Chapter 3: The High Priestess
The High Priestess shall fall to the clutches of evil men. Two stars from the north will mark the beginning of the end. This city will drown in tears of vengeance and salvation from the west will arrive too late to save it. Death will not be denied.
Approximately 970 years in the past…
The old matron of the Wind Tower lay exhausted in her bed. Amy Antoinette’s age was somewhere beyond her sixtieth year. She had long since forgotten to count the years as they passed by. Several lifetimes of experience and the exertion behind then had aged her body to its breaking point. Where the power of wind was concerned, she had been the first human to truly hear and embrace its call even if her initial conversation with the element had been an unwilling one. To that end, though she was not the current Master of Air, a title belonged to the woman at her bedside, Emma Lighthand, she still commanded enough respect that the residents of the Tower would stay nearby for her deathwatch.
Emma aside, there were only two other individuals in her bedchambers that mattered at the moment. The first was her rival, confidante, comrade, and even at last perhaps “friend,” the man known only as Vincinte. Where Amy had mastery over air, Vincinte reigned over the power of fire like no one in the Kingdom had or ever would again. Vincinte had never been a kind man, with the exception of his feelings towards Cecelia. His presence at a time like this showed his respect for her ordeal. Amy knew all too well for magi that respect was the most valuable commodity they could maintain amongst one another and reached out to take Vincinte’s old scarred hand in hers.
“Dismiss the rest of them Vincinte. Send them away. My time has come and my final words are not their burden to hear.”
“All?” the man’s raspy voice asked in response.
“All except one of course. I would ask you and Emma to remain as well. This concerns you both.”
Vincinte nodded and turned towards the various handmaids and novice wielders who had come to pay their respects. “You are relieved of your obligation to be here if you are so obligated. If you have chosen to be here, your kindness has been noted. You will all leave now and report to the main courtyard where you will gather all three towers in the grand hall.”
The students and handmaids knew where the order truly came from as Emma glared at them from behind Vincinte’s back. They left as they were instructed; however, before they could all exit the chambers, Vincinte spoke one more time.
“Except the handmaid known as Dori. You will stay and attend to the Matron’s needs.”
One of the cloaked figures paused in her movement while the others continued to file out of the room. For a moment, the robed and hooded figure simply stood in place before finally turning around to face the three powerful magi. The chamber doors closed behind her with a potent thump of dense wood against stone.
The woman known as Dori stood before them with her hood pulled far down over her head obscuring her face. She patiently waited for further instruction but within seconds became unable to hide her sobbing. She quickly wiped her face with her sleeve and with this motion, her hood fell back, revealing her face.
Dori’s hair was a silvery-blonde color, shoulder length, and tied neatly in a presentable manner. Her face was soft and her composure gentle, contrasted only by her wide eyes which narrowed at the corners of her face. Her ears were sharper than most, but not enough to make her suspect of having elven heritage though this was most certainly true. Dori could not hide the tears any longer as she looked up to see her mother bedridden. For the first time in Dori’s thirty years of life, her mother looked very tired and weak.
Vincinte stepped back and away from Amy. He was here only to observe.
Amy opened up her arms and spoke directly to Dori, “Child, come here…”
Dori ran to her ailing mother’s side and fell to her knees at the side of the bed, weeping with her face buried in the blankets covering Amy.
“It’s been a hard day child, I know.” She lifted her daughter’s face up and caressed it with her hand.
“Mother…” Dori could not utter more than a few syllables before her trembling lips stole her will to speak.
“I hear that you do not sleep well. Emma tells me that you stand outside of the Tower at night looking towards the south.”
Dori looked up with all the confusion of a lost child. Locking eyes with her mother she could not avoid allowing her trembling chin to collapse into outright sobbing.
Her mother gently wiped tears off her cheek. ”That of course is the elf blood in you. It pulls you towards your heart’s desire in those quiet moments. Your father spoke of it to me before you were born in the short time we had together. He was very brave.” Amy nearly found herself choked up at her own words, “…very brave. There’s so much of him in your eyes…”
She struggled with it, but finally managed to put voice to her thoughts once more, “I…never met him. Did I?”
Her mother merely shook her head ‘no.’
“But I know him. I know his thoughts.” She was shaking more so than before. “Mother I hear so many thoughts that aren’t mine. They are always there and they never, ever stop speaking to me.”
Amy moved some of Dori’s now disheveled hair out of her face.
“But sometimes, I can hear Father’s voice commanding them to be silent. He never asks anything of me in return and when things are quiet, then…”
Dori’s mother smiled softly, “It’s as if the world itself sings to you. I know child…I know. Now, please, let me know that you are healthy. Tell me that you will be strong enough to face this world I am leaving for you.”
Dori looked frightened at the idea of being alone, she nearly shook her head to say ‘no’; however, she knew this to be a lie and simply nodded once in response.
