Monday, April 10, 2017

Convenire Aliquem

     He hadn’t had a destination in mind when he’d left the Templus de Ambros for the Gryphon’s Gardens. After 10 minutes of wandering aimlessly, he’d realized that the Mercury’s Elite Guardsman would always be nearby. Upon sighting the disheveled hedgerow that marked the border of the groundskeeper’s home, he sped up. The last time that Praeceptor Archeleus Imler stood inside Patrick Field’s house he was stuck in griffin form, struck by the horror of death, and fucked by circumstances outside his control. As he rounded the hedge, a wave of memory slapped him in the face. Bowing into it, he closed his eyes and blindly forced himself onward. After three or four steps, the mental hurricane died out. Opening his eyes, Archel focused on the sidewalk and slowly made his way to the door. Weak, he silently spat at the hollow sound of his knock. He tried again, but with a little extra weight thrown in. Not much better. He shrugged off the urge to continue beating on the door and opted for shifting from foot to foot while he waited.
     “Stop there!” the guard yelled.
     Archel spun around and immediately saw that the guard was turned toward the side of the house. Taking a few steps into the yard he saw the very confused, frozen gardener holding a shovel in one hand and a beer in the other. Archel shouted, “hey Mr. Field.” Without warning the Merc, the boy ran over to Patrick whose eyes were practically bulging. “Where are you going with that, Mr. Field?” Archel asked.
     “How many times do I have to tell you: call me Patrick?” The exchange was an old game and Patrick had answered habitually. No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he ground his teeth. Bowing his head, he said, “apologies, my liege, you may of course call me by any name you deem fit.”
     “Not you too,” Archel groaned softly as he shook his head. “Don’t look down. Look at me,” precisely as the words left his mouth the memory of Kaiser Rudolpho saying the same thing struck him. The lonely circle, Archel nearly cried. “Patrick.”
     “Are you busy?”
     Quickly glancing between his beer bottle and shovel, Patrick chuckled, “not exactly.” Once he’d actually looked at Archel, he realized that the boy was in as sorry a state as he ever had been while suffering Adonis’ abuse. “I was headed to the back,” he said as he held up the shovel, “got a hole to dig. Thought I might get thirsty,” he chuckled again as he lifted up the beer. “Got a few more in the fridge, if you want one,” Patrick offered the Merc who grimly tilted his head but did not move. “Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug.
     “Can I go with you?”
     “Uh? In the backyard?”
     “Sure thing,” Patrick said with a forced smile. Just when I thought things were finally getting back to normal. “After you,” he motioned with the beer.

     The twins, Jocelyn and Gerick Motown, were laid out on the ground staring up at the cave ceiling and listening to the sunset dragon. Meanwhile, Willem Slaughter scratched his bearded chin and paced at their feet.
     “And, that my little Brash ones,” the sunset dragon concluded, “is why you’ve been chosen.”
     “But,” Willem exhaled, “it doesn’t make sense. Papa never mentioned...this,” he absently waved his hand. “He would have said something. Right?”
     “I cannot answer to the motives of your kin, save to say, I’m sure they didn’t expect to die before they inducted you into the Mysteries of the Ancients.”
     Leaning up on her elbows, Jocelyn asked, “do you think they were ‘secretly’ preparing us?” She looked down at her brother who was sprawled out next to her, and added, “remember ‘the hideaway’? Didn’t Mom say it went all the way back to the Before Times?”
     “Nah, that was Aunt Morrigan,” Gerick laughed, “she told crazy stories. Like she knew what happened way back then.”
     “Morrigan, my old friend,” the dragon softly bemoaned, “your loss hurts the world.”
     Tearing up, Jocelyn laid back down. She held her palms to her eyes and ground her teeth.
     Seeing his sister upset, Gerick did what he always did, he reached over, squeezed her shoulder, and took her hand. The loss hurt him deep in his heart, but he didn’t want to spill tears; instead, he longed to spill blood. I will find them… Every one of Jocelyn’s trembles sent him that much further into the resolve he would ultimately need to muscle through. “Were the stories true?” he asked.
     The dragon tilted its head, “I’m sure some were.”
     “Gramps used to tell me about the...uh...the...” he leaned close to the dragon, “the Portal.”
     “Portal?” the twins echoed.
     “What did he tell you?” the dragon asked.
     “That...uh...well, that the Messenger is the only one allowed to use it. And, that it goes places that Mercury’s Bracelet doesn’t,” he quickly added, “but he never said where.”
     “Hmm. Is that all?”
     “No,” Willem confessed. “But, it can’t be true.”
     “Pray tell,” the dragon insisted.
     “It can heal the Servants.”
     A deep, throaty cough-snort issued from the dragon.
     “What?” Willem asked.
     “Mere side-effects of the process.”
     Sitting up and dropping his sister’s hand, Gerick asked, “process?”
     If a dragon could smile, then the creepy, full-toothed grin that the sunset dragon gave the kids might have qualified. “The Portal System removes contaminates from the Messengers during transportation. Servants—and their children—who undergo a full scan may also be healed though they are not transported anywhere.”
     “Wait. What?” the twins asked.
     The dragon tipped its head to the right, narrowed its eyes, and then answered, “Motowns, my dear little Brash ones, know you nothing of who you are?”
     First the twins looked at each other, then they stared at Willem, and finally they turned their attention back to the dragon. No one spoke. Suddenly flying close to the twins, the dragon opened its mouth and breathed fire onto them.
     “No! Quit it!” Willem shouted as he ran toward the fire-breathing dragon. He slid to a stop when he heard Gerick giggling.
     “That tickles,” Jocelyn squeaked.
     The dragon turned its fire onto Willem, who back pedaled as quickly as he could, freezing in place just as the flames rushed over him, Willem shouted, “stop it!” Then, he started laugh-pleading, “will you stop it! That tickles.”
     When the dragon stopped, the three children stood in a line staring at it. Though each child’s face was plastered with a grin, the fronts of their shirts were soaked by their tears. The sunset dragon licked the children’s faces and one-by-one they snapped out of the daze.
     “Whoa...” Gerick muttered as he gazed at the ground and dug his toe into the dirt.
     “But, we can’t do that,” Jocelyn’s voice wavered, “you can’t mean it.”
     Willem sniffled, kicked at a rock, and grumbled, “figures.” He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and grunted. After a moment, he asked, “so, how many Portals are there?”

