Soul Keeper and The Guardian, Chapter 8

A NEW COMPANION

Click here for Chapter 1

 

‘You trying to punk me?’ said the scary red-haired warrior lady. ‘Right after I saved your sorry asses?’

Mum was speechless and so was I. We just barged into this town without even knowing its name. How unlucky were we to have our cover broken at the first stop. To make matters worse, she was just shivering with fear and doubt instead of coming up with a response which seemed to be escalating the situation.

‘Miss, we didn’t know where Kirkpod was. We were asked to use that as our cover. We don’t know anything about the world outside of our town. We’re out on an aimless mission to Braumchester and make our way back home. I’m sorry we can’t tell you where we’re from but I promise that we’ll keep our word when we get back.’ I said that to her with maximum conviction hoping that she’d agree to those terms. It was clear that we were no good at lying so blurting out the truth seemed to be the best play at hand even though I didn’t entirely know the truth about this journey. Maybe I had even compromised whatever mission we were on by telling about it to some random stranger but there weren’t many things that we could do. I felt that inaction would only bring uncertainty. It was better to choose a path and just walk it, facing whatever consequences that follow. She stared at me for an uncomfortably long time which made me itch inside. Did I piss her off or was she contemplating the stupidity of my demands?

 

‘Jeez. What a pain.’ She shook her head. ‘How do you guys plan on getting to Braumchester? Do you even know where it is?’ My mind stopped going haywire after her calm response. We had averted a huge disaster.

‘We were asked to just keep following the sun’ said my mother.

‘That’s almost correct but you’ll end up among the mountains if you keep following the sun strictly. Alright then. For some reason, I’m willing to gamble that you people have stacks of money lying back at home so I’ll go with the flow. I’ll take you Braumchester and keep you company till you reach home. You’ll be paying me two crowns and all the expenses I’ll bear for you till we get there given that you don’t have anything on yourselves as of now.’

‘It’s a deal!’ said my mother with a wide, genuine smile. She was probably comforted by the fact that we now had some guidance and security for the rest of our journey. Even if she didn’t have two crowns back at home, uncle Mikhail would cover it for us.

‘If you try to con me again, I’ll crack both your skulls open without thinking twice’ said the lady but my mom was still smiling like an idiot.

‘All right, let’s get a horse for you both. Make do with one for the rest of the journey. I’m not going to risk shelling too much money on you. There’s a stable at the edge of the town. Let’s head there right away’. With that, we started following her.

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Me and my mother were walking behind her through the streets while holding hands. We still weren’t feeling quite safe already as we cruised through these dirty streets on foot. Not much time had passed since our encounter with that gang and so the town was still unruffled given how early in the morning it was. The houses were a fourth in size compared to the ones back in Vereen, just like I observed in Hirridunn. The streets were unkempt and smelled foul even though the day hadn’t begun yet. The market was disgusting to look at which made me wonder why anyone would shop at a place like that.

‘So, what’s your name?’ asked my mother while excitedly speeding up to the red-haired lady.

‘I’m Ravenna Summers. What about you two?’

‘I’m Mirriam and this is my Ed. Edward.’ My mom was overly excited about this conversation.

‘You’re not making up your names too right?’

‘Oh, no no. Why would we do that?’ she said to her while nervously laughing and still smiling like an idiot which made her look even more suspicious in an embarrassing way. ‘I’ve never seen a woman fight before. That was so amazing what you did back there. Are you a mercenary?’ My mother’s enthusiasm and awe was making me cringe inside.

‘Wow, you people must have never left home and no, I’m not a mercenary. Not full time anyway. I’m just a casual traveller. I love to be on the move all the time and pick up odd jobs along the way to fund my ventures.’

‘So you don’t live here?’ I asked her.

‘No, I just came here to fulfil a delivery for the thieves guild. I don’t usually do business with them but they are easy money.’

‘What’s the thieves guild?’ The excitement sapped out of my mother’s face right after I asked the question. I wondered if I had asked something really offensive.

 

‘I’m not surprised you don’t know. The thieves guild was an organisation formed by independent thieves across the country. They realised that banding together was more beneficial than just being small time thieves. This meant more power, more influence, a wider network and scope to pull off larger quests. The guild had been around for a couple of centuries till they were hunted and destroyed by the Knight of Wisdom about twenty five years ago. I was only a little child back then. But the guild was too big to die so easily. Thievery never stops and from the ashes of the old, a new guild was resurrected by Clovis Favere, a top guild thief who managed to stay out of the reach of the Knight of Wisdom.’ I didn’t understand a few things like who the Knight of Wisdom was and how this resurrection happened but it was still fascinating nonetheless.

‘So you’re a part of the guild now’? I asked her.

‘What? No! Didn’t I tell you that I don’t “usually do business with them”. I’m no thief. I’m a proud adventurer’ she said sparkling with pride.

‘The guild came back into the picture about 10 years ago. The whole country started crumbling after the massacre and Clovis saw this as the perfect time to bring the guild back given how busy everyone was while dealing with the repercussions. They’ve been careful enough to keep their primary operations in our kingdom and staying out of the reach of the High King and the Knight of Wisdom’ Now, I was falling in a hole of total darkness. Everything seemed to be flying over my head. We had a king? How come I was never told about it and what massacre was she talking about? What’s the High King and who is this Knight of Wisdom whose name keeps popping up again and again.

‘Um excuse me, but what do you mean by “our kingdom”?’ I asked both of them. My mother was still feeling down from the ongoing conversation but Ravenna quickly answered.

‘Which cave have you been living in boy? Jeez, I don’t even want to know. Alright.’ She stopped in her tracks and kneeled down on the ground. She started carving an unnecessarily detailed outline of a continent on the ground with her dagger. ‘This is Pangenna, the country we live in. The one of three countries in the world. There’s one on the east and another one on the south, all separated by huge oceans. The eastern country is called Cambria and the southern country is Rodrion. They’re both quite prosperous unlike us.’ I’ve always thought that we were well off but judging by the state of these places that I’ve been to in the last two days, I could see where she was coming from.

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(The unnecessarily detailed outline drawn by Ravenna of their country)

‘Our country is broken into five states. The west is where we are. This is the kingdom of Bradstone. Then there’s the Rilancian Empire, the largest kingdom in the country, also known as the mainland which ruled by the High King. It spans across the centre and the north and is about five times larger than ours. The south defected from Rilance 10 years ago and has since been ruled by Lord Garius and his council of merchants. They call the place the State of Europa. Then there’s Valencia, the kingdom of the east. Separating Rilance and Valencia is the sacred forest of Jottivick, which is governed by the Elders.’ She drew out the entire country and showed me where was what while I kneeled beside her and observed carefully. How come I was never taught about this stuff and why did I never bother to even ask. I’ve read about kings in my books but I’ve never known we had one.

‘Who’s our king, the king of Bradstone?’ I asked her.

‘That’d be Horticus Bradstone. Horticus, the cowering wimp. He’s a little coward who has locked himself up inside his fort in the clouds and has forgotten about his subjects.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked her.

‘I mean that we’ve been at a cold war with the Rilancian empire for the last twenty years and we’re on the losing side. The king has basically given up on the smaller towns and settlements across the kingdom and has focused his efforts on fortifying his cities. He doesn’t even bother taxing these small places. They’re on their own and that’s why others have come picking on what remains. The thieves guild and the bandits have practically taken over these places and the Rilancian empire is always eyeing on taking over these places indirectly because they don’t want a full fledged war either. A few more years in the luxurious towers for Horticus and we’ll soon have a new king.’ She clearly seemed to hate him.

 

We then got back on our way while I was revising all the new information that was fed into my brain. There was a lot to process. My mother still looked pale and downcast and I was wondering which part of the conversation had disturbed her so much. The most plausible explanation seemed like the mention of thieves guild had resulted in this, but why?

Judging by the increasing gaps between structures, we were at the edge of the town already. We saw a huge ranch, far from the edge of the town which Ravenna said was the stable we were going to purchase a new horse from. We picked up our pace and I noticed something as we got closer. A short man wearing a hat was talking to two people holding two struggling mustangs.

 

‘Those are our horses!’ I exclaimed while I pointed to the stable.

‘Looks like it’s your lucky day’ said Ravenna. She drew her mace out and broke into a run. Me and mom were sprinted to keep up with her. Without a warning, she attacked one of the thugs from behind by pummelling the mace on his back. He screamed and fell immediately. The other thug wasted no time and broke into a run as soon as he saw his friend get wrecked, leaving both our horses behind. We went up to them to comfort them and they calmed down once they realised that they were in safe hands.

‘Stolen goods little man. They’re not for sale’ she said to the man who looked like the owner of the stable. Those thugs probably got the horses here to sell them.

‘Oh thank goodness. Randall left a purse in Dixit’s saddle.’ He did mention it when he asked us to flee. Apparently uncle Mikhail gave it to him for the journey. My mother looked inside and gave a big sigh of relief. ‘It’s a full bag of gold like mine was. Looks like there’s about 60 pieces here. I hope it’s enough.’

’60 gold!!? For real!?’ Screamed Ravenna. ‘You’re telling me you lost almost that much back there? And what’s with you carrying so much money around.’ All this seemed outrageous to her. I didn’t get what the fuss was about.

 

We continued or journey back into the town. I was riding with my mother on Dixit while Ravenna had borrowed Diddy for the while being. ‘Well, that saves me two gold pieces now that I don’t have to buy you a horse. I don’t have to worry about feeding and lodging you either. With that much money, our journey has gotten much more lavish.’

