The Soul Keeper 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 as 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 only 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 long 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 with 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 over 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 chances were 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?’

 


 

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 other kids 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. The stranger 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 even looked 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 the stranger 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 because she missed my dad. 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 the other man 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. My mother said she didn’t know anything either but she asked me to keep it because it looked important. I’ve kept it ever since and now 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 leather riding boots with wooden soles 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 ornament that a friend gave me a long time ago. It had a narrow hole lining through it . My mother did me a favour and turned it into a locket by running a thread through it.

 

With the sacks, I walked outside and noticed that my mother had already finished packing. She was frantically walking around the house while the stranger 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. Our guest 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 the man 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. 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 it wouldn’t feel right.

‘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 rotten eggs and vomit. I don’t know about the medicinal properties but the taste itself could keep me awake for all that time. 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 of 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 silly 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 be 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.

Suddenly a lot of fatigue started to kick in. 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 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 scary 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’ said the tall man. 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 us 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 thechoice 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 Randall. 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 boss. 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 the most pleasurable sleep I can remember.

 

Click here for the next chapter


Author’s Notes

Ah, perspective change. Now we finally have Edward as the POV. It’s going to be a bit repetitive in the beginning. The poor lad knows nothing and a lot of questions are just buzzing in his head. He’s a good boy but he’s a bit weak and can freeze when shit starts to go down around him.

Finally some action. Well, there was no combat yet but it was conflict leading up to a standoff. Haha, sorry for the tease. You’ll get some real action soon.

Randall is an unusually good fighter for a thief but so are Bishop and Bumper from the follow up squad.

Also, I’m stealing artwork from other people to illustrate my story. Sorry fellow artists, let this lowly creature feed upon your work please.

I’m trying to work on my drawing skills so that I can illustrate these myself. I believe they go a long way and project my image to the readers. I wonder how long it will take me to learn. I’ve only started and am now trying to improve my portrait art. There’s so much more to learn. Perspective, environment, hands (toughest part of drawing people), lighting, etc. Hope I learn enough before I get this to print.

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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. That would be delusional. 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 over a 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 easygoing 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 taking my vulgar hypothesis into consideration. 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 seemed to know more but she didn’t want to discuss the science of the soul keepers. Not right now.

 

‘Mirriam, I’m not sure if you know the details, but as you might know, just around the time you moved in here, the infamous Waynecastle massacre went down. Every soulkeeper was ambushed and killed except the soulkeeper of shadow who fled the country and was never seen again, leaving the entire place void of anchors to the soul. 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.’ She was waiting for more. It seemed like the residents here at least knew about the massacre.

 

‘This move backfired. The fabric of the soul started to crumble throughout the country. Greenery died, fertility among every species fell, lifespans have shortened 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 conjured up 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.  I could tell that this was the information that was left out from the citizens here. She had no idea about the world outside. But 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 would.

 

‘The two of us took upon the responsibility to seal this place and protect the last surviving fragment of the 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 during the window when the eggs were laid. 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 few 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 soul bearer, that is, every living creature except people because we have stronger bias. 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 the fact that I was a total stranger had put me at a disadvantage.

 

‘I’ve known it for some time now Mirriam. Your son Edward is definitely the soul keeper. The last soul keeper in the country. I’ve known for a while and I’ve done nothing. I didn’t know what to do. But someone has come along. Someone who knows what to do and someone who can help you.’ 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 conclusion 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 to the way they were. The only thing that matters to me now is to protect you and your son and help him 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 all the wrong kind of people. They will come and eat away at everything while you and your son will end up as spoils of war. That, I think is the best case scenario. Things can get much worse. 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

 


Author’s Notes

Ooh, lots of confusing stuff about the soulkeepers and eggs and stuff. More will be revealed soon about these things as they are part of the primary plot line. There’s a lot of science and system behind soul keepers and with time and new information, it will be solidified.

