Leaving the garden was beyond a rare occurrence. I woke up early, skipped meditation and instead checked my best clothes for imperfections. A small fire let me heat up water to straighten out unruly hair. Mint, paste, and a bottle of cleansing tonic were mixed together. The resulting mush went onto stiff bristles together to clean teeth.
Often such extravagances were reserved for Mistress Charity’s visits. Captain Nagi only cared for discipline and motion. Doctor Lumin was too busy with questions and wonder to worry about cleanliness; unless of course it interfered with an experiment. My parents never approached close enough but I tried to present them a decent figure.
Well before dawn I stood at my garden’s egress. The gate opened and two men stood on either side of the hallway. Their bodies were layer with thick armor.
“Young Lord fell. We shall be your escorts for today.” The tall men looked like a wall with arms. I felt as if they might reach out and snap my body in two should any attempt to escape me made. My broken form would then be casually tossed back into near solitude while one man went to report to father about the transgressions.
Vision crossed briefly and revealed the layer of reality beneath normal eyesight. Small bits of black energy lined their muscles from heart to hands and feet. Both men practiced The Way. Based on what Doctor Lumin taught me these two were likely physical travelers of The Way.
My head shook and I looked down briefly to clear the other sight. Seeing into people’s core felt like a violation at times. I knew where their strengths were. Their power paled compared to mother and father. It sat at least two level below big sister Eerika but above my normal guards.
“These two are Rear Guard Yon, and Rear Guard Ion.” My father gestured backward with an upturned hand. His arrival surprised them but not me. Both men stiffened then gave short bows in my direction. “They are brothers formally of the Long Gate clan. We have worked closely with their family for generations, and their loyalty is without question. You can trust them as you would me.”
Father didn’t turn around but I saw the effect his words had. Their backs stood straighter and the edge of a smile lingered behind still expressions. Pride made them seem even more imposing. Yon’s face didn’t move on one side, and Ion had lighter hair then his brother. Both were older than brother Hakon but younger than Captain Nagi.
“They will be with me all day as we travel around?” I asked.
“Yes.” Father’s head nodded deeply causing his beard to shift. “Consider today a trial. There may be no better day or second chance until you have made clear improvements.” His eyes bored into mine while I tried to hold still. “You must succeed.”
“I understand,” I said.
“They will take you to the market, and a few other approved locations. Black Days are risky for all, but your face is unknown. Most will believe you nothing more than a page of the household, out shopping.”
“I understand,” I repeated myself again and winced. Mistress Charity had taught me better than this, but her lessons escaped me.
“Today you have two tasks. First you must mingle in public without creating a disturbance.” Once he paused I nodded rapidly. “Secondly, I want you to seek a woman named Lady Hasi.”
I felt like a bobbing bird as my head dipped once more. Captain Nagi’s advice haunted my ears. He would say, a good soldier listens to those above him, then moves to complete the orders provided. Father’s commands were simple enough that I understood them. My body slowly shifted to a rigid attention stance which Captain Nagi drilled into me.
Father’s eyes flashed briefly and the energy about him swirled in irritation. Tiny bits of grey about his body all pointed at once in my direction then relaxed by tilting back towards the ground. A shiver rippled through me. That one moment had been like staring at a half drawn sword.
“Lady Hasi chooses Black Days to ply her trade openly,” he spoke as if nothing had occurred.
I dare not ask who Lady Hasi was. Father did not like when anyone cut him off. Still, he always seemed to know when a topic confused me and needed further illumination. Eventually, the statement would be made clear.
“She will carry with her a book that should glow like a rainbow if you peer through the veil of sight,” he said. The first veil had to do with visibly seeing what lay beyond, a talent which haunted me since birth. It grew stronger upon the event with Colborn. “In that book, we may find an answer to your plight. Do you understand the importance of this task?”
“I do. This book, is it special? Will she allow me to copy it?” The idea of finding any knowledge to help me achieve normalcy was alluring. Breath quickened while my heartbeat thumped faster.
“Perhaps. Bargain for everything you can by using these statues.” Father gestured to a small tray.
