“Kidnap the King, huh?” Hector scratched his head. It didn’t sound as crazy as he expected, honestly. But after a moment, he found himself wondering how he’d managed to reach a point in his life where kidnapping anyone–let alone a king–no longer sounded completely mad. He shook his head and tried to return to the conversation at hand. “Uh… how would I even pull that off?”
‘We already know that five of them are going to be in Harold at once,’ said Garovel. ‘That only leaves two guarding the King.’
“So I’ll have to take on two servants…”
‘I did say it would be dangerous. But two is more manageable than five. Ideally, we could find a way to sneak through and get the King out quietly, but yes, we should obviously be prepared for a difficult fight.’
“Hmm.” He rubbed his neck. “It’s kinda fucked up, though… Sorta feels like we’ll just be using the deaths of all the people in Harold.”
‘Yeah, well. We kind of will be.’
He felt an inkling in the back of his head, a faint idea, still unformed but nagging at him. And then it hit him fully. His eyes widened, and a broad grin split his face. “Garovel!”
“Everyone hates me!”
‘Uh.’ Garovel looked at him confusedly. ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself?’
“No! Garovel! Everyone’s scared of me!”
‘Er. Wait… Oh!’
“Abolish wants to destroy Harold and blame it on–uh–some other country, right? But what if the Darksteel Soldier makes a public threat to destroy Harold beforehand?!”
It was the reaper’s turn to smile. ‘That might work! If Abolish destroys the town anyway, then it gets blamed on you and not a foreign country, thereby averting their trigger for war! And if they don’t destroy the town, then obviously, that’s even better!’
“And if they destroy a different town, then it’ll probably still get blamed on me!”
Garovel laughed. ‘Not sure I’ve ever seen you this excited before.’
He looked for Gina’s number in his phone. “We just got done talking, and I gotta call her back already…”
It started ringing, and she answered as quickly as ever. Hector struggled through explaining the general idea.
<“That’s a nice thought, but there’s a major problem with it.”>
<“When Karkash made the news a few days ago, Abolish really tightened their grip on the media. Nothing makes it to air without their approval now.”>
<“I could put your threat up on the internet, but it wouldn’t get nearly enough exposure.”>
‘Ask her if she knows which servant is controlling the media.’
Hector did so.
<“There are two, actually. Conall and Tessa seem to be the ones responsible for public affairs, but from the sound of it, the others sometimes pitch in as well.”>
‘And does she know if they’ll be among the five going to Harold?’
He asked her.
Gina paused. <“Actually, yeah, they will be. Are you thinking when they leave, we’ll be able to sneak it through as breaking news?”>
“Uh. Yeah, sure.”
<“Hmm. That could work. It’ll be a tight timeframe, though. The citizens of Harold won’t have much time to evacuate, but I guess the only alternative would be to give them no warning at all.”>
‘That’s unfortunate for Harold, but it works out better for us,’ said Garovel. ‘Waiting until they leave ensures that our window for kidnapping the King also remains open. You should probably mention that plan to her, as well.’
“Oh, and, uh… I’m gonna try to, uh… to kidnap the King, too.”
The cloak was no longer the pristine white it had been when she procured it, but she’d wanted it more for protection against the elements than for style points.
She’d been walking for days, sleeping under the stars, hunting and gathering food but never straying too far from the road that cut through Lorent’s wide open grasslands.
She supposed hitching a ride with someone was too much to ask. Cars were rare out here, and none of the drivers seemed especially interested in picking up a cloaked stranger. She tried pulling down her hood the next few times but still found no luck. Maybe the eye patch was off-putting. Or maybe it was the sword.
Thus far, she’d still not encountered even so much as a village. She knew Lorent was a big country, but this was getting ridiculous. All she wanted was a working phone, but she would have settled for just a bit of food that she didn’t have to kill first. Her sword wasn’t meant for hunting.
Gradually, the landscape on the left side of the road changed into wooded greenery. It would likely prove a better hunting ground, she decided, so she ventured into it. Before she found anything to eat, however, she spotted a house. It was hidden among a group of trees and would have been entirely concealed if she’d stayed closer to the road.
