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Henric and Alex Part XIII (v1.2)

Apr 10th, 2014
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  1. Tags: Villainous Male Knight / Virtuous Female squire, reverse trap, EXPOSITION
  2.  
  3.  
  4. They got up early, and Alex made sure she found Ellis before they left. Today that meant going to Sir Isaac’s door and knocking. She heard shuffling inside, and Isaac was the one to open the door. He was shirtless, and farther back in the room she saw Ellis sitting on his bed pulling on his pants and yawning. When he caught sight of Alex, he bounded up, finished pulling up his pants and raced past his knight with an excuse spoken so quickly that neither Isaac nor Alex could make sense of it, and then the boy shut the door.
  5.  
  6. Sleepily, Isaac retreated to continue dressing. He thought of those two boys and how they always seemed to seek each other out when they could. Now they favored privacy. He knew the signs of secretive romance, he’d seen it a few times here and there in other barracks he’d lived in. The knight wondered if the boys had kissed yet. He made a note to talk to Ellis about the potential perils of young love. The last thing he wanted was to have to guide the boy through a broken heart at his age, but as far as he was concerned, Alex was as good a partner for Ellis as any girl.
  7.  
  8.  
  9. Henric, Alex, Ssazra, Aziz, and Yorick were farther off trail than it was wise for anyone to go and the trees had begun to knit together above them to blot out the sun. Alex looked up at the pinpricks of light that came in through the branches and leaves and compared them to stars.
  10.  
  11. She remembered her father, one night, with Alex and her brother in his office. She recalled the smell of home, and how she had associated his office space as a fascinating and forbidden land when she had been so small, one where she and her twin had rarely been permitted to play. Her father had brought them there though, and one night he had shown them the stars through his telescope. Alex hadn’t understood at the time and remembered mostly watching her brother and father at the device. Now there weren’t even stars, just holes in the trees. Her brother was dead. She hadn’t seen her father in months.
  12.  
  13. When her brother had died, her father had changed. He changed Alex too, into a boy, and he had been able to impress upon her the importance of the situation, and that it would have to stay secret. He’d told her last time she’d visited him, before she had graduated from being a page, that he was proud to have her as his son. On the one hand, his approval was of course something she craved. Outside of distant cousins, Alex and her father were all that remained of the Smyths.
  14.  
  15. It was a lot of responsibility that she didn’t want. She just wanted to be a knight.
  16.  
  17. But why? She asked herself. The small voice asking had quite possibly taken too many of Henric’s bitter sentiments to heart.
  18.  
  19. Because I want to do good things, she reasoned. But she knew that was a poor response. Alex thought that almost anyone could do good, it didn’t take a knight for that. Henric would have told her that doing good was a waste of time and energy. She wanted to be a knight to be a hero, not just doing good, but being loved and admired while she did it. A selfish desire. Looking more carefully at herself now and feeling darkly cynical, Alex grimaced and wondered if she might get the most satisfaction out of becoming a knight purely to spite Henric.
  20.  
  21. “That must be it then,” Aziz said, pointing. Alex ducked around Henric’s side to look in front of him.
  22.  
  23. The worst knot of warped trees in the forest was there, half buried by dirt made of dead leaves. It was an irregular dome of gray branches and trunks. Alex pitied these trees, for they looked so dead and unhealthy and were yet forced to live.
  24.  
  25. Lively yellow light of a fire flickered in the tiny openings between their trunks, and as the group circled around the dome, an opening became apparent: a ramp of stone and roots that would take them underneath and back up into the chamber. The horses would have to wait outside.
  26.  
  27. Ssazra eyed the opening with an analytic eye. If the necromancer was anything like Henric, and he probably was, he would rather not stick his snout into that home. Better that he, the non-human, hide on the sidelines and observe. He told Henric, "I will prepare my tent. I assume you will stay with your friend?"
  28.  
  29. "We'll see. Prepare a bed for me regardless." His eyes flashed to Alex as though he had said us instead of me. Ssazra understood the meaning as well as the words, and though he did not approve he nodded along and set his bag down at his side.
  30.  
  31. Yorick told them all, “I’m going to look around. These trees sit oddly with me.”
  32.  
  33. Henric nodded, barely listening to Yorick. Aziz didn’t feel like traveling any more than they already had. Ssazra alone believed that Yorick had other plans, but as with most things, he kept his enormous jaws shut and kept to his work. He was an observer, a chronicler, a neutral apostle of change that he believed would come to the world. It was tiring work, and more often than not it tested his desire to interfere.