Her mother clutched her hands tightly for it would be the last time they would have such contact. Amy spoke directly to her, eyes locked with hers. Dori even felt the last remnants of Amy’s powers gathering in this room, melding their spirits in a bond that opened a new awareness for both women. “You are the last true innocent of what has begun here. Listen to me child. I have hidden you amongst the others in plain sight and used my influence to keep you apart from those that would use you for their own gain. However, with my passing, they will come for you. These are people I know, love, and trust. Nevertheless, for the good of the people they protect, they will ask of you things that they have no right to ask.”
Amy turned her daughter’s face back towards hers so that the words would not be lost. ”They have…no…right to your life. Emma has assured this as the new Mistress of the Tower. However, it is not your time to worry about these passing events. My life has brought forth the single opportunity for you to be selfish. It will be the only opportunity you have. All that matters Dori, is your freedom. Tell me, with no falseness in your words…how does the world call out to you…where would you like to go?”
Dori was stunned. She had no answer to the question. She wished to remain by the one person who cared for her.
Amy saw this doubt weighing on her and simply stated, “Soon I will be gone, a distant voice on the wind. Where would you have that wind carry you child?”
Dori sniffled and could hide her heart no longer. ”I would go south…to our home. I would return to the wind and the sea.” As soon as she said it, Dori wished she had not, for with the question answered, her mother took action. She grasped her daughter one last time and kissed her upon the forehead only whispering one final time to her, “Keep warm my child. Keep dry.”
Before Dori could understand what was happening to her, she found herself caught up in Emma’s arms and being drawn towards the open window of the chambers. Dori tried to call back to her mother but lost the breath in her chest at the surprise movement of Emma plunging out of the window, clasping Dori in her arms as they fell. A mighty gust of wind circled up beneath the two of them and began to carry the pair in a southerly direction towards the great surviving City State of Seaside.
Amy watched as her daughter was carried away, forever to be hidden from the reaches of the Guild.
Vincinte had been there to observe the upholding of a bargain unknown to him. Seeing now its conclusion, he frankly stated, “I’ve wondered for a long time what your arrangement with Emma was to give her control of the Tower. This makes sense now.” Vincinte smiled towards his old comrade and pulled the blankets up around her.
Amy quietly murmured, “It’s done. Two promises are fulfilled. They shall not have her.” She turned her attention towards Vincinte and offered her hand to him one final time.
“I never properly thanked you Vincinte.”
“Please see that you never do Amy. Debts to the ones you love are reminders that we are not alone in this world.”
Amy squeezed his hand with her last bit of strength and when she relaxed, Vincinte knew that she had finally passed on from this world.
Vincinte quietly called forth the Deathwatchers to ensure that Amy Antoinette’s now still body never had the opportunity to rise up and shame the brilliant life that had preceded it.
Julian, Face, Hawthorne, and Katrina met up again for dinner at the Thirsty Fish, where they had been told to expect two different councilors to meet them at their benefactor’s request. They were feeling a mix of excitement tempered by the nervousness that unfamiliar political territory brought to the equation.
Ever the pragmatist, Face kept matters focused on their immediate needs.
“This whole meeting does not play well on my nerves and I am forced to notice that I agree with Face on the matter of a meal. This is all around an unpleasant afternoon.” Katrina made a sour look, pursed her lips, and turned away briefly to take a swig of whiskey from a flask she kept concealed in her belt.
“I reckon one of the conditions of employment should be that our employees attend to the dinner concerns.” Hawthorne gave a sly smile.
As they entered the Thirsty Fish, they found it to be a far livelier place than their previous mid-day visit. The entire building was the size of three small homes crammed together end-to-end. There were around twenty or so tables in the tavern, all of them occupied, if not full. The bar was full of patrons and the barkeep was in continuous motion. Most of the interior décor was composed of bare wooden planked walls with various stains and burn marks adorning the place.
Moving into the tavern was an exercise in patience. Face commented to the others, “This has to be the busiest place in this area. Who is in charge of this area again?”
Julian got a response out despite the clamor, “As of today, I suppose it’s that Tin guy.” He looked around nervously after speaking a name that he perhaps should not have spoken and was confronted by a tall woman with luxurious brown hair and fashionable attire. She had a rolled scroll in her right hand and the left side of her face was partially masked from her eye down to her neck. The masking material matched her dress, but it came off as the kind of odd fashion statement that women in this area were prone to making. She was quick to speak and her body language suggested that she had a background in performing arts.
Directed towards Julian, she said, “You must be Remy. I am charmed to meet you and your associates. The Lady has requested that we take a meeting and I am more than pleased to oblige her requests. Seeing that you are indeed as handsome as she inferred, the task is all the more palatable.” She spoke as much with her hands as with the words she was conveying, gesturing this way and that with no real purpose other than emphasis on her statement. Finally, she pointed the scroll at Julian and tapped his chest with it. “I openly confess that I am at an advantage because I know your names already, yet you do not know mine. I am Kimberly Mahamon.” She smiled with an easily practiced smile and then winked at them as she said, “But I’d prefer if you would call me Kim.”
Julian returned her smile and her flirtations with interest, “Yes, yes. You have indeed found ole’ Remy. I should say that whomever your competition is in this interview is up for a tough fight. I can tell already that your skill is only matched by your beauty.”
