Friday, February 15, 2008

Epilogue


Dear Mum and Da,

I’ve gone with Xylic on a little jaunt; No, Mum, we’re not eloping. We’re going on some sort of quest. I’m not really sure of the particulars, or I’d tell you, but I’m sure it can’t be too dangerous. Oh, and we’re being joined by an elf, a midget dwarf, and a half-ogre. I’ll be back in a few days.

Please feed Snowball for me!

Bye,

Bactine

* * * * * *

Dear Mum,

I didn’t mention before that it was Sangwine we went with. Don’t tell Da, he’ll go off on a tirade about elves again. I know it’s been more than a few days, but I think this is possibly what adventuring is. We went to see the bog witch, but she wasn’t home, so then we were attacked by an orc!

Well, to be honest, actually, we attacked the orc. I know they hang around in unseemly places and I probably shouldn’t be hanging around where orcs are, but this one seemed kind of friendly once he dropped his barbaric faรงade. We didn’t get much out of him, though, because Xylic shot him in the eye. He can be such a moron.

Oh, he shot Sangwine, too. I don’t think that was an accident. I suppose it was fortunate that I have my healing abilities, now, because I had to use them on Sangwine, not that he appreciated it. I’m starting to see that he isn’t as nice as I thought he was before. In fact, he’s sort of insufferable.

Regardless, I’m going to see where this goes, for now.

Don’t worry! Should I be threatened, doubtless Xylic will shoot whatever it is in the eye. Did I mention what a moron he is?

Love,

Bactine

The Slug and Lettuce

* * * * * *

Dear Mum,

I know I haven’t written for a while, but we went through the Forest of Darkness, and it was just as dark as everyone says! Also, it’s full of chipmunks that eat people. Xylic and I had a sort of brush with them, but the half-ogre, Derf, saved us. I guess that makes a long story short.

I absolutely can not STAND Sangwine. However, it’s true, he is an exiled prince. I guess that’s why he thinks he’s so much better than everyone else. Well, he isn’t, mum, he’s awful and imperious and complains about the most petty things.

Mountain trolls made us rich and Xylic accidentally shot me with a magic wand that made my hair long. He says it’s pretty. Going to get a new dress made, now! I’ll write soon.

Love,

Bactine

The Prancing Dragyn Inn

City of Sol

* * * * * *

Dear Mum,

Well, I thought Sangwine was awful, but I’m starting to think all elves are like that. All of them except Xylic.

That’s right, mum! Xylic is half-elven! I couldn’t believe it either! Well, once I found out it all made a weird kind of sense. He does look vaguely elven, doesn’t he? Well, it’s sort of a sad story. He’s such a good friend.

Anyway, I met a third elf in the last city we were in named Al’bert, and he’s positively horrid. Horrid, horrid! He used some kind of glamour spell on me and well, I don’t really remember much of what happened, except I ended up knocking him back against the wall with a spell.

As for Sangwine, he well, he threw a goblet at my head. I think that’s the most depraved thing possible. You’ll be pleased to know I beamed him with a candelabra right afterwards. Right in the face! He’s not too horribly bad, in fact, he’s kind of vulnerable and not nearly as arrogant as I thought. But the biggest thing is that we met a dragon!

It was actually real dragon. The midget dwarf, Stump, knows him from somewhere. It didn’t go very well, but we lived.

We’re going into the desert, now. I think we might finish this quest, soon!

Love,

Bactine

Kazaad’sandish

* * * * * *

Dear Mum,

Well, we finished the quest, more or less, not that it profited us anything. That lousy elf, Al’bert, was waiting for us when we got there. Apparently he badly wants to kill Sangwine.

There was a wizard at the monolith in the desert (long story) who freed the half-ogre from the curse he was under. We had no idea, the poor fellow! Derf is one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met.

Sangwine is blah, mum, I just can’t talk about him. I think he might try to end his exile, and that means I’m not done. I’m not coming home quite yet. Xylic and the rest of us are staying with him, too. Somehow everything has changed.

