Mistakes (Fantasy Story Chapter 1)

Mistakes+%28Fantasy+Story+Chapter+1%29

Tim Stockman, Entertainment Writer/Editor

Johm was wealthier than he had a right to be. At least, this was what the veiled lady had believed since she was a child, head rotating and following him as he passed just feet from her. No, not passed. Not really. Swaggered. Paraded. An entourage nipped at his back: awestruck, arrogant, adoring, worshipful, selfish, reverent, and all the in between. The lady clicked her nails on her glass. What emotions flew through her head, she couldn’t say. So she fell back to what she knew best, isolating herself from such confusion. She brought her hand up and around her to scratch her shoulder, and in the motion of jerking it down sharply to catch her falling glass, let the knife fly.

It vanished into his robes. His stride faltered. Then he was falling in a rush of fabric, the layers of clothing billowing. Gasps. He hit, a faint thump echoing in the room and out the doorways and into the halls. Yells. The clothing settled atop and around him. He didn’t move. Screams. Chaos.
Someone near the fallen Johm hurried to his side, kneeling, hand burrowing around and past his multiple scarves. A moment, then, blurred every other second by the mayhem, he leaned back and rose to his feet. His gaze swept about, searching for the veiled lady. Beneath her veil, her eyebrows rose in impatience. The man nodded. A smile broke out on his face; his chin lifted, eyes shining. Their message was clear.

It’s done. Meet me when you can.

Then he swung his eyes away, turning on his heel and disappearing into the crowd. The lady could already sense the stink of the corpse, distant as she was. Yet beneath her veil, she smiled as well. She stooped to lift her glass from the table. Flicking her veil, she drank heartily, the red liquid disappearing. Someone bumped into her as she finished. She coughed, a few red drops dripping and staining the carpet, but wiped her mouth with a handy cloth. The drink gushed warmly into her stomach; she could feel its heat. Then, setting the glass down and allowing the veil to drape back over her face, she shouldered her way through the room, its population nearly doubled since only seconds before.
Someone trailed her, of course. Well. The man would have to wait.

It was probably that pesky little ferret with the Western accent. Well. Out of the crowd stumbled a red-faced woman, bewildered and bumping hard into the lady’s shoulder. Whom then cast a rapid search behind her as she herself staggered and stumbled and was turned more than entirely around from the impact. Whom was much too drunk and fell in a heap onto the carpets, hitting her head and mussing that veil and hair which must have taken days to make just right and being, of course, much too drunk to realize her own prince was dying.

So she hoped. As soon as she heard the nurse’s cries, she knew she’d been unconscious for much too long. Much more than necessary, at least. Her eyes were already open, so she stumbled onto her feet, still full with drink, and lurched toward the closest door. Staying close to the wall, she hobbled through the maze of halls, people rushing in and out and every which way, all yelling, some brandishing or drawing various types of metallic killing devices, more for fear of their own protection than for avenging the prince. Yes. It was past time to vanish.

As she pushed past a growing mob at the castle gates, she wondered whether, yet, they had discovered how he’d died. He did have a habit of accepting gifts meant for consumption. Yes. She could see it now, even as she reached behind her and pulled up the hidden hood, of people standing dazed around him, insisting to others his dangerous habits and taking care not to touch him or the nurses that now lifted him onto a royal litter (they’d had a difficult time finding it within the closet full of normal ones) and dashed him away, his clothes a banner behind him, to the physician’s wing only a few halls away, yes, yes, not too far at all. Yes, in fact, he would be alright. Yes, yes, only a headache from the week’s festivities.

The lady’s smile grew as she rounded a corner and, ripping off her veil, plopped down onto the uneven flagstones. Her head pounded. Her hair was a mess. Sweat trickled down her forehead. She’d narrowly escaped. Yes, in fact, truly, with her life. Had she seen him fall? Some old woman asked. Why yes, yes in fact she had. That brought a gasp; did she know what had happened, exactly? No, no, actually, not really, she herself… well, let’s just say she was distracted by her own indulging. Ah, yes, she understood, yes yes, as her face betrayed her words by tinging a bit blue with disgust. Well, she had better be off to her things; she’d know what had happened soon enough. Or, maybe never at all. Laughs. Yes, yes, that would be most likely. Well, she’d better be off. Yes, of course. A moment of hesitation. Would she be fine, with all she’d just gone through? Did she need some… water perhaps? No, no, thank you though, she just needed to sit and get her mind together a little. Of course. And she was off.