Face pushed his way forward to get closer to the woman. His interests were not particularly concerned with the woman’s beauty or with her skills. “My vote goes to whichever of you picks up the dinner tab. Now, I’m starving, so this dinner meeting better actually go in order of dinner then meeting.”
Kimberly replied with a casual, “My, my, my… A man who knows what he wants… How rare these days. Please, if you all would follow me.”
She raised an arm to point in the direction they would be moving. Face led the way and Julian looked behind him to see if Hawthorne or Katrina had any input on the matter. Hawthorne’s eyes were fixed squarely on Kimberly’s shapely bottom half and he caught Katrina sneaking a drink.
A room full of raucous distractions; how wonderful a place for serious negotiation. Julian pondered the situation as they made their way deeper into the tavern to find a slightly larger table for six prepared for them. A distinguished older man sat waiting. The man appeared to be just shy of sixty years old. His hair was thin, but still present. He had a large scar on his throat and shaggy white eyebrows that drooped in an almost comedic fashion. His salt and pepper beard and weather worn face suggested that he still had some life in him; however, he did not move from his seat at the table as they approached.
Kimberly introduced him, “This is my esteemed competition, Colonel Carn. The Lady thought it appropriate to assist you by providing contrasting opinions on what makes for a suitable Councilor.” She regarded the old Colonel, “Carn here is a well-known strategist who was partially responsible for the Western wall expansion over the last twenty years. He is well versed in…”
“I can speak for myself woman,” the Colonel cut her off abruptly, “Sit down, the lot of ya’, sit down.”
Kimberly looked at him and with a smile and a shrug, did what the Colonel said. The rest followed suit.
Once they had all been seated, various food and drink items were brought out in rapid order. Kimberly directed some of it and seemed to be focused on attending to their various needs as they began their negotiations. Carn was less concerned about frivolities and got right into matters he considered important to business.
“How many men ya’ got loyal to ya? What about weapons? Any firearms? If ya’ll can manage to get firearms, that’s all the safety ya need…” He grumbled out each question and then reached for the nearby roasted chicken that had been placed on their table. Tearing a leg off and proceeding to devour it, he asked, “More importantly, how many people you got as enemies?”
Julian and his lot were taken aback by the barrage of questions and seemed unable to properly respond. Slowly, the chain of worried looks moved towards Julian. Kimberly decided to clarify the situation, interjecting, “You see most House Leaders employ one of two philosophies with regards to a Councilor position within their organization. Either they use the position to advise them on matters of money or on matters of might. While not mutually exclusive, they are time consuming tasks. Most Councilors worth having also come with a heavy fee and…”
Hawthorne finished her statement, “It becomes ill advised to pay for another one?”
Carn pointed the spent drumstick at Hawthorne, “You’ve got that right son. My services aren’t cheap.”
Katrina could not resist taking a jab at the slovenly old military man any longer, “But the way you wear that uniform certainly is…”
Carn got a mean look in his eyes in response to her comment and a sneer broke across his face, “I can smell the whiskey on you from here lady and that’s saying something in an ale soaked tavern like this. I also know that you’re from Raj by the looks of that armor and that if I insult you enough, you’ll make a play to teach me a lesson. Probably moving first to knock me down since you Raj types like to pick your fights with men on the floor, but the moment you make a move for me, I’m going to make a move on your unarmed pal right here.” He pointed a boney finger towards Julian. “I bet that honor of yours, whiskey soaked or not, won’t allow you to let him get cut on account of your temper, eh?”
Carn leaned in for emphasis, taking the back legs of his chair up off the floor and rocking a bit to show his eagerness to “have a go at it.” He took another bite of his meal and was again about to further demonstrate his tactical knowledge when Julian saw someone in the periphery of his vision to the left of Carn whom he was sure he recognized. The person moved with an eagerness of step that implied danger.
The danger was seemingly reserved entirely for Carn. The stranger kicked the rocking legs out from Carn’s chair. Shocked at his sudden and unplanned movement, the old man had no ability to right or to brace himself from a hard fall forward. The stranger caught Carn’s head as it was falling towards the table and further threw it downward causing a sickening dull ‘thud’ as the old man’s head bounced off of the hard wooden table and then led his body straight to the floor.
Face immediately pushed Julian back from this new threat and all four of them stood up from their seats. Katrina and Hawthorne closed the ranks on their own. The tavern half erupted in a clamor at the violent intrusion. People moved back, conversations stopped, and all eyes were on the sudden outbreak of noise and violence. The stranger threw back her hood to reveal a young looking woman with sharp features and the strangest color hair, something between silver and blonde. She kicked Carn’s unconscious form on the floor once for emphasis before turning her attention towards Kimberly. “You’re next Missy!”
Julian yelled out to her, “You?!? What is with you?”
Katrina regarded Julian with an exasperated look, “You know her?”
“No! But this is the second time she’s shown up to cause me trouble.”