‘Why are you so obsessed with a crown. Is it so precious to you?’ I asked her. This time my mother looked at me as if I’d asked the wrong question. It seemed like I had switched places with her as the idiot of the trio. She also looked a little embarrassed.

‘You kidding me brat? I don’t reckon you’ve had a decent education. I’m going to have to charge you for all these classes too. They ain’t for free.’ She looked at my mother who was giggling in shame. ‘There are only a limited amount of crowns in the world. It’s made of a rare ore called Cassium. All this ore came from one single mountain in the mainland and the High King a few generations ago minted several pieces of currency out of it. Since then, no more cassium has been mined and the number of crowns remain the same. They don’t switch hands often. Even when they do, they remain in the same circles, the high class often. I’ve never seen a crown in my life. I never expected to either given how expensive it was.’

‘How much?’ I asked her, again.

‘A hundred gold. A hundred frickin gold pieces.’ She said in the most wondrous tone.

‘That’s it?’ It didn’t seem much after all that build-up. However, it seemed like my statement had offended her as if  I had just slapped her on the face.

‘Do you understand gold’s worth?’ she asked me in a very serious tone. The only comforting thing about it was that my mother had the same confused reaction as me. A hundred gold actually didn’t seem like much.

‘I know. One gold is 75 silvers and one silver is 20 wittles.’ Only after answering did I feel like I had misunderstood her question.

‘Tell me Edward, how much was I going to buy a horse for?’ she asked me

‘No idea’ I told her immediately

‘One gold. A fully grown, healthy horse for one single piece of gold. You can buy a decent house for about 15 gold. A hundred gold would keep you well-fed for decades. That’s how much a crown is worth.’ I was a bit surprised. Back in Vereen, we used to buy and sell regular stuff in the market for gold. Everybody had sacks of gold. How come it’s worth so much here. ‘Don’t tell me you people are royalty. That would explain a lot though.’ She then looked to my mother. ‘Nah, you don’t look like royalty. Your hands. You’re a working woman. What do you do?’

‘I’m a farmer. A carrot farmer.’ She said with as much pride as Ravenna did when she explained her profession.

‘Yeah right.’ Said Ravenna in response to my mother’s answer. ‘It’s fine if you don’t want to tell me about your personal lives but you don’t have to make up stupid lies.’ My mother looked like she was about to retort to clarify that she indeed was a carrot farmer but she ended up not saying anything. We finally reached the inn where Ravenna was staying. She tied the horses up near hers and we went inside.

‘Hey Ed, that was a smart move back there. Calling out to me for help. Not many people put faith in others, especially around these parts. It’s also because there’s not much to depend on. Although it didn’t help you get your pouches back, at least you have your horses and a companion for your journey.’ It was strange seeing her be so nice and gentle.

‘Uhmm, Thank you’ I said with a smile. We then walked to the counter where she asked for another room for us. It only costed us 5 silvers for a day. The room wasn’t the best I could hope for but after what we’ve been through in the last two days, this was more than I could ask for. Me and my mother slept like babies till the night. We had some apple pie sent to our room for dinner after which we slept again through the night.

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The Soulkeeper and the Guardian, Chapter 7

Glimpse of the New World

Click here for Chapter 1

 

By this point, I was consciously aware that I was irrefutably asleep on the desert floor. The dune was comfortable to sleep on but the rough sand blowing on my face was quite bothersome and yet I lay stuck to the ground. One hard day of riding had taken it’s toll aside from another long day before that. Neither me, nor my mother had gotten an opportunity to sleep yet so we were tired to the bone and crashing in the middle of the desert turned out to be the result. My eyes were shut tight but my consciousness was alert enough to tell me that this was not the right place or time to sleep. The fatigue had paralysed my body and mind enough to keep me stuck to the ground. But then a strange feeling disturbed my delightful nap.

 

I could feel something creeping up on my leg. Being around animals all the time had gotten me used to crawling and creeping of all sorts but this feeling was something entirely new. The feet were hard and sharp like bird claws but there were far more limbs with fewer claws. The movement was extremely slow and cautious and whatever it was, it wasn’t making any noise at all. It’s march all the way up to my knee finally woke me up. I made sure that I woke up as quietly and steadily as possible because a sudden reaction can scare any animal and cause it to retaliate. In fact, no animal harms humans until they’re scared for their safety.

 

What I saw was some kind of a small arachnid. It was jet black and had a shiny exoskeleton with six tiny feet, two giant pincers up front and one scary looking stinger tail. It stopped moving right when I faced it and heightened it’s tail in reaction. My mother was originally from an island down south and she used to tell me about this species called “crabs” who, judging by the description had similar features. This was no sea around so it was obviously not a crab. My mother was still asleep, slightly drooling from her mouth too. I calmly tried to wake her up and luckily enough she woke up with the same tempo. With a sense of awe, I silently pointed at my knee to which she had a surprisingly appalling reaction. She put a finger on her lips, instructing me to be quiet. She slowly bent down with her knees on the ground and her face almost touching the sandy floor, now parallel to my knee. With one hand she drew her cleaver out and held it steady.

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I was just about to react but she signalled me again to remain still and silent. Realising that this was not the time to argue, I obeyed her command and held back my retort. The blade of the cleaver was directly pointing at the creature on my knee. My mother had one eye closed and was oscillating her weapon back and forth to get some momentum for the big swing. She was making sure that the strike was precise as there won’t be a second chance. Either the swing will miss and the creature will strike me or the cleaver would slice my kneecap off. But years of experience in crop harvesting and gardening had honed her precision swinging skills. With one sharp slash, she attacked the thing on my knee and sent it flying. It started bleeding from the side and had also broken two of it’s limbs. It was struggling to scuttle away from us while bleeding profusely.

‘MOMMM!!!!!’ I shouted. She locked my arms from behind and pulled me back.

‘It’s okay Edward, it’s gone now’ she said with a sigh of relief.

‘WHY DID YOU HURT IT??’ I asked her with all my fury.

‘It was a scorpion Ed. They’re dangerous. Did you see it’s tail? One strike and you would be poisoned. Do you see where we are? We are in the middle of nowhere. I don’t even know where to take you if something happened to you.’ She was justifying her position. I could understand where she was coming from. But….

‘But why would you think that it was going to hurt me? It was just sitting there.’ Only a few creatures have hurt me throughout my life and they’ve only done so by accident. This sturdy fella was carefully resting on my knee.

‘Things are not the same out here Ed. The creatures back home were very different. They have a good home and homely surroundings. Vereen was home to a very balanced environment. There’s no balance in these parts. You have to understand. The animals here might not be as friendly as the ones back home. You need to be careful and you need to know what you are dealing with. Scorpions are venomous and very defensive. Keep your distance from them whenever you can. The desert is full of them.’ She wiped the sand off her face which had stuck on her as a result of sleeping. Maybe they had a point. Mr.Smith and my mother were saying the same thing. It’s not the same out here. But why? Regardless, I decided to go with the flow for the time being.

‘We’ve slept for too long. Luckily, it’s a full moon so there’s enough light for us to travel safely. We should get back on our way.’ With that, we both got up, dusted ourselves up well and walked up to our horses who were resting a few metres ahead. After getting on them, I looked at her to see if she knew where to go now.

‘Oh my. There’s no sun to guide us now.’ She looked up at the night sky and examined the whole picture. ‘It’s been a while since I’ve read the stars but from what I remember, that star indicates north’ pointing to the brightest star on the sky ‘So that means we need to go left to ride west. Let’s hope I’m not wrong about this or we’ll be stranded in a place we know nothing about.’ With fingers crossed, we slowly began riding into the direction she assumed was west.

 

We were slowly making our way to the next town and were watching our speed because we still weren’t sure if  we were heading in the right direction. Dawn was already approaching and flooding the black starry night sky with bright scarlet. The light was slowly bleeding into the sky while the stars slowly disappeared. ‘We covered over half the distance before we slept after we fled Hirridunn. I’m pretty sure we’re heading the right way as the sun is rising behind us which indicates that we’re on track. We should reach there by sunrise. Cheer up Ed, we can finally rest properly.’

That was the first time I had seen her be enthusiastic about something since we had left town almost two days ago. But my mind was still plagued by what had happened to our travel companion. ‘Mom, is Mr.Smith going to be all right?’ I didn’t get to know him much but I knew that he was a good man and was trying to help us out with something.

‘I don’t know what to tell you Ed. He stayed back to protect us. He knew it was something he had to do and he chose to stay behind so that we could move forward. The least we can do now is to follow his instructions. I too hope he’s alright. I don’t know how far ahead we can get without him.’ That was true. Neither me nor my mother had any exposure to this world. Even though she was an outsider to Vereen, she had spent all her youth in a remote island before directly moving in there with my father. She knew as little about these places as I did.

‘It’s different. I don’t remember it being like this when I first came here with Kenny. I remember cruising through beautiful grasslands before we made it to Vereen. Yes, it was always isolated from the rest of the towns which was exactly why we went there but the surroundings weren’t like this 15 years ago. There was no desert back then. Maybe he was right about you.’ I didn’t know if she was talking to me or to herself.

‘Who was right about me?’ I asked her.

