The voice taunted me, telling me I was weak and would always be too afraid. That I would never be able to stand up to people on my own. Was it trying to get me angry or to accept it? I pulled my knees closer to my chest, too scared to have any part of my body too far away from me. Then the voice switched tactics.
“Don’t you want to see them again?” The offer was laced with memories. My eyes peered over my knees to see three of the strange trees in front of me. Each had a face on it, faces I recognized. “I can bring them back, and they will never know what you have done.”
My face peeked a little further out from behind my knees. My family, I could see them again. And my brother would forgive me for whatever it is that I had done? I was just about to stand up and accept the offer when the voice started screeching.
I planted my hands over my ears to try and lessen the pain, but the sound was inside my head. My vision started blurring in and out from what felt as if my life force were being pulled out of my neck. As I fell to the ground I noticed the forest was back to the west and no longer on the hill. Then my brain stopped processing thought, only pain. And then darkness.
There was nothing there. My mind made the gesture to move my hand in front of my face. If it was there I could not see it. Time passed, I knew, but I had no way of telling. I suppose I could have counted, but how long would I be counting? Eternity?
A lot had happened in the last few days, many things I should be trying to figure out. So many things that my mind refused. Instead, it just sat there staring through my eyes at the blackness.
After some time, I thought I heard a sound from very far away. Another came from my left. I turned towards it quickly. Then another from my right. It took a few minutes to tell they were the sound of voices talking to each other. Then I realized my eyes were closed.
I opened them, only to be accosted by light. The pain shot straight to my brain. I closed them and flinched. One of the voices, a familiar female voice, took notice and announced to the other “He’s waking up, should I take him back to his cell?”
A much older male voice answered from further away. “Why would you want to put him back in that dingy old place? We needn’t worry, he’ll be fine here.” The voice had traveled from where it was to behind me. “Let me put this on him and then I’ll need you to lay him down on the bed in the other room.”
I had not noticed how much the back of my neck was hurting until some kind of cool creamy substance was being rubbed on it. The pain started to vanish immediately as the man’s voice exclaimed “And you can take that silly holding spell off of him. Poor boy’s going to have stiff joints and muscles soon if he doesn’t already.”
The woman’s voice, Kulver’s voice, sounded shocked by this statement. “But what if you’re wrong sir? He could still be a danger!” She was not happy about this decision.
I tried opening my eyes slightly to get a look around as I continued to listen to them. The room was not small but not so large that I could not see the other side. Cabinets ran the length of the three walls I could see. These cabinets were adorned with jars of many different sizes. Some as big as my head. And I think I could see one with an actual head in it on the far side of the room.
The female’s voice was still protesting when a younger female voice interrupted and quieted her quickly. “How dare you question the Grand Requisitor! You already have enough marks against you, Auditor Kulver. Shall I report this incident as well? You would be thrown in a cell yourself.”
The old man’s voice broke the heated silence. “Now, come, Ara. There is no need for such a thing. She is only acting on her fear of what this young man was made to do. Even though he is too weak to pose a danger to anyone in this room, she has a right to speak her concerns.”
As soon as the name traveled to my ears my mind was buzzing. Instead of thinking it, I must have said it “Ara...?” There was a gasp from behind me. The name, there was a meaning behind it, someone I knew. Someone that meant something to me, but who and what?
The young girls voice was lithe “Tresq...?” No one called me by that name. Not my brother, nor my mother or father. But...there was one person, a little girl. The little girl I saved. I felt the twinge of a smile as the name and face came to mind.
Araminta de Valence, Auditor 7487 now. The first time I met her she was ten years old and trying a water walking spell alone. I was on my home from the academy when I saw her halfway across the lake. Amazed that a child could pull off a spell like that. And then she was splashing frantically and started to go under. It was so sudden that my brain had not even processed it before my legs started moving fast.
Water walking without knowing how to swim. I picked on her the whole way as I took her to my place to call her parents. She was furious and had quite a tongue for a little kid, but I could tell she felt foolish.
Probably about as foolish as I had felt when I answered the knock on the door. Her father had come to get her. He was at my house, picking his daughter up. The girl I had just saved. The son of the Grand Magi of Brodshav at my door. Araminta told her father everything, and he agreed that I was right to call her out on such a foolish thing. This made her angry and pouty.
He looked around my messy tiny house and offered me anything I wanted, and dinner at their place. I accepted dinner. But instead of accepting the other offer, I made one myself. I looked down at the little girl and back to him. “How about I teach her how to swim so she doesn’t try this again?”
