- January 2, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 14)
“Freedom was supposed to be fun. Freedom from the family, from punishment, from judgment, it was all supposed to be fun. Turns out, when you leave home they never stop judging you, and it’s always about something that has next to nothing to do with you.”
– Andelyn Stella, 448 A.C.A.
“Harry’s alive,” Jack told the lot of them.
He’d been back for less than a minute before he called everyone to convene, and though they had not come running, they feel like they had.
“Bullshit,” Andy said, her voice cracking as she said it, “Diana said this?”
It couldn’t be true, that witch trying to give us hope? Saying something by mistake? I don’t believe it.
“Yes,” Jack insisted.
As others opened their mouths to speak, Andy pressed further. “Off-handedly? How do you know she’s not fucking with you?”
She would one-hundred-percent try to fuck with Jack, and us, and me. This is the thing that would get us to come running into a trap. No, I won’t fall for it, Harry expected better.
Jack nodded his head as he grinned, “If she were trying to fuck with me, she would have offered it to me, or told me a location. Off-handedly telling me he’s alive doesn’t do much of anything.”
Malum tried to interject, pointing out, “Considering we have no idea where he is-”
“This sounds too good to be true, the idea that Raydorn would just pardon him because he’s from House Thorn?”
Malum’s hand held still in the air after Andy interrupted him. “I… I was fucking speaking.”
Jack ignored the assassin, tilting his head as he reminded Andy, “We’ve seen the noble houses get away with worse. Lockley’s tried to starve the crown out several times and a Lockley always remains in charge.”
“True, but this is different.”
Astrid joked to Quintus, “I bet its not that different.”
“I mean,” Andy muttered as she tried to think of a reason.
Men of noble birth have gotten away with worse. Just because I can’t, doesn’t mean Harry can’t… I… can he really be alive? Wouldn’t they kill Harry? Why would the world take pity on us now?
“Andy,” Quintus called her name as he planted his hands on the table, “this isn’t too good to be true, this is only confirmation that he’s alive, so it’s okay to be happy to hear it.”
“Should we really be?” Lucy questioned. She immediately drew eyes to herself, and crossed her arms in response. “If Harry’s alive and in the grips of Raydorn’s crown, then he’s leverage, over us.”
Malum tried again, “Exactly what I was trying to-”
But Andy interrupted him. “That’s assuming they know we’re alive and growing in numbers.”
“Diana knew,” Jack did tell Andy, as Malum groaned under his breath. “While I doubt she would be sharing that with anyone else-”
“How do you know that?” Lucy asked him.
Malum snorted, “Not fun being interrupted, is it?”
“Yeah, yeah, calm down, widower,” Lucy brushed him off as she still focused on Jack, “you said she just wanted to bring you back into the family, whose to say she doesn’t sell us down the river to get back at you?”
Then the eyes turned to Jack.
Jack looked around, slowly losing his smirk. “Well, I…” he trailed off, quiet under the pressure. “This… may sound ridiculous.”
Don’t say it, Andy thought to herself.
“But, believe it or not…”
“Your sister loves you,” Quintus finished for him.
Huh, I don’t want to cringe when he says it.
Jack took a breath, as if he thought he could say something else, but there wasn’t anything else to say. He just nodded his head, confirming to Quintus that this was exactly what it sounded like. “It sounds ridiculous but-”
“Not that ridiculous,” Malum interrupted him, drawing a side-eye from others.
He did that out of pettiness. Andy tried not to chuckle, now thinking of the other guy who made her laugh. Please, don’t let her just be manipulating us. It would be… nice, to have Harry.
“Even the Emperor of Krone has someone he loves,” Malum told them, “King Mightus nearly killed the Bard of the Song several times over out of some twisted and protective love for his daughter. Even the Goddess of War tried to throw down her life to save her father from death several times. Love has always been reason enough for even the most powerful to do anything, from love between family, to friends, to something more. Jack was lucky he had Diana, and now we should expect him to behave the same.”
Andy didn’t think much of the impetus Malum put on Jack. Wow, to think the widower would say something so emotionally intelligent.
She was looking at the group around her, but she wasn’t watching. After coming to settle in her new home, she’s come to remember the thing it most lacks. And she does it as she rests her hand on her sword, one that she’s had since she left home.
What memories it had, that Andy didn’t mean to see.
