It was a very foggy, overcast day when Daria returned home from the hospital.
She stared wordlessly out the car window as they passed through the virtual cloud bank outside. The only sound was the rumble of the engine, thousands of tiny explosions going off inside of it per second.
Helen had to keep looking back, to assure herself that Daria was still breathing. But her chest did rise and fall, rise and fall, with the regularity of a finely-made watch. She finally broke the silence.
"How are you feeling, Daria?"
"Would you like something special for dinner? Pizza, maybe?"
A reply, this time: Daria moved her head slightly to the left, then slightly to the right, then back dead center at its forty-five degree angle staring out the window. No.
Helen noticed that her eyes remained fixed outside even as her head turned, as if she was watching something inscrutable shrouded in the mist outside.
"Do you want anything at all, Daria? A book, a magazine?" Her voice was at a higher pitch now, but she did not notice. If only Daria would just look at her...
But she did not. She did not even give the same minute response she had given Helen's last inquiry.
Jake risked a look toward his wife, looking desperately back upon their elder daughter. He took her hand, drawing Helen's attention to her husband. He saw tears brimming in her eyes, like precious, terrible gemstones. "It'll be alright, Helen," he told her in a calm tone.
They arrived at their house several minutes later. Helen and Jake left the car first and Jake opened the trunk as Helen opened Daria's door. "Let's go inside now, Daria."
Daria made no sign that she had heard Helen, though, and since there was no new scenery (ha ha what scenery there was just fog), her stare was now unfocused, gazing at nothing in particular.
Jake closed the trunk, a long metal cane in hand, and walked towards where Helen stood. Seeing that Daria was still unresponsive, he sighed and set the cane leaning against the car. With Helen's help, he eased Daria out of the car on one shoulder, with Helen taking up the slack on the other side as soon as Daria was clear of the car. Together, they walked their daughter to the front door, into the house, and onto the couch. Daria even made a token effort at self-propulsion, putting each foot forward, reducing her parents' chore from dragging her to merely supporting her.
Once Daria was settled onto the couch, Jake returned outside to retrieve the cane and close the door of the car. Helen retreated to the kitchen to make phone calls -- Daria, if she were listening, might hear Helen speaking in hushed tones to first Amy, then Rita, then grandmother Barksdale, then grandmother Ruth.
Jake propped the cane on the arm of the couch, then sat next to his daughter. He took her hand -- something she never would have allowed (or at least would have protested with an embarrassed grunt) before. "Daria, please say something," he whispered.
Jake said a silent prayer: Thank God. He then spoke aloud:
"Lawndale?" Daria asked.
Jake shook his head. "Pepperhill. She's in college now."
Daria took the news like she took a lot of things lately: no sign of action or emotion whatsoever.
"How long?" she asked.
"Two years," Jake answered. This time, there was a reaction -- a wince, almost imperceptible.
"I'm cold," Daria said, changing the subject. It was only then that Jake noticed the temperature in the living room seemed frigid; indeed, he was surprised that his breath was not showing. Jake was surprised Daria wasn't quivering like a leaf desperately trying to cling to its branch during a storm, since he was wearing a thick sweater and she only had a thin white t-shirt the hospital had provided.
"Don't worry, kiddo, I'll get you something to warm you up." He stood and went to the kitchen first. "Helen, can you make Daria some hot chocolate? She's cold." Helen nodded, and Jake proceeded upstairs.
He first checked the linen closet, to see if Helen had stored any robes or blankets inside. He found thin sheets, but nothing of what he was looking for.
He trod into Daria's room, which was much as Daria had left it two years ago. Two dusty cardboard boxes were stacked neatly in the corner; the word 'Raft' could be seen under the dust, if one were to squint or clean away the dust.
Daria's bed had a sheet on it too. Jake checked the closet, but found nothing but several copies of Daria's favorite jacket, a shade of dark green which turned almost black when splashed with blood --
Jake squeezed his eyes shut and counted to ten, blotting out the memory. The technique had been very useful in rehabilitating Jake from the paranoid father-hater he had been two years ago, though he had learned it to stop having panic attacks which had been brought on by...
Best not to think about it. The doctor said panic attacks could damage his heart, and he had to be in the here and now if he wanted to help his family.
