Act 1: Chapter 7, Part 7

Posted on January 20, 2018

In Which Praise Takes Evan Off Guard

Evan. Tuesday. Real Fucking Late.

Chris’s voice grew grim. “Yeah. Bad fortune indeed. She probably had closed up like that hundreds of times and never had a problem.” Evan glanced back at him in time to see him shaking his head. “Shouldn’t have had a problem.” He paused, looking at Evan. “You saw to it that she was avenged.”

A wave of despair crashed without warning over Evan, forcing tears to his eyes; he hadn’t cried for a year and a half. “I didn’t do anything!” he spat. He let his head drop, squeezing his eyes closed. “That thing didn’t give two shits about me unloading two full fucking cylinders into it! Would have been better off with salt rounds.”

To Evan’s surprise, Chris let loose with a hearty laugh. Evan found himself staring at Chris before he’d even realized he was reacting. “What? Are you kidding me?” Chris said looking at Evan, eyes sparkling again. “That was one of the easiest kills I’ve ever made! And I saw your second volley, that was amazing shooting! No one said a thing about you being able to shoot to me, let alone that well.”

Evan, taken aback, said, “What? Um? Not really. I missed with the first shot of that second cylinder. My leg wound threw me off.” The train started to slow.

“Guy,” Chris said, rising, “You sounded like you were firing a machine gun, not a revolver, and you still landed every goddamn shot. You say you missed with your first shot of that second volley? So you took off seven of its legs and put six holes in its torso, with eleven shots?” He shook his head. “That’s not just good, that’s unreal. That's the sort of shooting you see from experienced dungeon raiders, not fifteen year old First Agers.”

“It… it wasn’t that hard to line up a shot on the spider legs, and they, apparently, weren’t substantial enough to slow the bullet enough that it couldn’t go through two of the legs,” Evan said, feeling heat creep into his cheeks and looking down at the ground as he followed Chris to the doors, considering the other boy’s words.

“You’re in a deep, dark hole if you think that’s anything other than extraordinary,” Chris said as the train lurched to a stop; he let the momentum carry him forward and caught himself with one hand on a central pole. “That thing was a Menace-class stalker, guy. It was fast,” he said as he spun around the pole and up to the door, a neat trick in the interior of a train. “I would have come out of a fight with that thing pretty worse for wear if you hadn’t already hammered it into mush. Instead I just sort of sauntered up and stabbed it.” The doors slid open as he finished speaking.

Chris looked at Evan, his face growing more somber as they stepped through the doors and back out into the night. “That said, you were also very lucky. Many Beasts are smart enough to recognize guns as threats and actively evade. That one probably didn’t expect you to be able to hurt it so badly and was committed to the attack by the time it realized its mistake. Your shooting was remarkable, but I don’t know if you would have had the same success rate if it hadn’t been rushing headlong at you.” He started leading the way toward the trolley line they needed; the Link stop was between two cross lanes, taking up the bulk of the block, extra brightly lit by a multitude of gas lights throughout the area people would be waiting for a train.

As Chris led and talked, Evan glanced at the watch tower; the militia man inside seemed to have just snapped out of a daze, frowning down at one of the screens lighting up his face. Presumably at them.

“Further, that was a fragile Beast, particularly for a Menace-class,” Chris continued. “It relied on speed and surprise to bring its prey down, like most Stalkers. There are Beasts out there that would have thought your barrage a pattering of weird rain, with only that three-fifty-seven there.” Chris looked at Evan, drawing Evan’s attention back to him, and locked his gaze with Evan’s, slowing his pace a touch. “Don’t do this again. That thing still would have killed you without, at a minimum, Angie knocking you out of the way, and your bell got rung pretty good when she did that, so it probably would have killed you without me being there, too.”

Evan looked down, heat rising in his face.

Chris started watching where he was going again, and gave a small chuckle. “Of course with shooting like that, you’re welcome to come out with me anytime. We’ll be strolling around on Easy Street; with your shooting and my sword and the average threat level of what Beasts manage to get into the city, we’ll barely break a sweat.” He was smiling, apparently enjoying the thought.

