The Mind’s Armor – Chapter 3

Daelynne and her vampire baggage arrived at the Sleeping Courtier well after both had been soaked to the bone. Their entrance to the inn was remarkable only because so few in the Low Quarter chose to brave the weather that night. The sight of someone being carried in on someone else’s back drew little interest and less concern though. Anyone who noticed whatever problem the two were having had to fear that they’d be drawn into the matter and no one wanted that.

It came as no surprise to Dae that her vampire backpack had chosen a room on the second floor. She briefly considered transforming into her armor, but before she could commit that transgression for a second time in less than an hour, the vampire spoke up.

“You’ve done enough,” he said. “I don’t think either one of us wants to go up the stairs like this.”

“I could manage it if they would hold still for a second,” Dae said.

“I assure you that is not necessary,” the vampire said. “I am recovered enough to walk on my own.”

He slid off her back and rose to stand on his own. With his first step though he pitched forward, clutching his side in pain. Daelynne caught him before he crashed to the ground but had to fight to retain her balance as the world drunkenly bobbed before her eyes.

“Almost recovered enough,” he said and leaned on her, forcing his breathing to an even rhythm.

“You can recover in your room behind a locked door,” Dae said and dragged him towards the stairs. The vampire winced as they moved but managed to keep up thanks to Dae supporting most of his weight.

“Are you always this painfully stubborn when helping people?” the vampire asked.

“I can just be painful if you’d prefer?” she said.

“No, that’s alright,” the vampire said. “I believe I have painful covered quite well already.”

At the epic conclusion to the odyssey of “climbing the stairs”, the two of them were out of breath and in need of a long rest. Daelynne pulled the vampire down the hall without pausing though, intent on maintaining what little momentum they had built up.

“The second door on the left,” the vampire said.

“You went for one of the cheap bunks?” Dae asked.

“It seemed sufficient,” the vampire said.

“It’s not,” Dae said. “There’s no lock on the doors for the cheap rooms. Gods above, you were determined to get yourself killed tonight weren’t you?”

“I can take care of myself,” the vampire said.

“Clearly,” Dae said and shook his arm off her shoulder. The vampire remained standing but just barely. “Wait here, I’ll get the key to one of the private rooms.”

Without waiting for the inevitable argument the vampire would make, she spun on her heels, lurched left, lurched right, caught herself on a wall and used that as a guide to make it back down the hallway to the stairs.

Due to the storm, the inn was doing poor business for the evening despite the royal holiday. Thanks to the storm though, the inn’s proprietor knew that anyone seeking shelter at his establishment was more desperate than the usual traveler. Daelynne escaped her encounter with him richer by one room key but poorer by a noticeable chunk of the coins she’d taken from the watchmen.

By the time she returned to the second floor, she expected to discover that the vampire had slunk away either into the room he claimed he’d rented or back out into the night. Instead she found him sitting right where she left him.

“Get up,” she said. “You’re room’s down at the end of the hall.”

The vampire groaned but did as he was told.

“You are not what I expected,” the vampire said as they reached the door to his new room. “And for that I am grateful.”

“You’re welcome,” Dae said. “Now don’t die and don’t get lost. If I have to come find you when I need a witness, I’ll be grumpy about it.”

“I imagine that would be unpleasant,” he said.

“Not for me,” Dae said. She smiled but it wasn’t a warm smile or a deep one. “Here’s the key, for the love of every sainted thing, keep the door locked, especially at night. There’s things out there that are a lot worse than you and most of them walk on two legs and know how to turn a door handle.”

“I understand,” the vampire said. “In a general sense at least. I’ll take tonight’s object lesson to heart.”

“A heart? You still have one of those worthless things?” Dae asked.

“Of course I…” the vampire started to say and caught the smile that had reached Dae’s eyes. “Definitely not what I expected.”

“Good night vampire,” Dae said.

“Good night Warrior,” the vampire said. “And my apologies, I didn’t mean to be mysterious before. Only careful. You may call me Teo, though if you need to file any official reports I believe your suggestion of Joe will do perfectly well for those.”

“Yeah, I’m thinking it probably will,” Dae said. She nodded her head, which was as close as she could get under the circumstances to a formal bow without toppling over, and then staggered off down the hallway.

The storm outside the tavern had not changed its overall mood though it had lost some of its rage and spite. Dae entered its embrace cold, wet, and miserable and arrived at her rooms in the High Quarter in much the same condition.

As a member of the Dawn’s March, Dae had no claim to royal position, but she was expected to represent a higher caliber of personage than the denizens of either the Low Quarter or the Tradesmen’s Wards. The Low Quarter offered comfort and escape in that sense because it meant her chances of encountering one of her fellows from the Dawn’s March was low and even if she did neither would be inclined to acknowledge the other in such circumstances.

Stripping out of her sodden clothes, Dae grabbed a towel from her small bath area to dry off. The collection of purses she had liberated from the downed watchman sat on the simple desk that shared space with her bed and the chest where she kept her better garments and valuable personal belongings.

“That was a stupid thing to do,” she said, regretting the rotten whiskey, the pointless indulgence in violence and most of the rest of the evening. Royal galas didn’t put her in the best of moods, but she’d walked the road she was on enough times to know that it never lead anywhere good.