He retreated from Daria's room and ventured into the master bedroom. It was there, in the closet, that he found a blanket that would warm his daughter well enough. He tucked it under one arm and made his way back downstairs, whereupon he shook out the blanket from its folded state and wrapped it around his daughter. Helen brought the hot chocolate, and Jake delicately served it to his daughter (as her arms were tucked comfortably in the blanket), careful not to burn her mouth with the drink.
After Daria had managed about half a cup, she closed her eyes for what seemed to be the first time that day. It was absurd, of course -- Jake knew she had to be blinking when he wasn't around -- but it was a relief to see all the same. After a few minutes, Jake prompted her: "Daria?" he asked quietly, but there was no response. Her breathing had not changed, but then she had not been breathing very deeply anyway.
Very gently, he moved Daria into a reclining position on the couch, kissed her forehead, and whispered "Goodnight, Daria" (despite the fact that it was merely late afternoon).
Daria's eyes snapped open. Harsh sunlight shone through the curtains; she squinted to blot some of it out. She sat up and mechanically looked around. She observed nothing unnatural, so let herself relax an iota or two. The sound and smell of bacon sizzling spurred her to reach for the cane, push herself up, and thump her way into the kitchen.
"Kiddo!" Jake greeted, hovering over the pan of bacon. "Good to see you up! How did you sleep?"
Daria shrugged. "Horrible nightmares."
Jake's face fell. "Oh." He stared at the bacon as Daria took a seat at the kitchen table and opened up the paper that lay there. A few minutes later, Jake placed in front of her a plate of cooked bacon, and sat to eat his own breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal.
"I want to go to the library," Daria said suddenly.
"Really?" Jake asked. "Uh, sure thing, kiddo. When?"
Jake kept glancing over at Daria nervously. The cane rested between her legs; in one hand she held the bacon from breakfast, plucking each strip out and putting it into her mouth with her other hand. She still wore the grubby clothes from the hospital.
"How's the bacon?" Jake asked as casually as he could.
"Good," Daria said in between chews.
"I, uh, I took some cooking courses while you were in the hospital. Helen said it saved our marriage!" Jake said with a nervous chuckle. Daria only grunted.
Jake drove on in silence.
The car pulled to a stop in front of the library. "It closes at five, so you can pick me up then." She had finished the bacon and there was a grease mark on the side of her pants where she had wiped off her hand.
"You'll...you'll be alright?" Jake asked.
"Yes, dad." She turned and walked into the library.
Daria closed the book and looked up at the clock. Five minutes past three. Hungry.
She took some papers she had copied out of books or printed off the Internet, folded them up, and reached to stick them in her pocket. Only then did she realize that the hospital clothes had no pocket. She thought about it for a minute, shrugged, and put the papers under her shirt, between her breasts. Ignoring the looks she got from a few men who were browsing the stacks, she stood and left.
First stop: Pizza King. One large pepperoni, a feast with a ghost. As she walked from the library to the Pizza King, she winced a little under the beating sun. In reality it was not all that bright out, nor hot, but it had been a considerable amount of time since she had been under the sun for any period of time. Sunburn was a definite risk, but pizza and one or two other errands were more important.
Only when she reached the Pizza King did she realize she had no money to spend.
Ah, how fortunate, an acquaintance.
"Hello, Mack," she greeted.
Mack was standing at the register, an employee of the fine establishment.
"You're out of the hospital, then?" he asked. Daria nodded. "That's great news. Did you...uh...want to hang out sometime?"
Daria considered. "I think I might like that. Right now, I'd like some pizza, though, and I left my money at home."
"Oh, sure thing. I'll take care of it." He rang up the pizza on the register while Daria took a seat.
Mack brought the pizza to the table several minutes later, then took a seat himself. "I'm on my lunch break," he explained.
Daria nodded as she began eating her way through a slice.
"So...how was the hospital?"
Daria stopped eating.
"I'm sorry, if you don't want to tell me-"
"It was alright, I guess. Better than the alternative."
"I basically went insane after what happened. I couldn't cope with anything...anyone. I'm better now...well, I'm functional."
"That's horrible," Mack lamented. He took his hand in hers in comfort.
They ate through the rest of the pizza in silence. Daria stood. "Thanks again, Mack. I'll see you around."
Second stop: Axl's Piercing Parlor.
"'Ello, luv, what can Axl do for you today?" said the proprietor of the establishment.
"Axl, do you know where Trent Lane is?" Daria asked.
