Sins of the Past
Snap. Snap. Snap. They always came in threes, always stung thrice over, their weight and snap exponential with each crack on Olivier’s back. He grunted, but did not falter, did not bend under the copper rod, focused on the window. More to the point, on the sky above the gawking children. It was still streaked with morning’s caress, oranges bleeding into the blue, with only the smallest tufts of clouds lazing across it. The air, itself, still had its coolness, its crisp bite, laced with the scent of fresh bread being cooked at the bakery.
Another round of snaps came. Again, he refused to wince, to give any of them the satisfaction, but that didn’t stop the red, the black, from creeping into his vision. Their giggles seemed amplified with each crack, starting to ring wet as blood ran down his back, pattering on the table and ground.
Lady Naomei paused again, kissing his cheek, and waited, waited for the stinging to dull a touch, for it to stop throbbing as hard as it did before continuing, giving three final strokes. She set the rod aside and clacked over to the sink. It hissed a moment, and she returned, patting his back with a soft, wet towel. She tended to it with such care, as she had done so not a moment before with the harsh metal yet shown the same kind of finesse, the same passion.
She rolled his dingy brown tunic down for him, and waited, watching as he slowly righted and stood from the table. Her hands were creased together, her lips set in a firm line, matching the three lines on her forehead that matched her furrowed brow, and her eyes were filled with such sorrow, yet Olivier knew better. He knew it was because she couldn’t continue. He knew it was because she couldn’t make him even more of a laughingstock.
“Are you going to steal from Mister Baeland again?” She said.
“No, ma’am,” he grumbled. Though he wanted it to sound sincere, there was nothing but bitterness and resentment in his voice, reflected in his eyes.
Lady Naomei sighed, and picked up her rod, rolling it in between her fingers.
“I do not know why you are showing such a rebellious streak now, Oli-dear, but you cannot afford to be so spiteful. You are already looked down upon by the Disciples, and I can only do so much for you.” She stepped to the side, and gestured to the bread basket by the sink. “Go on. Pick it up. We’re going to Mister Baeland and you are going to apologize.”
He didn’t move. He refused to move.
She cocked her head.
“Olivier? You heard me, yes?” He nodded. “Then pick it up.” He mumbled something, furrowing her brow again. “What was that? I couldn’t quite hear you.”
“I wasn’t in the wrong,” he repeated, almost growling it. “We needed bread. We didn’t have any, and he was about to toss it out! He was going to feed it to the birds!”
She sighed. “Olivier... It’s not a matter of right or wrong. The fact is you still stole it... Did you even ask? Llorwyn is a good person.”
“And I’m not?”
“Olivier, that is not what I-”
“Oh. Right! Because you don’t even consider me a person, do you? I’m nothing but a freak!”
“Olivier. You’re yelling.”
“What does it matter? They were watching. They all heard! I’m a freak; let’s give them a s-”
Olivier’s head jerked to the left. A long, jagged cut slowly opened, allowing blood to flow down it, lost to Lady Naomei’s crimson robes as she stepped forward and eased an arm around him. She shushed him, cradled his head, the freshly wet rod tapping gently on his shell.
“You are my child,” she said, softly, her voice almost hoarse.
“I’m my mother’s child,” he said. “And she’s not here.”
“But I am. As I always have.” She let him go, and he looked up at her. Tears streaked her face, while she rubbed his, as if trying to wipe away what never will be. “I’m trying, Olivier, but you need to grow a thick skin. The life you lead will not be an easy one, especially under the Disciples, but I know you have it in you. The Fates blessed us with you for a reason, after all.”
“They gave you a monster!”
She shook her head and wheeled him around, raising his tunic as she bent him over the table again. His hands, his suckers dug into the wood, boring more into their grooves as the air once more rung with the snaps, carried by the giggles outside.
“You must show restraint.” She grunted out, sighing as she ended her current set. “Do you have any idea how much scrutiny we are under, are always under? You cannot give them the luxury of seeing you angered. Disobedient” She started the next round, the room booming with its thunder, and she sobbed as she leaned over him, hugging him tight. “The world sees you as a freak, an abomination, a monster. Don’t let it make you into one.”
She did not weep, not there, not in front of everyone, and, instead, turned around and readied the towel again. But she did not pat his back this time. She simply laid it on it, then her heels padded away, this time out the back door, leaving him there for all to see.
Yet he paid them only the smallest of minds. No; instead, he was watching outside, listening to see if the crowd would scamper away, waiting for the front door to open and for sluggish, uneven feet to come lumbering in. He listened for listless mumbling, smelled for the pungent aroma that was his only light in the world.