‘Huh, What? Oh, Nothing. I’m just muttering to myself like a crazy old lady. He-he. Oh look! We’ve arrived.’ She pointed ahead of us and I saw a town almost four times the size of the Hirridunn, the last town we made a stop at. We slowly made our way into town. It was still early in the day so hardly anyone was awake. We made our way through empty streets to the middle of the town where we were more likely to find a decent place to stay at. I was still new to the concept of inns because we didn’t have one back at Vereen. The local bar used to house people who were too drunk to go home and that was it. Nobody ever came to Vereen so inns were never a fancy business option.

We were casually moving around hoping to run into someone who could point us in the right direction. Somehow, we walked into a closed alley and when we turned around to get back on the wide lane, a group of five men had already approached us from behind, startling us to the core.

‘Hey, you guys seem new around here. What are you looking for?’ Said the guy up front who looked like the leader of the pack. He had a sword on his belt which looked like a rapier. I’d read about it’s description in The adventures of Hilgett and Traut, a tale of two princes who set out on a journey across the country to find the mythical golden helmet. The sword was quite thin and looked flimsy like a long needle, concurring the description I was used to. But the man had his arms crossed instead of placing his hand on the hilt so we didn’t perceive him as a threat. He also had a very charming and polite voice.

‘We’ve been on a long journey and we were looking for a place to make bed’ said my mother. She was not comfortable being backed into a dead end with five strange men in front of her. Only the leader seemed to have a sword. The rest of them had long staffs in their hands which were almost as tall as them.

‘Be careful to not step into dark corridors which may not be appropriate enough for you. There’s only one place in town that can house a fine lady like you. You can stay there as long as you have the coin.’ Suggested the man.

‘I don’t think that should be a problem. We have plenty.’ Hearing my mother say that suddenly made me remember what Mr.Smith told me on the first night of our journey. The fact that these people didn’t have enough money and that we did would make us targets. I don’t know if mom was thinking about that or not but she had just given away the fact that we had enough money on us.

‘Well, lucky you. You just straight walked up to the right place. This place right here is the best inn in town. You should get down from your horses and tie them up front.’ The guy said that while pointing to the building on the right. It looked like a decent structure but the group in front of us were just standing in front of us, expecting us to get down. Me and mom both looked at each other and reluctantly got down from our horses. The guy on the front even went as far to help my mother dismount from Dixit. The both of us had our hands on the reins and were about to move forward but the group wasn’t moving still.

‘If, you would excuse us’ said my mother with a forceful smile and chuckle but they didn’t pay any heed.

‘It’s quite bold you know? Carrying such a hefty pouch so openly. Women here just stack them under their dress but you haven’t even bothered. It looks quite heavy, let me help you with that’ the group started sneering with their leader’s statement. He approached my mother and she had already started stepping back. When the wall started closing in on her from behind, she reached for both her weapons on her belt but she was too slow. That man had already pulled out his sword out and it’s sharp end was now pointing at my mother’s neck. Her eyes were closed tight from the shock and she was already shivering.

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I didn’t notice this but I had already lost my grip from Diddy’s reins. The rest of the men were trying to pull on both the horses and they were putting up small resistance. I was frozen from shock and just stood there in my place not knowing what to do. The man with the sword reached for my mother’s belt. He put the cleaver on his belt and threw the axe on the ground before snatching the large coin purse. He opened it with one hand and looked inside to see the contents of the pouch. ‘Cheers boys! We have ourselves a full bag of gold here. That’s about 10 pieces for a man.’ The whole squad cheered. Suddenly both Diddy and Dixit went haywire and struggled their way out of their group. Two of them chased behind them while the other two spotted the pouch on my belt. It only had a bunch of silvers and wittles but there was also the one crown that Uncle Mikhail gave me on my birthday.

“Ey lookit. The lad’s got a pouch of ‘is own” They both sneered and walked towards me. “Come on. Hand o’er your pockit money”. I immediately clasped the pouch with both hands. They both tried to shake me off but I put all my might into the struggle. I heard my mom shout from behind and the leader asked her to shut up. My heart was pounding like a festive drum while I was putting all my strength in to hold on to the pouch. I didn’t know how long this could go on for but I still didn’t want to let it go without a struggle.

 

Just then I saw a red haired woman wearing some kind of leather armour with a long two-handed spiked mace on her back walk past the alley. She noticed what was happening but just stood there as a spectator, witnessing the events unfold. For some reason, I thought that calling her out would be a good idea.

‘YOU THERE. PLEASE HELP US.’ I wailed out a desperate cry for help. She just gave me a reactionary expression implying that she was sorry but I was on my own here. She was our only ticket out of this pinch so I made the only bargain I could.

‘HELP US AND I’LL GIVE YOU A CROWN’. Both the men trying to pull me open were shocked for a second. Even the woman was taken aback. ‘Like hell you have a crown’ she shouted from across the street. ‘I DO. PLEASE BELIEVE ME. I HAVE IT RIGHT NOW!!! SAVE US FROM THESE PEOPLE AND YOU CAN HAVE IT!’ She just stood there with shock. These two men got back into the struggle to pull my pouch out. I didn’t think that I could hold much longer. The tussle had now blocked my view from the street. As a last resort, I cried out. ‘LADY, NOW!! PLEASE!!!’

‘Alright, what the hell’ I heard her from just behind these two men indicating that she was willing to gamble.

*BOP* The crown of the mace had struck the head of the first victim which made him faint immediately while making him bleed from his scalp. Judging from the sound, his skull had definitely cracked from the impact but he wasn’t dead yet. The other guy pushed me away with great force and grabbed his staff. It was pointed sharp on both ends and he was holding it perpendicular to his new opponent, waiting to strike. They were carefully circling each other. Just then I heard the man with the sword call out to me.

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‘Hey boy!’ He was clear enough but also maintained enough silence so that it didn’t reach the new aggressor. He had grabbed my mother by the back and had the sword on her neck. ‘Throw me the pouch or I’ll cut her throat open for you to see’ I looked to my mother and she instructed me by nodding to follow his command. Without a second’s thought, I threw him my coin purse which he caught mid air. He then pushed my mother in my direction and ran for the street. We both immediately hugged each other but our attention turned to the fight. They had been circling each other long enough had sent enough thrusts and swings in each other’s direction to measure each other up. The woman looked tired enough of this back-and-forth by this point. She took a long step forward with her left foot while loading up for a swing by pulling her right shoulder back. Her opponent had thrust his staff at her face but her pivot which she performed to load for the swing had already pulled her out of the path of the strike. With a clean dodge in her pocket, it was her turn to strike. She swung the mace on to the side of his his left knee and completely broke it open. With a sharp squeal he dropped his staff and fell on the ground on his other knee. Without wasting any more time, she took another swing and hit him on the side of his face, knocking him unconscious and leaving him with a pulverised face.

 

I saw the leader running off from the scene without even trying to put on a fight for his friends. The red-haired woman wiped some sweat off her forehead without noticing the fleeing opponent and clipped her mace on her back, now noticing that the fight had cleared. ‘You guys alright?’ she asked as as she slowly approached us. We both nodded in response. ‘Thank you. Thank you for saving us by risking your own life’ said my mother while bowing down with gratitude.

‘These stupid boys were never a risk for me. But it’s not like I did it out of the goodness of my heart.’ She stepped forward to me and extended her palm outward. ‘I’ll take that crown, boy. Judging by your looks, I reckon you actually have it. Never thought I’d ever see a crown in my life’ she said with a haughty smile. Me and my mother exchanged looks when she asked for the crown.

‘What’s wrong? Hand it over…. Wait! Don’t tell me you don’t have it!’ She was starting to look furious.

‘I did. I promise. But the man with the sword took it from me at the last moment when you were busy fighting.’ I said, trying to calm her down.

‘WHAT!! YOU’RE TELLING ME THIS NOW’ she shouted and ran out of the alley and on to the street while looking around in both directions. She failed to spot the robber and then marched back to us furiously. ‘I don’t care, BOY! I NEED MY CROWN AND YOU’RE GIVING IT TO ME ONE WAY OR ANOTHER!’ She came at me with her finger pointing at me. My mother put her arm in front of me to shield me from the overbearing lady.

‘We have money. A lot of money back home. We promise to pay you once we get back to our town.’ My mother laid out the offer.

‘Okay, I’m listening.’ said the scary lady.

‘We’re on our way to Braumchester. It’s a small town on….’

‘Yeah, I know where Braumchester is’ she interrupted my mother.

‘Well, we’ve been travelling to that place to meet a friend of ours. Once we meet him, we’ll head back to our hometown and recompense you’ said my mother.

‘And what’s your hometown, if I might ask?’ she asked us. I remembered Mr.Smith telling us to keep our names but if someone were to ask, we had to tell them that we were from Kirkpod. He had mentioned this to my mother earlier too so I kept hoping that she remembered the instructions.

‘We’re from Kirkpod’ she said. I sighed with relief. ‘We’ve been travelling for two days straight so we stopped here to rest up but were attacked right when we got here. We lost both our horses too.’

 

‘Hey!’ said the woman angrily. ‘What kind of a fool do you take me for?’ She was even scarier than those thugs right now.

‘What!’ exclaimed my mother, not understanding what the issue was.

‘This is Kirkpod you wench!’ she struck her foot down angrily.

 

Me and my mother looked at each other trying to fathom the horror of the situation we were in.