"Trent? Ain't seen 'im around in a while. Say, you're that girl who came in wif him that one time -- belly button, right?" Daria nodded. "Right, well, I ain' seen 'im. I guess he was pretty broken up over what happened, though. Heard he moved in wif his girlfriend, Monique. An apartment across the road from the Good Times restaurant, second floor. Don't know much else about him. Anyfin' else I can help you wif?"
Daria nodded. "Do you know anybody who does custom metalwork? I'm looking to get a cane special-made."
"Well, luv, I can do that too. I usually make swords for Ren faires -- good money in that sort of fing -- but I can do a cane, easy. What were you looking for?"
Daria pulled one of the papers out of her shirt. "Something like this?"
Axl took the paper, looked at it for a minute. "Yeah, I can do this, no problem. Five hundred dollars."
"Can I pay you on delivery?"
Axl considered this. "Sure fing, luv. You know Trent, you're good for it."
One more stop before back to the library: Casa Lane.
She stood on the edge of the sidewalk, gazing at the house. Boards covered the doors and windows; the wood around them was still quite charred. The roof still had the gaping hole in it, too.
Before she realized she was actually doing it, she was walking to the front door. She reached it and tugged at the wood, seeing if it was loose, perhaps. It wasn't.
But then, to what end? What would she do if she gained entry? Look around? Take a keepsake? It would be like violating a tomb.
And the house was in no good state. It might very well be structurally unstable -- she could fall through a floor, break a leg (again) or a neck, and she would die after several days of thirst.
It was a bad idea to come here. Daria's shoulders were already starting to throb in pain -- the sun had taken its toll. She began to hobble her way back to the library.
When Jake saw Daria come out of the library, he breathed a sigh of relief. He opened the door for her. "Productive day, kiddo?" he asked.
Daria nodded. "Except for the sunburn, I got a lot of stuff done."
"What sort of stuff did you look up?"
"Mythology, gods, stuff like that."
"Ooh, like Zeus or Thor?"
"Along those lines, yes."
"...Wait, how did you get sunburn? Weren't you in the library all day?"
For a week, Daria researched nearly non-stop at the library. (With the occasional pizza break with Mack as he made awkward attempts at conversation). Jake gave Daria a daily lunch allowance, so that she did not have to dine on Mack's dime anymore.
One day, she found something interesting while looking through several magazines. She copied it and put the paper into her pocket (wearing proper clothes this time). She then left the library, making sure to remove the tube of sunblock from her pocket and apply some; it had been a gift from Helen after she had seen the sunburn Daria had gotten the other day.
Once again, she made her way to Dega Street and Axl's Piercing Parlor.
"'Ello, luv. That cane'll be done in four or five more days, if you wanted to know."
"That's good news, but I was here about something else."
Daria withdrew the paper from her pocket. "I'm interested in this design."
Axl considered it. "Interestin'. This looks like Trent's...are you two together or somethin'?"
"No, nothing like that. I just like the design," she lied.
"Ah, fair enough. I'd charge about $200 for this one."
"I have a special request for how I want it done, though." She told him.
Axl's eyes widened. "Bloody hell, luv. 'M not sure if that's even legal."
"I don't really care."
Axl thought about it, then shrugged. "Well, since you know Trent, I think we might be able to work something out. But I ain't charging less than a thousand dollars for it."
"Okay. I'll see if I can get the money."
"Dad, can I have a thousand dollars?"
"WHAT?" Jake had to concentrate hard to not take his focus off the road. "Why?"
"So I can get a large tattoo on my body."
"Ah. Heh heh, good one, kiddo!" Jake chuckled, a bit nervously.
Daria waited a moment. "So can I have the money?"
"You're...serious?" Daria nodded. "Well, Daria, you just got out of the hospital. I don't think you really should-"
"What you think is irrelevant. I need the money."
A snapshot of Jake's mind:
What? Daria doesn't think I'm relevant? That little- No. She's right. Ol' Jakey's opinion isn't worth a hill of beans, especially when she wants something. How can I deny her anything, really? I almost lost her once, I can't lose her again. Even if I have to throw money at her.
He finally managed to mumble, "Sure thing, kiddo."
After midnight, Daria left the house and began walking. She walked for several hours, occasionally stopping to look up at the night sky. As she got farther and farther from Lawndale city limits, the stars grew more vivid, like countless peepholes that unknowable entities were using to spy her every move.
She shrugged off the feeling -- she had stopped being afraid of the dark a long time ago.