  34.  
  35. Ssazra didn’t stop Alex from following her knight into the dome. She didn't want to meet the necromancer who was famous for wiping out entire towns, but she also didn't want to spend time around Aziz, didn't want to get in Ssazra's way when he was working, and didn't want to miss any details of Henric's conversation.
  36.  
  37. She knew they spoke of grand schemes and important things when they met, and knew also that knowledge was power.
  38.  
  39. Henric led the way into the lair and was greeted with an overbearing aroma of spicy incense that itched at eyes. He steeled himself and blinked at the air until he felt better acclimated.
  40.  
  41. The hideout was not a simple one. Most things had magic woven into them. What should have been dead trees was a lavish gold wallpaper that accepted the curves of the trunks with grace. What should have been stumps were beautifully crafted chairs. There was even a table with a lantern laid upon it and a bed in the corner--who knew what those things were underneath their magic paint?
  42.  
  43. Kerran Myar hadn’t changed the way he had looked since Henric had been a boy. A decade after his death, it would almost be fair to say that Kerran was in better shape than he had ever been. A layman asked to guess his age would never have dared to guess higher than forty years, basing his guess only on a few flecks of grey at Kerran’s temples and some wrinkles around his eyes.
  44.  
  45. Henric had never noticed it, but Alex’ immediate impression of Kerran’s face was that he could easily have passed as Henric’s older brother, or perhaps as his father if he had become a father very young. Though hair and eye colors differed and Kerran had notably shorter, the shapes of their faces were remarkably similar. Unlike Henric, he had short brown hair that came to a point just above his widow’s peak, and dark eyes that smiled brightly. He had no beard, not even a short one.
  46.  
  47. The necromancer was looking at some papers on the table with serious eyes, his hands fiddling with a wooden puzzle of strange shapes that interconnected. He was solving it and taking it apart in a deft sequence as if to calm himself. When he heard Henric approaching, he stood up, grinning the grin of a man reunited with a true friend. "Ah, there you are. Please forgive my lair, it's rather hastily done."
  48.  
  49. "Nonsense." Henric said as he reached out and touched the engraving on one of the wooden chairs. It was either masterful illusion work or a very well-formed sort of transfiguration. "You seem to have outdone yourself."
  50.  
  51. The necromancer merely chuckled at the knight's response.
  52.  
  53. Alex was slower than Henric to make herself known in the room. She spent a long moment gathering her strength to take her final step to enter the view of the well-lit main area. Its cleanliness, warmth, and all around livability startled her, and of course Alex was immediately mistrustful of it. Her eyes swept every surface--especially Kerran--but she made no sound.
  54.  
  55. Henric looked back at Alex over his shoulder when he heard her draw cautiously near to examine things. There was a pause as though he expected Kerran to say something first. When he did not, Henric cleared his throat and spoke.
  56.  
  57. "This is the apprentice I've been training. Alex." He swept an arm to Alex in a manner that the girl felt was too grandiose and cultured for this awful meeting.
  58.  
  59. Kerran looked from Alex to the papers on his desk. "I'm well aware who she is." He pulled up a paper and gave it a careful once-over before he went on.
  60.  
  61. "Alexander Smyth." He seemed to be reading off of it. "Though Alexander is not your name... is it?"
  62.  
  63. He walked over to Alex, still holding the paper and reading from it while Alex recoiled at his words. "Roxanne Smyth died almost fourteen years ago. It's funny, really. You look quite good for being dead. I should know."
  64.  
  65. He smirked at his own joke and examined Alex as he walked between her and Henric. Alex kept her feet planted shoulder width apart, and flinched violently when he spoke the name that wasn’t hers anymore. Hearing it hurt. It was a discarded identity, unimportant and ignored like a cocoon after the moth took to the air. No one mentioned that name, not even her father.
  66.  
  67. A frustration took her by storm. "That isn't my name. Even if it used to be, it's not anymore. I am Alex." She thought of her brother, wondering distantly if he could watch her somehow from death, and if he judged her for adopting his name as her own so completely.
  68.  
  69. Her brow furrowed angrily. "What were you reading?"
  70.  
  71. "Everything." He opened his hand as the paper seemed to fall right into his palm, disappearing from sight. He turned back to Henric to flash a smile at him, but Henric didn’t return it. It had never occurred to him to ask Alex about the name that had been hers before she was Alexander, and the name Roxanne seemed as unfitting to him as it did to his squire.
  72.  