 

Click here for the next Chapter

The Soulkeeper and the Guardian, Chapter 6

Fatal beginnings

Click here for Chapter 1

 

How could it go so wrong? Why did this have to happen to us? Right on the first day! Why us of all people?’ I stood there trembling and stuck to the ground beside my mom who was frozen stiff as I was while two men were pointing their knives at Mr. Smith. However, she was not shocked like I was. It seemed as if her fears were taking shape. As if she had expected this all along. What is it that these people know that I don’t? Right now, I couldn’t care less about that. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think. Like I said, I was dazed with shock as I stood behind Mr. Smith’s cover like a mannequin.

 

‘So, it looks like we are doing this’ he said to the two aggressors as he drew his own large dagger out. I wanted to look to my mother for comfort but I just couldn’t move. My gaze was affixed on the sharp blades hanging steady in those motionless hands. I’ve seen foxes hunt before. They stay stationary for a while before they pounce on the prey. There’s no room for error. One small miscalculation and you stay hungry for a day. While these men wore the same stature of a fox ready to pounce, they knew that this was no simple prey. They were facing another predator who was cornered. Miscalculation won’t cost them hunger. It’s going to cost them their lives.

 

‘Edward! Mirriam!’ he called out to us. I was still shook with fear but at least my mind had started working when I heard his voice call out to us as it gave me a sense of direction. ‘Take the horses. Run as fast as you can. You know where to go.’ Me and my mother finally looked at each other. We finally had something to do but we were still scared stiff. Our feet just wouldn’t move.

 

‘Randall’, my mother called out to him softly. She had the same concern that I did. What about him? Were we just going to leave him here with these people? How can he fight two people half his age? Deep inside I wanted to flee from the place as soon as I could but I just couldn’t let him stay behind for us. I didn’t even know why this was happening.

 

‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll catch up to you soon…. I think. Just take your horses and go. All the supplies are in your saddles. There’s also a bag of gold. Hire someone to accompany you if you want. Now GO! Go find him’ he was clear about what he wanted us to do. It gave us some comfort, even the fact that we couldn’t sense much fear or hesitation in his voice was helping. My mother grabbed my hand and pulled me back while my gaze was still fixed on Mr. Smith. With all her strength, she put me on my horse as I was petrified to the core. She got on hers and pulled the reins on both Diddy and Dixit, our strong mustang twins.

 

We galloped forth to a place I didn’t know as I watched Mr. Smith crouching in front of two armed men. The battle hadn’t begun yet. As my eyes blurred with tears and dust, I faced forward and saw my mother leading both our horses away. ‘Where are we going?’ I asked her in a faint tone. She didn’t respond. Maybe she didn’t hear it or maybe she was just ignoring me. Either way, I didn’t want to repeat the question. When I started regaining control on my body, I took the reins myself and followed my mother. We had left the town we were in and were on a desert track now. I looked back at the town. He could have been dead or injured by this time. Or he could have escaped. Maybe he talked his way out. recalling their startling reactions, it wasn’t likely that there was any negotiation from that point on. Even though the feeling was faint, maybe he could have won. It didn’t seem likely. An old man like him fighting what looked like two fighters in their prime didn’t seem very fathomable. Again, I asked myself ‘How did it come to this?’

 

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I was surprised to see all that commotion when I came home that day. The man I met in the forest was in my house talking to my mother. For some reason she looked terrified and was trying really hard to suppress it when she saw me. As soon as I showed up, she sent me off to my room and asked me not to come out till she herself called me out. But did she expect that I would just sit back and ignore everything that was going on? I leaned on the door trying to listen in on the conversation outside. Suddenly my mother started shrieking angrily but the man she was dealing with remained calm. A few moments later, I heard him: Lord Fawk.

 

The kids back home used to make fun of him because of his perpetual drinking habit I always felt bad for him. To me he seemed like a lonely soul who had nothing much to offer and the guilt seemed to be eating him up all the time. He had casually spoken to me and my mother a few times but it was the first time he had come to our house as far as I could remember. Soon after his appearance, it seemed like my mother had calmed down. A few moments passed but I could hardly hear anything. I knew they were talking and it was something important. Not knowing what they were talking about was eating me up.

 

As cautiously as I could and without making a sound, I slightly pushed the door open leaving a tiny opening for me to peep through. I peered through the narrow gap and saw my mother sobbing on Lord Fawk’s shoulder while sitting on the couch while he comforted her. Mr Smith stood in front of them with his head bowed down. I felt cold inside as I saw her cry not because this was something new to me. I’ve seen her cry before, on many occasions. She tries her best to not do it in front of me but it has happened so often that I’ve happened to catch her at it. Maybe it’s because she misses dad. It has to be. She talks about him so lovingly all the time. I don’t remember him much as I was quite young when he died. It has been so long that I hardly remember what he looks like. All I remember was that he was nice. Nice to me and mom. Maybe him not being around anymore is the reason she cries but I’ve never known for sure. I was never brave enough to ask her or even comfort her.

Right now I felt cold, because this was the first time she was breaking down in front of someone else. It just felt wrong. I wanted to know what this was about but I also knew that I shouldn’t be peeping in on them. Just then Mr.Smith caught me looking. He critically shook his head to tell me that I should stop spying at the conversation. Without a moment’s thought, I slipped back inside and as furtively as I could, I shut the door close. Right now it was highly unlikely that she was crying about father. This was something else. Either of those two men were bearers of some kind of awful news.

 

An hour later my mother called for me. With slumped shoulders and a hanging head, I slowly walked out. Lord Fawk was not here anymore. It was just mom and Mr.Smith staring at me. She had wiped off her tears but I could notice her faint trembling. She walked up to me and crouched down to meet my eyes as she put her warm hands on my shoulders. “Hey big boy. The both of us have to leave on a long journey. I know this is sudden but we need to leave now.” She smiled but her voice squeaked as she spoke. She was still shook from whatever had peeved her. “We need to pack. I’ll get all the supplies ready. We won’t need much as we’ll get them on the way. Right now we need to take everything that’s irreplaceable to us. Things that we shouldn’t be away from far too long like the first wooden sword I made for you or the crown that Uncle Mikhail gave you on your last birthday. Leave behind everything that we won’t need because there’s only so much that we can carry.” I kept shifting my gaze around on both her and the man standing behind. They looked really serious about this. I had so many questions. Where were we going? For how long were we leaving? Why now of all times, why so suddenly? All these questions kept stacking up in my mind but I couldn’t dare ask something now. It seemed clear that it was important. Knowing that I’d get my answers eventually, I turned around without saying a word and went back into my room. For a second I turned to look at mom and she was stunned that I had agreed so willingly.

 

I took three sacks. I filled two of them out with my best collection of clothes, belts, hoods and boots while I filled the other one with my favourite books: The adventures of Hilgett and Traut, The cursed angel and The tales of Bremmingway along with a pouch of marbles. I was never much into toys but marbles could always keep my interest. It was then that my eye caught a glimpse of that. The emerald medal that lay on my desk. I’ve had it forever and I still don’t know how it came in my possession and neither did my mother. I felt the need to carry it along only because it was probably was as old as me. It had been untouched for a long time so I wiped the dust off of it. It glimmered so bright that as it seemed as if it was just crafted. I put it in the bag with the rest of the books. I laced all the sacks up tight and dressed up myself. I wore a fresh cotton shirt on the same pants I had been wearing all day. I put on my wooden riding boots and the only overcoat I owned. Finally, I wore my belt on which I hooked my wooden sword, my coin pouch in which I carefully placed the crown I received from Uncle Mikhail and my dad’s dagger which my mother didn’t know about. I then took the most important possession of mine; a bone whistle that a friend gave me a long time ago. My mom had conveniently tied it up on a thread so that I could wear it around my neck.

 

With the sacks, I walked outside and noticed that my mother had already finished packing. She was frantically walking around the house while Mr.Smith stood waiting outside the main door. ‘We’re taking Diddy and Dixit. Lord Fawk has arranged it so that the rest of the horses and the farm animals would be taken care of when we’re gone. Don’t worry about them’ she was still running around as she said that. It was time to leave and I had a strange feeling churning inside me. On their own, my eyes started tearing up for some reason. Like a baby, I asked her, ‘What about my friends mom? What about Shugu, Shawna and Randall? What about the rest of them?’ She stopped for a second and looked at me. ‘They’ll be alright Ed’ she paused again and said ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon’. She looked away from my eyes as she said that and broke into a jog and went inside her room. I rubbed my watery eyes on my sleeve and hauled all the sacks outside. Mr. Smith was staring at the farmlands in the windy moonlit night. Without bothering him, I went to the stables and saddled up both our horses Diddy and Dixit. With all the luggage hooked on, I brought them out and stationed them near the door. Just then Mr.Smith came up to me and said his first words since he last met me in the forest. ‘Those are two beautiful mustangs. Larger than any I’ve ever seen.’ They seemed quite normal to me but I was thankful of the compliment. ‘Yes, they’re quite nice. You’ve got a nice horse too. What breed is that?’

‘She’s a gimper. They’re slow but can travel long distances. She’s quite old now so she’ll be even slower compared to your young mustangs.’ He seemed quite proud of her.

‘Oh, she looks quite lively’. I walked up to her.