Eventually, she reached a forest, and entered it. She did not pay any mind to the prickly bushes, twigs, or stones that scratched her or that she trod upon. She was looking for something, but she was not sure what.
Finally, she came to a clearing, at the far end of which stood a forbidding tree. In the shadows, it seemed to have a terrible, angry face.
"Take it," Daria heard, and it took her a moment to realize that it was her own voice that spoke.
She approached the tree without fear and lay a hand on it. The tree was quite old and, in fact, quite dead. She began snapping off large boughs until she had a respectable pile. She took the wood up in her arms and began to leave the clearing. She felt a hand on her shoulder
"--to wake up, Daria," her mother urged her, shaking her shoulder gently. Daria sat up slowly. "Your father's making breakfast. I just wanted to say goodbye before I left for work."
"Uh. Goodbye," Daria said awkwardly. Helen hugged her daughter, whose face bore a look of discomfort as she had never gotten used to physical affection.
After Helen had left, Daria threw back the blankets. Her legs bore a number of scratches, and her feet were quite filthy -- the soles were almost a uniform black from all the dirt they had walked on.
"How unusual," Daria remarked to herself. She scanned the room, then finally leaned over and looked under the bed. Sure enough, the wood from the tree lay there.
She pondered how she had gotten from the forest back to the house. Indeed, upon further thought, she wondered what had compelled her to leave in the middle of the night in the first place, what had compelled her to venture far away into the forest.
Then she remembered her plan.
"Oh yeah," she remarked out loud.
Daria spent the next week running various errands around town.
She spent much less time at the library now, copying notes from technical books instead of the mythology she had been researching. She would take these notes and go browse for parts at the mall -- mostly from Deuce Hardware and Wireless Hut. What she couldn't find there, she would snoop for at the junkyard outside city limits.
Axl had finished her custom cane. It had a very unusual shape -- it much resembled a corkscrew, as the very bottom was straight up to a point, most of the middle of the cane being a spiral, and the top bulbed out. She paid him, and would return to his parlor in the evenings when it was officially closed to get the tattoo she had commissioned worked on.
Finding the caterpillars she had needed had been quite easy -- the manager of the Good Times restaurant had given her the address of a supplier up in Baltimore. Daria had written, including a check with the letter, and three days later the caterpillars had arrived in the mail. Mixing them up with the ashes she had gotten from burning the wood, she had the pigmentation that was to be used for her tattoo.
She winced as the chisel dug into her flesh repeatedly, but she did not cry out. This was crucial -- she needed every element she could get on her side.
At nights, she worked on a project she kept hidden from everybody else. She had finally given in to temptation and broken into the former Lane homestead, finding it exactly as she had expected -- mostly burned out, with the occasionaly piece of charred debris that might have once belonged to Amanda, Trent, or-
Daria tried not to think about her anymore.
At any rate, she worked in the broken house to construct a machine she had developed based off of several schematics she had read in the library and on the Internet. Technically, the machine was (or would be, when she finished it) very illegal, but that did not concern Daria, for she knew what she would eventually be using it for.
She still dined with Mack in that week, who noticed her new tattooing (the parts which were visible while she were clothed, at any rate).
"That's pretty interesting, Daria. What kind of tattoos are those?"
"Traditional Maori ones, signifying beauty," Daria explained of the work she had done on her lips and chin. She was thankful that she didn't have to explain the ones less visible to Mack, and then as she took another bite from her pizza she allowed her mind to drift, imagining showing him all her tattoos, imagining him capturing her lips in his, imagining him thrusting-
No. She couldn't allow her mind to wander on frivolties like Mack's seductive physique. Maybe after her plan...but then, she may be dead after completing her plan.
"Mack, I want to sleep with you tonight."
"Bluh?" Mack said intelligently.
"I may be dead in a few days. I want to sleep with you tonight."
"Dead? Why?" Worry clouded Mack's eyes. "You're not planning something drastic, Daria. Please tell me you're not."
"No...well, yes...but not really. I'm not suicidal, if that's what you're asking." Mack breathed a sigh of relief. "I cannot tell you the specifics. It is important that I do this, even if I die. I just want a single moment of passion in my life before I embark. Will you give it to me?"
"Daria," Mack sighed. "...Okay, Daria."
Mack cradled Daria close to him. Even in sleep, she looked stone-faced, determined. He had been surprised to see the tattoos she had elsewhere, but Daria had plans other than discussing her new adornments.