He laughed, but gladly accepted. That was the moment I became a mentor to her.
I had not realized that I had fallen asleep and dreamt the memory. I opened my eyes to a much darker room and the sounds of crickets and frogs coming from the window to my right.
Not thinking, I went to lift myself up and was met with muscle aches and cracking joints. I let out an exasperated cry of pain and fell back down onto the pillow. Through my gritted teeth I heard shuffling from what I assumed was the other room. Then the door began to squeak open.
I raised my head, my neck the only thing not hurting, to see who my visitor would be. To say I was a bit disappointed that it was an older man and not Ara would be putting it lightly. He flipped a switch on the wall and a lamp in the corner came on, not bright enough to make me flinch.
I let my head hit the pillow as a delicious aroma found its way to my nose. I felt like I had not eaten in days. “That smells divine.” I let the old man know.
He laughed and replied “I’d imagine that right about now an old sock would smell delicious to you.” His tone got a little more solemn “They haven’t fed you for days.”
The old man made his way to the bed and sat down beside it. He had a look about him that made him seem very old, but he still had a head full of hair. Though it was stark white and very messed. His forehead was permanently wrinkled as if he were trying to figure out a puzzle.
He offered a glass to me “Drink this to help with the soreness. After you can get up you can have something to eat. And then we can try to figure out exactly what happened to you.” He lifted my head to the glass and had me drink.
The smell that greeted me from the mug was that of heavy bitterness mixed with honey. Sadly, the honey did not help the flavor. I’ve tasted a few elixirs in my lifetime to know that they never taste good, no matter how much you try to cover them with other things. Thankfully I was use to tasting them so I did not cough or gag as it went down.
He stood and looked at the clock on the end table beside me. “Give it about ten minutes, then you should be able to get up without any problems.” Then he turned and left the room.
In ten minutes I would find out what was going on and what I had done, or most of it. People always say that time moves so slowly or seems to stop when you are waiting for moments like this. Well, they are not wrong. Those ten minutes took days.
I stared at the ceiling trying to remember everything I knew and what questions I might have. It frustrated me to realize that neither was numerous. I remember the golem saving me from the train, being arrested, having the charges read, and finding out my brother was dead. And there was something about a forest that I could not quite remember, but that was about it.
I remembered that I forgot I was a Clarent, and about the golems. I remembered that I had forgotten about Ara as well. Past that I did not remember anything as far back as...”What year is it?”
The ceiling did not answer back. Figures. Ara was an Auditor. She looked like she was at least fifteen years old. The last time I remember seeing her she was twelve. Was I really missing that much of my memory?
The time finally passed and I slowly sat up. No pain. I swung my legs to the side and sat there just looking at nothing. The answers I want are just a room away. All I have to do is get up, walk to the door, and open it. That was all. Simple. And yet I could not bring myself to move.
Did I really want to know the answers? My stomach answered with a loud and painful growl. “Well, I can’t argue with that reasoning.” And with that I made my way to the door.
The room was much larger than I had imagined. I had only seen about half of it. Behind where I had been were more cabinets with many more jars, counters with all kinds of science equipment, a stove, a large sink, a very old fireplace that would be a safety hazard in most buildings, and a small square table with four chairs and food.
The old man sat at the table with his back to the room I had been in. He looked even older from this angle. There was a plate with rice, beans, and some kind of meat slathered in a brown gravy. I think my eyes and mouth started watering at the same time.
Not sure if he heard the door open, I announced myself. “Sir?” poorly.
He was a bit hunkered over and I thought he might be asleep. Then his arm gestured wildly to me to come and have a seat. I did not hesitate.
I sat down and looked over to him and found that he was staring into a microscope. His food right beside it had not been touched. He mumbled towards me as he adjusted the microscope. “Eat, boy, eat.”
The moment I finished, and was still hungry, he looked up with eyes wide and the spark of a five year old boy finding the most amazing bug ever. “Do you know what this is? It’s a phenomenal specimen!” He lifted a jar towards me that had been blocked by the microscope.
I have no idea why, but I found myself retreating quickly until I ran into the counter behind me. The chair crashed to the floor. It was nothing more than a piece of a vine. Why did I react that way?
He quickly placed it away from me and stood up. “You don’t have to be afraid, it’s harmless now.”
I kept staring at the place he had hid it as I picked up the chair and sat back down. “What is that thing and why did I freak out like that?”
He sat back down as well and answered in the way that old men love to. “Oh, those are two very good questions and I’m sure you have quite a few more.” He took a bite of his food and said with a mouthful “So, where shall we start?”