Friday, April 30, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty-One

Senne knew that Sonsedhor had been found. There was a twisting feeling in her gut, followed by an emptiness, and there wasn’t a doubt in her mind that Cheyne and his sword had been reunited. Before her stomach had even had a moment to recover from the twisting feeling, and before the emptiness had even really completely settled in, she heard a voice she recognized and feared more than anything else.

“You still haven’t found him?! You are without question the poorest choice I ever made in my servants.”

“But Dark Father…”

“Don’t you dare call me by such a term! I deny you as a child of mine! I deny you even the freedom of the grave! The dead belong to me, and I will not have you! I dismiss you from my servitude and my presence! I cast you away! You, failed servant, are condemned to live on with your failure, knowing your inadequacy.”

In her bed in the middle of the night, Jo began to toss and turn as if in a nightmare, though her eyes were wide open. Her whimpers and screams were wordless, and slowly, her frightened expression and screams gave way to tears and sobs. After nearly a half hour, she stopped thrashing about and awkwardly curled up on her side. She stayed there the rest of the night, completely oblivious to the staff who had rushed to help her.

The void left by the Dark Father’s dismissal ate at Senne at first. She knew that the blessings he had first bestowed on her when she pledged herself to his service had been ripped away from her. Part of her wondered if she was now vulnerable like any normal person, if her longevity had been removed and her body made weak again. For nearly a day she considered testing that though; she even went so far as to place the point of a dagger to her own breast.

But as a hole is meant to be filled, the void inside her began to fill. With her freedom from the Dark Father came an openness to something inside her she had forgotten long ago: ancient memories from before she had pledged her life away. Her old life, her former self, Masithina Crasier. She recalled ages ago, lives far back, dozens of lives, and in every one, she and Cheyne Firdin– both of them under many different names, of course– had been involved. Life after life, they knew each other, often as colleagues, sometimes as lovers.

Masithina was the one who had, for a reason Senne still couldn’t remember, pledged her soul to the Dark Father– even the evil deity’s name returned to her, but she refused to think it or say it aloud. It was Masithina who had made the damning oath and then died, only to be reborn again as Senne Moyers, the woman who betrayed Cheyne Firdin to the Father of Evil and Lies.

She cried.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Twenty

Joanna “Jo” Bailey began taking dance lessons when she was five. Her father got transferred to another state not long afterwards, and her dance lessons stopped because they couldn’t find a decent dance studio in their new town. But when she was eleven, her mother discovered a new studio run by an accredited instructor. Jo was enrolled there that fall. She took ballet, tap, and jazz, eventually earning her own teaching certificate by the time she was seventeen.

Her life completely consumed by her passion for dance, she didn’t marry despite having a good number of men who tried to catch her. She didn’t quite have the ideal body for a dancer: she had a little too much in the bust and was just a bit too thickly-built to really be the kind of dancer who made watcher breathless. That is not to say she was unattractive-- far from it. But the combination of her build and the touch of clumsiness she had kept her from making it big as a performer. Performance wasn’t the life she wanted anyway. At age twenty-eight, she had saved up enough money to open her own dance studio.

Students flocked to her as a teacher. Even if she wasn’t a performance-quality dancer, she was a teacher of great certification, and she held her students to a high standard that most parents found admirable. A handful of her first students stayed with her for years, eventually earning their own teaching certificates. One eventually went to Broadway and managed to get onto the stage there.

By the time she had had her studio for nearly ten years, Jo had achieved a contentment with her life most people can only dream of. In the summer, when her studio was closed to coincide with the school year, she spent a week in the country with a childhood friend. While horseback riding (a passion shared by her and her friend) something spooked the mare Jo was riding, and the animal threw her, despite Jo’s riding ability. She landed off the trail, twisting her back badly against a fallen tree.

Numerous surgeries kept her from being completely paralyzed. But they couldn’t repair everything. Even after all the procedures and months upon months of rehabilitation, Jo could hardly walk anymore. Dancing was out of the question. Getting out of her wheelchair took great effort.

Since she had moved to a larger city away from her parents to open her studio, she had grown somewhat distant with her family. She and her parents and brother were still on very good terms, but eventually they did have to return home after the accident. She was capable of caring for herself, after all. And with cell phones and the internet, the communication lines with them were open if she needed anything. It was only a three-hour trip between her parents’ house and the home Jo rented.