‘Hey, easy. She doesn’t like strangers. She’s quite defensive’ he warned me but was too slow. I was already caressing my hand across her neck as she was nuzzling up against me. He seemed quite shocked at how soon it all went down but he didn’t say anything after. As soon as I was done petting his horse, he spoke again. ‘Her name’s Sheena and I’m Randall Smith. Randall, like your squirrel back in the forest. I’ll be tagging along with you on this journey.’ I kept thinking about how it would be best to respond. Seeking answers from him about where we were headed seemed easier than asking my mother but I didn’t expect him to answer straight.

‘Well, you know my name.’ I said, without any idea of what I could say back to him. He then pulled a corked glass vial out of one of his pockets and popped it open. It was full of a milky white liquid. ‘Here, chug this vitadite in one go. We need to ride all night so I don’t want you to feel sleepy on the way. Slowing down isn’t an option. Me and your mother can manage but I can’t risk things with you. It’ll keep you awake and alert for the next 12 hours but it will tire you out and make you feel hungry very quickly. You need to keep eating along the way. Your supplies should suffice.’ I reluctantly took the vial and chugged it in one gulp like he said. It tasted like sour milk and smelled like eggs and vomit. I felt like throwing up but luckily the feeling died down instantly.

From the window, I saw the candles go off . My mom was wearing a full length black cloak over a nice grey tunic. A lot of things plagued my mind when I saw her hook up an axe and a cleaver to her belt aside from the large money pouch. She brought the last two sacks with her and saddled them up on Dixit. After putting the hood on, she was the first to climb up on her horse. Me and Mr.Smith followed up by mounting ours. ‘Lead the way’ she said to him. With a nod, he started out for the forest path, the place where we first met.

 

‘Mom, weren’t we forbidden from ever crossing the forest’s border?’ I wanted to know how great the degree of importance was.

‘Yes. But we haven’t had the need to leave this place Ed. Only the merchants go out because they have good reason to. The world outside isn’t very kind. You remember what happened to father when he last went out, don’t you? But now, we too have good reason to leave.’ We both looked at each other for a few seconds. ‘I know you have a lot of questions Ed. I promise I’ll tell you everything. In time, of course.’ I compliantly nodded to indicate my obedience. I had to respect her wishes and give her the time she needed.

 

I frantically looked around at the thick jungle around me as we passed through the forest path. This was my second home. The place where I spent most f my time. The place where all my friends lived. Wondering if I would ever see them again, I looked back at the times we had. Once the path cleared, we were out of the forest and rode into a dry land. For miles ahead I could see nothing but sand. There was no road either. I had never been so far out. I hadn’t even been to the edge of the forest which was why I never knew that there was an expansive desert right outside. This was something entirely new for me. Mr.Smith kept riding hard in front of us while the two of us followed after him. After two hours of riding, we slowed down to let our horses relax. I could now hear my tummy growling the sound of which were louder than Diddy’s grunts.

 

‘It’s the vitadite. You need to eat up. Keep eating throughout the whole ride. You’re going to need it.’ Mr.Smith said to me with a smile. I could see that my mother was tired but he was as energetic as ever. I wondered how he could stay that way after such a long day.

‘Where are we headed right now?’ I asked him. I felt like there was no end to this desert.

‘We’re going to the town of Hirridunn. It’s about 8 hours from here and happens to be the closest settlement from your town. Yes, your town is that isolated. But this place that we’re going to is quite small. Not even a tenth of Vereen.’

‘I’ve never been outside. I never thought I’d leave.’

‘It’s not pretty out here boy. You’ll soon realise that there’s nothing like home. Nothing you’ll ever see will be as amusing as the place you live in.’ He then turned to me. ‘Listen, I’ve told your mother this and you need to keep this in mind too. You both can use your names but never mention the name of your town. You both are from the town of Kirkpod and are travelling to the capital with me. Got it? Never ever mention your town.’ He turned back to face the desert again. ‘You both are too well dressed which adds to our troubles. I should have told you beforehand because it makes you a target.’

‘A target for what?’ I asked him

‘An attack! It’s easy money. One man with a wealthy looking woman and kid. Anybody would pounce on such easy targets.’

‘Why would someone do that’. Suddenly, he started laughing at my question. ‘Why, you ask. Haha. People don’t have enough out here boy. They’re not as well off as the people in your town. Making money is no easy feat here so they survive by taking it from others.’

‘We have a lot of money. If someone needs it we’ll give it to them.’ Again he started laughing as if I had cracked a naive joke. ‘You don’t have enough. You’ll never have enough. These people don’t understand the concept of sufficiency. Their hunger is endless and they’re beyond saving. Keep your money to yourself boy. Hide it well if you can and forget about handing it all around.’ I stopped saying anything further to avoid being laughed at or mocked again.

‘By the way that’s a nice dagger you have there.’ I concealed it well. How could he have seen it. Quickly my hand clasped the dagger so that my mother couldn’t see it. She was quite ahead of us. Dixit was trotting faster than Diddy and Sheena and my mother’s mind seemed to be partially lost because of the fatigue.

‘Do you even know how to wield it?’ I nodded. I clasped the hilt and pulled it out of the leather sheath whilst waving it around mid air.

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‘Hmm, that’s a reverse grip. I don’t think it’ll come in handy for someone like you. Try holding it out. Right now, the blade is under your fist while the hilt is in your grip. The blade needs to over your fist.’ I switched the positions and now the blade was pointing outwards. This was how mom used to cut meat in the kitchen. ‘Now put your thumb on the outer edge.’ I looked at him to confirm if it’s safe. ‘Don’t worry, the outer edge won’t cut you. Instead, it’ll give you a better hold on your dagger.’ I held the blade like he instructed. ‘This, is a sabre grip. It’s excellent for stabbing or even slicing something, or someone. Also don’t swing it around like an idiot. Thrust it forward the fastest you can and only when it’s required. It’s best if you never have to use it.’ I put it back in my sheath after thrusting it a few times.

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The journey went on and I kept eating all the way. Mom seemed to get more and more tired with every passing hour. Slowly, dawn approached and the bright sun started gleaming on our faces while blinding us. ‘It should be less than an hour away. We’re almost there’ said Mr.Smith as he led us forward.

Finally, I started feeling tired. The effects of that disgusting potion were wearing off but luckily, I could see something popping up on the edge of the horizon. The sun was brighter than ever and was hammering down on us. ‘Only a few more minutes. Then we can sleep’ my mother said to me smilingly. In full speed, we darted forward and broke into the town. Like Mr.Smith said, this place was ugly. The houses were tiny and shabby. People wore clothes that looked a century old – dusty and torn. Everybody here looked weak and underfed. They seemed tired. But they were looking at us the way we were. Just as astonished. Maybe it really was the way we dressed. He warned us about this.

Mr.Smith stopped in front of a big wooden structure. It was the largest structure in the town but was still smaller than our barn. We got down after him and he handed a piece of parchment to mom and whispered something into her ear. She nodded in agreement and then he went inside while we waited out for him. A few minutes went by while we stood there waiting for him and all the people passing by us kept staring at us. Some jobless folk had even gathered around us as if were something of an item. Right then he came out. He noticed the crowd’s attention around us but ignored it and came straight to us.

 

‘Good, they’re not here yet. If they had to come to Vereen, they’d have to make a stop at this town and I don’t think they’d stay anywhere but this inn. I’ve booked two quarters for us. Take your stuff inside. I’ll station the horses in the stable behind the inn. Can’t risk losing them to some delinquents’ He seemed glad about finally reaching here but who was he talking about? Just when I was about to ask, three hooded men wearing black robes on dark horses came and stopped in front of the same building as us. They looked at Mr.Smith for a couple of seconds and he looked back. ‘Oh no’ he muttered under his breath. ‘Not now.’

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Suddenly my heart started thumping hard. What was he so scared of? Who were those three men? They got down from their horses and walked forward with them. Mr.Smith went and met them halfway. They were close enough to be audible.

‘You guys got here on time’ Mr.Smith was the one who initiated the conversation. It seemed like he knew them well. Were these the guys he was talking about?

‘The ride was tough. We spent two whole days on the road. You should have given us an easier path here. It would have taken us longer but at least it wouldn’t have been so treacherous’ said the tallest one in the group. ‘So, how’s the place?’

‘Dusty old shithole! It was a total waste of time coming all the way here for that piece of disappointment. Not only is it so far away but there’s not one redeeming factor in the place. It’s best we move on to better things. Next in line was this new settlement down south called Shundung. We should head on to that place.’ Why was he lying about our town. I knew best to keep quiet

‘Yeah. You go on. Like always, we’ll be two days behind you. We’ll just rest here for a couple of hours and head over to Vereen for our report. We might find something that you missed you know.’ He then looked over to us. ‘Hey, who’s that? Don’t tell us you’ve had a secret family all this while.’ The three of them were chuckling as they took their heavy hoods of. They were all quite young and looked tough.

‘Nobody of interest. Don’t mind them’ said Mr. Smith as he was looking at us. He then turned back to those people. ‘Hey come on now, don’t tell me you’re doubting my scouting skills. My word’s enough isn’t it? Now then, save your energy, take a day off and we can go over to the next place on the list. Let’s not waste any more time and effort.’

‘Hey, the boss expects us to go there too, you know? We have to report stuff too’ said the guy on the right and the tall guy in the centre agreed. ‘Bah! Don’t worry about it. Say the same things I do or if you want, I can talk to him about this myself’ Mr.Smith was trying his best to hold them off.