That had all taken much too long. As soon as the too-kind woman disappeared into a market stall draped with sheets against the sun, the lady jumped to her feet and, realizing this might be her only chance, shouldered open the hidden door beside her. While her eyes still adjusted, she whipped the door shut. A dull thump rung through her head, some kind of finality. Darkness. She sighed heavily, and after a moment, turned on her heel.

Blackness filled her eyes, but she knew he stood there. She could hear him breathing. Yes, well, not heaving as she herself was, but breathing. Something flickered and then the room exploded into vision. But she already knew what it looked like. So she peered only at his face, making sure nothing was off. Satisfied, she took a stride or two and embraced him. She allowed her eyes to close. Silence. Peace. Knowledge. Joy. Pride. Fear. All passing like a whirlpool through and between them, here, in this embrace. A smile broke out on her face, bigger than the one he’d had. She giggled. She opened her eyes and witnessed his own, all alight with lavish joy and pride. They stared at each other. Their hearts beat in the same rhythm, full of the present and the future.

Then he blinked and retreated from her, into the unlit darkness. She blinked herself, wiping tears from her eyes. Then he materialized where’d he’d vanished, now gripping a small, weathered table. He set it down, its wood thumping hollowly. For a beat or two, he simply stared at it. So did she. Then he lifted his gaze to her, and, meeting her eyes, he frowned. Something went out of him right then, for he inhaled deeply and then sighed it out silently, slowly. The world froze. For a moment he stared at her, her own brows rising in question, but then he shook his head and receded back into the shadows.

He appeared once again, a small chair dangling from each hand. He set them down, first hers, then his. In some kind of newfound haste, he seated himself, motioning the lady to do the same. She recognized his anxiety. She strolled lightly, stripping the rest of her disguise as the floorboards whispered below her. Now was her time for pride. As she lowered herself as gracefully as possible into the rickety seat, she reached up and around. Hand poised, she waited a moment. His face wrinkled, and then darkened. She laughed. She poked a finger into the secret pocket, submerging it to prove-

Pain shot through her finger her arm her head. She cried out and her hand whipped back out of the pocket and she stared at it, red hot blood dripping and her finger melting and her hand going numb. Lightning shot through her body, one for every racing beat of her heart. Pain. And. No. It can’t be.

She shot her glance into the man’s. He sat stunned. He didn’t move. As her blood began to run blue and teal, melting and bubbling and soaking hatefully onto the old, termite-stricken wood, both attempted to contemplate what had really happened in the last few minutes.

And what would happen in the next.

He exploded up just as time jolted back into motion, and kicked the table out of the way. As it clattered away into the darkness, he stumbled down onto his knees and lunged for her hand. His own froze inches from her dripping finger. She sat, still in shock. Her eyes must have been bowls, but she dared not scream. Her hand was a branch, swaying not of its own accord, punched open and oozing syrup.

Something halted his hand. Something. Fear. Uncertainty. Logic. His hand quivered and his arm shook and his chest heaved and his neck sweated but his eyes darted between her and the dying hand.

He vibrated like a bow and then shot up onto his feet, tearing his eyes from hers and sprinting away from the lady and the light and into the shadows. His form vanished. Her hand bled. The blue-tinged liquid fell like acid into the floorboards; it bubbled and smoked and seared the wood. Her own eyes were wood. Tears wouldn’t come. She stared at it in disbelief. Her nose wrinkled as the smell of burning sawdust crunched hotly in her nostrils and against her face, holding her like a vice.

Something crashed. While the lady sat petrified, the shadows behind her slipped through and against one another. Something shifted and the shadows bulged and strained and then snapped into a cascade of man and devices all jangling and bouncing against one another. Before he even neared the lady, the pile faltered, tipping, gushing in anxious cacophony across the floor. Her eyes alit and she jumped and turned and came back to life as the man plummeted into the mess.

She yelled at him.
“What are you LOOKING for?” His head popped above the surface for moment, questioning, like some kind of swamp creature, then his eyes shifted back and he submerged himself once again. The lady stood, still unable to walk, heart beating in her chest. Her finger. Before her was a waterfall of acid. No, no. Now the blue tint vanished, and suddenly, she realized, blood was pouring from her finger.
She tried to fall back into the chair, but it broke and she gasped and her head hit hard against the rough floorboards. Sawdust billowed around her like steam; it blurred her eyes as they closed, gently, slowly, her fear and anxiety glazing, evaporating like morning mist from a world of panic. A sigh escaped her paling lips.