  73. "I know everything about you, Roxanne Smyth. Every. Last. Detail." He put a hand over his heart pridefully. "I know where your father lives. I know you’re betrothed to a rather lovely young princess, though that’s pretty hush-hush, isn’t it?"
  74.  
  75. He wandered away from her and back to his table. "I even know what your brother thinks of you."
  76.  
  77. Out of everything Henric had ever said and done to her, the weight of all of it on her soul combined did not compare to Kerran's final words. Her heart felt like it was being drowned and filled with mercury, her skin became ice cold. She lost a sense of location and touch, her fingers tingling to remind her that they still existed. Alex may as well have been floating where she stood.
  78.  
  79. What does he think of me? Alex wondered. The moment the words were formed in her mind, a horrific shudder of nausea made her sink back into her body, and she looked to Henric--her only hope, how disgusting that was--with eyes that begged him: Help me.
  80.  
  81. Henric wasn’t as taken aback as Alex was, but he was sufficiently surprised. He looked to her and saw her eyes stutter through her emotions and look to him with abject desperation. It was enough of a surprise that the look he returned to her was not made of contempt and cruelty. He nodded to her slightly, whatever that meant.
  82.  
  83. "I can show you if you like." Kerran spoke nonchalantly as he returned to his notes on the table. "You should hear it from him first hand, don't you think? Think of it as my show of thanks for your help volunteering."
  84.  
  85. He turned back to her with the same pleasant smile.
  86.  
  87. "No," she said immediately. Her correct brain was faster than her weeping heart, and she regretted saying no with a feeling of anguish even though she knew that to say anything else was to be weak. Even if she could see her twin, a boy she had loved but whom in truth she could barely remember, could not even recall his face, she could not trust this man to be the one to facilitate such a meeting. "No. And I… volunteer?"
  88.  
  89. Henric spoke again, to Alex. The knight’s words came out in a lower tone than they normally did, and his arms were crossed over his chest. “I wanted Kerran to meet you, since I’m stuck with you and therefore he is too. He wanted to take a look at you for his work as well.”
  90.  
  91. “Twinless twins,” Kerran said, raising a hand with one extended finger pointing up in exclamation, “Are rather hard to find. It’s work. But Henric has you at his heels, and that’s very convenient you know.”
  92.  
  93. He reached a hand toward Alex' chest and, a few feet from her, closed his fist in the air. The girl felt it, a squeezing feeling inside of her like his hand was fondling her heart and rubbing his fingertips around it. Her breath hitched in her throat, and Kerran pulled his fist towards himself, away from Alex.
  94.  
  95. They both felt the resistance. It was subtle at first, and malleable. Like they each held fistfuls of soft dough they were going to bake with, and were pulling it apart to flatten it out. They felt the tether between Kerran’s fist and Alex’ chest grow thin, and though it couldn’t snap in half like dough could, it caused a searing misery in the girl. She staggered forward to alleviate it, and it faded like mist at midday.
  96.  
  97. Whatever he was doing, it was her worst nightmare. She had developed a certain security around Henric, knowing that no matter what he did with her body, no matter what scars he left or pains he submitted her to, her mind could be whole. She could still be who she was, she could still be the squire Alex who would grow to be a knight.
  98.  
  99. There was no such guarantee here, with a stranger’s hand gently squeezing her soul and rubbing it between his fingers too sensuously like foreign silks.
  100.  
  101. “I do appreciate this,” Kerran said to Henric, and he opened his hand. What he had pulled from Alex leapt back into her chest eagerly and left her reeling, barely listening to the men. "Perhaps I can make her a bit easier to handle for you? I got the sense just now that she’s not usually on her best behavior."
  102.  
  103. "She's nothing I can't handle." Henric defended himself, as a bit of anger rose in his throat. Letting his friend examine Alex’ soul was one thing, if a thing he didn’t understand, but he didn’t like the idea of alterations. He didn’t believe that could ever end well. A hollow ache sounded from his core and beat in his head like a drum as his body cried out for something it had never had.
  104.  
  105. “I haven’t heard a no,” Kerran wheedled, still smiling. “I won’t hurt her, Henric.”
  106.  
  107. “Just do your tests and… fine.” Henric sighed. He appreciated Kerran, respected him. But he didn’t like that he always had a way of getting what he wanted. The knight looked at his squire one last time before he headed out. He didn’t feel a need to stick around and let Kerran feel superior about getting his way.
  108.  
