One weekend Damien decided he wouldn't go home. Father had been shouting, drunk, he made a mess of the living room and Elizabeth didn't stop him. Damien didn't know how she expected him to stop their father, but he couldn't. He was only thirteen, hardly big enough to be a threat, and far from strong enough to stop his father.
So Damien decided he simply wouldn't. He wouldn't do anything. He wasn't going to sit at home and take a beating he didn't deserve. He wasn't going to collect the broken pieces of a house that wasn't his home. He wasn't going to sit at Elizabeth's feet as she lied and told him 'No, father loves you. Just sometimes…' because he didn't. Father hated Damien, and when he didn't hate Damien he didn't anything Damien. The forest was more a home to Damien at this point anyways. Molly was in the forest, and she would take him in. All that Damien had to do was find her.
Damien knew the forest. He knew the beaten paths and the forest trails. He knew the banks of the Ymi-Ri, and he knew the secret of the fish statue there. It was by accident that he figured out how the statue worked. A few weeks ago he stumbled away from the house, cuts all over his arms and hands from cleaning the broken bits of father's bottle. He knew that Molly was on the other side of the river, but Damien couldn't swim the river that night. He felt too dizzy and sick. The boy was sure that as soon as he got in the river the big fish would get him, or the strong current would pull him under. Dizzy, tired, and bleeding, he tried to stabilize himself on the fish statue, and he placed his hand in the mouth of the fish.
That was when he discovered that the fish statue was old magic. It was ancient magic, from the time when the cats didn't talk, when the vampires walked in the sunlight, and from when they warred with the lycans and humans openly.
Tonight Damien walked over to the statue. It was an old, white stone pole in the ground that stood at about three feet. There were fish carved all over it, and at the top of the stone statue was an open fish mouth. Damien had often traced the odd circle inside, wondering what that shape could be, but never realized the power that circle held until the night he was bleeding.
Damien had a knife he picked off a Ymani's corpse. It was pretty, and Damien knew for a fact that the ravens didn't need it. It was about the length of his forearm, curved, with a blue hilt and scabbard. The floorboards in Damien's room were weak, and he had made a small hiding spot under his bed. He hid the knife there when he was at home. Father had no right to something Damien had found, cleaned, and used. Tonight he had it tied to his belt.
Approaching the statue, he pulled the knife from his belt. The metal was white silver, high-grade material from the mines in Yman, the gypsies had told Damien that. They said this was a noble's knife and offered him coin for it. Damien declined and kept it for himself. While he had been bleeding quite a lot the first night he figured out how the statue worked, he had practiced with it a few times and learned only a small drop of his blood was required. He pricked his left forefinger, not even flinching at the pain. Cutting himself was nothing in comparison to what father did to him. He placed his hand inside the fish mouth, making sure his pricked finger found the carver circle within. The fish's empty stone eyes glowed a dark shade of red, and the image inscribed inside the fish's mouth appeared in the water.
Immediately a strip of the river froze. Ice erupted up from the water, twisting and paneling out to make a beautiful bridge. The ice was carved into the symbols of fish, Lurimet's animal, with orbs in the posts to represent the moon and stars. Damien smiled as he watched the bridge build itself out of the rushing water. Ancient magic. It was beautiful, something anyone could use, but it was lost to him. Damien just knew how this bridge worked.
Removing his hand from the fish mouth, Damien trotted across the bridge. The Ymi-Ri was wide here. On a good night Damien could swim across it in about ten minutes. On a bad night he couldn't even get in without fear of the Ymi-Ri killing him for his naivety. When he got to the other side there was another fish statue, just like the one on the separate bank. Daimen stuck his hand inside, pressing his slightly bleeding finger to the circle inside. There was a crack as the ice bridge suddenly broke, and washed away with the current. Damien waved at the bridge. It had served its purpose, no reason to leave it for others to find. The bridge was Damien's secret, and he wanted it to remain that way.
Now Damien started looking for Molly. She was good at hiding, and this side of the river was still a bit new to him. When Damien couldn't find her in her usual hiding spots, he started searching the thickets of the deep forest. Somehow he stumbled upon a road. Generally Damien didn't like roads, he didn't like people and he knew that they didn't like him. Though, since this was a new area of the forest, he decided to walk alongside the road. Staying out of direct sight from travelers was a skill of Damien's. Sometimes he marveled at his own ability to disappear when his coloring didn't match the surroundings at all.