When her parents left to go home, Jo was left completely alone. Her friend who she had been riding with lived out in the country, so she wasn’t nearby enough to visit daily. Jo had no boyfriend to cling to, no other real close friends nearby, and now no students.

She felt abandoned and confined in her wheelchair. Her last act before completely giving up on herself was to talk to a psychiatrist. She followed his advice and committed herself to the care of the staff at Ighosia Falls Insane Asylum.

Becca tried to imagine what it much be like to have the one driving factor of her life ripped away from her like dance had been from Jo. It wasn’t something she could fathom.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Nineteen

The four inseparable patients were gathered so tightly around something that no one else could see it from any angle. Their voices were so soft no one could hear them. Becca had been watching them, of course, studying them from across the courtyard and wishing she had a microphone or tape recorder somewhere near enough to pick up their whispers.

She thought the item they had gathered around might be something Vale had carefully placed there earlier. He had taken his time making certain it was in just the right place, and he had constantly been looking over his shoulder when he did. But it wasn’t as if he were looking for observers-- more like he was trying to observe something else himself. Finally satisfied with his placement of… whatever it was… he had wandered off and squatted by a flowering shrub to watch.

Before Becca could get to the object and inspect it, Ryan had led his group-- she decided he was the leader from his tendency to well, walk in front of them-- to where Vale had left his object. Now all she could do was watch them and hope to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that had them so enthralled.

Days had passed uneventfully, and it was enough to make Draegon scream. None of the others complained of boredom, though, but they weren’t in this for adventure. He had hoped to make a story, an epic, a great lasting song out of his experiences in searching for Sonsedhor, but except for the skirmish with the Keidenelle band, there was nothing to sing about. Even the attack wasn’t much for subject matter. There was no glory in that kind of a fight. Thankfully, none of the others had mentioned the savages or his resemblance to them again.

He was so desperate for something interesting to happen that when Kemeny said she thought she saw a sword laying abandoned on the side of the road, his mind leapt to the thought they had actually found Sonsedhor. For a few seconds his mouth was dry, his palms sweaty, and his eyes looking frantically for the sword. Then his right mind came back to him. Sonsedhor would not be lying abandoned on the side of the road just this side of the Melistrat-Gaern border. And even if it had, well, he knew there was a village, Dracmere, not far from where they were. The border village would probably be teeming with Seekers, too, and if Sonsedhor had been lying in the path, it would have been snatched up already.

Even so, he decided to take a look at the blade. He dropped out of his saddle and scanned the grass where Kemeny was pointing. Sure enough, there in a rut next to the packed dirt road, was a fine-looking scabbard and the hilt of a sword sticking out from one end.

“She’s not kidding,” he said, walking forward and lifting the scabbard. It was indeed fine, though the hilt of the sword looked much too plain for such a sheath. He ran a few fingers up the leather of the sheath. “Too long of a blade for me, though. Give me a few good knives. Here Roark.” He tossed the still-sheathed sword to the soldier.

Roark rolled his eyes. “This was likely cast aside because it is a substandard weapon,” he said. “I’ll keep with my own swords, thanks.”

“Oh come on!” Weslyn chided. “At least look at it! Besides, the scabbard’s definitely worth something even if the sword isn’t!”

Kemeny spoke right on the tail of Weslyn‘s words. “Yeah, Roark! Let’s see it!”

Roark let out a soft, annoyed sigh and gripped the plain leather cord-wrapped hilt.

Draegon caught a glimpse of the wide, brilliantly shining blade as it was drawn. As the point of the blade left the scabbard, a harsh gust of cold wind rose, and bright sunlight flashed off the blade, blinding him. As his eyes regained their focus, he could have sworn Roark’s face had changed. He looked older, and his short-cropped black hair looked more auburn in the light. Dense stubble dotted his always-clean-shaven chin and cheeks. But then he blinked, and Roark was before him, unchanged, still holding the sword. He saw Kemeny and Weslyn rubbing their eyes. Had they seen the other face, too?

Roark opened his mouth to speak, but a pained grunt came out instead of words, and he dropped the sword. The palm of the soldier’s riding glove was stained red.