“Hey!” a man’s voice called just before they were really out of the Link stop proper. They both looked at the militia guard emerging from the base of his watchtower and moving in their direction. “Hold on a second, you two. I need to see your licenses for being out this long after curfew,” the man continued. He probably wasn’t older than twenty, which made sense; City-interior-watchtower duty tended to fall to people fresh out of boot camp, particularly to people who had done less than stellar while in boot camp. His uniform was crisp, though, the teal portions muted in the flickering orange of the gaslight, the white portions cast orange. He carried a shotgun slung over one shoulder, and from his belt hung a standard issue salt sword.

“No problem, my man!” Chris responded, reaching under his warding mantle, his hand emerging a few moments later holding a pair of laminated cards; his ID and his hunting license. Evan noted the blue and silver border on Chris’s licence, indicating a Light Bearer’s license, and felt an irrational surge of envy as he pulled out his own cards.

“Oh my spirits,” the young militiaman said to Chris when he got a good look at Chris’s license, his brown face growing visibly ruddier, even in the light of the gas lamps. “I, um, you know, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you, sir,” he continued as he inserted the cards into some sort of card reader. “I mostly know the Bearers around here who work this late. I should have realized from your brand that you were a Bearer, of course you wouldn’t have it lit in the train.” He shook his head, and muttered, “Dumb,” under his breath.

“No need for the ‘sir,’” Chris said, smiling with all sincerity. “I’m new around here, and besides that, wouldn’t have been out this late if we hadn’t gotten held up with a small injury. We want to sleep in our own beds, so we’re just moseying along home.”

“Oh, sure,” the militiaman said, barely glancing at Evan’s cards as he scanned them. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Gramyre. Private Pads...algikar, at your service.” He scratched at his ear, expression embarrassed. “Ah, the sergeants just call me Private Pads, mostly.”

“Please, I’m fifteen,” Chris said, laughter creeping around under the surface of his tone. “You can call me Chris, Private.”

Private Padsalgikar smiled, maybe too broadly, and said, “S-sure thing, Chris! Uh, I guess I shouldn’t keep you much longer, you probably have school tomorrow.”

“Indeed we do, Private,” Chris said, nodding. “And we’re definitely getting tired.”

“Of course you are,” the private said, nodding a little too enthusiastically. “Take care, Chris.”

“You too, Private,” Chris replied. “May your watch be silent and your aim true if it’s not. I’ll see you around.” And with that he started walking in the direction of the trolley line they still needed. Private Padsalgikar stared after him, his stance and expression immediately recognizable to Evan as those of someone who doesn’t know what to do with the emotions they found themself dealing with.

“Ok, where were we?” Chris asked as the militia guard walked back to his tower and they resumed their journey around the block to the trolley stop they needed. He had clasped his hands and put them behind his head, looking up at the stars and the moon.

Evan, his tone a little sour despite himself, replied, “You were telling me I should come out with you hunting, which was a little confusing, because I was under the impression that ‘Gramyres hunt alone.’”

Chris looked back over at him, mild surprise on his features. “What, that? Fuck, guy, I’m just trying to keep the sword on the dee el. And you just asked about gunners, not about you, yourself, specifically. If you’d asked that, I would have asked to see you shoot and considered it. At least once I thought I could trust you to not blab about the sword.” He shook his head. “The former problem is moot, and you’ve demonstrated that the latter isn’t one.” He paused, looked at Evan with a solemn expression. “Seriously though, don’t go blabbing to anyone about the sword.”

“‘Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead,’” Evan quoted, the old saying one often repeated by his father.

Chris cocked his head and said, “Really, man?”

