Sorry I didn’t post last week. I was sick. But here’s a short story that sheds some more light of the world of Aldrich.
This story is a part of Aldrich Stories. You can find the other stories here.
Oak was sitting reading though some emails on his screen. The common room of Warehouse 38 (the name by which the members of Chaos used to refer to the building the unit called home) was empty.
“Mroww!” The sound came, seemingly out of nowhere. Just moments before Darts leaped onto the young man’s shoulder.
“Hi?” He greeted. The familiar curled up on his shoulder like a kitten and seemed to go to sleep.
It was odd. Quake and Oak were not friends. Considering their first real interaction was the sparring match, Oak wasn’t all too surprised.
However, Darts seemed to like him. It reminded him of the conversation he had with Baker when he first joined Chaos; the man had mentioned the creatures in a manner that Oak couldn’t quite put his finger on.
As Oak entered Baker’s office, he was met with the sight of a fresh pot of tea.
“Hollow reminded me.” Baker said, scratching the creature’s chin. Oak didn’t sit at first. He was taking some time to adjust to the casual way that Chaos went about things. So instead, he stood with his arms behind his back and waited.
Baker raised an eyebrow. “You know, on paper, I have no power.” He explained, “My title, ‘Military Advisor’, is considered a civilian rank. And all military personnel outrank civilians.”
Oak frowned at that. Baker didn’t seem all that bitter about it. Rather, he seemed amused.
“It doesn’t bother you, sir?” Oak enquired.
“It has never been an issue when I need something. Besides, I was never one for a fight, Benjamin,” Baker explained as he calmly sipped his coffee. “I simply found myself in a position where I could help – and had people I wanted to help above all else.”
That was bitter, Oak noted. He did not pry though. Baker was choosing to be a mystery. Instead, the younger man sat down.
“Sir – with all due respect – why did you invite me to your office?” His polite question was met with amusement on Baker’s part.
Hollow, on the other hand, turned to look at him. The creature cocked his head to one side. Oak glanced between the pair.
“Since you have settled in, I wish to discuss Chaos’, for lack of a better word… ‘Job description’.”
Oak blinked. Baker had used two words for want of a better word. Besides, instinct told him that a ‘Mission statement’ would be more appropriate in the circumstances. But Baker seemed to rather be enjoying himself, so Oak guessed it was intended to be jovial.
“Chaos,” The man continued, “exists to handle more delicate issues. Jeffery gives me the power to act as I see fit, to do this.”
Oak took a moment to register who Jeffery was. It always threw him off hearing the President referred to by only his first name.
Baker continued. “It is why Chaos tends go about their business with little regard to whatever orders may have been issued to units they share missions with. We are there to deal with more… Hmmm.” Baker trailed off, seemingly for dramatic effect.
“Delicate matters?” Oak suggested.
“Yes. Please understand – to put this bluntly – you have a far greater amount of freedom in your actions while you are in my unit.” The military adviser held Oak’s gaze for a moment, his tone taking on an uncharacteristically grave note. “But in return… the punishments for misconduct can be far more serious. Say, for example, spreading classified information.”
Oak took a moment to mull this over, before giving a single nod. Baker leaned back in his chair, letting out a breath.
“Alright now.” He continued, his tone thoughtful, but otherwise back to normal. “When Hollow brought you to my attention, you were stationed as a guard during a meeting.”
“Do you remember the conversation we were having?”
Of course, Oak remembered. Hollow had taken a sudden interest to him. Having a creature of Hollow’s appearance staring intently at him for almost the entire duration of the meeting had made it fairly difficult to forget.
“You were offering to send Chaos to scout for another unit,” Oak stated. “There was a lot of scavenger activity in the area, sir.” Baker smiled at this.
“Yes, exactly. Part of our job is keeping an eye on scavenger activity.” Baker explained. “However, we do have one primary objective which outweighs all else.” The man trailed off, looking out of the window of his office. His office was situated at the highest point of Warehouse 38, and as such had a nice view. The city of Ali, and the ocean which it sat on the cusp of, stretched out before the window. Even Oak’s limited view from the other side of Baker’s desk was stunning; the capital of Daiz had always been picturesque, even during the war.
“Sir?” Oak asked quietly, after a few long moments.
“We are to hunt down Kendra Blake and bring her in, alive, with maximum discretion.” Baker said, seriously, his gaze locked on the horizon. “From there, we are to extract information on the remnants of the Raven’s Kin.”