“What happened?” Draegon asked, walking up to where the sword had landed. The steel of the blade wasn’t as brilliant as he’d thought, and there was a bloody handprint on the hilt.

“Don’t touch it!” Roark growled, dismounting without his usual grace. The soldier snatched up the sword. He turned a glare to Draegon; his eyes looked hunted. He doubled over; Draegon feared he would impale himself on the blade.

“I… I remember everything,” he muttered. “Cheyne… everything. I… I need to go see where he… where I died.” Slowly, he straightened. His eyes were full of something new. It looked like uncertainty, or perhaps even fear. “This… this is Sonsedhor,” he said simply.

Draegon half-smiled. “Well that was easy.”

“That’s not funny, Draegon,” Kemeny admonished. “Something’s wrong.”

Roark nodded. “I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, but something is wrong. I know this sword. It’s mine. My Sonsedhor,” he whispered the name, caressing it with his voice. “But this… it isn’t the blade that I remember. Something’s… changed it.”

Draegon heard something in the distance. “Riders are coming up the road, I think.” He turned to look at each of the others in turn. “I think we should keep moving to the village. It’s not far.”

“Yes, let’s move,” Weslyn agreed. “And you can make your proclamation, Roark. You are Cheyne Firdin reborn!”

Roark shushed her vehemently at the same time both Draegon and Kemeny said, “No!” The two of them looked at each other, startled. Weslyn looked at Draegon questioningly, but it was Kemeny who spoke up.

“If he proclaimed himself, it would only send Draegon straight back to that bastard Keffinen. None of us want that, right?”

Understanding washed over Weslyn’s face, and she considered Draegon for a few long moments before responding. “You’re right. But… what then? All the stories say that when Cheyne reappears, it’s because the world desperately needs him.”

“He can save the world without everyone knowing who he is,” Draegon put in. He turned to look at the still-silent soldier. “Right?”

Roark’s stony blue eyes traveled over them one by one. There was only more silence as he looked at them, then at their surroundings. The riders coming up the road were very near, a pair of strangers on horseback. As they drew closer, silver braids were visible on both their arms. Without stopping for a word or even slowing, the pair rode by at a gallop, their horses’ hooves kicking up small clouds of dust.

“I need to go,” Roark said once they were well out of earshot. “To the river Swen.” He looked significantly at Draegon. “Where I died.”

Draegon replied with a simple nod.

When evening fell, Ryan and Lydia could be found alone in the common room. The pair stared at each other for the longest time, silent, their eyes never wandering even though there was much happening around them. When they finally began to speak, their voices were drowned out by the Wheel of Fortune on TV.

The common room in The Full Casque in Dracmere was too full of gawkers for Draegon to want to stay long. He didn’t mind crowds, especially when they paid well, but he didn’t even offer to perform for them. The innkeeper would have been eager for the entertainment-- most innkeepers were-- but Draegon had the feeling these people would have used more of their energy staring at his hair and eyeing him warily for signs of violence than emptying their pockets for him. So rather than offering to play his hand dulcimer and tell tales of valiant deeds and former Seekers’ adventures, he retired to his room.

He wasn’t even all the way up the stairs when Weslyn caught up to him. “Draegon, can I talk with you for a bit? I don’t want to be alone, but Kemeny is staying in the common room and I’m tired of the noise already.”

“Of course,” he replied, showing her into the room he had rented for himself. He would have shared a room with Roark, but the man was being distant, and Draegon had decided against intruding on that contemplative solitude.

“Something is on your mind,” he said when the door was closed. Weslyn sat gently on the edge of his mattress, so he took the only chair. “What?”

Weslyn bit her lip. “When I was a little girl, my father always told me I had an eye for appraisal.”

“As demonstrated by your services at my trial?” he put in coolly.

She nodded. “But he said I was a good appraiser of people, too.” She paused, it seemed almost hoping for him to interject again. When he stayed silent, she went on, taking a deep breath to brace herself. “Since Necras, I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind. You’re a good man, Draegon.”

He looked at her sternly. “I’m a Keidenelle savage, Weslyn. Wherever you’re going with this, stop. Please.”

“You’re not a savage!”