Only after another few seconds did he surface, in a fountain of metal and wood and shattering glass. All of it parted before him as he waded out, kicking at the last of the pile while he ran. The pieces scattered before him like broken ice, screeching and plinking across the ancient wooden floor. Nothing was quite as strange as the device he now held in his sweaty hands.

He skidded to a stop where the chair had been. His legs stiffened as he put all his focus into the contraption, breath sharp and rapid as he flicked switches and tightened bolts the best he could with his fingers. His eyes flicked back and forth to the fallen lady as he worked; she was completely unconscious. Her leg twitched. Red pooled around her limp hand. He shivered. His eyes hardened, and he took a deep, shuddering breath as he reached in carefully to what must have been a hidden trigger, for the thing itself shuddered. It whirred. Something within it popped. His eyes, big and anxious, widened even further. His fingers tapped against its side, which vibrated and now began to glow with blue. He took a quick breath, hoping. The thing shone. It glowed and glowed and glowed, transforming into a small sun within the tiny room. Shadows disappeared. Everything brightened. Dust rose from the floor as waves of heat pulsed from the man’s contraption. Then, in silence, it went out like a snuffed candle, the man’s face fading, fear and disappointment, then gone, black, all darkness. Silence. Blurs and colors in vision, then the lone candle once again made itself known. The man stood still, his face dark. He shouldn’t have done it. What had made him? He couldn’t answer that, so he waited. He waited in shifting darkness. Had he any other choice? Yes. Yes he had. Right then, he realized he’d made the wrong choice. Wrong and, with her, potentially catastrophic.

Her body twitched again but this time she opened her eyes and sat upright. For a few moments, she seemed to be in a daze. Then she rocked onto her feet and strode confidently toward the door, that one finger dangling limp and lifeless. The blood had stopped. The wound had vanished.

“Let’s go out into the sunlight, Nich. It’ll be such a fine day. Yes, yes, come along.” Tears leaked from her eyes as she said it.

Nich nearly fainted where he stood. It’d worked, yes. But on the wrong person, and barely, and it was his fault, yes, he’d made a terrible mistake and she’d be killed if she went out that door-

A knock on the door. He jumped. Yells. Angry yells.

He hesitated.

She didn’t. “Coming, one second!”

He jumped again, then lurched forward. Her voice was as it had been so long ago, that one day, where they’d been playing together in their house and their mother out back in the garden.
A knock.
All those years ago.
“Sweetie, would you please get that?”
All those years ago.
“I think it might be your uncle!”
All those years ago.
She jumped up from our game and ran near-drunkenly in anticipation.
She’d opened the door.
“One second!”
Yells.
Angry yells.
Their yells.
Her yells.
Then he’d run to escape, to tell their mother.
Now he ran to save her.
Her and himself.
He inhaled. Sharply.
But he knew his voice wouldn’t stop her.
He skidded to a stop. They knew. They had to know. His eyes burned, but she was almost to the door. He couldn’t reach her.
He knew his voice wouldn’t stop her.
So he let his entire body fall and go limp, hitting the floor hard, sweating, hoping it would be enough to stop them.
Sunlight washed over him as the door, silently, glided open.

 

 

Somewhat strange it was, a part of the wall opening. Nevertheless, he jerked and stepped back, brandishing his sword before himself, it twinkling in the sun. Behind it, a woman flourished into the doorway; she leaned against the wall as she spoke.

“Greetings, gentlemen! I….” Something seemed to catch in her throat. She pushed off the wall with her shoulder and stood still, considering. Then she blinked and raised her eyebrows, gesturing to us as she continued.

“I don’t believe we are acquainted! Or are we, in some other place and time? How quaint that’d be.”
She paused. The man glanced at his fellows. Were they simply arresting a lunatic? Well, worse had been captured and subdued.

“You will come out with your hands up. Do not try to fight us. Make no sound, and we will not hurt you.” At that, one of her eyebrows shot up. Still in shadow, she poked her head out a little and flicked her eyes about the street. A small motion. Yet the men shifted, glancing over their shoulders, gripping amd regripping their weapons. The street had emptied while they’d waited. Some looked at each other worriedly. But they were soldiers and they assumed their target was of relatively little danger, compared to their training and weapons. So the man with the sword (truly a rare weapon in this city) steeled himself visibly, rolling his shoulders and lifting his chin. Sweat nearly made him glow.

