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?”

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty-One

The TV monitor was off. Becca had finally decided to stop watching both the videos and the live feeds of the patients interacting. It was all the same, and she no longer believed she would get any of her answers from them that way. Dr. Anderson encouraged her new idea: that she should really dive into the patients’ pasts and see what more she could find out. The answers, they both thought, were in who the patients were, not in who they are now.

The Keidenelle were on the move. In the distance on most days, Roark saw bands of them hurrying westward, apparently not caring that there were potential victims within sight. They seemed to be in too much of a hurry. He was grateful not to have to deal with the brutes. He had had enough of killing.

Weslyn must have fallen asleep at the watch, because the Keidenelle were upon them before Roark realized it. He had been wrong about being ignored…

He fought like a madman, but he could tell from the onset there was no way he was coming out of this victorious. They numbered in the dozens. If he had been prepared, maybe he could have taken more of them down. As it was, he only managed to thrust Sonsedhor into the stomach of one before he was set upon by a dozen more, who subdued, forced him to the ground, and tied him. Weslyn was wide awake by now, having never had a chance to fight back. Ropes were tied around her wrists, and another around her neck served as a lead line. The other end of her rope was in the hands of a skinny, pale-haired woman with hard deep grey eyes.

Roark began his struggling anew as he was jerked to his feet and one of the savages laid hands on Sonsedhor, trying to pull it from the big man’s hands. Roark thrashed and toppled the other man, but the Keidenelle won out. Sonsedhor was taken to one of the wagons and thrown into the back, and Roark and Weslyn’s lead lines were tied to the end of a long line of prisoners neither had noticed before.

They were herded along like animals, poked and prodded by the Keidenelle when they were too slow or if they started talking to one another. Roark bore it all with solemn wariness, his eyes either darting around looking for an opportunity or locked on the back of the wagon where Sonsedhor was. He was more than a little worried about his sword. He had to kill someone every day because of the damned thing– what would happen if someone else used it? Not only that… he had already killed some of the Keidenelle today; that would sate him for the night. But what about tomorrow, if they lived that long? What would happen if he couldn’t use Sonsedhor to do someone in?

There were quite a few other prisoners; the line stretched far in front of them. And the line was added to constantly by savages going out in groups and returning with other prisoners. So they weren’t just “on the move” anymore. Now they were full-out taking everyone they could captive.

It became plain to him early on that they weren’t killing their prisoners. Once they finally stopped for the night, small parcels of dried meat were handed out, waterskins passed, and guards set. Weslyn and some of the others fell asleep out of exhaustion. It was only after everyone was fed that a great fire was built, and the Keidenelle who weren’t watching the prisoners began a dance around the fire, chanting in their strange, high-pitched language. It was like a prayer, but he knew it wasn’t a prayer to the Mother. Who else could they be worshipping but the Dark Father?

As if to confirm his guess, the woman at the front of the prisoner line was untied and dragged over to the fire. The chanting grew higher and louder as the woman’s clothes were torn away and she was wrestled to the ground. Afraid of what she would see, he wanted to turn away but couldn’t make himself. The more he knew about his captors, the better off he would be when the time for escape came.

Blades were brought out, and the shrieking woman was subjected to very methodical removing of fingers and toes; then hands, feet, and ears; scalp and arms and breasts; and finally, when she had bled so much she must surely be dead– at least her horrifying screams were silenced now– her legs were removed, and all the parts of her, from fingers to torso, were thrown into the great fire. The air became putrid with the stench of burning flesh; more than one of the prisoners who was still awake threw up his or her dinner. Weslyn and some of the others remained blissfully asleep despite the racket the Keidenelle and the woman had made. He thanked the Mother that Weslyn had been spared that grisly sight.

He was almost asleep himself– the chanting and dancing of the Keidenelle had grown softer and somewhat hypnotic– when the smoke over the fire seemed to congeal. He swore a man’s face appeared there, blue-eyed and pale and handsome.

“Needringhusshuck,” came a smooth voice. Roark couldn’t quite tell if the man’s lips actually moved, but the voice was clear. At the sound of his voice, the Keidenelle halted their dance and fell to the ground, prostrating themselves. Except one man. He went to his knees instead, his hands raised to the floating face. “Needringhusshuck,” the voice said again. Was that the Keidenelle man’s name? It seemed unnecessarily long to Roark. “You have done well. You have found what it is I seek. I can sense it, even through the fire. Sonsedhor! I touched the blade once, long ago. It’s throbbing now. It knows I’m near! It’s mine, marked and forged!”