Wilson Fawk is 71 years old which is unusual in the rest of the country these days. Most people don’t live that long because the fabric of the soul is crumbling and people have limited access to the life force.

The soul is really interesting and versatile. Later in the story, I’ll try to introduce some exciting applications of the soul and its manipulation. Stay hooked!

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. 

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 4

A Confounded Mother

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

‘Randall. Does she know you? Have you ever met her or Kenny before? Because, if not, it won’t be easy to convince her to leave. Do you want me to accompany you?’ I was glad to see Mikhail get back to his calm self. My multiple assurances had given him ample comfort to move on with the situation at hand.

‘I’m sorry Mikhail, but this is something that I have to do alone. I bear the burden of a secret just as you do. I hope you understand.’ Surely, it seemed that he could work with that, given how he was in a similar position as mine. Understanding the position I was in, he gave me an affirmative nod.

 

‘Here, this should be more than enough to take care of them.’ He handed me a large pouch, full of coins. ‘They’re not used to a harsh lifestyle and suiting their needs out there will cost you an arm’.

‘That’s kind of you Mikhail but I can take care of them. There’s no need for this.’ I offered the pouch back to him. ‘We have more than we need Randall. Even shelling out ten bags of gold like this wouldn’t be considered anything more than a petty expense. Listen, they are like my family and their well-being is my responsibility. Let me do my part.’ He smiled coyly.

 

‘All right, I won’t turn down free money if you’re being so insistent’. I weighed the bag in my palm. ‘And that’s a lot of money. I could buy a dozen horses with all this dough. Well, thanks for that. But I implore you to not let your guard down once I leave. I’m going to try my best to prevent anyone else from coming here but just in case something goes wrong, be prepared. Do not station your men at the town borders. The follow-up squads are a team of three. Two of them sneak into the town for inspection while one of them stays outside waiting for their return. In case the mission is busted, the one waiting outside rushes back to base to bring reinforcements.’

 

Mikhail watched in shock as I described the protocol to him. ‘When did the guild become so meticulous?’ He asked me in awe.

‘We’ve had to make several reforms ever since we banded together again. Before the Knight of Wisdom first nabbed and disbanded our guild, we were quite disorganised and sloppy. That was a good lesson and it drove us to being more careful with our future endeavours. Anyway, in case the follow-up group somehow does show up, furtively send guards in through the forest. You managed to spot me so easily so I don’t expect you to have trouble spotting them either. They won’t be trying too hard to hide as long as they have nothing to hide. The ones waiting for the return for the rest of the party will probably loom around in the forest path. Eliminate him first before ambushing the others inside.’

 

Mikhail seriously absorbed everything I was offering to him. ‘Are you really okay with this Randall? I know how much you care about them, your brothers in the guild.’

 

‘Trust me Mikhail. This is really difficult for me. Never have I wished such a fate upon my brothers but our mission here is larger than their lives. It’s bigger than you and me and we understand that. This is why we are willing to make such sacrifices.’ I hooked the pouch he gave me on my belt. ‘Remember. These men are as skilled as they are sly. Do not underestimate them for regular troopers. Their job is to slip out of the tightest knots. You have a lot of men here but they are all inexperienced. Strategize carefully or it will be the end of this town.’ That made him nervous but he needed to understand the stakes before walking into something like this. He has plenty of men like I stated earlier but the follow-up squad is the best at what they do and a bunch of inept soldiers won’t be much of a problem for them. The odds of them capturing or slaying the squad are quite low so I’ll have to try my best to make sure that it doesn’t go so far.

 

‘All right Mikhail, I’ll take my leave. I wish you luck for the many uncertainties in the near future. What you are doing here is quite noble and your work has been extraordinary. You’ve played a great role in preserving the last remains of the soul. History will remember you for that deed. I hope for our sake that we never have to see each other again. You’re a good man and I’ll ever be grateful to you for trusting me.’