  109. Alex would have done anything in that moment to leave with Henric. She would have fallen on her knees unheroically and sucked his cock a hundred times if it meant he would tell the necromancer no and pull her away. She would have given all of her future wealth and all of her status for the security that Henric--the rapist, the murderer--could provide. The girl told him all of that with her eyes as he abandoned her, and the look was only broken when the door shut.
  110.  
  111. "I sure hope you're ready, Roxanne," Kerran said, sounding too chipper.
  112.  
  113. "That isn't my name," she told Kerran.
  114.  
  115. "Oh? These papers I've acquired say otherwise." He reached back for her, with an open hand and as he pulled away only pin pricks of the previous feeling pulled at her. They were tiny invisible threads that pulled her feet and hands and chest and made her skin clammy.
  116.  
  117. Kerran’s hand convulsed and twitched like a tanned spider, and Alex stumbled towards him like a poorly crafted puppet.
  118.  
  119. Alex cried out with surprise. The sensation was a horror she had not anticipated, and the effect was something discussed in stories, not something she had ever been trained for nor something she had ever believed that she would have to be trained for.
  120.  
  121. "Your papers are wrong," Alex said, trying to control herself, to balance and dig her heels into the ground. "I had a different name at birth. I was given this one when I was young. It is my name. I am Alex."
  122.  
  123. "Henric has it all wrong." He stopped his hands and let her catch her breath. "You're not lying to him. You're not lying to your King, nor your fellow squires and knights."
  124.  
  125. He shook his head sagaciously. "No, you're lying to yourself."
  126.  
  127. Alex scowled, and his lighthearted smile melted into a flat-lipped, stern expression of forced-neutrality. His hand went back to work, twitching horribly. As his hands moved, Alex' hands lifted her tunic. Her face contorted with rage and the first few angry tears slipped out of her eyes as she felt her hands--but alien--move to bare her chest to the dead man. She wanted to kill him and let him die a second time.
  128.  
  129. "I don't recall Alex having breasts." He said once the hands lifted far enough up. "No, that would have been something that Roxanne had."
  130.  
  131. "I'm not my brother," she said, hoping she could do anything to change Kerran's mind and make him stop. She had never been pressed to justify her identity to anyone and had never expected it would be so difficult. "I'm not a boy. But I am Alex. I'm still my own person, I'm still separate, but I'm not Roxanne, she died when my brother died. I’m both of us, and for father I have to be both of us but I don't really get to be either of us." She didn't notice the profundity of the things she said until she had already spoken them, and at that point she was concerned by other things.
  132.  
  133. She asked him a question she’d never bothered to ask Henric. She’d been naive about the knight, she wouldn’t make the same mistake. “Are you going to rape me, too, then? Do you feel the need to really prove to yourself that I’m a girl so you don’t feel like you’re fucking a boy?”
  134.  
  135. The necromancer was pleasantly taken aback by her forceful tone, his eyes wide with surprise. He smiled again like he found her amusing and made Alex continue to disrobe. “No, Roxanne. I won’t rape you, and I am already absolutely certain of your femininity. You can't change who you are, just like I can't become a living, breathing, human man. Some people are just stuck the way they are, and for the most part, because of it, I value my research more highly than your body.”
  136.  
  137. He observed her body with the cold calculation of a doctor, not the lecherous eyes of… Henric.
  138.  
  139. "Alex is who I am," she told him firmly. She took some comfort knowing that he didn’t plan to rape her and had told Henric he wouldn’t hurt her. Her long chest wrap fell to the floor like the heavy ghost of a snake and her breasts made themselves known. In the lanternlight they were a perfect rosy color that Henric would have appreciated like fine art.
  140.  
  141. "Lie to yourself all you want." Kerran was really losing patience with Alex. He released her from his spectral grasp and quickly filled his physical hands with her wrists. "I know the truth. What I don’t know is how you ever manage to make those breasts look flat. Because you are a girl."
  142.  
  143. "The truth of the name my father gave me when I was a baby?" Alex said angrily, ignoring his comment about her breasts. She was less frightened by him grabbing her wrist than she was by the magical tethers he had pulled her by. "That name meant very little. He gave me a new one later. Names and tits mean very little. But I know who I am."
  144.  
  145. "To the right person a name means everything." He whispered in her ear. Alex knew the ear-whispering drill and tried not to give him the satisfaction of her twisting away. "Do you know that before I learned the truth it was quite hard to spy on you?"
  146.  
  147. He chuckled and went on.. "At first the only time I'd see you was when you were with Henric. What fun little games you two play. That one with the acid was a new one I’d never seen before. But then I learned your name. Your true name. Oh, what fun I’ve had. To think just how easily you would whore yourself off to that Ellis boy if you got the chance."
