Act 1: Chapter 7, Part 9

Posted on February 19, 2018

In Which There is Some Laughing, Some Learning, and Some Leaving

Ryan. Tuesday. Too Damn Late.

Ryan went in and passed Evan, who’d stopped in the hallway to presumably invite in Gramyre, to rouse Angie. Cali feigned sleep until Angie was up and they’d left the room. Then she shadowed behind them, Ryan could tell.

“Hey,” Evan said, eyes on the floor. He glanced up at Angie for a second, then swiftly back down. He and Chris were both standing next the door, Chris looking around with curiosity.

Angie snapped awake at the sight of Evan. “VERMONT EVAN CADELL!” she said, stalking toward him, an accusatory finger extended. Evan winced. Ryan noted a light of comprehension dawn in Chris’s eyes, presumably at learning that the region-derived naming convention had applied to all the Cadell children, not just the girls.

Angie continued with, “I should slap you so hard your eyeballs explode! Do you know how many bags of litter I have to pick up in the park this weekend?” and, not giving him a chance to answer, finished with “Five!” actually jabbing him in the chest with her finger as she did so. He rocked back a step. A pair of tiny trails of steam or maybe smoke snaked out of her close cropped red hair.

Ryan, standing a few feet behind, watched it with fascination. That had never happened before. Evan’s eyes had grown wide; he’d seen it too. And Chris watched with the same pleasant interest he’d been regarding everything else. Ryan filed the incident away to return to later.

“Salt and silver!” Cali said from behind them. At the steam or maybe just the beautiful Light Bearer, Ryan would never know, because he forgot to ask later.

Evan and Chris looked past Ryan and Angie, presumably at Cali. He and Angie both looked over their shoulders. Cali was staring at Chris, her mouth hanging open; after a moment, she realized they were all looking back, turned red, and inched out of sight.

“I’m sorry. Can I help pay the price?” Evan asked Angie, wincing.

“You’re absolutely helping to pay,” Angie grumbled. “Make sure you bring a music player, though, since it’s in Bridal Trails.”

“Fuuuuck. Seriously?” Evan said.

“Seriously. Who’s stupid enough to litter in there, I have no idea,” Angie said, grim.

“What’s, uh. What’s Bridal Trails?” Chris asked.

“It’s a nearby park,” Ryan replied. “Lots of trails through it. A more accurate description, however, would be to call it the wilderness around the home of this ancient enspirited bear. Or maybe a bear spirit. It’s unclear. His name in Common is He Who Loves Love, but people usually just call him ‘That Fucking Bear’ in my experience. The city more or less had to leave the land untamed because it wasn’t worth fighting with the bear when they expanded out here.”

Chris frowned. “His… well, his real name isn’t particularly threatening. Sounds pretty nice, really. I assume he’s actually dangerous, based on his secondary title?”  

“He can be,” Evan said.

“Listen, exposition’s my job,” Ryan said. This provoked a snort from Chris, which set Evan to laughing again, followed by Angie after a second, and soon they were both giggling so much they had to latch onto each other to hold each other up. Ryan ignored them. “Yeah. While the name is accurate, the problem is he doesn’t much care for anything else.”

Chris was watching Evan and Angie try to pull themselves together with a small smile. He glanced at Ryan and said, “Go on, I’m listening.”

“Basically he judges whether your love is real if you’re in his territory. Odd numbered groups of people are totally safe—unless they’re polyamorous I guess, but I don’t know if any have tried. Need to look that up later. However, if the only people within eyesight of each other make up an even numbered group, he pairs you off, starting with the two people—“ Ryan flipped up his index and middle fingers—“with the strongest emotional bond, and then the second strongest emotional bond—“ he switched to his ring and pinky finger— “between the remaining people, and so on.” He waved his hand vaguely.