It was only by chance that he followed the road for longer than he had intended. Sometimes when Damien was walking he lost track of time. His feet and legs knew what to do, and his mind would wander, his body taking him places without Damien's full consent. For most of his walk he was fiddling with his Ymani knife, wondering what it must be like to be a lord. Lords must have nice houses, lots of servants, warm clothes and fish for dinner every night (because Ymani's always eat fish; always). Suddenly an hour had passed and Damien was on a road that he didn't know, standing beside the gate to a town he had never been to. It wasn't Eloise. Eloise was small, on the other side of the river. There was a small string of bells at the posts that marked the town.
This one was different—not completely different, but very different from Eloise. This city had a wooden and iron gate, bells hanging on both sides of the gates. The gates were open, and beyond it there was a…a stone road. The inside of the town had stones all over the ground. They were smooth on top, checkering the ground, making people's boots and wheel carts clack and screech against the ground. Damien had never seen that before. Eloise was all dirt, a few rocks here and there, but nothing like those mismatched stones that coated the ground. He drew his hood up over his face, tucked his knife into his shirt where it couldn't be seen, and rung the bells. He wanted to see this town.
Late. He was leaving the market far too late. He cursed under his breath as he stuffed his crutch under his left arm. His hand groped for the handle, finally finding it a few seconds after. Sometimes his hand didn't listen to him, and at those times Kester was left standing and looking a fool because his damn body couldn't work anymore.
Thankfully today everything was working. The only problem was he had taken too long to finish his work today, and then left his shop late to go to the apothecary, and now he was leaving the apothecary even later. Thank Vistra and Oras that Marcus's door was always open to him. Stuffing his bag of medicine into his coat pocket, Kester set out back through the plaza, towards the edge of town where his house was. It was going to be a long walk, but he could manage it. He had managed it a thousand times over.
Though, that was assuming Kester was unbothered as he hobbled through Rieshenfar to his home by the edge of the merchant's circle. Most nights he was left alone. The people of Rieshenfar knew him, their children knew him, and while he was never offered aid he was never attacked. Most believed Kester had suffered enough, and it would be immoral to attack a cripple like him. Sometimes Kester couldn't decide if he liked that type of pity, or if he hated it. There was no changing the people here, and he guessed he should be happy enough.
Kester was hobbling through the market much later than usual. There were some people about. He could recognize the faces of men and women everyone knew to be unfaithful, creeping their ways toward the red lantern circle. Kester had no right to judge—people did as they wanted. He also recognized unmarried men and women creeping in that direction as well. People were well within their right to do as they wanted. Kester fantasized about going to the red lantern circle some nights, and some nights he did more than fantasize.
Tonight, however, Kester didn't feel like rolling in the sheets with a fine smelling lady. He just wanted to go home, eat a cold dinner, and then go to bed. His good leg was starting to hurt, complaining over all the work it had to do. Kester could do nothing to assuage its pain at the moment. He needed that leg to work for now.
The hobbling man didn't hear the shuffling behind him; the low giggles and laughs as children he didn't know followed in his shadows. Damien saw them, he was watching from the shadows, spying on both the hobbling man and the pack of boys. All of them were interesting, but Damien couldn't pick out why he wanted to watch them. Something just made him do so. They were a pack of five miscreants, grinning like vampires, wanting to attack something so much weaker than them because they could.
Just as the cripple turned down the alley towards his house the pack jumped on him. The cripple let out a pained shout as one boy dove at his legs, knocking him to the cobblestone road. Another boy grabbed his shoulder and pushed him onto his back. The cripple fought back with his good leg and arms, but there were more kids than he had limbs. The biggest of them grabbed his arms and dug through his pockets, tearing his coin purse and medicine bag away from them. The cripple cursed and shouted, but it was late and most would be asleep or whoring in the red lantern district. The constable wasn't even to this area yet—and these boys knew it.
"Shut up!" Shouted the most nervous of their pack, and he cupped a hand over this prey's mouth.