Atop the reflective surface sat two of my army men, the very same set that I had worked hard to pose correctly prior to nearly destroying youngest brother Colborn. Without meditation I would not have remembered these toys. They were slick with mulch colored energy that stood out even while not piercing the veil.
I gulped once upon seeing them and tried to figure out how they might be moved without destroying that film. My mother carefully wrapped them up in a small cloth, placed that cloth inside a box, and the box inside another bag with straps to go over both shoulders.
“Lady Hasi and you share an interest.” Father tilted his head briefly and I struggled to understand what he meant. Did we both wish to be free of our cages, or were we both shunned by energy that other’s embraced? Could we both destroy it with ease? “Offer the statues in trade, and accept nothing less than time with her book.”
I nodded then chose not to question further. Asking now would risk getting me in trouble. Being close to freedom could not be risked to resolve a moment of confusion.
Mother stood nearby. She had waited the entire time while father told me what to do. Her face pinched up slightly with an unknown emotion. On Mistress Charity, I would call the expression worried, but Clan mother Runa, my mother, would never have such simple thoughts.
There were other topics explained to me. Due to my peculiar nature finding a beast to ride proved difficult. The guards wouldn’t touch me directly unless a dire situation occurred. We could not take advantage of a beastless carriage because my presence might destroy enchantments.
At the end, father advised me the trip to this season’s Black Day festival would take an hour to reach by foot. I nodded and did not complain. Feet would ache by the days end, but the cause would be freedom.
We made our way through the courtyard which connected my garden to the main household. Our path wove carefully near the buildings. Rear guard Ion stayed ahead, calmly deterring other guardsmen, servants, and my own family from approaching too closely.
Their eyes followed me as we walked. Perhaps they knew I was to be allowed out for a day. Some, such as my younger brother Colborn, might be hoping for a different outcome.
Our path traveled further down the aqueducts edge to a giant main gate. Two heavy wooden doors sat open with a small line of guards protecting the entryway. I looked out and marveled at how much had changed with the properties nearby.
Maybe during my younger years the importance of flowers and gardens were overlooked. I remembered making it out the doorway upon turning eight and running for miles before coming to a stop. In that panicked dash to freedom, there had been no time to smell roses or marvel at clothing.
Freedom awaited but both feet froze at the doorway with nervousness. I tried to remember Mistress Charity’s lessons and Captain Nagi’s advice. Doctor Lumin’s words flooded my head. Everything jumbled together poorly. I felt unprepared for the looming challenge despite prior eagerness.
“Are you allowed to talk to me?” I asked the guards while looking downward. Thankfully, frozen feet could not shuffle with nervousness. After years of being caged and fearing to escape because of starvation, I was hesitant. Too many sights looked foreign.
They seemed not to hear me so I looked up then asked again, “Can you talk to me? About anything?” If I were sitting in my home, the request would come with a head to pavement bow to show sincerity. “It has been many months since I ventured outside and I do not wish to be ignorant about simple matters.”
The guard’s eyes both flashed with the same expression my father had only very little energy moved. Their glance was one I did not recognize. Perhaps they worried that I might attack at any moment like a mad animal.
They both shook their head slowly then Ion said, “We are not birds to yammer away all morning. Speech may distract us from our duties in protecting you little lord.”
“We will try to advise you accordingly, but it would not do for guards of our station to overstep,” Yon stated after his brother. His had a lisp because one side of the brother’s face stayed motionless. Both stared down with flattened lips and clenched their spears tighter.
I nodded then blinked once. They were here to protect me, not to be my friends. With that knowledge, my feet took their first step off of clan property and started down the road.
Perhaps thanks might be in order, had they chosen to talk to me I might never have stepped passed the main doorway. My adventure could have concluded with simply speaking to a new human being as if my life did not revolve around being jailed. Privately a small trickle of eager delight warred with nervousness.
“I will work hard not to be a burden upon you both,” I promised as we walked.
They almost smiled. Ion’s cheeks tightened briefly while one of Yon’s ears rose. The left side of his face stayed slack and unresponsive.
I crossed both eyes and peered into the other again. Part of guard Yon’s face looked tainted with a piss colored yellow. The black that sat inside most of his muscles didn’t reach past a series of tendrils crawling up his neck.
