Stuff is about to get crazy. In this series. In this blog. In my life. Craziness is about to descend.
Be prepared. *grand, auspicious music*
ANYWAY, onto this week’s post. If you’ve missed any installments of Flickering Lights, you can hop on over to the snazzy Flickering Lights page and get caught up.
Otherwise, here is Flickering Lights 7: A Stone and a Hurricane.
Marcus couldn’t help but laugh when he thought about it.
He lounged on his bed in the Kindle hotel room he shared with Hermes. Winston prowled his aqua-lantern, stoically ignoring Marcus. Typical Winston.
It had happened shortly after Hermes had announced that he wanted Penelope to go with him down to Kindle Bay to book passage to Pollux. At the first opportunity, Penelope had cornered Marcus.
“Marcus. Please. You can’t make me go somewhere alone with him!” She shot a glance in Hermes’s direction, her voice a low hiss. “You have to come with us!”
Marcus crossed his arms. “Why? What was that word you used to describe him? Oh, right, appealing.”
Penelope clapped a hand over his mouth. “Be quiet! What is wrong with you?”
Marcus batted her hand away. “Yep, it was appealing.”
“I was under the influence of hysteria!”
“Hm, so why are you blushing?”
“Who’s blushing?” Hermes came up beside them.
Marcus uncrossed his arms. “Winston.”
“Winston? Really? I didn’t know he had it in him!”
“Yep, well, he does surprise every now and then.” Marcus had glanced at Penelope who looked faint with relief, but she still tried to guilt him into going. He had held his ground and said no. It was incredibly satisfying to watch her squirm.
He smirked and rolled onto his side to face Winston who was still ignoring him. “I doubt I’ll ever forget that look of absolute panic on her face, Winston.” Perhaps it was a little evil of him, but, oh, it was so much fun.
Just as he was about to drift off into blissful sleep with no white light glaring through his eyelids, the door burst open, and Penelope sulked in with Hermes close behind.
Marcus sighed. No more naps, then. “How did it go?”
“Like darkwater, that’s how it went.” Penelope threw herself sullenly into the nearest chair, her light dim.
Hermes grinned. “Well, I wouldn’t say like darkwater, exactly. That’s a bit extreme, wouldn’t you say, Penelope?”
“Nope. I’m pretty sure I’d say it went like darkwater. Why in the deeps are you smiling?”
Marcus sat up. “Can someone please explain how it may or may not have gone like darkwater?”
“It’s too cold up here, Marcus.” Penelope huddled in the chair. “In Kindle, I mean. It’s too close to winter, and so the Arctic Darksea is freezing over. We talked with seven different captains—while it’s colder than the deeps out—and all of them say that no one’s sending ships to Pollux until spring.”
“But!” Hermes shot her depressing news through with brightness. “There are ships skirting the western coast down to Antigone Bay! And there are still ships going between Pollux and Antigone Bay for a few more weeks.”
“And so we’re stuck here in this pit for two more days because that’s when the first ship headed for Antigone Bay is leaving.” Penelope’s gloom overtook the conversation again. “And we’re basically held captive in this hotel because a cold front’s moved in, and so if we venture outside, we’re likely to freeze to death.”
“Now that is definitely extreme.” Hermes rubbed his hands. “Yeah, it’s a bit cold out, but you can just get a heavier jacket. And we’re definitely not confined to these rooms!”
“As if there’s anywhere for us to go.”
“We’re going to a highlight, remember?”
Penelope groaned. “Because we all want to go to a meeting of hypocritical beacons.”
It was the ridiculously tenacious quality of Hermes’s pestering that finally compelled Marcus to go with the two beacons to a highlight. Yeah, Marcus could be pretty immovable, like a rock at the bottom of one of the Darkseas, but Hermes was like an elated hurricane, pushing, pulling, yanking, stirring, ripping things from their comfortable places, and smiling all the while.
So Marcus went.
