Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chapter Twenty-one: The Things We Dread(Part Two)



Belthor wrote. He wrote, and wrote, and wrote, teeth set. His hand shook and his breath caught and...
It's too long. He leaned back, staring at the too-small scribbles crammed onto the page. They wouldn't be legible. 

With a hiss, he ripped the page off and threw it aside. He leaned forward over his notebook, kneading his forehead, struggling to condense a night of torture and madness and suffering and battle and betrayal into as few words as possible-

Motion in front of him. He glanced up to see a waving hand.

You don't have to be quick about it, Estelle wrote, her eyes dark and her demeanor very much reminiscent of Belthor's mother. She smoothed out the skirts of her blue dress where she sat on her bed, and the next note she held up made the initiate wince. I'm here for you.

They were locked in coffins, Belthor finally wrote. He sniffed, tears in his eyes. We opened them up, and they just... he added the ellipses after a moment, unsure of what other words he could add. They're mad, he finally jotted after a moment. I was too late.

They're alive. They wouldn't be if you were too late. Estelle shook her head. I'm coming north. I'll be there next week.

No. You don't have to. Belthor shook his head. I can do this myself. I'm not a boy.

I never said you were. Estelle's face was set. You don't look well, Bel. Please tell me you're not still staying in your old dorm room.

No. Belthor gestured behind him. This is Sam and Tori's.

Good. Estelle nodded once. Solitude is a bad thing when you're distressed.

So I've been told. Belthor wiped at his eye. He growled as he felt a tear. Not now! Not in front of-

Belthor, you have seen something most people couldn't envision, Estelle wrote, piercing his soul with her archer's gaze. That you weep shows you care. You are not Theron. I don't care what Runes glowed and didn't glow - that's not my area of expertise. I've known terrible people, and you are not one of them. She shook her head. I find myself wondering if Vaneer would have taken advantage of Theron's abilities had he discovered him.

Gods have mercy, Belthor wrote. Vaneer and Theron together would have been unstoppable.

No. Estelle didn't elaborate, but Belthor liked her confidence.

The initiate glanced at the clock. I should go. Lunch is almost over, and I still have staff class. He debated for a moment, but he had to add it. I guess I get to listen to another Master malign Agnete.

This sounds less like a school and more like a cult by the day, Estelle observed. Take that from one who would know what a cult is like.

Belthor nodded once. I've had the thought. You're not wrong. But this is where wizards are trained. If I'm to be one, this is the place.

Estelle sighed, though he couldn't hear her. I'm coming north regardless, Bel. Just for a visit. I can make up some official reason for a Princess of Nurem to visit the School of Sorcery. Is there anything I can bring you? Anything at all I can do?

Belthor shook his head. Unless you know how to clear traumatic memories.

Revenge. Estelle's response was so fast, so authoritative, that Belthor wondered.

I wanted to kill him.

You should have. Her eyes were cold. Runes be damned, he is scum. And he's too dangerous to be left alive.

It would be murder, Belthor protested.

Yes. Estelle didn't seem at all concerned about that. Belthor reminded himself about her secret-assassin-cult background. She stood, brushing her hair back. Eat something. Drink something. Breathe. Run a lap. Then get to your class and stay close to Sam and Tori. They sound like they have their heads on their shoulders. She smiled, and for a wonder, Belthor didn't think it was forced. I expect an introduction.

As Estelle or as Midnight?

Estelle shrugged. Do you trust them?

Belthor nodded. Estelle did the same.

Make sure they know that if they say a word to anyone, they'll never see me coming before they're dead, she added, with a decidedly terrifying smile.

***

Agnete stood in the hallway, arms wrapped around herself. She waited as Hastel tapped his staff against the lock on his door, pausing to glance her up and down again. She flinched when he did, and that only seemed to egg him on.

"Right this way, Lady Frost," he said, holding the door after it swung open. Agnete glanced in at a messy dorm with scattered clothes, wondering which of his cronies was his roommate.

She had second thoughts. They spun in her head, darting back and forth like creatures in the snow. She swallowed as she contemplated the door and the man alike, but...

Once you go in, there is no turning back, she reminded herself. As if there was any now! You have summoned Char, Agnete. You cannot un-summon him.

The summoning wasn't done, not yet...but still, Agnete drew in breath, resigned herself to her course, and made for the door, feeling Hastel's eyes on her back as she entered his lair.

"Which one is yours?" she asked, looking left and right at the two bedroom doors. Hastel set his staff to stand by itself, then removed his coat. He threw it carelessly on his couch.

"Left," he said. "I hope you're not under the delusion that this is a one-time thing, Frost."

"You said..." Agnete swallowed, her eyes darting left and right. "Please. Don't make me-"

"Hey. If you want me to leave you alone, you have to earn your prize." He smiled. "Don't worry. You'll enjoy it if you try."