The prey tried to bite and fight back, but he couldn't. The boys took everything from him, including his warmest coat and crutch, and then raced away down the other side of the alley. The cripple was left on the ground shouting and crawling over to the wall for at least two minutes. The constable found him then. Damien stayed where he was, behind some barrels, crouched down and small, watching the cripple. He did want to help, but the cripple had just been attacked by boys like Damien, he would never accept Damien's aid. (Though he did have the question why he wanted to help.)
"What in Vortex is going on?" He shouted, grabbing the cripple and pulling him up. "Kester?"
"Damn kids took my money!" Shouted Kester, trying to balance on both the constable and his good leg.
"What? What kids? Who?" The constable managed to help Kester stand.
"I don't know I didn't see! They have all of my things! Go get them!" Ordered the cripple.
"Which way did they go?"
And then Kester stopped. He looked down the alleyway, then behind him. Damien saw panic flash in the cripple's one good eye. He didn't see where they went. The boy watched as Kester made a flustered noise.
"I didn't see…"
Damien heard the constable sigh. "I'm sorry Kester…"
"But that was all my money from the week! You have to look for them!" Demanded the cripple.
"I'll start searching after I get you home—"
"Hang home! I'll crawl, just get my—"
"Kester enough!" Snapped the constable. "Now don't struggle. Come on."
Damien watched them disappear down the road, Kester struggling against the constable's wishes. The boy looked back in the direction the pack had gone in. Their trail would be fresh. They'd likely be reveling in their victory. He could easily catch them. People like them thought that they were the top of the food chain. They never expected someone to ambush them.
While still questioning why he cared, Damien crept down the road. He moved silently over the stones, his bare feet barely making a sound as they contacted with them. He followed in the shadows of the boys. They were already running their fingers through the coins. Damien spotted one tossing the other bag in the air, it sounded like there were vials within. They carried the crutch like a trophy, the biggest boy wearing the coat triumphantly.
They never saw the sinewy, pale boy coming.
Thomas managed to get Kester to his porch. The old man had been fighting the entire time. He could care less if he was being carried or had to drag himself to his house, the damn constable had to go get those kids!
"Damn it all, Kester!" Snapped Thomas as he dumped Kester into the chair on his porch.
"I said go get those damn kids and my things!" Shouted Kester.
"And I said I will, but you living to your doorstep is more—"
"Contact with the ground won't kill me you damned—"
"I'm not doing this again!" Shouted the constable. "Just—! Just sit there and when I've got you're stuff I'll bring it back!"
Thomas never had patience for Kester, even though Kester never was the type to complain. He tended to think Thomas had less patience for him because of the trouble he stirred when he got injured. It wasn't Kester's damn fault everyone went up in arms thinking he was going to turn lycan on them! And after five years shouldn't they be placated? If Kester hadn't changed in five years then he wasn't going to change tomorrow! But no, everyone had to shit on his doorstep, but still wanted his damn goods as long as they didn't have to see the man.
Kester glared at Thomas as he walked away. He was a sham of a constable, only working for the people he wanted to. That man wasn't even going to go look for the boys, because Kester would bet two gold that one of the kids who jumped him was Thomas's. Everyone knew that Sam was a miscreant of a constable's son.
Kester slumped in his chair. He couldn't find the strength in him to pull himself up and go inside. He pressed a hand to his eyes and sighed remorsefully. That was the best crutch he had been able to buy. It wasn't much, but it was comfortable and much stronger than the last one he got from the carpenter. And all of his money and medicine…The pain would come back without the medicine, leaving him contorted and twisted in pain on his bed soon enough. Without money he couldn't pay Marcus for more, and there was no way that man would just gift Kester with medicine—and there was even less of a chance of Kester accepting such a hand-out. He was crippled, but that didn't mean he needed pity. He was a grown man! He was fine on his own!
Cursing Kester slammed his fist into the arm of his chair. He wouldn't be able to get anything done for days now! Gods above did Kester just want to shout and scream, but where would it even get him? Everything that was important to him had just been stolen by ruffians who would never pay for their crimes!
