Not What You Think contMature

Hatchet shared a look with Olian and Anara. Anara looked somewhat surprised, much like Hatchet imagined he looked. But Olian... the mage had a calculating look in his eye. It put him in mind of an owl that had spotted a mouse. Returning his attention to the door, he motioned for the girl to come inside. "You're Daine, aren't you?" he asked. "You saw what happened last night?"

"Yes, that's me," she replied.

"Come inside," Olian told her, motioning for her to take a seat on one of the many disused chairs.

"Close the door," Hatchet added. Once she was sitting he walked over and leaned against the door's frame, ready to guard against unwanted intrusion.

"There were two Watchmen here earlier, Daine" Anara began, sitting across the table from the girl. "Why didn't you tell them anything?"

"They didn't know," Daine told her.

"Know what?" Olian demanded, walking in a slow circle until he was behind Daine. Hatchet frowned at him.

"About Noman," Daine answered, looking back over her shoulder at Olian, who made a visible attempt at releasing some of the tension that had inexplicably knotted his shoulders. "The priests at the temple said he was a demon, and I heard you saying the same thing. But he's really not."

"Noman?" If Olian had been an owl before he was a hawk now. "It has a name?" He took a step forward, and though he was by no means an imposing figure under normal circumstances he still managed to tower almost menacingly over Daine.

"Olian," Anara warned, glaring at the mage. He glared back at her, then blinked.

"Um," he muttered, seeming to realize what he was doing. "Ah. Sorry." Olian rubbed the back of his neck and looked distracted. Hatchet found himself watching the mage more than Daine as Olian resumed his slow circle around the table, eyes occasionally jumping to some random point around the room before locking again on Daine.

"Noman," Anara picked up the questioning. "Is that who did this?"

"Yes," Daine said. "But he didn't do it on purpose," she hastened to add. "He was protecting me from the shadows." Hatchet felt a chill go down his spine. "He got angry, and... I don't know, they got upset too. Only they didn't... listen..." she trailed off as it became clear she'd said something that had shaken both Hatchet and Anara.

"Shadows?" Hatchet repeated, and looked at Anara to confirm that she was thinking the same thing. "With green eyes?"

"Yes," Daine said, sounding uncertain. Not about what she'd seen, but about saying anything at all.

"Daine," Hatchet said, "you should start from the beginning. Tell us who Noman is, where he came from, what he's been doing. Tell us all about these shadows. Everything you know. Leave nothing out."

***********

Most of the early morning was a blur to Noman. After leaving The Barrel he just kept going, wandering the streets at random, suspicious eyes watching for any shadows that might come alive. But it got hard to concentrate, and gradually he would find that he'd gone entire blocks without realizing it. One moment the sky was still gray with early morning light. A blink of an eye and he was standing on Hobb Hill watching the sun climb above a waking city.

He slowly rubbed at his face, feeling drained and vaguely annoyed. The feeling was a mere shadow of the fury he'd felt at the Barrel. Thinking back on it he found himself awed at the power he'd unleashed. It was all of his pent up anger and frustration, his fear and helplessness, all released in a single instant. The Shadows had been swept away before it, brushed aside like cobwebs. Ah... the Shadows. Puppets that belonged to the same master as he. Would she send others to take their places? Would she be angry at their demise, he wondered? Would she punish...?

Noman smiled a gallows grin. Would she punish him? He hoped she would. Yes, let her punish him. Let her show him that he had, at last, done something that had been out of her control. It made the thought of waiting until nightfall bearable, having something to look forward to. But what to do until then? He sat at the base of a tree, resting his head against it and watching the sun move inexorably on. Maybe, if he closed his eyes...

A city was burning before him. He could feel the heat of it on his skin, drawing sweat from every inch of skin. He held the stone in one hand, a sword in the other. He started in surprise and looked around in confusion. A feeling of familiarity started to sink in. "Wait... I know this place," he said. "Why do I know this place?" An armed man stood beside him, once vibrant robes hanging in tatters over battered armor. In his hand was a sword, it's blade etched with runes. "And you. I know you," Noman said, eyes narrowing. "But from where?" He looked back at the burning city. "What is this?"

The man payed no attention, pointing towards the city with his sword as if Noman hadn't spoken and saying, "Look, there." Noman followed his direction and saw a wave of slithering flesh headed their way.

He opened his eyes, sucking in air as if he'd been holding his breath. "What in the hells?" He growled, pressing his hands against either side of his head as if he meant to squeeze the visions from his mind. With a heavy sigh he squinted up at the sun again. "Why?" he asked it. He half expected to get an answer. It would have confirmed his suspicions of insanity. But the bright yellow orb gave no answer. He thought about sitting there all day, doing nothing but watching as the sun made it's inexorable transit from one horizon to the next.

But a restlessness gnawed at him. It urged him to do something, anything. He stood and paced from his tree to another, and back again, and again. Once he thought he smelled the burning city from his hallucination. When he stopped and looked out over Marsten, he saw it was no remnant of delusion. It was the factories in and around the city coming to life, sending plumes of black smoke skyward towards the pure, unsuspecting wisps of cloud high overhead. "Why?" He asked aloud, though it was an altogether different one from the one he'd asked the sun. "Why turn to this, when there's magic?"

The thought prompted his hand to find the stone, buried deep in one pocket. The stone's many facets caught the morning light as he pulled it from his coat, gathering the golden rays and playfully flinging them around in a random kaleidoscope of colors. It was an altogether different thing in daylight, he noted, and was surprised by how little it weighed given it's size. Holding it up at eye level he saw that it wasn't quite opaque - the outlines of the trees beyond could still be seen through it. And there, in deep in the center, was a flicker of green light that stayed constant no matter how he moved or shaded the stone. He fixated on that small green glimmer and recalled the events at the Barrel, Daine's look of terror as the Shadows closed in on her.

With a grunt of disgust he shoved the thing back in his pocket. This wouldn't do. He could very well stay on Hobb Hill until nightfall if he wanted, but he would spend the entire day thinking. And thinking was just about the last thing he wanted to do. With another long look at Marsten he started down the hill. He didn't know where he was going, and didn't particularly care, so long as he found something that would occupy his time and his thoughts until the sun sank below the earth once more.

 

The End

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