NaNoWriMo 2019 Chapter 19
Disclaimer: This is a NaNoWriMo attempt where quantity trumps quality. This will also be a long piece, so if you’re looking for a quick read, I recommend checking out a different category like Short Stories.
~Chapter 19 The Stranger~
The stranger, who introduces herself as Fern, refuses to go to Shatterstrike’s guild hall, but Julia is right that the conversation they want to have should not happen on the public street, so they compromise with a cafe a few streets away that Fern is familiar with.
Julia suggests that the others head back to the guild hall first. No one takes up her offer and shamelessly invites themselves to the cafe.
As they walk over, Anastasia sneaks glances at Corvus, whose face is completely blank. Everyone else is quiet too, even Lucy. This isn’t the best time for idle conversation, not when most of the group could be forced to go back any time and the remainder is tense like a taut fishing line.
So she strikes up a conversation with the stranger.
“Fern, was it?” Anastasia says.
“Yes,” Fern says as she keeps an eye on the others. Even now, the stranger uses her body to block the rest of the guild from Anastasia, or Sherri, as Fern calls her.
“What guild are we from?” Anastasia asks.
“Morning Song. This is our crest,” Fern says and shows Anastasia her earring. A purple charm dangles from her ear and sways as her head moves to keep everyone in Shatterstrike within her sight.
“What kind of guild are we?” Anastasia asks.
“We’re a hunting guild mainly made up of families, so we also run a few extra businesses on the side. Daycare, tutoring, crafts, just to name a few.”
“How did you end up in Morning Song?” she asks.
“You invited me in.”
“Yeah. My brother and I. Vince is my brother, you met him earlier. We accidentally wandered into your hunting ground and were attacked. We managed to stay alive until you and your hunters arrived, and you decided you wanted to invite me to join your guild because you liked my ‘fighting spirit’.”
“Your words. Not mine. I don’t get it either, but it was a good enough reason for me, so i joined. And I turned out to be a pretty good hunter too.”
“What is your emph?”
Fern looks at Corvus.
“You’ll find out if something goes wrong.”
“What about me? What kind of person am I? Or rather, was I?” she asks.
“A lot more confident than this. Solid. Stubborn, even. If you don’t want to move, you won’t be moved, especially when you have your shield out. I am surprised that man broke your emph, but also not. We always joked about it in the guild. ‘Your emph will break before you move.’ Looks like it literally is true.”
She tries to reconcile this stubborn self Fern is reminiscing about with what little she knows about herself.
“So, I’m a stubborn person?” Anastasia says.
“Not about everything, thank goodness for that, but if you decided to be stubborn about something, we’ve all learnt not to fight and just let you do whatever. The only people you concede to are you parents, and we’re still not sure if that’s because they’re your parents or because they’re the guild leaders.”
“My parents are the guild leaders?”
“Yes. And you are next in line if anything happens. And something did happen, except we didn’t expect to lose everyone at once including you.”
“That man attacked us. No warning. He just barged in and started breaking whatever or whoever was in his way. You stalled him while we evacuated everyone we could, but by the time we came back, the guild hall was empty, and we haven’t been able to find anyone else since.
“So here’s our current situation. Most of your guild is missing, and the remaining members are either too young or too injured to fight, or struggling to keep the monsters in check. It’s a sorry state to be in, and all of us want to know why this happened to us.”
“We’ll explain at the cafe,” Julia says.
“You better have a very good reason,” Fern says with a snarl.
“So, my parents.” Anastasia quickly jumps in before things escalate. “How are they like?”
“They’re lovely people. Your whole family is lovely. The kind of lovely people who definitely don’t deserve to have their guild destroyed and their emph broken like yours,” Fern says with a very pointed look at Corvus.
“Do I have siblings?” Anastasia asks, letting the comment about her broken emph slide unaddressed.
“Your father Cameron, your mother Tasha, your younger brother Stefan, and your younger sister Scarlet. All very competent hunters, with a habit of collecting strays,” Fern says.
“People like me and Vince. We were at the hunting grounds because our parents were too busy trying to keep us alive, so you gave us a space to spend our time while they’re out.”
