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Chapter 11

Page history last edited by Anonymoose 5 years, 4 months ago

Initially I had expected to be escorted to the guardhouse or some kind of police station, instead Ceerly and his goon squad of militiamen brought the two of us to a residence. It felt old, mostly because of all the archaic furniture and complete lack of modern comforts. It kept reminding me of where I was, some out of the way hinterlands of civilization. Ceerly had left us there and departed immediately after saying something about restoring order. It made sense to me; the people were angry and in a near panic. I wasn't clear on all the details as to why, but it was obvious there was more pent up than what just happened this morning. Some food or drink could have been prepared; the hospitality here was terrible.

 

We had waited for nearly an hour; the hard wooden chair ground against my bones, and no matter how often I shifted in discomfort it never got any better. Rosette remained standing, stalwart and on alert. She peered out of the window, paced back and forth and pulled her sword slightly out of its sheath every so often. It was obvious she was still very on edge. Her flame hadn't stopped burning even after all the waiting in crippling boredom. She clearly didn't believe we were safe yet. I had spent the better part of the first ten minutes trying to convince her to sit down, but she refused to do so each time. She was liable to leave permanent claw marks on the wood floor from moving back and forth so often.

 

Finally, the door swung open once again after an hour; the pudgy form of Marlow stood in the frame, but he stepped back to usher in someone else. Bound to a primitive wheelchair was an old man. There were few grey hairs left on his head, his eyes were sunken and his face withered like a prune. His arms and legs were thin as twigs, and his every breath seemed labored.

 

     Marlow the dolt caught one of the wheels on the door frame and shook the old man violently; the old man's reaction was unexpectedly filled with vigor, “You useless sack of shit! Watch where you're pushing me.” Neurotic as ever Marlow apologized profusely and hurried the old man inside. He parked him in the middle of the room facing me. “You dumb sorry excuse for a man! Move that chair and let me talk to the man face to face!”

 

Marlow in a panic rushed over and pulled a chair out of the way opposite of my own, between us a low wooden table. There he parked the old man, and his eyes darted around the room. He seemed hounded by the idea that he was going to forget something else and have the old man yell at him again. The old man simply stared at me and ignored the bumbling oaf. Eventually Marlow noticed the ever vigilant Rosette staring him down. His composure collapsed completely; he was overcome with an acute fear for his safety and decided to retreat back out the door. His footsteps plodded away down the hallway until another door opened and shut in the distance abandoning the house all together.

 

     The old wasted no time as soon as the door slammed in the distance, “The name is Donald. Donald Ceerly.”

 

     “Laven. This would be Rosette.”

 

     Donald strained his neck to greet her, “Yes miss. It's a pleasure.”

 

That was an unexpected gesture from the old man. Everyone has gone out of their way to ignore Rosette’s existence since we first left the woods. Donald's eyes drifted back toward me, and he clearly noticed my reaction.

 

     “Yes, you really don't understand anything at all do you?”

 

     “I'd prefer if you didn't get any amusement out of that on account of me.”

 

     “Such the talker too. Did you actually plan all that out with the Inquisitor?” Donald kept quiet for a moment to study me for a moment. I didn't get a chance to answer before he continued, “No, it looks like you didn't.” He became quiet again, losing himself deep in though, “So how is it that you're not dead?”

 

     “I couldn't tell.”

 

     “Couldn't or wouldn't?”

 

     “More of the first than the second.”

 

     Donald's back straightened out in his chair and a displeased expression set upon his face, “Listen here boy, I'm not here for you to get angry at. I'm also not going to put up with your whining or your bullshit. If you're looking for something to beat up, I'll have you fetch Marlow.”

 

     “Just let me go on the record that I'm not playing some sort of mental chess game with anyone. I'm not looking to vent my anger on anyone. And if I was, I'm pretty sure I'd be justified since for a couple days now everywhere I go people have tried to confine or kill me. So you'll have to forgive me for being a little pissed off. So why don't you just hurry up and come out with what you want?”