The woman did not respond to the discussion of her presence, but instead began muttering to herself. Most of what she said was stated quietly with only occasional words being loud enough for the others to hear. “Maybe I was wrong about you; I am surprised you walked into such an OBVIOUS TRAP after all and… “
Kimberly took a harsh tone and attempted to call down the strange woman, “Who do you think you are? Do you have any idea what kind of fight you’re picking?”
Katrina and Face stepped forward but did not want to make a move until they were actually threatened. Julian watched the proceedings with confused interest. He could not understand why this woman was again showing up and causing what he felt was unnecessary trouble. Looking back to his partners, he found Hawthorne carefully untying the strap that kept his rifle bound up in its sleeve. Goddamnit. Was all Julian could think to himself over the situation.
The young looking woman staggered forward a step, faltering as if distracted, “Protector of…” She paused, obviously distracted this time, and Kimberly decided to make good use of it. She flipped the table between the two of them causing the stranger to jump back. Kimberly drew a knife out of her long sleeve, swinging her blade towards the stranger’s throat. The stranger, surprised by the blade’s sudden appearance, was just barely fast enough to strike Kimberly’s forearm causing the knife to fall to the floor.
Kimberly had better position than the stranger, and in a surprising feat of skill, she began pummeling the woman with strikes to the stomach, eventually finishing with a solid right handed punch to her eye that spun her and dropped her to the floor.
The fight seemingly over, the other patrons went about their business, ignoring what may have in fact been a common occurrence in the Thirsty Fish. No one’s drinks were spilled; no one’s pride was wounded, so there was no reason for the rest of the tavern to be involved. Things moved on.
Kimberly stood over her defeated opponent and smiled. However, the bravado that accompanied bragging over her defeated opponent never made its way past her lips as three hulking men approached her from behind and cuffed her by both arms and by the neck.
The stranger made her way up off the floor, slowly. “It’s about fucking time! What were you waiting for, an invitation attached to the knife in my throat? What the fuck do I pay you for? If I get gutted you think there’s any more easy money in grabbing people? Seriously…”
The strange woman’s eyes moved to the left and then down the long barrel of Hawthorne’s rifle, which was now pointed at her temple. “Oh yeah. You all…” She hesitated as if waiting for someone to finish a sentence, “Yes…yes, I know that. I told you I know their names. I have this under control!” Despite having her at gun point, Hawthorne had no idea who the stranger was actually talking to.
Kimberly, still being restrained by the three men from the bar hollered to Hawthorne, “Shoot her! Shoot her now! She’s insane and she’s obviously got murder on her mind!”
The young woman slowly turned towards the gun barrel and plainly, calmly stated, “I’m not insane. I am Dori.”
From behind the safety of the barrel of his gun, Hawthorne replied, “Pleasure to make your acquaintance Dori. I’m Hawthorne and that over there is…”
He was cut off.
“I know who you are, I already said that.” She was unapologetic. “In my travel bag you will find a scroll with the names, sums, locations, and bounties on nearly every debt owed to a major gang in this area. Go ahead, take a look.”
Katrina approached her and found the scroll in question. Dori winked at her as she opened the document.
“She’s not lying about what’s on here. There’s over a hundred debts of significant size.” Katrina was impressed if not surprised.
“Likely all made up! No one leaves debt unsettled around here.” Kimberly was still arguing against the new stranger.
Dori continued looking at all of them in turn, “I’m on your side.” Her voice softened a little bit. “Look at your other business offerings. Your potential tactical adviser is a bloody mess on the floor at the hands of a small girl. Your potential fiscal adviser…well, let’s ask her.” Dori turned her face away from the gun to look at Kimberly, “So…what was your plan to help build their operation?”
Exasperated, Kimberly tersely replied, “As if I’d blurt it out in public you…you idiotic child!”
Dori frowned then turned back to Hawthorne and the others. She went through the motions of whispering, but made sure that her voice could be heard all around, “She doesn’t have one.” Dori continued as though she were whispering secret information, but looked directly at Kimberly as she loudly stated, “She’s an idiot.”
Finally, Julian stepped forward. Face allowed him to move closer to confront this woman. “What is it that you want? Why do you keep showing up around me lately?”
Dori responded frankly, “I wanted to see if you were worth working for. You are. Now I want to be your councilor. I’ve already shown up the supposed ‘best’ that was offered to you. As for pay, I only want ten gold pieces a month and whiskey whenever I call for it. You…won’t find a better offer anywhere.”
Slowly, Julian lowered Hawthorne’s rifle. “I think maybe if she were a threat to us, that a former beauty queen and songstress would not have gotten the drop on her.”
Dori got a wide grin on her face and questioned Julian further, “So you did recognize her! That’s what makes this whole thing so much fun!” Dori’s eyes had gone somewhere else and reflected a slightly crazed tone in her voice.
Katrina was growing impatient and appealed to Julian, “Remy, are you seriously considering this girl? Something is clearly wrong with this whole thing. From the moment we walked in this has stunk of a set-up.”
Hawthorne pulled his rifle back up on to his shoulder and casually added, “Well, I like her. She gets my vote.”
Dori giggled and pulled up next to Hawthorne, looping her arm up into his and assuming a very proud look about her.