 

He was quite tired and confused. He didn’t say anything in response but gave me a respectful nod. He walked with me all the way to the inn where Sheena was still tied. I untied her loose and climbed on top of her. Just as I was about to start I saw Wilson Fawk blast out of the entrance of the inn. ‘Hey lad! I see that you’ve met our chief merchant.’ He shouted to me as Sheena slowly walked away.

‘Oh yes Wilson. I was glad to see that my old friend was the sculptor of this little town. See ya later old man’ I waved to him as I left.

 

 

‘Oh, he knows you too huh Mikhail! What do you reckon he wants from the Forrests?’

 

‘Ah, the classic squeeze information out of a drunk man in a bar. You know, you should be the last person to give away free information to a total stranger’

 

‘He’s seems like a good man Mikky. I’ve met too many people in this lifetime. Judging people is one of the very few things I’m good at. Moreover, I knew that you were next in line to meet him so I didn’t have much to worry about. You know, you seem like you have a lot on your mind. Why don’t you get to work? I’ll go walk this booze off’

 

 

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The riveting smell of the harvest ready crop filled my lungs with ecstasy. The farmlands were the most beautiful part in this town even though they didn’t look as opulent as the town-centre. The plush scenery was a gift to these eyes of mine that haven’t seen much apart from gloom and despair. After a few minutes of riding it was hard imagining that I spent the last decade in the wastelands. I imagined setting up a cottage on the edge of the town. Tilling and sowing in the morning and relaxing in this paradise in the night. What a peaceful and beautiful life would that be? Why should I ever leave this place?

 

The first sight of a carrot farm blew that innocuous dream out of my mind. I came back to the reality I accepted years ago. A life without sin is not a life of mine. Blood and treachery are my closest friends and a bunch of thieves are what I have for a family. People like me do not deserve a plenteous life like that. It’s for the regular folk who’ve suffered as a result of poor choices made by a puerile king. I don’t deserve that life until I redeem my sins by giving that life to the people first. This is the only way I know that can wash my countless sins away.

 

“Mirriam and Edward” said the signpost on the fence of the carrot farm. I promised myself that I wouldn’t leave this place without them but I had no plan to convince them. How do you explain something like this to anyone? How do you expect someone to leave everything behind at the command of a total stranger? I had no answers to these questions. I didn’t have time to prepare for this so I decided to follow my instincts from this point onward.

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I knocked the door twice and awaited response. When there was no answer for a while. I knocked again.

‘Wait up Ed! You’re unusually sooner than usual today’ I heard a soft feminine voice come from the inside. It grew louder with every consecutive footstep I heard. ‘Done playing alre….?’ she paused when she saw me.

 

‘Hello….. Mirriam?’ I asked in a slightly nervous tone. Apart from the greying roots of her long and wavy black hair, she looked really young to be a mother of a fourteen year old. The boy certainly got his looks from his mother. A pointy chin, a small but sharp nose and a long neck. The only thing he didn’t inherit were those brown eyes as he had crystal bluish-green eyes. She was in a farmer’s attire and was sweating hard when she opened the door. She quickly wiped her forehead with her sleeve as I greeted her and gave me a smile behind two very confused eyes.

‘I’m Randall, a friend of Mikhail’s. I wanted to talk to you about something and he told me that I could find you here.’ I looked around both ways and asked her ‘Do you mind if I come in?’

 

She paused for a moment to take it all in but finally caved in. ‘Oh please, do come in.’ She opened the door completely to let me in. I stepped in and followed her to the lounge. The insides of the farmhouse were more elegant than the rough exterior. ‘We’ve never had anyone visit from the outside. I was a bit surprised but then a friend of Mikhail’s is always welcome here. Please, have a seat.’ She offered me a seat on a jute couch in the lounge.