Kester didn't want to be outside anymore. Grumbling under his breath he hauled himself to his good leg and leaned on the wall. As he shifted towards his door he heard someone coming. Looking up quickly he saw a boy walking towards his house. Kester grabbed a stick on his porch (one that was far too short to make a good crutch, but still sharp and pointy since he didn't own a sword) and waved it in the most threatening manner he could.
"What in the bloody world do you want??!" He screamed. "Come for more, huh? Didn't bring your whole damn crew did you Sa…"
Kester watched as the boy seemed to limp, his arms weighted down with…items. Kester quit waving his pointy stick around. That wasn't Marcus; the constable's boy was at least two inches taller than this one, and wide as a drau'pony. This boy was thinner, tall, but…he didn't look as well fed as the ones who jumped him. On top of that, he was limping, and his hands were a bit bloodied.
There was silence as the thin boy approached. Bowing his head low to hide his face in his hood, he put down a cloth bundle on Kester's porch. His coat. Tied inside the coat were two purses. One was the medicine and the other was Kester's money. And the boy pulled Kester's crutch from his belt and held it out to Kester.
The old man blinked, confused as to his own things being offered to him. He didn't know this child. He didn't know anyone had seen him being attacked.
"You…you got my things for me?" Kester blinked.
"Yes," Damien answered.
He didn't realize the alpha of that pack was so big and strong. Damien was able to beat him, but it wasn't an easy fight. It also wasn't easy to fight five people at once. Good thing Damien was used to playing against the odds.
The cripple stared at Damien as he held out the crutch. Maybe the old man didn't want it anymore? He did seem to have a stick… But Damien went to all the trouble of getting his things back. He at least wanted his money and bag of vials, right?
"Why?" Kester asked, narrowing his one good, forest green eye at Damien.
Wasn't that the question of the night? Damien just had his foot trampled on, ribs bruised, and eye bloodied for this old man. He had no idea why he did it either. Something in him just…told…him to help. Damien hesitated and shrugged.
Damien stared down at his feet, one was bloody and dirty, the other just dirty. He helped someone. He helped someone he didn't know. He helped someone who would never help him. Why? Why would Damien waste his energy on this cripple? What was the point?
He looked up slightly. Kester was still standing there, confused, just as confused as Damien. Up close he looked much different. He wasn't just a cripple. His face was scarred over, his right eye missing. There were four jagged lines running down his face, disappearing under his tunic top. His leg was twisted badly, and his right hand scarred just as intensely as his face. He had survived an attack of some sort. The cripple was different.
"You and me…" Damien glanced up at Kester, "we're…we're different."
"What do you mean?" Kester blinked.
Damien hesitated a moment and then pulled his hood off. For some reason Damien felt nervous showing himself off to the old cripple. It…it was weird, feeling like he had to prove that he was alike to someone when he was so used to being different, alone, that one outcast. But this old man…Damien felt like they could similar in their roles at outcasts. Loners could stick together, right?
"Shit," Kester sighed, making Damien feel sick, of course they weren't the same, why did Damien even think for a moment—"I can't return you to your parents like that."
Damien blinked. "What?"
Kester pushed open his door. "Grab my stuff boy. Come inside. I better clean you off before I send you home, or your parents will have a fit at me."
Damien stood there, confused. Kester looked over his shoulder.
And then Damien had to follow.
Kester pushed open the door to his house and ushered the pale child inside. His one unblooded red eye stared up at the old man in complete bewilderment. Kester wasn't the type of man to smile, but he waved inside. The boy bundled up Kester's things and darted into the house. Sighing softly, Kester limped in after him, shutting the door.
"Put my things over there, on the table," he instructed.
The boy did as he was asked, then handed Kester his crutch. Muttering a low thank you, Kester took it and stuffed the piece of wood under his right arm and sighed as he was able to take some weight off his only good leg.
Now he had to take care of this boy. Kester pushed a chair from the table and motioned to it. The boy understood automatically and sat down in the chair, swiftly if a bit uncomfortably. Kester went to the sink and grabbed a shallow bowl, filled it with water, picked up a clean rag, and went over to the boy. He sank into a chair in front of him.
"Gimme your face," Kester said, reaching out and catching the pale boy's chin.