‘Don’t joke around Randall. You know how meticulous he is about protocol these days. Not following a system was the reason we fell apart first place. We need our necks in their rightful place when we go see the boss’ the tall guy was stepping forward as he spoke. Mr.Smith was trying to stop these guys from going to Vereen and it seemed to be failing. The guy on the left was staring at us all this while.

 

‘What do you want Randall?’ asked the same guy who had been staring at till now. Mr.Smith stood ajar for a few seconds.

‘I want you guys to forget about Vereen, Oliver. Forget you were ever supposed to go there and just move on.’

‘Hey, I’m not going to betray the boss’ shouted the guy on the right.

‘Do me a favour just this once Bumper. Believe me when I say it’s important that you never go there and just drop it’ said Mr. Smith, clearly pleading.

‘Why is this so important Randall? What are you hiding? You need to tell us. You can trust us right?’ asked the tall guy.

‘I’m sorry Bishop, I can’t tell you. I just expect you to not go there. No matter what. I would also like you to not talk about this with anyone. Anyone in the world.’

‘Do you hear yourself Randall? Do you hear how unreasonable you sound?’ said the Bishop guy.

 

Mr. Smith just stood there. He stood there looking right at them and giving them a look that clarified how unreasonable his demand was and yet he expected them to oblige. ‘Well, if you don’t want us to go there, then consider me out. I’m sure you have a very good reason.’ said Oliver, the one who was still looking at us. ‘I’m going in to get some sleep. I’m not gonna decide for you guys so your choice is up to you. I don’t intend to get mixed up in this stuff.’

‘Thanks Oliver’ said Mr. Smith while giving him a wave. He casually turned around with his horse and headed off to the back of the building.

‘Hey, where do you think you’re going Ollie!! We need to stick together’ shouted Bishop.

‘All I am today is because of Randall. His word is the final word for me. If he wants me to stay out of this, then count me out.’ He was quite clear on his position as he didn’t even turn back to say it.

‘Fine! He’s chosen to be a traitor but I’m not going to cheat the boss. He was the one who rebuilt the guild. It’s because of him that we have a  home. You know that better than anyone. I’m going to follow his orders till my last breath. I don’t want to do this Randall but if you try to get in our way, we’re gonna have to use force. Please, I beg you, don’t get in our way.’ It was clear what stance everyone was taking. Bumper, the guy standing beside Bishop didn’t like the way things had turned out. He clearly didn’t seem to want to oppose Randall in such a manner but his stance had already been called out. Reluctantly, he took his friend’s side.

 

‘I never wanted it to come to this boys but I had already anticipated this. I knew that you would carry out your responsibilities till the end even if I got in your way. It’s me who’s the traitor here. I’m the one cheating the big guy. I’m the one breaking the rules and I’m the one getting in the way of my brothers. My betrayal is inexcusable but believe me when I say it, it’s necessary.’ Mr. Smith had hammered down his apology but what betrayal was he talking about and who was this boss they kept referencing all the time?

‘I’m sorry too’ said Bishop. He drew two daggers out from his belt. He was holding them in a reverse grip, the one which Mr. Smith asked me not to use. Seeing how his friend had chosen the way of combat, Bumper too drew his dagger out. He was holding it with a sabre grip, the one I was asked to use. My mind was really confused right now. They both crouched down and assumed the stance to attack.

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‘So, it looks like we are doing this.’ Mr. Smith’s comment kept looping in my mind for a while. I felt dizzy and my throat was dry.

 

‘Edward!! Are you alright?’ shouted my mom. We both were riding hard on the desert. I had totally phased out during this time. Reliving the events of the last day, I had totally forgotten about the present. My mom had to live it for the both of us and I felt so sorry for doing that to her. I wondered what was going on in her mind throughout this time. Even though it had been over an hour since we left that town, I could see tear streaks on her face, running up through the temple because of the fast winds. They were slowly drying up in the hot sun. What was she crying for now? Was she worried about Mr. Smith or was she scared for us. Or was it something else entirely?

‘I don’t know Ma. Where are we going now?’

‘We’re going further west. It’s a place called Braumchester. A small brick making town at the edge of the country. We’re going to meet a friend of Randall’s.’ She then looked to the front. ‘Follow the sun he said. It’s 3 towns away. Be careful he said.’ It’s going to be a tough journey Ed. I need you to stay sharp for some time okay?’ I gave her a nod and we sped even further. Whatever it was that we were doing, it seemed important and I didn’t want to be a burden on her shoulders.

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We kept going on for a few more hours. Our horses were much slower now. They were practically walking. I couldn’t see what was ahead. Everything was a blur and my eyes were starting to feel heavy. I sincerely wanted to close my eyes shut and that felt like the most important thing that I had to do. Suddenly, I heard a thud and was kicked back into reality for a second. My mother was on the ground and Dixit was checking up on her. I got down from Diddy and walked up to her the way Lord Fawk walks when he’s had too much to drink.

While on my knees, I shook her shoulders vigorously. ‘MOM!!’ I shouted with all the energy I had left. It wasn’t enough. ‘MOmm’, I tried to call her out again but I was at my limit. The sand was soft and I fell onto the desert floor and curled up beside my mother. Everything was so peaceful now. I could feel Diddy’s wet tongue on my cheek. Ignoring it, I went into my most desperate sleep of all time.

 

Click here for the next chapter

The Whispering Game-Maker – Part 2

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           She couldn’t believe her eyes. She didn’t want to anyway. She never saw something like that even in her worst nightmares, but that was only because her brain always woke her up before such a horrific image covered her mind. This time it felt like someone was forcing her to sit through the nightmare, now she was seeing something her eyes won’t ever be able to erase.

The adrenalin flew over her veins like a carp through the river, but she couldn’t move a single muscle, not even to scream. The absolute horror completely paralyzed her, and the more she thought about waking up, the more she felt discouraged and utterly terrified.

“Wake up, wake up!” came a high-pitched whisper followed by a scary echo filled laugh. The force holding down on me lifted off of me and I woke up. It was 10:07AM, I overslept. I just hoped everything that happened last time was just a stupid dream fuelled by all the nonsensical horror movies I watched over the weeks. I did not want to take a chance even though all this seemed so juvenile and spurious. I just stared at the wall, not thinking, blank and stiff as a board.

A chilling alarm sound broke the silence and scared the bejeezus out of me. I took the phone and the alarm read “IT WASN’T A DREAM. GET READY AND ALL THE BEST ”. I am sure I never set an alarm last night.

I didn’t remember being that scared in my life and that was just the beginning. That idea only made it worse. If that was even a possibility.

My parents always complained about how I never observe things around me and how I never pay attention to things going on around me. I totally thought this would be the one quality that would actually help me ignore any movements or unusual things that are about to happen to me. Little did I know that, when fear kicks in every small sound, movement, shadow etc have double the impact and your senses go up a notch.

The moment I got down from the bed I felt scales and a something squishy. Out came a shriek and I looked down, there was nothing. Just a clean wood floor. I looked under the bed without putting my legs down, nothing again. I slowly walked out of the room and into the hall, it felt like there were a thousand eyes on me. Tip toed down the hall and tried to finish reading a comic or at least just use it as a distraction to just pass time.

Suddenly the whole place grew too cold, I got up and went to the closet to take out a blanket. The closet creaked open and there they were, 2 golden eyes staring. I slammed the closet and ran to the balcony, took a deep breath of fresh air that filled my lungs. I closed my eyes for a minute and the moment I opened them everything was pitch black. I waved my arms around, I was stuck in a box.

Suffocation and anxiety took over in no time, I punched and kicked the box but nothing happened. My heart pounding harder than it ever had and to make matters worse something moved under my feet, the same squishy scales. I started to jump on them still continuing the punching and there again, 2 eyes at a distance of an inch from my eyes but this time they were red and I could tell they were filled with anger. I closed my eyes.

“Goodbye. Please kill me.”

Those were the words I could come up with at that moment. I fell to the floor and looked up, the closet was open and I had fallen out from inside that. Crawling and crying I reached the corner of my room, sat there with my head on my knees I wailed, cried and shivered at the same time. I dozed off in that position.

I could hear a quiet buzzing noise that woke me up. I chose to ignore it. It stopped. It was my phone. I ignored it 4 times, I did not have the energy for me to get to the phone and answer it.

Suddenly the buzz turned into a high pitched shrieking and in the shrieking, I could hear my voice “SAVE ME! SAVE ME! answer the phone! AHHHHH!!…” and the shriek died out. Silence. My heart began to pound again, I crawled slowly towards my bed to reach for my phone. I reached for the phone and flipped to see the screen.

“TOO LATE” were the words flashing on the screen.

I threw the phone out of the window without thinking or even trying to understand the consequences of the action I just took. I jumped on my bed wrapped my blanket tight and waited for my inevitable death.

Buzzz…

Vibration again. Startled, I stick my head out and look at the table beside my bed. There was my phone.

“HAHA! NICE TRY!” it said this time.

I look at the time and it was 6:11PM. The torture was over for today. The moment relief snuck in the lights went out and I passed out the very next second.

Everything was pitch black and then the nightmare started again, the same one I woke up to in the morning. The one where I see my death through a third person’s eyes.