“Hah,” she gasped.
This wasn’t as smooth a transition as before. Andy wasn’t fading into something else’s memory, she was being pulled back into her own. The world shut off around her, made her lose her place.
And gave her a skull-crushing migraine.
“Ugh,” she groaned loudly, as her legs threatened to buckle under her own weight. She stumbled forward, her hand falling on a door handle, accidentally throwing it open.
The light flooded in, or really she stumbled into the light. She found herself in a rather dingy establishment, but it brought a smile to her burning cheeks. “Just where I wanted to be,” she cooed as she kept stumbling her way to the counter.
I remember this night, Andy thought as her mind struggled to control her body, but for the first time, she hit a wall. She wasn’t making decisions that lined up smoothly with the memory. Being in someone else’s body was somehow easier because Andy’s mind played tricks on her and molder her actions to follow that of the memory.
But knew this memory, and she knew it was a mistake for her to place her gold on the counter and ask for company. This was a brothel of Raydorn, and they did not indulge people of all tastes, the backwater place it was compared to the so-called thieves across the sea.
At first, the front desk told her, “We don’t have gigolos here, ma’am.”
“Ew,” she said, copious amounts of alcohol having made her forget about danger and the way of things, “not… not here for men, but a lady of the night!” Andy threw up her hands as if in celebration, swaying from side to side, trying to keep from falling down.
Even as she was reliving it, Andy couldn’t hear the slur she hadn’t heard then. She only remembered the noise she made, “Huh?” just before someone hit her in the back of the head.
She remembered the taste of the ground alright, and the metallic blood in her mouth. She remembered the way they grabbed her by the arms and dragged her out of the brothel, and threw her into the street.
Andy found half her face covered in mud, smelling of horse shit as the rain beat down on her. They had thrown her out the back, not even a brothel deigning to let their customers see her.
Just as she was pushing herself up, a boot found itself in her side sending her sprawling across the ground. She looked up just in time to for one of the pimps to spit on her, calling her another slur that blurred in with all the rest.
They left her there in the mud and rain as she stared up.
Freedom was supposed to be fun, Andy thought, thinking back. Freedom from the family, from punishment, from judgment, it was all supposed to be fun. Turns out, when you leave home they never stop judging you, and it’s always about something that has next to nothing to do with you.
How long did I sit in this rain for? How long did it take for him to find me?
Even from the outside looking in, Andy didn’t know how long she was laying there before a man in a cloak loomed over her. She remembered the fear that welled in her originally, but now she felt warm.
He lifted her to sit up, and replaced her own cloak with his. There was no telling whether she shivered from fear or the cold of the rain. They were both reason enough.
Then he helped her to her feet, and she got a good look at his face.
Still nothing special, not that I’m an expert.
“Who are you?” Andy asked the man smiling at her, with his less than fashionable goatee and jarringly ruffled haircut.
“Call me, Harry, I-”
He was interrupted by thunder. He looked off in a moment of fear, telling her instead, “Let’s talk someplace else, where I can grab another cloak and some warm food.”
He pulled Andy along, and while she didn’t fight him. She groaned and complained, “But I want whores!”
“I’m dealing with a drunken child.”
Harry had quickly found them somewhere to sit and rest, a small inn, full of people just as muddy and smelly as Andy was at that moment.
She hadn’t spoken much more than drunken mutterings up until Harry brought them both each some soup and water. When Andy drank the water and took a sip of the soup, her eyes drooped and stared at Harry across the table.
“What?” he asked her.
She only squinted harder.
“What? It’s only water, hot and cold.”
As she dipped down to sip on her soup, in the loudest of mutters, “I don’t want water.”
“I can’t talk to a drunk person,” Harry said, listening to her slurp the soup down like she wasn’t just complaining about it seconds earlier. “Huh, anything else you want to hatefully eat, Lady Stella.”
Andy stopped slurping, slowly set down the bowl, her eyes never leaving him until it touched the table. A little bit of an old, crunchy, pasta noodle hung from her lip. Then she slurped it in.
“Is this an intimidation tactic?” Harry asked her.
“How do you know who I am?” she asked back.
“Oh good, the soup is sobering you up.”
Andy waved him off with a whip of her hand. “I’ll have you know, I am usually a functioning drunk.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Andy pushed, placing her hands on the table, rather than on the sword that continued to hang on her hip.
