Thomas Jade and the Rise of the Alliance

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 2 (v.1) - 2

Submitted: July 30, 2020

Reads: 7

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Submitted: July 30, 2020

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Clean, warm, and dry, Tom wished that he was in bed.  He had been up for nearly two days, and the clocks weren’t being kind to him at that moment.

After a long ride, he was standing in front of a house that he had only known in passing.  It was a safe house that had been erected during the worst of the wars, a place for those who were caught in the middle of blood feuds or for children who stood in the way of legacy collapse.

The place stood within a dress shop, expanding more floors up than the little two storey shop had room for, passing through to other countries and dimensions.

While on the run for his life, Tom had sheltered here, guided by a friend who had taken in all the forgotten and hunted.  She had been the same age as him, but she always felt so much older, with her smothering motherliness and her stern deportment.

“He asked me to marry him,” her voice echoed in his head, drifting in like a miasma, her tone practically mournful.  But why shouldn’t have been?  She had lost everything, her small family, her home, and what little savings that had been held for her.  Seventeen years old and she had been thinking of her own survival.  Lost and aching, she had said it in what she might have hoped was a conversational tone, and all Tom could think of was that barely a year earlier she had snapped that she was too busy for anything other than what was right in front of her; namely the wars and how to protect people during it.

“He asked me to marry him,” she had said, fiddling with cutlery as she set the table, and all he could think of was that just a half-year before, he had professed his love to her, and she had told him that it wasn’t the time.  He never thought about the fact that she didn’t want to marry, at least not then, not to the dressmaker who was affluent, who had a home.  He never thought about the fact that maybe the dressmaker had been taking advantage of her circumstances, taking advantage of her.  She had always seemed so. . . solid, so dependable, that it was impossible to think of anyone coercing her to do anything she didn’t want to do.

A flush of guilt went through him.  He knew what she had been through.  Hell, he had witnessed perhaps the worst of it, and had he bothered to stay in contact?  No, he hadn’t even been willing to stay the night on the empty, bloody battlegrounds, even though he had known that there was a chance that she wouldn’t have survived to daylight.  Maybe, though, that was because he couldn’t believe that she would die.  He couldn’t believe that any more people would die, least of all her, and he could not stay a moment longer, smelling the blood and the quickly decaying bodies of his friends.

Sighing, he went around to the back of the dress shop, stopping at the sealed square across from the loading dock.  He remembered the knock, it was hard to forget it.  He heard it as his throat had blood eking between his fingers, his body too weak to stand any longer as he leaned heavily on—

The door slid open, revealing the fat moon-face of a man that supposedly had died in the wars, executed by a boy who had been Tom’s friend in passing, as an initiation rite.

The scraggly ginger brows went up in surprise before diving low in suspicion.  Malcolm Winter was perhaps the only person who was more suspicious than Michael.

Tom stared at him, his mouth slightly open, unable to tear his gaze from the face of the man who had been like an uncle to him, who had taught him university level magic, who had sheltered him and kept him safe, who had offered cold comfort when his parents had died.

“Yes?  What do you want?”  Malcolm demanded, as if it was offensive how Tom was staring, but he couldn’t help it.  For a decade, he believed Malcolm to be dead, and the man had never bothered to rectify that false belief.

Tom felt his mouth working, but no sound came out.  He forced himself to swallow, his throat extremely dry.  “I— I’m looking for Matilda Green,”  He said, as his mind screamed a thousand silent questions at Malcolm, the main one was ‘why?’  Of course it was ‘why’ how could it be anything else?  The man had been family, he had guided Tom through his teen years, and then he died.  He had been murdered, but no! Here he was, alive, and looking well, if a bit pale.

“No one here,” Malcolm said, pulling back as if to close the door, not bothering to even say hello to the man he had claimed was like a son to him.

Tom slammed his hand on the door, finding himself breathing too hard and feeling light-headed.  “Wait.”  For there was another name, wasn’t there?  But he would have never figured Matty to use it, not after what they had done. . .  “Matilda Le Fay,” he said, looking in Malcolm’s face.  “If she’s still not here, I think I’d like to talk to you.  Maybe we could go over why you’ve not been polite enough to pop in after ten bloody years!”

Malcolm observed him like he was being strange in a boring sort of way, before glancing out into the alley.  He grabbed Tom’s scruff and dragged him in, shutting the door fast behind him.

“They’re still out there, aren’t they?”  Malcolm said, shoving Tom in front of him.  “And you’ve been on the wrong side of it since then, haven’t you?”