 

For the previous part, click here : The Whispering Game-maker- Part 1

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 5

The deadline

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

 

Things weren’t working out in my favour but I never expected them to. I was about to set something in motion that would change life as we know it and I just didn’t have enough time to do it right. It had to be rushed and thus resistance was inevitable. Just like this defensive mother in front of me. From her point of view, I’m just a sinister thief who’s trying to deceive them and trying to take their peaceful lives away from them. She’s pointing a sickle at my face which is a totally fair reaction on her part. I’ve tried my best to talk myself through this situation but I only seem to keep making it worse with every next word I utter. Now, a new element has walked into this scenario. As it turns out, the old man I spoke to in the bar happens to be the Lord of Vereen. I am not sure if his appearance here is going to turn the odds in my favour but I’m willing to roll the dice on this one.

 

‘Oh yes lad. I’ve been the lord of this prison for about three decades now. People often do tell me that I never dress the part, or even act it. When was the last time you saw a noble getting drunk at the local inn in the middle of the day?’ he said smiling as he walked inside. He walked past me to Mirriam and made her lower the sickle. Her face tried to contain her ever-growing rage and it was clear that she didn’t want to explode in front of the lord.

 

‘I’m sorry to admit it but I did overhear your conversation while I was at your doorstep. I never could resist some drama.’ he said to Mirriam. He then turned to me and began. ‘You’re Mikhail’s friend aren’t you?’

 

I nodded. It wasn’t entirely true as I barely knew him. But we were comrades of a great cause and just stating that he actually is a friend of mine would win me the Lord’s trust.

 

‘Mikhail. He’s the one who deserves the title of the lord. He handles the business, he talks to the people, he provides for the people and keeps this place and it’s people warded from the malignant claws of the world outside. He’s worked by my side for the last decade and made this place what it is. He’s like a son to me’ his eyes were losing focus. Suddenly, he looked up at me. ‘I’ve been locked up in this place for a while but I’ve also lived a rich life before everything collapsed around us. I’ve been places and I’ve met people. All kinds of people. That’s one of the perks of being a noble.’

 

His attention now diverted to a very confused Mirriam. He slowly walked up to her and asked her to take a seat. She sat down on the couch and he sat right next to her. ‘Mirriam, how much do you know about the soul?’ he asked her.

 

A question like that seemed pointless to her. The brow-raise on her face was trying to imply that she was disappointed in the lord for even considering to think about the situation. Unable to protest, she did give it a thought. ‘I don’t know much but I do know that it is the force that connects all life.’ She clearly knew more but she didn’t want to discuss the science of the soulkeepers. Not right now.

 

‘Mirriam, you wouldn’t know this but just around the time you moved to Vereen, all but one of the soulkeepers were murdered in their sleep. The soulkeeper of the light fled out of the country and was never seen again, leaving the entire place soulless. The murderers made sure to break the cycle and destroyed all delivered eggs so that the soul wouldn’t pass down to new prospects. They even went as far as to pillaging the soul temples.’ Mirriam was baffled to hear this as Wilson went along with the tale of the soul keepers.

 

‘This move backfired. The fabric of the soul started to crumble in the entire country. Greenery died, animals limited procreation and the climate kept getting worse and worse. The entire country has been dying ever since. The entire country except places like ours.’ He continued. ‘Like our friend Randall here, I too have spent a considerable amount of time with soulkeepers. By spending time with them I gained a decent understanding of the soul. Before Mikhail ever came here, I was at the liberty to leave town at my will. Out there in the early years after the massacre, I felt a strong emptiness in every town and city. I always had the suspicion that the soul was slowly dying in places outside Vereen but I was never sure about it. Then Mikhail arrived and with his own understanding of the soul he hypothesized a similar explanation and confirmed my suspicions. He had a fair understanding of the soul and our consensus was that Vereen had managed to latch on to the soul unlike the rest of the country.’

 

The grievous tone in which he told this tragic tale was really hitting the nails on Mirriam. Even I, who has known the tale for such a long time felt the weight of his words. Whatever it was that he was trying to do, it was working and I let him go on knowing that he would do a much better job than I.

 

‘The two of us took upon the responsibility to seal this place and protect the last surviving fragment of soul. Mikhail did everything from managing operations to planning the expeditions and all I could do was become the town mascot. While Mikhail was busy handling all the important tasks, I had time to sit back and think. Being a mascot isn’t too much fun so I did a lot of drinking and thinking in the time I had. My theory was that our town was the host to a prospect. Three kids were born around the time of the massacre. Clyde, Vivica and your son Edward.’ It was coming. Both me and Mirriam could see it and she did not want to hear what was about to come.

 

‘Soul keepers stand out Mirriam, even when they are prospects. Randall saw it and so did I. For the last three years, I’ve observed these three kids. While they are all odd in their own way, Edward is a particular kind of peculiar. Soul keepers have a natural affinity towards all soul bearers. Their compassion is enormous and overwhelming to an astounding degree. They are immune to all diseases and the most notable trait is how the environment reacts to them. A prospect is loved and protected by every creature that’s not human. Most creatures are extremely protective of a prospect and are even willing to go as far as give up their life to protect them from any harm.’ The old man kept going at just the right pace. This is what I should have done but I was not a familiar face either.

 

‘I’ve known it for some time now Mirriam. Your son Edward is the soul keeper. The last soul keeper in the country. I’ve known and I’ve done nothing. I didn’t know what to do. But someone has come along. Someone who knows what to do.’ He looked at me trustingly.

 

‘But…but he’s a thief. He’s just a thief’ said Mirriam. Of course, what would a thief do.

 

Wilson came to my rescue again. ‘I was not supposed to tell this to anyone. Mirriam, our Mikhail was a thief too. A notorious one. He was a member of the thieves guild just like our Randall here. Mikhail left that life behind to only conserve this little town and Randall is doing just the same.’

 

She was lost in thought and it was the perfect time to offer my piece. ‘Mirriam, I originally came here to scout this town. The thieves guild is expanding its influence across the west by establishing control in one place after the other and the next settlement in line was Vereen. On my way here, I saw Ed in the woods and soon came to the discovery that he was a soul keeper.’ I paused. It was time to make a proposal and I had to make the stakes clear. ‘After seeing him and this beautiful town, I was reborn with a new mission. I loved the way the world was and I want things to go back the way they were. The only thing that matters to me is now to protect you and your son and fulfil his destiny as a soul keeper.’

 

It was assuring, but not enough. I moved closer to her and stared right into her eyes. ‘There are people coming Mirriam. A group of men from the guild follows me as a means of backup. They serve as a safety net for the operation. Once they come here, it exposes the town and the secret behind it to the entire nation. People will come and eat away at everything and you and your son will end up as spoils of war as a best case scenario. They are about a day or two behind me so we are running short on time. We need to leave this place right now.’

 

She clamped her hands on her face and tried to wrestle through the terror in her heart. ‘Why? Why did it have to be him?’ she was close to a break down.

‘I’m sorry’ that wasn’t going to comfort her but it was necessary.

 

‘Where are we going? And when are we coming back?’ she asked in a trembling voice. The question confused me. Did she not understand what was going on? Was she unable to think properly? I looked at Wilson and he looked back at me with the same concerned expression. He went on to enquire.

 

‘Mirriam, do you not know?’ She looked at him, expecting more bad news. ‘Know what?’ she asked him.

 

Wilson took a long pause before answering. ‘A prospect has to blossom into a full-blown soul keeper by the time he or she is 16 years of age. The prospect can only live if they have hatched the egg in their 16th year. Mirriam, your son has less than two years to live!’

 

 

 

Click here for the next chapter

The Whispering Game-maker- Part 1

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I awoke in a panicked sweat. God it was bad.

Was I dreaming?

There certainly had to be some explanation for why I was now a simmering pig, drenching my sheets and pillow in sweat. Nothing made sense. I needed to catch my breath.

I kicked my feet over to the edge of the bed, feeling like the weight of the world was on me, and stumbled over to the small bathroom of my apartment, to cool off.

I hopped into the shower, and let that refreshing cold water free me from the turmoil of my body. No shampoo, no soap, I just needed the sweat to be gone.

No more than two minutes later, I was back in decent shape. I’d still have the sheets to clean if I didn’t want to deal with the nasty scent all night, but it seemed awfully late. I could deal with them for the rest of the night. But regardless, I felt okay again…had a strange, new, and even worse feeling come over me. I didn’t know how to describe it in words, but something wasn’t right. It was a gut feeling. A damn strong one.

I whipped the towel around my legs and body quickly, and left the Bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I threw on a second set of clean Pyjamas, did a quick spray of the air using deodorant to mask the lingering scent of sweat, and got back into bed to return to my rest.

As soon as my head touched the pillow, the phone on my nightstand began to vibrate violently.

Who could be calling me at such a late hour? I thought.

I didn’t want to take the call, but I felt like it would just keep going otherwise. I held the phone to my ear.

The caller ID was unknown, and strangely, all the text on my screen was red, not the phone’s usual UI elements of blue and white text.

I could hear the sound of some stifled giggling.

“So, you’ve succeeded in avoiding Her, already?” came a suave voice with a deep tone.

“…Excuse me?” I replied. It sounded like a prank call, I didn’t recognize the voice as anyone I knew. My old roommate David was known for the occasional prank, but this clearly wasn’t him.

“Oh, come now. You were no more than an inch away from her, and you didn’t have the heart to introduce yourself? Not very gracious of you.” came the response, tutting.

I rolled my eyes and then got back to him. “Look, I’m just trying to get to sleep her-” I was abruptly interrupted.

“And I have information that might just save your life. Well… return it, at least.”

I wanted to hang up for being rudely interrupted, but the next thing he said was just intriguing enough for me to hear him out.

