Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Trials of Hallac- Invocation

Unnamed muse, light of those creative, who
Bestows upon those of the pen her grace
To write of great deeds and men of honour,
Help this humble soul to tell of Hallac
Of the trials of the spear-wielding Prince,
Son of Quereneth, fair King of Farlein,
Youngest of his heirs.
Allow me the words to expound his deeds,
The tests he faced, the people he aided,
Many beasts and villains who barred his path
To keep him from the throne of his father.
Aid me in telling of Hallac, youngest
Brother of Lestrian– the eldest son,
Great diplomat and silver-tongued speaker,
Friend of men and women with influence.
Unnamed muse, let me tell of young Hallac,
Brother of Etseon– the second son
Scholarly wise man,
Schemer and power-hungry middle child.
Hallac, the third of three sons, bastard-born
Boy to a peasant mother, furthest from
The throne both by blood and by common birth,
But welcomed by his father to royal life,
Guarded by soldiers, trained by generals,
Made into a warrior by the time
Of his adulthood.

Great being of inspiration, assist
This simple bearer of the pen and ink,
Teller of stories, in detailing feats,
Feats that brought the throne
To Hallac, youngest of the great King’s sons:
The slaying of the beasts he faced alone:
Naenesis, the gargantuan spider,
The many Harpies of the delta lands,
A great unknown, unnamed beast of the sea,
The Sphinx of the cave,
And the vicious, huge Dragon of Tomolle.

Include in my verses the people, who
Stood barring his way:
Phieraine, widow-Queen of Rinelderal,
The priest, and the men and women of dead
City Ounceireile,
And men of his own family: brothers
Lestrian and Etseon, and their men.

O inspiration, sweet ideas’ onset,
Form the letters and words to write of the
Great Dreamers’ Battle,
Where lordly Hallac fought his two brothers
For the throne of their father’s vast kingdom,
So that those who wish to know of the deeds
May learn of the valiance of the Prince
And know how verily he did deserve
More than his brothers,
To gain the crown and to lead the people
In the days and years following his late
Return to Farlein.

Make my syllables flow like sweetest wine
That any who read may drink and be filled
By the power of what is written here.
Help the lessons taught by Hallac’s goodness
Nourish and help those who would be like him,
For the virtues he embodies are great
And worthy for anyone to seek out.
Help my words well define and explain, too
The badness and evil in the villains,
Those who surrendered to evil vices,
And make my poem a lesson there, as well
That readers will see the mistakes they made,
The follies and crimes they all committed
And know them for the wrongness that they are.
Make this humble poet a plain teacher,
Though the deeds written here are the lesson.

Tell now of Hallac, his journey’s begun
Set far from home to trek companionless
Only to return home and fight for life.

The Trials of Hallac- Introduction

In May, I took part in a challenge to write 5000 lines of epic poetry in 31 days. I succeeded, and my "epic" poem, "The Trials of Hallac" ended right smack dab on the 5000th line. It's no Odyssey but it's something, I suppose.

I chose to forgo attempting to write in rhyme, but instead focus on syllabic count. Depending on what sort of text you're reading, the number of syllables changes. For reference, here's how things break down:

General exposition has 5, 8, or 14 syllables to the line
Hallac speaks in 16 syllables to the line
Good characters speak in 11 syllable-lines
Evil characters use 6 or 13 syllables
Neutral characters speak in 9 syllable lines
Deities use 3 or 7 syllables to the line
Battle scenes have 12 syllables to the line
Prayer is spoken in 10 syllable lines

For flow purposes, I do on occasion use the half-line. Much of the first three parts of the poem are spoken and described by Hallac, so to keep him from being too long-winded, some lines are only 8 syllables rather than the full 16. Some battle scenes have 6-syllable lines, etc.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Thank You for the Blogject (Mere Acquaintances)

The project known as the Blogject (the serial novel entitled "Mere Acquaintances") was not a solitary effort. The ideas for it were provided by numerous friends of mine, everything from character names to plot elements. It is time for all of these people to receive their thanks. Already, they have each had a character in the Blogject loosely named after them. Here, in no particular order: contributor, contribution(s), and character.

Dawn H.- character background- Don Harson

Cheyenne F.- character and place names and descriptions- Cheyne Firdin

BJ D.- place names and descriptions- Banjay Advissen

Erin K.- moral support and character backgrounds- Rin Ramkan

Theo K.- item descriptions and character names- Hoeth Karzark

Alex L.- plot ideas- Lexan Halech

Clara A.- plot ideas- Ara Fusica

Clara R.- character ideas- Berrot Larac

Sami F. plot ideas and character names- Masithina Crasier

Misty B.- character names- Masty Boroksen

Becky S.- character names- Becca Smitts

Andrew P.- character names- Endren Prake

Kirsten S.- character names- Kristen Censor

Brian B.- character names- Rabian Hartume

Jon K.- place names- Jonal Keffinen

Sarah K.- place names and descriptions- Sara Kenney

Jade A.- character names- Carolyn Anderson

Laura P.- title ideas- Prett Moura

Travis C.- title ideas- Lec Ravits

Chuck N.- title ideas- Needrenghusshuck

Mary Lee F.- title ideas- Maria Ferrera

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Epilogue

It had been like flicking a switch. Becca couldn’t believe it, but the evidence was there in front of her. Whatever had happened between the five Sonsedhor patients and their alternate personalities, everything had come to an end. At least, it seemed to be at an end.

Things had seemed so calm for so long. For months, Emery’s violent streak had seemed contained, easily averted by restraints, but the events of the night of November fifth had come as a surprise.

Fortunately, his unprovoked attack on Ryan had been thwarted. But then, as he was being restrained, he managed to overpower the nurses and turned his attentions to Lydia. He had been much harder to hold back then.

No one was sure how he managed to get out of his room after being locked in and bound in a straitjacket, but the former policeman had somehow done it. By the time his escape had been discovered and they found where he’d disappeared to, Vale was already dead. His body was removed the next morning. There was no question– he had been beaten to death by the big ex-cop.

Thanksgiving saw Becca in Dr. Anderson’s office, seated in a corner and simply observing as Dr. Anderson spoke to Jo Bailey, whose recovery had come as a surprise.
It had been like flicking a switch, she thought again as she studied her former patient. Jo wasn’t even in her wheelchair; walking was difficult in her physical state, but it wasn’t completely impossible. Once she had come to her senses, she had insisted on doing away with the chair and walking under her own power, even though it took her a long time to move across a room. She had spirit, a desire to live in her chocolate-brown eyes.

“I’m ready to go home,” Jo said softly, looking at her hands in her lap. “I believe I’m done here.”

With a nod, Dr. Anderson replied, “I will gladly support that statement. You will be missed around here, Joanna, but it is time you went back to the real world.”

Jo’s head snapped up at that– as quickly as her head could snap, anyway, which was still fairly slow– but she didn’t say anything.

“We will, of course, keep observing you for a few months while you readjust to life outside the Institute,” Dr. Anderson continues, smiling. Becca knew the smile was for the recent bill that had finally passed judgement by the board of directors, renaming the place Ighosia Falls Mental Institution. Jo simply nodded. “And we have, of course, contacted your family. Your parents are ready for you back at their home, since your apartment was rented back out some time ago.”

Jo nodded again.

“You look like you want to say something. Please, go ahead Joanna. Feel free.”

Something familiar to Becca flashed in Jo’s eyes. “I want to see the others.” Dr. Anderson and Becca exchanged looks. Joanna kept her gaze level on Dr. Anderson’s face. “I know there were others. Please, can I see them?” There was no pleading in her voice, just simple need.

Dr. Anderson nodded.

Jo walked with the intern, Becca, down a hallway lined with doors. Dr. Anderson hadn’t come with them, but Jo didn’t care much for the doctor anyway. There was something familiar and warm about the young intern, and she was a welcome guide to her companions. Something told Jo that Becca... understood. She didn’t know what it was about the young woman, but she knew she could trust her, deep in her core.

“This is Lydia,” Becca said, opening a door. The intern entered first, speaking softly and soothingly to the room’s occupant.

In the woman before her, Jo recognized Weslyn, but there was something wrong with her. The woman, Lydia, refused to lift her head. She made no move, gave no inclination that she might speak. Jo didn’t press her; she simply nodded to Becca and slowly made her way out of the room.

“She’s become much more functional since... that night,” Becca explained, “but Lydia’s emotional condition has fallen drastically. She’s battling deep depression suddenly. She won’t speak to anyone.

That’s because she’s dead, Jo thought, but she said nothing. That Weslyn had died was a certainty to her, but she didn’t know how she knew it. She hadn’t seen Weslyn die, but there was no doubt it had happened.

She was introduced to Ryan next, and in him she knew the bard Draegon. But Ryan eyed her askance, darted as far away from her as he could, and cowered in a corner behind a desk chair. Like Lydia, he had regained the better part of his sanity since November fifth, but his temperament was now marked with constant fear and paranoia. Constantly looking over his shoulder, Ryan jumped at the slightest sound or voice. Throughout her short visit, he muttered about constant nightmares, each one of the same thing: murder. Over and over, murder.

Jo remembered seeing Draegon’s body in the chamber... bloody and battered, beaten until he had hardly looked like himself anymore. She didn’t blame Ryan for having nightmares about that.

Becca hesitated over taking her to the last of the others. Emery had killed another patient, she was told. His victim had been Vale Stapleton, who had also been one of the others involved with her, Lydia, and Ryan. At the name Emery, Jo’s heart skipped a beat. Her recognition came as no surprise to Becca.

“You two knew each other as kids,” the intern said.

“More than just kids,” Jo whispered back.

Nodding as if she already knew that, Becca led her to the last door. This was no simple hallway door with a small viewing window like Ryan and Lydia had. Emery’s door was reinforced metal, and instead of a window, there was a barred panel. They kept him like a prisoner.

Flashes of Kemeny’s and Senne’s memories flooded her mind as she peered through the bars at Emery. The big man sat on the floor unmoving. As if sensing he was being watched, he lifted his head, and a pair of stoney blue eyes met Jo’s. His mouth didn’t move; he didn’t blink or even seem to breathe. But those eyes pierced her to the core. Somewhere deep in the depths of her mind, the parts of her that were Senne and Kemeny trembled.

“I loved you too, once,” she whispered. Turning to Becca, she took the intern’s arm. It helped her walk more steadily to have support. “Now I’m ready to go home.”