He worried deeply about her. What was she planning that would lead to her death? A bank robbery? Mack immediately dismissed the idea as patently absurd. (Besides, he figured Daria was smart enough to know how to rob a bank at no personal risk). The only thing he could think of involved that night of the explosion, the one that had sent Daria up to that hospital for years. But try as he might, he couldn't puzzle out the answer to the riddle.
"Daria," he whispered. "When will you do your plan?"
"Mm, dunno," Daria mumbled out in sleep-talk. "Tomor', maybe, or th' nex' day."
"What are you going to do?" Mack asked.
"Kill the bas'rd who got Jane," Daria explained with the matter-of-factness only possessed by the dreaming.
This deeply disturbed Mack. From everything he had heard, the explosion at the Lane household had been caused by lightning -- there was absolutely no chance anybody could have personally caused it.
Trent looked around dizzily. The last thing he could remember was leaving the apartment to get a pack of smokes.
He looked around, realizing with a sinking in his stomach that he was in the burned-out remnants of his old house. Who had brought him here? Was it that naked woman? Who...
"...Daria?" He finally recognized the person who had addressed him. Despite what seemed to be her best efforts to distance herself from the shy high schooler he had known two years previous.
Daria stood nude before him, her torso covered with intricate tattoos that reminded him of -- yes, a glance at his arms, and the tattoos definitely bore a strong resemblance to one another. Then Trent realized that Daria was friggin' naked.
"Uh, did you forget your...uh...shirt?" he finally managed to ask.
Daria shook her head. "This isn't about me, Trent. It's about you."
Trent looked further down his arms than the tattoos, and noticed he wore shackles. He twisted his neck to and fro, but he couldn't see exactly what it was he was chained to. He also felt similar bindings on his ankles.
"Daria, what are you doing?" he asked in a voice he thought did very good at not sounding terrified. He was well aware of Daria's stay at the mental hospital from when Janey died. He never would have guessed that Daria would have gone crazier, focus on him, and...what was her intent? "What are you going to do to me?" he asked, this time a faint tone of fear in his voice.
Daria reached out to gently stroke his cheek. "Trent, I'm not going to do anything to you," she informed him in a sad voice. Relief rushed through Trent's system. "But you will have to die," she explained.
"Our story begins around four years ago -- though, it probably begins several years before that. When did you get your tattoos, Trent? Your Maori ones?"
The question seemed like it had come from out of left field. "Uh. When I was 18. I think."
Daria nodded. "Well, you first told me about them at Alternapalooza. Rather, on the road to Alternapalooza. You said that they made a statement -- that you had gotten a tattoo out of a magazine." A ghost of a smile flitted across Daria's face. "Of course, how could it possibly have been a bad idea? People copy tattoos out of magazines all the time."
Daria walked behind Trent, where he was unable to see. He strained his neck, but to no avail. She soon returned within view, holding several sheets of paper that she had copied at the library during her research.
"Trent, those tattoos are the markings of the Maori god Tawhirimatea. He is their god of weather -- specifically, thunder, lightning, and storms. Let me tell you a little about him."
"All cultures have a creation myth. For the Maori, it is Rangi and Papa. Rangi and Papa -- the sky father and earth mother -- were locked in a tight embrace, their children wedged between them in darkness. The children, however, wanted to live in the light. But Rangi and Papa were inseperable. Tumatauenga -- the god of war, and mankind's ancestor -- proposed killing Rangi and Papa, but Tane, god of forests and birds, instead favored simply pushing the two apart. He managed this by laying on his back and pushing up with his legs."
"Having separated Rangi and Papa, all the children rejoiced, save one -- Tawhirimatea. He alone wished his parents to remain together, and it anguishes him to hear their mourning of no longer being together. So he wars on his brothers, all of whom transform into fowl, fish, or flora to escape his wrath. All, that is, save Tumatauenga, who withstood Tawhirimatea's fury, ending the war."
"That's where the myth ends, and my speculation begins. I suspect that Tawhirimatea remained bitter about the separation forever, and would always keep an eye open for a way to end it. And I suspect he found a way."
"For the past seven years, the Earth's climate has been growing increasingly more volatile. Hotter summers, colder winters. Melting ice caps. Superstorms like Katrina are becoming more common. Industrial byproducts have been blamed, but I find it interesting that there has only been such a dramatic increase ever since you got your tattoos."