“Now.” She drew her gaze back to the soldiers arranged fan-like before her door. For a moment, silence and stillness filled the air. From the men fell tiny, quick beads of sweat; they didn’t know why, precisely. It wasn’t exactly warm. Somewhat cold, even. A wind had began to whistle through the street.

Finally, her face emerged entirely from the shadowy depths, like a shy fish. Slowly. One of the soldiers inhaled; something about her seemed familiar. Yet before the captain could so much as realize his quarry was ambling toward him without need of wrangling, her stride faltered. She halted, just outside the door, her brow knitting in apparent consternation.

Silence.

Once again the guards shifted amongst themselves. Blinking, the captain rolled his shoulders once again. Then he heaved forward, like a long-docked boat surging toward a distant island. The lady blinked. She stiffened while the wind whistled and blew their cloaks to the side, the man stepping forward determinedly, his gauntleted hand extending.

He reached for her shoulder.

She stiffened even more.

He paused.

She shook, not a fearful tremor, but a vibrating, of, almost, anticipation. Her hands clenched and unclenched, her fingers wringing amongst themselves.

She stared hard into his eyes.

Then, with an exhale, she withered.

He rested his hand on her shoulder and, turning, led her back to the standing, waiting men. As they chained her wrists behind her back, his hard gaze swiveled about up and down the now-vacated street, the wind tousling his hair.

Peculiar.

They finished and he flicked a signal for them to lead her back the way they’d come. Waiting for them to pass, he stared back at the doorway, still gaping open. Unnatural, it was. Not just that hole in the wall, but the implications. Well. The last man passed him, a young lad who’d joined just days ago, eyes straight ahead as if meeting his gaze would burn him. Well. Little point in waiting for the second group of guards to come, that door ajar like that. Who knew what some conspiracist would make of that, empty street or no empty street. He never liked the system anyway. What with the occurrence at the palace and all (he knew it had been some failed attempt on the prince’s life, regardless of what anyone said), the other guards would be up to their necks with scattered unrest. Besides, they were supposed to be here along with him, before he even made the arrest.

Well.

His troop would get along well enough without him. The woman obviously knew she’d done something wrong, but if she herself held any real danger today, he’d eat his helmet for dinner tonight. Thinking of that, he realized it was nearly sundown. His shift was supposed to end at midday, captain or no captain. His family would be worried. Sometimes he wondered at the way promotions also brought disadvantages. More responsibilities. That’s all it really was.

He blinked, and realized the men had halted some way down the street, having recognized the absence of their leader. He raised his hand and waved them on. Brows rose on more than a few, but he pulled out a scrap of paper and, as he walked toward the front of the line, scribbled a phrase and then his signature on it, upside down and using his breastplate as a surface. The troop had resumed walking as he did, their metal ringing on the stone.

He reached Goun, the lieutenant. The man didn’t slow as he reined in beside him and proffered the paper just below his arrow-like gaze. The man snatched it with unbidden ferocity, but then, again without slowing, straightened it before himself and read it. His eyebrows rose, his face paling a little more with every word. Just like that, his ego had evaporated. He turned his gaze, eyes wide and staring, but not disbelieving. Meeting that gaze and nodding, and casting a quick signal down the line, and before Goun could ask any questions, he rotated about on his heel. The man had his orders.

Unsheathing his sword, he separated from the troop just before they rounded the corner. He glided back, quick and silent along the wall, toward that dark rectangle. As he approached it, his ears felt the fading jangle of the guard. Likely most had their own families, and a waiting dinner besides. Most did.

He crouched down just beside it. Darkness seemed to spill out of the gateway, as if it held some arcane spell. He checked his breathing, and tried to wipe his sweaty hands without rustling the fabric. Something moved in the corner of his eye, and he turned his head just enough to see, far down the street, Goun and a few others stealing their way along the wall. Good.

He shifted back around, the tip of his blade pointed straight at the abyss. The door was only a thin sliver, close to the wall as he was. Again something moved on the side of his vision, and there Goun and the others were, crouched and staring and looking tense as cats about to make an ambush. Well. That’s what they would hopefully do.

He swung back his gaze once again to the wide-open doorway, and waited.

There’d been a signal in those trembling hands.

And he’d eat his very own sword if that lady and whomever else was in here were part of the assassination attempt, whatever the prince’s spies had claimed. From beneath a draped sheet the old woman peered. He nodded to her, motioning her to go back under but signalling a thanks as well. She vanished back under it without expression.

He focused again on the doorway, and waited.

And sweated.