Chapter 17 - Book of Fates



The Fates decided the knight will negotiate with the handmaiden.


Diplomacy! This is new territory for our hero, I must say. Then again, apart from swinging his oar, he hasn’t shown aptitude in too many disciplines as yet, so maybe he finds he has a silver tongue. Without further ado, let’s hear him talk himself out of this one. Or try to.



***

Surrender, Ren thinks, never.


He holds the oar pointed at his deadly opponent, frozen in place. The rage he felt earlier dissipates and mingles with fear. The elven girl has been there for him almost since he woke up. She’s part of most of his memories. Losing Dawn would mean losing the only connection he’s had to solid reality. Her safety comes first — he can’t risk a head-on attack with the handmaiden’s blade pressed to her throat.


The villagers have backed off, watching the stalemate from a safe distance, fishing spears, nets, and axes in hand, ready to defend themselves, but not without provocation. Good, that’s how they stay alive — unlike me, he realizes. There’s something in him that just keeps looking for trouble.


The handmaiden’s thin, sharp blade bites deeper into Dawn’s throat. Dawn quivers, her breath shaking with quiet sobs.


“If I surrendered,” Ren asks, stalling for time, “would you even know where to go from here? Do you have a plan?”


“Of course, I have a plan,” the handmaiden hisses. Ren senses hesitation in the metal voice though.


“March through a cursed jungle with two prisoners?” asks the knight, mockingly. “Grow wings, and fly home?”


“There’s a Ritain base on the coast of Ferax,” she snarls. “It will have a Windrunner airship, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.”


Ren feels a flicker of hope: so there is a way out of Ferax after all. He doesn’t know what this Windrunner airship is, but it sounds like the best piece of news he’s heard in all his memory.


“Ah,” says Ren. “And which way, exactly, is this base?”



“I’m not telling you.”


The Eternal Knight nods. “Because you don’t know,” he says. “You’re as lost as we are. Well, more lost. We have a map.”


When the handmaiden says nothing, he continues: “As it happens, we are trying to survive Ferax and return to Ritain. Our goals align, for now, and Ferax is no place to travel alone. Let the girl go and we’ll accompany you. Not as prisoners, but as companions.”


“You underestimate me, filth. I can handle anything Ferax has to throw at me.”


“I held my own against you with only one arm,” Ren points out, “but I couldn’t beat the monsters we faced with two.”


Again, she hesitates — then says: “And when we get to the ship?”


“We duel,” says the knight. “When we get to the ship, all bets are off and we continue where we left off today. We’ll just be that much closer to home.”


The handmaiden doesn’t move for a long moment. Her golden armor glints in the rising sun and the frayed edges of her red cloak flap in the ocean breeze.


“Fine,” she says, straightening up and lifting the sword off Dawn’s throat, letting her fall to her knees and scramble away from them both. “We will travel together, traitor. But if I see one wrong move from you, I will cut the girl down.”


Ren ignores her and approaches Dawn, kneels before her, sets the oar in the sand and takes her small, scarred hand into his gauntlet. “Dawn, I don’t know enough about my past to promise you I’m a good man, but I vowed to protect you and I always will. Besides,” he adds as Dawn lifts her tear-filled eyes, “what would an epic adventure be without a few tragic moments that turn out well in the end? Will you come with me?”


Dawn doesn’t smile, but she nods and gets up.


“Helia,” the knight turns to the fisherman. He’s been following the fight along with the rest of the village, and looks relieved now it appears to be over. “Dawn and I are leaving the village. You’ll be safe after we’re gone. Would you bring our bags from Elder Maquin’s infirmary and provide provisions for Dawn?”


Helia nods and calls for everyone to retreat inside the walls. Soon he reappears with Turcifa’s bags, filled with food for the road, Elder Maquin at his heels. She hugs Dawn and hands her a pouch. “There’s a jar of ointment inside,” she explains. “Use it for your scars once a day and they’ll heal faster. I also gave you a mask that will prevent you from breathing the cursed spores. Farewell.”


“Safe travels,” Helia says, glancing at the handmaiden waiting for them, motionless like a statue.


The handmaiden chooses a direction after looking at Dawn’s map collection and they set off, both parties keeping a wary distance.


When night comes, Ren stops. They had walked up to a narrow headland, windswept and devoid of vegetation. He climbs the rocky outcrop until he’s at the very tip. Before him stretches a strait, separating them from another piece of land, mirroring the shape of the cliff he stands on. Far off in the distance, over the strip of sea, Ren sees a dense jungle stretch as far as the eye can see.


