Cut Off

by Joe W

Golden curls dropped into the water, sending ripples coursing across the lake. A slow current caught the lock of hairs and they floated gently over into a patch of reeds where they stuck and gathered into a larger clump that was forming. Idly stirring the waters with his foot, Carlos gingerly located another handful of hair and cut it away. Gazing down into the clear waters he was pleased to see an older man looking back at him. Almost bald, his skin bearing an unhealthy grey tinge, the reflection looked nothing like Carlos de Mamushi. Moments later he was swearing loudly as blood trickled down from his scalp into the lake. Dropping the offending knife onto the bank he clutched his hand and squeezed at his fingers until the shaking stopped.

All amusement gone he looked back into the waters, the red film of his blood already dissipating across the surface. He looked like a wreck, and that was because he was one. He wasn't hiding who he was, he was just cutting away the remnants of who he had been. The shaking started again and with a muttered curse he delved into his pack, a few second's probing finding a potion bottle which he swiftly uncorked and emptied down his throat. The relief that followed was intense, almost obscenely pleasurable. Only one of those left, Carlos reminded himself, if he didn't find another Alchemist soon he'd be in trouble. He had told the others that he was alright; they had needed to hear that, needed to believe it, otherwise they'd be dragging him back to the White City even now. When he took a potion, he could almost believe it himself- that his arm and legs were good as new, that the wound in his side was just a nuisance. It was a sweet lie. Dominic just accepted it of course, Adi and Tarich looked unconvinced but knew that he didn't want questions. Carmina… He stared up at the sky, white clouds picturesque against a glorious blue. Bairoth. She surely expected me to come back, to help free him. To pay back our debt. To do right by my brother. That was why she turned away, that was why tears trickled down her cheeks- disgust, disappointment, perhaps she hates me now. Another sweet lie. Removing his clothes Carlos waded into the lake, it was cold despite the warmth of the day, and he shivered as the waters crept up beyond his knees. He stank of stale sweat, and as he lifted the bandage away from the wound he winced at the scent of burnt flesh. The ragged tear in his side looked out of place against his pale skin- it wasn't just the wound, he'd had enough of those before; it was the way his flesh had blackened and crisped around the wound, it was the ash that oozed steadily forth, as though someone had convinced it that it was blood. He stood there at the edge of the lake, and watched as the clear waters turned a filthy grey around him. — He stood at the edge of the bed, watching her sleep. The young woman tossed and turned, brow furrowed in distress as her hands clutched at the blanket. With a sigh he sat by her side and ran fingers through her hair, humming a soft lullaby until her struggles ceased and her sleep turned restful. Another battle won, or at least not lost. He gently pulled himself to his feet, careful not to disturb his charge as he crossed the room to stare from the tower window. In the courtyard below fires burned bright, and men cheered and jeered in friendly rivalry. Good people these Northerners, sworn to protect a Warden that few would ever truly know. How many of them would die without even speaking a word to the woman lying in that vast bed. He should speak to her about it; she might not wish it but she was their leader now. He turned his gaze to the mountains, their bulk outlined by the setting sun. In an hour it would have slipped away and darkness would have them. More from habit than anything else he performed the exercise, finding the glimmer of Light inside himself and drawing it forth, burning a path from his chest up into his skull where it raged and seared. Holding forth his hands before his face he watched the light dance across them, leaving them hot and raw. A shout in the courtyard, a tattooed face looking up at him, pointing excitedly, and then the Light faded, slipping from the mind like water through cupped fingers; still after years he couldn't decide whether that moment of its absence was one of sorrow or relief. He turned from the window. — The Warden turned and left, returning to her chambers and her duties; she had said all that needed to be said, shown him what he'd asked to see. He sat in the the great hall in silence, head resting in his hands. From elsewhere in the Palace he could hear sobbing; that at least was a comfort, the Spirit's sorrow matched his own, and he was in no mood to deal with her rages. Of course she was not the first to tell him; he had his agents after all, watching and reporting from the Palace to the Port. But reports were far from experience, a scribbled note taken from a weary pigeon was no comparison for a Dream. He'd been told before, but he hadn't known it until today. He had expected to feel…less, it had been half a year since he'd last seen their faces. Half a year since they had talked. Half a year since he kissed her. That should have been time enough, surely, for passions to fade; time enough to start letting go. But it wasn't. He had let her go. Set her free to do this- to go on to something greater than he could ever offer. This was what he had wanted, the only worthy gift he could give her. So where was his pride, where was the satisfaction? Why did he feel so betrayed? Bairoth. His fists slammed down on the hard oak table, sending plates jumping and clattering. An apple rolled from its bowl and thudded to the floor by his foot. He winced as his side ached warningly, upset by the sudden motion; time was that he would have shattered the table with a blow, these days he was grateful not to have broken his hand. He had known that they would free him; that his brother's service to the Princess would pass. He had talented friends, after all; talented and loyal. And of course Carmina was one of them, and Bairoth had been a friend to her too; a better one than he, for certain. Oh and he had sacrificed too, a greater sacrifice than any Carlos had made. But to do this… — The Warden watched from the shadows as her Seneschal got to his feet and slowly crushed the runaway apple under his heel. For a moment she was torn between attempting to comfort the man and flight. Then he turned and she saw the expression on his face. Her hurried footsteps echoed off the stone floor as she ran.

misc/fiction/cuttoff.txt · Last modified: 2011/04/05 19:38 by osj01
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