 

     “You little-” Donald seemed ready to chastise me instead of back down, but before he could he went into a serious coughing fit. I reflexively stood up out of my chair, but his hand waved me back down.

 

He produced a red handkerchief, coughed into it a few more times, wiped his mouth and put it away. It was then that I noticed a very strange smell. I couldn't put my finger on it right away; when my eyes wandered onto Rosette she was also sniffing the air. I clearly wasn't imagining it.

 

     “Blood.” I said direly. Donald looked surprised; his expression didn't change much, but his eyes shifted from side to side. “You're coughing up blood.” I drove the point home.

 

     Donald sighed and slumped in his chair, “Yes, that's right.”

 

     “You're dying. Aren't you?”

 

     “Stop.” His voice was a little pained, not from physical aches that no doubt assailed him, but rather from the tinge of pity in my question. “Rosette.” He said sullenly. “Can I speak with Laven alone? This needs to be between men and for him to hear only.”

 

Rosette was unmoving; I'm sure she wasn't going to entertain that request at all. I confirmed it when I looked at her. Slowly she turned to return my glare.

 

     I started to ask politely, “Rosette.”

 

     She cut me off quickly, “No. I said I wouldn't ever-”

 

     “Rose.” She stopped immediately. “He's harmless.” She was still apprehensive. “It's his last request. You don't have to go far. Please?”

 

She cast her eyes down to the floor and sighed. She then marched her way to the door and closed it gently and softly behind her. I could hear her moving down the hallway; she didn't move very far at all; she took that one to heart. If I made a noise louder than polite speech, she'd no doubt hear. If the room was an ambush, all that pacing and nearly turning the room upside down over the last hour would have uncovered that.

 

     A sly expression spread over the old man's face, “As far as monsters go, that one puts many to shame. You're a lucky man. So? She fit like a glove? They somehow always know.”

 

I was taken aback. Donald kept leering at me with a well honed perverted gaze. I wasn't sure if he was joking or not. He had seemed really serious until a moment ago too. I had a hard time following what was going on his head.

 

     “Don't look at me like that. I wanted to make sure the lady was absent before I started getting into the questions that mean anything.” He went into another minor coughing fit but soon continued. “You don't have to answer that one. It's written on your face right now. No wonder why that sick freak went after you.”

 

     I mustered enough of my wits back to ask what I thought was a very important question, “Who exactly are you?”

 

     “A very good question.”

 

     “And how is it not written on your face?”

 

     “Another good question. Here's mine. How did you not burn?”

 

     “I told you I have no idea what you're talking about.”

 

     “Holy water my boy. Not just the type made by any ordained priest. I heard what happened. That stuff was the real deal. Made to order on the sacred hill in the Golden Cathedral. If that stuff so much as touched another man in your position, they'd burst into flames and die on the spot. And not just die, but die for good. Soul and all. Terrifying stuff. That's the kind of death no normal person would wish on their worst enemy.”

 

     “Some sort of tool for exorcisms?”

 

     “Sadly, the Church has gone to a policy of zero tolerance. That's not how they deal with most people though.”

 

     “Hanging?”

 

     “All sorts of things. All of it to send one message. A man and a monster were not meant to be.” Donald's expression sunk at his own words.

 

I had to goad him forward and have him continue, “So you're confessing that you're guilty?”

 

     “And I'm guessing I am in good company.”

 

I kept quiet and didn't say a thing. Donald's eyes were very telling though. As sunken and dead as they looked, now that he felt free to talk as he wished, there was a spark of light in them I couldn't deny.

 

     “Rosette the Thorn Knight. It's an infamous name. After every rumor you hear for the last few years, to think she'd settle down with someone as soft looking as you? Look here boy. That monster is regarded as an absolute terror. Able to cut a seasoned warrior in two with little effort. A raging inferno that incinerates everything in its path. It's rare that people fear more for their neck than their loins with a monster. So spare me your act of playing dumb. You didn't hire her to be your bodyguard. She's as good as a dozen knights, maybe more, all in one place. Just as expensive to hire too. They say the Thorn Knight is a nightmare on the battlefield but honorable and unable to lie. That said, she doesn't look at you like an employer. When her eyes are on you, they're way too soft for that.”

