Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Maverick is Born (Part 2)

This picks up just where pt. 1 left off...

Martinique found herself back in her tiny apartment. The smell of blood was still all over her, and she vomited.

A couple hours later, she had gathered herself together. The blood and vomit had been cleaned as best she could. The cloak was a total loss, but her clothes had been largely protected. She sat in the one chair the room would allow, staring at the mask on the table and swirling the last of a bottle of wine in her cup. Her mind was racing, but getting nowhere.

She had loved the rush. Dancing in and among the guards, avoiding blows with ease. And she had to admit that fighting for the rights of the oppressed appealed to her. But, the blood and death scared her. She certainly did not wish to die, but neither did she wish to kill. Could she fight her foes without killing them? Would that even accomplish anything, as the guards would just redouble their cruelty after being humiliated?

These thoughts, as well as worries over what her husband (the Imperial suck-up would likely have her arrested to preserve his precious investments), her father (as surprisingly bad as her husband, but would more likely exile her to the summer cottage than turn her in), her friends (scandal would feed the gossip parties for months), and even her servants (Racquel would understand, but would the rest?) would think, kept her dizzy. The wine didn't help, but it probably didn't actually hurt, either. Fantasies and nightmares played themselves out, with that mask at the center of the show.

A knock at the door shattered her reveries. She almost panicked into stepping away, but the wine and the fantasies made her bold. She could always escape, so long as they did not know her face. Which, naturally, brought her hand to the mask. Before she thought she'd made up her mind, the mask was coming up to her face, and her fear was slipping away. When the knock sounded again, the mind behind the mask coolly noted that Imperial guards did not bother with the nicety of knocking in this neighborhood.

Martinique eased open the door a crack, to see a young man standing there. A remarkably ordinary, unassuming, safe young man. This was certainly not what she had expected. "Ah, the lady of the house," he remarked casually. "I do believe you dropped this," he continued, holding up a very simple white handkerchief. Blanching slightly upon recognizing it, Martinique shook her head in denial. She did not trust her voice. The man clucked his tongue. "It is not very ladylike to lie. But, then, a mask like that can rob a lady of her graces, can it not?"

Between the mask and the linen, Martinique recognized that she was trapped. This fool knew what she'd done, and somehow knew where to find her. She couldn't just step away from this. "Come inside," she hissed. "Quickly!" She opened the door just wide enough to admit him, desperately trying to look over his head to see if anyone else was out there.

"Well," the young man commented on entering the apartment, "you are full of surprises. I expected grander appointments than this for a lady of your manners. Or worse than this, for a Shardling with a taste for danger." He whirled around, somehow giving the impression of a cloak that he did not wear. "I also did not expect to be allowed in so easily. But, I suppose you would have no reason to fear me, eh?" He dropped into a chair at the table, and frowned openly at the empty bottle of wine.

Stunned that her hospitality was being called into question by this arrogant interloper, Martinique pulled out another bottle of wine. Her last, she noted wryly. She pulled out a fresh mug, and poured for her "guest." She watched in amazement as he tasted it gingerly, smacked his lips, and gave a small, satisfied sigh. "Who are you?" she demanded, her voice harsh with too many emotions for one night.

"Ah, my dear," the fellow responded, visibly blushing. "Here I had assumed you would remember me. But, I suppose I did look a bit different then." He rose suddenly, dropping into a perfect courtly bow. "My name is Enero, but you may recall me as The Amazing Faride Brother."

Martinique suddenly placed him with a click. He was the trickster from the circus. The one she had saved. The one who had killed the guard. Without his garish costume, and in more normal surroundings, he looked quite different. Her emotions once again began a dangerous whirlwind dance, but the mask kept her face surprisingly smooth. She heard her voice practically purr, "And why do you think that I would remember you?"

It was Enero's turn to be taken aback. "My lady, perhaps I presume, but you did save my life this night. Not many have risked so much for me. I merely wished to thank you, and let you know that my services are at your command should you but ask."

"And if my only command were to forget that you had ever seen me, and to never speak to me again?"

"Ah, my lady," Enero said, looking wounded. "It would be a heavy burden to forget one as magnificent as you. But, I am a man of my word, and would do so. If you would grant me only a few moments more, however, I might be able to interest you in something of much more value."

Martinique was trembling inside. But the mask spoke for her again. "I suppose it cannot hurt to entertain your offer. However, I warn you. Make an offer that I find insulting, and you will be learning how well the Broken Ones enjoy your tricks."

Unfortunately, the trickster looked more amused than intimidated. But, he inclined his head in what might be generously called a bow. "My lady, you showed remarkable fire today, and a fine command of the potential of your Shard. And yet, you nearly let yourself get taken. I saved your life as much as you saved mine. You danced from person to person, your movements precise but predictable. I could teach you to tumble instead. Distraction and confusion are tools that you could use to exceptional effect. I do not make any claims to expertise with a blade, but I could at least give you some pointers on how to read a combat and know when to run. You have an exceptional advantage, in that you never need to worry about keeping an avenue of escape open. I like that. I like you. I think you could do truly great things."

Martinique was torn. The fine lady was aghast at such a proposal. The mask loved it. The little girl who always craved more than her life promised was excited. The other little girl, who had seen her nanny die from wounds inflicted by Imperial guards, was terrified. This was no game. But it was an adventure.

To say no might forever put this dream beyond her reach. To say yes might destroy her life. Enero seemed careful. He had killed a guard, so it was unlikely he was some kind of spy. Still, as he pointed out, he had cleared his debt by giving her a chance to escape. He did not owe her this. And no showman was going to give his secrets away for free.

"What is in this for you?" she asked.

"Ah, my lady, you do not trust me!" he laughed. "I am wounded! Mortally offended!" The laughter ran from his face like mud, washed by the rain to reveal the cold rock beneath. "I ask only this: Destroy the Empire of Acnev. I would give all that I have to you to see that happen."

The young woman was frightened all over again. But for very different reasons now. This gay young soul was suddenly revealed as neither gay nor young. He was deadly serious. And somehow empty inside. What could she say? Certainly, everyone wanted the Empire gone. No doubt about that. But could she take them on herself? Could she join the ranks of Phalanx and The Martyr? Dare she? Dare she not?

Before her mind could find its balance again, she heard her own voice. The mask spoke. "Teach me all you know, and I swear this to you. We will send the dead back to their graves."

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