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Eight

For a long time Roark stood staring at the black wall, waiting for it to devour him. Minutes passed before it occurred to him that the blackness had stopped its approach and gone still, not closing in so much as a hair’s breadth. It had stopped less than a finger’s span from the edge of Weslyn’s dress.

Disbelief that it really had stopped flooded through him, and he waited, now counting the seconds until it moved again to swallow up him and the bodily remains of the sweet merchant woman. Minutes passed by his counting: three, five, eight, eleven. A quarter of an hour went by, and the black wall hadn’t moved a bit.

Weslyn would have lived...

The thought hit him like a hammer. She would have lived. Had he not been so certain they faced their deaths, had he not acted in haste... if only he had put his faith in the Mother to save them, she would still be alive, pulse beating, lungs taking air next to him.

She would have lived...

Falling to his knees next to Weslyn’s cooling body, he threw back his head and howled. Oaths flew from his mouth afterward, shouted curses for everything from himself to the Mother Above to the Dark Father– and everything in between. Time froze as the minutes and hours passed with him damning everything he could think of. Part of him, deep down, pleaded with the Mother to let him take it back, to let him die in her stead and send her back to the living world.

When he finally opened his eyes again, having completely drained himself of tears, the blackness had receded. It had more than receded; it was completely gone. The nothingness surrounding him, swallowing up everything, was gone as if it had never existed at all. Beyond the balcony, the glittering gilded walls of Estria shone in the late afternoon sun. He suddenly became aware that the banging on the door behind him had stopped. When had the Keidenelle given up their pursuit?

Weslyn’s body was gone.

Unbarring the door, he cracked it open, but there was no ambush. There were no Keidenelle savages waiting for him on the other side of the door– in fact, there wasn’t a single soul to be seen in the corridor. Not a bit of dirt from a boot, a shallow depression on a rug from a footprint– there was nothing to suggest people had been in the castle recently.

Warily, Roark explored the castle. He passed through chambers he’d been through before, knowing there should be corpses, bloodstains, abandoned weapons, something! For all he saw, he could have been the only man left in all the world, in all of– what was the name of this place? “Ighosia” came into his head, and he decided that must be the name he was searching for. Was he really the only man left in all of Ighosia?

Weslyn would have survived. If I hadn’t killed her, she would have lived, and I wouldn’t be alone...

The pristine walls that surrounded him were unsettling. Hurrying, with only the echoing sound of his boot heels striking the floor, he strode through the great audience chamber that reminded him of Lady Ara’s and out to the balcony for some fresh air.

He wasn’t the only man left in Ighosia! There were three men lying on the stone floor out here: one was plainly dead; Sonsedhor stuck out from his unmoving chest. The other two were young men– lordlings by their clothes– and both on the brink of death themselves. One had a shard of glass sticking out from his gut, the other didn’t have a mark on him, but not and then his whole body twitched violently. Only the one with glass in him– the young man who had claimed Sonsedhor for himself, Jaidyn– showed any sign that he was aware of Roark’s presence.

Calmly, as if he had all the time in the world– which he really did, he thought with a smirk– Roark sauntered to the body Sonsedhor was buried in. Wrapping his hand again around the familiar hilt, he drew the sword from the corpse’s chest, not bothering to wipe the blackish blood from the metal. Jaidyn didn’t make a sound as Roark stood over him, legendary sword in hand, but his eyes screamed his fear. The other young man still showed no sign that he was alert to anything that was happening around him. Rather than let that young man suffer, Roark decided to put him out of his misery, too.

One well-placed swipe with Sonsedhor ended the lives of both young men.

Roark threw back his head and laughed. Without needing proof, without having to see if it was true, he knew he was the only man left in all of Ighosia. It was his. The world was his.

“Finally mine!” he shouted between hearty laughs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Forty-Seven

Zanthys was amazed he was still alive. Here he was, an untrained swordsman, wildly swinging his sword with no idea what he was doing, slashing without a care who or what he was aiming at, fighting against two men who were so desperate to have their hands on the false Sonsedhor he had had made that neither of them were willing to let a finger of their hands loose its hilt. Jaidyn and the stranger– whom he’d heard Jaidyn curse at multiple times using the name Akotherian– were fighting each other as much as they were fighting Zanthys. Maybe that was the only reason I’m still alive, he thought.

Neither of the other two men seemed at all aware of what was happening outside their little balcony, but Zanthys was. He heard shouts from somewhere, banging, running, screaming, and other evidence of mass chaos and panic. He thought he smelled blood, but even he had to admit that smell was probably imagined. None of the men near him had even a scratch, and who else could be close enough for him to smell their blood?

But the sounds and imagined smells did nothing to frighten him like what he saw did. Every time he let his eyes flicker toward the railing of the balcony where they fought– which was becoming more and more frequent– he could only see that blackness that made bile rise in his throat. It was growing closer. He knew that there was no way something like that could be moving as fast as he thought, but it seemed that every time he looked at the wall of nothing, it had gotten an arm’s length or more closer. He kept telling himself over and over in his head– between clashes of sword on sword– that it could only be an inch closer, or two maybe. But not the whole length of an arm, no matter how much closer it seemed to be.

Akotherian seemed to have the upper hand at the moment in his private skirmish with Jaidyn, and he flicked their shared sword at Zanthys’s head so Zanthys had to duck to dodge it. He stumbled and fell, rolling a bit as he lost his balance. His sword fell out of his hand. He ended up at the railing at the edge of the balcony, his nose an inch from the approaching blackness. The railings had already been halfway overtaken by the nothingness. He scrambled away from it in a poor imitation of a crabwalk, his hands and eyes searching frantically for his sword.

He found it just out of his reach. Jaidyn saw it too, as he struggled to regain the upper hand– or at least an equilibrium again– with Akotherian. But he still had a moment to glance at Zanthys’s sword, grin, and kick it further from where Zanthys was. He resumed his grappling with Akotherian in earnest, Zanthys forgotten in less time than it took to take a breath.

Zanthys crawled around the edge of the balcony, looking frantically for something to use as a weapon. Anything. All that was around him was masonry from the castle, and all of that was still attached and whole. He locked his eyes on his sword and bit his lip, praying that he would be able to get to it before either of the other men came out victorious and ran him through with his prank sword.

As he steeled himself to dash for his blade, he felt something sting his hand and looked down. A line of blood was forming on the palm of his hand. A few large shards of glass were on the floor of the balcony. Looking up, he saw a broken window– one of the decorative colored-glass ones from the audience chamber they had come from what seemed like ages ago. Not caring if his hand got slashed even worse, he grabbed the largest, most pointed shard he could find and got to his feet. The glass shard was colored red– It had probably once been part of some picture– a lord’s robe maybe, but all he could think of was blood. How appropriate. All this had to end now.

In the time it had taken him to stand, while Zanthys hadn’t been looking, Jaidyn had somehow managed to finally wrest the fake Sonsedhor from Akotherian and was standing over Zanthys’s abandoned sword, glaring derisively at the panting Akotherian. The defeated man’s back was inches from the black wall that had now completely overtaken the balcony rails. Fiery hate filled his eyes.

Staggering forward, Zanthys extended his arm towards Jaidyn, planning to bring everything to an end, prepared to sacrifice his own life, if need be. He was ready to be finished with Jaidyn, with his failed prank, with everything. Death would be welcome. As the sharp shard of glass neared Jaidyn’s torso, the man seemed unaware of it. Leaning forward, Zanthys prepared to make a final lunge to close the last few inches of distance, but Jaidyn wasn’t as oblivious as he’d seemed. The mad-eyed hero-wannabe shifted his weight and twisted; Zanthys’s lunge missed his target, and he stumbled, trying to correct his balance. He twisted in turn, his arm brandishing the glass shard flung out wildly. Blood and sweat covered his hand; the glass slid out of his grip as he overcompensated for his fall and instead followed his arm to the side, falling part-backwards, part-sideways.

The feeling that coursed through him as he hit the ground was one he couldn’t easily identify. Every muscle in his body clenched, twitching rapidly. He felt… blue, a crackling white-blue like lightning. His whole body convulsed, but screaming was impossible; any noise he tried to make got caught and fizzled before it left his throat.

It seemed ages before his eyes found their focus. Events were moving in slow motion. Akotherian’s hand was outstretched towards himself and Jaidyn. The forked pale blue lightning that erupted from his fingers had found its home in Zanthys’s chest and was still wreaking its havoc on his muscles. Forcing his head to twist around, he saw Jaidyn, Sonsedhor still in hand, his other hand at his chest. A dark patch of fabric stood out on his shirt towards his stomach, where the shard of glass had struck, sinking deep into flesh. A look of surprise was on Jaidyn’s face, but that quickly gave way to rage.

Akotherian seemed to be trying to pull his hand upward, to move the lightning that was still wracking Zanthys’s body to strike Jaidyn instead, but the sweat and panic that bloomed on the man’s face belied his ability to do it. He looked tired, worn out, used up, and it was all he could do to keep the deadly bolt in existence, much less move it. There wasn’t a doubt in Zanthys’s head that this was his end. He would die from this, here on the balcony.

Despite the growing patch of blood on his shirt, Jaidyn kept his feet and locked his eyes on Akotherian’s face. Zanthys had no faith left in him for mercy; they were all going to die here. Murder was in Jaidyn’s face, as sure as the glass was buried in his gut. He lurched towards his target, stretched out Sonsedhor, and without a word, buried the tip of the steel blade into Akotherian’s chest.

All at once, the twitching, white-blue crackling feeling left Zanthys; the lightning disappeared from sight; Akotherian cried out, his voice echoing, seemingly against the black wall that was so close Zanthys thought he could smell it; and Jaidyn fell to his knees, his hand still gripping Sonsedhor’s hilt. Struggling visibly to control his trembling arm, Jaidyn turned his wrist, twisting the blade into Akotherian’s chest.

Unable to keep his eyes open, and his mind focused, Zanthys tried to his last prayer up to the Mother before he lost himself completely, but once again, the words wouldn’t come out.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Six

Roark couldn’t let his remorse for murdering Draegon get to him; he still had Weslyn to protect. They were running now, running through the castle and finding nothing but frenzied people fighting, hopeless people waiting to die, and dead ends that put them face-to-face with the black nothingness that sent cold chills up their spines.