 

‘Oh no, it’s fine.’ I reluctantly refused. This was not a friendly social visit and I wanted to get to the point really quick. ‘I presume your son isn’t home’

 

‘Edward? No.’ She responded in a way that defined the impossibility of that scenario. ‘He stays out all day long. He doesn’t get along with the rest of the kids for some reason but he still manages to find something to kill his time.’

 

I kept looking at her wondering how to break the news. When the silence began taking its toll, she began. ‘So! You wanted to talk to me about something?’

 

‘Yes!!’ I responded abruptly. ‘Yes’ I said again in a much gentler tone. ‘It’s about your son.’ I could feel her discomfort as soon as she heard that.

 

‘What is it?’ The spunk had been sapped out of her voice.

 

‘I met him on my way to the town. I saw him in the forest. I even spoke to him.’ I kept strategizing on how to go on. This was no easy task. Her attention got heavier with every moment of silence. ‘Ma’am, I….. I have good reason to believe that your son might be a soul keeper.’

 

Her eyes told me how peeved she was at me. A reaction so full of rage and disgust as if I had told the most offensive joke of the century. It probably was. ‘I don’t understand what you’re talking about. You’re saying that my son….. my Edward is a soul keeper?’ She asked me to make sure that that’s exactly what I was implying.

‘Yes.’ I had nothing more to say to her. Nothing safer, nothing more comforting. ‘Yes, I do’

 

‘Do you understand what you are talking about? Who are you anyway and what makes you think you can just barge into my house and say such a putrid statement?’ Rage quickly seeped into her voice. It was completely understandable.

 

‘Listen Mirriam. I am Mikhail’s friend. I come from the capital. Not the west, but from the mainland.’ I didn’t have too many words so I had to make every word count. ‘Look. I know it sounds crazy. I can hardly grasp the magnitude of things as I say them. It’s just as shocking to me. I used to know a couple of soul keepers back when they weren’t an extinct breed. I’ve worked with them long enough to identify a prospect. Believe me. Your son is a prospect’

 

She rushed to the door. Pointing her hand outwards, she yelled at me. ‘LEAVE!! NOW!!! I won’t listen to another word of this.’

I squeezed my face with my hand thinking of a way to make her listen. I wasn’t going to leave without them.

 

‘Please. Hear me out Mirriam. This is not a joke. Your son, he’s fourteen right? Just look at the facts. Tell me, when was the last time he was sick?’ Her angry red eyes started to flutter with hints of shock. ‘You must have also noticed his affinity with animals. You must have noticed how they flock around him. He looks like a natural, doesn’t he?’

 

Just when I was starting to make progress, the kid showed up at the door. Mirriam grabbed by his arm and pulled him into her protective grasp. The scared and confused kid spotted me and a hearty smile cleared up his psyche. ‘Hey mister!’ He exclaimed happily. He then turned to his mother. ‘Hey Ma! Shugu hurt her wing today and was bleeding out. This man saved her life.’

‘Shugu, that pigeon?’ She tried talking normally to not spook the kid out yet.

‘No!! The sparrow’ The way he responded highlighted his disappointment in his mother’s bird-name-remembering skills.

‘Oh, that’s very nice Ed. Listen why don’t you go inside. Just stay there for a while hon. Do not come out till I tell you to. This man will be leaving now.’ The kid didn’t want to go in but she had made it very clear what he had to do. She walked him inside and came to face me again. ‘Listen Mister. I don’t care what you say. You need to leave. Please, just leave and never show yourself to us ever again.’

 

I bowed my head down. ‘I’m sorry Mirriam. I can’t. I can’t leave here without him.’

Without hesitation she drew her sickle out of her belt. Pointing it towards me, she made her threat. ‘You’re not taking my son anywhere. Leave now and don’t make me use this.’

 

I raised my hands and faced my palms in her direction signifying that I had no intention to fight, resist or even defend myself, making clear my stance on total surrender. ‘We don’t have much time Mirriam. If we don’t settle this now, things will take a very ugly turn.’