He lights a fire and sets up camp. Dawn, exhausted, falls asleep next to him. Reluctantly, the handmaiden sits on the other side of the small fire, staring at the knight, hand pointedly on the hilt of her sword. Ren returns the glare and sits closer to the sleeping girl. They don’t speak for hours, keeping silent vigil under the stars.


Late in the night, Ren sees something move against the sky — a dark shape rises over the jungle canopy across the strait: massive, inhuman, and moving slowly.


He rises, shouldering his oar.



“Where are you going, traitor?” says the handmaiden, leaping up and half-drawing her sword. Silently, the knight points.


Trees around the shape crack and fall in its path. The shadow begins to glow with green speckles, then the luminescence fills the whole being, spreading down its long body, and illuminates the surrounding forest. It rears its neck back and as if on an exhale, millions of brilliant lights flow into the air in a luminous cloud. It rises and bends in the wind, scattering inland and eventually descending and disappearing under the canopy. The creature, black and shadowy once more, dives and disappears into the jungle.


The Eternal Knight and the handmaiden stand side by side, watching the display in awe.


“This place should be scourged — burnt to ash,” says the handmaiden.


Ren does not reply, going back to the fire to sit once more beside Dawn.


In the morning, they continue their subdued trek. The silence of the first day appears to have worn down Dawn’s reticence, and after the knight tells her about the luminous creature he saw the night before, she talks almost non-stop about everything from the creature to her favorite foods, stories about Cato and their poor odds of surviving Ferax.


“...I mean,” she prattles, frustrated. “Cato would have known what to do in the presence of an evil spirit dragon. She used to travel a lot with her army unit in her youth, so I’m sure she faced off with a spirit or two. I-“


She cuts off her sentence as they come around a rocky outcropping on the shore. Far down the beach is a strange scene. The jungle comes close to the shore here and near the trees is an overturned wheelbarrow, packaged food scattered around it. Three men, masked, daggers in hand, stand in a circle around a white-robed man, his clothes pristine next to the dirty rags hanging off their thin shoulders. Closer, another white-robed man is fleeing towards the knight and his companions, sobbing.


He falls to his knees before Ren, pleading: “Please, sir! Help us!” His hands grab at a bloodied robe. “They’re killing us!”


The Eternal Knight heads forward, readying his oar. “Stand down, traitor,” the handmaiden snarls. “This petty quarrel is beneath our concern!”


“You want to wrestle with me, witch?” asks the knight without looking back. “I’m not here to observe slaughter.”


The surrounded white-robed man is praying as the knight approaches: “Dear gods, let me live. Let me fulfill my mission. Oh, gods…”


The three men look at him with distaste, their backs to Ren, Dawn and the handmaiden.


***

It seems our hero has bought time to explore what Ferax has to offer. For now, that means settling fights. Whose side will the Eternal Knight take?


Option 1: The Eternal Knight rescues the praying man. There may be some killing involved.


Option 2: The Eternal Knight distracts the three scoundrels by talking to them. Anyway, they look like they’re in more need of help than their victims.


Option 3: The Eternal Knight knocks them all out and interrogates the men in white and the scoundrels. If there are opposing factions in this area, he wants to know all there is to know about them.


***

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Author's note:


Welcome to Silver & Kaya's author notes! This week we wanted to direct you to our blog, namely to the latest post in which we introduce Tower 6, a new story we're working on. It's a future dystopian world and the first short stories we've written about it are from the perspective of an enthusiastic Service and Support Bot called Tweebo. The blog post will point you to a downloadable teaser.


We started writing Tower 6 way before we had the idea for BoF. Like, years before. It took time, training, tears, and eventually even a few high fives before we figured out the format, the perspective, and the tone we wanted to use. But to be frank, the low points outweighed the highs.


By the time we had a couple of short stories written, the baggage accumulated over the years of flailing started to feel quite heavy. So when the idea to do BoF presented itself, we were ready to drop everything we were doing on T6 and jump ship.


T6 was gathering dust in our google drive for half a year before it started pinging Silver to come back to it. Intrigued, Silver answered its call. He read the work we'd done for it, stared at the wall as that's where the best ideas tend to hang, and wrote something that got me (Kaya here) nodding in cautious approval.


We've noticed we tend to do that -- drop a project when we hit a wall -- and then come back to it later with a fresher perspective. We've done it before and we'll do it again. It seems like an inextricable part of the process. Apologies in advance if that gets frustrating from the reader-perspective.


Does this change anything for BoF? No. The format of BoF gives us a few days a week during which the BoF chapter is in Hanna's, our editor's, hands and tied up during the polling days. That means we have enough time for admin work and freelancing, and when not doing either of those, we can work on new projects.


If you check out Tower 6, we'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Write us an email and we'll have a chat :)


Love,

- Kaya & Silver





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