He was pretty sure he had a better attitude about it than Penelope who dragged her feet the entire way. She dutifully led them on a route with the least amount of hustle streets, and when they would come to one, she would hand the hat over to Hermes and grudgingly lead him through all the while complaining about the cold.
And it was cold. Colder than Chryseis ever was, even in the heart of winter. It chilled its way through Marcus’s jacket to his bones. His ears were stiff and cold, and he decided that one hat between the three of them was not enough. He even turned up the heat element of Winston’s aqua-lantern, something he hadn’t done in months.
The highlight was in a small building on the upper east side of Kindle. It wasn’t all that extravagant, but it didn’t seem dumpy. Hermes’s light glanced off the highlight’s neon yellow paint. Inside, darkfish were hung on brightly colored walls because the beacons weren’t bright enough to light the place themselves.
And these beacons were dim, dimmer than Penelope had ever been, almost completely normal looking except for the faint, whisper of light surrounding them. Penelope muttered something about wanting to eat glass as they sat down in the back. Things had already started by the time they arrived, and Hermes sat like a delighted child between his less than enthused companions.
Winston’s aqua-lantern rested in Marcus’s lap, and Winston seemed even more underwhelmed by the highlight than Marcus was. The man who stood up to talk spent the bulk of the time telling the beacons why they should be loving and accepting to their non-lit counterparts. Marcus assumed that the man was referring to non-beacons. Hermes stiffened beside Marcus when the man began to talk about El Roi.
“He loves you so much. He wants you to be happy. Do what makes you happy. El Roi will take care of you, and He’ll give you whatever will make you happy.”
Marcus blinked. This El Roi doesn’t sound quite like Hermes’s El Roi. He sneaked a glance at Hermes out of the corner of his eye. Hermes’s mouth was set in an uncharacteristically unhappy line, and for the first time, he looked… angry? It took Marcus several minutes to figure out that Hermes was indeed angry because he wasn’t sure what anger looked like on the relentlessly happy beacon. But yep, that was anger. Downturned brows, set jaw, narrowed green eyes, twitchy fingers. Marcus rubbed his nose. Interesting.
The highlight dragged on, and he dozed on and off until it was finally over. When the leading beacon dismissed them, Marcus was up and out of his chair, heading for the door. He paused and waited for Hermes and Penelope who trudged behind him. Well, Hermes trudged, and Penelope’s escape attempt was stunted because she got caught behind his slogging gait.
“Oh, Penelope!” A middle-aged beacon accosted Penelope. “I didn’t know you were back in Kindle!”
“Oh, Caroline.” Penelope slid away from the beacon’s touch. “Yeah, um, I’m just passing through.”
“Well, I guess I wouldn’t have known about that since I haven’t seen your parents in a while.”
Penelope’s hands fisted. “Oh? Really? I expected to see them here.”
“Well, they haven’t come to this highlight for a few months now. They had a falling out with Keller.”
“Oh.” Penelope shifted on her feet. “Oh, uh, well, have you seen Erica? I was going to say hi before I left.”
Caroline shot a glance around the room. “She’s backslidden. I just heard from Emelie that she’s back to those boys and that carbogen. Getting high every chance she gets. I’ve even heard she’s gone to some of those hustle streets both to buy and offer services.” Here Caroline lowered her voice, but not enough for Marcus and Hermes to miss what she said. “Such a dark disappointment, that one.”
Marcus popped his nocturnals. Wow, that’s harsh.
“Oh, I see.” Penelope looked like she might be sick.
There was a long silence before Hermes piped up. “Penelope! Um, we’re heading out now.”
“Oh, okay.” Penelope lurched towards them. “I’m coming. I’ll talk to you later, Caroline.”
Neither of the beacons said anything on the walk back, and Marcus decided he didn’t care to chat either. Hermes smiled cheerfully to the receptionist at the hotel as they headed for the lift. When they arrived at their rooms, Penelope threw herself into the chair and Hermes sat down on his bed.
“So, yeah, my relatives in Kindle are my parents.” Penelope didn’t make eye contact with either of them.
