Sunday, September 13, 2015

18: Many Happy Returns

Well, you’ve got to give me this, Will thought, staring down at his own still-warm corpse.  I know how to make an entrance.
Around him, the chaos was slowly subsiding.  The charge of the pikemen down the hillside had apparently scattered the enemy.  The bell in the distance had stopped ringing.  Ben and Jason were standing over his body, the former with an expression of immense sadness, the latter displaying slack-jawed shock.  It was actually kind of a weird sight.  With his eyes goggling and his mouth wide open, Jason’s face bore an uncanny resemblance to the hoodie that surrounded it.
Jason looked up at Ben.  “You think…you think he’s hurt bad, Ben?”
Ben couldn’t raise his eyes.  “I’m afraid he is, Jason.”
“But…how can you be sure?”
“For two reasons.  First, there’s six to eight inches of your harpoon sticking out of his back.  Second,” he added, with a weary gesture, “that would appear to be his heartlight.”
Jason goggled in shock.  “Oh, no!” he wailed.  “Oh, no!  No!  I didn’t mean to do it!  Wait!  Come back!”  But Will was drifting off again, back down the slope towards the Redoubt; for the first time in weeks, he actually wanted to be alone.  He arced in through the mouth of the cave, past the flickering torches and the newly depleted cairns and basin, and retreated down one of the narrow fissures extending from the main chamber, around the corner and into the darkness beyond.
Hovering in the dark, feeling sorry for himself, Will reflected on the past several weeks of effort.  If nothing else, he thought, I’m better at meditating now.  And I have a better idea of what I need to do to bring myself back.  I just need to remember what exact questions I asked myself.
Rosemary won’t be pleased, he thought.  But she’ll hide it well.  She’ll put on her Yoda routine and help me get back.  And when I’m back, I’ll have some insights that’ll help her as well. Maybe I can provide other souls like my own a swifter path.  And then, his mind still adrift: Wait a minute. Yoda?  How in the world, with no memories, would I have any idea who Yoda…
Resonance.  Flash.  Impact.  Will was freezing cold, naked, gasping on the cave floor.
Will couldn’t get his breath back, or his bearings.  All he knew was that he was cold, butt naked, and suffering.  All around him in the floor of the cave, there was a small, perfectly smooth depression which he could have sworn hadn’t been there before.
I…I’m back, he thought.  I was dead.  And now I’m not.  I’ve incarnated again.
Will managed to roll over onto his back, out of the hollow in the floor.  The depression wasn’t deep.  The material that had disappeared from the cave floor wasn’t too much, really.  A small quantity of rock.  Perhaps a little less than two hundred pounds’ worth?  Some part of his brain was demanding his attention, shouting at him that something about the situation was wrong, but his wits were addled and he hadn’t the spare energy to reflect on it.  It had been a very long day and he was very, very cold.  He needed to put on some clothes and to put something hot into himself.  Will dragged himself to his feet and had almost managed to make it back to the main chamber when a sizable parade of Havenites began pouring into the Redoubt through the main entrance.  Shivering and mumbling poorly-enunciated curses under his breath, Will hid his nakedness behind a small rock outcrop just beyond the confines of the larger enclosure.  The ringing in his ears was subsiding.  He could already hear snatches of conversation from within the main chamber.
“…in here, right?  I thought I saw it go in here.”
“No, no, move the wounded to town hall.  Doc’ll be waiting.  Only the dead in here.  Get that stretcher over there…”
“I didn’t know!  I swear!  All I saw was a guy coming for Ben with a spear!”
“Jesus.  Look at this one in the cloak.  He’s just a kid.”
“You sure about that?  I mean, he’s pretty hairy...”
There were a plethora of voices now, and the strange acoustics of the cave made it difficult to guess at the location of any one in particular.  Will had to actively focus to isolate any particular conversation, but at length he managed to tune in on a man and a woman.
“Sounds like the hillmen came in through the south perimeter.  Who was supposed to be patrolling down there?”
“Dunno.  From the sounds of it, we gave better than we got, though.  Fire went up quick.  Sounds like they pretty much cleaned out Ammerman’s store, though.  The merchandise, anyway.”
“You don’t say.  The hillmen to put a blade in Ammerman himself?”
“Damn shame.”
“I hear he’s hoppin’ mad, though.  Next town meeting oughtta be interesting.”