Julian looked about, but kept his words only within earshot of his companions. “I agree with Katrina.” Looking towards Dori he went on, “I’m not convinced about you yet but you’re the only person here still holding some cards in this game. You wouldn’t be so pleased with yourself otherwise. I want to see those cards, so I’m going to call you on it.”
Dori let go of Hawthorne and stood before Julian, “So…you’ll hire me?”
“Based on an interview we’re about to have, perhaps.”
In a very strange and aloof manner, Dori responded with wide eyes, “Oh yes, test me. Let’s have a go at this…”
“You planned this little event?”
“No, just the elimination of my incompetent rivals.” Dori grinned at Kimberly.
Kimberly shouted back, “Just wait until I get my hands on you bitch!”
Dori continued, “I think she’s upset about being so stupid.”
“How did you know who they would be? Where did you get your information?”
“I can’t tell you that. However, in time, I promise that I will show you. At any rate, she knew you would never accept the old man. It is YOU after all. The woman was perfect bait.”
“Bait? You act as if this were some kind of trap.” Julian was puzzled and looked to the others to see if they were putting it together any more than he.
“Did not your friend just advise you of the same thing? Don’t ask questions you know the answers to.”
“Fair enough. So, advise me in this situation. What do we do about these two?” Julian pointed at Carn’s unconscious body and Kimberly, who was still fighting against Dori’s hired goons.
“If you want to live, dispose of the old one and let me handle the other one.”
That was all Face could take of the current situation. “Dispose of? We’re going from a simple business deal turned sour to murder? I don’t have any problem doing things the ‘hard’ way, but get this straight Miss, we don’t kill because you say so. Remember that.”
Dori only responded with an old quip about warfare, “Enemies you threaten make armies, enemies you destroy make graves.” She looked at Face with a cold distant stare, “but…fine, in this instance we will just leave a message.” She took Carn’s right arm up off the floor, placed her foot against his elbow, and with a sudden twitch, snapped his elbow.
Carn immediately woke up to a flurry of swearing and anger that was lost among the other noise in the tavern. Dori knelt down with him and lifted his head up off the floor. “My new employer just saved your life.” She lifted him up a bit from the floor which caused him to cringe that much harder. Dori leaned in close to his face and whispered, “I told him we should EAT you, but he thought better. If you ever even speak their names again, I will find you and just like this time, you will never see me coming. We’re square, right? This is over as of now, right? You forget about them and you live. Deal?”
Carn was wincing in pain and Dori’s new companions could not help but cringe at his destroyed elbow. He was biting his lip to avoid screaming in pain, so when he finally relented to her arrangement, it was done in a short yelp, “Fine! I agree!”
Dori took a small purse from under one of the strands of fabric on her dress and handed it to him, “Here’s enough coin that any doctor in the area will set that and send you home with a bottle of drink. Leave. Never…ever…show your stupid face to my friends again.”
Carn was lifted off the floor by Face by way of his collar and pushed towards the door by Dori.
Katrina shrugged her shoulders and coldly remarked, “Ok, she’s got my vote too. What of the other one?”
It had been some time since the men Dori hired to restrain Kimberly had fulfilled their duties, and they were starting to look a little bored. Dori asked for their patience and approached the barkeep. She handed him something and then walked back to the group.
“I advise we negotiate terms with her. I’ve rented the stockroom here for the next hour.” She looked to Julian, “I trust you can assist me?”
Puzzled, but ultimately curious, Julian agreed to help.
Dori made a “follow me” motion and moved herself, her three hired men, Kimberly, and the group towards the back of the establishment and opened the door to the small stockroom.
“Face, Katrina, Hawthorne…I would appreciate it if you could ensure that no one, and I mean no one, is allowed to enter.” Dori kept the door open for the time being and led her hired help along with Kimberly to the lone table in the storeroom. The others watched as Dori directed the men to tie Kimberly to a chair and then strap Kimberly’s arms down to the table, palms down. Dori then paid and dismissed the hired help.
“Only Julian…” She dissuaded the others from following.
Face objected loudly to this, “I don’t like this. I don’t want my buddy locked in a small room with you and this other one.”
Dori nodded, “Good. Loyalty is good. But you need to not see this, ok? From a…legal standpoint.”
Face was a little dumbstruck at the idea. “Oh…er, alright. That rough hunh? You think this might be overdoing it then?”
Hawthrorne remarked, “Plausible deniability man, it’s always a nice option.”
Julian had a lingering bit of anxiousness about him. He was not truly concerned that this girl might harm him, but he could not shake the feeling of a sinister presence about them now. Somehow or another, this Dori was either the cause or the solution to it and considering how strangely the events of the past two days had unfolded, he decided to get answers despite his growing fear.
“Let’s do this. Twenty minutes guys; if you don’t hear from me by then, I expect to see you all bursting through that door.”
They agreed. Julian entered the room, and Dori closed the door behind him.
“We don’t have much time. Find a bottle of strong drink and prepare several glasses of it,” Dori directed Julian as she approached Kimberly.