“I assumed you had lived in Kindle for a time because of what you said in the hustle street, but I thought they’d moved away.” Marcus pulled his nocturnals off.
“Yes, well, they didn’t.”
There was a pregnant silence before Hermes bounced to his feet. “Well, do you want to go down to that supply center in the next building and buy a heavier coat?”
“I don’t have digits for a heavier coat.” Penelope shoved her nocturnals onto the top of her head.
Hermes shrugged. “That’s fine. You can use mine. I’ll give you access to my account.” He held out his wrist, and she swiped with him. “Anything you want, Marcus?” Hermes settled back on his bed.
“Hm, let me check.” Marcus rifled through his pack. He opened the box of electrolights. Not too much left of the special food for Winston, and he didn’t want to go off this brand just in case Winston started looking sick again. “I need another box of electrolights for Winston.” He stood and held out his wrist to Penelope so that he could give her some digits.
“No, no.” Hermes pushed his arm down. “All supplies are on me. My trip, my digits. Anything you guys need, I’ll pay for.”
“Oh.” Penelope perked up. “So I can get basically anything I want.”
Hermes grinned. “Yep!” Then his brow furrowed. “Within reason… what did you have in mind?”
Penelope shifted on her feet. “Well…” She tossed her hair. “I’ve been wanting to pick up some new shampoo, the kind that straightens hair.”
Hermes sat up. “What? They have shampoo that straightens hair now?”
“Don’t do it, Hermes.” Marcus hung Winston on a peg. “You with straight hair would not end well.”
Penelope scrunched her nose. “Marcus is right.”
“How come you can have straight hair and I can’t?” Hermes shot up, eyebrows raised indignantly.
Penelope flipped her hair again. “My hair is naturally straight!”
“What?” Marcus blinked.
“Yeah, it is. I used some of the texturizing shampoo to get these waves. Now, I want to get back to my natural straight.”
Marcus exchanged a glance with Hermes. “I see.”
“Anyway, can I get the shampoo?” She flashed a bright smile to Hermes.
“Yeah, sure! I am interested to see what this shampoo is like.” Hermes smiled back.
“And don’t forget my electrolights.” Marcus held up the box. “They look like this.”
“Oh.” Hermes dug through his pack. “And we need more of those wonderful bars.”
“Let me guess, the kind you can feel fueling your body on an atomic level.” Marcus quirked a smile.
“Wait, what?” Penelope glanced from one to the other. “What are these bars?”
“Okay, okay, I need a list or something. I won’t be able to remember these specific brands if you guys don’t give me a list.” Penelope held out her hand.
“Oh, we can put it in a note on my flexpad.” Marcus dug his flexpad out of his pack. The log button blinked at him, reminding him he hadn’t written a log entry since before the trip, but he ignored it and opened a new note. After much discussion, he put in a list of things they decided they needed and handed the pad to Penelope.
“I shall return.” She pulled the hat on and zipped up her jacket before flitting from the room.
Hermes and Marcus sat in silence for a few seconds. “Please tell me you aren’t going to use that straightening shampoo.”
Hermes’s eyes widened. “I don’t know what the problem is! It would be an experiment!”
Marcus shrugged and glanced at Winston. “Winston agrees with Penelope and me.”
“Of course he does.” Hermes flopped back onto the bed.
Marcus watched him for a moment. “So, were you happy with the highlight?” He surprised himself with the edge in his voice.
“No, as a matter of fact, I’m not. But me being happy isn’t the point. This isn’t how highlights are supposed to be. This is nothing like they’re supposed to be.”
“Hm. Well, welcome to the world of the rest of us.”
Hermes sat up again. “What’s the deal here?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Marcus dropped his pack on the floor.
“I am worried about it. You’ve been acting strange on and off ever since we escaped the pale ones. And you’re at your strangest right now.”
“Leave it be!” Marcus tensed.
“I want to help!”