He stood and walked to the small table in corner which held a washbasin. One by one, he produced nearly a dozen knives that he had hidden about his person. With a small flourish, he set each one next to the basin. “You saw what I did to them. I’m no better than they.”

“You have every reason to hate them, I think,” she replied softly. “But that hatred isn’t all there is to you. There’s so much more that I see in your eyes, behind them. So much pain, but happiness and pride, too. I saw it all that first time I looked at you, when you tried to upset my wagon.” He blushed a bit, glad his back was too her so she couldn’t see. “I could even see the anger burning inside you that day, Draegon.” She sounded closer to him, like she had stood and walked up right behind him. “Even knowing all I did, I still couldn’t get you out of my mind after you left. I… think I love you, Draegon.”

“Why did you have to say it?” he said, spinning to face her. There was barely a hand’s length between them.

She looked crushed. “You knew?”

“I suspected,” he admitted, “though I had hoped your looks were directed more towards Roark than at me. He would be better for you.”

“It’s not him I want,” she said. “But you don’t feel the same way…”

“I didn’t say that,” he said quickly, “but I’m not going to say I’m in love with you, because… well, I don’t know you very well yet. I can’t read people like you can.” The corner of his mouth twitched up in a smile. “But if it’s really me you’re interested in, I am definitely interested in you.”

She stepped in closer, bringing her face within inches of his. “That’s good enough for me.”

He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Eighteen

Ryan Pellin’s childhood was uneventful. As a teenager, he decided he wished to pursue a career in music and got first his Bachelor’s Degree, then his Master’s and eventually his Ph.D. in music composition and theory. While studying for his Master’s, he met Denise Archer, and the two were married a few months after his graduation. Within a year, he got a teaching job at a public university not far from the town of Ighosia Falls. By the time he was thirty-five years old, he had tenure. Doctor Pellin was a very popular professor. He regularly composed music for his students-- sometimes even dedicated to them-- and was always ready with advice or for friendly conversation.

Denise Archer-Pellin, however, seemed to think her husband spent too much time at work, too much time involved with his students, and nowhere near enough time with her and their son Owen. Ryan never saw the divorce papers coming. Denise took Owen and left, refusing to even give him a chance at joint custody of the boy.

Ryan buried himself in his work throughout the divorce proceedings and even further when it was all finalized. The following fall, the cutbacks in the music department began to hit hard. Adjunct faculty were let go, class sizes rose, and Ryan’s workload practically tripled.

He fell into depression. Some nights he wouldn’t even leave the university and go home; he simply slept in his desk chair or on the couch in his office. He spent his few waking hours composing the symphony he had promised the orchestra by mid-spring.

It was his graduate assistant, Sara Kenney, who kept him going. Acting as her mentor was perhaps the only thing that kept him from sinking completely into his composing. She was a music composition major, too, but she already had a second Bachelor’s Degree in psychology, and she recognized the signs in her mentor. She tried everything she could think of to keep Dr. Pellin from sinking further into his slump, and for awhile, it all seemed to be working positively. They both knew exactly what she meant to him.

But despite her knowledge of the human psyche and her ability to size up other people’s characters, Sara got into a relationship with a young man with an anger problem. By the time she finally realized the situation she was in, he had become so attached and possessive of her that he refused to let her break up with him. He put two bullets in her head.

The loss of his friend and confidant crushed what little desire to live Ryan had. One afternoon, he swallowed a ridiculous number of sleeping pills. Another professor called the hospital before they could do their work, though. Ryan didn’t return to the university.

At reading Ryan’s childhood profile, Becca had been relieved to see he had had a normal youth. No abuse, no hatred, not like the others had endured. But his adulthood was just as bad. She found the website of the university he had attended and found a recording of a student ensemble playing one of the pieces he had composed. It made her cry.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Seventeen

The playhouse had been in the asylum courtyard since before anyone could remember. Then again, the asylum had originally been a children’s hospital, so it wasn’t surprising there would be a playhouse on the grounds. No one went in there anymore, but no one dared tear it down-- it was too much a monument to the patients that had been there decades ago.

But someone had gone into it now. Vale. And try as anyone might to convince him too, he wouldn’t come out.