“Wh—”  Tom felt his teeth clack together as Malcolm grabbed his arm twisting it up behind him as he forced him forwards.

“Always told you that you couldn’t trust them, you couldn’t trust the agents, and now what?  Now you’re one of the bastards.  What would your mother think?”

“Don’t talk about my mother!”  Tom said angrily, trying to wriggle free only to cause a sharp pain in his shoulder.

“She’d be ashamed of you!  She had hopes for you.”

“She also didn’t want you to abandon me to the wolves!”

“Abandon you?  You joined them!”

With a shove, Malcolm sent Tom tumbling through a heavy velvet curtain that separated the back of the shop from the front.  Unseen from the outside, the inside was blazing with light.  Blinking, Tom got his bearings, seeing first Jakob Koschei, the one who supposedly killed Malcolm.  Then he saw a gangly man who Tom didn’t know very well, but knew him to be Malcolm’s son.  Finally, his eyes fell on the scars of Matty, that cut across her face, the four stripes from a werewolf’s paw.  She didn’t look much different, but her hair was going quickly to grey.  She was giving him that cautious look that bordered on disapproval, a look he was well familiar with, because she gave it to anyone who was with a metre of her.  It was also the look she had given him about twenty hours previous before fleeing out the window.

“A spy,” Malcolm spat from behind him, but Tom was too busy staring at Matty, feeling that she might strike him dead if given the chance.  “I thought you were better than this.”

Jake cast a glance at Matty, causing Malcolm’s son to do the same, but they’re expressions were vastly different, though Tom could only read the one.  Malcolm’s son looked at her with curious expectation, leaning on the counter as she moved forward.  Matty reached out, gently touching Tom’s shoulders, hesitatingly, as if she expected him to lash out at her.  Then, running her eyes over his face, she gently touched his cheek, ignoring the bristle of his attempt at a beard.  Belatedly, Tom realized that it probably wasn’t a good idea to be touched by a psychic, but then again, she only really had an aptitude for seeing misfortune in the future.

“You’ve gained some weight,” she said finally, her voice just as surprisingly deep as before, only now it had a sort of raspiness to him that made his throat catch for a reason he couldn’t fathom.  Perhaps it was because that was how she had sounded after being savaged by the werewolves on the battlefield, left by them to die.  Her screams and their teeth bloodying her throat.

“Yeah, well,” He held up his hands, nearly pointing out that being starved for years on end, would make anyone want to gain some protective weight.  He might have, but he never got a chance as she pulled him in for a tight hug.  She had known, she had helped him escape.

“Good, it suits you,” she said, and he heard a sort of thickness in her voice, and  he didn’t know if it was the reunion or the fact that all present knew that they wouldn’t just let him go.  Matty was too thorough a soldier and Malcolm was too paranoid.

“Might ask you what you’re doing here,” Malcolm prompted, blatantly blocking the back passage, as if Tom would try to run.  He had seen others try to do just that.  It was never smart to try to run from any of them.  None of them were so particular about striking someone dead from behind, and with so many previous friends who had turned against them, it was unlikely that they’d hesitate in his instance.  But. . . but Matty had, hadn’t she already?

A shadow passed over her face, and Matty stepped out of reach, her arms folded.  “We know why he is here,” she murmured, not looking at anything in particular.  “This is exactly why we should have moved house.”

“Did he tell others?”  Malcolm’s son asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets.  Len.  His name was Len.

Matty shook her head.   “We can just seal him with an Obedience.”  That wasn’t a pleasant thought, but it beat the one Tom had previous, which had him sunk at the bottom of the river.  The Obedience curse was one of Matty’s favourites, one she had frequently enacted on herself in their youth to protect secrets and refugees.  If questioned, a person could never answer, the words always failing, the mind always going blank.  If someone tried a counter-curse, it was most horrific; the jaw bent and snapped, tongues ripped themselves out by the root, or worst of all, the throat slowly crushed itself to oblivion to complete the order.

“Why were you at the house?”  Tom asked, if for no other reason than his own satisfaction.  He didn’t recall any of them being thieves.  Or at least, this vein of thieves.  There had always been hard times around the corner, and magicking food and shelter from nothing was beyond difficult.  So much so that most couldn’t do it.

“We were doing what you lot promised to do,” Len said suddenly, his anger clear.  “‘Root out the weeds of injustice’, or what was it?  ‘Root them out’ anyway, it’s a decade later, and they are all still there.”