 

‘What do you mean we don’t have time’ she asked me. She was notably scared. I could make things up so that things tip in my favour but I knew that lying now would only cement bad things for us in the future. I had to be honest and clear about this.

 

‘I’m a scout for the thieves guild. Some people are going to show up after me so we need to leave before they arrive. Mirriam, you need to get your son to safety before more people find out what he is.’

 

‘THIEVES GUILD? A THIEF!?’ She walked to me with the sickle on her stretched out arm.  She stopped when it was an inch away from my neck. I didn’t shudder and my wide open arms still screamed surrender.

 

‘You should put that down Mirriam. Even with a sickle in that position, there’s no way you can hurt him. He’s quick and you’re not a person who could ever hurt someone else.’ She and I quickly turned our gaze to the source of the voice which came from the door. It was old man Wilson.

 

‘Lord Fawk!!’ She uttered in absolute shock. The sickle was still on my throat.

‘Lord? You’re the lord?’ I said, as surprised as Mirriam but for a different reason.

 

Click here for the next chapter

 


Author’s Notes

All the pieces are now on the board. The pieces we need to kick-start the story that is. There’s another conversation heavy chapter after this before we actually set out. The conflict has only been established and convincing someone to leave their home behind takes more than a few paragraphs.

There is still a lot of world building to be done in the prologue so hold out for a few chapters. The basic geography, history and economics of this world will soon be addressed.

You don’t have to read these notes. Although I do plan on sharing some fun trivia and facts about the characters, world and the larger story here. Everything I say here is definitely canon but skipping it won’t affect your coverage of the story.

The Soul Keeper and the Guardian, Chapter 3

A Convincing Bargain

Click here for Chapter 1 of the series

Being held hostage isn’t fun. This wasn’t my first time playing captive and it sure as hell wasn’t my last go at it. In my line of work, something like this isn’t considered out of ordinary. I knew that this was ultimately going to lead to a very constructive conversation so I didn’t bother wasting my time and energy looking for escape routes and weak links in the squad holding me hostage. Instead, I just basked in the peace and glory of this peculiarly prosperous place.

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The town centre was much busier than the inner parts of the town. Anomalous things weren’t an anomaly around here. Every person I could see was clearly well off. Everyone had all the food they needed, they wore the best clothes you could buy in a place like this and it applied to even the smallest vendors. The structures in these parts were extravagant for a small town and were very well maintained. I saw several specimen at the butcher’s porch that people would sell their kids for in the mainland. I saw a few stalls sell apples. Apples!! A single apple would sell for 2 gold out there. These weren’t even imported from the outside. The apples were clearly grown here. Only one thing could explain how these people were able to grow apples in the desert lands of the west. Only my hypothesis could support these heretic conditions.

 

I saw a lot of things that I never hoped to see again. Things of the past that I thought would never resurface. The sight of all this made me well up. My emotions were in control of me so I hadn’t noticed that we were already at the gates of the lord’s keep. For the first time since I entered the town, did I see guards. The thugs around me were just hired muscle. The guards opened the gate and we walked in.

 

The lord’s keep wasn’t too extravagant. It was no better than the rest of the buildings in the town centre except for the size. The keep was huge. It was large enough to cram every person in the town if they needed shelter in special circumstances. The grounds spread wide and were well-tended. Multiple teams of guards circuited around the grounds which felt quite unnecessary. The place looked like it had too much security. Much more than it could possibly need.

 

We made our way inside the building through the main door into a giant hall. Two parallel stairs ran up to the first floor like most manors and on the sides were offices, quite heavily occupied and busy. I was taken around the stairs and into a very cramped room. They asked me to sit inside and while most of the escort party left, two of them stood guard in front of the room. I still had all my weapons and equipment on me which made me wonder why they went to such lengths to abduct me but didn’t bother to disarm me. That’s the most reckless and irresponsible work I’ve seen from an abductor yet.