“Do we do that often?”
“Between the five of you, pretty much every week.”
Anastasia doesn’t need to do the math to know that’s a lot of people.
“Does that mean we have a lot of people in the guild?” she asks.
“You can say that. You have a list of people who actually belong to the group, and a longer list of people who are kinda there or just passing by. You’ll know better than I do. Or you used to know.” Fern sends her a glance. “Do you really not remember anything?”
“Not much.” Especially not after that incident with Fletcher.
“Another thing we can thank that man for. I don’t trust him. I don’t trust anyone in his guild.”
“They can hear you.” And even if no one else can, she’s sure Nolan can.
“Don’t care. I’m not hiding the fact that I don’t trust anyone in that guild right now. Especially knowing they broke your emph and stole you from us. Anyway, we’re here.”
They reach the cafe. After a few words with the staff, Fern takes them to a private room. Everyone is civil as they look through the menu and places their order. Corvus remains silent as they wait. Lucy tries to strike up a conversation, but Fern’s sharp replies soon put an awkward stop to that.
Finally, their drinks arrive, and the moment the waiter leaves, Fern leans back in her chair and folds her arm.
“So,” Julia begins.
“Not you. Him,” Fern says with her eyes on Corvus.
“Where do you want me to start?” Corvus simply says.
“Let’s start with telling everyone here about what you did to our guild,” Fern says.
“I went to your guild hall and attacked your members. Anastasia-”
“Sherri,” Fern cuts in.
“-Sherri stepped in to stop me while the others escaped. We fought until I broke her emphatic weapon, but by then everyone in your guild had disappeared, so I brought her back with me to Shatterstrike.”
Corvus stops. The gap in the conversation amplifies the sound of Lucy slurping her drink. The green-eyed girl immediately stops.
“That’s it?” Fern says.
Corvus replies with silence.
“There has to be more than that. Even with the people we evacuated, we still had a lot of people left behind. A whole group of people don’t just disappear. What did you do?” Fern demands.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll take it from here. Corvus told me about what happened, I can help to explain,” Julia says.
“I don’t trust you especially,” Fern says. “We’re talking about your guildie destroying our guild, and all you do is smile. Who smiles when they’re being accused?”
“Corvus is our guild leader, actually,” Julia says.
“That’s even worse.”
“But as you may have noticed, Corvus isn’t a very talkative man, and I’m the only other person who knows the situation. You’ll just have to accept the story from me,” Julia says with a sharp smile.
Fern shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “You’re smiling now, but I’m sure you’re cursing me inside.”
“Maybe we should let Julia speak?” Anastasia says.
“She can, but don’t just accept anything she says,” Fern warns.
“I’ll be careful,” she says.
“So, where is the rest of Morning Song?” Fern says.
“We don’t know,” Julia says.
“It’s the truth. We think the disappearance may be related to a hidden ability from someone in your guild. Is there anyone who can teleport or hide people?” Julia says.
“I’m not telling you anything,” Fern says.
“You don’t have to. Just think about it. I’ll explain why. Corvus chased your guild leaders into a room. The room only had one exit, which was guarded by Sherri over here. Just as you were telling Sherri earlier, she completely stopped Corvus from continuing his pursuit until he finally broke her emphatic weapon. However, when he entered the room to find the guild members hiding inside, they were gone.”
Julia turns to Anastasia. “Remember the guild hall we visited over the weekend?”
“The missing guild you were investigating?” she asks.
“Yes. We ended our search at a room with a gash in the wall beside the door, where Corvus found you. Do you remember?”
She thinks back to the room that had been damaged more than any other in the guild hall. From memory, the walls and windows were intact, and just as Julia says, she remembers seeing only one door.
“How many exits do you remember in that room?”
“You fought with Corvus right outside that room while your other guild members were inside. There was no where your guild could have run to after you were defeated.”
“But that’s only what you say,” Fern cuts in. “Sherri doesn’t remember what happened, so you can say whatever you want and no one can say otherwise.”
“Corvus won’t lie about this,” Julia says.