“They’re probably still there,” she said, knowing that the watchmen were probably long gone.

“I could go back and drop their money on them,” she said, knowing that she wouldn’t.

“No one would care then,” she said, knowing that it was too late to take back her mistakes.

The watchmen had been found already. The ones that fell down easy were already awake and telling their story. They’d only seen her in armor but they’d know she was with the Dawn’s March from the heraldry she wore. Their injuries were deeper than the wounds on their bodies. In breaking the watchmen, Dae had bruised the Watch’s pride, and worse, she’d punched them in their most tender spot. Right in the wallet. The theft of the purses was one thing. That was chump change and everyone knew it. Paying for the chirurgeon to set broken bones wasn’t cheap though. Nor were the extra shifts for already overworked Watchmen to cover the leave time for the injured. For that the Watch captain would raise a fuss. Which meant Dae’s commander would raise a fuss.

The world spun around her, but it was merely annoying rather than overwhelming. Dae fought against the induced dizziness and grabbed a fresh set of clothes from the closet that contained her day to day wearables. Once she’d possessed an array of nightgowns and fine undergarments. She’d maintained that frivolity longer than she should have perhaps, but her time to enjoy the soft things in life was years in the past, cut off from her by blood and fire and betrayal.

Possessed by a host of maudlin thoughts which ran in that vein, Dae stumbled out into the receiving room of her apartment, verified the door was locked, bolted and braced and then stumbled two feet backs toward her bed before settling on the couch as an acceptable alternative.

She didn’t want to dream, that was part of the reason for the bottle she’d downed, but her ghosts and demons didn’t care to indulge her and couldn’t be submerged under the thin layer of intoxication she’d covered herself in.

When the dreams came there was no sense to them. No narrative to lead her to a moment of clarity once she woke. They tore at her with crazed images, distorting her into a thousand different forms and people. She was butcher and the butchered, fallen hero and risen monster. Each image, each tableau, was wrapped in so many layers of symbolism and indirection that only the raw emotions they held touched on reality.

In the midst of the maelstrom of despair, pain, and rage, Dae found one image that she couldn’t approach at all and it made the least sense of any of them. She stood in a castle room she’d never been in and which never existed. The room was filled with crawling, scuttling things, but she knew with the certainty of a dream that none of them were an issue. She could best any monster in the room. It wasn’t the monsters that scared her though. It was a simple panel of wood. It rested against the wall of the room and beyond it lay something that froze the marrow of her bones. It was nameless. Unknowable. Except Dae knew what it was. It was annihilation. It was the thing her strength didn’t exist against. It was the foe she could never be victorious over.

She reached out for it and then saw what she was doing. With a scream, she put all of her will into stopping her traitorous hand, but against the force that drew her towards the other side of the wooden plank, she was like a child trying to wrestle with the tide.

Where her mind couldn’t save her though, her heart did. It stopped. For a too long beat she was paralyzed, dying, and then sleep shredded around her and she drew in a fresh breath.

A minute later her breathing was still ragged but under her control.

“Better than the last three times,” she whispered and clenched her fists.

She twisted and forced herself to sit on the couch, becoming dimly aware in the process that the sun was long risen. That wasn’t a good sign. She had the early shift to report to and while actual attendance for duty was not a habit among the Dawn March elite, failure to be available when her commander expected to lay into her for the problems of the prior evening was likely to raise his ire even further.

With the unpleasantness of her dream before waking, Dae had little desire to crawl into bed and wish the world away, but it was still a struggle to make it to the kitchen and pour herself a glass of water for her breakfast.

On the back of her left hand she felt a restless buzz. Kirios, her pact spirit, was restored and energized by the night’s activities. The banter with the vampire. The crazy maelstrom of her dreams. Every intense moment she experienced, good or bad, fed the spirit’s appetite.

It was why the spirits joined with the Pact Makers in the first place. To share in their lives. To feel and grow and experience things when by their nature they felt nothing, they changed only with the passing of the ages, and across those ages they held no connection to the world as it changed around them and molded them into new forms.

Attached to one of the Mindful Races, the spirits came as close as they could to the mortal world and as close as they could to living. Through the lives they shared together, the Pact Makers gained wondrous powers and the spirits gained memories and a sense of self, bounded in both cases by how much each was capable of unifying with the other.

In the wake of her dreams, Daelynne did not feel very unified with her spirit though. It craved more excitement, more misery, more everything, where she just wanted to forget the past twenty four hours and move on to as quiet a day as she could find.

The series of hammer blows that rang out against her door thrilled Kirios therefor while filling Dae with expected dread.

“Wake the hell up, the commander wants you at the barracks an hour ago,” Javan Kael, her “mentor” in the Dawn’s March called out from the hallway.

Sighing, Dae went into her bedroom and grabbed the pouches. Her clothes were wrinkled from sleeping in them but no one was going to care about that. All they’d be interested in was getting their cut of the loot she’d taken from the watchmen. That wasn’t the kind of fight that Kirios was looking forward to but Dae was pretty sure it would keep him content for a while anyways.

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