But it didn’t come. Those steps, that smell, and who they belonged to, would never return.
Hours slipped by until even Lady Naomei could no longer be patient. She gathered up the bread, gave Olivier one last kiss on the cheek before returning to the Dome, and left him, all alone, in the dark. He trudged over to the bed, and curled up on it. He held his stomach, growling at him, and he simply hit it, stilling its complaints.
What good was it, anyways? Would it change anything? He would still be alone no matter how much it or he cried and begged otherwise, so it would do best to shut up and simply leave him be. He would feed it, but only when it deserved it, only when it had suffered enough and then some, and only then enough to satisfy the worst of the pain it could muster. What did it know about pain? At least it had the others in there, all different shapes, sizes, colors, all accepting each other no matter what, but what did he have?
He hugged himself tighter, and rolled over towards the wall, towards that empty part of the bed, letting sleep take him. He knew all too well, though, that it wouldn’t keep him, that he would have to wake up at some point, and he wondered if it was truly worth it to sleep at all, then. However, his lids didn’t give him much a choice, and the rest of his senses dulled too, stirring again and again from the pain in his middle, fading in time, as well.
Happy birthday, he thought. One last, drawn out thought, before sleep completely took him.
And he woke, back in the Dimmed Natorei.
Olivier did not know when he passed out, but, given the empty plates on the tiny table beside the bed, he had to imagine he at least ate first. Or did he dream of the feast? Upon thinking of that, though, what good mood he had from seeing the silver plates turned sour.
It couldn’t have been a dream... At least, not one of mine. He picked at some leftover potatoes on the left plate. They were firm yet supple, melting on the tongue, both sweet and savory. He washed down the coarse skin with a bit of ale from the mug beside, and almost gagged. It had warmed overnight, but, even then, it perked him up a touch.
After all, this wasn’t a dream.
He was in a tavern, in a faraway land, away from his father, from being his freak show, and away from Terra and all those that had spurned and ostracized him. Most importantly, though, he was someplace where people found him interesting. Not freakish, not a spectacle to watch, but a curiosity. They didn’t want to know what he was, nor watch how he did things, but wanted to know why he was here, so far away from home, and how he did it. Though he didn’t look forward to the second part of that questioning; he was still pondering if he should tell them about Gwen or not, after all.
Which Avin knew about.
Last night finally caught up, Avin’s words playing through his mind once more. How much did he truly know? How long did he watch Olivier; how far did he follow? He stated, on multiple occasion, that he was only out there for a few hours, but surely he and Gwen were under the ground and in the caves for far longer than that. What about the walk to the lake? The encounter with the Leocarn?
He reached for the ale again, and washed down those questions, gulping hard on them, not really certain if he should let them sink or allow them to come spraying out... For now, he’ll gulp it down, and hope, pray it doesn’t need to come up with the talk with Strix.
He took another potato, and almost dropped it as he heard a key turn in the door to his room. Holding the fork in his right hand. He caught it in his left as he stuffed his right arm into his tunic once more. His heart raced, yellow filling his vision... but settled, seeing it was simply the Cao’thugar, Himself, at the door. He simply gave Avin a bored look and allowed his arm out again as he shut it behind, taking another potato.
“Morning!” Avin sung, whizzing over. He landed on the plate, and took a potato as well, that chunk almost bigger than his entirety. He rose from the plate and buzzed over to Olivier’s shoulder, sitting on it, slurping, munching on the spud. “Got to hand it to Lobo. He knows how to cook. Still good even after sitting a whole night.”
“What do you want?” Olivier grumbled.
“Is that any way to talk to your friend? Your brother-in-arms? Your compatriot? Your buddy ole pal of yours-”
“Just get on with it. I had a rough night.”
“You’re telling me. The village could hear your moans.”
Olivier dropped his potato. “What do you mean?”
“Hmm? You don’t know? You talk in your sleep. Or, at least, you do when you’re having a nightmare-”
“It wasn’t a nightmare. It was... a memory. A better one.”
He took another swig from his pint, and tried to sit it back down. It was snatched out of his hand by the Natorei, though, keeping it afloat as he dived inside. The dark gray tankard glowed pink, dimmed a moment as he heard him wretch, and the Natorei set it down on the plate as he gave Olivier a hard look.
“How can you drink that?” He exclaimed.
“It’s not that bad.”