 

     I leaned back in my chair and sighed, “Alright. I'll admit it. If it means we can move on. I met her not long ago. I fought her, and she was the one that did the deed.”

 

     “The deed?” Donald thought on that for a moment before entering a laughing fit that turned into a minor coughing fit. “That scenario happens often too.” Once more his expression became sullen. It was as if his careless choice in words were bringing up unwelcome memories.

 

     This time his eyes glazed over as he got lost in thought; I impatiently called him out, “Is this meeting all about trading stories? Or is there something you wanted?”

 

     “I need your help.” I stayed quiet and let him continue, “You don't often find other men guilty of the greatest sin. Many of them run or are dragged off into the wilderness never to be seen again. Some of them stay hidden their whole lives. If they are not found and killed or run off themselves, most of them live in the demon realms.”

 

     “Demon realms?”

 

     “Areas controlled by monsters where they roam freely. They were once countries and cities ruled by men. Without the pressure of the church, one by one men fell victim to the advances of monsters until it collapses one day entirely. It becomes a land consumed with lust.”

 

     “That would explain the vicious persecution. Is it really an over reaction? Demon realm makes it sound like a hell on earth.”

 

Donald's eyes turned deadly serious; they actually put me off for a second, and my heart sunk, “So you really don't know anything. It's hard to tell if you're joking or are ignorant.”

 

I sighed and tried to explain it the best I could, “A few days ago I woke up in a ditch. I found I don't quite remember where I am from, how to get back or even what my name is. I'm wandering now and looking for answers. My life feels like a puzzle. Not with pieces I have no idea where to place but with pieces missing completely. If I hadn't met Rosette, I'd probably still be lost in the forests near Brun where I would have died or been captured by monsters far worse than her.”

 

     “So that's why you didn't turn her in when you reached Brun?”

 

     “Because I owe her my life three times over.”

 

     “Not for any other personal reason?” Donald asked with a perverted smile on his face. I could feel myself flush red; something he noticed right away and laughed at. “You could have done worse. Much worse.” He continued to read my expression, “Was it your first time too? Ha! I'd say it was. That's too bad, anything else is a disappointment afterwards! You can't go back to being normal after that kind of ride. Do you got scars from it?”

 

     “You still haven't got to the point old man.” I was starting to lose my patience.

 

     “Fine then.” He looked sour as I refused to join him in his fun. “I'll start over again. Who am I really? I am Donald Ceerly. The master tailor of Brun. I've made garments of silk worn by noble men and women from the west to east coasts. I put this town on the map. I'm the richest man in town with more power and influence than the mayor himself, but I owe everything to a monster. I'm dying Laven. I haven't got much time to live. I would journey to the forest all the time. 'Collecting materials for my work', I'd say. Everything I learned; everything I made was all her.” It seemed he was fighting back tears now. “I don't want to die here, Laven. If I'm going to die anywhere it would be back with her. With the woman I love.”

 

     It was a sad story, but there were some parts of it that didn't sit well, and I had to ask, “Why didn't you just live in the woods?”

 

     “Because she wasn't the girl I married.”

 

     “Now you're not making any sense.”

 

     “I don't have the time to explain it all here. I know you're in a position close to mine. The inquisition can't touch you. Not right away. You're the only one I can trust. Not even my sons. I got favors to pull. I can make sure you get to the Free Ports safely.”

 

     “I think answering my question-”

 

     “Can wait. I don't have all day to talk to you alone. Do you think I'm not taking any risk talking to you now? I may die soon on my own, but there're ways that can happen faster.”

 

His eyes were a mixture of resignation, sorrow and desperation. I'm sure if I said no that would be the end of it. No one was going to stop me from leaving town, even if they tried. If I denied him, this sad old man would die comfortably in his bed very soon. If there was a hunt going on for people like me, there was no doubt Zerin or another psychopath would hound Rosette and me on our way south. I wasn't too keen on venturing back into the forests again, but if Rosette was close by, perhaps I wouldn't have to run the gauntlet of abuse and hardship again.