  148.  
  149. “I wish I could," she growled, and glared at the necromancer. It was something she was only now able to admit to herself. She wished she could sneak off with Ellis, wished it was possible to be with him. But fear of Henric finding out and fear of showing Ellis her shiny new scars--and being rejected for them--kept her from it. These were not pleasant things to admit to herself. It was another thing that made her think of all the control she had lost from her life.
  150.  
  151. "Oh, how I know you wish you could." In a matter of seconds his body and face cracked and shifted. Folded in unevenly like dirty laundry, puffed out like yorkshire pudding, mixed up like old milk. Five grueling seconds of his flesh twisting and churning until it was Ellis who stood before her, wearing Kerran’s grey tunic. He held her wrists. "Why can't you, Alex?"
  152.  
  153. She inhaled, and let out a wail of surprise and horror at the sight--unlike at the barracks, the sound wasn't trapped in the room. Her surprise carried outside of the dome of trees to the others. "Stop!"
  154.  
  155.  
  156. Ssazra halted his construction of his tent and cocked his head to listen and see if there was anything else he could pick up, but he didn't speak or ask questions, even if he wanted to. And he did want to. He had no such thing as goosebumps, but knew them well from seeing them on Yorick’s body. He understood the principle of them: when a human is frightened, uncomfortable, they feel it on their skin. He felt it in his heart.
  157.  
  158. Aziz did not have such control of his mouth, and probably had not even considered that Henric might have consented to anything that would make his squire make such a sound.
  159.  
  160. "Henric," he asked, "Was that Alex' voice?"
  161.  
  162. Henric ignored him, and went on with what he was doing, unpacking his bags from Ian’s saddle. Aziz didn’t understand that Henric was intentionally ignoring him.
  163.  
  164. "Oy, Henric," Aziz repeated. "Did you hear that?"
  165.  
  166. "Aye. I did." Henric took Ian’s saddle and tethered him to a tree near a large pool of water. Then he sat with his eyes closed against the tree and watched his horse drink. His face was angered to say the least.
  167.  
  168. Ssazra didn't fully grasp Henric's reaction to this as he watched from afar.
  169.  
  170. All of it had gone over Aziz' head. He'd taken a shine to the boy, found him amusing in a strange way and had even taken an interest in influencing his future. Aziz didn’t believe that Henric was doing his part to help Alex grow into what he thought of as a proper man, wasn’t doing his part to get the boy laid and teach him about women and love. Henric wasn’t one for romance and they all knew it.
  171.  
  172. "Are you going to go see if he's okay?" Asked Aziz anxiously. "That didn't sound okay. He was screaming like a girl."
  173.  
  174. "You would be too were you in his position." Henric opened an eye to see Aziz's reaction. "Have you ever had a necromancer fish through your soul?"
  175.  
  176. "Of course not," Aziz said uncomfortably, he looked disconcerted--would Henric expect him to have his soul open and searched through as well? Aziz shifted weight from foot to foot, and his hands played with each other uncomfortably. He said, "We don't do that in my country. Why is Alex having his soul fished at, Henric?"
  177.  
  178. "Because Kerran wills it." He said with a sigh as he closed his eyes once more. His head fell back to the tree rather hard.
  179.  
  180. "That doesn't bother you?" Aziz asked. "He's just a kid, what if something goes wrong? We could have picked someone up back in the town. You could have given Kerran their soul to fuck up.”
  181.  
  182. "Not just anyone can be a part of his test." Henric's eyebrow twitched in annoyance with Aziz's constant chatter. "Alex is a twin. What makes him useful to Kerran is that his twin died. You know some of the dark arts. Do you know how useful the soul of a severed twin is to a necromancer?"
  183.  
  184. Aziz sat down next to Henric. He admitted his knowledge of unsavory magic with little shame, "We have blood magic where I'm from. The more blood you use, the stronger it is. But souls, no. We do not touch the souls. It's a horrible thing to do. They say that a man who doesn't have his soul cannot even be said to be a man, he is more like an animal."
  185.  
  186. Henric snarled at his words and felt a need to defend himself. "Yet you take blood? Do you know what a man without blood is? Dead."
  187.  
  188. "A dead man is still a soul," Aziz said. "And not all blood magic kills. When I was a boy I started learning with my own blood, to teach me my limits."
  189.  
  190. Henric was done talking. They heard another scream.
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