Love,

Bactine

The Fire and The Flame

City of Ena

* * * * * *

Dear Mum,

We met a giant, mum, and he tried to kill us! We picked up a goose that lays fake gold eggs, and some fairy with a perpetually sunny disposition. She drives me crazy. She’s absolutely perfect! It’s makes me sick to my toes.

Regardless, I suppose it’s time I come clean. I’ve fallen very deeply in love with Sangwine. I couldn’t help it, mum! I swear I hated him once I started to know him, but then once I got to know the real him, I couldn’t stop it. Last night, for the first time, he kissed me. For three hours. I can feel your disapproval through the distance of this letter, but just know I am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

I refuse to think about the fact that anything between us is entirely impossible. I’ll leave that to tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, we’re leaving tomorrow to go into Schloeffelonia. Sangwine is really going to try to regain the throne. That means he has to depose an Overlord of Darkness. I think he’ll need all the help he can get in that endeavor.

Unfortunately, mum, I’m not going to be able to write to you until we succeed, and if we don’t

I love you and da both more than almost anything else, remember that. And if it ends here, it was worth every step of the way.

Love Always,

Bactine

The Spinning Precipice Inn

Snow Canyon Village

The End

Chapter 33

XXXIII

Sangwine stood with purpose. It was an entirely wasted gesture, seeing as how he was the only person in his room, but at least it made him feel a bit more assured.

The healer had come and gone. He decided to conveniently forget the fact that he had been inexplicably attracted to her for reasons he couldn’t explain, for he logically should never have found a human attractive in the first place. Even so, she had done her work well. He was clean and whole; the debacle with the pixie was as if it had never happened, and the day was his to possess.

Because he had been cared for by his brother, he also knew there was still hope in the world. This hope he decided to cling to with a tremulous hand and ride it into new waters.

After all, no one knew what tomorrow could bring. The future wasn’t clad in stone, and if it was, at this particular moment he was determined to chip away at it until something new presented itself.

He strapped on his sword; his father’s sword. He felt a surge of affection and loyalty for his dead father and a certain pride and deep love for his roots at the feel of this blade at his side. It girded him up as if done by an ancestor, one who he didn’t know, but knew him, knew he held momentous keys to the future, and held him upright with unseen hands.

Upon the street, he felt the urge to whistle strike him. It was a road he’d walked down numerous times; a horrible, muddy road, but as it was a road he might never see again it suddenly was adorned with more vivid colors, and the mud wasn’t quite so unpleasantly deep. Although he wouldn’t call the city air fragrant, it certainly wasn’t so odious as it seemed to be when last he walked this way, and he thought he might have heard a bird chirping somewhere in the distance.

This was certainly an excellent day, Sangwine’s thoughts told him. It was a day ripe for welcomed change.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Standing on her front porch, Bactine held firmly to the post as she leaned upon it. The wind blew in a different direction, today. Her skirts flew blithely with it, beating lightly against the backs of her legs, and she fixed her eyes on the wall of the city.

She’d returned with Xylic three days ago. It had been wonderful to see her mother again, but Bactine had never been able to shake the intense feeling of dismay at being back here and not out there, in the world.

Her mother had perceived the difference almost immediately. She’d been kind enough to wait until Xylic left to bring it up, and even then she was fairly vague about it.

So, Bactine, she’d said to her, while peeling potatoes again. How was your trip, really?

It was fine, mum, said Bactine, barely trying to hide her restlessness as she picked wanly at a stray straw coming from the foot of the broom she was repairing.

Her mother hummed and gouged an eye from a potato.

Bactine sighed harshly and threw the broom down, then proceeded to glower at it.

Casting a sidelong glance in Bactine’s direction, Mrs. Gallagher picked it up and put it aside.

Throwing brooms around isn’t going to change anything, she said, moving onto the chopping phase of potato manipulation.

Then what is? asked Bactine helplessly.

I would think that would be you, she replied, fairly enigmatically. Enigmatic wasn’t really like her mother, so Bactine was somewhat confused by the development. Regardless, she let it drop.