“Yeah,” Angie said, after finally getting a grip. She reached out and took Ryan’s hand, provoking a raised eyebrow from him. “Then he judges your emotions and actions, and if he finds you wanting in the love department, he fucking eats you. Even with close friendship love he’ll terrorize you. Romantic love only. The only people who are safe in even numbers are related; he doesn’t judge familial love, unless it’s truly gone poisonous.”

“Huh,” Chris said. “Good to know. Seems like this should be a public service announcement to people who move into town.”

“Well, this is all laid out on signs on every path into the park,” Ryan said. “And outside of the paths it’s fenced off. You’d have to be trying hard to blunder in without knowing about him.”

“Also everyone around here does what we just did and makes sure to tell newcomers to the area about it the first time it comes up,” Angie added, leaning against Ryan now.

“Also there’s this thing called the internet, like, do some research when you move somewhere,” Ryan added, grinning.

“Cool. Yeah, I getcha. I’ll tell my folks,” Chris said, nodding. “And sister.” He paused. “But why’s it called Bridle Trails?”

“Bridal Trails,” Ryan corrected. “Like brides, not bridles. Because he blesses couples who can walk all the way through his territory without arousing his anger, who’s romantic love is… good enough, for the bear. No one really knows his criteria, but people who receive his blessings usually seem pretty happy with each other before they go in, and after they develop almost supernatural empathy with their partners, and also tend to do well financially.”

I see now,” Chris said, nodding. “You gamble that your love is True.”

“Not many people do it these days,” Evan said. “But there’s a few of folks what get blessed every year, and a few what get dead.”

“I dig it,” Chris said with another nod. “I’ll help pay, too. That way you don’t have to go off on your own.”

They all focused on him. “That’s,” Angie said. “Uh. Really nice. You’re like a Light Bearer though. Seems like a dumb risk when we can just wander off on our own and be fine, probably. You surely have better things to do.”

Chris shrugged. “Many hands make light work. As much as anything I’m trying to ingratiate myself with you guys so Megan will like me.”

Ryan laughed out loud at that, one surprised “Ha!” which set Evan off laughing again. Ryan decided he needed to make sure Evan slept more, in general.

Angie smiled at Evan’s laughter, and said, “I, uh, I don’t know if that’s really necessary, but I appreciate the sentiment I guess. You seem okay, Chris Gramyre.”

“Thanks,” Chris said with a smile. “Also, about being a Light Bearer.” He lowered his voice a little. “I want to tell you something, but I’d rather it not get around too much.” He tilted his head in the direction of the entrance to the living room, where Cali was presumably lurking.

“Hmm,” Ryan said, a contemplative note in his voice. “Downstairs, then.”

He led the way, and they filed down the narrow stairs.

“The Grove was an old boarding house back in the twenties,” Ryan said as he led them down the stairs, “and was initially quite fancy. The area had recently been walled when it was built, and the city was undergoing expansion as lots of new people moved here. Among those who immigrated were single Light Bearers, looking to protect the new area and start new families.

“The Grove was originally been built to house lady Light Bearers until they could afford larger places or, failing that, get married, as back then it would have been a little scandalous to have mixed gender housing. I’ve read that the Bakili matriarch lived here for a time.”  Ryan grinned; he’d always found amusement in that fact, considering that right now it was just him and Evan’s family living there.

But it did mean the old place packed a lot of rooms into comparatively not a lot of space. The stairs were narrow, and there was an old cedar door at the bottom. Beyond that, Ryan had a little suite of rooms around a common area. The common area was stocked with comfortable old furniture, grouped around a huge TV, and as well as a beat up but quite large pine table. The old hardwood floors were covered by a Türkler-style rug. The table was covered in papers, books, and two different laptops. At one end was Angie’s sketchbook, lying open to a sketch of Ryan at work.

Angie quickly walked over and flipped the sketchbook closed, whistling innocently. It was not very subtle.

“So why do you guys live here now?” Chris asked as he looked around. Each of the rooms around the common area was clearly meant to be a small bedroom.

