|Publisher:||Double Dragon Publishing|
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Samantha Redman looked out the coach window at the castle gates trimmed in swaths of black cloth. Atop the gatehouse, the white flag, embossed with an oak tree, flew above a pair of black banners that hung at half mast. Somber-faced guards in green enameled armor stepped out to block the coach's path as the others watched from above.
"Names?" a burly guard asked as he stuck his head in a window on the other side.
Sitting beside Samantha, her father answered. "I'm Eric Redman. This is my daughter, Samantha."
Out of habit, Samantha looked away from the guard. The only safe way to meet people was to avoid their gaze until they got used to her. Staring out at the castle wall, she sensed his thoughts - again, out of habit. There was a hint of curiosity in his shock as he eyed her. His thoughts blasted out, "What in the abyss is she? "
Despite the care she had taken to wear bright colors and put up her brunette hair into fluffy curls, the man was looking at the only things she didn't want him to.
The wings and the horns.
She could see herself in his mind. He didn't even notice her frilly white blouse and purple skirt, but the pair of leathern wings spread out on the seat behind her. His gaze shifted between them and the stubby horns that curved back on her forehead. He was oblivious to her meticulous hairstyle that took most of the morning to fix up. It made her want to weep.
The guard cleared his throat and saluted Eric. "We've been expecting you, Mr. Redman." Stepping back from the coach, he waved to the men on the wall. "You are cleared to pass." he told the driver as he backed away.
The coachstarted up. Eric knitted his thick red eyebrows as they passed through the gates. "Not very decent, was he? Staring at you like that."
"That's all right, Dad. He has never seen me before," she sighed. It was just one of those things she had gotten used to. When other girls met boys they were smiled at and fussed over. When her sister entered a room men stumbled over each other to get closer to her. Upon her entry they stumbled over each other in an attempt to maintain a safe distance.
Shifting his glare to her, he shook his head. "No excuse. I'll talk to Odif about him."
Eric's pain for her shone in his eyes. She had accepted how people reacted to her, but he refused to. In his mind, everyone was supposed to ignore her oddities as he did.
"They'll get use to seeing me," she assured him. She offered a brief smile that was returned. For some reason, comforting his anxiety in times like this made people's reactions to her bearable.
Returning her gaze out the window, she noted two men by a hay wagon taking a break from unloading it. Both young men looked as she passed. For a brief instant, their faces lit up with pleasant smiles. Half a heartbeat later, both cheery looks dropped into gapes of disbelief. The coach passed close enough that she heard one of them blurt out his surprise.
"Did you see that?"
Not: Did you see her? But: Did you see that? She sank back into the bench and raised a hand to hide her forehead. Was there anyone in the world who could see past her looks? At times, she wanted to saw those damn horns right off her head.
Fingering the indentation at the base of one horn, she remembered a few years ago when she tried to do just that. She made two strokes; then came the blood and pain that put sparks in her eyes. Even after Eric had gotten her to a healer, her head throbbed for days.
The most she could do was to cast an illusion to make her oddities hard to see, and that didn't work if someone came too close.
Her thoughts were broken by Eric letting out a chuckle. "I don't believe it; Odif is wearing a dress!"
The coach stopped at the doors of the main building. Odif was coming down the steps, wearing a long black gown that accentuated her athletic figure. With her auburn hair made up in a complex weave, she looked like a noble woman. Her face brightened into a smile as the footman helped them out.
She greeted Eric with a hug. "Hi, Dad. I'm glad you could make it."
"We couldn't stay away at a time like this," he replied sadly.
When she hugged Samantha, Samantha hugged her back hard enough to take her breath. Odif was more than her sister; she was her best friend in the world. "I've missed you, what can we do?"
"You're doing it. Come on, Jeni is waiting for you." Getting between them, Odif grabbed Samantha's hand and Eric's arm to lead them in.
"Do you know what happened?" Eric asked as they climbed the stairs.
Odif gave a sad nod. "Heart attack. Valerie found them in the morning. She thought they were sleeping, but when she tried to wake them..." She let her words fall off with a shrug.
"Both Zodiac and Kimmy -- at the same time?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Isn't that a little suspicious?"
"Very. I searched for a reason, believe me. The only thing I could come up with was that he died first, and once Kimmy saw he was gone, she let herself die. Slavonics can do that, you know."
Samantha nodded slowly. There were many Slavonics at home; the green-skinned people were very loyal and prone to becoming upset. She remembered that Lord Zodiac had two Slavonic women. Touching Odif's arm, she asked, "How is Valerie taking it?"
"Not well," she said sadly. "We're keeping her busy, or trying to. Scorpio spends half his day making sure she knows she is still needed. We're afraid she might lay down and die."