I’m going to see Xylic, said Bactine, exiting with true teenaged angst mixed with apathy.

Xylic hadn’t been much consolation, however, for he’d been much the same as he always was. Boring, really, now that she thought about it. He never changed. Why did he never change? She wanted to throw things at walls.

Finally, this third day, she’d had enough. Something was going to be different today, and she didn’t care what it was, as long as it meant change. She would always hold her mother and father in the most affectionate of regard, but Bactine had decided it was time for her to find something for her own in the world. What would be hers, she didn’t know, but she wanted it because it would belong to her.

Snowball meowed.

Bactine turned to see her cat sitting upright on the old chair Xylic always sat in, raising his head in a beckon to be petted. She obliged him, in an already sentimental way, and Snowball was quite pleased with the attention.

The breeze brought with it the scent of lavender and she wanted to go.

Snowball, take care of the chair, will you?

Snowball sniffed Bactine’s hand. Bactine grinned, then allowed her smile to fade as she secured her cloak around herself.

She stepped down one wooden porch step; a second; then, with one last look at the door of her house she turned her back to it.

Chapter 32

XXXII

On this particular morning, Xylic felt differently than he ever had before. It was almost as if something inside of him had been lining up for ages, and had finally clicked into place. He not only felt, but he knew that change was coming, which can often be evident in mornings where, after a long winter, the breeze is warm and things begin to wake from endless slumber.

He looked at the row of journals that lined the shelf in his room. His father had never kept a journal, or if he had, he’d not left it anywhere where Xylic could find it. Maybe it was for this reason that Xylic had always been meticulous about it. Not that there was anyone to read them. He didn’t necessarily wonder if he’d ever have some sort of posterity to hand them down to, because that would mean he meant to pass on his awkward status as half-elven to another being. However, in some small corner of his mind he wanted it; and the rest of his dour mind continually pounded that small corner of his mind to wretchedness.

Regardless of the inner conflicts he’d grown tired of fighting, he knew change was coming, and in that he felt a rare beam of optimism. No matter what occurred today, he was going to leave this city. He didn’t know for how long or if it would be forever, and he didn’t really care, as he was swept up in the idea of doing so and details didn’t matter yet.

It was a large step for Xylic, who was always steeped deeply in his habits, but whether it was the culmination of his life’s frustrations or the recent intensities with her that had brought him to this wasn’t clear to him. Perhaps he would ask her to come with him.

Then again, he certainly couldn’t ask that of her. She had so much here, and he had nothing, except for her.

Even that simple concession he shouldn’t possess, he thought with some semblance of guilt caused by the residue of all the years his father insisted upon him being apart, separate, and unknown. His father had been gone for quite some time, now. It’d been nearly twenty years. Xylic was, to his bones, exceptionally loyal once he decided that was what he was going to be, and fortunately for him he’d only found two people in his lifetime he deemed worthy of his particular brand of loyalty.

One was his father, and the other was Bactine.

Xylic had gone over again and again why it was her, but it was as difficult for him to pen it in his journal in distinct words as it would be for him to explain the tapestry of a world. However, there were things he could put his finger on. For one thing, she was strangely intelligent. Even when he first looked at her, he knew there was more going on in her mind than was on the mind of the standard young woman of this city. He generally found girls vacuous and silly, and Bactine was far from that.

There was also the subject of her strange temperament. She was livid and poignant in alternating turns, and he hadn’t yet figured out what set each off. Part of this was a puzzle, which riveted his interest in place. She refused to fall to the level of the blithe, and she would never think to moon after anyone. At least in the time he’d known her, she’d never had much interest in boys; it was as if they were all too dull to hold her interest longer than a few moments.

In fact, on further contemplation, he realized the most interest she’d shown in anyone (besides himself) was that she gave to Sangwine. To realize it gave him a brief pang of jealousy and despair, but his optimism at the change of the day swallowed it, leaving all unpleasantries barely noticed.

