A tale of artists, intrigue, and the magical renaissance

2.05 – Custodia et Tectus {Guard and Guarded}

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***

The cold metal pressed against her chin shifted by a hair’s width, and for a split-second, Elent thought that Rolf was going to cut her throat. Instead, it was the sole indication that Rolf was about to start moving, letting go of the long sword in the same moment that he dove forward in a run.

Elena instinctively reached out to grab for the Rhetorguard as he moved, but he seemed to see her without even turning, and he rotated out of her reach without pausing. She followed after him, but she knew she didn’t have much chance of catching him before he reached Emerald. Metal in Rolf’s other hand flashed as he drew it back, reflecting the dying sun’s orange light in the path of its upward arc

Emerald suggested that Rolf drop the knife.

Her suggestion was almost too late, as Rolf was already bringing his hand around to flick it at her. As it was, his hand went limp and he released it too soon, but he was still charging her as the knife clattered to the courtyard ground.

“I have the shot,” Belloza called.

“No, don’t!” Emerald shouted. She recommended that Rolf stop, that he freeze and not approach her.

Elena worried that a sudden halt would send the Rhetorguard sprawling facefirst into the stone, but he didn’t stop all at once. Instead he slowed his charge for a few steps, dropping into a walk, and only then a standstill, glaring at Emerald, Owl, and Frederica who had backed up against the opposite wall as he had approached.

“We’re sorry,” Elena murmured, carefully patting Rolf down for more weapons that the group wasn’t aware of.

“I should be apologizing to you,” Rolf growled. “If I had done my job, you wouldn’t be in the huge danger you’re in right now.”

Elena didn’t answer, focusing on the light panels of black metal that made up the Rhetorguard’s armor. She found another knife just inside his left arm bracer, and then a cloth roll of darts on the inside of his right leg guard.

“They’re not in any danger, not from me,” Emerald said quietly from her place against the wall. “We’re all on the same team here, we’re working to protect Italoza from a threat.”

Rolf nodded, his expression still and grave, entirely unlike her friends’ involuntary reactions to the Rhetor’s silver voice.

“It might be that you actually believe that,” Rolf said, “I never thought you were an evil person, and I don’t think you’ve suddenly become one now. But Emerald, there are reasons for the Guardhouse’s decisions, don’t you understand? The King might’ve instituted the slaughter of all of the Rhetors in the country, he could’ve rounded up every Rhetor and imprisoned you all where you couldn’t have done any harm, but instead we have a compromise that works.”

“He’s clean,” Elena dropped the small knife and pouch of darts to the ground, along with the long pins whose purpose she didn’t know, and kicked them along the ground far out of reach.

“The compromise doesn’t work as well as you seem to think it does, Rolf, not for everyone.” Emerald folded her arms, “it only silences those who would argue.”

“We are showing you mercy,” Rolf snarled, with so much passion that Elena took a startled skip back, “one which every Rhetor threatens when they escape! By setting yourself against them like this, by endangering those around you, you’re only joining the growing number of Rhetors indicating that the Guardhouse has been showing too much leniency.”

“You’ll forgive me for not taking ‘perhaps we could kill you’ as a demonstration of mercy,” Emerald said coldly.

“It is, when you leave us no choice.” Moving as if his legs were trapped in treesap, the Rhetorguard took a step towards Emerald.

“How the abyssia is he doing that?” Belloza brought her crossbow up again, but Emerald laid a gentle hand on her arm.

“The Guardhouse trains Rhetorguards for more than just combat,” she said, “it worms its way into their subconscious, into their muscle memory, it lets them compartmentalize and repress at their whim.”

Emerald ordered Rolf to stop approaching, and the order seemed to physically pain the man. Elena took him by the arm, in case he still had it in him to resist Emerald’s Storm. She expected the Rhetorguard to lash out at her, or at the least to turn a look of anger on her. His gaze, focused and intense, never left Emerald’s face.

“He’s…he’s never going to stop, is he?” Elena asked. The question hung in the courtyard like a black cloud, and even though it was all-but-rhetorical, Elena didn’t want to know the answer. If she had an answer, she would have to act on it, and she really didn’t want to act on it.

Hurting faceless soldiers in the middle of a battle or smugglers holed up in Milia were one thing…Rolf had been an old friend. He had been a part of her brief life at Studio De Luca, a tiny piece of her journey from garzona to Master, a journey that had taken her far too short a time and had lasted even less.

Rolf’s forehead glistened with sweat, and he took another step, albeit one that faltered and was aborted halfway through. The imbalanced motion sent him falling to his hands and knees, the report of the armor on the ground too loud, and Elena winced for him even though his knees were protected.

“Don’t do this, Rolf,” the Rhetor said quietly, “don’t make it come to this.”

Elena glanced at Ele over Rolf’s back, as the man began slowly, laboriously crawling on hands and knees toward Emerald. Ele’s expression told her he was feeling just as guilty about this decision, but he nodded.

“You know I have no choice,” Rolf panting, moving forward another foot on hands and knees, “I have to do what must be done.”

“Help me,” Elena said, and Owl and Frederica moved forward to join her as she knelt down to take Rolf by the arms. The large man hadn’t paid attention to any of them until they grabbed him, but as soon as he could no longer move toward Emerald he burst into action so sudden that it surprised her.

Rolf twisted to bash a heavily-armored elbow into Elena’s face, and then yanked back to throw Frederica off of his left arm, and then Emerald was there, telling him to sit back, to stop fighting, to surrender to her voice completely.