The little village of Dracmere sat nestled on the border of Melistrat and Gaern. It was one of those tiny twenty-family villages where everyone knew everyone else. But unlike most villages of its size, Dracmere boasted a full seven inns. It sat right on the road, and any trader who wasn’t smuggling took the road, so the village was always bustling. At any given time, roughly half the people in the village were strangers, merchants and travelers, bards and-- especially now-- Seekers.

Jaidyn had wanted to try and avoid rubbing elbows with any other wearers of the silver braid, but he must not have been the only one wanting privacy. Each innkeeper told him there was at least one Seeker staying the night already. No inn had more than two, so at least there were only a handful of them in the village. Sneering at the thought of being so close to the pretenders, Jaidyn paid for a room in The Border Stag. Hoeth paid his money for a room, too. There was only one other Seeker there, a greasy-looking man sitting in the common room drinking deeply from a mug of ale.

Ordering a meal to be sent up to his room, Jaidyn headed up the stairs, away from the greasy man and other prying eyes. Hoeth was hot on his heels and even followed him into his own room, tossing his saddlebags on the floor by the door and flopping onto Jaidyn’s bed.

“You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” the younger man said. “Where Sonsedhor is.”

“I’ve told you a dozen times since we left Morena: it’s not something I want to talk about. Especially not here, where there are ears everywhere. Someone might hear.”

Hoeth leaned up on his elbows. “I don’t think you’ve said that many words to me at once since we left. You’ve been so quiet, Jaidyn. Distant. We’re friends, right?”

We’re friends, right? He remembered someone else saying that to him, a long time ago.

“We’re friends, right?” Prett Moura sounded like he desperately needed reassurance. “Lexan?” Too bad his station was far below Lexan’s own; friends like that were beneath him. “We are, right?”

“Of course we are,” he remembered saying, contempt dripping form his voice. Prett was completely oblivious.

Jaidyn shook his head, dismissing the memory. He hated memories from Lexan. It was his memories from Cheyne he preferred, even though they were rare. He had to work to make them come.

“Sure we’re friends, Hoeth. Sure we are,” he said passively. “But I really need some rest now. We’ll talk when we leave in a few days, okay?”

Before Hoeth could argue, he ushered him out the door and sank into bed, still grappling with Lexan’s memory.

“I’m Cheyne reborn. Cheyne!” he whispered fiercely to himself. The part of his mind that insisted on dredging up Lexan’s memories laughed at him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Sixteen

Zanthys liked the feeling of his own sword at his hip. He had always felt at his best when on horseback; wearing the blade made him feel all the more noble. It made him hold his chin higher, look down just a bit more on those beneath him. This was right and proper, for him to be set even higher above the common people. Too bad they wouldn’t see him about the city with his sword too much. He was leaving.

The pigeon messages from his scout told him Jaidyn hadn’t gone too far form the city since his departure. In fact, at the rate he’d been going, he was just today going to reach the border of Gaern and Melistrat. Going at a decent clip, Zanthys would catch up to him in a few days. Jaidyn had been slow, meandering aimlessly. He really didn’t have any idea where he was going.

Banjay Advissen didn’t have a clue where Zanthys was really going. He’d told his father this was just going to be a routine jaunt to Necras to visit the court there. It was only proper for him to make such a visit-- it was a common practice for young lordlings of marriageable age. His father had sent a handful of guards with him. And Zanthys had his swords-- his own handsome blade and the false Sonsedhor, concealed in a bundle on his saddle. It would be such a great game to plant the false sword for Jaidyn to find.

He urged his guards to a ground-eating pace. The sooner he caught Jaidyn, the sooner the game would begin.

Dr. Anderson patiently read over a report Becca had left for her.

I tried speaking to Vale about Sunsetter, since he’s the one who mutters about it the most lately. But as I mentioned it, I was only met with laughter and scoffing. He stated one thing clearly, however, something I have listened to over and over on the recording of our conversation. I am certain he said, “It’s not Sunsetter, you peasant!” And then he went on to pronounce it more clearly in a different way: SAWN-said-door. He didn’t go into spelling it, but I have a few ideas how it might be spelled. I will begin research on this immediately.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Fifteen

The beginning of Vale Stapleton’s life wasn’t particularly different from anyone else’s. But from a very early age, he showed an interest in observing, in retaining information, and in telling stories. As he got older, this turned into gossiping, and he became known as the neighborhood snoop. His mother said it meant he was destined to be a news anchorman. His father said it meant he was nosey and a disgrace to the family name because of it.