Even more deeply inside his psyche, Xylic knew he was duly intrigued by Sangwine himself, a fact which annoyed the living daylights out of him. He had, on the surface, an instant dislike of the man. Not only could Bactine not stop from staring at Sangwine whenever he was around, but he had a polished and arrogant nature which Xylic found to be altogether false.

If there was one thing that Xylic despised more than anything else in a person, it was insincerity.

But beyond that, perhaps he liked him. Perhaps he did, and that possibility brought an intense fear that shook the very roots of his being, for if Xylic were to grow to like this elf, who was so like himself, what then would happen once he became aware of what Xylic was?

Xylic shook that thought aside, since it wasn’t a bridge he’d yet come to, and shifted restlessly beside his window. In a few minutes, he would touch the row of journals on his shelf, lock his door, and meet Bactine outside of the corner common room, where they most liked to watch people pass.

And today, he would suggest they do something entirely different with their lives.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Chapter 31

XXXI

In the inn where Al’bert was staying, not much stirred very loudly during the early morning hours. Whether that was because of the clientele particular to this inn, or because the innkeepers insisted upon it in order to maintain high marks, Al’bert didn’t know and neither did he care. On this particular morning he had been up since before dawn, gripped with the contents of the letter before him.

Dear Al’bert,

I received an interesting letter from your companion, the wizard, regarding your inability to find my brother and finish what I’ve asked of you. I didn’t think it was necessary to impress upon you the urgency of this matter, for I thought you knew that Sangwine is the only thing that stands between myself and contentment. I can not rest until he is dead, Al’bert, and I will do anything necessary to ensure it happens.

So, as a precautionary measure I am sure you’ll understand, I’ve taken your sister into my care until the matter is resolved.

Regards,

Fang, Overlord of Darkness

Schloeffelonian Empire

Al’bert had read the letter at least ten times, wishing miserably that it meant something other than what it did. The parchment was wrinkled recklessly from his anguish. At this point, Al’bert had to come to grips with the fact that he was no longer in control of any of the events surrounding him and Fang. Fang was no longer his friend, and unless Al’bert began performing adequately, his entire family was going to suffer badly.

The whole situation made him want to break something. On the one hand he had to wonder how it had come to this, and on the other hand he knew full well how everything had unfolded. Fang had never been stable, but he’d always been interesting; that’s what drew Al’bert to him. He was continually at something, as if he was filled with lightning struggling to get out, and on top of that, he’d been the heir to the throne. Even so, Fang had more or less inherited the throne, but on his own terms. It was always on Fang’s terms.

It was just unfortunate that Fang’s terms continued to become more and more unpleasant, and would eventually become horrifying.

Al’bert sighed, dropped the letter aside, and reached for his own tools of correspondence.

Dear Fang, O.D.:

Rest assured all is in hand. I’ve located Sangwine, and will move this morning. He is not doing well, you’ll be pleased to know, reduced to mingling with peasants and he appears to be flatly miserable. If I were one to question your orders, I would say that perhaps this is a better punishment for him than death. However, I am not one to question and will work to complete the task forthwith.

Al’bert, le Comte du Fromage

He dropped his quill aside and rose, folding the letter as he did so and preparing to embark. Knowing the others would scarcely be rising, he paced across the room once, then twice, then, unable to wait any longer, he went to knock on the door of Wiz.

The wizard looked more or less entirely put out at his door. Al’bert, for his part, had a difficult time containing his anger over Wiz’s betrayal, but he resolved not to let it be known. It’d be far easier to do this with help than alone.

I’ve found Prince Sangwine, he told the wizard. We’ll be intercepting him this morning.

The Wiz’s eyebrow raised, but other than that there was very little response.