My head nodded once more as we traveled. The market itself was a few miles away, and we could not use any of the enchanted rides that others might handle. Energy died upon contact with me, albeit out here the apparent aversion to my presence was less noticeable. Reaching out distorted the waves as small hazes of all colors moved to get away. Maybe half an inch of space lay between me and every color imaginable.
“I’ve never been to a market,” I said.
“You mean a Black Day market?” Ion asked. He took up a frontward position while Yon stayed behind. Our bodies moved in a line along the roads right-hand side. Horses clopped by and devices with round wheels moved quickly.
“What is that?” I had already forgotten about my earlier admissions of ignorance.
“A trike, they tell me.” Ion faced forward while scanning increasing throngs of people. With a sudden couch he spit up a ball of phlegm then continued speaking. “They named it so because of the triangle inside, which creates a sturdy frame. Attached wheels let it rapidly travel. One of the smith’s in town created them a year ago. He earned a minor land grant for the contribution.”
“Some say he stole the design from a western region.” Ion turned and muttered. His hushed tone made me smile. The world outside was full of wonders that my teacher’s stories couldn’t compare to. If simply walking down the street held so many new experiences, what would the market have?
They looked marvelous. Both delectate and study, and they were much faster than a horse’s canter. “Can anyone use such a device?”
“Yes. Here it’s used by couriers, mostly. They require nothing but physical strength. Even those not upon The Way can make one work, though most rarely do.” One of Ion’s shoulders lifted. “We can get around faster without using a crude machine.”
“Are they expensive?” I asked. It didn’t register until later that both Ion and Yon were slowed by my limitations.
“It is unlikely your father would allow one, if that’s what you’re asking. Trikes are unfit for nobility.”
“Oh,” my face numbed as budding hope rapidly wilted. I had been trying to apply Doctor Lumin’s lessons in math towards those bikes. Many miles could be traveled in a day if my legs held out.
“The market we are headed to is special, young lord. Many oddities will be present.” Yon whispered behind me. Some sounds came out slightly garbled but his tone was kind. “Your father warned us not to let you touch anything. Your, nature may cause complications.”
I nodded and clutched my arms around the bag in front of me. The world outside was full of wonder, true, but danger also existed. My last foray sent a stall full of lesser beasts into fits after the urge to pet their fur struck me.
They reacted much differently than the gibberling had. Huge beasts went insane as wisps of energy flickered off. I remembered being paralyzed and huddling in a corner stall while felines with scales down their sides clawed at each other. Another creature, a long-necked bird big enough to ride on, stomped around creating small whirlwinds. Each one made my eyes grow wider and body stiller. The past lay behind me and such moments only provided a framework for my dangerous existences.
“I am trying to control myself,” my weak words amounted to nothing.
“It is Lower Master Song’s judgment that you simply need not touch anything,” Yon said from behind me. “We’ve been told you can pierce the veil of sight, and see energy? What is it doing now?”
“Staying just out of touch.” I held my breath and once again marveled at the living sentience to those bits of color. How could such little bits be unaware yet still indulge in self-preservation? Doctor Lumin believed it might be magnetic in nature as if I repulsed them. That made no sense to me because my small garden couldn’t possibly share the same trait.
“There you have it, young lord. Whatever ails you isn’t beyond your means to cope with,” Yon whispered happily. His voice came from over one shoulder.
I noticed that neither guard touched me, however. For all their words of encouragement on the survivability of my nature, they still didn’t risk contact. Doctor Lumin remained alone in that regard.
Many people threatened to grow too close. Many travelers along the road jostled us around as the market grew closer. The bag hung from my front like a shield. Both guards pushed back those who ventured too close. One boy, smaller by far than I, dared reach over. I remained unaware of him until Yon’s spear zipped by me and butted into the urchin’s foot. He glared with hatred at us then vanished.
“Black Days bring thieves out as likely as anyone else. Be wary young lord,” Ion said from ahead of me.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“A homeless waif, or some other vagabond.” I turned enough to see one of Yon’s huge shoulders ripple with indifference. “We must be careful not to hurt them too badly or they may develop a grudge.”
“I thought today was a Black Day?”
