factly. “Is useless without knowledge and vice versa. Both Septi and Mes paused in their argument to look at Raram in shock at this uncharateristic display of wisdom.
“Um, wow,” Msaid faintly. “That was so deep.” Septi let out a low chuckle.
“Hey, every so often it does happen,” Raram said with a shrug, laughing as well.
“Poor Bob-who-lives-down-the-street. He got hit by a rusty cog,” Septi said, faking seriousness. Mes giggled hesitantly, and gently punched Septi’s upper arm.
“Welcome back, Septi,” Mes said quietly. Raram, however, was not so reserved. She hugged Septi tightly, not backing off until Septi started to turn blue.
“Don’t do that ever again,” Septi gasped, massaging her ribs and trying to catch her breath.
“What? You looked nice blue,” Raram said, faking innocence.
“However, I don’t like the dizziness that accompanies the blue.”
“Beauty has a price,” Mes said mischievously.
“And if that price is my life? I’m not willing to die for beauty, Mes.”
“Why ever not?” Raram asked sarcastically.
“Now, if you all are quite finished,” Mes said, snapping back on track. “I believe you should get to Oracle, Septi. He’s dieing, and if you don’t want to fight for the title of head commander, you might want to get moving.”
“Right,” Septi said briskly. She tooka step, then paused, and moaned slightly. “I’m not ready to do this.”
“Yes you are,” Raram said firmly, taking Septi by the arm and hauling her down the hallway. Septi dug her heels in every step of the way, but Raram was equally stubborn.
“Let go of me,” Septi said through gritted teeth. Raram tugged her suddenly and Septi skidded a couple of steps foreward.
“Don’t be a coward!” Raram grunted. “C’mon Septi, this isn’t you!”
“You don’t know who I am anymore!” Septi retorted, the pain in her shoulder from the tugging bringing tears to her eyes. “you haven’t seen me much for weeks. How would you know who I am?”
“Septi,” Mes said, her voice serious, though an anger was burning in her eyes. “Stop. Now. I won’t deny that we haven’t seen you much. But you’re begining to sound emo. ‘Oh, no one understands me, I’m so depressed’.” Mes’s voice had adopted a mocking tone, and her lips were twisted angrily. “Grow up, Septi.”
The words hit Septi hard, like a slap on the face. Mes stared at her icily, her arms crossed, and Raram had dropped Septi’s arms. The tension between the trio had risen a couple of notches and all three were painfully aware of it.
“Um, guys,” Raram said hesitantly. “Before you start killing eachother, one thing. Septi, you need to get to Oracle. Mes and I will drag you if we must.”
“Oh, will we?” Mes asked, giving Septi a filthy look. Raram gave her a warning look and she gritted her teeth in frustration.
“That does it,” Septi snapped, her unexplainable anger back. “You are not dragging me. I may not be in the best condition, but I’m not going to be dragged. I still have my pride.”
“He’s in Steppe’s office,” Raram said quietly. Without a look back, Septi stalked off without another word, waves of emotions crashing over her. The most powerful ones were a complete sense of loss, abandonment, and detatchment. Walking through the halls, she no longer felt the sense of closeness, of belonging, that she had felt mny times before.
When Septi got to Steppe’s office she paused, staring at the closed door. So many times had she opened it, waiting for an assignment. So many times had she wanted to end Stepe’s tyranny, after a visit to that very office. Then she opened the door.
The familiarity of the room washed over Septi. The only difference from the last time she was there was that Oracle was laying on the floor, bleeding and Steppe was no where to be seen. A prickle ran up Septi’s neck, and she glanced around, half expecting to see Steppe behind her.
Knowing that Steppe wasn’t there, and couldn’t possibly be there brought a tinge of pink to her cheeks. Returning her attention to Oracle, she saw his eyes following her movements. He smiled at her, sadness on her face, and she returned his smile hesitantly.
“So you came,” he said, his voice a hoarse whisper, worse than it normally was. “I was wondering if you would, you’re so stubborn.”
“Why did you want me to come?” Septi asked him directly, kneeling beside him.
“I wanted to give you the title that should be yours,” Oracle coughed, and spat a bit of blood into the tissue he was holding. “I only robbed you of it for twenty-four hours. well, less than that, really.” Septi bit her lip, nervously.
‘From the looks of things, Oracle won’t last too much longer,’ she thought, watching him.
“Alright, so what is that speech?” Oracle said, a hint of a smile on his face.
“I believe it starts like all the other formal material.”
“Oh, yes. Naturally they made it easy to remember,” he said, coughing again. “I, Oracle, also known as Jean McHenry, do here by turn over the command of the VI4C to Septifiria, also known as Rene Carl, upon my death. Do you, Septifiria, agree to this?”