“I’ve been searching them out to the best of my abilities!”  Tom flung back, his temper rising as he got over the shock of seeing them all again.  And Malcolm. . . “And you!”  He whirled on his heel and pointed an accusing finger at his adoptive uncle.  “Dead!  Dead!  I mourned you!  I wept for the loss!  You were the closest I had to family, and you just let— you just left me to mourn you, to grieve, for ten, ten, years!  How could you?”

There was a ringing silence as his accusation and hurt hung heavy in the air.

“Y’know what, that’s fair,” Len commented, his tone much more conversational.  Tom looked at him as the man crossed his arms.  “I myself only found out that the geezer wasn’t dead less than five years ago.”

“Yes, the mortality thing was, is, a problem,” Matty remarked, showing that it really hadn’t been just Tom who had suffered.  They all glowered at Malcolm who seemed to fluff up like an indignant bird.

“They needed to think I was dead.  Wouldn’t’ve if I didn’t have you lot hanging over me,” he said defensively.  “Had to sever connections, didn’t I?  I couldn’t exactly play nursemaid any more, there were more pressing issues.  Besides, it’s not like any of you suffered—”  Tom snorted indignantly.  “—You were all grown, at least practically.”

“Oh, yes?  We lost him to the bad, because he thought everyone was dead or flipped,” Matty pointed out.

Jake stirred from his place at the counter, as if moved from slumber.  “Wait, didn’t you say that you were at the final battle together?”  He asked her, pointing at Tom.

“Yes,” she said, sounding tired, “but he thought I was dying, so he left me there.”  Jake grimaced in disgust, while Tom felt the urge to defend himself, except in his heart he knew there were never truer words spoken of him.  He had the courage to fight in a battle and face death, but he hadn’t the strength to face the slow, lingering death of a friend.  “He can’t be blamed for it; how many people can you stand by and watch die?”

Muttering something under his breath, Jake turned away, crossing his arms.

Malcolm stiffened, before giving Tom a sly look.  Clearly the old bugger was up to something, it was a quiet look, but everyone knew it well.  “So, you want to know what we were doing up at the house?”  He asked, coming closer, holding his wrist.  If Tom remembered correctly, it was the one that he had broken dragging Tom out of a ravening mob.  “What is the worth of an answer?”

“You can’t honestly expect me to pay you,” Tom remarked incredulously.

Malcolm raised his brows and considered him.  “You know full well that nothing’s free, but not everything costs money,” he said slowly, tipping his head and considering Tom.

“So, what is it you want?”  Tom asked cautiously.

“You come back to us,” Malcolm said, dropping his hand.  “You were the best after Matty, even if you were a bit clueless.”

“You want me to quit being an agent?”

“No, keep that stupid job.”

“Then you want me to become a spy.”

Matty put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.  “Tom, you said you were trying to stop them,” she said softly, looking in his eyes.  “Then help us do so.  Use the weapons at your disposal.”

“Not a spy,” Malcolm corrected, “but they have information that we don’t, you’ll hear it, once you filter out the propaganda.”

Tom sighed, he was tired of the paranoia, the guessing which hand held the knife.  “There’s no propaganda, the government is clean,” he said firmly, “there’s none left it’s—”

“Do you know who’s the top man?”  Len asked, frowning.  “Do you know his blood-ties?”

“Talking about blood is what started the wars,” Tom told him.  “At least two people in this room alone come from powerful lines.”

“You could forget the blood, but then there is still the corruption to talk about,” Jake put in.  “He’s been in charge since the end, hasn’t he?  First in the position of action government, then as the leader of the people.  Normal rule states that there is no longer than four years, and he’s been in for a decade.”

“He’s also watching blood,” Matty said, levering herself up so she could sit on the checkout counter.  “Perhaps he’s not cataloging the families anymore—”

“No need for that,” Malcolm interjected, “the houses did that for him.”

“But those with dangerous blood, mixed blood are put on lists,” Matty continued, watching her former friend.  “If everyone didn’t think I was dead, I’d be on one as well.”  She smiled humorlessly at him.  “You do know how I hate to be put on lists.”

“What are you talking about?”  Tom asked hesitantly.  This was the first time he had heard of any cataloging.

“Our girl’s a bit snaggletoothed now,” Jake told him, “or are you talking about the lists.”

“The lists!”

“Oh, yes,” Matty nodded, as Len grabbed something from under the counter.  It was one of the ledgers that had been stolen from the house.  “Best thing?  Most of them seem to be made by those who put our families on lists before.”  She flipped open the book, and gestured for him to read it for himself.

“A lot of those who should have been burnt at the stake, you work for now,” Malcolm told Tom, who nearly swallowed his tongue as he read the name at the top of the page, the name of the clerk who had put down all the names.  He knew her.  She seemed so sweet and kind with a mild sense of humour.  He had even gone for drinks with her once before.  He looked at the descriptor at the top, written in large bold face: IMPURE.