As they ran, they came across numerous Keidenelle. Blood lust had taken over many of the savages, and they were killing people left and right– anyone and everyone they came into contact with, Keidenelle or no. More than once, Roark had to let go of Weslyn’s hand for just a moment to deal with a crazed man or two, terrified that when he went back for her hand there wouldn’t be a hand to grasp anymore. He still had it in his head to save her, no matter what happened. He could still save Weslyn.

But every exit was blocked, opening only to blackness. Even some corridors ended not in a door, but the vast nothingness he didn’t dare get too close to. He had once, he remembered, ages ago as Cheyne. Something told him now that crossing the blackness would be his end.

Save Weslyn. He turned and ran another way, shoving threatening Keidenelle out of the way with his shoulders. What if there was no way out except the black? It was far too unknown; he couldn’t condemn Weslyn to Mother-knows-what. Could he?

He decided he couldn’t. If there was no other way… he could still spare the girl a gruesome or uncertain death. He could give her that. But only if he had to, if there was no other way.

They came to another black dead end. He turned, pushing Weslyn ahead of him. They passed a junction where their corridor met another, and a handful of Keidenelle spied them and gave chase. Urging Weslyn to go faster, he continued to glance over his shoulder at their pursuers. They weren’t gaining much.

Up a set of stairs, through a wooden door, and Roark found himself and Weslyn at the crenellated top of a guard tower. Black surrounded the castle on all sides, even cutting through the walls in some places. What was left of the world was less than half the area of a farmer’s field. Everything outside the castle was just… gone. In a cruel mockery, the sky overhead was pale blue and clear, but still lighting flashed from nonexistent clouds, striking stone balconies that were still undisturbed by the black. Not too far away, the sounds of a heated sword battle came, but he couldn’t see who was doing the fighting. But the shivers that ran up and down his spine at the clanging sounds told him that Sonsedhor was one of the swords being used. That meant the fellow Jaidyn was down there, as well as the man he suspected to be the Dark Father.

The door tried to burst open, but Roark threw his weight against it. Their pursuers must have caught up. Nothing but the unknown before them, and a bloody death at the hands of Keidenelle behind. He fought against the feelings of despair that began to creep up on him, but they were overpowering. There was a way out of everything, but… there was no way out of this.

The Keidenelle on the other side of the door pushed in earnest, but Roark kept his weight against it as much as he could. That was one advantage he had over the Keidenelle– every one of them he’d seen was half his size or less. They were a lean people. Gradually, his weight and strength closed the door. Bit by bit, the gap narrowed, narrowed… closed.

He slid the bar into its slot, keeping the Keidenelle sealed out. Then they began to bang against it, probably using their own shoulders as battering rams.

“Pray,” he told Weslyn. “Pray it holds.”

Turning to look from the door to the merchant woman, he saw her on her knees, staring at the blackness. Was it his imagination, or had it gotten significantly closer while his back had been turned?

“Mother, I beg your mercy, I beg for safety,” Weslyn’s voice was thin and shaking as she stared at the black. She fell to her knees, trembling violently from shoulders to toes. She wrapped her arms around herself, repeating her prayers. Roark could see the blackness approaching, slowly taking over stone after stone of the battlements. Behind him, he heard the wood of the door creaking, cracking, beginning to give. It would only be a matter of time before the Keidenelle broke it down. But would that happen before or after the nothingness overtook him and Weslyn.

There is nothing else, he told himself dismally, trying to separate his emotions and his conscience from what he was telling himself he must do. There is no other way… I can still save her…

Quietly, he stepped up behind the kneeling Weslyn. He held his breath as he reached his hands out for her thin, pale throat. She wasn’t aware of him as she kept mumbling her prayers, her eyes locked on the approaching unknown.

His big hands wrapped around her neck, and he pressed as firmly but as gently as he could. She gasped, the last breath he would allow her to have. Her hands shot up to his, clawing. She leaned back against his legs, her lovely blue eyes looking up at him, pleading, not understanding, begging. He didn’t loosen his grip. He could feel her throat pulsing beneath him, hear her silent screams, feel her body crying desperately and trying unsuccessfully to get air.

Finally, she went still. He gently laid her on the stone floor of the battlement, not letting himself look at her. No… he was simply unable to look at her. Seeing her unmoving form would break him, he knew.

He rose and squared himself to look at the blackness that was still creeping toward his place by the door. He ignored the constant banging on the door behind him; the Keidenelle no longer mattered. His fate was in the blackness; he would wait for it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Five

Everyone’s gone mad, Kemeny thought as she watched the Keidenelle and their prisoners fight mercilessly against each other. Frightened at the chaos that had erupted around her after splitting up with Draegon and Zanthys, she had found herself a hiding place in a large audience chamber, and she was still there. Panic had rushed like a wave through the people, savage and civilized alike, and they had scattered like rice on the wind. One small fight had remained, two men grappling over a sword, and then a third man had joined them, but they were gone now. All that had remained in the chamber with her was a body lying in a pool of blood. She hadn’t seen what had happened to that man– a Keidenelle by his clothes– but she suspected he had been knocked down and trampled in the madness as everyone rushed out.

Before she could squeeze herself out of the low little alcove she had twisted herself into– thank the Mother for her flexibility– the crazed masses had rushed back in, but this time they were fighting each other rather than running aimlessly. Savage fought savage; prisoners fought Keidenelle in pairs, in threes; women brawled with men; people died. Once what seemed like hours had passed and calm settled back in through the chamber, she was alone again, but instead of one body on the floor, there were now dozens. The sounds of fighting still came now and then from the hallway outside.

Trembling, Kemeny squeezed herself out of her hiding place and picked her way among the bodies, not daring to call for Draegon or Zanthys, not sure where to start looking for Weslyn and Roark. Part of her was afraid they she would find one or more of her friends– deep down, she even considered Zanthys some sort of a friend, even if an unwilling one– among the bodies.

It was Draegon she found as she carefully stepped between corpses. His face was battered and blood-covered; his shoulders, chest, and hips looked sunken. He had been dead for some time before she got to him. She wasn’t certain, but she thought he might have been the one who had been trampled–or whatever had happened to him.

She stood in shock, looking down on the lifeless face of her old friend. His eyes were closed, thank the Mother– she thought she might have vomited if he had been looking at her with dead eyes. Even so, her stomach heaved just a bit so she had to turn away from the bard’s body. The tears came then, rushing from her eyes in torrents, turning the rest of the bodies surrounding her into unidentifiable blurs. She was grateful for that; she feared turning around would only bring her to Weslyn’s body, or Roark’s, and she couldn’t deal with that at the moment.

Thunder rumbled outside. She had seen flashes of lighting flickering through the room all during the battle that had taken place. There was no accompanying sound of rain, though. Had the world gone mad?

Stumbling among the bodies, blinded by the tears that wouldn’t stop, she found herself up at the dais where the men had been fighting before. A heavy sob racked her, and she fell to her knees on the rug-covered floor.

Approaching footsteps reached her ears, and she wiped her eyes to look up. A woman had come into the room and was standing a mere six or seven paces from her, across the dais. The woman was lovely and finely dressed, but the look in her face screamed that she had seen and done and endured far more than anyone should have to. She looked tired, defeated, and in a strange way, empty. She was missing… something.

The other woman’s eyes lit up at the sight of Kemeny, and some of that missing something seemed to filter back into her.

“I know you,” Kemeny found herself saying. She stood, and she and the stranger approached each other.

The other woman nodded. “I’m Senne. I… know you, too. You’re……”

“Kemeny,” she finished. They were now so close they could touch without extending an arm very far. For a second that lasted an hour they stared into each other’s eyes. Kemeny felt a smile grow on her face and saw it mirrored in Senne’s.

“Jo…” she said at the same moment Senne said it. She knew who she was, who this other woman was. Jo. She remembered Jo, remembered dancing. Reaching out, she wrapped her arms around Senne in an embrace. The other woman held her right back. She felt whole.

If any eye had looked into the room at that moment, they would have found it empty save for dozens of dead bodies.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Four

Zanthys had already forgotten who he was supposed to be looking for. The savage fool Draegon had only given him names and vague descriptions anyway, and how was he supposed to find two complete strangers in this chaotic, panicking crowd? People, both Keidenelle and civilized, were running in every direction, cowering in alcoves, breaking things, screaming at the top of their lungs, pushing each other, and everything else people do when they’ve been driven mad by uncertainty.

The great doors of the castle stood open, showing only blackness. That thick, congealed-looking darkness scared him, froze him right to his soul. And what was even more terrifying was that some people were actually running straight out the doors and being swallowed by the nothingness. They just… disappeared. For one moment, they existed, then in a second they were gone, swallowed up so that their screams were cut off completely. They disappeared. Zanthys didn’t want to think about what happened on the other side of that black wall.

He backed away from the open doors, wanting to put as much space between himself and the blackness as possible. Where had that foolish bard Draegon gotten off to, and that girl Kemeny? Zanthys scoffed at the thought of the two of them. He shouldn’t even be here! It wasn’t his fault someone else picked up his fake Sonsedhor! No matter what had happened since then, it was a fake, and if it had caused problems for this Roark fellow, well he shouldn’t have picked it up anyway. Zanthys couldn’t control that, much less reverse his actions now. What were they really expecting, him to apologize and for that to make everything better?

He passed by a wide arch that led into an audience chamber and did a double-take when he glanced into the room. There was a dead body on the floor– Keidenelle by the looks of him– and a pair of men grappling on the throne’s dais.

One of the men he recognized immediately as Jaidyn Huntley. Anger welled up in him at the sight of the man who had ruined everything, all his plans, his prank– it was really Jaidyn’s fault that Zanthys was here, trapped in a castle with scores of Keidenelle savages. He drew his sword. He might not know how to use it– not really, anyway– but he knew which end to stab people with. He rushed toward Jaidyn and the man he was fighting with. He realized they were grappling over a sword, a sword he recognized: his false Sonsedhor.

Jaidyn glanced up as Zanthys hurried forward, sword drawn. His eyes flashed with sick amusement, and Zanthys saw for a moment a very foreign look in his contemporary’s eyes. Jaidyn looked– he couldn’t think of another word for it– possessed. Like someone else had taken him over and was looking through his eyes. Glancing at Jaidyn’s opponent, he saw the very same look mirrored in this stranger’s eyes. It was foreboding, calculating… evil. He shuddered but did not stop advancing.

