In the same vein as my excerpt last week, here's a snapshot of a flashback scene I wrote this week!
This is an unedited, rough draft scene from Shadow, rather than Sea, so it's telling Shera's story rather than Calder's. And since the screenshot didn't work out too well last time, I just copied and pasted the text this time.
Don't hate me too much for a lack of polish, and hit the jump for the preview!
Tapping her pen, Kerian regarded the child across the desk. The girl's feet didn’t quite reach the floor.
“How old are you?” Kerian asked.
The girl leaned forward, eyeing the plate on Kerian’s desk. Remnants of dinner still rested there—a half-eaten pork sandwich and a handful of fried almonds, bought from a street vendor. Kerian had the meal brought to her while she worked, but she’d been too busy to finish.
Kerian handed over the food, and the girl snatched it away, sinking her teeth into the sandwich before she’d settled the plate on her lap. She closed her eyes, savoring the flavor.
“Mmmm. This is real pork. I can tell.”
“How long has it been since you’ve eaten?” Kerian asked. She wouldn’t put it past the Gladstone Kidnapper to have starved his victims.
Still chewing, the girl twisted her face in thought. “Lunch? No, wait; I stole some dates from the cart outside. About two hours ago.”
The girl tore into the sandwich like a ravenous wolf, and Kerian elected to stick with her professional questions. “How old are you?”
The girl shrugged. “Not ten yet, I don’t think. The ten-year-olds got special treatment.”
Kerian put a question mark in her ledger next to ‘Age.’
“How long have you been with Mr. Maxwell?”
The pork sandwich had vanished, so the girl held up a single salted almond to the light, examining it with one eye shut like a jeweler holding a diamond. “A long time,” she said.
Kerian wrote another question mark next to ‘Length of Confinement.’
“Now, what’s your name?”
The girl popped another almond into her mouth. “Maxwell called me Shera.”
Kerian froze with her pen a half-inch from the ledger. That sounded suspiciously like an Am’haranai name.
Based on everything the Shepherds observed and the Miners dug up, Rudeus Maxwell was a nobody. A malcontent who aspired to rebellion. He’d served in the Imperial army for almost ten years, but retired before the South Sea Revolution to inherit his family’s remaining fortune.
Judging from a handful of Maxwell’s letters the Consultants intercepted, some drunken talk with a Mason in a nearby bar, and the testimony of Maxwell’s former squad members, it was good that he’d left the service when he had. He would have been more likely to join the Revolution than stay with the army.
That would not have ended well for him. The Emperor had just signed the release—Baldezar Kern, Head of the Champion’s Guild, was taking the field. The South Sea Revolutionary Army would be little more than splinters and twisted iron by the end of the month.
But it seems there’s no escaping the Fates. Dead here, dead on a distant battlefield—Maxwell would never have made it into next week, no matter his choices.
Kerian made a note in the margins of her ledger: Have someone Read his belongings. She needed to know if he was imitating the Gardeners out of coincidence, obsession, or some secret knowledge.
If Rudeus Maxwell had been connected to the Consultants, then the Guild would face some uncomfortable questions. As the Guild Representative for this chapter house, it would be up to Kerian to answer those questions.
“No family name?” Kerian asked, returning to her inquiries.
Shera shook her head.
Only Consultants, born on the Gray Island, had no family name. Kerian took a closer look at the girl. Black eyes, black hair down to the shoulders, pale skin…she was the typical breed of the Capital streets. Most of the Aurelian Capital’s more dignified citizens had dark Heartlander skin, like Kerian herself, but the peasants came from a hundred mixed breeds.
Shera might have had an Izyrian ancestor, probably several from Erin, and maybe a dozen other mingled bloodlines. Without a full name, it would be hard to place her.
“Maxwell called you Shera,” Kerian said. “What did your mother call you?”
Shera had finished her almonds, and was now staring intently at the sandwich crumbs on her plate. “Not much.”
“Where is she now?” Kerian asked.
“Dead, probably,” the girl said casually, placing a crumb of bread on her tongue.
Her voice sent a chill tickling down Kerian’s spine. No one so young should be so cavalier about death. She even spoke like a Gardener. “Why do you say that?”
“Maxwell said that’s what happens to Anthem addicts.”
Whatever other lies the Gladstone Kidnapper may have told his victims, in this one case, he’d spoken the truth. If Shera’s mother had really been addicted to Anthem before the abduction, she would likely have died in two or three years. Shera could have been gone for as many as six.
“What about any other family? Do you remember anything?”
Shera reluctantly placed the empty plate back on the desk. “No brothers, no sisters. I may have had a father once, but I think he went away.”
She didn’t seem concerned about her fate. Instead, she craned her neck to see over the desk as if she expected to find another pork sandwich lurking in the shadows.
Next to ‘Family Status,’ Kerian noted, ‘likely deceased.’
She hesitated before asking the next question. This was the important one, the reason why she had left Shera for last, after all the other children had been returned to their parents or to the care of the Empire.
“Do you know what happened to Mr. Maxwell?” Kerian asked.
All the other children had responded the same way to this question: they had shifted uneasily in their seat and pretended to know nothing. Some of them had glanced at Shera, but none had said a word.
Shera looked Kerian in the eyes as she answered. “I killed him,” she said.
Kerian tapped her pen against the ledger, next to the words ‘Relevant Testimony.’
“Why?” she asked.
“He shot a friend of mine,” Shera said. “We were only supposed to kill people who deserved it. I thought he deserved it.”
In her mind’s eye, Kerian saw the dead girl with the bullet-wound and the blue ribbon. “How did you feel, once you killed him?”
Shera’s eyebrows furrowed. “Hungry. I hadn’t had dinner yet.”
Kerian rubbed the scar on her forehead, a nervous habit. She’d earned that scar when a client turned on her with his saber in lieu of payment, slicing her face straight down the middle from hairline to the tip of her jaw. She had overlooked his past as a professional duelist.
In other words, she’d earned the scar for being careless.
The Consultant placed her pen on the desk. “Shera. Do you have anywhere else you can go?”
“I’ll find someplace. Do you have another sandwich?”
“No brothers or sisters? No relatives of any kind?”
The girl looked back at her, eyes flat and dead. “Why?”
Kerian tore the page out of her ledger, folding it in half, and then in half once more. The Council of Architects might not appreciate this, but Kerian herself would have a seat on the Council soon. And technically speaking, she already had the authority. Even if no one expected her to exercise it.
“Shera, I think you should come with me. I believe I can find you a place to stay.”
The girl tilted her head in curiosity. “Am I going to live with you?”
“Something like that,” Kerian said. She pulled a match from her desk, flicking it to life against the striker. She lifted the paper, letting the flame catch the folded corner and spread like spilled water. Kerian tossed the paper to the ground, watching as the only record of Shera’s existence burned to ash.
“Tell me, have you ever been on a ship?”
"Calder straightened his back, focused his mind, and opened the door."
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