He closed the book.  He had willingly shared a drink with a puritanical bigot.  He had laughed with her, thinking she was cute, in a squeaky clean sort of way.  It was revolting to think about it.

“It doesn’t mean it goes to the top,” Tom said quietly.

“How does that boot taste?”  Len asked, leaning on the counter.

Matty hopped off the counter before giving Tom’s back a thump.  “He hired these people,” she reminded him.  “While he might not have personally vetted each and every one of them, he cannot be so stupid as to be clueless about their goings-on.  If he is, he is not the right person for the job.  If he knows, then for every act that they have committed, he is just as culpable as they are.”

Tom stared at the ledger, before turning away, sick to his stomach.  “That’s true,” he allowed.  “But, now you’re killing people—”

“We were always killing people, lad,” Malcolm said coarsely, before pointing at Matty’s face.  “Do you think she let that bastard walk away after attacking her while she was guarding you?  No, she blew his head off with her bare hands.”

“Nice little retribution it cost me,” Matty muttered, picking at the ledger.  Tom shook his head, trying to dislodge her death screams from his ears.

“Before was different,” Tom insisted.  “No one was hiding it, but now you can’t tell for certain, and I am not ok with being judge, jury, and executioner.”

“Then don’t,” Len said simply.  “Help us, give us information where you can, then we’re less likely to make a mistake.”

“We’re not making any mistakes,” Malcolm all but growled.  “People don’t just accidentally look and act like blood-purists and bigots.  You don’t accidentally be prejudiced against someone so much so that you’re calling for their heads.”

“He’s right,” Matty said, “just because they don’t wave the flag anymore doesn’t mean that it’s hard to find out.  Just look for the ones who make your skin crawl.”  She tapped the book that was still on the counter.  “Like this Tiffany Shelby.”

“So what’s it going to be, Thomas?”  Jake asked, slinging an arm across his shoulders.  “You’re a rat in an asp’s nest, sooner or later, they’re going to realize that you don’t belong.”

“Thanks.”

“Yes.”

“For calling me a rat.”

Jake shrugged.  “If the shoe fits.  After all, you are an agent.”

Tom stuck his elbow in Jake’s stomach before shrugging him off.

“Enough fooling,” Matty said loudly, standing up straight, dwarfing Tom.  “This is a serious matter and it needs to be treated as such.  What will it be, allegiance, or Obedience?”

The room was silent as he considered.  “Why pretend the choice?  The Divine know that you’ll put an Obedience on me either way,” he told her.  “The only difference is whether I stay or you lot throw me out on my ear.”

She narrowed her eyes at him.  “That’s true,” she allowed, before stretching her fingers and cracking them, getting ready to work her magic.  He had only seen about four people use wandless magic, and she had been the first to do so.  She had once tried to convince him to give up his wand, but he could barely do magic without it and didn’t care to try to advance without it.  There was something reassuring about having something in his hand.

Tom looked at the others.  He already knew his answer.  He knew it as soon as the request had been spoken.  Perhaps he missed them, missed having some semblance of family, but the answer regardless would always have been—  “Yes.  I agree,” he told them, but mostly her.

“You don’t want to ask what the—”

“No.”  He shook his head.  “It doesn’t matter what your rules are, the answer stays the same.”

Malcolm waved his hand in Tom’s vague direction.  “If you’d be so kind,” he told Matty, who stepped forward, rubbing her hands together.  She didn’t need to, it was just an unconscious thing, like cracking her knuckles.

“Don’t panic,” she told him, but he knew the routine, she had done this twice before on him.  She gently placed her hands on either side of his face, smoothing down his beard as her fingers slipped into his thick black hair, carefully to put her hands behind his ears, her thumbs resting in front of them.  Not for the first time, he wondered how she had managed to do this to herself.  He was under the impression that a mirror was required.

Matty spoke.  He saw her lips move, but only heard sound, not the words.  He looked into her tired, haunted eyes, feeling the slicing, prickling sensation start, but he wasn’t a child anymore, it wasn’t enough to frighten him or send him flinching away from her touch.  Even when the headache started, threatening to steal his feet from under him, Tom didn’t move away, instead, he leaned into her, catching hold of her forearms to steady himself.

It was over so suddenly that he nearly collapsed as he returned to his senses and his pain-free world.  Matty kissed his brow.  “Go home.  You’re exhausted.”


© Copyright 2020 wips. All rights reserved.

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