“I can resist you,” Rolf snarled, falling back onto his heels.

“Are you alright, Elena?” Emerald asked, kneeling down in between Rolf and Elena’s fallen form.

“Him, I’m fine, take care of him,” Elena wiped at her face, vaguely aware that she was bleeding from somewhere on her face.

Emerald suggested that Rolf was not a Rhetorguard, and never had been.

“It doesn’t matter, what you say doesn’t matter, there are ways for me to remember,” Rolf shook his head as if trying to rid himself of a fly, but Owl held fast on one side, and Frederica on the other.

Emerald told Rolf that he had never even seen the Guardhouse, let alone been inside of it. She told him that his entire work as a Rhetorguard was just a lost fragment of a blurry dream, so unimportant that he could dismiss it as soon as he woke up.

“H-hunt you…” Rolf said, uncertainly, “you may as well kill me here, because I’ll always hunt you, no matter how far-“

Emerald leaned in close, so close that their faces were almost inches apart. She revealed that he had no reason to hunt her, because he didn’t know who she was. She told him how he didn’t care about the duty of his position, that he had no greater purpose in his life, that he had no higher authority to report to and no particular responsibilities to fulfil.

She leaned in even closer, until her lips were just next to his ear, and said things which made the rage on his face slacken and the bright energy in his eyes fade. The garzona and their Echoes stood in the empty courtyard, watching as the unmasked Rhetor whispered into the ear of her guard, as the final rays of sunlight slipped over the edge of the buildings around them.

“This is awful,” Belloza whispered in the near-silence.

“It’s necessary.” Elena wasn’t sure if she believed her own words, but she said them confidently and quietly. “We can’t succeed in our goal with a Rhetorguard at our back.”

“I didn’t think we could succeed at all,” Owl said quietly. His hands were behind his back, and he watched Emerald and Rolf thoughtfully. “Now…now, I’m beginning to wonder if we might.”

We might, Elena thought, Rolf’s expression of slowly-vanishing fury burned into her memory, but at what cost?

***

It was a small enough town that Elena was relieved that the inn still had someone at the bar when she entered. She was more young and spindly than Elena was expecting from an Innkeeper, but Elena was hardly in a place to be picky.

“Two to check in?” the girl asked briskly.

“Just one, thank you. I actually just found this man wandering around in the alley,” Elena let a little bit of her worry shine through to sell her story, “he says he doesn’t know…well anything.”

Rolf smiled a wan, apologetic smile, “I…I don’t even know my name,” he stammered. He turned toward Elena suddenly, “oh, but I can’t let you rent a room for me, that wouldn’t be right!”

“It’s my pleasure.” Elena set the sack of coins down on the bartop, “this should be enough for quite some time, enough time for you to find some work and more permanent lodgings.”

“It’s too much,” Rolf protested. In reality, it was less than Elena owed, taking into account the value of the armor they had taken from him, but Elena shook her head.

“Call it a loan,” she said, “my friends and I are in the Inn just three streets down, you can pay me back when you can.”

“Thank you, thank you very much,” Rolf took her hand and shook it.

“I need some name for the books,” the girl at the bar said, “any name.”

“Oh dear…call me…” Rolf furrowed his brow, “…there’s a name on the tip of my tongue, I can’t quite…Em…Emeril? Yes, that sounds…familiar, somehow. I think my name is Emeril.”

***

“There you are, we were starting to get worried,” Belloza hung from the open door of a slightly nicer carriage, and she waved as Elena came into sight.

“I think he’ll be alright,” Elena accepted the girl’s help up and into the carriage, “I still feel…not quite right about what we did here tonight.”

“Better than killing him,” Emerald said from her seat in the corner. If the Rhetor felt any guilt, she didn’t display it. Elena didn’t respond, instead staring out the window as the carriage lurched into motion.

“Tomorrow we’ll discuss what to do once we actually reach Venecchi,” Owl said, “I have a few ideas about the best way to approach the situation. The Guardhouse will take some time to find Rolf, but they will sooner or later, and when they do they’ll start putting things together. If we’re going to use Emerald to our advantage, we should use her before that point.”

“Emeril, not Rolf,” Elena said quietly. “He goes by ‘Emeril’ now.”

The carriage was quiet for the rest of the night.

***

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6 responses

  1. Couple little typos:
    Elent -> Elena
    “Him, I’m fine take care of him,” -> I think there’s a missing comma?

    That was… Yeah… That was something. I don’t think the death, or erasure of a man’s memory is too big of a price to save thousands or tens of thousands of people, but that was kind of horrible. And I honestly can’t trust Emerald xP She might bail out at any moment.

    Like

    2016-05-23 at 1:02 am

    • Prodigy Nevling

      If we’re calling the replacement of people with their echoes to be the death of people, then this is nothing other than the death of Rolf. The only thing Emiril has in common with Rolf now is that they both have the same fleshsack, but they are different people.

      Like

      2016-05-23 at 7:24 am

    • Fixed, thanks!

      Like

      2016-05-30 at 8:33 pm

    • Junky Magi

      Emeril is a little to close to Emerald, don’t you think? Or is that part of the plot? lol

      Like

      2016-10-06 at 8:39 pm

  2. Alzheimer’s on legs… *shudders* Still the same guy, but bits are missing.

    Like

    2016-05-26 at 12:04 am

  3. NemoMarx

    I keep wanting to like Emerald, but she makes it really hard.

    :c

    Liked by 1 person

    2016-05-26 at 1:31 pm

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