“Again, we only have your word for this. And he’s not the one talking right now, is he?” Fern points out.
“You could have Sherri’s word for this too,” Julia says.
“You’re only saying it because Sherri doesn’t remember anything,” Fern says.
“I’m saying it because I can recover Sherri’s memories,” Julia says mildly and lifts her cup to her lips to take a sip.
“What do you mean?” Fern says darkly.
Anastasia looks at Julia, who wears the same smile as always. It doesn’t reassure her the way it usually does.
Julia sets her cup down on the table and says, “I am the one who wiped Sherri’s memories.”
The stunned silence that follows amplifies Lex’s whisper.
“Explain,” Fern says. She sits back in her chair, one elbow rests on a chair back so that her hand rests on her earring.
“When Corvus brought you into Shatterstrike, you were in a very serious condition. Your emphatic weapon was completely snapped in pieces, and you wouldn’t wake up. We believe this was due to the trauma of having your emphatic weapon destroyed, so I made you drink a potion to subdue your memories. And it worked, because you woke up.”
Julia keeps her eyes on Anastasia, ignoring Fern’s reaction in the background. “I did what I needed to help you. I won’t apologise for doing what needed to be done.”
“So you attacked us, kidnapped our next in line, wiped her memories, and you don’t think you need to apologise,” Fern says.
Anastasia turns to Fern. “That’s not what she’s saying.”
“She’s just saying what you want to hear,” Fern says. Her hand fiddles with her earring. “I don’t trust her.”
“You’re not going back with them.”
“Then where will I go?”
“Back with me. Back to our guild.”
“The how will I find out what happened?”
Fern narrows her eyes. “What do you mean?”
“Julia says that she can restore my memories. If I remember what happened, maybe we can figure out what happened to our missing guild.”
Fern points at Julia. “She already wiped your memories. What makes you think she can’t plant fake ones for you to ‘remember’?”
“And the alternative? We wait and hope that I recover my memories while everyone else is who knows where? How long ago did this happen?”
She’s been awake for a week? So she has been asleep for a very long time. Too long, if she might be the only person who knows what happened to her guild.
“Then we really don’t have time to waste. Right now, I see a potential solution to our problem, and I’m going to take it.”
Fern is obviously unhappy about her decision to accept Julia’s offer to restore her memories, and Fern is doubly unhappy with her decision to return to Shatterstrike’s guild hall instead of leaving with Fern.
“You said that I’m a stubborn person when I’ve made up my mind. I’ve made up my mind. Do you really want to challenge me now?” Anastasia says.
In the end, Fern grudgingly accepts Anastasia’s decision to leave with Shatterstrike, but only after Anastasia promises to meet her the next day. And if Anastasia does not turn up, it’ll be Fern’s turn to attack Shatterstrike.
“Wow, your guildie is intense,” Lucy says on their way back to Shatterstrike’s guild hall.
“Maybe she has a good reason to be intense. From what we talked about, it sounds like my old guild was almost completely wiped out. If one day, without warning, Fern came in and destroyed everyone in your guild. How relaxed would you be?” Anastasia points out.
“I’ll be the superhero who saves everyone,” Lucy says.
“Actually, I can imagine Lucy threatening everyone for information,” Lex says.
“But no one takes her seriously because she has no bite,” Fletcher adds.
“Lex snaps his fingers at Fletcher, “Exactly what I thought.”
Lucy huffs unhappily. “Hey!”
Lex and Fletcher just laugh. Anastasia laughs along with them. After the conversation they just had, any reason to laugh is a good reason.
They return to the guild hall with light hearts and scatter to different parts of the building. Anastasia calls out to Julia and Corvus.
“Can you spare me a few minutes of your time? There’s something I’ll like to talk to the two of you about,” she says.
“Certainly,” Julia says. “Let’s talk in my office.”
They head upstairs to the third floor without a word between them. Anastasia waits until the office door closes behind her.
“So, what else are you not telling me?”
~End Chapter 19~
Continue in Chapter 20.
Chapter word count: 2387
Total word count: 34190