~ The Fight ~
Most people, sitting back on their couches and watching this play out on television, might have wondered why I believed all this from the start. It was a good question; if I’d wrtten it out as a story, my main character would have yelled bullshit as soon as Brock and Bhuto showed up and then spent most of the rest of the story being convinced it wasn’t all some kind of dream.
I saw a goblin shambling along the bottom of a ravine with an old, rusted sword balanced across his shoulders like the yoke of a wagon. Even at that age, I assumed I’d imagined it.
Except I hadn’t; not really. My life had gone on — I wrote little stories that I pretended were just stories until even I gave them — but there was always a shadow in the back of my mind that watched the ravines and kept an eye on the alleys that led around to the back of old houses — a part of me that never really believed I’d made it up.
When the goblins boiled out of the thickets around us, waving swords and screaming for blood, that small dark shadow stood up and shouted ‘I fucking KNEW it!’
And it turned out Brock was wrong.
The gun worked just fine.
On the other hand, I didn’t work all that well a first. There’s a hell of a long distance between target practice, hunting for food, hunting for sport, and finally shooting at something that could talk back to you, even if it was running straight at you and swinging hunk of metal at your head.
The first one would have killed me, I think, except that Brock was there. He had his axe out (‘of course he has an axe; every dwarf would have an axe if they could, I guess’ came the errant thought) — a great, beautiful thing of which I’d only previously seen the polished grip — there was a crescent flash, and the goblin-thing was dead on the ground. Brock clapped me on the shoulder and grinned.
”Dirt-eaters,” he drawled, and I noticed for the first time that his eyes were a bright, clear blue.
I shot the next one before I had a chance to answer him, and after that there wasn’t much time to think.
They’d had to tie him to the Turning Tree for the whole ritual. The bristlerope had rubbed him to the meat everywhere it had touched him, from the struggle. He’d done it to himself, fighting them throughout the Anointing, and he was proud of himself for that.
How do I know the names of those things?
He was back in
not mine. NOT mine.
the cage now, and he knew it was the last time he’d get out until they put him in a sack or he walked
out on his own.
Or he could escape. He’d done it once, and the burning on his skin wasn’t even as bad as before.
Or you’re getting used to it.
Or he was — no. It was time to go.
But where will you go? What if –
No one in the camp looked at him. He wasn’t even sure if he’d really shouted. He
Steven. Not ‘he’. Steve. Steven. My name is Steven.
Steven sat in the cage that wasn’t his and watched the stars, which he still recognized, and repeated his name.
I was sitting on a rock in Faerie. Faery. Fae. Fae’ree. Wa’ri. Whatever. Dirt, or spattered blood, or sweat, burned my eyes. A half-moon hung overhead, leeching the color from the scene of battle. Our battle.
I think I was smiling. Bhuto and Brock were not.
”The hell’s the matter with you two? We won.” I scrubbed an itch on the side of my face.
“How’s the pain?” Brock asked.
I frowned and looked down at my shirt. “What pain? I didn’t get hit. None of us got hit. They all got hit,” I pointed at the sprawled bodies around us, “but not us. We won. That’s what that means, right?”
Bhuto’s face didn’t change. “He means the needle, Sean.”
I stared at him blankly for a few moments before I understood his meaning. “Oh. Ah. Fine. No pain at all.” I patted my collarbone lightly to prove my point, and it wasn’t a bluff — I didn’t feel a thing there except the direction we needed to go.
Bhuto frowned and looked at the dwarf, then back to me. “How close are you and your father?”
My turn to frown. “I don’t know. He’s my dad. Close enough.”
He’d understood me; that much was clear.
I watched the two of them exchange looks. “What’s the problem? You two look like your dog died and I finally feel like I know what’s going on.”
Bhuto nodded. “You certainly seem comfortable here.” His lips worked, as though he were selecting his next words by taste. “Usually there is more… discomfort.” He shook his head. “I think there’s been a mistake made, Sean.”
”You are very comfortable here; you are compatible. You are also strong.” He indicated the corpses. “You remember what we told you of what the… goblins?” He looked at me for confirmation of the word.
”What the goblins planned for your father?”
I nodded again, not liking the turn in conversation. Nothing they’d told me about that had been good.
“You’re a good match to your father; a strong match. It’s possible that what happens to him will carry over to you through the link we created, which is so strong it does not even pain you.” He gestured at my chest. “It even more possible that by bringing you here, we’ll bring you to the attention of those you’d do best to avoid.” He looked at Brock, then back at me. “You might recover your father and find yourself in the same danger, or worse.”
I stared at him.
Then I chuckled. I couldn’t help it. By the look on his face he thought I’d cracked.
”This,” I said, waving my arms all around me, “is about my dad. Not me. Him. His fight. I’m just here to help.”
“Shut up.” I said, and glared. “Thank you for the warning, you are a good friend.” I looked at both of them. “Now,” I pointed. “He’s that way.”
Finding the camp didn’t turn out to be that difficult. We watched the place through the tail end of the night, waiting for the thing that passed for dawn. Waiting to see my dad.
Light came back slowly; we made plans and talked of small things.
Just before we moved, I said, “how many have you gotten home?”
They looked at each other. “Many.” Bhuto said.
The morning didn’t come the way Steven thought it would. It was much noisier. There were screams and people hollering
and an echoing crack.
I know that sound.
Then his cage shook and one of the members of the camp was leaning against his cage. Its beady eyes looked straight in at him, but they were cloudy. Blank.
Its knife had fallen just outside the
cage. Much easier than working the ties with his fingers.
Moving very slowly, so that he wouldn’t have to argue with the other voice, he reached out for the tool and started to cut. The camp got quieter around him. The little explosions stopped
ran out of shells
somewhere in the middle. He got the gate open and pushed. Easy. He dropped the knife on the floor of the cage and crawled out.
A few feet away, three real people stood.
And Churkk was right behind him.