Something within Marcus snapped. “Fine. El Roi. Your favorite person. You say He’s good, and you say that He loves Murk. But where was He when my sister put a stolen gun to her head and pulled the trigger? Where was He when my brother brought some utility straps home and hung himself for my mother to find? Where was He then? How was He good then?” Marcus realized that he was on his feet shouting at Hermes. Tears burned down his cheeks. His legs buckled, and he collapsed back onto his bed.
Hermes took a deep breath and put a hand on Marcus’s shoulder. His greenish eyes were glassy. “He was right there.” Hermes’s grip on his shoulder tightened. “He is near the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit. He was there, waiting for them to cry out to Him, but some people… don’t want to be saved. And He doesn’t force Himself on us, and that is part of why He’s good.”
Hermes paused and glanced away. He bit his lip, and when he looked back at Marcus, tears were leaking out of his eyes like water out of a cracked cup. “Marcus, I used to kill people.”
Marcus’s throat closed as Hermes sniffed.
“Yeah, I killed people. I worked for, um, a gang in Chryseis, a carbogen gang. When people owed them digits or ratted on members of the gang to the sepios or other law enforcement, they would send me to kill and/or intimidate people. And I stole from rich people, rival gangs, anyone I really wanted… I was really good at it. I enjoyed taking things from people.” Hermes rubbed his face. “And women like me, Marcus, and so it was so easy to use them and then throw them away as if they were worthless.”
His lips trembled, and he swiped at his tears, wiping his hand on his pants. “But then, thank El Roi, one day, I got caught and sent to Chimo. And I met Pierre there, and he introduced me to El Roi, and El Roi…” Hermes smiled. “El Roi changed me. He changed me down to my identity. He is my identity. I’m not my father’s son. I’m not a killer anymore. I’m not a thief anymore. I don’t use women anymore. I am a beacon of El Roi, and my past is done with.” His voice was thick with passion. “It can’t touch me, it’s not who I am. I am a beacon of El Roi. He put His light within me. I can’t be the same person. I will never be the same person, and it’s not because of something I did. It’s because of El Roi.”
Marcus couldn’t look away from Hermes as his light flared brighter.
“The light is gone because we rejected El Roi, and we broke this world. But then, He came down to Murk. And because He came, because He sacrificed Himself to fix the world, we will have light again one day. In the meantime, those who turn to Him, those who realize that this world is broken beyond mortal repair and turn to Him, those who trust Him and promise to serve Him, and those who turn away from their darkness, those people, He puts His light in them, He puts His light in us. We are beacons because we’re supposed to light the world until He comes back. We’re beacons because we’re supposed to be a sign, a signal to the world that He is coming back. We’re supposed to be a sign of Who He is, a reflection of Him.”
Hermes’s gripped Marcus’s shoulders so tightly it almost hurt, but he wasn’t finished.
“El Roi is the only One Who can make you understand this world. He is the only One that can offer sense in this senselessness. He offers hope and a future, and all you have to do is take it. I will never fully understand why horrible things happen, but I know that El Roi is there for those who call on Him. He is there. He has always been there. He will always be there.”
Hermes paused and took a breath. “Do you understand?”
Marcus swallowed. “Yeah, I think so.”
“Marcus. This is why you’re here. This is why El Roi put you on that rail when the terrorists attacked. This is why I asked you to come along. El Roi is calling you, shining light on you. Will you answer?”
You can read the next installment, Flickering Lights 8: Worth It, here.
What did you think of the highlight?
Hermes used to kill people??? Whaaa?? I did not see that coming (seriously, I didn’t know about it myself until about halfway through the rough draft of Flickering Lights).
What about Marcus?
And will Winston ever get over himself? Ugh, that darkfish. *rolls eyes*
Other thoughts, cries of shock, outrage, or disgust?
By the way, I’m working on a Flickering Lights character quiz for all two of you die-hard fans who must know if you’d be Marcus or Winston! Seriously though, you could be Winston… and it’s not something to be proud of… So I’ll share the quiz with you guys come the final installment of Flickering Lights (it’s still a couple weeks off, but I might as well tell you about it now).