He shuddered for a moment but held still. For a moment it looked like the boy was waiting for a strike, a punch or something, and he seemed very relieved when Kester pressed the damp rag to his bloodied eye. The boy relaxed, but only slightly, letting his shoulders slump but his hands hold tight to the chair.
"You're parents are going to throw stones at me when they see you," grumbled Kester.
"No they won't," the boy argued.
"Oh yeah? Why?"
"Father's done worse," he stated plainly.
Eugh. One of those child beating types, huh? While Kester understood slapping a kid upside the head when they're being a brat, he would never understand beating a child into submission. Actions like that hardly fostered well-adjusted adults, though of course he could never say that out loud. It wasn't his business what parents did with their kids. That didn't mean he approved of the parenting style.
"Sorry 'bout that," Kester said softly.
The pale boy shrugged.
"So you went and got my stuff back just because?" Kester prodded further.
"…yes…? I don't know. Maybe I just wanted to hit someone."
Kester laughed lowly. "Yeah, you look the type," no he didn't. "So what's your name, boy? And who's family will I owe a debt to?"
"My name is Damien but…you don't owe anything to my family."
"That's not what your parents will say."
"Father will probably buy you a drink for finding a way for me to get beaten," Damien grumbled.
"Hey, don't say that about your dad!" Snapped Kester.
Damien bit his lip and glared down at the floor. Apparently the boy wanted to comment more, but held his tongue.
"Which dad's yours? You Dennick's kid?" Since it was a well-known fact that Dennick had a bastard flouncing about somewhere in the city.
"No," Damien shifted away, trying to not be touched anymore.
Kester let Damien go, watching as the pale boy pulled his knees—they were scuffed up and there were red blotches on the pants from blood—into his chest. He was a gangly thing, not fed enough but not to the point he was starving. The boy was just…thin, like a stick-bug or stilt-goat. Though Kester could see something bulky in his shirt.
"Well I owe something to at least you for bringing my things back, and getting beaten by Marcus for that stuff," Kester explained.
"Marcus was the alpha?" Damien thought out loud. "His shins are week. Kick them," Damien advised.
The old man had to laugh softly and shook his head. "Damien, if I kicked every kid who took a whack at me in the shins I'd be run out of town."
"Would that be so bad?" Damien suddenly asked.
"What? Of course it would! Where would I live?" He hesitated. "…Where do you live?"
Damien shrugged. "I'm from a different city."
"Your parents just let you roam a new town while visiting?"
"…Your dad doesn't know you're here, does he?"
"He wouldn't care," Damien shrugged.
Apparently Damien's father was a beater and an ignorer. It was a wonder how Damien didn't end up like Marcus. Then again, Thomas didn't hit Marcus and that boy came out as rotten as any. Maybe there was something to be said about that, but Kester wouldn't be the one to say it.
Kester watched as Damien fidgeted, looking at the door, back at Kester, and then his unbloodied red eye moved about Kester's house. The boy was silent, watching the world around him, but painfully aware of Kester. Every time Kester moved Damien twitched, suddenly focusing all of his attention back on Kester.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Kester promised.
Damien didn't seem to believe him. He looked up at the wall and then pointed.
The old man blinked a tired green eye and looked up. It was one of his works.
"It's a painting."
"What's a painting?"
"What do you bloody mean what's a painting?" Snapped Kester. "It's a painting! It's a picture that I made."
"You made that?"
"Of course I did, that's why it's in my house and shop."
"You sell paintings?"
"Yes. How have you never seen a painting?"
"I just haven't!" Damien shouted and curled up more.
Kester brushed his scared hand over his face. "I'm not yelling at you I'm just confused. Where do you live, under a rock in the forest?"
Damien looked away and folded his arms over his knees.
"…Do you really?"
"…some days it's better not to be in the house…"
Bloody Vortex. Kester was indebted to a broken thing of a child, wasn't he? He would be annoyed if he didn't feel so…bad…for Damien. He didn't know this child beyond his name and face and yet…
"…I owe you, Damien, so I have an idea," Kester smirked lopsidedly. "On the days where the forest is better, how about you come here and I show you how to paint? If you've got any talent I'll even mentor you."
Damien waited a moment and looked over Kester. He seemed to be considering his options.
"…And if I'm not good?"
"We'll think of something else," Kester shrugged.