That means we’re leaving in twenty minutes, said Al’bert shortly, and he turned for the stairs.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chapter 30

XXX

The sun played lightly across Sangwine’s face through an open window as he slowly woke, the muslin curtain flitting gently in the breeze and creating a back and forth of warmth and solace that he found extremely pleasant for the act of regaining consciousness. The sunlight brought with it a day spent under the boughs of Schloeffelonian trees, lying in the leaves of grass and blithely observing the way the light passed through the fabric of his childhood coat. Just for a moment, he fell back to a time when the weight of the world didn’t lie grotesquely heavy on his mind, and remembering this he recalled how quick it was that joy would appear, like a playmate, flitting in and out of his life with free abandon, completely unrestrained by weightier matters.

This recollection passed by him like a shadow; he could only touch it briefly before it was gone, and the crushing weight of his life duly informed him that he had only been grasping at smoke. It left him to wake fully with a sense of deep longing that reached all the way inside of him and made his pulse ache with sorrow.

As it was, it took only a few moments before the years of strength in Sangwine bolstered up beneath the strain and stood mostly unmoved beneath the burden. In this way he was like a tree. In this way he could bear life.

He inhaled, feeling the wound at his side nearly entirely gone. The healer who had been sent was fairly talented; she’d gradually worked her way into the wound, taking it away a little bit at a time. He supposed he should be happy to be alive.

Strangely, he wasn’t. He opened his eyes, and she was sitting beside him.

“How are you?” she asked, pleasantly. She was a somewhat young human with flaxen hair and an expressive countenance. He studied her in his disparaging state, taking brief solace in her human beauty, which he found to be not less than elven, really, but simply different. There was a sort of perennial rosy flush to her cheeks and lips that was nearly mauve in hue and her hair, though very poorly pulled back, tended to fall around her face in small, messily endearing tendrils. Around a human woman there was always this sense that something was about to happen, although what that could be Sangwine couldn’t fathom, but whatever it was, she would meet it head on and it would suffer dearly for disturbing the status quo.

She noticed he wasn’t bothering to reply and gave him an amused, yet indulgent smile.

“You’re still not talking to me?” she asked with good humor, then began changing the dressing on his side.

Sangwine briefly considered engaging in conversation with her, but stopped short as he was overwhelmed by his thoughts. She’d given up by then, anyway, and he instead engaged the ceiling in a telepathic conversation regarding himself.

The problem was, Sangwine realized he simply couldn’t bear this anymore. His life had to change. The idea of trying to change something in Schloeffelonia was still far too painful and terrifying to consider, but he knew he had to do something besides stay here. He had to go. With that thought, he sat up abruptly.

The healer gave a little annoyed sound as her work was interrupted by his sitting up all of a sudden. She looked at him with surprise.

“What are you doing?” she asked him.

He cast his eyes over her face, and in his state of action found the idea of answering rote questions unbearably dull.

“You’re actually beautiful, did you know that?”

She looked surprised, rightly not expecting that particular answer, and gave him a sort of incredulous sidelong look.

“Thank you, I think,” she replied. “Are you feeling sick?”

“Not really,” he said, and offered nothing more.

“Because you sound ill,” she added, somewhere in between a smile and a worried look.

“Is something wrong with my voice?” he asked.

“Not at all,” she answered. “Now let me finish with you.”

In reply Sangwine buried his present sense of anxiety and lay down. Her hands were comforting, and he had to force himself not to enjoy it more than was appropriate. He resumed his telepathic conversation with the ceiling, which only served to further augment his frustration. She seemed to notice, for her hands slowed and then came to rest on his abdomen as she turned her full attention onto him.

“Your brother will be glad you’re recovering so well,” she said.

Sangwine felt a sharp spike at the mention of his brother.

“How do you know my brother?” he asked her stiffly.

“He sent for me,” she replied.

“My brother wants me dead. He wouldn’t send for you. He would have watched me die,” he said to her, and then added an afterthought: “Probably with relish.”

Her eyebrows raised in curiosity.

The last thing Sangwine wanted to do at the moment was explain, so he did nothing but turn his gaze to the window where the muslin curtains were rising and falling lightly in the breeze. He wanted to escape into his earlier waking moments but the sun, which had moved and was no longer in a position to touch his face, reminded him that moment had passed.