Daria leaned in close to Trent's face. "You know, Trent, the Maori frown on outsiders to their culture taking on their ways. I guess they have damn good reason to, huh?"
Trent's mind was reeling at the insane accusations Daria was making. "Daria, you're nuts. A god of thunder? End of the world? You need help."
Daria shook her head. "Trent, did you only become a serious narcoleptic after high school? I think you did. I believe that a god making you dance like a puppet would drain a lot of energy out of you. Tell me, Trent, how often do you black out?"
"N-never!" he asserted, the stutter giving him away.
"Trent," Daria said, like a disappointed school teacher.
"Well...at parties, sometimes. But shit happens at parties."
Daria nodded. "Yes, shit does happen. It's just that this shit is end of the world shit."
Daria leaned in close again. "Trent, Tawhirimatea killed Jane."
"Oh no," Daria said, as she entered Jane's room only to find her flipping through tattoo magazines. "Whatever you do, don't get a 'Lady and the Tiger' tattoo," Daria pleaded.
"Oh, Daria, don't be silly. I've got my tattoos all planned out already. I'm just looking through these old magazines I found in Trent's closet."
Daria looked over Jane's shoulder. "Hey, isn't that Trent's tattoos?" Daria observed, pointing out the image in the article about 'ethnic' tattoos.
"Say, yeah, that's right," Jane agreed. She read a few lines of the article. "Hm, they say what a few of these tattoos mean, but not what Trent's means. And now I'm curious," Jane complained.
"Well, you know what they say about curiosity," Daria warned.
"It killed the cat?"
"No, go look it up on Wikipedia or something," Daria corrected her, waving one hand toward the computer.
Jane set off, and within minutes began cackling. "Hey Daria," she said between laughs. "You'll never guess what the Maori call a tattoo on the buttocks. It's called-"
"Hey Janey. Hey Daria." Trent had entered the room. "What are you guys doing?"
"Not much, just looking up your tattoo on the Internet," Jane explained. "Ooh, here it is! Says here it's the symbol of something named Tawhiri-"
Daria saw the bolt of pure energy as it connected Trent and Jane for less than a second. She only began to panic three seconds later, when the odor of charred flesh hit her nostrils and she realized without a shadow of a doubt that Jane had just been cooked from the inside out. The computer had also apparently shut down and the desk itself was on fire. Daria tried to scream, but realized that the lightning -- for that's what it had resembled -- had thundered, and being so close to ground zero, it had deafened her.
She turned to Trent, only to see him turn to her with an utterly blank, inhuman look on his face. Trent raised his hands and
"The paramedics found me outside -- an impressive feat, considering the shock must have propelled me through the wall altogether." She pointed to a circular scar roughly the size of a quarter on her lower stomach. "I was impaled here by a tree branch. When the paramedics woke me up, I pulled it out first, and I nearly bled out on the way to the hospital. I also had a shattered leg from the fall. When I got my hearing back, I explained to everybody that you had shot lightning out of your hands and killed Jane. For my efforts, I got a two-year all expenses paid trip to Medication Land."
She sighed and closed her eyes for a moment. "The funny thing is, if you -- Tawhirimatea, that is -- hadn't killed Jane, it's almost certain I never would have made the connection between him and global warming. And I wouldn't have felt the drive to utterly destroy him."
"How are you going to do that?" Trent asked, sounding tired. If Daria had long since made up her mind to kill him, there wasn't anything he could really do about it, especially from his position.
"Well, first, I have to summon Tawhirimatea. That's where my tattoos and this staff come in." Daria gestured to the tattoos on her face. "These tattoos were only worn by the high-ranking women of a Maori village, and were symbolic of great beauty. These tattoos," she said, alluding to the ones covering her arms and torso -- "Indicate that the person is a powerful shaman, one whom the spirits are supposed to listen to. Unlike you, Trent, I thoroughly researched the meaning of the tattoos I had to get -- and I also had them applied in the traditional way, via chiselling."
"Chiselling?" Trent's mouth automatically formed a grimace. "That must have hurt like hell."
Daria nodded. "But it was all important." She gestured to her staff. "This is properly called a godstick, and this specific shape is Tawhirimatea's godstick. It's meant to give the bearer extra influence over the spirit."
"How is that stuff supposed to defeat Tamiri -- uh, what's-his-name?" Trent asked.
"You're chained to it, actually," Daria pointed out.