“You didn’t answer mine,” he snarked back.
“I asked first.”
Harry’s face twisted a bit. “Wait, no you didn’t.”
“Doesn’t matter, my question was more important, how do you know me?”
The goatee did little to hide the downward curve of his lip, and his hair did not cover his judging eyes. “Well, the coastal accent, was the first giveaway, I could hear it even as you were talking to the front desk.
“Then there was the sword,” he said as he pointed to it on her hip, “that’s a pretty piece of metal, you’re lucky the brothel didn’t try to steal it from you.”
“It’s just a sword,” Andy grunted as she took a swing of her drink, remembering with great disappointment that it was just water.
“It’s a sword from the south, and a fancy one too, pair that with your accent so I know you didn’t steal it.”
“Yeah, but how does that make me Andelyn Stella?” Andy asked.
“So that’s how you say it…” Harry said, hand to his chin, “I thought it would be Andy-line or something. Andy-lin soundsbetter”
Andy’s brow hardened down enough that her look was definitely a glare. Harry raised his hands in mock surrender, trying to put up an awkward smile.
“Sorry, uh well, it’s also not exactly a secret what happened to you, all the nobles across Raydorn have heard about your self-implosion and famous status as a runaway.”
“But how do you know for sure that this makes me Andelyn? Sounds like you made an informed, but lucky guess.”
“Uh, it’s not exactly lucky if its informed, but alright. The real nail in the coffin is the headband you’re still wearing on your forhead, of a star? Stella’s crest.”
God, how did I get away with anything for so long?
Andy immediately reached up for the headband and pulling the fabric off to see it in her hand. “Fuck,” she cursed to herself, surely realizing the trail she’s no doubt left behind should her family come for her.
“This is what you get for being drunk all the time,” Harry teased her.
“Alright, then noble,” Andy grumbled as she cruppled the headband in her hand, “what house are you from?”
Harry leaned onto the table to sip from his drink with closed eyes. “Who said I was a noble?”
“You said all nobles heard about me.”
Harry chucked and coughed up his drink. “Yup, yeah, I did say that.”
“So who are you?”
“Well, it only seems fair to tell you, I know you’re Andelyn Stella, you should know I’m…”
As he tried to be suspenseful, Andy figured it out. “Wait, you must be Harry Thorn, the only famous Harry I’d know.”
“Oh, I… I was kind of in the middle of a thing.”
“No one cares,” she said as she leaned over the table. “What is the heir to one of Raydorn’s great houses doing here? Shouldn’t you be inside a castle, not in the outskirts of the city?”
“That is where I’m staying as long as my father makes me,” Harry admitted, sighing along the way, as if staying in the royal castle of the king was a drag. “He wanted to convince King Mightus to let him restock the Black Legion with more Stormguard, show off the fruits of his labors.”
“I’m sure Mightus blew a gasket at that. Aren’t the Stormguard in the Black Legion technically deserters?”
Harry smirked. “I see you’ve kept you’re ear to the ground.”
“Starshield talks a lot of shit about you, hard not to.”
“I bet they do.”
“So why are you here?” Andy repeated, her face hardening a bit as she sobered up. She wasn’t about to make a fool of herself anymore.
“Heh, regardless of whether or not Mightus agrees to give the Black Legion Stormguard-”
“Which he won’t,” Andy interrupted with a point of her pinkie.
“-which he won’t,” Harry agreed, “my father still likes to reward his men for a good performance.”
“Ahh.” It didn’t take much for Andy to put two-and-two together. “A whore can really endear a man to his lord.”
“Especially when they’re mercenaries by trade,” Harry added. “Better to get them addicted to women they’ll never love than to let them take wives, have families, and leave the Legion.”
I forgot how dastardly the business is. There’s always a rhyme and reason to decisions pertaining to money.
“Speaking of the Legion, what are you doing for work?” he asked her.
“Are you about to offer me a job?” Andy laughed.
“You’re an educated, noble woman. You have a basic intelligence most mercenaries don’t, no matter how much they try to kill for one. Plus,” and he said this as he leaned forward and whispered, “it would really save my bacon to bring you to my father. He’d love the chance to hang recruiting you over the head of Starshield.”
“You’re not off put by the idea of a woman in your army?” Andy asked him.