Kimberly looked at Dori and struggled briefly against her bindings. “You’ll suffer! I’ll make you suffer…”
Dori gathered up an oil lamp and placed it next to the table on a stack of crates. She turned up the flame, took a knife out of her belt, and placed it into the lamp, allowing the heat to begin warming the knife.
With a surprising amount of compassion, Dori gently remarked to Kimberly, “You’ve suffered enough for the both of us.”
“If you intend to torture me, you may as well kill me. Nothing matters, none of this matters…”
Julian was very confused but kept about what he had been told. Several glasses of strong whiskey were readied within arm’s reach. “Dori…what’s going on…?”
She regarded Julian with pronounced sadness. “You remember this woman as the songstress Kimberly Mahamon who was widely known for both her beauty and talent, is that not correct Julian?”
Kimberly spoke up, “I thought you were Remy?”
Julian ignored Kimberly, “Of course I remember her, who wouldn’t? She was the most well regarded entertainer in Seaside until Lillian came to prominence recently.”
Dori nodded, “Indeed, who could forget? Everyone knew her. Everyone. So, why did your friends not recognize her? Why were they not excited to meet someone with this kind of fame?”
Julian almost answered that they obviously were excited, but then he remembered that none of them had even blinked at the fact that they were meeting one of the most well-known entertainers in Seaside.
“The answer is that where Envy’s power reaches, men lose sight of the truth.”
Julian shook his head, “Who? Did you say Envy? Is that a person?”
Dori ignored him and reached out towards Kimberly and her mask. Kimberly pulled back as much as she could, but her restraints kept her from avoiding Dori’s small hands as they stripped her of the mask to reveal disfiguring claw marks across her face. Four marks scarred the left side of her face, and another deeper puncture was located on the right side, as if her face had been clutched viciously with a clawed hand.
“She cannot tolerate beauty that exceeds her own and you were made to suffer for it Kimberly.”
Julian looked at the woman and felt immense sadness at her disfigurement. She really was quite lovely but the scarring was so distracting that it was hard to think of anything else.
Dori took a small bottle of red liquid from her purse and poured half of it into the lantern. The lantern began to burn hotter and brighter than before. “Tell me Kimberly, tell me what Lillian did to you. Tell me how hard it is to have everything that you are and everything that makes you unique stolen away. You know this question; it has been asked of you before with different intent…”
Tears began to stream down Kimberly’s face, falling in random paths down her scars. She held her breath for a moment, trying to avoid answering Dori’s question, but she could not hold back for long as emotion overwhelmed her entirely, “I HATE HER. I WANTED TO DIE! I WANT TO DIE! I can’t…”
Kimberly’s eyes were locked on to Dori with ferocious intent. Dori never broke eye contact, but at the same time, directed Julian to look at Kimberly’s left hand where a small black symbol had appeared. From the small circle on the back of Kimberly’s hand, tiny black veins were extending outward and moving like worms up her arm under her skin.
Calmly and gently Dori regarded Kimberly, “You feel as though life has buried you and left you behind. You feel as though your purpose has been stolen and that your voice has been taken with it…”
Desperately Kimberly cried out, “Yes! It’s not fair! It isn’t right!” Her tears fell freely and her body was shaking as choked sobs escaped her.
Dori smiled with a kindness that entirely disarmed Julian. She stood up and poured the remaining red liquid from the bottle onto her hand, touching Kimberly on the face gently.
“She can only take what you allow her to take. The reality you make for yourself is the reality she has control over. While you were weak, she found a place inside you and has tended the garden of sin in your heart. However, there is still hope for you. Your story does not end this way. I will see you prove your worth among men.”
Suddenly and swiftly, Dori snatched the now white hot knife from out of the lantern and cut into the palm of her own left hand. She placed her bleeding hand on the table near Kimberly’s then cut the back of Kimberly’s hand just above the knuckles, and blood began to flow freely from both wounds.
Julian could only guess at what was happening. “Good God…what the hell are you doing?”
Dori then took the flat of the knife and pressed it to the wrist of Kimberly’s wounded hand. She used the hot flat of metal as a press against Kimberly’s skin and Julian could see the black veins and circle begin to retreat from the intense heat. Finally, a small seed with twitching black veins crawled out from under her skin through the cut that Dori had previously made above Kimberly’s knuckles. Dori flipped the knife and burned the hole in Kimberly’s hand closed.
Kimberly screamed in response to the searing hot blade and appeared to black out briefly as her body tried desperately to escape the pain. Fear drove her back to consciousness and Kimberly watched squeamishly as events played out beyond her control.
The small black seed began moving itself towards the blood dripping from Dori’s wound. Dori slammed the tip of the knife into the little seed and pulled her hand away from the table, clutching her wounded hand to her body, blood still spilling out onto her dress.
“I’m so cold and tired…Julian, those drinks…please, before…”
Julian nodded in understanding. He passed two of the glasses to Dori and she threw them back without flinching.
“My head aches…”
Julian looked concerned but asked, “What was all that? What’s going on?”
“These voices…must be my soul… or theirs. Do you hear them?” She clutched her head, “My head aches…my head aches.” She continued to repeat the phrase over and over, all of the strength and fight she had previously displayed fading away.