Golden fire appeared behind the great blue eyes of the ethereal face, and his gaze traveled over the prisoner lines until finally, they settled on Roark, as he had known they would. He struggled to his feet.

“You feel the pull, don’t you?” said the Dark Father. Roark had suspected the man’s identity, but now he knew for certain. “You feel the desire to serve me, the need to kill, the urge to main, all brought on by the tool I’ve left you. You are my tool now. You are my servant, unwilling or not. Whatever you believe you may be, you are mine.”

“What belongs to the Mother can never serve the Dark Father. That includes people,” Roark replied.

The Dark Father’s face sneered, and the eyes went back to the Keidenelle man. “He will need to kill, with or without the sword. Let him sate his thirst on people of your choosing, Needringhusshuck. Let him kill struggling hostages, weak or dissenting Keidenelle, those who deserve death. But do not let him have his sword. I don’t want his Mother-stained hands touching my blade anymore. Let his murders be done hand-to-hand. Make it sport for the others to watch. Let him fight to kill, fight for his life. Make him fight every night, before the fires. Let him kill your sacrifices. It will please me.”

The face disappeared into the smoke. The Keidenelle man turned and settled his own gaze on Roark. He smiled.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mere Acquaintances- Chapter Thirty

The great gilded city of Estria was within sight, its outer wall sparkling in the late afternoon sun. It wasn’t actually made of gold– though the city natives liked to claim everything was, from the streets to the roof tiles of the poorest house– but it certainly had a nice effect. There was, however, gold dust brushed over nearly everything, which was what gave it all that luminous sparkle. Being anywhere near Estria at noon could be very hard on the eyes, with the sun bright on all those flecks of gold everywhere. The glare could blind.

Senne had been to Estria before, but the look on her companion’s face plainly showed that he hadn’t. Hoeth’s eyes were wide and his mouth close to hanging open. She smiled at him. They had been traveling together since meeting in the inn in that tiny village, and even though she never said a word about feeling something for him, she did. And she thought he felt something for her, too, though he never mentioned it either. She didn’t know if she would call it love yet, but it was getting close. He was sweet, if a little naïve, but he had a good heart and a good head– so long as he had someone telling him what to do.

He still wore the silver braid of a Seeker– another thing she didn’t bring up. She couldn’t bear breaking his heart by telling him Sonsedhor had already been found. He’d been hurt by a friend, lied to… she didn’t want to make him feel even worse by knowing his search was futile. It was probably one of the worst things she could do– lie to him– but he got so dismal when something reminded him of that friend that wronged him. Seeking made him feel like he had a purpose; how could she take that away from him?

All the inns in Estria had names like The Gilded Monkey and The Golden Brick and other things that mentioned gold in some way. They settled in at The Ingot, one of the less ostentatiously-named places. They took a meal in the common room, had some wine, and sat together, watching the sky change colors as the sun set outside the city walls. Not long after the sky had gone from deep blue to inky black, there was a loud, high-pitched wail, followed by another, and another, until the night was full of the wails.

Then the screaming began. People started dashing past the windows looking panicked. Some of the other inn patrons opened the doors and yelled at the running people, demanding to know what was happening.

“Keidenelle!” someone finally shouted back in passing.

“Keidenelle are in the city walls!” came another cry.

Sure enough, moments later, pale-headed, roughly-dressed savages could be seen in the crowds, pursuing and catching fleers, dragging them to the ground or simply thrusting a blade into them where they stood. The screams grew louder, filling the night. But even over the terrified shrieks of the victims and the war cries of their pursuers, a shout could be heard.

“The sword you see before you is the great Sonsedhor! The name I was given is Jaidyn Huntley, but you can remember me as Cheyne Firdin reborn! Surrender your city to me and my army and your lives will be spared!”

Jaidyn Huntley…… the name sounded familiar to Senne, but she couldn’t put a finger on why. Hoeth put her uncertainty to rest as he drew his sword and headed for the door to go outside, shouting curses at “the great liar Huntley” as he headed off to try and face him one-on-one. Senne couldn’t stop him in time and wound up chasing him through the city streets as he searched for his former friend.

