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.

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