Julian touched her on the shoulder and offered her another glass of whiskey, which she drank without question.
“I’m talking to myself again, aren’t I? Sometimes…this confusion grows inside and I can’t keep it all straight. I have to drown them…all of them. It’s terrible.” She heaved and her stomach twitched. She flopped to her knees as if she would wretch, but found she could not.
She turned to look at him, “More.”
Julian hesitated. Looking at this small woman he was sure that this much whiskey this fast might just kill her.
Dori looked pathetic and near ready to cry, “They call out to me in my sleep, so I don’t sleep to keep them away. They plead with me during the waking time and I tell them ‘No.’ Drowning them is the only weapon I have, but when her power is present, when her power is nearby…I cannot hold back their anguish any longer.”
She clawed her way up to the table, grabbed the bottle of whiskey, and began drinking from it while Julian and Kimberly watched in horror. Julian approached her, and Dori righted herself one last time, pleading, “Protect me from myself and I will see you to tomorrow.” With that she collapsed. The bottle fell from her hands, shattering on the floor and taking the remaining glasses with it.
The racket was enough to cause Face, Hawthorne, and Katrina to run into the room, ready for a fight. What they found was a confused Julian, Kimberly tied to a table, a puddle of blood, and Dori passed out in a pool of broken glass and whiskey.
Face turned slowly towards Julian, “Well now…”
Julian started to explain but was cut off by Face, “No no, we get it.”
Julian got exasperated, “Look, this is not!…”
Face only smiled.
Hawthorne recognized Kimberly before the others. ”Well hot damn! Why didn’t I recognize you before? That mask must have thrown me through a loop.”
Face turned to look and was pleasantly surprised to see the famous singer. “That’s really odd. I could have sworn you were someone else.” He asked Julian, “So, are we still going to hire her or is she trying to kill us too?”
The latter comment brought a look of concern to Kimberly’s face. With an entirely different tone than before, she asked with honest confusion and surprise, “What…what’s going on here?”
Julian grinned, “Maybe, but not for what we originally were considering.”
Hawthorne approached Kimberly and asked Julian if it was safe to untie her. Kimberly was rather confused by this. “Safe to untie me? What in the world? Why?”
Julian looked at her sternly, “Think you can avoid trying to stab any of us for a few minutes while we sort all this out?”
Kimberly was flabbergasted, “STAB? What in the world are you talking about? Why would I go stabbing anyone, much less people I don’t know?”
“Seriously? You don’t remember trying to stab that girl, getting restrained by her body guards, or getting tied to this table?”
As Julian posed the questions, Kimberly’s mind was sparked into recollection. “Oh my God…I…I’m sorry. I can’t explain it. Now that you’ve said it, I remember seeing those things but they feel like another person’s memories.” She looked down on the table to see her mask and realized that her face was naked. She looked to Julian pleadingly, “Please…what’s going on?”
Looking back to Hawthorne, Julian finally nodded in agreement to untie her. As soon as she was freed, Kimberly grabbed her mask to put it back on. Hawthorne looked surprised. ”Why hide that pretty face, darlin’?” he asked.
Kimberly expected that he was making fun of her. Her hands went to her face where the scars had been to find that they were nearly gone with only the slighted traces of the damage left behind. Hurriedly she pulled a small mirror from her pocket and looked at her reflection to find that she had healed to the point no one would question the small marks that remained. ”My God…how?”
Now it was Hawthorne’s turn to be confused. “How? What’s the problem, darlin’?”
Surprising everyone, but most of all Julian, Dori began to pick herself up off the floor. She was at once, very drunk. “Hehehe, you all seem confused?” She stood up fully but was swaying under the power of the whiskey. She leaned on Julian’s shoulder and poked him in the ribs playfully, “Heey my friend, don’t look so sad. You and me are going to have… so many good times.” Dori put all of her weight on Julian, propping herself up entirely on his shoulder.
Kimberly stood up from the table. ”You…” She pointed to Dori. ”What did you do? You healed me? How?”
Dori spun to address her but the rotation made her slip and stumble, forcing her to lean even more heavily on Julian. He caught her and held her up until she regained her footing. Dori began to giggle, “Oh, you don’t know? The body mends itself especially well during times of spiritual healing.” She laughed like she had just revealed some hilarious insight into the world.
Katrina repeated her words quietly then asked Julian, “Are we ok here? This is getting strange. Am I to take it that no one is attempting to kill anyone else for the moment?”
Julian nodded and said, “Kat, I think we may be more than just ‘ok’, but perhaps this conversation is best held later.”
Turning to Kimberly Julian said to her, “Do you still desire work?”
Kimberly was uncertain of how to respond. She felt as though a massive weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Her mind was so much clearer than it had been. Kimberly could not remember most of where she had been and whom she had been in contact with. “I seem to be out of sorts as to remembering why I am here. Something about an interview for…something? So, I suppose I am still looking for work. Not that I’d expect you’d have any interest in hiring me at this point.”