“I do,” Septi said, feeling like she was selling her life away to the VI4C. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ she tought. ‘You did that a long time ago.’ Oracle nodded, then sighed.
“That’s all to the formalities. Anything else you’re aware of that I should know of?”
“No,” Septi said, quietly. “Look, Oracle, about this morning….” A shadow crossed over Oracle’s face.
“Need I tell you that it was hard on me as well?” He asked. Septi stared at him silently, her face still. “Septi, you have to believe me, I didn’t want to become deputy. Or, rather, I wanted it, but I wouldn’t want to do this to you.”
“Sure,” Septi said, slightly sarcastically. “You also don’t like Raram.” Oracle flinched.
“Septi, what’s happened to you?” he asked. “You’ve changed.”
“Will everyone stop saying that?” Septi asked, tears begining to form in her eyes. “Everything’s changing! What does it matter if I change too?” Oracle flinched again and gently placed a hand on Septi’s knee.
“Maybe we love the old you, Septi,” Oracle said gently. “Did that ever occur to you?”
“I- what did you guys love about me? I’m just not…. I’m…” Septi took a deep breath and continued. “My world is falling apart, and now i’ve got to put it back together again. Why can’t I just be…?” she started to cry.
“Septi, it’s alright,” he said. “We loved you because you cared about us! You were willing to risk your life to stop Steppe. You’re a passionate person, Septi. Just don’t get passionately mad.”
“I’ve been passionately mad,” Septi said. “Like when I found out that someone I thought was a friend had taken my possition.”
“Septi, I wouldn’t have ever expected you to react like this,” Oracle said, looking at her in the eyes.
“And why is that?” Septi challenged him.
“Because it isn’t the Septi I knew. Why are you acting like this?”
“Because- I- Unfair question!” Septi said, shifting her weight slightly. “you’re putting me on the spot.”
“And that’s a bad thing why?”
“It… isn’t? You’re just far too bold.”
“But you cannot answer that question. Not without feeling uncomfortable. Examining parts of your life which you don’t want to think about. Admit it.”
‘He’s right. I’m acting like a two year old,’ she thought guiltily. Aloud, she said, “why should I?”
“It’s true, isn’t it? Why else would you be so reluctant?” Oracle coughed again, spitting still more blood out. A fine trickle was now trailing down the side of his face from his mouth, down to his ear, through his hair and onto the floor. The dark wood floor beneath him had collected a small pool of blood, and Septi stared at this man that she had known. He looked so small, so pitiful, and so very weak. ‘Until you look into his eyes,’ Septi thought. ‘They’re still full of life, though it’s dwindeling. Slowly, but surely.’ Another bout of coughing interupted her train of thought, and she glanced down at her hands.
“Oracle,” Septi began quietly when the coughs had subsided. “Oracle, I’m-” her voice caught in her throat, and she coushed once to clear it. “I’m sorry for acting like a two year old. I was so out of line.”
“Septi, don’t waste your breath if you don’t mean it,” Oracle’s voice was extremely weak now, and his breathing was labored.
“I mean it,” Septi said, slightly defensive.
“Do you?” he asked, his voice barely audible. “Septi, you are many things, but humble is not one of them. Neither is forgiving.”
“But as you and several other people have informed me, I’ve changed. I’m not me anymore, apparently.”
“Touche,” he murmured, struggeling to take a breath. Then he started to cough. The coughs started to sound wet and blood was pouring from his mouth with each cough. The coughs turned to a gurgle and he fell back, finally silent.
“Oracle?” Septi asked, slightly panicky. She carefully raised him up, finding that his body was quite still and limp.She gently returned him to the floor, and grabbed his wrist. She searched for his pulse, and finding none leaned over him. She placed two fingers on his neck, and still failing to find it placed her head on his chest. “No, no, no!” she muttered feverishly. “Oracle, no!” She sat up. “How many more will die?” The room spun, and Septi cradled her head in her hands.
‘His name was Jean. Jean McHenry. He was only four years older than I am. He was my friend. He was someone’s son, and possibly a brother. I knew so little about him, though I’ve known him for four years. How? We talked about so much. But never about our pasts. I knew so little about you…. what did you know about me?’ Septi looked around dully. The horror of his death hit her, along with his youth, the tragedy of a young life lost.
“This cannot happen again. I swear on- on the memory of Oracle. This will not happen again- not while there’s breath in my body.” She gently kissed Oracle’s eyes, kissed his cheek, and laid him still. Then she rose to her feet and walked over to the door. “You will not be forgotten, my friend.” And with that, she left the office.
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