 

My feet twitched while I sat there thinking about how I was losing precious time. I kept thinking about my encounter with the boy over and over again. I was convinced that I was right about him but I still kept looking for any explanation to prove myself wrong. How convenient would that be? Time flew and after what seemed like half an hour, the guards called me out. I walked out and they escorted me to a room beside the office near the stairs. The door was closed. One of my escorts walked up to the door and knocked thrice.

 

‘Come in’, came a voice from inside.

The escort opened the door and I saw the back of a man, sitting on one end of a long table. He had long straight greying hair and wore a lavish robe. I walked in with my escorts who directed me towards a seat on the opposite end of the table. One escort stopped by the door and closed it from inside while the other one stayed by my side.

 

‘Please…. Have a seat’ said the man. He only looked a few years younger than me and was sporting a very calm and confident demeanour. I sat down facing him, waiting for him to speak. He peered at me as soon as he saw me but shook his head and began.

 

‘I’m terribly sorry for putting you through such a tiresome ordeal. You see, we don’t get too many visitors in this little town. As you may have noticed on your way here, we have more than a few good reasons for being so cautious. It’s been years since I’ve had to do something like this. That’s how uncommon a visitor is for us. So, tell me. What brings you to the town of Vereen?’

 

‘I’m very sorry about abruptly troubling you my lord. I just came here looking for an old friend of mine and I just learned about his demise which leaves me with nothing more to do here in your town. I assure you that I will leave here at once without giving you any more trouble.’ The man looked reasonable so I had to walk the same road as him if I were to get out of this fix without causing any problems. But the man suspiciously peered at me again as soon as he heard my voice.

 

‘Ha ha, please. Do not mistake me for the lord. I’m just the head of the merchant’s guild in this place. I just provide counsel to the lord. He is too busy to worry about such trivial matters so I have decided to take them into my hands. I used to be an outsider just like you back in the day and I have a strange feeling that I’ve seen you before.’ He leaned forward in his chair as he peered at me. This would be the worst place for my cover to break.

 

‘I don’t suppose you have. I’m sure you must be mistaking me for someone else. I’ve never been to this place before and I come from a place much farther than the capital. I have no memory of seeing you either.’ I tried to be as composed as possible.

‘It’s not just your appearance. This voice, I remember it.’ Suddenly his eyes opened wide.

‘Do you mind pulling your left sleeve back?’ he asked me with grave excitement.

I looked at him for a few seconds and put my hands on the table. ‘Actually, I do. I would like to leave. My business here may be unfinished but my employer expects me to show up soon.’

 

‘Oh but we’re not done yet. Please, I insist.’ He sneered at me as he said that. Both the guards in the room squeezed their hands on the hilts of their swords to show me that they meant business. I leaned back on my chair and sighed. Slowly, I pulled my left sleeve back, revealing the long scar on my forearm. I knew I was busted.

 

‘If it isn’t Randall Smith!!’ he said in total astonishment. ‘What in the world brings the Randall Smith to Vereen!? Definitely not an old friend.’

‘How do you know me?’ I asked him. Not many people knew about the scar. He sighed in response to the question and commanded his guards to leave the room for the two of us. As they left, he began again.

 

‘You may not remember me but I was in the guild back in the day. A few years before it was disbanded by the High King. I wasn’t a big name like you. I was just a fence who dealt with the small rat thieves. Back then almost everyone in the guild knew about that scar and how it came to be.’ He smiled. ‘I still find that story hard to believe.’

The small clues were enough for me to pick on. I closely examined his sharp, pale face for a while. ‘Sheepus… is that you?’ I knew my guess was right when I saw the surprised look on his face.

 

‘Wow Randall. I consider it an honour that you remember me even though it has been so long. But I don’t go by that name these days. My days as a small time fence are behind me so as a merchant in the nobility, I use my real name. Mikhail Holloway. I insist that you keep my past between us. I’ve left that life behind for a long time and I don’t want it to affect my standing in this place. You see, I’ve got a good thing going on here and I don’t want anyone to mess it up.’