Julian chuckled to himself, “All things considered, let’s not dwell on all that.”
Dori laughed, and then made a heaving motion with her stomach as though she would vomit. Managing to avoid getting sick, she continued to laugh, “You owe us Lady and…you’ve got nowhere else to go. So…” Dori passed out in Julian’s arms. Julian asked Face to assist him and the big man gingerly picked up the small girl, holding her unconscious form in his arms with ease.
Julian then asked Katrina to close the door to the stock room. “Kimberly, while my drunk friend there is correct in the most blunt manner of speaking, I’m not going to force you into working for us. You will have a choice in the matter. There are some things to consider before you make a decision. You should figure out who sent you here and why. To be blunt, I’ve been seeing some strange stuff around here lately and someone or some group is playing a game with our lives. That meeting, you, Dori…something is connecting them all and I think we’d be better suited to figuring it out together. We’ve just…”
Kimberly eagerly cut him off, “Your friend was right. I owe you all. I owe her.” She fidgeted a bit, touching her face absentmindedly. “Er…don’t get me wrong, everything you just told me only helped to convince me that I was making the right decision, but I repay my debts and your little friend is right about everything she’s said so far. My days as an entertainer are past. I have to accept that. This looks like as good as any opportunity to start rebuilding, so… I’ll work for you all, whether it’s cooking and cleaning…I’m in your debt.”
Katrina was the first to approach her, offering her hand, “Good, because I’m not doing a damn bit of that.” She smiled kindly at the singer.
Hawthorne tipped his wide brimmed hat towards Kimberly, “Hey Julian, what if we stole a bit of attention as we leave here. I doubt very much that she’s lost a lick of that talent. I don’t rightfully know why no one recognized her earlier, but people will rightly recognize our little song bird without that mask. Think you might be up for a little bit of exit melody for us? Maybe it will help to put your mind back in the right place.”
Julian shrugged his shoulders with a look that put it all in Kimberly’s hands.
“Now? In the midst of all this?” She looked back and forth among the group, her eyes asking all of them, “Seriously?” She wrung her hands and looked down with uncertainty.
Katrina stepped up behind the woman and placed her hand on her shoulder, “It’s easy to be embarrassed when others recognize the gifts God has given you. It’s only shameful to avoid sharing them. After all, the good Lord had no shame in sharing the gift with you to begin with.”
Kimberly blushed a deep crimson in further embarrassment, but summoned the will to admit to herself and to the others, “I’d love to.”
Face made his way to the door and Hawthorne opened it for him. He readjusted Dori so that no one would accidentally injure her as they left through the crowded tavern. As he got close to the exit, he turned back to see Hawthorne and Katrina making a little bit of room in the middle of the floor where their overturned table had since been righted.
Julian jumped right up on it in the midst of a group’s slow, dull card game and bellowed out, “Ladies! Gentlemen! Miscreants! and Pirates! Your attention if you would!”
Several people hollered back at him or threw bits of their table wares towards Julian who continued unperturbed. “Many of you do not know me, but after tonight you will!”
Someone in the crowd bellowed out, “But we still won’t care!”
Laughter filled the room.
Julian smiled but let none of the heckling bother him, “My name is Remy and Turnbill has placed me in charge of the dock sector to the south of this one.”
That got the attention of everyone in the room.
“I know; I know full well that your area is currently under control of Master of the House Tin. Fear not my friends, for I have no intention of going to war with you good people or your Master of the House. No, no. Instead, I offer my gratitude that Tin has taken so firm a stand on the scum and filth that we all live with every day. My gratitude comes in the form of…entertainment!”
He reached down to Kimberly and helped her step up onto the table. A collective gasp went through the room and a low rumbling of discussion came about as people recognized the lost entertainer. A low murmur arose in the room, “She’s not been seen in a year!…I always liked her better anyway…It’s nice not having to pay to hear a quality performer for once…I heard she was dead…Imagine if they could get her on stage with Lillian…”
“Ms. Kimberly Mahamon works for me now. My organization found her. We specialize in finding people. Remember that. If you find someone owes you money, be assured, we can find them. But that is a discussion for another time. I promised entertainment and I always deliver!” Julian hopped down from the table and joined Katrina and Hawthorne as they kept watch over their singer.
Kimberly sang three songs in total, her voice carrying through the entire building and out into the street. The people in the tavern were enthralled and the entire mood of the establishment stayed light the rest of the night.
When she had finished, Katrina helped her off of the table and the entire group made a swift exit from the Thirsty Fish. Halfway to their home, Dori roused from her whiskey induced slumber and asked, “Did Julian do it right?”
Face smiled and happily replied that Julian did indeed “do it right.” Dori scolded him in return. “Call him Remy in public. Sheesh.” Face crinkled his nose and sneered at the drunk girl.
Kimberly, still humming to herself, turned and stopped the group on their way out of the tavern.
She grasped Julian by the hands and quietly at first, but falling into tears with each repetition said, “Thank you…Thank you so much. Thank you all.”
None of them properly knew how to respond to that kind of gratitude and so Julian simply put his arm around Kimberly as they walked back to their new home.