Evan rolled his eyes. “Come on dude. You need to—“ He stopped, gave Chris an up and down. Chris just had the brand and that other weird sword. Evan couldn’t believe he hadn’t asked about that, or where Dyrnwyn was, before this point. “Where the fuck is the sword!?” If he sounded alarmed, it’s because he was. They were out in the black heart of night and he didn’t have his magic sword at hand. So, for some reason, it slipped out. “Interrobang?!”

Chris tipped back his head and really laughed. After twenty seconds or so, he said, “Ah, fuck, Evan, you guys are the fucking best!” Still chuckling, he went on. “I put the sword away. I’m not trying to attract Beasts right now.” He wiped the corner of his eye. “Interrobang! Fuck, I love that shit!”

Evan eyed Chris all sour like. “Okay. Whatever the eff ‘put it away’ means.”

“Oh, that,” Chris said, still stifling chuckles. “Here.” He reached his left hand up and out in front of his face, mimed taking the handle of some sort of object, and then mimed pulling backward. Except, of course, he actually pulled an actual glowing sword out of thin fucking air, star-white flames flaring at the point in the air where the blade was appearing.

Evan had stopped, staring, his mouth agape. Chris realized this five or so steps up and stopped, looking over his shoulder, once again silhouetted by the shining of the sword’s blade. Evan’s own face was lit clearly; he felt almost… physically lighter, less weighty, in the glow of that blade.

“Fuck,” Evan said, finding his voice. “That’s so cool!

Chris turned, and as he did, the sword revealed him smiling a strange small smile. “I know,” he said, waving his right hand and shaking his head. The expression was already gone, maybe was never there; he just had his signature confident grin.

Evan blinked at him. That had been… He shook his head. “Okay. So. Sword goes into Betweenspace.”1

“Yup,” Chris replied. “Any of the ways, I wasn’t actually trying to attract Beasts. Having the Blade out will do that, just like a Light Bearer carrying a lit flame will.” So he pushed the Blade back forward into thin air, the flames flickering again. Evan noticed that he could do that while he continued to walk. Then it was gone.

“Okay,” Evan said. “Uh. Fair enough.” He paused, thinking. “Hey.”

“Yeess?” Chris said after Evan stayed quiet for a few moments.

Evan looked pensive. “So can I at least tell Angie and Ryan about the sword? If not, will you? ‘Cause seriously, I don’t think I can do it.”

Chris considered, nodded. “No, I get you. Yeah. I’ll tell them. That’s, like, the opposite of what I wanted to do, but whatever this thing with our birthdays is seems like it’s going to be significant, so I suppose I should go ahead and do that. Megan, too.”

Evan laughed just a little. “Yeah. It would be folly to tell Ryan and Angie and not tell Megan, I suppose. So. Mind if I ask, why are you keeping it a secret anyway? Don’t you need to wander around the streets at night with the blade drawn? People are going to figure it out. Is that what that’s about, like the brand?” He gestured at the sword hanging from Chris’s waist, which he thought was the same one he’d worn to school, that they’d assumed he actually fought with.

Chris sighed. “Yeah, like the brand. I don’t know. Trying to plug the hole in the dam with my finger, I guess. It’s just. You've seen how people react to me anyway, right? How much, uh, crazier, I guess, would people be if they knew I was the Champion of a Legendary Blade? I’ll have full-blown paparazzi following me around and stuff.”

“Sure,” Evan said, nodding. “Yeah, that seems possible. Two questions, then. One, didn’t you use it as you came across the country? That’s why you were changing your story about your brand, right? You don’t use one, because Dyrnwyn is blade and brand all in one. So it’s already out there that there’s a wielder of Dyrnwyn somewhere in Fredonia.”

“Yeeeaaah,” Chris said, stretching the word out in a way that conveyed acknowledgement of the point. “I did do that. We asked, both me and my father, that the people we worked with keep it in their pockets for a while. They were all professional adults, experienced Light Bearers and Militia members.” Chris shrugged. “No reporters have shown up yet. Number two?”

“Yeah. Why’d you even advertise that you’re a Light Bearer?” Evan said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “If you didn’t want people to make that big a deal out of you, keeping it totally secret would have made it easier to keep the sword a secret longer. And you wouldn’t have to carry around a brand and your spare sword, which I imagine get in the way a lot.”