Somehow, the two other men both got hold of the false Sonsedhor’s hilt and raised it to meet the descending slash Zanthys aimed at them. The fury of a demon came over Zanthys– he wasn’t sure from where– and his sword became a blur as he slashed and swiped with it wildly, pushing the two other men back. Neither of them relinquished his hold on the hilt, and together they parried blow after blow, not struggling for possession of the sword anymore, but for an advantage to dispose of Zanthys. It was almost as if they were of one mind; Sonsedhor moved smoothly, arcing, slashing back, flicking…

The two other men took a step backward. Sweat beaded on Zanthys’s forehead as he pressed on, pushing the mad-eyed men back one step after another. Through an open doorway they went, through a small antechamber, and onto a balcony.

The moment Sonsedhor crossed the threshold onto the balcony, somewhere between the balcony rail and the black curtain that loomed dangerously close, lighting flashed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Three

The great chamber had erupted into madness. An oily-looking man in black and blue clothes had stormed in and without a word, begun attacking the frightening young man who had stolen Sonsedhor. The two men were grappling over the weapon. The Keidenelle were just watching the two of them fight, wordlessly staring. Weslyn was a little surprised they weren’t placing bets like they had with all of Roark’s fights, but then she realized that this new man must be important.

She was standing on the edge of the group of prisoners. They had been untied from each other, but their wrists were still bound. Enough of the Keidenelle were still keeping watch over them that she didn’t dare trying to untie herself.

She watched as the two men kept struggling. For one moment, the youth had the upper hand, then the oily man. It changed with every breath. Even if both men were servants of the Dark Father– she had heard the evil deity mentioned more than enough to suit her for one day– she hoped the man won. The youth frightened her. Anyone who could so quickly come up with two dozen horrific deaths as he did was someone to be feared. She didn’t want to see what he would be like if he had the power to make those torturous deaths happen.

A hand grabbed her arm and began to pull her away from the group. Looking up, she saw a Keidenelle man had hold of her and was trying to make off with her. Wishing she had managed to untie herself, she began beating at him as well as she could, kicking at him, struggling to get out of his grasp. He dragged her past a window, and all she saw outside was black. No streets, no buildings, no golden glint of the dusted and painted city. The black nothingness had reached the outer walls of the castle.

Others noticed it, too, and the prisoners and the Keidenelle broke into a panic almost all at once. People began screaming at the top of their lungs, men and women dashed for the doors– although where they were running to was anyone’s guess. She kept beating at the Keidenelle who had her. He was shouting now, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying in the din. She didn’t care; she’d heard enough of their strange language to know he wouldn’t say much she could understand.

Another hand grabbed her other arm, and she looked up into Roark’s face. Before she even had the time to sigh with relief at seeing the big man, Roark had slammed a fist into the Keidenelle’s face and knocked him to the floor. Pushing Weslyn aside, Roark dove onto the reeling savage and began pounding him with fists, over and over again, beating the man until blood spattered onto the tiled floor.

The savage didn’t stand a chance. He was half Roark’s size and was only weakly able to defend himself. It was a few moments later, when much of the crowd had cleared out of the room and their screams had faded out in the corridors, that she heard her name called.

The Keidenelle man was shouting her name. And Roark’s. He was begging Roark to stop.

Weslyn caught one of the soldier’s big arms and tried to hold him back from hitting the man again. Roark stopped long enough to recognize Draegon beneath him.

By the way he was twitching and the way he groaned and protested when Roark tried to help him to his feet, she knew there had to be a great number of bones that were broken and fractured. Draegon stay lying on the floor in a pool of blood that was slowly growing. His hair was matted with the stuff, no doubt from a crack in his head where Roark had slammed him against the floor, trying to rattle his brains. He feebly moves his arms and legs. “I think… you crushed my shoulders…” the bard muttered faintly. “And my hips.” He coughed; droplets of blood flew from his mouth, dotting his crude clothes and his face with red. His breathing came shallow and with difficulty.

“Kemeny is…… here,” he said despite Weslyn’s insistence that he not talk or try to move. There was a terrible look in his eyes, like he was seeing everything for the last time. He was already convinced he was going to die. She knew it was too late for him, that Roark’s beating had done him in as surely as a knife to the throat, but she didn’t want to believe it. If he just stops talking and stays still, he’ll live, she told herself, even as she chided herself for having false hope.

“Kemeny…… in the crowd… looking for you.” He coughed up more blood this time. His eyes wouldn’t stay open, but she could tell he was trying to keep them from closing. “With Zanthys… lordling… he tricked…” He took in a rattling breath that made his whole body tremble violently. “I love you… Wes…lyn.” His fingers twitched. “Go… get out…”

She felt the tears welling up behind her eyes as Roark grabbed her by the arm again. She stood rooted where she was, not wanting to leave Draegon while he was still alive. She could at least be with him to the end, so he wouldn’t die alone.

“Just…… go,” the bard whispered hoarsely.

Roark pulled at her arm harder, forcing her feet to move. Feeling hollow, she trailed after him, barely registering his voice saying, “I think I saw Kemeny.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-Two

Senne stiffened a bit when the two Keidenelle– a man and a woman– brought Roark into the chamber she was sharing with Akotherian. Without wasting a moment to put on more clothes than the little he was wearing, Akotherian stood and walked to Roark so the two were face-to-face.

“Where’s Sonsedhor?” he demanded.

One of the Keidenelle said in his halting speech that Jaidyn had taken it.

Akotherian went into a rage. “Sonsedhor is mine! You were told to bring it to me, not to him!” He slapped the Keidenelle man who had spoken across the face with the full extent of his strength. The savage didn’t even stumble, but looked at Akotherian with a mixture of defiance and humility. Did the man actually believe the Dark Father had the right to treat him like that? Senne knew she would never understand the savages. She ventured a glance at Roark. He was unreadable.

But Akotherian wasn’t finished with being angry. He seized one of the Keidenelle women who had brought Roark and unceremoniously took her head in his hands and snapped her neck like breaking a twig. Without another word, he dashed out of the room. She felt the tug at her core, the pull she associated with him being further than arm’s length away. Her essence longed to follow, to be near him. It was almost painful. But she could endure it.

The Keidenelle man seemed to have forgotten Senne and Roark were there. When he was certain Akotherian was gone, the man knelt and tenderly lifted the lifeless body of the woman and carried her out of the room, turning a different direction down the corridor than the Dark Father had gone.

She was left alone with Roark. Slowly, the big soldier turned his stony eyes to her. She returned his gaze, wondering what he saw in her eyes, what he remembered from before.

“I loved you once,” he said softly. “I remember.”

Faint remnants of memories tugged at her, but it wasn’t the face before her that she recognized. It was Hoeth, the young, naïve man who held her heart now– what was left of it. She had no love left for this unshaven, blood-covered bear of a man who stood before her.

As if sensing her feelings, he nodded and left.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty-One

Surrounded. By enemies. Even in the middle of a war, Roark had never been completely surrounded by enemies before. It wasn’t a feeling he relished. He now understood what it must feel like to be a wild animal caught in a trap: frightened, knowing that trying to escape would only end in injury or even death, but so desperate to be free that any price is worth it.

It was hard not to lose hope. He had seen the number of Keidenelle he would have to fight through to regain his freedom, and it was staggering. And he and Weslyn had now been separated. She was still in the big audience chamber, but she had been crammed into a far corner of it with a great deal of other prisoners. Sonsedhor was still in the hands of the savage he assumed was the leader of the band that had captured him.

Somewhere in the back of his mind– the part of him that noticed every detail of his surroundings and analyzed them for tactical purposes– he couldn’t help but notice how similar the big audience chamber was to Lady Ara Fusica’s chamber in Necras. The sudden, unbidden thought of the girl hit him like a hammer. What had happened to Lady Ara? He had practically raised her– not alone, of course– but he had been set as her personal guard almost from the moment she had been born. It was only natural that he should feel a fatherly connection to her, but… what had happened to her since he’d left? With everything that was happening in the world… had she been taken by the blackness? Attacked by Keidenelle? Was it possible… could she be among the multitudes of prisoners here in Estra?

Once that possibility entered his head, he couldn’t help but scan the room for her. The large bunch of prisoners in the room were perhaps a twentieth of all the prisoners the Keidenelle had brought. Odds were if Lady Ara was a prisoner, she wouldn’t be in here.

Another movement caught his eye. The Keidenelle man carrying Sonsedhor was approaching the dais in the center of one wall. Atop it was an ornate chair– the ruler of Estria’s chair– and in the chair, a haughty- looking young man sat sideways, one leg thrown carelessly over an arm of the chair. His pitch black, wavy hair was swept aside from eyes that had once surely been handsome but now looked somewhat lifeless. If not for a defiant fiery twinkle in the depths of his eyes, Roark would have thought the young man completely apathetic.

The savage offered the still-sheathed Sonsedhor up to the young man, who practically leapt down form the chair to seize it from him. He rapidly unsheathed the blade, throwing the scabbard aside like trash. He ran a hand up and down the wide blade, caressing it like a lover. Roark narrowed his eyes. He swore he could almost feel those caresses on his soul, sending shudders up and down the core of his soul. From the handful of paces away from the dais, where the Keidenelle were holding him, he could see that Sonsedhor had changed again since he’d seen it last. His bloody handprint was still on the hilt, but the blade– the once brilliantly silvery-white blade– had darkened to the sickening rusty, blackish red-brown of old, dried blood.

The young man kept his grip on the hilt and one hand on the flat of the blade, smiling at it. Roark could see the greed in his eyes, almost feel the desire for power it radiating from him in waves. For a long while, the Keidenelle stood silent, watching him.

“Kill them all,” the young man said suddenly.

The prisoners began to scream and the whole mass of them trembled. The Keidenelle exchanged looks, but it was Roark’s lead man who spoke. “Dark Father orders not to kill man,” he said, gesturing to Roark. “Dark Father’s order first.”

The Dark Father?! They followed the Dark Father? Mother save us all, he thought. They actually received orders from the enemy of all that was good? Roark began struggling against the savages holding him. He had to get out, had to get Weslyn out, to get Sonsedhor out of the hands of the Keidenelle and this sulky youth.