She finished bandaging him and paused. Her voice came more softly.

“It should only take one more session for me to heal it entirely,” she told him. “There shouldn’t even be a scar.”

Sangwine regained his sense of civility, perhaps spurred on by his own vanity, or perhaps because of her efforts on his behalf.

“Thank you,” he said, turning his head to look at her. He suddenly felt horribly sorry for his self-absorption and he rose onto his elbows. “Is there anything I can do for you? Have you been paid? I don’t even know your name.”

She smiled and said, “I don’t know yours, either. Don’t worry about it; your brother paid me well.”

Sangwine wanted to tell her there’s no way it was his brother who had anything to do with this. He knew that, but he had no idea who it could have been otherwise, and denying who it was meant he would have to explain to her why it couldn’t have been Fang. The desire not to explain anything to her won over and he decided just to go along with it.

“Very well,” he said with insincerity. “Good for him.”

She tactfully let everything drop with a smile and rose, and he felt a small wisp of loss.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said. “Don’t go anywhere, or you’ll never be fully healed.”

She turned before closing the door and added, “That means scarring.”

It drove the point home nicely to an elf; Sangwine wasn’t going anywhere.

Not yet, anyway.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chapter 29

XXIX

It was with a light breeze that Bactine burst out of the hut belonging to Namah. Dawn was in the air, and everything was more or less delightful, as far as she was concerned. The sun even had somehow edged its way through the miasma that generally surrounded the marsh and fell on Bactine’s face with radiance, as if drawn to further elevate her mood. Xylic followed behind, unusually cheerful despite his general self, and if one were to observe closely, it would be evident that he drew pleasure from the height of Bactine’s happiness.

Namah emerged last, even mildly elevated herself, as on one of those mornings when cheer is catching, although she was very careful to hide it in order to remain her own singular brand of dignified. It was she who then broke the natural sounds which encompassed them, including a small patch of chuckling birds and the rustle of leaves, filling the rend with the inferior and less expressive language of man.

If you get yourselves stuck in the swamp, I’m not coming to help you, she indifferently informed the two. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t even know you.

Following this speech, she went back into her hovel with scant pomp, leaving Bactine and Xylic alone.

In the fortnight past, Namah had perceived Bactine intently, and had tailored her education accordingly. Namah taught her only a few tricks, but they were the ones that she believed would work well for the girl in a pinch, although were so potent most of the defense spells would render her unconscious for a short duration following the initial burst. Namah had warned her of this repeatedly and to a great extent very tiresomely, but in the end she was content that the girl had ingested the most of what she needed to know.

So after less than three weeks, Bactine was not only able to heal the wounds on others, but able to regenerate and defend herself and those around her.

It was this that had Bactine in such high spirits on this particular morning, as she and Xylic set off towards the forest which led to the farmlands, which led to the city and ultimately her home.

The marshes weren’t overly hard to traverse, as most things aren’t overly hard when moods are high. She and Xylic made their way rather closely; he with a stick and she very near him, and she took his hand warmly which didn’t feel at all awkward as she kept it in her possession for the time being. He, for his part, relinquished his hand willingly to her.

They talked very lightly in the forest, as the close, woven trees around them returned the small laugh that might escape one or the other now and again. They were alone in a room, or a closet perhaps, that moved past as they walked, never really changing as it was always the trunks and branches and leaves. The day passed as a pleasant hour, and when the night came they slept peacefully and side by side, each given the brief blessing of contentment that deepens sleep and never lasts.

The next day, as they reached the edge of the farmlands and the city proper came into view, Bactine began to feel unrest, as if a bee were inside of her and she was a barrel, and it was flying about trying to find the exit. She said nothing of this to Xylic, not wanting to break the pleasant reverie of recent hours, but he perceived it in the particular furrow of her brow, regardless. As was his way at times, he only inquired passively by walking closer to her side.

At first, she merely tried to ignore it, but as she came closer and closer to the city she started to wonder if she was suffering from some sort of anxiety attack. Her breath was uneven, and she felt herself shiver, so she moved to lean herself against the nearest tree.

