Authors: R. J. Davnall
Tags: #fantasy paranormal
Episode 1 of Van
Raighan's Last Stand
A Story of the Second
Published by R. J.
Davnall at Smashwords
Copyright 2011 R. J.
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Also by R.J.
The Non Agency
Some Kind of Angel
Wind blasted up
the hillside and shattered into whispers on the hedge that lined
the canal path. It was impossible to forget how near the Second
Realm was. Rel shifted the leather strap of his backpack, trying to
loosen his already-stiff shoulder. His boots slapped in the puddles
and sucked in the mud of the path.
canal turned slowly North towards the brow above Federas. Rel
blinked, squinting against the wind. There were three - four? No,
five - women coming his way along the path. Four wore stout
travelling dresses in brown and green, but the fifth looked to be
wearing purple. An odd group, and an odd time to be leaving
Federas, with the trap awaiting Van Raighan still unsprung. Unless
they’d been lucky and he’d come early. Or something had gone
Rel ground his
teeth. Far more likely something would go wrong, even after he’d
been right to the Court to hone his Clearsight. Twice. Both times,
the Clearviewing had shown Van Raighan’s entry to the town, right
through to his capture. It stopped, though, almost the moment that
the guardsmen surrounded the master thief. Rel would be there,
would have to do something. Clearsight never showed you your own
part in events.
So Rel had
perhaps another hour - clouds covered the sun, but he thought it
was still well shy of noon - to get back to the town, talk Sheriff
, and get settled in before Van Raighan
was due at the Warding Hall.
He resisted the
temptation of using Clearsight to see who the women were. The
Second Realm was close enough still that it would be easy, but this
close he might see something more than faces. He would see who they
were soon enough.
bottle bobbed in the brown canal water. One of the small, white
ones shaped with a handle, and a green lid. Rel thought about
stopping to fish it out - it was filthy, but if it was watertight
enough to float it was worth at least a good meal and a drink. But
he didn’t have his fishing rod with him, and trying to reach it
with a broken-off branch would risk falling in. If he turned up in
front of the Sherriff sopping wet, he might well get sent to Dora
in case he caught cold, and then there was no way he’d get free in
time for Van Raighan.
bottle would still be there later. Rel glanced at the sky, counting
hours of daylight remaining against how long the excitement in town
was likely to last. Out across the valley, darker cloud and grey
haze spoke of another shower closing in. Maybe the bottle would
still be there tomorrow.
through his missing tooth, then caught himself as he realised how
close the women had got. He didn’t know the lady in purple - purple
, not wool - or the plainer-dressed woman next to her,
but the other three were familiar. Dora walked in the middle of the
group, tiny and slight, her fair hair straw-like and wild as ever,
the Four-Knotted cord cinching her faded green robe almost tight
enough to give her hips. The only thing not completely
underwhelming about her was her eyes; even as she nodded gently to
Rel, cheeks rounding slightly with a smile, her eyes were flint and
diamond all at once.
and Notia Tollan made almost as strange companions for the Four
Knot as the two out-of-towners. Both scowled at him as they passed.
There was no question of stopping to chat. Maybe on a good day,
Dora might have a word for him if they were alone out here, but the
Second Realm made more than Clearsight complicated.
If Dora was out
here, though, with two women who hated the Second Realm and two
strangers, something had probably already gone wrong in town. Rel
put his head down and picked up his step -
- and noticed
that the canal surface wasn’t rippling with the wind. He froze and
watched it start moving again, but not all at once. The still patch
was following the women, ripples gently sliding back in its wake.
Plenty of Children of the Wild were untouched by the wind. The list
of known species that would stalk humans was shorter, but still
didn’t move, trying to breathe without using a single muscle.
Whatever it was would be able to sense his Gift of Clearsight, even
while he wasn’t using it, but maybe it hadn’t noticed. He turned
his head slowly, following the still patch along the canal, and
surrendered his eyes to Clearviewing.
Icy cold spread
up under his eyelids and round into his eye sockets. Suppressing
the urge to blink was second-nature, but he could do nothing about
the shiver. There was a slight sensation of tension inside his face
as if his eyes were sticking out on stalks, and then he Saw
Clearly. The canal looked much as it had, except that he could
vaguely make out the shape of its muddy bottom. Sparks glittered
from the grass and bushes.
himself not to look up. His gut grumbled just thinking about the
Realmlessness above. Instead, he kept his eyes on the still patch -
not still, of course, to Clearsight. The air danced above the canal
and the path, a jumble of tiny motes of a colour that was almost
like green. No two ever seemed to move the same way at once.
special, then. If there had been no motion at all, Rel would have
worried, but wherever the Wilder was, it wasn’t powerful enough to
manage negation. Instead, it was breaking the wind’s motion up into
eddies too small to pick up a hair. It was the trick most Wildren
used. On a good day, with a fresh head on his shoulders, Rel might
even be able to manage it himself.
Where was the
Wilder? The air danced, the grass glittered, but there were no
footsteps - the ground still glowed faintly where the women had set
their feet - and none of the strain lines that would betray a
Wilder concealing itself. For a second a ripple across the water
and the grass by the path formed the shape of a giant noose around
the women, but that was just Second-Realm logic pushing at him.