“The gods forgive all trespasses on this day, but men’s spite knows no boundaries. Remember this when you seek to spill blood,” Yon whispered behind me. “Violence is an answer, the first child of violence is harm, then hatred, then more violence.”
“Too many upon The Way forget that,” Ion said from ahead. “To lose humanity is to risk demonizing. The dark paths of The Way are slippery.”
Our path turned abruptly and an entire row of stalls came into view. The brother’s words were drowned out as an entirely new set of noises came to the front. There were all sorts of people chattering away.
I looked for the person my father had described. A tall woman who weighed as much as I. Father described her as frail beyond belief, dark in garb and atmosphere. I imagined Lady Hasi as night demon given woman’s flesh.
If my memory failed, as it likely would since many people looked alike to me, we had another tool made available. In the moments before we parted he gave both guards a loadstone which might lead towards Lady Hasi. The small token was only given to those who were approved to do business with her from prior transactions or referrals.
“We should speak no more of this in mixed company,” Ion said from ahead. His eyes were rapidly scanning all people nearby. One free hand pushed away people who might get too close.
“If not today, then when? His other siblings have their training to fall back on, but young lord Fell has nothing.”
A few who came too close looked upset at being pushed back. Others simply shrugged and accepted being guided away from us. I did not know what the standard rules were, and an endless list of questions for Mistress Charity came together.
“Captain Nagi trains him,” Ion said. The brothers were slowly squishing in as the roads became more crowded. I strained to see past their huge wall forms towards the market items on display, but couldn’t. All that greeted my sight were the edges of people and light green armor.
“The captain understands nothing. It’s like watching a duck train fish to sing.” One of Yon’s hands waved away the brother’s words. “It’s all wrong.”
“Captain Nagi has assisted me greatly,” my protest came out with more force than intended. “The fault for these limitations is solely my own.”
Neither brother responded. Thankfully my tactful reminder of the cause for Captain Nagi’s hardships in teaching me had worked. There were too many people around to speak plainly and their talk bordered on disrespectful.
We kept moving about the crowd. Both brothers occasionally stopped and let me peer from between them towards a stall. Bobbles of odd shapes and colors floated around. Some hung heavy with thick energy, but that proved an exception rather than standard. People haggled over those works while other small pieces sat ignored.
Food attracted me the most. More than one stall left me drooling and slackjawed. Sharp aromas tickled at my nose and each breath of sweet pastries took longer to let go than the one prior. I listened to Ion haggle for a low price, then he turned to hand me a skewer of meat. Without thought for dangers or poison, I tore at the meat then groaned in bliss.
“See? He’s a growing boy no matter how adult he might sound,” Ion whispered to his brother. “Food makes every child feel better.”
I heard them anyway. Both ears were finely turned towards picking out sounds. Many a night had passed where I strained to hear my family over the wall to my garden.
Their words caused me to reflect. My method of speech was oddly his level compared to those nearby. The people conversing in this market spoke nothing like what Mistress Charity taught. She spoke with a formal complexity used for courtrooms. I emulated the speech because there was little else demonstrated to me.
Captain Nagi spoke only of training and all things which might further that. His words were simplistic but firm. Doctor Lumin coughed too much and spoke with extreme excitement and theories beyond my understanding.
These people around me did neither. They discussed food, or other goods in rapid words which sounded almost like a form of combat. My head turned fuzzy as hearing turned to one conversation at a time.
We arrived in front of a much larger building towards the market’s edge. Ion and Yon took more relaxed stances as the crowd thinned out.
“This is one of the four city libraries, young lord,” Yon said from behind me. “They do not remain open on Black Days.”
“Some say the librarians and scribes all leave because they hope someone might burn the building down,” Ion’s voice contained a strange mix of energy and disapproval.
“Or they’re people too. Robes don’t make a man a eunuch or turn a woman’s nethers dry. They’re like as any to want a drink and a wench when the gods won’t judge them for not tending the stacks,” Yon responded.
“Shush. The young lord doesn’t need to be exposed to the more adult manners just yet,” Yon’s voice lowered in a whisper. I stared forward at the building and pretended not to hear. “Leave that to Mistress Charity, it’s what she’s paid for.”