Vale was seven the first time his father David beat him, and it only got worse from there. The abuse became a daily ritual, and in time, his mother took him out of school to avoid questions about the bruises. She tried teaching him herself, but the then nine-year-old was unresponsive to her affections and her teaching. A tutor was hired, and the expense of his schooling was only more fuel for his father’s rage at him. The beatings grew worse.

Maria, Vale’s mother, died one weekend while Vale was eleven and out at the park. There was not a mark on her, but there was a good deal of bleach in her stomach and corrosive internal burns form drinking it. David was suspected of the murder he was not convicted. Maria’s death was deemed a suicide-- only her fingerprints were on the bleach jug.

The abuse only grew worse after Maria’s death. When Vale was fourteen, his father came into his room one night while he was asleep. The abuse went beyond physical beatings. Vale was raped by his own father that night. He took to barring his bedroom door after that-- there was no lock-- and though the physical abuse got even worse, he welcomed it over being sexually attacked.

On Vale’s fifteenth birthday, David Stapleton died in a drunk driving incident. It was two in the afternoon, but David was smashed from multiple whiskies, and he hit an SUV head-on. He died instantly. The man driving the SUV came away with multiple non-fatal injuries. His six-year-old daughter, who had been in the backseat, suffered minor injuries. His wife in the passenger seat was also killed after being rushed to the emergency room.

After his father’s death, Vale did everything he could to block out memories of the man. And he succeeded.

As his mother had guessed, he became a journalist, but not an anchorman. He reported for a local newspaper, everything from charity events to crimes. There was nothing he was too squeamish to cover.

When a young local boy went missing, he was covering the story. He followed the searches and listened to what the police and family said. And even though it was against all ethics and even against his better judgment, he began to think about where to look himself. He acted on his conjectures, and was the first to find the boy.

He was already dead.

Vale knew he should have called the police with his theories of the boy’s whereabouts rather than going and looking himself, but he hadn’t. And his were the first eyes to see the scene. Even untrained in forensics, in analyzing a scene and figuring out what had happened, he could tell what had transpired. The boy had been beaten by his kidnappers-- there had probably been three or even four-- beaten repeatedly, raped repeatedly, and then stabbed to death. Then the kidnappers had simply left him there in the motel room for someone to find.

In the shock at seeing the six-year-old’s battered body, all those repressed memories came flying back to him. When the policemen arrived at the scene, he flew into a frenzy, even attacking one of them, crying out in rage at his father, at anyone who could do this. He was committed by order of a judge.

The thought of such abuse made Becca sick to her stomach. After a few days, when her nerves had settled and her anger at the thought of tat kind of treatment faded, she found archived newspapers of Vale’s reports, as well as the reports of the boy’s disappearance and discovery. It only made her sick again.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Fourteen

It was a rare sight at this point to see Ryan, Lydia, Emery, and Joanna apart. At the moment, they were having their own little picnic near one of the benches in the courtyard. But like most picnics, they were inevitably attacked by a cadre of ants.

The band of Keidenelle fell upon them abruptly, but they weren’t unexpected. Roark danced his sword silently, keeping an eye on the woman as well as he could. Draegon he was leaving on his own; the man had proven himself able to at least protect himself decently, so he was far down on Roark’s immediate list of concerns. He took a split second to make sure none of the Keidenelle he was slashing at wore the proper clothing that Draegon did; he would hate to find out, when the dust cleared, that he had actually killed his charge.

The savages weren’t really terribly fierce, nor were they organized or trained warriors. They didn’t fight as a group; each man or woman-- he was surprised to find that some of the “warriors” were women-- fought on his or her own, slashing a blade wildly or swinging fists without any real sense of skill. Their “tactics” seemed to be more to overwhelm opponents with numbers and then to fight dirty. More than once, he defended against a below-the-belt kick, and he had to watch his back constantly.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kemeny taking his spare sword from the scabbard on his horse’s saddle. The tiny little thing actually joined the fight. At least she wasn’t the target of many of the savages; they seemed to have realized he and Draegon were the real threats and were concentrating on them. The little contortionist was completely untrained and swung the sword wildly-- almost as wildly as the Keidenelle with their crude blades.