“I said to kill them all!” the young man shouted, his face turning red. The tiny spark of fire in his eyes had turned to a full blaze. He brandished Sonsedhor grandly, holding the blade over his head. Light from outside glinted off the darkened steel, making it gleam sinisterly. “I hold Sonsedhor! I am the ancient hero Cheyne Firdin’s rebirth! I am the legend, the perfect tool and chosen agent of the Dark Father himself! I will be obeyed!” Lowering the sword, he charged through the mass of Keidenelle toward the huddled prisoners. At random, he began pointing them out and ordering torturous deaths for them: boiling in oil, slow skinning and dismemberment, disemboweling, burning alive, and every other horrible fate he could probably imagine.

Eventually, his finger found Weslyn, and he began to detail how she would be enclosed in a metal chamber and have a fire set underneath it so she would roast to death. Weslyn’s eyes grew wide with terror. Roark narrowed his and vowed to himself that he would sooner die than allow someone as sweet as Weslyn come to that sort of a death. Somehow, he would find a way to save her and as many others as he could from the sick, twisted whims of this youth who fancied himself Cheyne reborn.

But how could he do it? Even if he somehow managed to free himself and all the prisoners– a nearly impossible feat in itself– the Keidenelle still outnumbered them at least three to one. Then there was the question of interference from the Dark Father. Was he really able to give orders directly to the Keidenelle and to this youth? If so, could he take action to stop any plans Roark tried to act on?

There was too much doubt. It would be difficult enough getting himself out. Weslyn and Sonsedhor were his priorities. Two people would be easier to get out than four hundred.

The young man was still going on with his torture assignments, but he had moved past Weslyn. The merchant girl caught Roark’s gaze. Her dark rich blue eyes were full of terror.

Swallowing, he made himself a different vow. If there’s no other way… if I must, to save her from a worse fate… I’ll kill her myself to save her.

The young man seemed to have tired of his sport in scaring the prisoners. Or maybe he had simply run out of ideas. Either way, he turned now to face Roark. “You’re the one he wants… you’re the one who found Sonsedhor first.” He sneered. “I can’t believe those filthy hands touched my sword…” He turned to the nearest Keidenelle. “If Akotherian wants him alive, take him to him. Get this usurper out of my sight.”
As a pair of Keidenelle dragged Roark from the chamber, the last things he saw were Weslyn’s terrified eyes and the youth fastening the re-sheathed Sonsedhor to his own belt.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Forty

Kemeny could see why Weslyn was attracted to Draegon when he stripped down to almost nothing. He wasn’t muscular, but he was well-built and lean, and there was enough definition to his muscles to know they were there. She wondered whether or not Weslyn had actually seen Draegon without his shirt on. If not, she was in for a treat whenever she did. If she ever did. For a moment, Kemeny actually considered stealing him away from Weslyn, but she overcame that desire quickly.

By the time she had decided not to start flirting with Draegon, the bard had crept down the hill and was nearly to the closest Keidenelle wagon. He had chosen his target and waited for the better part of two hours until finally, it was left unguarded. There weren’t any prisoners tied to it, and it was on the outermost edge of the masses. She just hoped he could reach it unseen.

Holding her breath, she watched him approach the wagon, keeping a lookout for unwanted guests. He finally reached it, rummaged around in the back of it until he came away with a large bundle. He hurried back up the hill to her and Zanthys, panting, and showed off his prize: an assortment of clothes, mostly sewn animal hides– some with the fur still on– just like the Keidenelle wore.

He sorted through the bundle until he came across some pieces that looked like they would fit him. Once he had gotten dressed, he looked like he would fit in perfectly with the crowd down there.

“How do I look?” he asked somewhat dismally. She could tell he was having a hard time really coming to terms with what he was doing.

“Silly,” Zanthys muttered.

“Almost perfect,” she replied, drowning out the snide lordling. “Hang on.” She bent down and rubbed her hands in the dirt for a moment, then ran her hands over his face and arms and through his hair. Once she was done, he was thoroughly dirty and had very mussed hair. “Now it’s perfect. I almost don’t recognize you.”

“I you’re sure…” he said, producing a length of rope from his bundle. He bound her and Zanthys’s wrists– with more than a little protesting on Zanthys’s part– and ran between their necks, making them part of his own little prisoner line. “This should work… One more thing.”

He took his instrument cases, wrapped them in a few of the unused articles of Keidenelle clothing, and fastened the whole bundle to Zanthys’s back. “I am not leaving my instruments out here. Well… let’s go.”

“Do you even know how to get in?” Zanthys said suddenly, his face contorted in anger. “These are savages we’re talking about! They’ll mark you for civilized the moment you open your mouth! How can you really expect to pull this off? It’ll never work!”

“I’m working on it!“ Draegon snapped back. Taking the end of the lead line in his hand, he led them down the hill. When they reached the swarm of savages outside the city gates, Kemeny heard Draegon take in a breath and hold it. She didn’t blame him; she wanted to hold her breath, too. But what they needed was for the charade to work. She hung her head, trying to look like a beaten prisoner.

As they moved among the wagons, no one gave them a second glance. Sweat appeared on the back of Draegon’s neck– the only part of him she could really see as he led them. He was terrified. Still, in some distant past, he was one of them. She felt sorry for him.

He led them in a winding pattern, slowly making their way to the gate. He breathed again, and she could tell his ears were cocked, trying to pick up bits of conversation, to learn how they spoke to each other. Kemeny made an effort to listen, too. She picked up broken bits she could understand– fragmented, poorly constructed sentences– that were aimed at prisoners that were still among the wagons. But to each other they spoke a completely different language, guttural and strange-sounding to her ears. Now she was getting frightened. How was he going to pull this off?

They finally reached the gate. Before the bard could open his mouth to say a word to the few lingering savages who seemed to be guarding it, they were swept through by the current of people, and then they were in the city. Letting out a whoosh of air in relief, they kept walking. The current continued to pull them, leading them towards the ruler’s castle.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Nine

Becca could hardly sit still as she looked at the piles of papers and tapes on the desk in front of her. So much information, that before had been nothing but cryptic…… but she thought she might have some answers now.

The personalities her patients had made for themselves… weren’t even part of this world. It seemed painfully obvious now. Even though it had baffled her so long. She felt sheepish that she had let that theory escape her. Just because she didn’t read fantasy novels didn’t mean no one else did. More calls to family and friend contacts had earned her the answers that yes, all five patients were huge fantasy literature nerds. Even Vale hadn’t been able to hide that from his coworkers. Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Dune… all five were avid readers who, long before coming to Ighosia Falls, escaped into other words via novels. Now their worlds had become real, and they were part of it.

But their profiles suggested that all five had split their personalities before being committed, Dr. Anderson would ask. Becca thought she had her mentor pegged and knew how she would respond to this new theory. If that were true, if their personalities were developed before coming to Ighosia Falls, then how did they become so connected?

Becca thought she had the answer to that, too. The characters Cheyne and Masithina– the names had been given to her by Becky– were already part of the world. Looking back, she knew she had heard those names mentioned before, but not as direct address toward someone, so she didn’t think they were Emery’s or Joanna’s alternate persona. But the world was familiar to both patients. It was contrived by them as an adventure game when they were children. It was only natural that when their minds split, they would cling to something familiar, something from a happier time. That would explain the two of them.

Ryan… his study of mythology, legend, and fantastical writing, as well as his emotional sensitivity and creativity could connect him with them. His recent work on the Tyrfing opera would have given him another tie to Emery’s sword, Sonsedhor.

Lydia was much simpler. She had a need to belong, a desperation to be accepted and loved. That would have been enough to pull her in: the need to be part of a group.

Vale was more difficult. What could draw him into such a group? His coworkers had given her the answer: jealously. He hated being excluded.

Everything made sense all of a sudden. But what to do with this knowledge? Helping her patients was the ultimate goal; understanding them was just the first step. So how could she treat them when they were in a completely different world? Rowarck, Weslyn, Draygun, Sen, Kimminy, Jaden, and Xanthis had no idea where they were really, probably had no clue what a doctor or a mental hospital were. They were so deep in their delusions, their alternate world, that she wouldn’t fit in. She wouldn’t know what to do anyway, to interact with them.

She could very easily turn her speculation and research over to Dr. Anderson for her input, and maybe eventually publish a study about them, but to what end? She still hadn’t cured anything. At best, it was still all conjecture.

What could she really do differently anyway? For months, none of the patients had responded to any sort of therapy, group or individual. None of them had even acknowledged the presence of a psychiatrist. Which of them was the real person now, the body’s identity or the mind’s? Was Emery truly and completely Rowarck now? Was Joanna Sen or Kimminy? Or was she still Jo?

She finally decided that all she could really do was wait and see how things panned out. Would they stay like this indefinitely, or was this their own form of therapy? Things like that had been known to happen. They might just one day snap out of it.

It could go any way.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Eight

“This isn’t exactly what I hoped my first visit to Estria would be like,” Zanthys said.

Draegon couldn’t agree with him more, although he had been to Estria before, multiple times. The Gilded City was just on the other side of the hill they were on. They could see the shining walls– and the blackness around it that unsettled them all greatly– but he couldn’t even begin trying to figure out how to get into the city to talk to Jaidyn. The whole city was swarming with Keidenelle, and they even had numerous camps outside the golden walls.

Wagons were scattered everywhere, and there were people tied in lines to them–prisoners, most likely. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. The savages milled about between wagons, some occasionally looking at the nothingness that brought the horizon closer all around them. Looking behind him, Draegon swallowed at the blackness far off behind them. If they had stayed a few more days in Morena… what had become of the city?

He rummaged in his pack for a spyglass, hoping against all odds that he might see some way to get in through the mass of Keidenelle. Before he could even raise the glass to his eye, he heard an uproar from the crowd below him.

A wagon was racing toward them, coming up the road from almost the same direction he and his companions had. A number of Keidenelle and bound prisoners were sprinting next to the wagon, all racing ahead of the blackness that crept gradually towards them all. When it finally reached the edge of the gathered masses, the wagon slowed to a stop. He lifted the glass to his eye then.

He supposed the two big Keidenelle men were leaders of some sort. They were talking animatedly, and one of them began shouting at the other gathered people. They parted, a path opening up to allow the wagon to reach the city gate. The line of prisoners began moving.