She wavered for a moment, perhaps a little more than she ought to. The decision was made. There was no running away now.

"...you are cruel." She wiped away another tear.

"Excuse me?" Hastel stepped up into her face. "I'm doing you a favor. What do you say?"

Agnete couldn't bring herself to meet his eyes, so she just stared at his staff, standing at his right hand like it was his chief compatriot. Again, she mumbled.

His hand flashed. She clutched her cheek as it stung, grateful that her Glamour was strong enough to survive her surprise.

"Thank you," she said, louder. "I'm sorry."

"Better." Hastel looked smug as he turned for his room. "Come on." He passed through the doorway...and again, Agnete hesitated. She wavered on the balls of her feet.

This is wrong, she told herself, in a voice that sounded far-away. Agnete, this is-

This is the only way. It's for the best. Just think of your future. Think of your people.

"I said, come," Hastel said, turning. He pointed at the ground. "Don't make me hit you again."

"No," Agnete agreed. She reached for the buttons of her shirt as she approached the door.

"Finally. You have to be talked through everything. Know how to take that off?" Hastel smirked, then turned to push scattered clothes off his bed. "I can cut it off you, if you'd like that better." He waited for a response that didn't come. "Then I suggest you speed up-"

Crash!

Hastel went straight across his room. He hit the far wall with a thump, and slumped on his side, clutching his head. He groaned.

Agnete lowered his staff, hate and fury pulsing through her veins.

Char was summoned.

"You...what are you doing, Frost-" Hastel cut off as she loomed over him, pressing the end of his own staff almost between his eyes. They crossed. "That isn't yours. You can't use it. It's not Belthor's either, so your bond-"

"I cannot cast spells with it," Agnete agreed. She bared her teeth, and Hastel paled as she released just that little bit of her Glamour. "But a weapon is a weapon, Hastel Greenhaven, and it will turn on its bearer as easily as he would use it to smite his enemies."

"Frost-"

He screamed as she rammed the staff into his midsection. A sharp crack echoed through the room, and Agnete hissed in feral pleasure as she heard a bone snap.

"Frost, we had a deal!" Hastel begged. "Please. Please, mercy. Don't kill me, please!"

"Mercy." Her voice was very calm. "Mercy indeed." She smiled. "Don't cry, Hastel. I won't kill you."

"Thank you-"

"I have a better use for a piece of feed like you." She raised the staff.

"Please, don't-"

Crack! That was his head, and he fell in a senseless heap on the floor.

A moment later, Agnete dropped the staff.

"Oh, no," she whispered. "What have I...no." She stumbled backward two steps. "I...I just..."

The world was out of focus. Without thinking, she turned back for the main room. She scurried to Hastel's mystic pantry and threw food aside left and right, shattering plates and scattering leftovers on the floor until she found a half-eaten pie. The girl threw as many bites as her small stomach would tolerate into her system, reveling in the taste as she sweated.

"I attacked him," she whispered. "I...I..." She jumped. "I left him with the staff!"

There was nothing to worry about. Hastel was alive, but colder than northern winter. Agnete took his staff just in case.

There is no turning back, Snowdrop, she told herself. Your Glamour. Step two.

She hurried to Hastel's bathroom. She found his mirror, throwing aside anything that got in her way, wincing as some glass bottles broke and others leaked...but was it a worry? It wasn't her bathroom. There was a thought.

She stared at herself in the mirror, taking in her whitening eyes and pointed teeth.

"Savage," she whispered. "Dark Art. Evil creature. Primitive." The girl let out a long, low breath.

The girls appeared in her mind again, chained and locked in their coffins, left to rot in the dark...

"They call me savage," she reminded herself. "While men like Theron have their way with the defenseless, inflicting their evil on those they care nothing for...while men like Hastel care only for themselves...they call me evil. They call me depraved, for the skin I was born to." She shook her head. "I will never be more than my race, if I live among them ten thousand years."

Her claws sank into the porcelain of the sink. The sound she made was more an animal growl than a sigh of acceptance.

Char had been summoned.

"I am not evil. I am misunderstood." She straightened. "They are evil. They are plague-bringers and home-breakers. They are kidnappers and murderers and bullies. Their race destroys this world and burns mine at stakes."

She ripped the sink in two, hurling the basin to the left. Her eyes bored into the mirror.

"If they will only ever see me as evil..." she whispered.

She rent the mirror next, sending glass fragments scattering to all sides.

"Come." She raised her hand, and Hastel floated into the air, arms and legs dangling limply. "Ezraval. I invoke the God of Love." She waited as the horrid, uncomfortable chill of her Glamour returned, working over her body from her toes up to her hair. She took Hastel's staff, and she made for the door, beckoning him after her.

By the time anyone investigated the open door, she was long gone with her prize in tow.

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