- November 13, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 34)
“Not enough men hug each other. Get over yourselves.”
Henry Lockley, the Bard of the Song, 438 A.C.A.
“Your sword can’t be that interesting to look at.”
Malum ignored Andy as he inspected his sword. With it, he could defeat Foster Lao with but a strike. With his fists and skill alone… he’s not so sure.
It’d be too close to tell, and with the future of an entire nation hanging the balance, it can’t come down the fucking wire.
And Foster will surely agree, as he fights for that boy.
Malum looked to Andy as she hid in his room away from the Zhuhous. Being the lone woman in a room of old men would be gross. Being the lone foreign woman in a room of old men would be grosser. Now lets consider being the lone foreign woman in a room of old men while you’re trying to drink until the sun sets.
Suddenly, the foreign woman has the perfect excuse to bother her friend.
Sometimes I wonder how much she cares. She cares about the Black Legion, but… what about everything else? What about Raydorn and Susanna? How could she want to get drunk when she’s placed the fate of millions at my feet?
“You’re making the Zhuhous nervous,” she said, interrupting his train of thought as she sipped on liquor and stared at a book. “You’re just sitting here, not training, or strategizing.”
Malum shook his head as he proceeded to run his finger along the flat side of his blade. “They think I’m overconfident.”
“They think you’re terrified,” she said with this half smile that showed off her pearly whites. When Malum stared, she pointed out, “You did already admit you don’t know if you can win.”
“Hmph, I also said I would cheat.”
“Yeah, they don’t all know about that part…” she reminded him as she kept sipping on her bottle and stared at her book.
“What’s it about?”
“What?” Andy asked back.
“The book you’re reading.”
Andy’s eyes stared back at the page she’s had in front of her since she walked in.
As she closed the book, she admitted, “I don’t have a fucking clue.” Instead of wasting time finding something to do while drinking, she dedicated herself to drinking and let talking be the side activity.
“So how are you gonna do it?”
Still running his fingers along his blade, Malum asked back, “Do what?”
“Sneak Siwang in? Won’t people recognize the blade and the power?”
“Hmm… yes… I want to avoid that.”
“That’s a hard task ahead of you. Usually, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its probably a duck.”
“And you’re drinking…”
Andy rolled her eyes.
Malum’s eyes drifted down the blade. His mind raced as he tried to figure out what the solution was to his problem. He repeated Andy’s phrase in his head, Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck… is a duck.
Then his eyes settled on the grip of the sword.
What if it didn’t look like a duck?
Malum didn’t look up as he asked Andy, “You know those moments where someone is called a genius for inspiring a great idea?”
Andy smirked, shrugged her shoulders, and pursed her lips, as if knowing what’s coming. “Yes?”
Malum turned his head, looked her dead in the eye, and told her, “I’m not going to give you credit so don’t expect that to happen.”
She rolled her eyes before sticking her tongue out at him. “Okay then, dickface, are you at least going to tell me what you’re thinking?”
Malum showed her Siwang, “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a fucking duck. I need Siwang to quack, but I don’t need it look like it quacks.”
Andy couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay then, how can you do that?”
To most people, it would have been weird hearing Malum laugh under the mask. Andy just arched her brow and smirked.
“Believe it or not, it’s much easier than you’d think.”
“Find whom holds your soul.”
Jack woke with a start, as he did most mornings. He was haunted by the voice of a woman, whose commands only grew greater and greater.
Despite the cold climate of the Isles, he was drenched in sweat, droplets dripping from his hair and down his chest. Another cold bath for me. He was taking dips into the water every day, sometimes twice, Mermaids be damned.
It was as good a time as any to get up. With the extra hours from the early morning, he had time to jump into the water. That was the plan as he dressed himself, but he began to hear the sounds of a familiar voice outside of his tent.
He peered through the flap of his tent to see Quintus talking with the blacksmith, stretching out his hands to show how long something is. Quintus couldn’t quite make out the words.
Guess I gotta put a shirt on now.
Jack was out of his tent and being pulled by the wind. His beard had begun to itch as the wind carried the salt of sea across the Isles. I hate scruff… need to shave somehow. He noticed Quintus, and how the man was always as clean shaven as can be. What the fuck does he shave with?
“Hey, Quint!” Jack called to him, and gained back a look of surprised, followed by a nice look of the man’s pearly whites.
“Ah! You are up already, perfect, I thought we could have breakfast,” Quintus said as he offered him something wrapped in dry seaweed.
Jack was quick to unwrap it and find eggs on bread. The ex-stormguard’s mouth watered as he moaned, “Uuuhhh, I could kiss you.”
Quintus could only blush as Jack dug in. The Black Legion tried to avoid eating the islanders best food, so the islanders worked to make more. Finally, there were things like quality bread and eggs to share.
Jack savored the mixture of the dry bread and scrambled egg so much he nearly missed the blacksmith walking away.
He pointed at him as he tried to swallow faster. “Qui… Quint, what- *cough* what were you talking to Jace for?”
“Slow down, don’t need to talk and eat,” Quintus assured him as he turned to the blacksmith and back to Jack. “I’ve had this feeling since Malum and Andy left… a foreboding feeling… I don’t like it, but I-I feel…” he clenched his fist before his face as he tried to find the words, but his arm ended up falling to his side. “I fear I will need steel, and I fear being caught without it.”
“If there’s one thing we have a surplus of, it’s steel swords,” Jack told him, before gorging on the last bits of his breakfast.
“We all have the weapons we prefer, why settle when I can swing with what I’m good at?”