‘You don’t have to worry about that Mikhail. I’m just here to meet someone. It’s a one-time thing. I assure you that I will forever be out of your lives once I’m done with my errand.’ I told him reassuringly.

 

‘Who is it that you want to meet?’ He asked me inquisitively.

‘Mirriam Forrest. I was hoping to meet her husband Kenny before I came here but I recently learned of his demise so I’ll have to make do with her. I have something that belongs to them. All I want to do is deliver it and see how she’s doing before I leave.’

 

‘No! How do you know Kenny? I did a thorough background check on him after his death. He lived in a remote island before he came here. He hardly knew anyone and lived a reclusive life. There’s no way you know him. Who sent you?’ I grew uncomfortable as his stance got more and more offensive. Kenny’s murder was probably one of the very few blotches on his perfect record with this perfect town and the mention of his name had seemingly hit a nerve.

 

‘Wait a second. I know that the thieves guild was re-established since the cold war. They’ve established strongholds throughout the Western Kingdom. Don’t tell me you got back into the guild.’ He paused and stared at me for a moment and my resolute silence gave him the answer to his questions. ‘You’re a scout for the guild, aren’t you?’ I remained unshaken throughout. Neither did I respond nor did I react. I could talk my way out of a situation like this with most people but fooling someone as smart and well-connected like Mikhail wasn’t something I could manage. This was the time for negotiation, not deception. An alpha merchant like him wants to cut the best deal possible and I had to come up with the best bargain if I wanted a way out of this.

 

‘You!! You’ve doomed this place.’ Astounded, he stood up from his seat, running his hand through his hair. He could see the terrible fate that I pictured a few minutes after meeting the boy. He understood that I had marked the town for death. ‘All these years I’ve cloaked and protected this town. The era of despair hit immediately after the Waynecastle massacre and trade was just tumbling in every corner of the nation. I couldn’t bear the ugly sight of it so I fled back here, to my hometown. I didn’t have any family back here, but this was my childhood home. I was surprised how different this place was from the rest of the country. I worked with the merchants here for a year. We ventured to different towns and cities and saw how the world around us was crumbling. We merchants understood what we had while the rest of the townsfolk to this date remain obnoxiously ignorant of the outside world. They don’t know the plight of the people living outside and that was only because we merchants protected them from this information.’

 

‘After the one year I spent travelling and trading, I realised why Vereen was still alive and prospering. I felt the presence of the soul in this place. That realisation gave me a sense of mission. After learning about the darkness and despair looming around the nation, I took a pledge to protect this place from the evil outside. Taking charge was the first step. I quickly climbed the ranks in the trade business using my skill and experience as a fence. I vowed to the lord to hide this town from the world outside.’

 

‘A lot of steps had to be taken. Firstly, we made it so that going out of the town was restricted if you weren’t a merchant. Then the merchants were asked to hide the truth about the suffering of the world outside, even from their own families. We understood what was at stake here. We had to keep the circle small so we kept other people from trading outside. We always had enough money so we created all kinds of jobs here so that every single person had something to do without having to leave town. We hired guards and maids that we didn’t need. Hired accountants, bankers and bureaucrats that we could do without. We made this town completely self-sufficient. Everyone has a job and everyone is wealthy.’

 

‘We also have very planned and careful trade expeditions when we venture outside. It’s a smoke and mirrors expedition where we make plenty of diversions and keep circling around to hide the location of our place. Our caravans are heavily armed so we have never faced an ambush either.’

