1.14 – Smoke


Previous Chapter: 1.13 – Windy


I stood on the platform, next to Shannon, as Ace addressed the thousands that had come for the impromptu ‘State of the City’ address.

“As you all either heard, saw, or experienced, the police of Ikalga have failed you. They have been prejudiced and power-hungry, combining to create an unacceptable situation in this city. You all have suffered as a result and I will not stand for it!” Ace said, as he banged his scepter on the platform, “Among a long list of crimes, they had the audacity to attack the castle yesterday,” Ace paused, allowing the citizens to grumble and speak amongst themselves, “Aren’t they supposed to be the force that protects not only me, but you as well? Who have they been protecting lately? It’s a false way of life, if you ask me. It’s time for things to change around here.” He said, letting another bang of his scepter hit the platform. This time, I felt an accompanying gust of wind. Was that intentional?

“Yes,” Ace continued, “It is time for a change. But the police force is not the only group of people that I see need to be reformed. Noblemen, you know who you are, you have had your heads in the wrong places. We need you and I will help guide you in the right direction. The Trading Union – your crimes have been horrendous but again, I will help guide you. No longer will we be a divided city. Slowly, we will come together – rental or nobleman; hybrid or not. And finally, you all,” he pointed to the crowd, “I will help you, my doors are always open. One of my greatest friends was one of you a few, short months ago and he has helped both you and me tremendously. We would likely not be here if it wasn’t for him.” He turned and smiled at me. Shannon rubbed my hand. I returned Ace’s smile and met Shannon’s eyes.

How could anyone tell the difference between romantic love and strong feelings of friendship? I know I couldn’t, but I went with it. I was enjoying sitting here with my fake fiance, and my real friends, Ace, Anroma, and Sledg. And even, Shannon. It was certainly uncharted territory for me, but I was getting a crash-course in feelings after being so unattached for half a dozen years. Ace continued with his speech, speaking of the dawn of a new culture, an encouragement for an increase in agriculture and acceptance. I sat back and closed my eyes, enjoying the passion of the speech while Shannon rubbed my hand, whether it was reassurance from a faux-fiance or a true new friend, I didn’t mind.

Shannon, Rella, and I began the walk back to the castle after Ace’s riveting speech. I was still feeling fairly giddy after being overwhelmed with feelings. It seemed things were slow enough now that I could ask someone about them. Rella and Shannon might not be the most empathetic pair, but I was eager.

“How do you tell the difference between the love you feel for Rella and the love you feel for, hmm, your mother? Well, that’s a bad example because she’s your mother but-”

“Are you talking about Shannon, Jochro?” Rella interrupted with a laugh.

“Cut me some slack,” I grinned and shrugged, “I need to learn somehow.”

“I’ll think about it, because despite Rella’s mirth, it is a tough question,” Shannon said, “And now that I’m staying in Ikalga with my lovely soon-to-be husband, I’ll be sure to get you an answer, eventually.”

“How did you pull that off anyway? Not having to go with Sarkard to the new settlement?” I asked.

“Now that I’ve found a man, he wouldn’t want to risk dragging me to Central Settlement just to go back into refusing his choosings again.”

That made sense. I had worried for nothing. And now I knew I wasn’t completely socially inept for not knowing the difference. We walked the rest of the way in a comfortable silence.

We reached the castle and I found An outside, lying on her back. I said my goodbyes to Shannon and Rella before approaching An.

“An?”

“Ready to go see Patterson?” She asked. I could always count on her to skip the pleasantries.

“Absolutely.”

An and I took off down the street, dodging the cleanup crews dealing with the remnants of yesterday’s battle. Seeing all the carnage and bodies was an odd sight when heading to heal your best friend.

“So, do you know how you’re going to do it?” I asked.

“Little by little, for a week,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about it since you asked. I’ll be taking the energy from you, so don’t go off and make other plans.”

“Well, won’t it hurt a bit?” I asked.

“Yeah, but remember,” she winked, “I’m good at the healing stuff.”

We arrived at the infirmary and walked in, my hands shaking much like they did on my first visit. The nurse led us to the room. I walked in, seeing Patterson was awake.

“Hey,” I said, having forgotten to rehearse my lines.

“Jochro!” he answered, as enthusiastic as I remembered, “What’s new?”

“Nothing much, went to North Settlement, picked up a little sister,” I nodded my head towards An, “You know, the usual. What about you?”

Patterson laughed. “Man, I don’t even know where to start, but what brings you here?”

“An and I were wondering if you wanted to say a prayer. We found some old books from Ge’elia. They have these things called religions. Basically a group of people who believe in an overlord in the sky,” I said, rambling almost nonsensically, “They ask these overlords for forgiveness or healing through prayers, and sometimes the overlords will grant their requests.”

“Yeah, sure,” he chuckled warily, “I’m down.”

“Okay, we haven’t said them aloud yet. We’re still new to this, so we usually just say them in our heads.”

“Well, if you came all this way to um, pray, then let’s go for it.”

An and I walked over and kneeled at his bedside.

Praying? What? she asked in a mind message.

I don’t want to get his hopes up. Can you do it without touching his back?

She shrugged and placed her hand on my back. I grabbed Patterson’s hand and closed my eyes, trying to relax but was actually bracing myself for the worse case scenario – my back breaking. I felt a slight pull in my back, gritting my teeth as my back muscles continued to tighten.

“Oh! What in the all of Elodine is this praying stuff?” Patterson exclaimed, wide-eyed. “I can feel my butt, for the first time in forever!”

“You can’t interrupt the prayers,” I said through a combination of a smile and clenched teeth.

“My bad, my bad,” he said as he reclosed his eyes.

My back spasmed again slightly before Anroma let go.

The next thing I remembered was walking out of the infirmary, feeling a chill run through my bones. Needless to say, I became extremely uncomfortable with the after-effects and sweating from treating Patterson.

“You look comfortable,” I said, my voice filled with envy.

“Perks of being a Whisperer,” she said, as she flashed a cheeky grin.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Don’t sweat it,” Another grin spread across her face, “But don’t thank me yet. Six more ‘prayer sessions,’ to go.” She shook her head with more sass than anyone under 10 should be able to manage.

Despite her teasing and my back feeling as if it had been twisted, I couldn’t help but enjoy An’s company. Not to mention, I was incredibly thankful for what she was attempting for me.

The increase of feelings had begun to annoy me, though. I couldn’t figure them out. Anytime something significant (and sometimes not significant) happened, I found myself becoming flushed with an overwhelming sense of happiness. But even that word didn’t describe it. Satisfaction? Life was easier when I didn’t become woozy with feelings. Did people like An, who were usually so stoic, experience the same thing? Wanting my new friends to be safe has been a successful motivation in continuing with the Night Shift but, how did one fight a rebellion with so much to lose?

As Anroma and I neared the castle, there was a flash of light off in the distance. It wasn’t late in the day, so any heat lightning flashes wouldn’t have been visible. However, this particular silent flash was so intense it seemed to cover the entirety of the city. I looked outside the city walls to find the origin of the flash, seeing what appeared to be green smoke pluming from a cliff I used to be stationed at during my slave days. I looked closer and it appeared that the smoke at the top of the column was collecting into a humanoid shape. But, I blinked and the figure was gone, the green smoke dissipating soon after as well.

I looked to An. “No, I have absolutely no idea what that was,” she said, literally reading my mind.


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