“…Are you threatening me?” I said.

“On the contrary. I’m here to help.” was his response.

I sat silent for a moment, wondering what the man’s motive might be. “I’d like to offer you a deal.” he said.

“A… deal?” I said, confused.

“If you’ll allow me a moment of your time to explain myself, of course…” he said.

“Shoot.” I said, just wishing he’d get on with it.

“In case you were otherwise unaware, you are dead.”

“…Dead?” I said, while trying to interpret his meaning.

“Yes. Dead. The type in which your mortal coil has been snuffed out, and you are now merely a soul. As it happens, your corpse is sitting in the local morgue, while your  family are out of town with friends and relatives.”

“Cut the bullshit.” I said, ready to hang up. That whole statement made no sense. I was right here.

“Oh, you can hang up on me if you please, but you’ll soon regret it…” He said.

“Then start making sense!” I shouted, my patience finally starting to wear thin.

“I’ve been quite honest with you so far, but I’ll do what I can to clear things up for you. That ‘Friend’ of yours, Richard? The one who offered you ‘Superpowers’ beyond your wildest imagination, in exchange for nothing more than a quick injection… Well, he did you quite a disservice.” he said.

“You were injected with Krokodil, that ghastly substance that brings new Russian lowlifes to my door, daily. I wish I could say you had a pleasant death, but I can’t lie to you, in good faith.”

“…If I am dead… how are we talking? Explain that.” I said, scoffing.

“Oh, that’s very simple. As I said, I offered you a deal.”

“I looked over your case, and my poor heart was just so moved to find how unfairly you were treated…” I couldn’t believe how mocking his voice was. This guy cared nothing for me.

“For the moment, I have temporarily returned you to life. Course’, that’s conditional on how you handle yourself from now on.” he said.

“And what would you have me do?” I retorted, sick of the baseless statements so far.

“Survive. For no more than a week. I would hope someone as capable as you could do that much.” he said.

“…A week. You don’t think I can live a week? I’ve been alive for over 20 years. What’s one more week…” I responded, feeling good about myself.

“Oh, I can’t pretend that your usual routine places in you in any harm, no… But you’re not alone right now…”

I pulled a face of pure disbelief, having been looking at my empty room for the entire conversation.

“Listen. There’s nobo-”

Scratching sounds at the bathroom door. Very distinct scratches. Fingernails, no doubt.

He was right.

I bolted outright out of bed, grabbing the pistol I’ve kept in the drawer beside my bed for just such an occasion. I made my way towards the bathroom, wondering just who the hell was in there. I had just come out of there minutes ago, and it was empty.

I reached for the doorknob, when the voice came from the phone again. I could hear it all the way from across the room.

“I wouldn’t advise that, if I was you…” Came a serious tone. I walked backwards to the bed, continuing to stare at the door, talking with the phone in one hand.

“You see, down here, she’s affectionately known as Lamia. One of the older demons, and easily the most eldritch sight we have. I called a vote to see what the board wanted to see you deal with, and she won by a landslide.”

“…What fucking vote! Just who are you??” I finally screamed. The stress of the bathroom scratching getting to me, and this call continuing to wind me into madness.

“You haven’t guessed? I go by many names, but your kin usually just call me the Devil.”

“…The devil?” Funny as hell, but I was actually considering that he was telling the truth.

“I’ll help you to understand your task. It’d be no fun to watch you perish so soon, after all…”

“For the next seven days, you will have to contend with Her being in your presence. She will materialize close to you, starting from 10AM, and leaving you at 6PM sharp. This could be from your cabinet, under your bed, anywhere unseen, really. Dark places are a surefire favorite dwelling for her.

“She’s not terribly keen on being looked at. Frankly, it’s the thing she hates most. I’ve observed some truly abhorrent butchery of those who can’t pay her the respect of remaining unseen. If you catch so much as a quick peek of her, you’ll understand.”

“She may be kind enough to let slide some unconscious reflections, after all, you humanshave a very wide gaze. But, that’s in her court. I wouldn’t rely on her mercy, myself.”

“…I can’t look at her?” I said. “…What’s stopping her from coming out?”

“She’s not awfully familiar with your world, and your architecture. Usually, you’ll find her tormenting souls on the third rung of the underworld, so please, forgive her naivety.”

“I kid…” he said, laughing. “She could open the door, but she’s a good sport. If you manage to trap her as such, you can consider the threat over for the night.”

“She has a handful of supernatural abilities to help her out. Low-level telepathy to move or rotate objects, the ability to absorb and reform light into other forms of energy, mostly used to overload or dim light bulbs…”

“But worst of all, she has a particularly cruel tendency to make your hear things that aren’t actually there. She can imitate any voice, or sound naturally. Expect her to save that for the later days, though. She should only employ that if you’re doing a good job.”

“Ok, ok… I’m getting some of this.” I said, wishing this was all just some dream.

“Now, while I did call her a good sport, it’s only fair you don’t cheat yourself..”

“Cheat?” I said, confused.

“Well, your task is merely to avoid to looking at her. You could lock yourself in an empty room with no windows, lock the doors, and be done with it. Or you could turn on all the lights in the house, and keep her from appearing anywhere. Anything of that nature, really. There are several ways to exploit the rules, but she’s been granted special permission to break her usual restrictions, if you can’t respect a fair challenge.”

“….Ok. I think I get it… Is that it?” I said.

“Mostly. Your life is as it was, before your death. You can go about your day, and prepare for the challenge during the daytime, just be sure to have your strategy in place before 10AM. Having trapped her in your bathroom, you’re safe for the first night. You could sleep in peace, but I suspect you’re too troubled for that right now…”

“If I’ve forgotten anything, I can call you back. There’s a lot of money riding on you, right now. I can promise you that you don’t want to fail this test. You’ll be tormented for all eternity if you disappoint some of the bigger demons, betting on your survival. Well, then. I think that’s all. Farewell, and good luck with your life.”

Click.

The call was over. And I was an emotional wreck right now, faced with my very survival.

If I could trust ‘The Devil’, or so he said he was, then I was safe for the first night, because of my accidental fortune.He might have said a lot of questionable things, but he was right about one thing.

I wasn’t getting a fucking second of sleep tonight.

 

(Unnamed Story)- Chapter 12: Together. 

Ingram ran with Daisy in his arms while Elia ran beside him removing Daisy’s hair from her eyes and the wound on her head. Ingram’s handkerchief was tied around Daisy’s head but it didn’t help much. They ran on the rocky and dusty roads of Hauyne barefooted, the roads burned their feet but didn’t burn their spirits. Getting Daisy to an chirurgeon  was their only goal. 
             The run had become significantly harder. Elia disappeared, his hands ached, his legs gave in and he fell to the ground. He blinked, Clarice had fallen right in front of him. He got up picked her up and ran, he didn’t know where to go but he just ran. The handkerchief tied on Clarice’s reduced the bleeding but didn’t stop it. He ran hoping to see Bennett. He ran hoping someone would come to their help. He ran thinking about the time when Daisy was in his hands exactly like Clarice was right now. He loved them both dearly, he wasn’t ready to let go of any of them this soon. 

            She opened her eyes. Her eyelids still felt heavy, but someone was holding her hands. She slowly turned to her side and saw Bennet there, her beautiful eyes filled with tears instantly, couldn’t hold it in anymore. Glimpses of last night flashed in her head. Clarice knew what she had put Bennett and Ingram through. After all she had put them through they still were holding onto her. This made her cry even more. A knock on the door and Ingram came in with breakfast. He looked at Clarice, gave her a smile and fed her himself. She burst into tears again. 

           “Why?” she said, half chewing and half crying. 

           “Because you would’ve done the same for us” said Ingram, stuffing more food into Clarice’s already filled mouth. 

           The sound of crying woke Bennet  up. “How are you feeling?” He asked her the moment he woke up. He was happy that she was eating and alright. The Chirurgeon walked in and spoke to Bennet about Clarice and gave him a few medicines. 

            They walked of the chirurgeon’s place. Took a cart and made their way back home. The ride back was silent. While Clarice slept in Bennet’s lap, Ingram was lookin at a map of Dybbukh he found in Clarice’s cloak. He examined the map and imagined what would’ve happened if Clarice had not been found, he forcefully snapped himself out of it and gave Bennet the map and asked him to look at it. 

             Dybbukh was a very sinister place. The king there committed a macabre series of murders on everyone who spoke or went against him. Slavery and prostitution were their predominant businesses. All these business were owned by the king and his ministers, while the few others in the King’s court had decent lives. The rest of the kingdom were slaves who worked for a meagre amount and women of the kingdom were forced into prostitution. 

            Bennet put his hand on her forehead. He gave her a very affectionate look. The cart slowly pulled into their street. They woke Clarice up and they carried her gently into the house.

           The sun rays slowly turned orange and sneaked out of the house in a hurry. The night swept into the house. Clarice opened her eyes gently and she saw 4 eyes beaming at her with a lot of happiness and concern as well. A small fear took over Clarice. She finally came to terms with what she had done and what happened to her. She had left Bennet and Ingram. She had caused them a lot of pain and was scared that they wouldn’t forgive her.

              Ingram held her hand and said ” I want to find Elia and Daisy as much as you do but I’d never want to lose you. So sacrificing yourself or putting yourself in harm’s way won’t help our family. I beg you Clar! Please never even think of doing something like this ever again” 

             “We are in this together” said Bennet.