“Well, I lived here first. I’m a ward of the Bounty Authority. So what’s up?” Ryan said, his hands stuffed into his pockets, a little smile on his face as he turned around after closing the door.

After a moment, Chris shrugged. “Evan wanted me to tell you that I’m not a Light Bearer,” he said, nodding at Evan.

“Um. What?” Angie said, her eyes going wide.

Ryan’s smile grew a little wider.

“I’m actually the Champion of a Blade,” Chris said, matter-of-fact. “Dyrnwyn.”

“Salt and silver!” Angie blurted. “Seriously?! Interrobang!?”

Chris laughed a little bit. “Yeah, interrobang.”

“That’s not how you use it.” Angie, Evan, and Ryan all spoke flatly, in unison, their eyes narrowing.

This set Chris off, quiet guffaws leaking out of him.

“He even laughs classily,” Angie observed.

Evan and Ryan grunted.

“Thank you! That’s very sweet of you to say,” Chris said smiling, pulling himself together almost instantly.

“Wasn’t meant as a compliment. Okay, cough up some proof,” Angie said, her palm turned up, wagging her fingers in unison at him.

“Sure,” Chris said. He reached forward and mimed grasping some sort of handle, one perpendicular to him. White-blue ghostly flames flared from a point in space an inch in front of his hand, tracing the outline of what could be the mouth of an invisible scabbard on an equally invisible weapon rack. Out of those flames came a sword blade, glowing with a bright but somehow gentle light, almost translucent like a crystal; as the sword emerged, there was, between blinks, a real-ass sword hilt in his hand rather than air, made of what looked like white wood of some sort, but Ryan suspected was bone. The sound, rising over the equally ghostly crackling of flames, was exactly that of a metal sword coming out of a wood scabbard.

The light didn’t hurt Ryan’s eyes, somehow, despite the brightness, but it was too bright to make out the exact shape of the blade. It was clear it wasn’t straight. Beyond that, it was difficult to make out details.

“A blade forged by the dragon Rhonabwy, a lover of music and of metalwork, using an alloy of adamant steel sourced from the dwarf clan of Mount Carrauntoohil in southern Éire and crystalline mithrilled silver gifted from the High Court of the Spring Fae,” Ryan said. “That sure looks like Dyrnwyn alright.”

Chris stared at him. For that matter, so did Angie and Evan, their expressions disbelieving.

“Okay,” Chris said after a second. “I thought you were joking about exposition being your job. How can you tell that that’s what that sword is made out of?”

Ryan laughed. “Oh, just the translucent quality of the metal when it glows in the hands of a worthy warrior. That’s been regularly recorded down the centuries.”

Everyone continued to stare at him.

“What?” Ryan asked, smiling like a cat. “I’ve had reason to be researching legendary weapons lately. May I?” He held out his hands, palm up.

Chris blinked. “Pardon?”

“May I look at it?” Ryan said, still smiling.

“Uh, sure?” Chris said, looking from the sword to Ryan and back. “You’re the one of the few people to ask me to hold it, and you literally just mentioned how it works. Most people think twice once they find out it judges your worth. Not that I’ve shown it to that many people. But even my father had no interest in holding it.”

Ryan shrugged. “I have no illusions about being a warrior. At least not of the up-close and personal variety.”

Chris contemplated him for a moment. “You don’t carry a gun, guy.”

“Well,” Ryan said, raising an eyebrow. “I’m at home.”

“You didn’t have one at school, either,” Chris said, in the same tone one would ask about a difficult clue on a crossword puzzle.

“Sure,” Ryan said. “I can’t handle the recoil. Look at me, I’m a delicate guy. You gonna let me look at that blade or not, June?”

Evan snorted, almost sounding like he was choking, and put a hand over his mouth to stifle snickers. Angie just giggled. “I hadn’t thought of that!” she said.