Ahead of them, the murmur of many conversations came from the dinning room. They turned into the hallway that skirted the dinning room to Samantha's relief. Although none of the visiting nobles would dare show a negative reaction to her in Odif's presence, avoiding the possibility made her breathe easier. Like Eric, Odif had no reservations about busting heads on her behalf.
A man in a dark blue robe rounded the far corner and came towards them. A frown crossed his etched face, then recognition. "Samantha, Eric! It's good to see you."
Eric hesitated. "Hello."
Samantha grinned at his forgetfulness. She and Eric had fought beside the wizard, but he couldn't remember the man's name.
"Hello, Jo-Jo," she said, emphasizing his name for Eric.
Jo-Jo shook Eric's hand with a vigorous pump. "We are going to have a meeting after the funeral. We would like you, Jeni and Samantha to join us."
Eric glanced at Samantha. "I'm not part of your company."
"There will be company business discussed, but there is something else we would like to talk to you about," Odif told him.
"We'll be there," Eric assured her.
"Wonderful. Good to see you again," Jo-Jo said with a smile, and went on his way.
Eric nodded goodbye to the wizard, then asked Odif, "What is it about?"
Odif waved her hand as it were nothing important. "We'll discuss it after the funeral. Come on, Jeni's waiting for you."
They met other members of the Company on the way to their rooms. The elf, Zithelanarius, wore his brown and green forest-shaded clothes and had a lyre slung across his back. No one could say his name properly, so most called him Zith . Zith greeted them, but did keep his distance from Eric. The elf had laughed at him once, and Eric hadn't forgotten why. At the time, Eric and Odif had not known their relationship to each other. Odif, being a Druid, and not a woman of very tight morals, had done what she called a 'renewal ritual' with Eric. This involved having sex. When Zith found out, he laughed so hard he couldn't hold himself up. Eric, who had been stunned and deeply embarrassed by the news, went for the hysterical elf. It had taken four people to keep Eric from killing him.
Zith was with the winged man, Shilo, one of the ones who had helped keep Zith alive during his mirth. Unlike Samantha's short leathery wings, Shilo had a full set of brown feathered wings. His angular face almost always bore a mischievous grin. Samantha had forgotten what race he was, but knew there were very few of his kind left.
Showing a fascination of Samantha's wings, Shilo touched the singe spur at the joint of one wing. "These are something. Can I escort you down to the viewing?" he asked too cheerfully.
Surprised by his request, Samantha looked over at Eric, who was frowning at Shilo. His surface thoughts said that this was a strange time to be asking for a date. His mind also churned with the fact that because of her heritage, men didn't show any interest in her.
Eric finally shrugged. "It's up to you."
"Aww, come on," Shilo coaxed, "You're the only other one with wings around here. I won't feel so out of place."
She stared at him. Shilo's ego was so large, he wouldn't feel out of place buck naked on a crowded street. He was masking something from her behind his anxiousness, using his outward demeanor to hide his intent. Not knowing what he wanted made her nervous. If it wasn't for the fact that he was close to Odif, and that anyone Odif trusted did indeed deserve trust, she would have refused.
"All right," she said cautiously.
"Great!" Shilo beamed. "I'll wait for you." He then leaned back against the wall and folded his arms over his chest.
Their rooms were just ahead. She went to the doorway, then looked back to see if Shilo was waiting for her. He was.
"Daddy!" came a child's happy cry. Erica ran out, her strawberry blonde hair flying behind her. Eric scooped her up and she wrapped her thin arms around his neck. Once she had given him her biggest five year old hug, she turned her grinning face to Samantha and reached out with one arm.
"Sammy!" Erica cried again as she stretched out.
Samantha gave her a one-armed hug and kissed her. "Hi, Sweetie."
"How was your trip?" Jeni asked as they went in.
Eric's wife was a slim elf with long blonde hair. Her friendly, warm manner even extended to Samantha after the horn-sawing incident. It had taken Samantha's bleeding and howling in pain for her to realize that there was a person of feeling under those horns.
Samantha hugged her with a: "Fine." She then took Erica as Jeni greeted Eric. The little girl swung into her arms like a monkey.
When Eric and Jeni hugged, Jeni half disappeared. She only came up to Eric's neck, and his arms engulfed the blonde-headed elf so only some hair and one pointed ear showed from between Eric's large arms. Eric craned his head down, and Jeni stood on tiptoes to make their kiss.
Samantha felt the first twinges of passion from them as their kiss went on. Jeni had been busy with their coach line for the last week, and she knew the only thoughts on their minds. A pain formed in her heart that she had no one to share these feelings with, and might never have.
Turning her head, Samantha looked for something to keep Erica's attention. A new rag doll lay on the floor by one of the stuffed chairs. "Hey Sweetie, is she yours?" she asked, indicating the doll.
"That's Stephie; want to play with her?"