Draegon’s heart leapt into his throat. Weslyn was among the prisoners, her wrists bound together and a rope around her neck joining her to the line of other prisoners. Every fiber of him screamed to go and rescue her, but his head cried against it. He would stand no chance of getting in and getting her out in that crowd. Watch and wait for a chance, he told himself. He forced himself to rip his looking glass from her and scanned the prisoner line slowly, searching for Roark. He found the soldier tied separately, at the driver’s seat of the wagon, right behind the horses. He was being kept separate from the other prisoners. He looked dismal, beaten. His hands were covered with some reddish-brown filth. Dried blood? He didn’t have to check to know he didn’t have Sonsedhor on him. The Keidenelle would have disarmed all their prisoners.

The wagon passed into the city. Still peering through the spyglass, he glanced over the interior of the city. The Keidenelle filled the streets. The great ruler’s palace was close enough that he could make out some detail, even at this distance. All the balconies of the great building were teeming with savages, too.

“I’ll wager anything that’s where Jaidyn is,” he said once Kemeny and Zanthys had taken looks into the city. He returned the spyglass to his own eye and watched as the wagon Roark and Weslyn had come with stopped outside the palace. Roark was released from the wagon, and the lead of the prisoner line untied and led into the palace, the whole line– including his Weslyn– trailing after. A Keidenelle woman rummaged in the wagon and came out with a sheathed sword Draegon was fairly certain was Sonsedhor. She followed after the prisoners.

He lowered the spyglass and thought deeply. He began to feel nubm when he realized what he was considering. But it might have been the only way to save Weslyn and Roark.

“Do you think they all know each other?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Kemeny replied. “But there are a lot of them. Thousands. They can’t know everyone, can they? Why?”

“Because…… I think I might know how to get in and save them. But… do you trust me?”

Zanthys opened his mouth, no doubt to respond negatively, but Draegon cut him off. “Zan, you don’t have a choice. You’re to blame for a lot of this as it is; you do what I say. But you, Kemeny, do you trust me?”

After a moment, she nodded.

Draegon was glad his hair had returned to its normal color.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Seven

The café where Becca met with Becky was small enough to be called quaint, but large enough to do very good business. Becca and Becky sat in a corner booth– to minimize the number of people that might overhear private information. Becca set up a small tape recorder with Becky’s permission and asked her to elaborate on her friendship with Joanna.

“Well, like most girls, we played pretend a lot. But unlike most girls, we didn’t just play at being princesses, the damsels in distress who required knights in shining armor to rescue them. We did our own rescuing. We were princesses sometimes, but we were also Robin Hood-esque brigands and pirates and tribal savages and everything we could think of. There were times when Emery would join in, as a soldier or a knight or a nobleman; he never liked playing princes or kings– too boring.

“But it wasn’t just one adventure and then a completely different one next time. Our games were all connected. They could have written a history of their world based on the adventures they had, one after another. The world was the same, with the same places, kingdoms, and all that. Our characters got older, got married, had children…

“Now, when you think of an imaginary character having a child, say… one of my brigands having a daughter… I think most girls would make that daughter, grown up of course, her next character to pretend to be. Not us. We didn’t want to be people from the same family, the same part of our world. We wanted to branch out, to create other families, other pasts that would change who we were when we played. But we didn’t want to just start from scratch with new characters, either. We wanted to be able to remember what we had done in the past, let the villains we made up come back more than once.

“It was Jo’s idea. She had learned about the idea of reincarnation from… somewhere… and she ran with it. Our new characters were our old characters reborn. They were, as we came to term them, ‘rebirths’. A rebirth could remember everything her past lives had done, back for centuries as our games went on.”

Becca thought the whole concept was interesting, but it didn’t really shed any light on her patients’ behavior… or did it. “Does the word Sawnseddor mean anything to you? Or Tyrfing?”

“Sonsedhor?! Oh my God, I haven’t heard that name in a long time! Sonsedhor was Emery’s sword! The sword all his characters used. In all the games he joined in on, it tied his characters together. Since he didn’t always play, his men sort of became legends in our world. Sonsedhor was a legend, too, since no one but Emery’s characters could use it.”

“Was it ever cursed?” Becca asked, thinking of the information she had managed to look up about Tyrfing. A cursed sword from Norse myth, it had forced its wielder to do murder every time it was unsheathed. When Ryan had spoken of it, he had used its name interchangeably with Sonsedhor.

“Cursed? Sonsedhor? Never! It was a great sword, a tool of good. Never evil.”

“So what happened to your friendship. You said Emery and Joanna dated in high school?”

“Mm-hmm. For almost a year. Then, not long before Emery graduated, they got into some big fight, but I don’t know what it was about. A few weeks later, Emery was off to college and Jo and I had fallen apart by then. Everything was just…… over. But our games… what we had… you can’t forget a friendship like that.”

“Do you know if Emery and Joanna kept in contact?”

“I doubt it. Emery pretty much abandoned the family while he was still in college. I can’t see him keeping in touch with Jo after what happened. I think their fight was the last time they saw each other.”

“Until they came to Ighosia Falls.”

Becky nodded.

Becca wanted to burst. Finally, some answers!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Six

Rebekah chattered about her brother for nearly ten minutes before Becca could get a word in. How was Emery? Was he behaving? Doing well in treatments? Had he asked about her at all? Has he made any friends there or is he still closed up in his shell? If Becca hadn’t known better, she would have thought Emery’s younger sister was actually his mother.

When she finally got to start asking the questions, she mentioned the other patients first, hoping vainly for a bit. The files told her none of the patients had known each other before coming to Ighosia Falls, but she still wanted to have all her bases covered. She didn’t expect to get anywhere with it, but…

“Joanna Bailey? I remember Jo! She and I met in elementary school. Jo’s two years older than I am, but that didn’t stop us from becoming friends! Oh, my gosh, I haven’t heard anything from her for years! Is she a patient there? Pity. What happened?”

As much as Becca wished she could, she wasn’t allowed to give Rebekah information on Joanna’s condition. Rebekah– “Oh please, call me Becky!”– understood completely, thank goodness.

“Jo and I were best friends through elementary school and into junior high. But when I was in seventh grade– Jo was in ninth, and Emery was a senior– the two of them started dating. As much as I hate to admit it, I was angry. Emery did steal my best friend. My and Jo’s friendship sort of petered out that year. But it was okay. She made other friends in high school and I had friends my own age. Things like that happen.

“But while we were friends, we always had our heads together. We played “Pretend” a lot, even into middle school.” Becca thought she could hear the blush in Becky’s voice. “We were both tomboys, so we didn’t exactly pretend we were going out to lunch dates and having tea parties and stuff. We had adventures. Jo loved He-Man.”

There was a pause at the other end of the line. Becca wondered if Becky’s cell phone had dropped the call. But then Becky’s voice came back. “Would you like to meet in person and talk more? You seem really interested in this. And I really hate phones.”

Becca couldn’t agree quickly enough.

Weslyn hated watching the nightly ritual that the Keidenelle forced Roark into. Every night, the savages made a ring around him, gave him an opponent, and made him fight to the death. Sometimes the opponents were Keidenelle, sometimes prisoners. Either way, it always ended the same. Roark would fight against the curse Sonsedhor had put on him, fight against his urge to kill the person in front of him, but in the end, he had blood on his hands. The Keidenelle he fought were fighting for their own honor and were determined to make him fear for his own life. Some of the prisoners thought winning could earn them their freedom, or maybe better treatment. Whatever their reasons, they always fought back, and Roark was forced to kill them. She could tell he tried to make it painless, make their deaths as painless and merciful as possible, but sometimes that just wasn’t an option.

Tonight, he was against a slim Keidenelle man who only came up to his shoulder. The little man was quick and held himself ready to attack. He and Roark circled each other, each looking for his opportunity. The ring of Keidenelle onlookers shouted cheers, jeers, and insults at them, depending on which one they had bet on. She had noticed– more than once– weapons, loot, and even children changing hands as betting losses were paid.

The Keidenelle man made a feint, trying to catch Roark off-guard. Roark didn’t even twitch, somehow knowing the feint for what it was. The man feinted again, then stepped quickly the other way, trying to get around Roark. But Roark was having none of it. He twisted to face the Keidenelle man and his hands shot out, grabbing the man by shoulder and wrist. There was a quick jerk, a sick pop, and the man’s shoulder was dislocated. Weslyn had to hand it to the man; his pain tolerance was high. He didn’t let out so much as a gasp or a short shriek as his shoulder came out of place.

She looked at Roark’s hands as he held the Keidenelle man still for a moment. Weeks of fights had left his hands blood-stained. Not all fights went as non-violently as this one had. They never let Roark wash, so the blood of his victims had left his hands a sickly red-brown.

How did they know what Sonsedhor had done to him? They had singled Roark out that second night they were with the band, and he had been forced to fight every night since. Was it mere chance? She didn’t think so. Somehow, the Keidenelle knew.

The fire dance would begin once the fight was over. Every night, after the fight, the Keidenelle dismembered the loser and tossed him or her into the gigantic fire they made. They danced and chanted. It was some sort of ritual, she thought, but she didn’t know what it was for.

“Think of your friends, your family!” Roark’s voice rang over the cheers and insults. Weslyn looked up at him. Or rather, down at him. Roark had fallen to his knees in front of the Keidenelle man, but he wasn’t looking at him. His eyes were focused much further up, to the sky. “There is something to live for. You have lots to live for! What about your parents? Your dreams! There is a future beyond this!”

One of the Keidenelle shrieked and pointed to the sky. Weslyn’s eyes followed her pointing and at first, didn’t know what she was pointing at. But then, in the distance, a star winked out. And another. Minutes ticked by, and stars winked out, like a black curtain was being drawn over them, far away but gradually creeping nearer. Her eyes clouded for a moment, and she closed them to try and refocus. When she closed them, though, a face appeared in front of her. It was a young girl, a teenager, tall and beautiful with sleek brown hair and brown eyes and a petulant mouth. A name popped into her head to go with the face.

“Lauren……” she whispered, bursting into tears. The image inside her eyelids faded and she opened her eyes. But instead of seeing the ring of Keidenelle, Roark and his opponent, she saw a garden in full bloom, a flowering courtyard, complete with a small pond and stone benches. She was sitting on one such bench– she could feel the stone beneath her bottom.

Another name came into her head. Lydia…

She kept crying. She’d never felt more confused or lost in her life. Who were Lauren and Lydia? What was that garden? Where?