“’It’s not that bad’. The ale had rotted and that’s all you can say? Man, Cephamorian stomachs must be made of steel.” He sighed, and finished his potato, patting his belly. “Anyways, best get that arm tucked in. Mayor Strix sent me to gather you. She’s ready to hear your story.”
“That makes two of us.”
“Four of us, actually, but, with luck, we don’t have to deal with Fili.”
Olivier hummed, and savored one last potato before he pushed the small table aside, slipping on his boots underneath. His sword was at the end of the bed, slung over his left shoulder this time. He fastened it as best he could against his right hand before smoothing out his tunic. His sash was harder to do, but got it mostly on his own, the final tug done by Avin, and the pair made for the door.
Where Fili rammed into Olivier’s chest.
She squeaked as she rolled away, tumbled over herself in the air, and growled as she righted. She gave Olivier such a scornful look, quickly replaced with a frown, seeing that he was more than ready. With Avin on his shoulder, no less. That seemed to hurt her more than anything; she huffed, pouting, and turned away.
“Well, I see I was not needed whatsoever,” she grumbled, and shot a dirty look over her shoulder. “Maybe if you were quicker, Avin, I wouldn’t have needed to be sent. Or if you were quicker in getting dressed, Scolio-”
“That’s not even close to my name,” Olivier blurted.
“It’s at least closer than Blucher,” Avin said, and a door thundered open further down the hall, almost at the end of it, just one door shy. The long-faced Faun looked out, his hooves clomping nervously, nickering until he saw the trio. He gave them a hard look, and pointed at them as he slowly closed the door, finishing with a resounding click... Fili shook her head, and tugged on Olivier’s arm.
“Come on!” She said. “We can’t keep the mayor waiting.”
“Sure we can! We’re doing so right now,” Avin said, and chortled as Fili gave him a bored look, the gift that keeps on giving. He waved his hand at her, dismissing her, and she growled as she spun and lead the way down and out of the tavern. A single table was occupied this morning. Three of the Faun were passed out while two continued their game of cards. The prize pool in the middle had grown a good bit since Olivier had been whisked through the first time, seeming to teeter back and forth in the daylight, making those gold, silver, and bronze coins glisten. The majority was bronze; gold surrounded the edges while silver did its best to keep the two in balance. That is, until the maned individual roared and tossed the table out the window, in chase after the three.
Avin whistled, fists heard landing as high shrieks followed after the roars and growls. “Man, Feo hates losing.”
“Don’t know what he expected, though,” Fili grumbled. “Christy never loses.”
“That’s because she cheats.”
“She doesn’t cheat! She’s just good.”
“Yeah. Good enough to swap cards in and out of the deck without being seen. She’s a full-blown cheata.”
“Cheater. If you are going to insult someone, don’t sound like a slack-jawed buffoon.”
“What’s your problem this morning?”
She scoffed, and, though Olivier only knew him for a day and some change, he really wished Avin would learn when not to poke the bear. She spun on him, which, in turn, meant she, also, turned on Olivier, and burned almost as bright as a star.
“M-my problem?!” She shrieked. “My ‘problem’ is that I thought you left the other day, but came back with something arguably worse –no offense meant, Ollie.”
“All the offense meant, Olivier.” Avin said, and Olivier simply hoped he could hear his mind. Shut up shut up SHUT UP- “She can’t even get your name right.”
“It’s something that we will simply have to work on together. Isn’t that right, Lilo?”
“Why does it matter? He’s going to be gone after today.”
“What? Why!” Fili flung herself at Olivier’s face. Tears wavered in her eyes, and her hands were clasped together before her. “Why would you leave me so soon? I thought we had something.”
“Uh-” Olivier uttered, and she smacked his cheek.
“No! Don’t say anything. It will only make it that much harder for when we part.”
“Excuse you?” Avin said. “What do you mean when ‘we’ part?”
“Well, I’m not going to abandon him. Not while our love is so young. It needs to be nourished, and what better way than an adventure. Isn’t that right, Jeremiah?”
Olivier... was at a loss for words... and thoughts, for that matter. One thought that did creep in, though, as Avin and Fili continued to bicker and fight on his shoulders was how long would it take for them to notice him walk back up the path and jump off at the top. Would they take a hint before they hit the ground, or would it pay off? As they continued to screamed at each other through the canyon that was his mind, he shook his head and focused on why he was here: Strix. He thought he could guess the way well enough. The largest tree off to the left, right? Glowing with silver light? Watching... seeming to stab him as they trudged to it? Solid hints.