I looked at the building and admired the carvings. Hand crafted beasts were on display all around the buildings base. Some were chipped with age, others looked worn, more near a side alley showed signs of abuse and strange markings.
A slow sigh came out upon seeing the mistreatment. The corner pieces were some of the most exquisite I had ever seen. Their mouths hung open and looked almost alive, feathers were proudly carved in extreme detail. Mistress Charity had been correct once again. Appreciation of art felt easier once I understood the effort which went into it.
Perhaps, if I ever earned a more lasting freedom, I could return and correct the damages done to these pieces of art.
“It is unlikely you’ll be able to venture inside anytime soon young lord. As my brother said, the libraries close on Black Days.” Ion repeated. “Even scribes may desire more than words.”
“How tactful brother.”
Their status as open mattered little. Energies of all sorts layered across the place, so much so that even walking in result in countless bits of energy being destroyed. I understood not what they meant or did, only that these pieces were unlike all the others. They looked hard, as if someone had bound together energy and formed a solid web of iron.
“I understand,” I said with a simple nod. Hours had already passed during our travel and brief market wanderings. “We should find this Lady Hasi soon.”
My words were slowly spoken. Part of me felt proud that we had survived pressing through such a crowd without incident. Those that brushed against me seemed okay provided no skin contact had been made. Thinking so made me tuck my arms deeper into sleeves despite the heat.
At my fingertips lay a haunting memory of those statues. I longed to feel the rough curve to each creature. The level of craftsmanship lay upon a higher level than my own, despite times wearing.
“This way young lord,” Ion waved from ahead.
I nodded and followed the wall of a man. As we walked he kept one hand on the spear, while his other clutched a small stone no bigger than my palm. The object sat mere inches across the middle and part of its curved edge glowed emerald. As we turned the stones lightened side shifted, like a compass made of rock and green.
We walked along the busy markets edge towards an unknown destination. With two simple breathes I left the defenses against piercing the veil fall. For me, seeing past the first five veils was more about distracting myself long enough to cross. I used this now and stumbled about a market that looked even more insane than it had been.
We passed stalls with objects a glow with energy. People with various colors spiking through them hovered near each item. Sparks flew as different bits of flotsam interacted.
“We’re almost there,” Yon said. “Right, Ion?”
Ion nodded and checked the stone in his hands once more. Connecting to the green lit edge was a small trail of similar forest energy. It traveled through the tangled mess of marketplace lights and bodies.
Ion strode right in, and my feet froze. I swallowed then tried to block myself from the veil once more. There were too many people nearby. Both eyes closed as I stood there frozen. Not only had vision been pierced but taste and sound of otherness assaulted me.
Crackles popped through and skittered across my mind with inhumane after echos. Smells which made no sense invaded my nose in odd mixes. The strongest stench belonged to meat. Rotten meat that had no right to exist and should have long ago been buried but still made me think of spring overwhelmed my other senses. Thinking I had devoured unwholesome food caused the sickening sensation to magnify.
A finger poked at my nose and caused me to fall backward. I looked up to see a woman no older than my sisters staring downward. A smile lit up her face while she laughed. Others shied away from us while a few wore smiles of amusement.
She leaned over and I felt as if my head might be swallowed up by spilling mounds of flesh. They were tightly bound and the border of fabric drew the eyes downward into a deep valley. I looked, because a young man is not wise enough to stare elsewhere.
All of a sudden a dozen other questions for Mistress Charity flooded my mind. Fabric did indeed create an attractive frame. Her warning not to speak of hidden treasures flashed through. I managed to blink once and break eye contact. Carefully I clutched the bag while standing up.
“Fell Asger, sixth child of the Great Asger clan.” She leaned back and I found myself gasping for breath while trying to not let eyes linger where they shouldn’t. “Little silk bird, have you flown the coop or been given a leash?”
“You have me at a loss beautiful lady.” I fumbled the words and completely forgot to offer a compliment.
“You don’t know me?” Her head tilted and the smile grew wider. “Do you know nothing of the neighbors outside your walls?”