A heavy, deep-voiced grunt brought her abruptly back to reality. The slim Keidenelle man had resumed the fight on his own. He was beating the still-kneeling Roark about his head and shoulders with his one good arm and kicking his lower back. Blood began trickling down Roark’s face in a handful of places: his nose, one of his ears, cuts on his scalp and forehead.

The Keidenelle were whooping with excitement. Would Roark be killed? Would they let him die? He had killed so many…

She shouted his name but was drowned out by the din the savages were making. More blows landed on Roark’s ears and shoulders. The Keidenelle man danced around him, taunting in between strikes.

Without warning, Roark bounded into his opponent and knocked him to the ground. He planted himself atop the other man’s chest, seized his head in his hands…

A quick twist, and the fight was over. The onlookers went silent. Wordlessly, Roark rose, strode through the stunned crowd and walked the short distance back to the wagons where Weslyn was. He stood with his wrists together, waiting to be tied back up.

Roark had only glanced at her once, for a brief second, but she had seen something different behind his eyes.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Five

Senne’s view from the balcony in the palace in Estria was really breathtaking. In the fading light of sunset, the city practically glowed, every fleck of gold glinting in the last rays of the day. It would have been beautiful, had the strange black wall not been in the distance.

She couldn’t say where the horizon was, because the black was there, just… cutting off sight of everything. It was too early for it to be night’s darkness, and too solid a black for it to be anything except… what she had seen a long time ago. For whatever reason, she remembered that blackness. It had been all the way across the river so long ago, then just a bit nearer as recently as a month ago. What was happening to bring it so close now?

Akotherian was sleeping in the next room. The man was still adjusting to being worldly– so he said– and he had to rest often. But she wasn’t tired.

“Sonsedhor and Cheyne are coming,” he had told her days and days ago. His servants were bringing them. But how soon would it be there? And would it do for him what he thought it would? He was concerned. The world was shrinking, he had told her, dying. Slowly, all of the world they was giving way to a bleak blackness even he was afraid of.

But Sonsedhor would fix everything. If only he could take hold of it– take hold of the Mother’s gift to the world– he could force the blackness back. With Sonsedhor in his hands, he could even challenge the Mother herself and take control of everything!

She wondered what happened on the other side of the nothingness. How far in each direction did it really go? Her thoughts went to Hoeth for what felt like the thirtieth time this evening. Had he gone through the blackness to whatever lay on the other side? Was it death? Did the man she thought she might have loved even exist anymore?

The man she thought she might hate– who she had made exist– stirred in the next room. He was her soul. And more than once since she had sacrificed that part of her to him, she had come to realize he was sensitive to her. He could feel her emotions, even the faintest ones. Thinking about Hoeth was dangerous, she chided herself. Akotherian could seize on anything, any weakness, and use it against her. She had sworn complete obedience– and Akotherian would abuse that in an instant and order her to kill Hoeth if the opportunity arose again. She wished she could pray to the Mother that Hoeth would never come back for her. If he did, it would undoubtedly mean his death.

The few whispered words to the mother, her prayer, never came to her lips, but even so it was enough to bring Akotherian to her side. Silently, he wrapped a hand around her throat. But he didn’t squeeze.

“Emery was a great cop,” Deputy Chief Don Harson said over the phone. “Even after his health started going, he was a great example of an officer. Not one of those stereotypical desk-job doughnut cops.” He chuckled. Emery’s old boss seemed pleased with his wit– or lack thereof. “It was that jumper that did him in. But I’m sure you’ve seen the files on that, being at the mental hospital and all.” He rambled on for awhile, not really telling Becca anything new, but the man seemed to really have liked Emery. It was good to see that at least one of her patients had actually had a friend of sorts.

More calls told her that Sarah Landers, Emery’s mother, had passed away half a decade ago. His father Andrew was still alive, though, and Becca decided to give him a try. Even the files told her that Emery and Andrew had never seen eye to eye, but it was worth a shot.

Andrew was less-than-forthcoming concerning his second son. He was still helpful in pointing her in the direction of Emery’s sister Rebekah. The two had been fairly close as children– so he thought.

Excited, Becca hurriedly hung up with Andrew and dialed the number he had given her for Rebekah. She was more than happy to talk about her brother.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Four

Denise Pellin was more than friendly on the phone when Becca called. It had been a few years now since she had heard anything concerning her ex-husband, and she was eager to hear how he was doing. Becca didn’t go into all the details; she didn’t want to worry the woman. Besides, since she and Ryan weren’t married any more, she was no longer privy to his medical information.

When Becca started asking about any peculiarities in Ryan’s behavior before his committal, any strange habits or interests or anything she could benefit from knowing, Denise provided.

“Ryan was always obsessed with mythology. It was an interest he picked up when he was still in grade school, and he was something of an expert by the time I met him. Greek, Roman, Norse, Egyptian, you name it, he knew it. The stories, they were his inspiration. The music he composed was always named after, inspired by, or about some myth or another. It even carried over into our personal life. Our son’s name is Owen… Ryan called him Odin, after the king of the Norse gods. It was sort of a pet name. He’s sixteen now, our son, and he’s actually going by Odin in school now. I suppose it’s his one last tie to his father.

“It’s through Odin that I sort of kept tabs on Ryan after the divorce. He had grown so distant I don’t really think I was part of his thoughts anymore. But he and Odin talked on the phone sometimes, even though from what Odin told me, Ryan just talked about his compositions. He wasn’t very fatherly.”

Over the phone, Becca heard a sniff from Denise. Had she begun sobbing?

“The last I heard before we found out Ryan had been committed, he was working on an opera. It was going to be his masterpiece, Odin told me. About some sword. A cursed one, from Norse mythology. Tyrfing, or something like that.”

Becca nearly dropped the phone. Tyrfing? She had heard that before. She politely ended the conversation and rushed to the viewing room, searching through the tapes of Ryan and the others. When she found the one she was looking for, she popped it into the VCR. There was Ryan, the day he had randomly started singing more than usual. She fast-forwarded to where he had started spouting what sounded like an epic poem. She leaned in and turned up the volume, straining her ears to really pick up what he was saying.

There it was! He’d said “Tyrfing”! He kept using it, and using “Sawnseddor” over and over, interchangeably in what she could make out of the tale. Was this text from his opera? It didn’t matter. She knew what Sawnseddor was. It was a sword!

At first glance, Zanthys didn’t recognize the short young man in the streets of Estria. The young man was bruised and bloody, dusty from travel, and all in all looked like he had seen much more of the world than he wanted to see. In peering beneath the bruises and the dried blood and dust, he recognized Hoeth Karzark. At least, he believed it to be the Karzark boy; that whole family was low-blooded enough to be beneath his notice.

The afternoon found Hoeth in his small family manor. Though reluctant to accept guests, Hoeth’s father showed Zanthys, Kemeny, and Draegon in anyway. Who were the Karzarks to refuse Banjay Advissen’s heir?

Hoeth looked as bad as Zanthys had thought. He might have bathed, since much of the dust was gone from him, but he still looked travel-worn and was completely covered with bruises and bandages that concealed half-healed wounds. He rose as Zanthys entered his sitting room, his eyes completely void of glow and emotion.

“I’ll make this quick,” Zanthys said, shooting a quick glance at Draegon and Kemeny. The two bothered him. “When and where did you last see Jaidyn Huntley?”

“I never want to hear that name again,” Hoeth said weakly. “He lied to me for months, then stole the woman I love and had me beaten nearly to death. Whatever misfortune falls on him is well deserved.”

“But where was he last?” Draegon asked urgently.

Hoeth spat and rubbed at the unkempt facial hair growing on his chin with a shaking hand. “Estria. With a man… a man I believe may be the Dark Father incarnate.”

Zanthys let out a snigger. Children’s stories. But Kemeny and the bard looked ready to believe anything. Kemeny immediately touched Zanthys’s arm. “We know where he is. You’re coming with us to talk some sense into Jaidyn. Hoeth, you should come too. Jaidyn knows you.”

“I’m not going back,” Hoeth said, snapping his head up to look at her. His eyes showed the first bit of emotion they had since the audience first began, and it was fiery refusal. “I’ve been fed nothing but lies since I left, and I’m ready to forget the outside world even exists and stay here. So what if I inherit nothing? The only woman I love is gone. Senne sided with that liar and with the Dark Father. I’ll never see Sonsedhor or the true Cheyne reborn– if he even really exists– and I don’t even care anymore. Go deal with him yourself, and good riddance.”

As they left the Karzark manor house, Kemeny commented, “Wasn’t Senne the name of the woman at the river?”

Zanthys had no idea what she was talking about, but Draegon nodded.

A few quick calls to Lauren Rhys and to Vale’s coworkers told her that Tyrfing meant nothing to them. It wasn’t really a surprise to Becca.

Another round of calls gave her nothing but disconnected numbers and hang-ups. Joanna’s family was unreachable. They really had all abandoned her, and some even had “do not contact” notes in Joanna’s files. No wonder the woman had issues.

Through much searching, she had actually managed to track down phone numbers for both of Lydia’s ex-husbands. Her first husband, Robert– Lauren’s father– hung up the moment he heard Lydia’s name mentioned.

Her second husband, Daniel, did talk for a bit. Lydia had been desperate for love the whole time they dated and all through their marriage. He supposed it stemmed from how badly her first marriage had gone. As time went on, she only got worse: more and more clingy, emotionally demanding, and constantly seeking acceptance. It got to be too much for him. Yes, he probably shouldn’t have gotten abusive, but she had deserved it, even expected and welcomed it.

And no, Sawnseddor and Tyrfing meant nothing to him.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-Three

Lauren, Lydia’s daughter, was living with a foster family that lived an hour away from Ighosia Falls, and Becca was actually invited to meet with her rather than do their talking on the phone. Lauren was now seventeen, tall and beautiful like her mother, but she had the cold resentment of someone abandoned in her eyes.

The girl was snappish when the subject of her mother was approached, and she had nothing positive to say. It was clear that she blamed Lydia for everything, from her first failed marriage to her mental instability. Lauren wasn’t interested in hearing explanations; she pointed the blame at her mother, and that was that. Becca had been able to look at some of the reports from the group home where Lauren had been staying before placed with her foster family. She had been seeing an appointed therapist, and there was improvement behavior-wise, but she still had a lot of therapy to undergo. A brief phone conversation with Lauren’s therapist– no confidential information was shared, of course– told Becca what she had already figured out: that little or nothing Lauren said concerning her mother could be taken at face value. Lauren was an only child, her father and stepfather had nothing to do with her, her mother was out of reach, her grandparents were dead, and any other extended family was far away and out of touch. Lauren was very alone in the world and wrongly held her mother accountable.