Some of the lean-to’s along the way had been folded out, and wares were being placed on them by their Faun keepers. Natorei buzzed around them, helping set them before they buzzed off to the right, to an opening in the canyon Olivier hadn’t noticed the night before. There, along the road, he could see carts, slowly making their way towards the city, spurred on by the lights that flowed to them, enticing them ever closer to that oasis of commerce.
Olivier reached the first path, the first bridge that ascended higher into the trees. The boards creaked softly under his feet, the rope biting against his hand yet letting it simply slide along. It was a touch frayed, but still held so strong, keeping one, two, three, up to seven paths erect along this one set. It raveled around the trees, rising ever slowly in its spiral, splitting, diverging to others as it went, but Olivier kept his course, lest that silver burn him where he stood.
The yelling ceased as he approached that great sycamore top, and Avin and Fili both flew off his shoulders, seeming to dim a touch as the silver only grew, the branches and ivy pushed away as Olivier entered. Four bookshelves lined the wall across, packed almost to full with heavy, leather tomes, each one at least three times the size of their owner. To the left was a sofa, its rough fabric having seen better days, arms, backing all lightly shredded, but welcoming in its wear. Flanking it were a pair of chairs, having met a similar fate, all gathered around a small table, while to the right, before the silver light, was a long, thick desk. It was made of a darker wood than anything that could be found here in Narvaal or even the entire region, the craftsmanship on the legs, on the polished top made it even that much more foreign. Golden, winged beasts seem to shimmer and fly across the wood, from all corners, heading for the golden castle in the center, surrounded by weaves of green, blue, and red gems, sprawling down to the legs. Three chairs were pressed underneath it, two on the left, one on the right, right under the silver light.
The chair creaked as she floated down to it and pulled it out a touch, sitting on the curved top of the back.
“Please,” she said, and Olivier just saw her arm outside of the light, gesturing to the chairs across. He pulled out the one closest, and was surprised to find how heavy it truly was. The gold leaflets that sprawled down its back were not only for show, it seems, but the cushion sewn onto the seat and back were far more comfortable than the bed he had slept on. Strix sighed, turned into a growl until Fili and Avin sat on the chair beside him. “Thank you. Now, let us not waste any more time.”
“I swear, it wasn’t my fault, mother,” Fili said, glowering at Avin. “This one took forever to wake up Molei.”
“And yet you waste my time now...” She sighed, and waved her hand once more to Olivier. “Why don’t you tell me how you got here, Cephamorian?”
For once, Olivier was more than happy to hear that title, but was caught aback.
“Y... you sure you don’t want to hear why, first?” He said.
“Of course, but it’s far more interesting to know how. You are a long ways away from any port, after all, and I doubt that, with your physique, you are very inclined to swim. Terrahn bodies just aren’t made for water.”
“True, but... I... I don’t really know.”
The light flashed a touch brighter.
“What do you mean? Surely your memory isn’t as bad as an Itchyoman. How did you get to the lake, to the mountain?”
“Like I said, I don’t really know. Or, rather, I don’t remember.”
She hummed. “Amnesia, then? No wonder everyone is having trouble with your name, if you cannot even remember it, yourself.”
“I-it’s not that! It’s... There was a cave. In the mountainside, I mean. I remember going in there, and something... bad happening. Something unbelievably, terribly... bad, but that’s all I remember.”
“Is that so... Avin!”
“Recount your story again.” Avin did, telling her about the golden glider that had sailed across the land and water, about the Terrahn in black leathers, and about how Olivier and her had disappeared into the mountainside, only for him to return alone. As he was telling it, Olivier had started to shrug into himself, his cheeks burning hot, eyes swirling with yellow, wanting nothing more than to run. While he still had a chance. Gone, as the silver light seemed to bear down upon him. Avin finished his story, the heat behind that gaze sweltering, making him wish he could at least sweat. “Now, correct me if I am wrong, Cephamorian, but it sounds like your memory is rather dodgy if you cannot remember that. Are you certain you don’t have amnesia? Or maybe selective memory... Tell me, Avin. Did the Terrahn ever come out of the cave?”
“Not that I saw, no,” he said.
“Then the question becomes what happened to her, Cephamorian? What did you do to her?”
“I did do thing,” Olivier exclaimed, voice shaking as much as him. It was truly a miracle that the sentence came out as coherent as it did. However, the next few weren’t as fortunate, little more than an indistinct jumble of excuses and denial that only made the silver grow brighter. He gulped, hard, and wanted nothing more than to return to the dream this morning. At least, there, it wasn’t a threat of death. Pain? Yes. Misery? Very much so. Isolation? A boon, compared to the sheer fury boring into him from that gaze. “I mean, I really didn’t. The... the chest in the cave-”
“Chest?” Strix said.