She approached eagerly, getting a better look at the building. One modest story, it had, along with perhaps a small attic, if the oval window beneath the roof’s apex was any indication. A cobblestone chimney sat toward the back, and much of the house’s white wood was overgrown with verdant moss.
She knocked on the front door, as it had no bell to ring. “Hello?!” she called, removing her hood again.
The door did not open, but someone shouted back, “Whaddya want?!” A man’s voice. Elderly, too.
“Sorry to bother you,” she said loudly, “but I was hoping I’d be able to use your phone!”
“Phone don’t work!”
She frowned. “Then could I trouble you for a ride to the nearest town?!”
“Car don’t work!”
“A place to rest, then?!”
“Bed don’t work!”
She pursed her lips.
“Ain’t got no food, neither, so don’t ask!”
“Sir, please! My name is Lynnette, and I’ve been traveling for several days on foot!”
“Then it looks like you’ll be traveling for several days more!” the old man yelled. “And I don’t give a damn who you are!”
Lynnette’s eye throbbed. It tended to do that at the most inconvenient times. “Sir,” she tried, quieter this time in hopes of luring him closer to the door, “I very much need to use a phone. I’d be quite appreciative of any help you could–”
There came a hastened rustle from inside the house, and a moment later, the door swung open. The balding old man was pointing a shotgun at her. “Young lady, in what capacity have I failed to make myself clear?”
She eyed the double-barrel, not concerned in the slightest. “Sir, you don’t want to do that.”
He barked a laugh. “Oh, don’t I?”
“Please put the gun down, sir.”
“Can’t you tell when a man wants to be left in peace?! You think I live out here because I like visitors?! How’d you find me, anyway?! Are you from the government?! After all these years, now you decide to take me away?! Is that it?!”
“You dogs’ll never take me alive! I ain’t goin’ back to prison, so just get on out of here before I do something dramatic! I’m unstable, ya hear?! I’m crazy!”
“Yes, I can see that. But I really do need to use your phone.”
“Woman! Are you fuckin’ deaf?! I will rip you in half with this here buckshot!”
“Sir, you can try, but that’s not gonna work out well for you. Trust me.”
“That a threat?! You threatenin’ me now?!”
Lynnette sighed. “Well, if you’re gonna shoot me, then allow me to move over here so you don’t accidentally kill yourself.” And as she took a step to the right, the man pulled the trigger.
From no more than a meter away, she took the shot square in the chest. And instead of tearing into her, it met a sudden purple shadow and bounced right off, leaving Lynnette entirely unharmed.
The rebounding blast clipped the old man’s shoulder. He dropped the gun and fell to the ground, groaning in agony.
“I feel a little bad, but I did try to warn you.”
The man clutched his shoulder and growled, “What are you?!”
“I’m not too sure myself anymore,” she said. “But look, you’re wounded. I’d be happy to call you an ambulance. Or would you rather I went to find help on foot?”
“Argh…!” His groaning protests soon became breathy whimpers. “In the den. The satellite phone.”
“What’s the number for the emergency services around here?”
“Hang in there, sir.” She wasn’t terribly concerned over his condition since the wound didn’t look very bad, but all the same, she decided she should make the emergency call first.
She found the phone exactly where he said it would be and raised her left hand up to dial, and upon that left hand was a rather special thing.
A kind of half-gauntlet, it was. It did not cover her fingers, nor was it made of metal. Instead, it was crafted from bone.
She spoke to a woman and warned that the driver should take special care to look for the house hidden in the woods, and the operator said it would be about twenty minutes before they arrived.
Lynnette decided to rummage around the house for some bandages and dress the man’s wound just in case. He hadn’t bled that much, but there was no harm in the extra caution, she figured.
And at length, she was able to dial the number that Roman had given her. The long-distance call took a little while to connect, but it eventually went through. And for her trouble, she received a busy signal. “Oh, come on! This can’t be happening!” She tried again. “Gina! I swear, if you don’t take my call–!”
“FINALLY! Goddess above!” She collapsed into a rocking chair.
<“Who is this?”>
“It’s Lynnette Edith. Gina, if you say you don’t remember me, I’m going to lose my shit right now.”
Gina laughed. <“Don’t worry, I remember you. In fact, I’ve been expecting your call for a while. Where are you?”>
“I’m in Lorent. On foot. Please tell me you can help me fix that.”
