New page added for The Cost, if you want to read it straight through. Comments and criticism welcome!
Izus Torossian walked through the empty streets, with a bundle in his arms. The raw sound of a baby crying battered at the air.
The dark things – the once-men stayed far away from him, he strode across the wet cobblestones unopposed.
Izus wished something would attack. Something he could fight.
The inside of him felt wide and vast, as if he had stumbled through a door in his house and discovered a vast concert hall; the orchestra tuning their instruments and waiting for the maestro’s baton.
He was smarter, faster, more. He was more.
Izus looked down at last to the crying child in his arms. The rain had slowed, but a few drops still fell on the babe’s unprotected face. He pulled the edge of his cloak up, and covered her carefully.
“Shhhh, little one. Everything’s going to be okay.”
The child stopped crying at the sound of his voice, and dropped off into an uneasy sleep — rocked by the motion of his strides.
“Everything’s going to be okay.” he said again, and found no comfort in the words.
He felt his ribs shatter, leaving his heart exposed. A breath of cool air on his beating heart.
“Ah, yes – plenty of room. Room for five.” Fairchild purred.
Blood poured out of the squire’s empty eyes and his fingers slid along the stone. His body arched backward, and there was pain.
Then he saw them.
A hound with blue eyes.
A snake with green scales.
A knight with brown armor.
A lady in white.
A crow with yellow talons.
They were gone, but they weren’t.
Fairchild slid a long green hand down his chest, and the wound closed. A jet of purple and green fire cauterized the wound, and left the flesh smooth and unbroken. The green creature cocked his head, and laid an appraising finger aside of his pursed lips. He nodded with satisfaction.
” There…we’re done! Now get up.” he stood and moved back towards the throne. “You have lots and lots of work to do.”
The man stood up. He realized that his hands were clenched in the folds of his brown cloak. The fingers slowly released, and he saw they were coated thick with blood. On the floor surrounding him was a wide pool of blood.
It’s mine. The thought seemed to echo inside the wide cavern of his mind, like a marble dropped in a basin. The last blood that I will ever shed.
“And now — the name!” Fairchild clapped his hands like a stage magician. “It has waited for you here — for so long. Hovering at the end of your road, waiting for you to wear it like a crown. The name whispered in the dark. The name promised. Oh…you don’t seem very excited…”
The creature actually managed to sound petulant. The man said nothing.
“Very well, then. You are Izus Torossian. Take your payment and go.”
The creature’s green fingers closed around the blade.
“I shall make you…”
The blade was falling, it fell again and again.
“…make you …”
Jonas let go of the blade and it fell.
Green fingers closed around the blade, and Fairchild looked up. His eyes were nothing.
“I shall make you of power and gold.”
The squire let go of the blade, and it fell.
“I shall make you of…”
A squire stumbled through the dark and rain.
“…power and gold.”
Green fingers closed.
A boy said good bye to his friend. He left in the rain.
He let go of the sword. His eyes were nothing.
“I shall make you of power and gold.”
A chessboard. A battlefield. Another time.
“Oh…oh my. You’re actually considering it.” Fairchild chortled. ” I can see it in your eyes. Just as was foretold – but I must admit I’m actually shocked. That it could be so simple to sway you.”
No, Jonas. No! You’re not thinking far enough ahead – don’t just think about this move, think about the fifth move from now. Take your damn hand off that piece, boy — and think!
“Thousands of corpses litter the city around us, but one mewling child has worth to you? Amazing.” the creature said.
Is that really the move you want to make, squire? Are you certain? Bone-certain?
“Every life has worth.” Jonas said. ” And dead, I’m no good to anyone.”
The squire gave up trying to push his sword tip towards his enemy. Instead, he pulled the sword back to his side. Fairchild seemed to allow this movement, his face that was not rapt with curiosity. Jonas set the point of the blade in front of him, and closed his hands around the hilt and crossguard. He leaned on the sword for a moment, feeling the good steel beneath his fingertips.
“For the child’s life, I will give you my sword. ”
Are you certain? Bone-certain?
“Then promise me — only I can do it. When I’ve hunted down every single one of the others, she will die by my hand. By my hand, or by none. And then I’ll be the last blood of Gilead, and you can do what you wish with me.” the squire said.
The words came out of his mouth steadily, with no emotion. Jonas heard the words, but couldn’t remember thinking them. It was quick thinking, logical and clean — not the way his mind usually worked.
“Your blood won’t be an issue, my friend. Entering my service is going to change you a great deal.” Fairchild laid the child down on the empty throne, and came slowly down the steps. “For the better, of course. A marked improvement upon your current state. I accept your terms. Are we agreed.?”
Fairchild kneeled, the illusion dropping away. Green and gaunt, he spread his hands on either side of the squire’s blade — fingers splayed wide, palms up.
Is that really the move you want to make, squire?
Jonas took his hand off the piece, and the sword tumbled forward into Fairchild’s waiting hands.
“We are.” he said.
Hmmmm….I’m hitting a mental snag. To me it’s completely obvious how Jonas is going to act in this situation, but within the context of this piece — I’ve really done very little to establish his motivations, morality, etc.
Thoughts? Read a la carte how well is this piece holding together for you?
“This child is the last. The last beating heart in all of Gilead. Except for yours, of course.” Fairchild smiled.
The bundle hung, inches from the squire’s nose. Jonas stared.
The baby appeared healthy, a patch of yellow fuzz on its head, dried tears and mucus covering the face. Jonas felt a sudden desire to reach into his pocket and find a clean hanky. The sudden image of standing in this room of green fire , piled high with corpses in a city of death — wiping the snot off of a baby’s face; the image slid through his battered mind, and he found himself grinning. A quiet huh left his lips as he almost-chuckled.
The tip of his sword moved two inches along the floor. He was still held by the power of the creature Fairchild, but he felt looser. Like a frog in a child’s palm, he couldn’t escape but had room to wriggle.
“Do you know this child? I found her in the back of a baker’s shop, just popped her in my pocket like a day-old muffin, and brought her here.” Fairchild pulled the child close into the crook of his left arm, and waved towards Jonas with his right.
The squire found he could speak. ” No. I don’t know who she is. ”
“No matter. Princess or pauper, whoreson or maid. You. Her. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the blood. The blood, you see?” Fairchild sat down again on the mound of corpses, cradling the child to his breast.
“..understand? That doesn’t matter, either.” the man who was not waggled a long finger. “You came here to find out what had happened to your people, to learn the truth — to save them? Quite a grand quest, I applaud you — or would. I don’t want to drop the baby!”
Shattersteel-laughter rang in the throne room. Jonas glimpsed again Fairchild’s true form — gaunt flesh stretched on a tall frame – naked, green and merry.
“I came here to purge this world of Gilead’s blood, and I’ve succeeded. Almost.” the creature rose. “There is still you, and this child — and a few wandering remnants scattered across the world.”
Jonas felt a sudden heat in his heart. This creature was right, there were others out there – the Legion, travellers, families that had settled elsewhere. Gilead could live on, an army could gather and make justice for the fallen.
“Ah, hope. A foolish thing, there flickering in your eyes.” Fairchild idly ran his thumb across the baby’s cheek.
The child screamed as if his touch was acid.
“My time is limited, so let us speak plain. I need an..agent. Someone to hunt down your remaining kinsmen. It is going to be you. But, I need you to consent. So, enter my service or….” Fairchild held out the crying child. “…or I kill this child. Right here. Right now. And then you.”