“Treasure?” Avin exclaimed.
“You killed her over a bit of treasure? You sicken me! I can’t believe I fell for someone like you!” Fili squeaked.
“I didn’t kill her,” Olivier said, saying it again, more for his sake. He inhaled, deep, and let it go, slow, taking with it the yellow in his eyes, stilling his shakes at last. “I. Did not. Kill her... The chest. The stone chest in the cave. When it opened... I had no idea what was going on, I swear. All I knew was I had to get away, stop it from taking me in, so I... so I...”
He had only realized how dark the room had gotten.
The silver light that had filled it for so long had dimmed for him to see Strix’s face, to see her arm and the outline of her slender frame, tall for a Natorei. He could finally see her wings, too. They were black and blue, but were a perfect match to her daughter’s otherwise, which her blue and even Avin’s pink had dimmed a good bit.
Avin was the first to burn bright again, and cleared his throat.
“Does that mean I can finally tell her about your arm?” He said.
Strix flashed, looking down at Olivier’s left.
“What do you mean? It looks fine.”
“No no no. I mean his other arm.”
Olivier didn’t wait for her to question, grimacing as he pulled that purple limb free of his tunic. Fili shrieked, and shot against the bookshelf, clinging to it as he let it rest on his lap. Strix seemed to pulse, her eyes burning. glaring at the arm, and Olivier wished now more than ever that he could wake up back in his old bed, with Lady Naomei prodding him, wanting him to stir to eat the breakfast she made before leading him into the Dome for another morning of seminary teaching. It became more a need as she fluttered across the table and picked it up, roving up and down it and to the suckers underneath, making them tingle with the warmth of her light.
“This... is rather peculiar,” she mumbled, mulling as she rose up to the shoulder, tracing the red lines that pulsed through it. “And you say this was caused from your contact with this supposed stone chest in this hypothetical cave of yours?”
“There was a stone chest, and there was a cave,” Olivier said.
“Now so certain of that, when before you were stating you didn’t know.”
“I did not. I said something bad happened. I... I just didn’t want to relive that.”
Strix hummed, and fluttered up to his cheek, caressing it.
“I know how you feel. It’s hard to face up to those moments where you were truly out of your element, and had no control at all of the outcome.” She flashed as she spun around. “Avin. You are to join him back to that cave.”
“All right!” Avin said while at the same time Oliver exclaimed, “What?” Olivier shook his head, almost bowling her over as his shell whipped around. “I don’t want to go back! Not now. I... I still don’t know what it is, or what it had done to me.”
“Well, I need to make sure your account is accurate. Reliable... Trustworthy,” Strix said. “I could send Avin alone, but there’s still the chance you and your Terrahn friend are conning us. Not saying that you are, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.”
“Of course, that’s not stopping him from betraying me while there, now is it?” Avin said, and chortled as he patted Olivier’s head. “I mean, look at him. He’s the poster child of devious cretin.”
“He poses a good point... Not for the whole poster child statement, but what if you do decide to betray us, regardless if this is a ploy or otherwise.” Silver light lanced out from the whole and pierced Olivier’s shoulder. He cried out as it twisted and mended into the flesh but only for a moment, cooling into a pulsing, silver disk. “If you do not return within a day, that will explode... I do not need to tell you what that means for you, do I? Now, go, and, when you return, if you are telling the truth, we shall discuss what should be done.”
“What do you mean?” Oliver said.
“That arm of yours is a mystery, is it not? You will pardon that us Natorei are naturally inquisitive, and that is the biggest mystery to come along since... well, you.”
“Wait!” Fili shrilled, and launched herself against Olivier’s face. “I’m going, too! I’m so sorry Olivier for doubting you. I should have known you were telling the truth. Will you forgive me, my love?” Olivier didn’t even have time to speak, nor would he want to. She finally got his name right. She wailed as her nails dug into one of his tendrils. “Please forgive me! I’m so sorry, my love. Don’t turn your back on me.”
“Wow... Can you be any more desperate?” Avin said, and landed on Olivier’s shoulder, kicking his heels against it. “Well, you heard the mayor. Adventure awaits!”
Fili continued to hang off his tendril as he left the office, though quieted down to small sniffles as he made his way down the bridges again, heading for the cavern and its stairs, the long road back to the cave starting way too soon.