 

‘For over a decade we’ve remained hidden, we’ve remained safe. But now it’s over. You’ve come here and you’ve marked this place for death. We’re strong but we’re not strong enough to face the thieves guild. Once the word reaches out we’re doomed. Everyone would rush in here and ravage this place till there’s nothing left. The desperate folks outside will eradicate the last piece of soul from the country just to live on for a few more days.’ It broke my heart to see the previously calm man’s psyche get torn apart like this. He spoke of his trials and despair without thought, probably reflecting on everything he had built up until now and picturing it all crumbling. The one thing he swore to safeguard was about to be taken away from him. He was vulnerable and this was the perfect time to strike the iron.

 

‘Listen Mikhail. None of us in the guild ever suspected that this town would still have the greens. Judging from the placement of a small town in a position so awkward in the maps, we expected it to be a wasteland. I was shocked to the core when I walked in here. It didn’t take me long to deduce what was going on here and as you might know, I have good reason to feel the presence of the soul compared to most people. I knew what was at stake here. What you have here is beautiful and important and it needs to be protected. I understand that. Now, if you kill me or keep me locked up, it won’t be long before a follow-up party shows up. Trust me, they won’t be too easy to capture and squeeze. Their duty is to observe and report back to the guild and that will attract a lot of attention. Not the kind of attention you need.’

 

His face seemed to get even paler. I had laid down the stakes for him and it was time to make the offer. ‘I don’t want the guild to ever set foot here. I know it’s absurd to ask this as a thief, but give me a chance. Let me try and take their attention elsewhere. I can’t guarantee you total success but even today I am a top member in the guild and my voice is taken seriously.’ There was no collateral that I could offer but I couldn’t give him anything more than basic assurance. ‘This place is much more than a chest to be looted. This place is the future of the world. I’ve seen too much despair in this world and I don’t want to see the innocuous people here to have to face the same fate.’

 

I stood up and walked up to him. I placed my hand on his shoulder and assured him. ‘Consider me a part of your mission Mikhail. The guild is my family but I’ll even face them if I have to protect this place. Only a few people know about my venture here and I’ll do whatever it takes to ensure their silence. Let me go and deal with the situation. I just have one request. Grant the Forrests’ permission to leave this place.’ A million thoughts ran through his head as soon as he heard my offer.

 

‘Why?…. Why them? What do they have to do with anything?’ The offer was solid but he needed to understand the this strange variable.

‘I’m sorry Mikhail but I can’t tell you anything about that and I don’t want you to think any more about that. The safety of this town is of the utmost importance and their exit won’t hinder it. I’ll take care of their safety outside and make sure that they are under the best care. They have an important role out in the world that they can’t fulfil by living here. I know you have a lot of questions but I am not at the liberty of answering them.’ He sat back down in his seat and rubbed both his hands on his face while considering his options.

‘I know it’s a lot to ask. Entrusting something so valuable to a thief like me is an enormous gamble but you know my history and you know I have enough reasons to protect the soul.’

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After taking a moment to think, he looked up to face me. ‘I used to look up to you Randall. You were an adept thief but more importantly you were a great man. You always put the interests of your fellow-men before you and that’s why everyone respected you. Please Randall, don’t betray me. You can leave and so can Mirriam and her kid. They are like family to me, as is every single person in this town. I am entrusting everyone’s fate on to you. Please….. do not forsake us.’ He stood up and shook my hand. I gave him a promising nod and we left the room.

 

 

Here’s the next chapter : Chapter 4 : A Confounded Mother

 


Author’s Notes

Randall here is our first protagonist. The prologue will stretch across a couple of chapters with points of view from him and our main protagonist Edward. I have decided to use first person point of view in the prologue to not give away too much. I think it’s a bit difficult for a beginner like me as exposition becomes really difficult in this format. You might have noticed how bizarre Mikhail’s explanation was. It was blatant exposition.

Exposition is more bearable when it’s subtle and coming from a narrator in a third person point of view. It’s jarring when we have Randall’s POV because he is a veteran character. Edward however is young, naive and uneducated when it comes to the world, it’s history and people. So exposition is much easier and it makes sense in that context. He is being literally explained about stuff with the reader and it’s not weird when it’s done that way.