Trent whipped his head and saw that he was indeed chained to something that wasn't a wall.
"That's essentially a very large capacitor, Trent," Daria explained. "I intend to pump so much energy into it, that when it explodes, not even Tawhirimatea will be able to withstand it."
"Daria, you can't do this," Trent tried pleading with her, his panic resurfacing again at being reminded of his imminent, violent death.
"Actually, it's already begun," she said. Indeed, Trent felt the hairs on his body all stand at attention, like when Ms. Barch had had him put his hand on the Van de Graaf generator. "Daria, please, you have to stop this, this is murder!" Trent tried not to shriek too loudly.
Daria just watched silently.
"Damnit, Daria, I'm not some fucking tribal god! I didn't kill Janey!"
The hum of electricity reached Trent's ear, and he was pretty sure it was gradually getting louder. He was also pretty sure it was getting hotter. "Do you think Janey would want you to kill me?"
Trent felt pain, and he realized that the flesh that was touched by the manacles on his arms was slowly burning. At that point he began incoherently screaming.
"Trent, I want to point something out to you," Daria said.
Trent snapped his eyes open. He was now focusing all his will on not convulsing hard enough to snap his spine.
"There's no human way I could ever channel the amount of power that capacitor's taking into this old house. The capacitor is actually nearing overload -- and the way I designed it, it should have enough capacity to power the United States for a week."
"Trent, it's all you."
Trent managed a single nod. He knew even if Daria were completely insane, he couldn't imagine the charred wiring of the house being able to sustain anything like this for any length of time. He tried to speak: "Coolest...high schooler..."
"You ever knew," Daria finished. She was crying now, but she wouldn't leave Trent. She had to make sure that Tawhirimatea died.
She then saw it. What it actually was, she couldn't comprehend, but some shape was attempting to force its way out of Trent, through his mouth. Only Trent's grimace, his jaw clenched shut as tight as possible from the current running through him, seemed to slow it down any.
The implications of it intrigued Daria to no end...but she was not here as an observer. "TAWHIRIMATEA! I COMMAND YOU, STAY IN THE HOST!" she shouted in as authorative voice as she could muster. She banged the godstick on the ground once for effect. It did not seem to deter the escape in any way. Daria was pretty sure she could see electricity cascading around Trent's teeth.
She could only think of one thing to prevent Tawhirimatea's death. She lifted the godstick, and shoved it through Trent, impaling him to the capacitor --
All went white for a split second, then black.
Jake picked up the ringing phone. "Hello?"
"Mr. Morgendorffer, it's Agent Wells."
"Oh, hello Agent Wells," Jake greeted, deflating a little.
"I just wanted to let you know that, pending the re-appearance of your daughter, the FBI has decided to cease investigation of the case. My superiors have decided that there is no hard evidence that your daughter was involved in any cult or terrorist activities -- despite the numerous texts on Maori mysticism, the testimony of that Englishman who was here on an expired visa, and the technical schematics which may have been used to build...whatever that thing in the Lane household was. We couldn't even make the murder charge stick, since the forensic testing on the ash residue around the device was inconclusive."
"Right. Well, thanks for keeping me informed," Jake replied neutrally.
"And thank you for being so helpful, Mr. Morgendorffer," Wells said, a bit stiffly, then hung up.
Jake returned the phone to its cradle, then gritted his teeth as he fought back tears for the millionth time in the past five months. He'd had his daughter back, so briefly, and then she was gone.
"What you think is irrelevant."
The words still haunted him, as if he could have somehow saved his daughter if what he thought was worthy of consideration.
Everything the FBI had told him -- that she had joined a Maori end-times cult, that she was a terrorist building a giant capacitor for an EMP bomb -- none of it rang true. Even with Daria in her fragile state after leaving the hospital, Jake just couldn't see it in his kiddo to go crazy and kill people like they had said.
"What you think is irrelevant."
But then, maybe those harsh words, her flagrant disregard for his voice, maybe that meant...
No. Jake did not let the doubt gain foothold. He shoved it back grimly, until it was firmly back in his subconscious.
Tears retreating -- for now -- he bowed his head and said a silent prayer for his wayward daughter.
Sometimes, she missed having brown eyes. Looking into the mirror and seeing those deep blue eyes, the color of angry thunderheads, disturbed her sometimes.
But really, that was the least of it.