Rel looked at
the women, already half-way around the bend in the canal, and his
mouth ran dry. There were only four of them; the lady in purple was
nowhere to be seen. His eyeballs ached with the cold, fought his
eyelids, but he forced the blink and Clearsight fled. The lady
Gifts of the
Second Realm were given to protect humans against the Children of
the Wild, but the Gift-Givers, Wildren though they were, had always
insisted on protecting themselves too. Among other things, they
were invisible to Clearsight.
Rel shook his
head, glaring at his feet and trying to rub some warmth back into
his face as he walked on. The Gift-Giver clearly wasn’t interested
in him, and whatever she wanted with Dora, she could do whether he
interfered or not. Dora had to know what she was walking with,
though, and Rel trusted her. Strange for three women to be called
to receive gifts at once, and strange that Beris and Notia hadn’t
needed to be dragged. For that matter, strange for Dora to be going
with them. The Four Knot was a Gift, a form of Guiding, but Wildren
were seldom keen to have one around.
going on, though, the women were as safe as anyone could be out
here, and Van Raighan wouldn’t wait for Rel to make a fool of
himself trying to talk to a Gift-Giver. He stretched out his stride
and tried to step faster. It wasn’t that he wanted to get away from
the Gift-Giver. He just had to be in Federas quickly.
The canal swung
around the hillside above the concrete ruin of the old city and
then turned West again where Federas clung to the side of the
valley. It was a small town even by modern standards, dwarfed by
the old city, though every building was stone and slate, not
Rel took the
first track down off the canal path. It had been stepped once, but
the paving was starting to disintegrate and the mud made it slick
and treacherous. He got both his backpack straps over his shoulders
- they pinched at his neck, too tight since his shoulders had
started to broaden - and descended with his arms half-extended for
balance, leaning slightly backwards.
and the Gift-Giver from his mind
, Rel threaded his way
between the houses and down to Main Street. The streets were
bustling with every kind of activity people thought looked normal.
No-one wanted to do anything to alert Van Raighan, but everyone
wanted to be on hand to see him taken. Every housewife in Federas
seemed to be about, standing in twos and threes looking over each
other’s shoulders and trying to find new things to say about the
weather. Children ran everywhere, apart from the few who hung out
of first-floor windows. A couple had even climbed onto rooftops and
would have been grounded for a month if their mothers weren’t so
Hall was at the bottom of Main Street, the grey hulks of the old
city looming behind it like monstrous tombstones. There were fewer
people here - maybe the Sherriff had actually managed to get a
little way through everyone’s thick skulls on the subject of not
alerting the master thief. Still, the way Brea Godin was looking
around, you’d think she was out in the wild being stalked by a
feral something, not chatting to Meli Tofarn about the other
Inside was a
different matter. There were just the seven guardsmen and the
Sherriff, standing quietly by their pillars. At the head of the
room, the Stable Rods stood on their bare stone plinth, shimmering
even without Clearsight. Good for hundreds of years yet. The
Gift-Giver couldn’t have been here about those.
Trying to force
himself to focus, Rel walked straight up to Pollack, who said, “No
change?” The Sherriff was a broad man, running to fat in places,
and round cheeks and a double chin took most of the anger out of
“None. Sir, if
you want things to go according to the Clearviewing, I have to be
here, on-hand.” Rel glanced at the clock above the entrance, and
chewed his lip. There was no need to sound quite so desperate.
A sneer pulled
at Pollack’s upper lip for a moment. “You’re sure we’ll catch the
“If I’m here,
sir. If not, I don’t know. He may not even come. Deviating from the
viewing can produce strange results.”
coming here, boy. He’s been coming North for months and not missed
a single Hall. We’re next.” Spittle flew as the Sherriff spoke. Rel
ground his teeth. He was nineteen, not a boy, and he
Clearsight. Pollack knew very little, except how to get on Rel’s
“If he sees me
around the town somewhere, he might be able to sense my Gift. It
might scare him off.” Rel’s neck hurt, though whether from looking
up at the Sherriff or the effort of being reasonable while
explaining for the fiftieth time, he couldn’t tell. Stronger Gifted
could sense the presence of other gifts, and everyone knew Van
Raighan was strongly Gifted. No-one seemed to know which Gift,
as before, hum?”
“Sir, you have
to let me be here! Do you want Van Raighan to succeed?” It was all
Rel could do to keep from begging. Few towns were closer to a
Sherim than Federas. Without the Warding, there would be Wildren in
the streets, maybe even in the houses.
Pollack made as
if to spit, then caught himself. Who knew what would alert the
thief? At least he’d got that through his thick skull. Instead he
made a sound half-way between a sigh and burp, and said, “Alright
then. Take Willer’s place. But leave that bloody bag somewhere out
Rel slung the
bag off his shoulder. “Um, sir? I saw Dora, with Beris and Notia,
up on the canal path. They were heading for the Sherim.” He looked
down at his hands and realised they were fretting at the buckle of
the bag. Dropping his arms to his sides, he continued, “There was a
wilder with them. A Gift-Giver.”
business or mine, boy. You just get rid of that bag and get quiet
behind that pillar. Van Raighan’ll be here any minute.”