Chris stared at them for a moment as he turned the weapon and extended it hilt first toward Ryan. “Oh I get it,” Chris said as Ryan took the haft. “It’s my birth month.”

Immediately upon Ryan taking the sword, the glow died down significantly. It was now no brighter than three or four candles, and they could more clearly see details of the blade.

It indeed wasn’t straight. It formed almost a mild S shape, curving in one direction like a katana before curving back the other way halfway down the blade. Unlike the katana, scimitars, or sabers it somewhat resembled, it was edged on both sides. It was slightly longer and slightly broader than a typical katana, but only about as heavy as one. It didn’t quite look right, like its structure shouldn’t survive use as an actual weapon. There was a subtle yet clear sense that it wasn’t a blade any human hand could have forged.

Also, there was no doubt the hilt was made of bone. “White-hilt,” Ryan murmured as he inspected it. It was carved with faint runes, the edges worn smooth over centuries of use.

“Hmm.” Chris examined the continued faint glow. “Interesting.”

“May I?” Angie asked. Ryan handed it over, still smiling. When she took the blade, the glow dimmed even more, to the luminousness of no more than a single candle.

“Mmmhmm,” Ryan said, smiling again.

“Huh,” she said. She looked at the blade carefully, running one finger down the side. “This is beautiful. It’s like… crystal metal.” She reached a portion of the blade close to the cross guard, and said, “Oh look, have you seen this?”

“What now?” Chris said. He looked at the base of the blade. Ryan leaned in too. There was a faint pattern etched into the blade, extending maybe five inches up the blade parallel to it. It appeared to be a dragon whose tail trailed behind it, dozens of times as long as its body, patterned into Celtic knots. “No,” Chris said, after a second. “It always glows for me, even when I put it down. I’ve never been able to make that out.”

“Interesting,” Ryan said.

“December? You want in on this?” Angie said, turning toward Evan and extending the sword to him.

Evan had been hovering over her shoulder to get a look at the blade. Now he froze. “Uh,” he said, taking in that they were all looking at him.

“Oh sorry,” Angie said in the exact same tone of voice, then started turning back toward Chris.

“Hold on, ‘Ril.” Evan said, extending his hands. “I do.”

“O-okay,” Angie said, her eyes flicking to Ryan’s.

Ryan shrugged. As Angie extended the sword to Evan, Ryan mock whispered, “That’s short for ‘April’,” at Chris.

Evan gave Ryan a look, and then put his hands onto the hilt. Angie let go.

The glow of the sword flared up to almost the brightness of a pair of Ranger’s lanterns, with almost the same flickering orange cast to its light.

“Uh,” Evan said at Chris. “What’s this mean?”

“I. Uh. I have no idea?” Chris turned his eyes to Ryan, Evan and Angie’s gazes following along.

Ryan, his hands back in his pockets, froze for a split-hair of a second; “Not sure either, guys,” he said. “I haven’t absorbed everything that’s ever been written on the subject.”

A long beat passed as everyone looked at the sword’s flickering flame glow.

“Apparently it sometimes burns the unworthy if they try and use it,” Ryan said.

“Huh,” Evan said. “That’s… ominous.”

Chris asked, after another long beat, “Wouldn’t it like turn, you know, black or dark red or something?”

“What would you base that idea on?” Ryan said, scowling at the black-haired boy.

“Um,” Chris said. “I don’t know. That’s what they’d do in movies?”

“Obviously no one has depicted this thing correctly in movies,” Ryan said.

“Yeah,” Chris said. “Yeah. That one in that movie a few years back sure wasn’t anything like the reality.”

Evan raised it the sword up vertically, moving it back and forth. “It kinda… feels good. I feel, like, righteous.”

“Do you?” Ryan said, arching one eyebrow.

Evan looked slightly upward at the end of the blade, was silent a good second. Then he said, “A little. It’s kinda cool but I haven’t fucked with a sword since I was eleven. I’d be a fool to try and use it in any situation it’d make sense to use it.” He handed the sword back to Chris.

