Appendix A: Chapter 8

[Editor's note: Chapter 8 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland looked at Anna. She kept her head lowered, but her eyes kept glancing up at him, as though trying to judge his reaction.

“What do you mean, exactly?” he asked. “You’re saying you… can read minds?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Well, sort of. It’s not quite what you’re probably thinking, I mean.”

“What I’m probably thinking? You can’t tell?”

“Not from here, no. It really doesn’t even work at all without some kind of physical contact. So, it’s not like I’ve been reading your thoughts behind your back or anything like that.”

Roland tried to remember if Anna had touched him before. “But during the fire, when I was pulling you behind me, you did it then, right?”

“Oh, no!” she said defensively, shaking her head. “It’s not automatic like that. It takes effort. It’s just like… um… like you couldn’t accidentally duel someone just because you were both holding a sword, right? And back there I was kind of concentrating on not dying.”

“Hmmm.” Roland wasn’t sure how much of this to believe. She seemed sincere enough, but Roland had also learned by now she was pretty good at deception too. “But even if that’s so, if you wanted to, you could read my mind, right?”

“Well,” she began, “it’s like this: tell me what you’re thinking right now.”

“You don’t seem very good at this.”

“I’m serious.”

“OK,” Roland sighed, “I think you’re leading me on right now.”

Anna considered this. “Fair enough. But that’s not what I’d bet you’re really thinking.”

“Oh really?”

“No, it’s just what you think you’re thinking. You’re definitely thinking about the very act of thinking about something. And you’re probably also thinking about what you think of me in general. And about how much this conversation is going to delay our arrival at Derinham. And about whether you’re hungry right now, or thirsty, or tired. And further down, at some level, you’re thinking about balancing on your feet, and blinking, and breathing, and and and.”

Roland had never thought about thinking about things at that level of detail.

“You’re not aware of any of it,” Anna continued, “but it’s all in there, somewhere. I think we learn to tune it out most of the time, like how you can control your breath, but if you stop thinking about it explicitly you still keep doing it anyway. At least, that’s how I think it works. Anyway, the point is, when I see into someone’s mind, I see all of that, all tangled up. It’s a mess. It’s like a room full of people talking, and you’re trying to listen to what one of them is saying.”

“So, you can’t really read minds at all?”

“I can, but the trick is to make sure one or two of the voices starts shouting over everyone else, or to shut the other ones up for a little bit. In my act, I try to get the person to focus on one thing, then distract their baser instincts by my, um, outfit. Between those two things, I can usually tune out the latter, which lets me read the former.”

Roland could imagine how that sort of thing might work. Assuming she was telling the truth about it to begin with.

“So, why didn’t you tell me any of this before?”

Anna looked at him with disbelief. “You really can’t figure that out?”

Roland knew. As long as Roland had known, people with magical abilities were hardly welcome in the kingdom. He believed it was one of the legacies of the Demon War: it was said that the forces of darkness had legions of wizards or warlocks or whatever it was they really were. At any rate, people came to associate magical abilities with evil. The fact that the kingdom of Lantaria employed its own magicians during the Demon War, and supposedly continued to do so, probably contributed to how relations between it and Telerand had disintegrated after the fall of Helioth.

“You figured I might try to arrest you if I knew?”

Anna shrugged. “Maybe. I wasn’t sure how you might react. Probably just want to have nothing to do with me. And I didn’t think I’d get another chance to get help for Derek. I didn’t want to risk losing that.” Anna looked Roland in the eye. “But believe me, it really wasn’t my intention to deceive you like this. I’m sorry.”

“We should get going. We still have a lot of ground to cover.”

Anna smiled and nodded. “Thanks.”

They resumed following the road to Derinham in silence, side by side. After half an hour or so had passed, curiosity got the better of Roland, and he asked, “So how did you come by your…” magic? talent? witchcraft? “ability?”

“I’ve always had it, I guess,” she answered. “Or at least, as long as I can remember. It took a lot of practice before I figured out how to do anything useful with it.”

“Your parents didn’t teach you how to use it?” he asked, hoping asking about her old family life wasn’t going to touch a nerve.

Anna shook her head. “They didn’t have it. Probably wouldn’t have even known about it if I didn’t tell them about it. Abilities or ‘magic’ wasn’t unheard of back home, but it seemed pretty random what they could do, if anything. And even then, it was rarely much of anything. About the only think you could count on was that having some kind of ability tended to run in families, mostly.”

“And your brother?”

Anna’s pace slowed. “You could say Derek was unlucky. Always was.”

“How do you mean?”

Anna didn’t reply.

