Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chapter Twenty: Dark Places in Our Souls(Part Two)



Belthor sat alone, breathing in the smell of food and ale in the diner. He tapped a single silver coin relentlessly on the table: all that was left of the money Master Kulkas had pressed into his hand when he left the wizard's office.

"Get yourself something to eat and drink," the master had ordered. "Bring Tori, Sam and Agnete. Spend some time with your friends."

Belthor had come to the diner, but the thought of socialization was too difficult for him. In the dark places behind his eyes, he still saw the Owned, and he still heard their cries against the sunlight. Vacantly, he stared off into a corner, barely touching his salad every few minutes, completely ignoring his drink.

Every so often, he glanced at his Rune, and half-expected to see it red again.

He paused as he saw a girl, no older than ten, sitting by herself at a table while she braided flowers into her hair. She had vivid green eyes and blonde hair that ran almost to her knees, and her coat seemed quite thin for the winter outside.

She didn't take her eyes off Belthor until he noticed her. Then she smiled warmly, and her eyes were very familiar. It took the initiate a moment to recognize where he'd seen them before.

Those are the same eyes as the woman, he thought. The one who stared at me, smiled, and-

The girl stood. She turned for the door and lightly skipped off in its direction, humming a tune under her breath. 

"I..." Belthor half-raised his hand. "Do you..." 

His voice was too low for her to hear. She continued for the door, and Belthor glanced down at his food. He took a breath...and then watched her vanish into the snow.

Creak.

"Didn't figure I'd be seein' you here without your mates." The stranger settled across from Belthor, setting his own mug down with a soft thump. His blue eyes were dark. "Where are they?"

"I don't know." The initiate shifted his weight. "Somewhere. I couldn't...talking isn't a good thing right now, I don't think." 

He thought that was a clear enough command, but the big man didn't move. "And that's why you need it, says me. Ain't do no man no good to lock himself up with his demons. Got to air your brain out fairly frequently when the dark's in." He eyed Belthor. "And the dark's most definitely in your brain, boy."

"Don't call me that," Belthor snapped. He glowered. "Can't you show respect? I'm fifteen. That's almost manhood. And I've now seen things plenty of grown men never will."

"Fifteen." The stranger's face grew distant. "I'll tell you true, kid, I don't even remember fifteen. I don't even remember fifty." He took a deep drink.

"You're older than fifty?" Belthor blinked. "I mean, I'd say...thirty-something? Forty?"

The man laughed and belched at the same time, which made Belthor wince. "You ever died, Belthor Spellweaver?"

"Um. No?" 

"Me neither." The stranger acted like he'd just revealed something immensely profound. "Not once."
"Um. I don't imagine most people have." Belthor frowned.

"You see this?" He tapped his arm, and the initiate glanced at...nothing. "That was a spear. Went right through. I was in Nurem, I think." He patted his shoulder. "Fishhook, if you can believe it. That wasn't what brought me down, though. It just hung me up, and then they came in with an axe."

"Um." Belthor frowned deeper. "I don't understand."

"Last one was a trident." He thumped his chest. "Right there! Big man, almost as big as me. Nasty fellow. Just stabbed me. Hurt something fierce."

"Oh." He nodded. "How'd you survive that?"

"I didn't." The stranger shrugged. "Died right there."

"...I don't understand," Belthor said.

"I'm cursed, boy, and not in the way Theron uses the word," he said. "I'm not a big strong man, not naturally. I was a sickly wimp." He leaned forward. "But any time I got killed...it hurt, and there was light, and then I was somewhere else. No memory. Gradually, it all came back, at least in bits and pieces, but for a while I was just wandering. But I was a little stronger. A little faster. A little tougher."

"...are you spinning a yarn?" Belthor asked. "This is a story to take my mind off things, isn't it?"
"It's a good one, ain't it?" the stranger asked. "No, Belthor. It ain't no yarn. That's the honest truth." He plucked the young man's knife from the table and offered it. "You'll see. Cut my throat right now, and I'll just vanish in a flash of white light." He mused. "Of course, I'll have to come back and kill you back when I reappear and remember, but if it sates your curiosity..."

Belthor eyed him. "You've never gotten looked at by a master wizard?"

"Why?" The man seemed confused. "I am what I am, I figure. Don't matter how I am, compared to that I am." He drained his drink. "Point of it, son, is that I've seen nasty things. Nasty like what Theron did, some you might call nastier. I don't hold with nasty. The strong ain't supposed to do what they like because they're just strong and mean enough to do it, is they? If they was, I should be King of the World, since no man can kill me for good."

"You have...no idea why this happens to you?" Belthor asked.

"Not a one. Been that way as long as I can remember. Been so long, Belthor, I ain't even remember my own name." He sighed. "I don't remember a family, a home, a life...it's like I was just walking from the moment I was made, and never stopping. Drifting from place to place."

Belthor considered. "You might have tapped into natural magic. Maybe you found an artifact somewhere, or made contact with some kind of spirit-"

"Didn't you hear nothing?" the man demanded. "I don't care why I'm what I am. What matters is that I am. What matters is that Theron's a prick, and what he did is unforgiveable, but you're not a whit bit like him. What matters is you've come through all right, and the fact you're so messed over about things means you ain't Theron, and that's something you should be glad of."

Belthor eyed him as he rose. "You're a good kid, son. And you treasure that. But you ain't no island, and your friends might need you twice as much as you're needing them. Don't imagine Tori or Agnete or Sam walked out of the mausoleum singin' bout butterflies and daisies any more than you did. Don't hoard your depression no more than you'd hoard your joy."

"You..." Belthor trailed off as he turned around. "Hey!"

The stranger paused. "Eh, boy?"

"You..." He took a breath. "You never gave me your name."

"I just said I don't remember no more," the man replied. He tilted his head, though, and Belthor waited. "But if you need something to call me, you can call me Walker, 'cause that's all I ever do."

With that, Walker turned again, and this time Belthor figured no call would change his mind.

He sat alone with his meal.

***

Belthor tapped the lock on his dorm. The door swung open by itself, and he entered, the soft falls of his staff on the carpet echoing and echoing despite their subdued nature. He waved the tool, and behind him the door closed.

He laid his staff down. He undid his scarf, removed his coat. He threw them almost carelessly on what was now his couch. He looked around at the dormitory living room, smiling despite himself as he thought of all he could do with the space.

"Finally, no more lost nights," he muttered. "No more banging and..." He sighed. "No more."

He stood alone, enveloped in a cloud of silence. His eyes flicked to Theron's door, and he looked around at the lack of the senior in any of his usual places.

Belthor's staff flew back into his hand without him saying a word, and then he reclaimed his coat and scarf. He took his books, he took his pillow, and he took his shard of Ardwal glass.

Then he was off, leaving the mausoleum to Theron Greenhaven's memory, and hurrying for a different dorm building and the friends he truly did need.

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