Fair enough, Jack thought as he shrugged.
“Alright, next question, what are you doing here, offering me a sandwich?”
Quintus’s smile shined just as bright, but his eyes dipped into something somber. “Let’s walk, and then talk, the beach is a much nicer place to talk, and sound of the waves breaking against the sands calms me.”
That made Quintus smirked. “If that calmed you, then we wouldn’t be talking about you as much as we do.”
“Oh, that instills confidence,” Jack snorted, but still he followed Quintus down to the beach.
As they walked, he could have sworn he heard a scuffle behind them. As he did, he missed Quintus picking up a rock.
“I thought you wanted to speak alone?” Jack asked Quintus as he turned back to the man.
Jack saw him just as he was reeling back his arm.
“I did,” Quintus said as he threw the rock with a perfect curve.
When it hit its mark, there was an audible, “Duh!” right before Astrid fell down a couple rocks.
When she hit the bottom, she yelled, “I’m okay!”
“Go home, Astrid!” Quintus yelled at her.
“You hit me in the head with a rock! I’m gonna need a minute…”
“I doubt she’ll hear us with her headache,” Jack said.
Quintus nodded and led them to the water, so it just barely reach their bare feet.
“So…” Jack said, shrugging at Quintus, “I don’t know what this is…”
“Go with your gut, or your heart, say the first thing screaming to come out,” Quintus told him, garnering a sardonic smirk from Jack.
“I… I don’t know…”
“What?” Quintus asked as the men turned to face each other. “What do you mean? What do you feel?”
Jack’s chin dipped below his collarbone as he looked up at Quintus in shock. “You… you want to know h-how I feel?”
Quintus’s expression remained unmoving, with wide eyes that urged Jack on.
“Why would I tell you?” Jack asked.
“Because I will tell no one else. You walk with this insurmountable weight on your shoulders, and letting someone hear even the worst of your words will let them take on some weight.”
“Who said it is your weight to bear?”
Jack looked Quintus up and down. To say someone is a bear of a man usually meant they lacked imagination to describe someone large. Quintus was the rare exception, containing the qualities that made the animal terrifying and attractive. He had all the strength and ferocity that allowed the monstrous masculine to tear a man limb from limb, and he had the calm the look that made the beast appear so adorable.
To be most accurate, he was like a bear raised in captivity. He was one who wouldn’t mind his handlers embrace.
By comparison, Jack was more like a skunk as of late. Though, his smell wasn’t being weaponized, at least not by choice.
“Okay, I’ll tell you,” Jack said with a shrug, “what else am I gonna feel? I feel empty, for one, I don’t know, I don’t know what this means, but it sounds right. How do you describe what it’s like when someone who-who made you feel complete for the first time in your life, ups and points his fucking sword at you? How do you describe that emptying feeling, Quint?
“Does this interest you? Are getting off on my misery?”
“Sure, of course, let it out,” Quintus urged him on.
“Let it out, you don’t want me to let it out,” Jack said, as words rushed from his stomach to his mouth, filled with anger, and his tone striking with vitriol, “there’s not a world where letting out everything I feel looks good. I feel lied to, constantly.” Jack’s crazed hands gesture over his head, “My mind keeps telling me I was fool, and my heart tells me to keep looking for him, as if the goddess of Light herself is begging me to.”
Quintus arched his brow. “Almulan is talking to you?”
“It’s subconscious,” Jack waved it off.
“If it were subconscious you wouldn’t notice but- that’s… that’s not what’s important.” Quintus took a risk and rested his hands on Jack’s shoulders, even as the smaller man’s hands went to his wrists. He could bat Quintus’s embrace away, but his forearms stopped against Quintus’s touch.
Quintus did not hesitate any longer to tell him,“Your heart and your mind are at odds, they must be brought back together.”
Jack’s chuckle was little different from a scoff. “How do I do that when they don’t agree?”
“You’ve never come together with someone you don’t agree with?”
Jack’s hands slowly turned to hold onto Quintus’s as Quintus’s hands held close but softly to him. “When people don’t agree with me, it’s usually at the end of sword, because I’m the enemy soldier, or… an enemy to their sensibilities, I guess. In both instances I have to fight to survive, so now, I can’t recall coming together with someone I disagree with. If someone strongly disagrees with him… me… right now… its with my existence… my existence with him… who has now driven the wedge between my heart and mind.”
“Then this will be a first.”
Quintus pulled Jack in and gave the shorter man a warm hug where his arm wrapped around Jack’s back, and his other held the shorter man’s head to his chest.
Why did he have to be such a good hugger? How can he be so soft to hold and so hard to punch?
“My heart keeps asking me to chase him, but my mind can’t rationalize what good that would be, other than to quiet my heart.”
“Maybe that’s good enough,” Quintus said as he stroked Jack’s hair.
Jack chuckled. “Are you offering to help?”
That made Quintus snort. “Hah, what I’m offering you is the hope that we may one day have the chance to find out, try letting your heart rest on that.”
Quintus laid out a promise that promised nothing, but rarely are promises like these not called upon.
“That… that feels like a trick…”
Quintus held him a little tighter. “I mean it when I say it, so it is not a trick. I believe we will find out, and unlike most people here, including you, when have you found me to lie to you?”
This son of bitch. I wish he lied to me more.
Jack slowly pushed himself away from Quintus, crossing his arms and looking away from him. “Fine… fine… I’ll try…”
He could hear Quintus chuckling, and struggling to contain his laugh.
“This is for you, Jack, this is to help you.” “I’m… I’m well aware.”