     The old woman, in the rocking chair, hadn’t been asleep on the porch when Locos and Machine approached. In fact, she’d called out to them before they’d gotten close enough to properly see her. Machine could honestly say that it was the first time he’d been held at gun point—much less shotgun point—by someone old enough to be his great grams. Once they’d approached and she’d gotten a feel for them, the old lady had lowered the weapon and invited them onto the porch for lemonade and muffins. Now that they were sitting in wicker chairs on the porch, they had an up-close view of the decorations. In Machine’s opinion, the most remarkable item was a giant turquoise dreamcatcher with chimes made of hollowed bones. Locos, on the other hand, was fascinated by the innumerable and quite random pieces of shiny metal that dangled on varied lengths of twine. Neither man was the least bit interested in the plethora of potted plants that shaded and covered the rest of the porch.
     “Where ya heading,” the nearly toothless old woman asked from her rocking chair.
     Glancing at Locos before answering, Machine said, “north, I guess.”
     “Folks don’t usually wind up here without a destination in mind,” she said.
     “Where is here?” Locos asked.
     “One Old Sea Road, Ocean, Poterit Don,” she answered with one eye squinted and her other eyebrow raised. “Ain’t ya seen the number when ya come up the steps?”
     “I guess,” Machine chuckled,“we were a bit distracted by your shotgun.”
     “Has a way of doing that to men,” she leaned in, “not used to seeing a woman defend her own property. Well, ‘I been here longer than the land so its mine to protect,’ as my grams used to say. Now, ya boys’re looking roughshod. I’ve got hot water and razors. Why don’t ya clean up for dinner? I ain’t figured on company, so nothing’s ready. But, I can whip something up while ya get the U.G. off ya.”
     “U.G.?” Machine asked.
     “The underground, boyo. Oh, don’t tell me y’all’re thick,” she shook her head. “First company I get—since the Darins disappeared a few weeks back—is thick as tar. Shame.”
     “I’m not thick,” Machine whined.
     “That remains to be seen.”
     “I’d love to get the U.G. off of me,” Locos stated.
     “At least one of ya got some sense. Go on. Down the hall. Last door on the right. Come into the kitchen when you’re done,” she said as she patted Locos’ forearm.
     “Uh. What’s your name, ma’am?” Locos asked.
     “My name?” Her nearly toothless grin sprouted and faded in a flash. “Ola Mae Thompson.” She stared expectantly at Locos. “But, my little ones call me, ‘Oma.’
     “What a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Ola Mae,” Locos said. “My name is Maxwell Locos and that fellow is Richard Machine.”
     “I can’t promise to remember,” she smiled, “so don’t be mad if I ask ya again.” She tapped her left temple, “I can remember forever ago without a problem, but damned if I know where I sat my coffee cup right after making it. You boys coffee drinkers?”
     “Yes ma’am, we are,” Locos said as he stood up. He circled around Machine and pulled open the screen door.
     “Just dig in the closet. Get a towel. Use yuh eyes, it’ll be quicker than waiting for me to show ya.”
     As the screen door shut behind him, Locos loudly agreed, “okay.”
     When they were alone, Ola Mae asked, “the muffins kick in yet?”
     “Huh?” Machine asked.
     “The muffins. They kick in yet? I been working on a special recipe,” she pointed to the plants, “Lemon Haze. Got my own tolerance up so damned high, I don’t never know. Just tell me when they kick in.”
     “What?!” Machine’s head twisted around, his half-glazed eyes bulged at her, and he again exclaimed, “what?!”
     Ola Mae’s laughter reached into the bathroom where Locos had stopped shifting through the closet to hold the door jamb. That’s odd, he thought, I haven’t felt like this since before I signed up. He grinned to himself as he recalled the last night he and his girl had flown so high they’d woken up naked on the plains. He grimaced at the memory of that sunburn, grabbed a towel off the shelf, and turned into the bathroom. The old lady had kept with the sea theme. He hadn’t realized there were quite so many shades of blue. For the first time in weeks, he got a look at himself in the full-length mirror on the back of the door. He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and whispered, “you have to get cleaned up. Don’t I know it.”

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