 

     “All I got to do is make sure you get there?”

 

     “Unless the man from the future can cure me right now.”

 

Coughing up blood, the shortness of breath, his swaying to and fro from weakness and horrid stench of death; it had all the hallmarks of being cancer. I didn't have much doubt. He didn't have much time. If he kept his side of the bargain, we'd be able to make it to these 'Free Ports' without leaving a trail of blood along the way.

 

     “No. Maybe in a different time and a different place I could have done something else. I'll get you to your woman.”

 

     Donald's expression brightened with renewed hope. “You have my gratitude, Laven. I also prepared lodging at the inn for you. Don't worry, they've been well compensated to not give you any trouble. You can go now, Marlow will be sulking somewhere outside. Send him in and be on your way and get some rest. We'll leave late tomorrow morning.”

 

     “Late tomorrow morning? Aren't you in a hurry?”

 

There was a wry smile on his face that gave me chills, “No. You're gonna need the rest. I can tell.” He laughed, topped off with another laughing fit.

 

I got out from my chair, walked over and offered my hand to seal the deal. He barely had the strength to shake, but he managed somehow. He still refused to wipe that look off his face. Even as I turned and left he couldn't stifle that laugh. I couldn't quite place it as him being happy things were going to go his way at the very end, or if he was in one some joke that I wasn't.

 

I left the room behind and saw Rosette standing guard down the hallway. She perked up, her non-ears, those fins on the side of her head, twitched and her head turned my way. She approached slowly, but half way she broke out into a lunge and threw herself at me, clinging to my chest and nearly knocking the wind out of me. She hung there for a moment, breathing in deeply. Her tail whipping back and forth, spewing out embers that fell everywhere.

 

     She looked up at me with the most adorable face; she talked in a hushed voice, her characteristic energy and joviality had yet to return, “I'm sorry.”

 

     “Sorry for-” No, I did know what she was talking about. “No, that's not your fault. I'm not hurt and neither are you nor anyone else. That's all I wanted.”

 

She remained motionless for a moment, but then I felt her cheeks rub into my chest. Give me a break please. I'm not sure how much more of this I was going to handle. It was another uncharacteristic switch in personality too. I wasn't sure if my heart was going to handle it, even if my head said that she was just as likely to punch me in the gut and chastise me for not being able to take it.

 

     She relented and looked up at me with eager eyes, “What did you talk about? What's going on?”

 

     “W-we made a deal.” I stuttered. “He wants to meet someone in the forest outside town. We get him there; and in return, he gets us a safe passage to the Free Ports.”

 

     “Meet someone? Who? Who?” She seemed loaded with energy as she was almost jumping up and down.

 

     “Some lover or mistress of his. I'm sure it's a monster.”

 

     She inhaled, and her expression brightened, “A secret meeting?” She was almost squealing. “How romantic! Forbidden love! And my first job with my husband. Also romantic!”

 

     “He also got us a room at the inn to- whoa!” Rosette with incredible speed grabbed hold of one of my arms and began dragging me along.

 

     “Let's go then! Hurry! hurry!”

 

     “Wait a second! I can walk you know? We needed to buy supplies first anyway right? Right? Hold on!”

 

     “Yes, we need to get ready too. Shopping with my husband! Shopping with my husband!” She was almost singing by now.

 

     “Wait. What's gotten into you? Aren't you worried about being seen like this?” I think I was being ignored. “Has your brain stopped working? Hey! Come on. You looked so worried about appearances before.”

 

     “Don't care. My husband is invincible! I don't have to worry about anything anymore. Come on!”

 

     “No! Wait. I can still break. My arm is going to come out of its socket. Come on!”

 

As I watched her from behind while she easily pulled me along, I noticed that tail of hers. The ridge of it burned bright, almost out of control. Had she not calmed down? Now that I thought of it, this kind of pattern of movement seemed rather familiar. I remembered what the old man Donald had said in his parting words, and I understood what he meant.

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