What is it? asked Xylic.

I I don’t think I want to go home, she said.

Xylic glanced at the city, and, as he didn’t defend home’s merits as it were, she wondered briefly if he shared her sentiment.

Then what do you want to do? he asked her.

She glanced up at him, and smiled despite herself. To her, Xylic was just funny. In every possible sense of the word, he was so. She was very sure she’d never meet anyone as odd if she should travel as far east or south as any map was penned. At the same time, however, he was remarkably endearing, especially now, when he was so openly asking her what she would rather do than go home.

The idea of doing anything else was silly, really. She missed her mother and Snowball, and her father, and possibly even the wash. It was just that the idea of going home strangely made her feel like a clamp was being slowly shut over her, or as if she were a firefly being closed into a glass jar for keeping. Forever.

Her breath fell distressed and uneven as she returned her gaze to Xylic, and then everything began to happen at once. He was looking at her with an intensity that she was fairly certain she’d never seen on his face before, and she suddenly knew, as the way intuition takes over at times like this, what he wanted to do. In her current mindset of trapped desperation she found she was rather drawn to him in return, if because she truly was or because he offered escape, she didn’t care. Suddenly the space between them was fiercely magnetic, and it was only through falling against each other that the tireless pull was relieved.

He sighed into her hair and held her against him with quiet desperation. For her it was warmth, all fluid and red, and almost as if she were looking inside of him again. She wanted to kiss him inevitably, and so they nearly did.

Bactine! called a voice. Is that you?

Bactine was fairly bleary at the prospect of conversing with or even noticing anyone except for Xylic at the moment, however, she worked very hard to focus her mind and pulled away from Xylic at the same time she recognized the caller.

Violet, she said, not altogether welcoming. There you are, she finished lamely.

You’re back already? Violet exclaimed. Your mother will be thrilled!

Then Violet stopped, considering.

Unless that means you’ve been expelled, she said to Bactine in a dubious manner.

Bactine smiled wryly.

No, I wasn’t expelled, she said. It was a unh accelerated course.

Oh, said Violet vacuously. Well, I should be going. I’ll see you soon!

Violet spared Xylic an openly flirtatious smile which garnered absolutely no reply and flounced away.

Suddenly awkwardness closed around them like a thick fog that clouds all senses. Xylic spoke first, uncharacteristically.

It’s late, he said. If we hurry, you can be on your front porch by sunset.

Being both relieved and anxious over the excuse he’d given both of them to pretend nothing had just happened, she straightened herself and walked on with Xylic ever nearby; towards the city and towards her home.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Chapter 28

XXVIII

As Sangwine fell, Al’bert watched him fall. He was disguised with a rustic cloak of ill-woven kersey wool, and it scratched him in the most distracting and irritating of ways, but that was all forgotten as he saw what must be come to pass. The boy (as Al’bert saw him, and always would see him) was motionless, and apparently unconscious as his blood flowed from him into a puddle on the floor of the cage. It was a lovely color, if one could disconnect, and at that moment he looked truly sanguinous, as was his namesake. The wound was probably mortal, Al’bert thought, and if it wasn’t, the poor care he’d receive at the hands of these human peasants would kill him by and by. To Al’bert’s chagrin and, in some small measure he didn’t want to dwell on, to his freedom, his mind fell open, as if some window was lifted in a stale corner of his thoughts and a pale, spring wind flighted through. How refreshing it was and terrifying at the same time. He pitied Sangwine; freedom came next, both his and Sangwine’s. Sangwine would no longer live the life of a domesticated bird left to degradedly fend for itself in the wilds, and Al’bert would be relieved of the leaning, heavy shoulder of Fang. The relief fell through him, and he saw that it was empty. He knew instinctively that Fang would require him to do worse things yet, and as it was Al’bert wasn’t entirely certain he could live with this. Sangwine was dying, and Al’bert realized he didn’t want him to die, though he should. There was something worth preserving in Sangwine, even if Al’bert didn’t quite know distinctly what it was, which he found to be rare and refreshing and somewhat like a vein of gold in an otherwise plain and ordinary rock.