Senne was too far off to stop him from rushing at Jaidyn when he found him, standing on the base of a statue in a great plaza. People were going everywhere, getting hewn down by savages, running into each other, some trying to fight back. But there was a clearing around the statue Jaidyn had perched on to watch the carnage, laughing the whole time. Hoeth made straight for him, sword out, shouting at the top of his lungs.

Their swords met with a resounding twang that seemed to shake the ground. Senne kept running after Hoeth. Being rash like this would only get him killed! She’d abandoned one love to a terrible fate; she couldn’t just sit and watch another get hacked apart.

Before she reached the open space where the two men were dueling, a dark, thick cloud settled over the two of them, encasing them so she couldn’t see. But then a band in the middle of the cloud cleared, and she could spy Hoeth twisting his sword so fast it was a blur, sweating heavily, defending from Jaidyn’s onslaught. Jaidyn was easily the better swordsman. She reached out a hand towards the cloud……

And her hand came to an abrupt stop as if she had tried to put her hand through a window. It just came to a stop in thin air, and she couldn’t move it any further. She knew she couldn’t reach them. So she looked up.

Just as she’d thought, there was a visage over the cloud, faceless head peering down on the dueling men.

“Please,” she whispered.

The head whipped around to look at her, but the Dark Father said nothing.

“Please, spare Hoeth. He’s not part of this. Spare him, and… I’ll be yours again.”

“Why would I want you?” His voice boomed in her head. There was a swirl of blue and gold, and he was suddenly in front of her. “You didn’t leave me; I cast you away. Why should I take you back?”

“Spare Hoeth, and… and I’ll do whatever you wish. Just spare Hoeth’s life.”

She swore she could see a wicked grin spread across the Dark Father’s nonexistent face. “Swear me your complete servitude.”

“And you’ll let Hoeth go?”

“And I won’t kill him. Swear, or he dies now.”

Peering through the cloud, she saw Hoeth on his back on the gold-dusted cobblestones, his sword out of reach. Jaidyn had the point of his sword at Hoeth’s throat, a sadistic, pleased look in his bloodlust-filled eyes. Hoeth inched away, but the sword followed him, inch for inch.

“I so swear,” she said, her voice cracking.

In the span of a heartbeat, all her memories– of Masithina, her lives before that, of Cheyne– were ripped away from her. Swirls of yellow and orange appeared in the air in front of her. She knew it was her memories, her essence– everything that was her was in those whorls of color– but she couldn’t make a move to recover them. They swirled about her, then to the hand of the Dark Father. They formed a ball there, which he smirked at for a long second, the light given off by the colors doing nothing to lighten the blackness of his face. Then, without a word, he crushed the colors with his fist…

And he had a face. It was handsome and pale, blue-eyed and smooth-skinned, but in his eyes she saw everything she feared– had feared before. Now she felt nothing.

“Thank you for your soul,” he said, moving his tongue over his teeth as if enjoying the sensation of having them. “You’ve allowed me to truly touch the world by giving it.” A hand came out and stroked her chin. “Such a good servant…”

His eyes looked left and right, looking at the chaos that was still going on in the plaza. “This won’t do at all,” he said. “Not in my city. THIS IS MY CITY!”
As if someone had hit a switch, the chaos stopped. Each of the Keidenelle fell to his or her knees; the other people fell to their faces on the ground. Behind him, Jaidyn and Hoeth stared at him in shock, their eyes wide. Jaidyn still had his sword to the prone Hoeth’s neck.

“Mother……” Jaidyn said softly.

“The Dark Father…” Hoeth whispered.

“You can both call me by my mortal name,” he smirked, running his tongue again along his teeth and gently running a finger along one eyebrow. His eyes went to Senne. “You, too. You can now call me Akotherian.”

“Mother?” Jaidyn said again.

Akotherian spun around to face the young man, grinning a shark’s grin. “I am not the Mother, boy,” he spat, “but I am your master. Now drop your blade and kneel to me.”

As if forced, Jaidyn did as he was bid. Akotherian turned his too-blue eyes to the terrified Hoeth. “Senne.”

She was at his side in a moment.

“I cannot kill this boy because of our deal,” he said, letting his gaze slide from Hoeth to her and back. “Dispose of him.”

Feeling nothing, she knelt before the whimpering lordling and wrapped one hand around his throat to keep him in place but not cut off his air. Methodically, she began to beat him, softly telling him that once she let him up, he was to leave and never return.