So Lydia and Lauren had no extended family to contact. While she was in the city, she found the bank Lydia had worked for and got in to speak with Maria Ferrera, Lydia’s old manager. “Lydia was always a good teller,” Maria said. “She never brought personal drama with her to work, so I have to say it was a surprise when she broke down like she did. No one here, her coworkers or customers, had any idea what she was going through.”

More dead ends. Well, there were still Lydia’s two ex-husbands who might have something new to tell her. She wrote notes to herself to find them ASAP.

Jaidyn didn’t like this new man who was bossing him around. Akotherian. What a silly name. It was worse than the names of the Keidenelle. The one good thing about the man was that he knew Jaidyn was Cheyne reborn and kept helping him fill those holes in Cheyne’s memories. Akotherian told him things should have been readily remembered but could never quite grasp in his mind. Under Akotherian’s guidance, he was growing more and more comfortable in his role as Cheyne reborn. Once, he actually let Akotherian hold Sonsedhor so the man could affirm it was, in fact, the great sword of legend.

What really bothered him was that Akotherian seemed to think he was in charge. He never actually sat in the ruler’s chair or made decrees, but he seemed to think Jaidyn should obey his every word and whim, and he expected that obedience. Well, he never actually gave a real order or made his own decree, but the effect was the same. People he overheard talking in the castle corridors knew that Akotherian was the real power behind the occupation, even though Jaidyn was really the face of it.

After all, wasn’t it Jaidyn who sat in judgment when a pair of Keidenelle had a squabble? Wasn’t it him who decreed that any female prisoners should be brought to him for inspection. He had already, in just a few short days, built up quite a nice little harem. Some part of him remembered passing a decree like that before. He shook it away. Lexan wasn’t barging into his thoughts now. Akotherian did help with that. And wasn’t he the one with Sonsedhor, with the memories of Cheyne Firdin in his head? Yes, they were incomplete, but whose memories of past lives weren’t full of holes?

The ruler’s chair wasn’t a throne, exactly. Arlennia didn’t have a monarch exactly. Estria, the capital, was the seat of the ruling body. A new ruler was voted on every six years. Well, the poor sap who had been occupying the seat was dead now, slaughtered by that woman, Senne, by order of Akotherian. If there was one other person who never took an order from Jaidyn, it was Senne.

He wasn’t completely sure what it was between Senne and Akotherian. Were they lovers? Partners? What? He had finally come to the conclusion that Akotherian might not be the Mother. At least the man didn’t claim to be her anymore, but he didn’t outright say who he really was. Some sorcerer, perhaps. Either way, he was a thorn in Jaidyn’s side. And Senne was right by him pretty much constantly.

Jaidyn sat in the ruler’s chair idly. No one was bringing him any prisoners to look at today, things were going well. Keidenelle kept coming in, the Arlennians were subdued, and surely word was going out that Cheyne’s rebirth was settled in the city. Soon more followers would come. Soon, he would take his army out of the city and search for this false Cheyne he kept hearing about, this man Roark who served the Dark Father, killing everyone he came across. He was giving Cheyne a bad name, putting fear into the people and generally making Jaidyn’s job harder. He would set things right. Soon the whole world would know who the real Cheyne was.

But for the moment, he was bored.

He slid down from the chair and made for the rooms he had claimed for himself. Akotherian and Senne had taken the former ruler’s rooms for themselves, leaving Jaidyn the second-best rooms in the castle. Another slight, but one he couldn’t argue with. There were times he did have to listen to Akotherian. He was the only one who really kept Lexan’s memories at bay. Besides, his rooms were still spacious and very fine. He would have the best rooms soon enough.

Before he even got to the corridor his rooms were in, he happened upon Akotherian and Senne. They were in their rooms, secluded, but the door was open. As he walked by, he just happened to pass closely to the door, and his ear just happened to lean in enough and strain just enough to hear what the man was saying.

“…have him. My servants found him. At this very moment, they are bringing Cheyne and Sonsedhor to Estria.”

It felt like he had run into a wall. What did he mean “they are bringing Cheyne and Sonsedhor to Estria”? They were already in Estra. He was Cheyne, and his sword was Sonsedhor. Akotherian had told him himself, affirming what Jaidyn already knew.

Or had the bastard been lying? Was everything false?

It couldn’t be. Akotherian was playing a joke on him. That was all. He had heard Jaidyn coming and was playing a little joke. That was all.

Trembling, he hurried to his rooms. A part of his mind screamed at him, telling him that this man wasn’t just some sorcerer, that maybe he was... He forced the thought away. He didn’t want to think about the Dark Father right now.

He flew into his room and closed the door behind him. Where had that thought come from, that Akotherian was the Dark Father? He didn’t follow the Mother’s enemy. But… the man had power. With that kind of power, Jaidyn could challenge the Mother herself. She had abandoned him, abandoned him to this suave, oily… very powerful man. Hadn’t he come and gone at will? Wasn’t he giving Jaidyn everything he wanted? Wasn’t he bringing Sonsedhor– Jaidyn’s birthright– to Estria? If he was the Dark Father, so what? If the Mother had really loved him, she would have stepped in herself and saved him.

He stumbled away from the door and to the ornate marble washstand. There was a small mirror attached to it. He looked up at his reflection. “I serve the Dark Father…” he whispered. A smile crept across his face. “I serve the Dark Father, and I have power!”

He let out a loud laugh that echoed through the room.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mere Aqcuaintances- Chapter Thirty-Two

As much as she hated telephones, Becca certainly spent most of her morning on it. She spent a good forty minutes talking with the director of the group home where Vale had spent his late teen years, but the woman didn’t have much to say about Vale’s mental faculties. As a matter of fact, the woman was the former director; she had retired six years ago. And the only reason Becca spent so much time talking with her was because she seemed to be one of those aging ladies who was all alone and just loved having someone to chat with. When Becca asked if Sawnsador meant anything to her, she had to repeat the word four or five times before she just dropped it.

Her next call went out to Vale’s former employers at the newspaper. While some of the coworkers of his that she talked to were interested in hearing how Vale was doing, they had no real insight on Vale’s personal life, either. “He was a very private person,” seemed to be the most common description of the former reporter. Sawnsador meant nothing to them, either, nor did any of the other patients’ names.

She hung up the phone and put her forehead on her hands. She’d talked to a handful of his colleagues, and they’d all said the same thing about Vale– almost verbatim. The only one who had deviated from the mantra about Vale’s personality was a girl who had worked in the mailroom and had claimed to see him everyday. “He always seemed to be the jealous type,” the girl had said. “And even though he never was a group person, he seemed to hate being excluded.”

None of the other journalists could give her the names of any friends Vale might have had outside of work. One man went so far as to say he would be surprised if Vale had friends at all. Becca gave that up as a dead end.

The man who slipped quietly into the rented room Draegon was sharing with Kemeny was dressed well underneath a wide cloak that did little to keep his identity a secret. He had to be Zanthys Advissen, the nobleman they wanted to speak with, even though he didn’t waste time with introductions.

“Tell me where that tale you told came from,” he said, more of an order than a request. Draegon didn’t think this young man had ever been disobeyed. “I’ve never heard that one before, but it seemed… familiar. Where was it from?”

Kemeny had agreed to take the lead in this, since Draegon was still feeling a little off from performing the night before. She had told him what had happened, but he didn’t remember anything from what she said happened. He had completely blacked out, felt like he was falling, like he was somewhere else, or even… someone else. It had been distant, though, strange and familiar all at once. It was disconcerting. He was still shuddering now and then just thinking about it.

Kemeny gave Zanthys the whole story, starting from the four of them joining up in the Search and then Roark finding Sonsedhor. She gave him lots of details, from where they found Sonsedhor to the looks on their faces to the colors of the flowers and the scent in the air. Draegon was both surprised and impressed– the girl could certainly tell a story.

When she started detailing just what Sonsedhor had done to Roark– the curse– Zanthys went pale. He said nothing, however, and Kemeny didn’t comment. She just went on and finished the story.

Zanthys swallowed, letting the silence linger, and looked ready to leave. Draegon wasn’t about to let that happen. Something was up here. This lordling was holding something from them. “Now tell us about this Jaidyn,” Draegon said, suppressing another shiver. “You say he’s proven himself to you that he’s Chyne reborn. Tell us how that is, when we’ve seen another man holding Sonsedhor.”

The proud young man eyed the door, looked back at them, eyed the door again, and swallowed. Kemeny, her attention now on him rather than on telling her story, realized what he was considering and pulled a chair between Zanthys and the door, plopping herself down into it. “Yes. We’re very interested in hearing about Jaidyn.”

He went even paler at the sight of his escape route being blocked, and now Draegon and Kemeny had him flanked. He glanced warily from one to the other. Draegon swore he could see the sweat starting to form on the his forehead.

“It was a fake, alright? I had a sword made to look like Sonsedhor! It was just a hoax! Who could believe that the sniveling Jaidyn Huntley was actually Cheyne reborn? I overheard him telling Hoeth Karzark at the onset of the Search, and I thought it would be funny to play a joke on him. It was just a joke! I planted the sword for him to find, but… he never did… where you said this Roark found it…… that’s where I left it. I followed Jaidyn to Dracmere. I knew he couldn’t be the real rebirth… it was a joke…”

All this he spilled out, practically spinning in place to say a few words to Draegon, a few words to Kemeny. The little contortionist glared at him. “Well, Zanthys, my lord, that prank of yours has caused much more trouble than it was worth, and no laughs.”

“Kemeny,” Draegon said, “but if not for that plant, Roark might not have ever found Sonsedhor…”

“Maybe not, but who’s to say it’s really the time for him? I mean… what danger is the world really in that we need Cheyne back? Not to mention the sword is cursed! Maybe this has all gone wrong!”

“The Mother’s plans don’t go wrong, Kemeny.”

“Well, the plans of men do. And I’m not going to let this little prudish lordling get out of righting his wrongs.” She seized Zanthys’s arm. “I’m not sure how, but we’re sorting this out, and you’re coming with us.”

Draegon raised an eyebrow. “Um, Kemeny? Where exactly are we going?”