No, even if he must die, Al’bert couldn’t let him die like this, lying amidst plebeian humankind with his blood red for all to see. He shut himself from his thoughts and pushed those who blocked his singular purpose aside with a brusque hand.

Stand aside, he commanded.

All turned to gape at what newcomer spoke with such supposed authority over the body of this fair and dying creature.

And who are you? demanded Gilden of Al’bert, looking something like a man protecting his own property.

I am his brother, Al’bert lied, staring down Gilden as if possessing true brotherly wrath. Al’bert assumed within himself that in some sort of roundabout way he was vaguely some sort of brother to Sangwine, and that made it quite easy to lie very convincingly about the matter. He decided he’d forget about that as quickly as it became convenient, but later.

Bring me bandages! exclaimed Al’bert, and several someones began scurrying around in various directions as he pulled at Sangwine’s clothes to inspect the damage. The pixie’s blades had sunk deeply into him, and cut a clean swath through his midsection. It looked horrible, and he cursed beneath his breath at the sharp heat of pixie blades, even though Fang had used the pixies as an effective tool to further his cause. Al’bert refused to think fully about what he was doing right now, for he was absolutely certain that if Fang caught wind of any part of it, Al’bert would be a dead man.

A few humans had procured bandages of varying types. Al’bert snatched the most promising and begin wrapping Sangwine to staunch the blood flowing from his side. Once that was done in a vaguely suitable manner, he instinctively pointed to the prettiest girl in the surrounding crowd.

You, he said, Carry his sword.

Rising, Al’bert took Sangwine into his arms and carried him forthwith out of the arena, saying clearly with his silently dark demeanor that Sangwine would never be back.

He took great pains to be certain he was well-hooded on the way to Sangwine’s room, even though he was nearly absolutely certain no one would recognize him or know just how horribly disloyal and treacherous he was. Most were simply so confused by the elf he was carrying, and the sword-bearing girl who followed close behind, that they didn’t think to look at him until they were long past.

Upon reaching the room of Sangwine, there was an awkward scene of finding his key upon his unconscious person, but by and by Al’bert had him reposed upon his bed as the girl watched in tense silence nearby. Al’bert took the sword from the girl and placed it upon a close-sitting table.

Go to the high terrace and ask in the apothecary after a healer, he said to her. Following her nod, he gave her a list of herbs, hoping within himself that humans had the sense of mind to keep all or most of them in stock. Assure them that no expense will be spared.

With that, the girl flitted away like a bird’s shadow, and Al’bert was left uncomfortably alone with his thoughts and a vigil over the defenseless body of the man he was supposed to be killing. He shifted his weight and fell wearily into a chair beside the bed, more from mental weariness than the physical sort. Regarding Sangwine, he felt wry.

Prince of Schloeffelonia, how far you wander from home, he began, feeling a certain empathy, as Al’bert’s own family was also everything he held dear. Fang, he wondered on. As he knew Fang, and had known Fang from the very beginnings, he understood Fang’s motives and how it had come to this. He understood one side, and he understood the other, but yet they were entirely different worlds. They were two sides of a coin that could never face each other without pulling apart the seams of reality.

You have no home, he addressed Sangwine. His voice stirred the leaden silence of the room and made him feel exposed, and so he spoke more quietly, Not anymore.

Al’bert stared out the window, mostly, until the girl returned. As she came, he rose instantly, eager to quit the guilt and anxiety of this room and find somewhere else where he could think clearly and of other, more pleasant things.

There is a healer, and she is coming, the girl said, handing him a bag of healing herbs and salves. He put it on the table straightaway along with a generous number of coins and turned to the girl.

Come and find me outside once she arrives, he said to her, then, sparing her a gentle, grateful glance and a few coins of tribute, he cloaked himself with thorough precision and left, closing the door very carefully.