“Sure, they do, though I’m pretty used to carrying them,” Chris replied, then sort of gestured at himself with one hand. “How would Private Padsalgikar have reacted if I’d been unarmed? Since I didn’t have the sword out and didn’t want him to see it?” He shrugged. “I’m hunting just like a Light Bearer, so it’s important to play the part. I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to fake being a magic-user or any other kind of hunter, but I trained all my life to be a Light Bearer. It would get out that I was hunting eventually, since bounties paid out get published, and if I didn’t act like a Light Bearer people would be curious about what exactly I was, or how I was pulling it off.”

Evan nodded, having not really considered that. “That makes sense, I guess. How do you avoid sentries seeing the sword? Surely just avoiding watch-towers isn’t enough?”

Chris shrugged. “Seems to have been so far. I don’t know. Like I said, trying to plug a hole in the dam with my finger. I’m prepared for it to get out eventually. But it pretty much just looks like any Bearer’s Flame from a distance.” He paused, then added, "I assume."

“Probably not from people’s windows though,” Evan replied, glancing around at the tower-houses they were passing by. “I know when we were little we’d go check out whose firelight was passing by pretty regularly, when a Light Bearer would patrol up our street. At least when we noticed the light through the blinds.”

“I think most people just don’t,” Chris said, “But yeah, that’s my biggest concern. I like to keep a good pace when I’m patrolling with the sword out, makes it less likely that anyone will notice inside the buildings I pass. Also, I like to stick to more commercial districts that aren’t also entertainment based, where people might be out late.”

They were approaching the trolley stop they needed. They were not challenged as they reached it, though both of the watch sentries were in the tower’s main booth, underlit faces intent on their screens. When Private Padsalgikar had scanned their IDs, it would have flagged them in the watch system as folks being allowed out this late. Evan supposed that there wasn’t much to do on Moon’s Watch other than occasionally get to see Beasts or Light Bearers prowl through the intersection’s lamplit boundaries. Maybe the occasional hunting party, but that was more common in the outskirts closer to the walls.

He considered articulating this to Chris as they stood for a moment in silence, but couldn’t figure out how to. His head still didn’t hurt, but it sure was fuzzy. So he was taken off-guard when Chris spoke.

“So, why were you out here, Evan?” Chris asked. “Really though? If you’re not crushing on Megan, I can’t trace a clear line to you out in the streets after dark.”

Fuzzy or not, something finally clicked inside Evan’s mind. “Ryan sent you,” he said, his eyes widening. “That’s how you found me. You were nearby because you were following me on your phone, then you heard the gunshots. And you seem to know the way to my place.”

Chris laughed. “Yeah, okay, you know your Ryan, I guess! Yeah, you got it. I don’t really understand how he was able to do that phone thing, but yeah, that’s what happened.”

“Well, don’t spread it around,” Evan said. “Ryan doesn’t need that heat.”

“What is the deal with that, anyway?” Chris asked.

Evan shrugged. “It’s not my place to tell.”

“Okay,” Chris said. “Why were you out here, then? Presumably that one’s your place to tell.”

  • 1. The colloquial Fredonian term for the varying sorts of magical pocket spaces that varying magical beings and effects are able to create or utilize. These pocket spaces vary widely, ranging from convenient, constantly accessible magical scabbards to vast hidden magical realms, some of which are like Faerie, difficult to find intentionally but possible to stumble into, and potentially accessible from anywhere in the world, while some of them are like the Hundred Thousand Islands of Lemuria, a vast sea full of islands of strange people and creatures, which can be entered by crossing over the boundary of a stationary circle a little more than two miles in diameter southwest of a small, uninhabited island south of India. It is believed that the Dreamlands exist in Betweenspace, as well. The scientific name for it is the Spatium Inter, which no one in Fredonia except serious nerdlingers really cares to say.