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Kumquat 8, Green Tea 30, Soft Serve 18/50

Silver Spoon piece
Author: rustydragonfly
Challenge: Kumquat 8 (Turn the other cheek), Green Tea 30 (time's up), Soft Serve 18/50 (Black Raspberry 2: As you make your bed, so must you lie in it)
Wordcount: 1136
Rating: teen and up
Story: Manifestations
Summary: End of the line?
Notes: And so, ARC 7 comes to a conclusion. I hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for all the encouraging comments. It was a blast to write, but also scary.

I'm going to shift focus for the next arc, but trust me, there's a lot in this story to continue.



Jen stirred, opening his eyes and realising he’d fallen asleep. It had not been a deep sleep, but the exhausted drifting away of a man unable to get any more, so light he’d have thought he’d never slept at all. How long, he wondered? It was still dark, with only the tiniest hints of moonlight to lend outlines to the shadows, but this deep into winter, that meant little.

And this night, all was not peaceful. Jen didn’t know why, but that was nothing new to him. He’d grown up learning the language of the forest, how to pay attention to every little movement and sound, every footstep and snapping twig. But this was something he could not put a word to. Something waited outside the safe confines of his den, something dangerous. Something that caused his creature to look up, ears pricked against the stars outside.

He moved slowly, so as not to startle it. As he made for the exit, it grunted as if in protest. Its hot breath sent up a cloud of vapour, but it remained where it was.

Outside, now piled up knee deep, its surface frozen into a thin crust of ice that he broke with every step. No sounds penetrated the deep forest, no bird song, no voices, not even a distant taxrak’s call. All lay as silent and still as midwinter could ever be. Only the moon lent a slight gleam to the ice, otherwise all was darkness, the trees little more than jagged shapes against a starry sky. Jen listened, and watched. His ears weren’t sharp enough, his eyes no use in the dark...

He dropped to the ground as soon as the shot rang out.

Hidden in the snow, he rolled down a slope, risking no glance upward as he came to a stop below. He lay as still as he dared, listening for the crunch of snow that would give his pursuers away. Each breath came slow and careful as he quietened his mind. There were footsteps above, too light to be human. Nothing, he told himself. Do not feel. Do not feel. Only be. Time slipped by, a frozen age as the cold seeped into his body, numbing his fingers, his toes, his face.

And then, lights and heavier footsteps, and Jen found himself looking up at a flame that loomed over him, its holder’s form blurred. Jen blinked, his thoughts slow to respond and his eyes slow to adjust to the light. The flame stank of burnt wood, and sparks fell where he laid. Before his face, he saw a hunting dog, its deep red coat thick enough to withstand the cold, watching him.

“I told you I’d find you,” said Rosa.

Jen struggled to find his tongue. Rosa looked up, as more footsteps heralded more company. “Rosa!” barked a voice from above. “Stay back!” No sooner had Jen gotten to his feet, his legs reluctant to support his weight, than Lakedi appeared, a bolt pointed in his direction. Jen took it in with calm indifference, as though he were reading a passage in a book, and any time he wished, he could close the pages and return to his life again. Rosa stepped back, her dog retreating beside her, never leaving her side. Through the haze, Jen spotted a second person by Lakedi’s side. Dhaymin.

He struggled to regain his voice. “I-” he began, but never had a chance to finish. Dhaymin rushed forward with barely any heed to his path, spurred on by his voice, as Lakedi called for him to explain. Jen held out a hand, and Dhaymin found it, taking it in his. He was so warm, so much that he felt like burning after the snow, and he stood before him, clenching his hand so hard he felt it would break in his grip, his form outlined in gold by Rosa’s torch.

“Jen?” Dhaymin whispered.

“I’m fine,” Jen said. He could feel the sluggishness melt away as Dhaymin turned away, to face the women. She shot you! Jen thought. Rosa shot at you! He’d known - there was the gun, slung over her back - and yet it was as if he’d only just woken up and realised. He tried to read Rosa’s face, but she looked away from him, her free hand stroking her dog’s mane. Beside her stood Lakedi, steady on her feet through all she had seen, her bolt pointed at the brothers.

Dhaymin stood his ground. “Stay away from my brother.” There was no hint of rage in his voice, only a level, firm tone that hinted it lay ahead if nobody listened.

“This is not Kastek,” Lakedi said. “You.” Now Jen realised she was talking to him. “I suppose a librarian such as yourself has a reason to be in the woods on a midwinter’s night?”

Jen gnawed on his lip and a cut reopened, metallic blood tricking onto his mouth. In an instant the pain and exhaustion flooded back. No indifference, no defiance, only exhaustion remained. His feet ached from the mere effort of standing. Yes, he had a weapon, waiting in its hollow, and too dangerous to unleash. And he had Dhaymin, brilliant, raging Dhaymin, who believed all life’s problems could be solved by shouting and running, armed with a cane and no more. And they could run, deeper and deeper into the forest, and one day look back and realise they had nowhere to turn, no way to leave, and winter was closing in around them...

He placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and gently pushed him aside. Lakedi shifted her weight, her aim still trained on him as he stepped forward, hands held out before him. He kneeled in the snow, and made the sign of offering.

“No,” he said, “but I’ll go there if you ask.”

“Jen...” Dhaymin said, a strangled, choking sound.

“I think you are severely overestimating my husband’s compassion,” said Lakedi.

“The rules are Lord Ardea’s.”

Rosa spoke up. “If I might talk,” she said, “I think he was luring the creature away from Kastek, not attacking. Maybe we should listen.”

“Very well,” Lakedi said. “Watch the pair of them. You know what to do.”

Rosa obeyed without another word, never once looking Jen in the eye. She and her dog moved behind them, while Lakedi led the way, back up the hill. Jen’s feet ached with every step, and the going was slippery, as he trudged through the snow and undergrowth. He strained to see ahead, but there was no sign of the city lights, not even the road leading to its gates. Dhaymin walked beside him in silence, but Jen didn’t need to ask what he was thinking.

I’m sorry, he thought, and wished he could hear. He’d make him understand, when dawn came.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
bookblather
Oct. 26th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
Oh. Shit.

Well, at least it looks as if Jen is doing all the right things here... and oh boy, Rosa. That's gotta hurt. At least she spoke up for him, and is generally just flitting around being awesome while Jen is sad. God, I love Rosa. Have I said that before?

Anyway. GREAT job. I'm on the edge of my seat.
rustydragonfly
Dec. 6th, 2012 06:46 pm (UTC)
Yeah, he was entirely out of options here. And Rosa has her own motivations here, but you'll have to wait to hear her tell them.

In hindsight this was bad timing - breaking first for NaNo, then for an arc about Majiv. But you will be seeing Rosa and the boys again soon.
niee87
Oct. 28th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC)
Oh man, crap. Can't wait to see what happens next. Well done! Rosa is always awesome, as is Dhaymin and poor Jen just needs all the hugs, man.
rustydragonfly
Dec. 6th, 2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'll try and see to it Jen DOES get hugs sometime. He's going to need them.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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