The presence in her head was the foremost of the recent changes. At first, it had raged at its new confines, then when escape proved to be futile, it attempted to manipulate her, directly or indirectly, to do its bidding. Fortunately, her tenure as a guest of a mental hospital had given her lots of ways to cope with mental demons -- though she was sure her doctors didn't envision their methods being applied so literally.
Oh, to be sure, it wasn't a demon -- it was, in fact, a god from a distant age, and a remote part of the world. Well, not quite as remote now.
Daria stopped, sat down on a rock, and took a long pull from her canteen. She was still a long way from the summit of Aoraki, or 'Cloud-Piercer', more commonly known as Mount Cook. She hoped that the name was a clue as to how to rid herself of her hitchhiker -- clouds were, after all, one of the domains that fell under Tawhirimatea. She suspected, though, that all she would get out of the climb would be a good view of New Zealand. Still, she had to exhaust every possible avenue, so she stashed her canteen away and began the hike further up the peak.
In the darkness of her mind, Tawhirimatea chuckled.
The story, at last, is done. Now it's time for footnotes!
All the gods mentioned -- Rangi, Papa, Tawhirimatea, Tumatauenga, and Tami -- are actual parts of Maori mythology. (Go look them up on Wikipedia!) However, Tawhirimatea is probably not affecting global weather (if he exists, anyway).
The godsticks are real, too. However, I don't know if they're supposed to have any actual power proscribed to them -- I made up the stuff about them influencing their particular god.
I also made up the part about Daria's shaman tattoo, but the stuff about her facial tattoos is accurate (so far as my research on the Internet is concerned, anyway). Traditional Maori tattoos were indeed made with 'burnt timbers' and vegetable caterpillar (interestingly, Wikipedia lists vegetable caterpillar as being a potential defense for the bone marrow and digestive system from radiation poisoning). They are also traditionally chiselled in, leaving distinctive ridges. (And I imagine the process can't be painless). An aside: I giggled like the immature bastard I am when I read on Wikipedia's Ta moko page that Maori tattoos applied to the male buttocks were called 'raperape'.
Also, it's true that contemporary Maori frown upon outsiders taking on their culture, but that's more of a "we dislike outsiders wearing our culture like it were their own" thing, not a "outsiders will get possessed by a god intent on destroying mankind" thing.
The 'angry face' tree that Daria encountered in the previous chapter was meant to be Tumatauenga -- an angry face is indeed on his own Wikipedia page. I thought it fitting that he supply Daria with the wood (and deliver her in dreamless sleep back home) since he was the only dude who defied Tawhirimatea in the first place.
Aoraki really is the Maori name for Mount Cook (and, indeed, the mountain's official full name is Aoraki/Mt. Cook). It does mean Cloud-Piercer in the Ngai Tahu tongue, though probably not in the context I used it in.
You know, it was actually a blast researching all this stuff, once I figured out it was the direction I wanted the fic to head in.
I originally started Schismatic as just a moody horror piece, though I wasn't sure where to go with it at first. I thought I would be having Daria just fighting generic monsters -- my original plan was for her to have witnessed Jane torn apart by an invisible monster. Sometime whilst writing the second chapter, I hit upon the Maori/Trent's tattoos connection, and it just spiraled from there. The title actually became a subtle reference to the cause of Tawhirimatea's angst -- Schismatic meaning pertaining to a schism, in this case that between Rangi and Papa. Schismatic also refers to a person who is involved with a schism, so that could definitely refer to Daria -- or Trent, or Tawhirimatea himself, too, I suppose. It's really lucky, too, since it just sounded like a cool title.
I didn't know what I wanted to do for this, the epilogue, until about an hour or two before I finished it, when I imagined Agent Wells talking to Jake and everything else fell into place as I wrote. I toyed with putting Daria into catatonia or into a coma, but neither felt quite right. (Nor did ostensibly putting her into either of those states, but having it just be her playing possum).
I rather like how this ending is, even though I never even intended Tawhirimatea to survive at all. I guess you just can't keep a good (or bad) god down...
Does this mean a sequel? Wellllllllll...I started an abortive sequel set in the Daylight shared multiverse, entitled DAYLIGHT: Trek. It's available on my FF.Net account so go take a gander if you want, but I wasn't ultimately satisfied with it so I pretty much abandoned it in place.
I have been considering a proper sequel for some time now, though...I just haven't worked out exactly how it'd play out.
Again, thanks for reading, and remember, I'm a big review whore!