My head shook back and forth quickly and I tried not to feel flushed. At eleven such a woman was too far ahead of me in every way. My mouth felt dry the more she moved about in clothes which lured in ways no one else’s had. Perhaps it was the wide hips or how fabric hung.
“Young Lord Fell!” The guard who escorted me yelled. My head snapped up to see where they were. All at once I realized how unprotected the world had been from me. My hands dug into clothes while I tried to hide every ounce of skin.
“Come on!” The young woman with a dress finer than sisters pulled at my arm. Her fingers laced into mine and I had no clue when that had happened. This girl showed no fear of what might happen. For that alone, I found it difficult to form words and argue.
It had been years since anyone outright touched me. All that time without so much as a comforting pat of acknowledgment and this girl’s warm fingers pulled at me.
“I shouldn’t,” my protest landed upon careless ears.
“Today’s the Black Day!” Her smile lingered in my mind long after she turned and started running, dragging me behind. “Today the gods forgive all their trespass!”
I almost whimpered between fear and hope. Girls were a mystery to me, as much as anything in this world might have been. Where we went escaped me. People turned and bumped by. I focused only on preventing their touch in case one of them practiced The Way.
As we moved confusion increased. Perhaps my touch was not so disastrous as believed.
She ran us to a narrow alleyway then spun around. “What’s in the bag?” the girl asked.
“A child’s toy,” I tried to deflect her curiosity with courtesy. “Who are you lady?”
“Third daughter of the Stone Hearth clan, Lady Mercy,” she said with a mocking courtesy that Mistress Charity would never allow. “Now young lord Fell, what’s truly in the bag?”
Lady Mercy reached out for the bag and I once again held still. I dared hope that she might actually risk touching me again. Not because of the overwhelming womanly charms she displayed, but for simple longing to be treated as human.
Instead, the woman went for my bag and undid the top. With the next breath, I realized the situation and moved to put the container behind me.
“What’s the harm in looking?” Her eyes twinkled and a grin grew. “Are you being shy about what you’ve got hidden under some simple cloth? I promise not to laugh.”
I shook my head in an almost calm manner. Lady Mercy laughed loudly in a way completely unlike any other woman I knew. She sounded free and excited. Then her mirth choked off as a shadow loomed over us.
“There you are brat!” A heavy sounding voice lumbered closer with thudding footsteps. “I’ve been waiting all season for this day, and you’re trying to escape me!”
Mercy’s eyes went wide as an unhealthy huge arm shot by. I froze in confusion and something vile sensation crawled across exposed flesh. My stomach flopped sideways for a much different reason.
“Trying to wiggle out!” the man shouted as his flabby arm grabbed on to the young girls hair. “Good! A proper lady should know when to shake her ass!”
There was a crack as the man’s other hand slammed against a wall. I shrank away from the outburst of violence and tried to find out what reaction might be proper.
“I ain’t your father,” the man said. “That whore of a mother has been sleeping around for ages!”
“Father!” Mercy cried.
“Sir?” I tried to form a sentence to protest. My heart beat rapidly and fingers itched from the gross sensation this man’s presence brought.
“Shut up brat!” The man’s other hand came in my direction. I saw the arm and my body moved as Captain Nagi trained it to react. My bag dropped to the ground.
Sunrise of a Man flowed into High Noon’s Decent. Arms and fingers moved in accordance with the Hourglass Tipping technique then slammed the person who grabbed me downward. The offenders arm twisted backward as they fell awkwardly. These were techniques taught to me which did not require great physical strength and relied upon flow.
I honestly had no clue why the maneuvers were so easy to perform aside from hours of practice and the unsteady feet of a drunken man. Certainly, I had not sparred against another human being so much larger than I, yet the motion felt easy.
With nary a pause for breath, my freed hand slammed downward into the person entrapped by his own bulk and poor posture. A loud rippling oink echoed across the third veil of sound like a pig had been stuck. His clothes and back rippled under the pressuring palm. Thick wet air smashed into my face and left sourness.
“Father!” Mercy yelled at me now but her tone had changed. “What are you doing?!”
I huffed and felt as if I had been rooted on the spot. Below me the man bucked like a wild beast. Terror made me clench his arm then press harder upon his back. A gross feeling of being dipped in gritty honey nearly added my recent meal to his already messy frame.