That made Oak freeze. According to the rumours, the Raven’s Kin should have been eliminated. Those who weren’t killed during the Black War should have been executed shortly after.
The name Kendra Blake was familiar to Oak as well. Kendra was born in the Daiz city of Una. However, her parents had immigrated from Chess. There wasn’t much else on her to know (Oak guessed the rest was probably confidential). She had been a student of the Keene Tower, and she played a large part in the origin of the Black War.
Last Oak, or any member of the public knew, Kendra Blake was long since dead.
“Kendra went into hiding after the war,” Baker elaborated, turning away from his window at last. “Every once in a while, we get a lead on her whereabouts. An image from a security feed, or a dramatically increased amount of scavenger activity—”
“How does scavenger activity relate to Blake?” Oak interrupted.
“They seem to be attracted to the activity of one another.” Baker said, rubbing Hollow’s chin. “We are to bring Kendra in. Alive. Despite the hearsay, both Jeffery and myself are compelled to believe that she is more of a victim than anything else. All of our evidence supports this. But most importantly, she is also our only lead.”
“Didn’t she help start the war?” Oak queried. This was what he had been taught of Kendra Blake; but then again, he had also understood the woman to be dead. Baker stopped patting Hollow and looked directly in Oak’s eyes. His blue eyes narrowed, serious.
It seemed that, without intending to, Oak had hit a nerve. Hollow had returned to the man’s shadow but it was clear the creature was watching them carefully.
“Do you know much of the nature of familiars?” Baker asked, coolly.
Oak shook his head, not comfortable enough to speak.
“I assume then, neither of your sisters held interest in them?”
“Anaika did, yes.” Oak said, meekly. “But she and I did not speak much.” Baker’s face relaxed a little.
“We don’t know much about the creatures really. They are summoned by what is called a ‘binding ritual’. This involves a mage spilling their own blood. We don’t yet know if familiars are summoned by the ritual from somewhere where they previously existed, or whether they are created by it.
“They seem to be gendered, though there is no record of familiars breeding. Their gender seems to have nothing to do with the gender or preference of the mage who summons them. There are both male and female familiars that are bound to straight men, straight woman, gay men, bisexual woman, and so on. I think you get the idea?”
“Their personalities are also different.” Baker continued. “Sometimes they are the opposite of their mage. On the other hand, sometimes they seem to just be an extension of them. Familiars act as a conductor for a mage’s power, but they themselves have mana that they can use.” Baker shook his head. “They hold a symbiotic relationship with the mage—”
“What do they gain from it, though?” Oak asked, his mind carefully turning over everything Baker had said so far.
“Companionship. And food.” Baker said. “Familiars are a social creature, like humans. However, while they can eat, to survive they must regularly be fed blood from their mage. Without this, a familiar will starve to death.” The man was relaying facts, keeping his voice level. He hid his emotions well. “Since the change of law in Daiz, the majority of familiars have starved to death.”
“That’s cruel.” Oak said.
“People were scared. It was never intentional.” Baker replied. “The creatures were given blood from their mage. But once separated from their mages, the familiars wouldn’t drink it.” Baker still clearly didn’t think it was the correct answer. He just sounded like he sympathised with both sides of this dispute; both the scared people and the poor dead creatures.
“They chose death over being away from their mage.” Oak observed. Baker gave a nod.
“Familiars will do anything for their mage. It’s an unconditional love that is almost always returned. As to what this has to do with Kendra,” he became solemn again. “Kendra is… kind of like a familiar. She was forced down a road due to a person she loved.”
“Did you know her?” Oak asked. Baker smiled, making a soft amused noise which wasn’t quite a laugh. That confirmed Oak’s suspicion.
“Not before the war. But she was an asset during it. She didn’t tell me much of her past.” The man’s face went blank as if he was thinking of something else. “It’s why this is my job. I will bring her in alive, and hopefully she may even come willingly.”
They sat in silence for a while before Oak spoke again. He asked Baker if that was all. When Baker gave him an affirmation, he stood to leave.
Once he reached the door, Baker’s voice interrupted his stride.
“Do you know what happens when a mage dies before their familiar?” Oak turned back to the man.
“They… starve?” Oak offered. Baker shook his head.
“With the reason for their existence dead, familiars begin to lose their shape… to dissolve. They turn into a pool of blood.” At this, Baker turned back to his window, signalling for Oak to leave. He sighed under his breath, adding, “Still, a better fate than most scavengers have.”