Roland tried another direction. “Do you think that might have had anything to do with why he got taken?”

“Maybe,” she said thoughtfully. “Sometimes I lay awake at night and worry that’s the case.”

“Well, whatever happened, he’s lucky to have someone like you trying to help.”

“You don’t…” she started, then gave a resigned sigh. “Nevermind. Let’s just get moving.”

“What don’t I–?”

“Forget it. Forget I said anything.” Her tone of voice made it clear she considered the conversation to be over.

Roland had no idea what he had said that was apparently so objectionable, but figured it best not to press the issue any further.

—-

After another several hours passed in silence, Roland and Anna reached Derinham.

“Well, we’re here,” he observed. He looked at Anna.

“That we are,” she agreed.

“So what are you going to do now?”

“Gather information. See what I can find out. Somebody here might have heard something, or seen something.”

“And then?”

Anna looked ahead with determination towards the town. “Then I’ll do what has to be done.”

“Castle Helioth?”

“Probably.”

Roland shook his head. “Whatever you decide, you should get some rest. Do you need anything for tonight.”

This time Anna shook her head and patted her pack. “I’ve got enough from last night to cover me for now. Don’t worry about me.”

“OK then. You know where I’ll be.”

Anna nodded. “Thanks again for everything.” Then she turned and headed into town.

Roland headed into a town in a different direction, looking for the local shrine. Back in the heart of the kingdom, they could usually be found near the center of the village, large enough to easily stand out from most of the surrounding buildings. They were the center around which the village grew, both figuratively and literally.

But out here, on the fringes of the kingdom, the shrines were built as an afterthought, arriving only after Telerand had assumed control. As a result, they could be found near the outskirts of towns. If they happened to be where new growth was occuring, it wasn’t because they were driving it, but rather because that’s where the new buildings were being built, and the shrine got added like everything else.

Sure enough, as Roland circumnavigated Derinham, he eventually found his target, nearly indistinguishable from its neighbors except for the usual signage out front. Roland stepped inside, and found it to be largely the same as the previous one, except for being a little smaller and a little less run-down. Roland found neither of these things surprising, since it probably was newer, and modern shrines tended to all be designed around the same basic pattern, yielding only to the constraints of the building in question.

Roland paid his respects at the front, then looked around for the entrace to the back rooms. He found it on the wall to the right of the altar. Roland walked up to it and knocked.

A few moments later, a squat bearded man opened the door. He looked Roland up and down disapprovingly. “You’re late,” he said, stepping aside to let Roland pass.

“Yes,” Roland said, a bit taken aback by the reception. “I apologize for that. It’s a bit of a long story.”

The man shrugged. “Whatever. Doesn’t matter much to me. I’m sure you’ve done this a dozen times by now, so I’ll cut to the chase. Amory’s there, your room’s there, latrine’s there. The door’s unlocked, so don’t be thinking you have to have me let you in all the time. Just let me know when you’ll be leaving.”

Roland stared at him in disbelief. “You’re the acolyte?”

“Guilty as charged. Last guy left, and someone had to do it. Not a bad gig all in all. Easy work, reliable pay, and far enough away from headquarters that you don’t have to worry about someone breathing down your neck all the time so long as you don’t screw things up too bad.”

“I see,” Roland said, unimpressed.

“Don’t get me wrong, now. It’s not like I have anything against the Order or nothing. I’m just, you know, not all about it.”

Roland looked at the acolyte. If this was all they could find to run the shrine, he didn’t hold out much hope for recruiting paladins. But thinking about long odds reminded him of something. “I do have one question, if you don’t mind.”

“Yeah?” the acolyte replied, not even bothering to feign interest.

“Have you heard anything about anyone being at Castle Helioth?”

“Probably just looters. Figure they can find some long lost treasure or something. As though the place hasn’t been looted hundreds of times since the war.”

“But has there been anyone there recently?”

The acolyte shrugged. “Beats me. You hear sometimes about how someone was up around there and saw lights moving around or something. Wouldn’t surprise me if they were just spooked about the old stories from the war, or just making it up.”

“I see. If you can think of anything else, that would be appreciated. But that will be all for now.”

“Works for me,” the acolyte replied, and scurried off around a corner.

Roland checked the guest room and found its conditions tolerable enough to not warrant looking elsewhere. He dropped his pack on the floor and laid down on the bed.

He wasn’t sure what was going to happen to him in Derinham, but he was sure he wasn’t looking forward to it.

Chapter word count: 1,856 (according to wc)
Total word count: 14,826 / 50,000 (29.652% complete)

Comments are closed.