“Are you?” he asked back. “Feed anyone right and they can swing a sword, I figure. Don’t need to the strongest swing to kill someone.”
“And if I don’t like swinging swords?” Andy asked.
Harry arched his brow, his goatee accenting the dimples of his smile. “Andelyn, if you want to be a nurse, more power to you… but we both know you like swinging swords.”
Andy’s smirk turned to a frown. “I was trying to worm my way between a woman’s thighs not an hour ago, not a gigolo’s.”
“What…? No! That’s not what I meant!”
“Andy?” Quintus said her name. After the hypothesizing, bickering, and consensus, he noticed that Andy wasn’t paying a lick of attention.
Really, she chose now to do this? Astrid complained to herself, as another’s chuckling sounded off in her head.
As Quintus moved towards, Astrid moved faster. The benefits of being smaller is a quieter footstep, one that allows you to surprise big, tall bears when you appear in front of them.
Astrid took Andy’s arm drew her closer to slap her.
Andy eyes fluttered as if she was coming out of a dream. “Ow!”
“I think the shrooms we did hit you a second time,” Astrid told her, as she nodded her head towards the table, reminding Andy of where she was.
Andy was doe-eyed as she looked around the table now looking at her. All she could do was look towards the ground and appear as disappointed in herself as she possibly could. Ironically, that was the best response she could have given.
“I’m going to go lie down,” she mumbled.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea, bud,” Astrid said as she clapped Andy’s shoulder, helping her out of the tent.
“Is no one going to point out that the shrooms on this island do not have second waves?” Malum pointed out.
“Do you want us to ask how you know that?” Quintus asked back.
Malum stayed quiet as he raised his finger, but upon better reflection, put his hand back down.
As Astrid got Andy out of the tent, she still heard Lucy comment something along the lines of, “Great, another freak joins Astrid’s insanity club.” Astrid didn’t listen closely to how Quintus scolded her.
Astrid helped Andy to a nearby rock and held her hand as Andy seemed to struggle with reality. The disciple of Lapis stayed quiet, waiting and watching to see if Andy would grow nauseous or ill of any kind.
This was different from both times. Was it an accident? Weren’t they accidents before?
“Andy, can you hear me, qin?”
Andy’s eyes threatened to glaze over as she struggled to nod her head. It was if she had an episode in her brain, slowly gaining the ability to move and control her muscles. Her chin shook as she opened her mouth, but it moved correctly as she spoke. “I’m here, I’m… here.”
“Where did you go this time?” Astrid asked. “It seems pretty different than before… you weren’t like this before?”
“This memory was mine,” Andy said, her jaw chattering like she was frozen cold, even though the weather was warmer than usual. “Before, they were someone else’s, but this was my memory.”
A new wrinkle, an interesting wrinkle. She’s just relived something in a way no one should. It wasn’t a new memory, it was redoing one. Sounds like something that would really muck and fuck with someone’s brain.
“I wanna lie down,” Andy said in this low hush, clutching Astrid’s hand.
Astrid clicked her tongue and told her, “You got it,” and put Andy’s arm around her. Before Andy knew it, Astrid had hoisted her onto her back. She was basically giving her a piggyback ride.
“This is embarrassing…” Andy bemoaned.
“Oh, don’t be such a rub,” Astrid told her.
“You mean rube.”
“What the fuck’s a rube?”
Astrid sighed a breath of relief as she managed to get Andy away before someone had decided to walk out of the tent and help them. Who knows what insane thing I’ll have to say to cover for this girl? They won’t buy it for long, especially Malum and Quintus. They know that Andy ain’t my kind of crazy, no one on this island is. Not even the other disciples come close.
‘Would it be so bad to let them know the truth?’ said the voice that, earlier, laughed in her head. Having sensed her annoyance like a wind blowing through her brain, the voice gave her a mental shrug, ‘I’m just saying it would be easier than covering for her.’
They already think I’m nuts, Astrid told the other voice in her head, it’d be better in the long run if the other prophet was not branded as insane.
‘In all fairness to them, you do laugh maniacally when you kill people.’
Astrid snorted out loud at the comment. Some people turned and looked at her as she seemed to mouthing words to herself while she carried Andy about the growing village.
I do that because I’m crazy, not insane. Insanity is a legal term you know. Lapis admitted to her, ‘I have no idea what you mean, and I’m a god.’