The instant Samantha put Erica down, she ran for the doll. Snatching it off the floor, she cradled her doll in her arms. "Mommy says we can make clothes for her."
Samantha traced the red yarn hair, then fingered the tiny blue sewn-on dress. "I'm sure we can. She'll need a coat for the winter. Maybe a pair of mittens, too," she mussed. Beside her, she felt Eric and Jeni walk by. They knew they didn't need ask her to watch Erica, just as she unfortunately knew what was on their minds. She didn't know if either of them realized how easily she sensed their innermost feelings, and took pains to keep such an embarrassment from revealing itself.
"Hey Erica!" Odif said excitedly as she squatted down beside her. "We have this big room that is filled with toys. Wanna go see!" she exclaimed wide-eyed.
Erica mimicked her open faced smile. "Sure!'
Hoisting the child, Odif told Samantha, "I'll take her down to the nursery and let her get acquainted with the other kids."
Samantha gave a brief nod, thinking she'd be free to escape the growing sensations from her father's room. She then sensed Shilo waiting for her.
"Hey Sis, what's wrong?"
"Do you know why Shilo wants to talk to me?"
"You nervous?" Odif asked with a smirk. "Don't worry; he's just a big kid. You'll be safe as long as you don't let him 'take you for a fly,' as he puts it."
"Agreed." She had let Shilo fly her somewhere once before. The man could out-maneuver an insect, and in doing so, left his passenger's stomach still going the other way. "I'm not afraid of him, just curious."
"Well, everyone is a bit strained right now. Whatever it is, I am sure he will explain."
Glancing out the doorway, she asked, "Is he going to wait out there until I come out?"
She sighed in resignation. "Dad, Jeni? I'm going with Shilo now."
Eric peeked his head out of his room. "All right, we'll see you in the chapel...or back here." He didn't look happy she was going, but held back his opinion.
Shilo was leaning against a wall, looking very bored as Samantha came out. Upon seeing her, he straightened up on his feet and hooked an arm for her to take. "Let's walk." he said cheerfully.
She slipped her hand into his arm cautiously. He seemed to be in too good of a mood for the current situation. As they started walking, she scanned his mind. Under his grinning face and cavalier attitude, his thoughts were many, and guarded. He made small talk, asking her about the trip, then wondered if Eric still wanted to kill Zith. It wasn't until he had towed her into a tower staircase and shut the door, did he begin to really talk to her.
His face turned serious. "Is anyone else in here?"
If she hadn't sensed his mood shift, the sudden seriousness would have taken her by surprise. She searched the length of the tower for a presence. "We are alone."
He paused for a few seconds to collect his thoughts, then said, "Good. Read my mind."
"All right." She didn't have to try hard, his mind was open to her now. What she saw made her mouth hang open.
Shilo's memory of Elrad was of King Glenarin's death. The elf lord was lying in state with a crowd of weeping elves around his body. The elf wizard Shilo had talked to said they found the King and his new Queen lying peacefully in their bed --dead as a door nail, Shilo's thoughts added. On his trip to southern Elrad, Shilo found the Admiral of Elrad's small fleet had died of a heart attack in the middle of the night, not a week prior to the King's death. Beside the Admiral, on his visit to Capetown, Shilo discovered that the General-Assistant to Capetown's army was also dead; again by heart attack in his sleep. Although the man was not the head of the army, it was perceived by all that he was the primary tactician. Capetown's small fleet of warships had gone out on exercises a few weeks ago. From what he knew, they had yet to return.
Shilo finished his thoughts by showing her a map in his head. On the white map that displayed a 'N ' for north at the top, Elrad sat far to the left, with Castle Zodiac on the right. A black line started from the bottom where Capetown was, and moved to the shore of southern Elrad, then up to Elrad City, to draw itself to Castle Zodiac. Each incident appeared unrelated, and by itself, there was no cause for suspecting foul play. Combined, they showed the path of a very clever assassin. Just a couple deaths of key people, then the assassin would move on. Since the deaths occurred in separate places that did not always pass information, no one had linked them together.
"And now Lord Zodiac and Kimmy," she breathed.
Shilo nodded grimly. "Not out loud, not yet." He motioned to his head.
She quickly picked up his thoughts. The assassin only killed two key people, then moved on. Kimmy was key only to the castle, so the assassin would be looking for another key figure in Longforest. Someone of importance who would be quick to react to a crisis.
"Odif!" she exclaimed.
She turned to go warn her sister, but Shilo grabbed her arm. "No," he said quietly, "Think about when it happens. Make sure you're near her tonight, but until then, I have a job for you."
He tapped his forehead again. She read his plans from his mind.
Copyright © 2004 K. Allen Cross
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Will be here. Signed RFace360
Sneaks in and silently cuts them free.
Tied to a branch, he passes out. Sarita is tied to a branch/bench so she cant help him. Ganondorf slides out to the forest.