“Hmm.” Ryan frowned at the sword, flaring back up to almost too bright silvery white in Chris’s hand. “Weird. So, you’re not a Light Bearer?”

Chris, in the midst of drawing his arm back as if to stab the air, froze. “Uh. Did I say that? That’s—“

“You did say that,” Angie said, narrowing her eyes at him.

Evan was already staring at Chris, his eyes becoming wider and wider. “Hey. Hey! None of the gas lamps around us flared up! It was just the sword when you were fighting the Beast. I was so distracted by the sword that I didn’t notice that nothing else turned into Bearer’s Flame!”

“Yes, okay.” Chris drove the sword back into its intangible weapon rack. The flames flared again as the sword blade disappeared into Betweenspace. “Well,” he said with a small sigh when it was gone, “You’re right. I am indeed not a Light Bearer. And I don’t mean to say this isn’t fun, but if the subject’s going to stay on that for any length of time, it’s time for me float.” He flipped his thumb toward the door, then looked at Angie. “You need a walk home or anything?”

They didn’t push. Angie laughed and waved the offer away. “Nah, I end up staying here half the time anymore anyway.”

“Really? That doesn’t bother your parents?” Chris asked, sounding maybe a little bit jealous.

Angie shrugged. “Nah, we’re First Agers now, after all. When my fifteenth was approaching my mom taught me a pile of prophylactic spells and told me to be careful. I could scrape together the supplies I’d need for one of them nearly anywhere I would want to fuck. Hasn’t come up yet, but one of the advantages of being an enchanter’s daughter, I guess.”

This drew a snorting laugh out of Chris. “I guess! Did Megan tell you guys to bring music tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said with a wave of his hand. “Bring our favorite stuff.”

Evan frowned. “What’s this about music?” he asked.

“I got it handled,” Ryan said to him. “You can look over the list, see if I’m missing anything, but it’s not like we’re going to have that many distinct suggestions.”

“In musical artists, sure,” Evan said. “But songs? Come on.”

“Okay, so you got music,” Chris said, walking to the door upstairs and pulling it open. “We can discuss where we listen to it at school tomorrow. Tonight wasn’t all that taxing, but I do need some sleep.”

“Yeah yeah, my life’s so hard, I’m just the Champion of a Blade,” Ryan said, keeping his voice low enough that he was certain Cali wouldn’t hear as they started to follow him back upstairs. “Waah waah.”

“Oh, like you have any room to talk,” Angie said, bumping his hip with hers and thereby cutting him off from getting on the stairs first.

Chris looked over his shoulder at them, a puzzled frown on his face. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” Ryan said, smug, as they reached the top of the stairs. “Have a good night, June.”

Chris laughed. “Sure thing, October.”

Ryan raised an eyebrow, impressed.

“Well,” Chris said, wagging one eyebrow, “She’s April and he’s December. Evan said Megan was born in February earlier, and there’s no way you’re August.”

Ryan nodded. “Touché, Gramyre.” He paused as they moved to the front door, then, as Chris went to open it, asked, “Hey, do you mind if we refer to your eyes as ‘grayn’?”

“Well,” Chris said, “It’s not my favorite.” Angie burst out giggling at his delivery.

“I’ll workshop it,” Ryan said, with a lazy wave of his hand. Evan snorted.

“I… I wish you wouldn’t,” Chris said, just a tiny bit plaintively. Evan lost it now too. When he did, Chris said to Ryan, his voice low, “Read up.”

Ryan tipped an invisible hat to Chris as the other disappeared out the door. He turned to his best friends in all the world, Angie leaning against the hall wall as she giggled and Evan laughing wheezily while hanging onto the stairway railing. “Go to bed, Evan,” Ryan said, poking the other with his foot. “You’re delirious.”

Fin Act I