The clothing rippled then gave way to filthy flesh. Sores appeared and welted. Black puss oozed and burned away like all other energies in my presence. Oddly my stomach hardened at the sight and I nodded as if this were a spot of foul dirt to be purged. Dark lights flashed along the first veil of sight as Mercy’s father continued to oink.
A curled tail appeared while thick cloven feet tore through sown leathers. Squealing accompanied another surge of his mass as my body nearly was uprooted. I took deep breaths and clenched stomach muscles to stay steady.
Energy steamed off the man then swirled around me, causing shortened hair to stir upwards. I felt elated and confused at the same time. Finally, the beast who had once been a man lay still and unmoving. Mercy cried openly. People whispered nearby from the alley’s mouth.
Two pairs of hands slammed upon my shoulders. Ion’s eyes were wild as he quickly pulled me back into the crowd. People were muttering but their words escaped even my fine hearing.
“Quickly, we must go. Before anyone takes note,” Yon whispered behind me. He stood back further while Ion pushed back outstretched hands. They pulled me back by my clothes but took great care not to touch flailing arms.
I reached for the bag at my chest only to find it had vanished. The figurines lay back in the marketplace somewhere, likely lost in the shuffle of movement.
We made it halfway home before showing any signs of slowing. Both guards kept glancing behind us as if they expected a ravenous beast to charge up the roadside. Their worries were contagious, as I worried a mob of pig men might arrive at any moment.
Finally we stopped to take measure of what happened. I huffed quickly and wished that Captain Nagi’s lessons had been a bit harsher, if only to ease the suffering which now plagued me.
The brothers were muttering to each other and I couldn’t discern what was said. My ears were still partially through the veil and listening to energies not visible to normal people.
“What did you do?” Ion asked twice while Yon’s mouth hung half open.
I tried to rein myself in and go with their movements. The thought of another human dying under my hands didn’t frighten me so much as cause distress. As a son of the Asger clan I could not afford the repercussions this would bring. Mercy had called him Father, which meant he was a clan lord of some sort. This brief day of freedom would never happen again once father learned of it.
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
My escort’s said nothing as I staggered back to the Asger family properties. Both brothers marched quickly. My mind spun, replaying the scene for understanding. The techniques given to me by Captain Nagi proved far too deadly. There would be no chance of sparring against another person until my ability to burn away other’s energy could be prevented.
Why was the Stone Hearth daughter able to touch me but the other man had died? What caused him to transform so much during those final moments? I hadn’t intended to harm him, merely make him stop. Lady Mercy claimed the man had been her father, which meant I killed, or transformed a clan lord into a pig. That fat disgusting man who had reached for Lady Mercy ended up looking exactly like one of the demons described by Doctor Lumin and worry lead me to the conclusion that I had somehow transformed him.
At the home gate stood my father with a frown access his face. Behind him was my mother and second brother Kirkwood. Of our siblings, Kirkwood looked most like father. Their expressions shared the same mixture of distaste and worry. Mother’s eyes were closed while she tried to keep each breath steady.
Guards rushed by us as Ion rapidly reported what had happened. I felt disoriented but managed to perform a greeting.
“Greetings father. Greetings mother, and elder brother Kirkwood,” I said. Both hands clasped together at my front as I gave the proper bow.
“Is this a craft of your’s brother Fell?” Kirkwood blurted the words which made father’s eyes narrow briefly. He showed no other sign of being upset.
I nodded to my brother, confused why the statue of Eerika rated higher than what had happened in the marketplace.
Kirkwood stared at my father and the two shared a glance which might have meant anything. He set down the statue onto a small table by in the doorway and stomped off. It shimmered with light despite being placed into shade.
“Were you able to see the book?” Father asked.
My head shook back and forth slowly.
“And I see you are no longer in possession of either figurine,” he further remarked.
To this, I nodded slowly while trying to remain calm.
“And now I’m told there was a disturbance in the market.”
My head hung. Word had traveled ahead of us to reach his ears.
“Go back to your garden son,” my father said. “While I consider what to do with these additional complications.”