“You know, I don’t know that Ben’s going to be in much of a mood for Ammerman’s whining over lost merchandise.  We lost at least six good men and women on this end of town alone―and Ibrahim was on his third body.  Lost Yvette, too, if you can believe that, though she took about six of ‘em with her.  Pretty soon, there’ll be more lights in here than…than…something with lots of lights on it.  Like, a chandelier, maybe.  If we had chandeliers in Haven, I mean.”
“You sure got you a way with words, Red Dan.”
“C’mon, Aemelia, even a poet like me can’t get every metaphor right.  Anyway, Rosemary will be playing midwife for weeks, and it’s not like she hasn’t been busy enough with that sort of thing lately.  I’m guessing we won’t get them all back, either.  The hillmen are going to have a lot to answer for this time.”
Will was distracted by a more familiar voice―a woman’s voice, shaking with repressed emotion.  “Ben!  Ben, thank God, oh, thank God…”
“Hush, Rosemary.  I was in no danger.  Our young friend over there was…vigilant…in my defense.  He’s a bit shaken at the moment.”
“Oh, Ben.  Did he lose control?  Did he kill somebody?”
            “It was war, Rosemary.  He killed, at a rough estimate, everybody.  Including, ummm…unfortunately…”
 “―oh, Ben.  Oh, I heard.  Oh, no.  Is that…him?  He’s so young…
“I’m afraid so.  Not much doubt of it.  He’s wearing the cloak, after all.”
“He hadn’t made the slightest progress…when the bell went off…I would never in my wildest dreams…what happened?”
A third voice, a young man’s, crumbling around the edges.  Jason.  “He was coming up the hill…he had a spear…I thought…I mean, I didn’t think…”  Then a shuddering moan.
Ben, smoothing things over as best he could:  “Probably best not discussed at present.  You’ll want to take Emily home, we’ll need to…”
And then an even more familiar voice, one Will had been listening to every day.  One he’d been clutching onto like a lifeline.  “That’s not…no.  No, that…that…can’t be right.”
“Emily…child, I’m afraid there’s no doubt that―”
“I’M NOT A CHILD, BEN!”  Then, much more quietly:  “And…and that’s not…that’s not who I’ve been talking to.”  A long pause.  “It can’t be…all that time, listening…she told me…”  And then, even more quietly:  “He told me…”
A moment’s silence.  Then, Jason, on the edge of tears:  “Emily…I swear…I swear to God…he just came running up the hill with a―”
Her voice was acid:  “Shut up, Jason.  Just shut up.”  Retreating footsteps, echoing through the chamber.  Then, silence, except for Jason’s muffled sobs.  Teeth chattering, Will closed his eyes, curled up into a fetal ball to conserve body heat, and waited for the nightmare to end.
“Perhaps it would be better if only Jason and I concluded affairs here.  The rest of you…thank you, the community of Haven thanks you, for your brave service.  Go home to your families.  The rest of this dreadful affair will wait until morning.  ‘Early to bed and early to wake, makes…’ …something to that effect, I don’t know.  Go home to your families.  All of you.  Please.  Rosemary, please tend to Emily; I will be home soon, I promise.”  Then, muttering voices, fading into the distance.
Will’s toes and fingertips were blue, his teeth chattering.  Hypothermia, he thought.  I built a new body out of cold rocks in the back of a cave.  Their elemental makeup changed, but their temperature didn’t.  If I don’t get some clothes on within the next few minutes, I’m gonna have to go through this whole process for the third time in one day.  But I don’t want them to see…ah, damnit. Will struggled to his feet and staggered out, naked, into the main chamber.
Ben and Jason were the only ones left.  Jason was sitting on the floor, face buried in his hands, a ball of misery.  Ben had a grip on his shoulder and was trying to console him.
“I was his sponsor.  And I killed him!  The first time I saw him, I killed him!”
“Now, there, boy, no reasonable person could blame you.  You only sought to defend me against our enemies…it was dark and there was much confusion…”
Will cleared his throat.  “Uh…I don’t mean to int-t-terrupt, but can I have that c-c-cloak thingy b-b-back?”
Ben and Jason looked up simultaneously.  Will cupped his hands over his nether regions and offered up what he hoped was a charming smile.  In return, Ben and Jason offered him stares of blank amazement.
“N-n-no, seriously, I really need that r-r-robe.  Like, r-r-right now.  Please.”
Nobody moved.
And after a few seconds, nobody continued to move.
“Now here,” Ben whispered, “is a thing that is not ever supposed to happen.”

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