Scanning for Weslyn between swings, he found her, crouched on the far side of the horses, scared frozen. Draegon was not too far from her, his eyes mirroring the frenzy that was in the eyes of their attackers. It was frightening how similar he looked to the savages then. He seemed to have lost himself in the fight, in his knives and the use of them. More than once, he plunged a blade into a side or a back repeatedly without thought of mercy. The sneer of his mouth was murderous; he seemed to have a personal vendetta against every one of them. Roark shook his head. Whatever the bard claimed, he was of the same blood as these people-- some of the savages didn’t really seem sure how to react to him.

For himself, he didn’t like to kill if it wasn’t necessary. Sure, he brought down those who were immediate threats to the two women, but unlike Draegon he didn’t go out of his way to slay the others. As a master of the “sword and board” he didn’t have any trouble neutralizing threats without taking lives. Draegon was doing enough of the killing for them both. Roark feared he was becoming overwhelmed by bloodlust and wouldn’t stop even when they were on the retreat. Even Weslyn wasn’t cowering anymore, but staring agape at him and the gore he was reveling in.

The retreat began as quickly as the attack had, and the few that were still alive clambered onto their wagon and hurried off as rapidly as they could. That murderous light still in his eyes, Draegon flicked a knife at them, and one of the fleeing savages took it in the back, causing her to fall form her place on the wagon.

As for the bard himself, he looked a general mess and seemed unaware of Roark, Weslyn, and Kemeny staring at him. He was covered from head to toe in blood-- some his own, most of it not-- and sweat. Without a word, he began to search methodically among the dead, retrieving knives he’d thrown and cleaning them before replacing them up sleeves and elsewhere on his person. He suddenly became aware of the others watching him, and Roark heard him mutter something about “rotten savages” and “choosing to be uncivilized”.

Finally, he dragged a sleeve across his mouth, smearing the blood and sweat together across his chin, but managing to somehow look cleaner. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s go get these horses of yours, Weslyn."

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirteen

Emery Landers was the second of six children. His older brother Samuel was the model of perfection in his father’s eyes, and he spent his first few years trying to live up to that model. His sister Rebekah came along when he was six, Mary when he was eight, David when he was ten, and Levi when he was nearly twenty. Andrew Landers, his father and the local preacher, had special places in his heart for the younger children, too, but something of a sore spot for Emery, though neither Emery nor his mother Sarah could ever pinpoint a reason for it.

Dodging Bibles was a daily exercise for Emery for most of his life. It was a favorite punishment for Andrew, to throw the heavy tomes at his second son in an effort to “batter some decency into him”.

No one was surprised that when Emery left for college, he dropped out in his sophomore year and didn’t return home.

Physically sound, he got a job with the police force in Winterbrook. He married his college sweetheart and had one son, but the marriage was unsuccessful-- his son turned out not to be his-- and he never even tried to date again after that. He contented himself with his job.

A bullet to the hip forced him to settle permanently behind a desk by the time he was thirty-one, and for ten years, he got by doing paperwork. His physical health deteriorated, and it was a complete fluke that he was the only officer in the area when Silvia Hopkirk threatened to jump off a five-story building.

He was simply passing by on his way home, walking the last two blocks from his bus stop to his apartment, when he saw the crowd outside the office building. Silvia, a twenty-year-old, was shouting that she was going to jump. She had nothing left to live for-- she’d miscarried her second pregnancy, had been diagnosed with AIDS, her boyfriend of five years had left her, she was stuck waitressing at a diner-- her list of woes went on. Emery did everything he could to talk her out of jumping.

But his years of training weren’t enough. Silvia flung herself off the roof at the same moment police sirens became audible in the distance, approaching to deal with the situation. She hit the pavement a moment later, and as the concrete shattered the young woman’s body, the sight did the same to Emery’s mind.

Becca had never thought of the big Emery Landers as a younger, fitter man in a police uniform, but after reading his profile, she couldn’t picture him any other way.

Finding his ex-wife Anna Jane, his sisters and brothers, and his parents would be a challenge. And even so, she wondered how much help his family would be. It had been decades since he’d had any contact with his siblings-- from what she could surmise from the files, anyway.