<“What’s the nearest town?”>
She turned to the old man. He was resting on the sofa now. “Hey, what town is the ambulance coming from?”
He groaned at her but said, “Linkerton.”
“There’s only one clinic.”
“Thanks. You get that, Gina?”
<“Yeah. Let me call Hector real quick and put him en route to the Linkerton clinic. I’ll call you right back.”>
She waited, rocking the chair back and forth. The motion of it made her contemplate a nap then and there, but Gina called back before she drifted off too far.
<“Okay. He’s on his way. So tell me. How’ve you been? I’m guessing terrible.”>
“That’s pretty accurate. What about you?”
<“Oh, I’m doing just fine. Spying on Abolish. Learning all their secrets.”>
Lynnette blinked. “What?”
<“I planted listening devices all over Belgrant Castle.”>
“Are you serious?”
<“Yep. Don’t worry. It’s super fun and in no way terrifying.”>
“You don’t have anyone there to protect you? Or is that what Hector’s been up to?”
<“Oh, that’s right. You don’t know.”> And as Gina explained Hector’s circumstances, her tone became considerably less jovial.
Lynnette could hardly believe it. That timid guy had become the most wanted criminal in the country? She wondered if he’d even be the same person when she saw him again.
Soon, the ambulance arrived, and Lynnette had to hang up the satellite phone in order to hitch a ride on it. The clinic in Linkerton wasn’t particularly far, and she ended up waiting around for another half hour before Hector rode into the parking lot on his silver motorcycle.
Apart from his black riding jacket, he didn’t seem so different. As he pulled off his helmet, he offered her a meek smile, but after a moment, it spoiled into a look of confusion.
“Lynn?” said Hector, abruptly very concerned. “What’s happened to you?”
She tilted her head at him. “What do you mean?”
“Garovel says… that you… your presence is really different?” He paused, no doubt listening to the invisible reaper again. “He says you’re not an aberration, but still… um… Garovel, what the hell are you trying to say?”
“Oh. I guess he’s sensing this thing.” She held up her half-gauntlet. “It was crafted from an aberration’s bones. It’s okay. It won’t hurt you, and neither will I.”
“Garovel’s really confused…”
“Well, it is dangerous,” said Lynnette. She clenched her fist, and the violet shadow enveloped it. “I basically stole it from the Vanguard. Or rather, I was forced to.”
“Y-you… uh… why?”
“The Queen told me to try it on. Test it out while they weren’t looking.” She yanked at the gauntlet with her other arm, and it didn’t budge. “But apparently, once you put it on, it doesn’t want to be removed. Those Vanguard people were going to cut my arm off in order to get it back.”
“Yeah. Her Highness ordered me to run. So I did.” The purple shadow leapt up from her arm, twisting into the shape of a hammer, then into a shield, then into a sword. “I can see why they wanted it back so badly. This thing isreally strong. It’s not like the one that you and I fought in Sescoria.”
“Well, for one thing, when I fled on my own, I didn’t make a clean get away. I had to fight a servant. And I won. Easily.”
She gauged his expression, the way his eyes moved from her to an empty space where Garovel presumably resided. “I still can’t see or hear reapers, by the way.”
Lynnette tried to give him a smile. “I haven’t suddenly lost my mind and become a murderous psychopath, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, well… I mean… m-maybe a little worried…”
“Are you going to give me a ride back to Atreya?” said Lynnette. “Or should I start walking?”
And again, Hector was quiet a moment. He looked at her intently. “Um. C-could you tell me more about that thing on your wrist, first?”
“What do you want to know?”
“How… are you controlling it, exactly?”
She gave a shrug. “It just does what I want it to do. Like an extra limb, I suppose. Except…”
She made the shadow disappear again. “It does also feel… alive. Somehow.”
“Hmm. W-what do you mean?”
“I’m not sure yet,” she said, frowning. “I’m still getting accustomed to it. But maybe that isn’t the answer you were looking for.”
He nodded uncertainly, but after a time, he motioned toward the bike. “Let’s go back to Atreya. You can, ah… tell me more later… you look pretty tired.”
She took a relieved breath.