Father turned then started to walk away. His body moved far slower than Kirkwood’s rush. The guards at my side went stiff as Captain Nagi stepped towards them. Both saluted rapidly but otherwise stayed quiet.
“Did something happen to Eerika?” I dared to shout at my father’s back.
He tensed. His clothes stiffened and the sword energy which surrounded him stood ready to skewer me at a moment’s notice. Three steady breaths escaped and father finally answered.
“Your sister Eerika lay in her room, being tended by a physician.” He took a steadying breath but did not turn to see me. “Whatever untrained ignorance allowed you to enchant the statue has achieved a terrible result.”
Then he walked away again. I briefly reflected upon the common sight then shook my head. “Enchantments?”
According to the brief explanation, my statue gift caused Eerika harm. My face grew numb and ears rang. The desire to divorce myself from reality struck hard making vision swim. My body started to sway and no one made a move to keep me upright, save for Captain Nagi.
He walked me back to my garden, and I had no heart to lift my head from the floor. Labored breathing and a wet face were to be kept private, as, apparently, everything in my life should be.
Tragedy stuck my garden home as well. My few handcrafted items were gone. The multitudes of failures for sister’s gift were missing. Artwork which I had drawn to keep company on lonely nights had been removed. The craft tools used in their making no longer sat in their box.
I sniffed and tried to harden myself against the wrenching feelings. The statues were gone, without a single glance at the book in exchange. A lesser clan would now become united in their displeasures with me over killing their head. My sister lay sick as a result of my gift. To put a fine hat atop it all, I was once again banished to the garden with less freedom. Mistress Charity would not be pleased.
But I also learned I felt no remorse at causing a man’s death. Only worry at the repercussions. Mistress Charity would never find out how little the event itself bothered me. Poor Mercy, to be robbed of her father by me. Despite his manner, the man still sired her.
Eerika’s status worried me most of all. Today was a Black Day in truth. All the ascended gods of the world would plead blindness to my trespasses, but once again harming my family deserved punishment.
There were no stars above which could bring me comfort, yet to the roof I went. Loneliness felt even more apparent after being cast back into this gilded cage. I raised my arms and wanted to scream, but could only whisper.
“Today should be a day of forgiveness, yet there is none for me.” My head shook. I felt dead inside then leaned my head back towards a dark night sky. “So I ask you, whoever may be up there, when will I be free of this burden?”
My heart beat once then grew afraid to do so again, for in the emptiness between stars, something moved. First one portion of darkness twisted with an even darker hue, then another. As if a beast of immeasurable size and power coiled lazily among the blackness between. Perhaps a demon of the sky above stirred from sleep.
A single star utterly vanished as the impossible creature curled. I held very still, frozen with my neck tilted backwards and eyes wide open. My heart dared to beat a second time which caused the darkness to seize. The sense of something singular and immensity loomed in the air above. A being so far away that seeing me should have been impossible, but it peered across the distance as easily as I saw through the veil.
The darkness split open and lightning poured down like spears all around. Each ripple carried no normal sound, but instead pierced in a manner that felt like my ears were straining to hear. The defenses between me and the veils shattered and piercing them revealed a keening noise that made teeth hurt. The haven of my secluded garden no longer kept floating bits of energy back. They fluttered through as a wild wind tore grass and shingles away.
Wind tore across skin face but touched no bushes. Energy assaulted me then hissed as they were destroyed. Gaspes appeared upon my skin where the very air attacked and welts rose under the battering of dying essence. I grasped all ten fingers tightly around the edge of my perch.
Chest muscles strained to hold onto rapidly fleeting breath. People in the distance shouted. I heard my garden gate slam open while those large eyes glared from an eternity. They blinked once then a jagged mouth heavy with the promise of more lightning opened.
“Soon.” The mockery of a face formed one word made of chattering lights. Bolts stayed suspended in the air above as its illumination faded. All at once multiple rounds of restrained thunder clapped in unison, deafening me.
Dizziness shook a barely stable equilibrium. Warmth trickled down my neck then vision blurred. For the first time in almost a decade, I lost my grip and fell from the small houses roof. The ground greeted me with indifference while energy wildly spun above.
The day became blacker still.