Finch sat in his room listening. He was reading too, but mostly he was listening. He heard the front door open, and then close shortly after. His father had gone to his obligation shift again. Finch stood up and went to the window in his room and opened it. He grabbed his pen and then jumped out into the alley.
He hadn’t ever gone to the south end of Murdock, and he got lost many times. Luckily, the castle wall that surrounded the city served as an omnipresent landmark, and he found his way. When he reached the southern wall, he looked left and right. He couldn’t really see much because there were a lot of buildings in the way. One of them stood out though. It was a three story building with a bell tower.
“A bell tower. Temples have bell towers. I guess I’ll check that out.”
He made his way to the temple. It was on a street that tilted from the main road at an odd angle, so the temple had a small nook between itself and the wall. A thin acute triangle of an alley. Finch wasn’t quite sure where he was headed, so he just stared down the road, looking at the building.
After a few moments, a man came out of it. He was very old, and he had unusually dark skin and a long white beard. Finch realized had read of these people before in a Natural Studies book. The East Metch often kept their facial hair, and they also had absolute resistance to lazsors. Fittingly, they came from the east and were known for their intelligence, efficiency and their competent army of knights.
This man didn’t look like a knight, he was dressed in robes. He slowly hobbled out of the temple, aided generously by a cane. He wore a stern, almost angry expression that reminded Finch of his dad. Then he saw Alice poke her head out from the triangular alley. She looked at the man, and the man looked back. He then continued walking as if he hadn’t seen her. Finch started down the street to where Alice was. He passed the old man. Seeing him close up, Finch was certain that he had lived forever.
When he met up with Alice, he brandished his pen.
“I told you I’d come. But I need to leave again before my dad gets home at sundown.” He told her.
“Sure!” Alice said.
“So, where’s your house? Do you live in the temple?” He asked.
“No no, I live beside it.” Alice lead the way.
The alley had a roof built into it. It looked as if shelves were brutefully bashed into the castle wall and the temple, then old boards shoved into the hole. On top was a collection of porcelain and wooden shingles, as well as bits of leather. This little refuge was big enough that they could both sit in it, and it seemed only a little longer than Alice herself.
“The clergy guy doesn’t let you stay in that temple?” Finch asked her.
“Well, when it rains sometimes. He explained that no one should stay inside a temple overnight, or else you’ll have nightmares.” Alice explained.
“Oh. Did you get nightmares when you stayed there?”
“Yeah. Wars, and bloody conflict. Sometimes a calm blanket of red would wash over the battlefield, and then after, all the soldiers would be dead.” She looked through Finch solemnly.
She brightened up again, “Yeah, so I prefer out here. And it’s not like Tim has anywhere else to put me. He lives in almost a shoebox, no bathroom even. He uses public outhouses. We also don’t talk much. I’m not really interested in the Servant of Conflict.”
Finch had read about Servants, but he’d never actually gone to a temple. It went like, all major forces in the world eventually gained a powerful spirit that helped its continuation. Mother Nature supported life on the Overside, Father Nature on the Underside, and Newman on the Innerside. Then there was Birth whose influence had apparently helped the smaller races like the Riley, his race, survive abysmal mortality rates. The Servant of Death opposed Birth. And this, it seemed, was a temple dedicated to the Servant of Conflict, who also opposed Death.
“Well, anyway, let’s get to reading.” Finch said.
He taught Alice the alphabet about five or six times. It seemed that Alice was a really slow learner. Finch could remember when his dad was teaching him the same things, and he understood right away. Then they moved on to the book she had picked out. Alice tried to read it, but she needed a lot of help. A lot of help. Finch didn’t get frustrated though. He actually enjoyed the process. He wondered if there was a job for people who liked to show others how to read. He’d probably be good at that.
When they got through the book, Alice said, “Again!”
The second time through was almost as bad at the first, but by now Finch was used to her slow learning pace. After they finished, she wanted to read it a third time.
“Why don’t we get another book from the library?” Finch offered.
Alice was really excited about reading even though she was really bad at it, Finch thought.
They actually stayed in the library and read through an entire shelf of books together. Finch looked out the window and saw that it was getting dark.
“Okay, that’s all for today. Why don’t you choose a few books to read tomorrow when I come back?” He said.
“Oh…” Alice was sad.
Finch left Alice to the books, but before leaving he talked to the librarian.
“Hey, do you know about adult jobs?”
“Of course I do, being a librarian is an adult job. Your father is a domestic hunter is he not?”
“Yeah.” Finch nodded, “Are there any adult jobs that let you teach people how to read?”
“Of course! You could be a teacher! There are some parents that are not very good at teaching, and so they get a teacher to do it for them. But I think you could be much more. You could likely be a Natural Sciences professor at the university of Murdock, or Hannibal if you wished.”
Hannibal was the city to the north of the capital. Finch nodded. A professor. That sounded cool. He could tell other people about Chemistry, about Physics. Finch decided then that that was what he wanted to do when he turned sixteen, to become a university professor.
He walked home and climbed back into his room through the window. He didn’t hear Alice behind him.
The next day was a full teaching day. Finch’s father reviewed a lot and then told him what he planned to do in the future. Then he gave Finch a lot of practice exercises and text readings. He took them into his room and worked on them for a few hours, taking a break whenever he lost focus on what he was doing.
Then, when he was halfway though a function, he heard a knock. It sounded like something was hitting a very thin door. He checked his room door, but his dad wasn’t there. He checked the front door, but he sound faded as he left his room. That confused him, it was coming from his room.
He opened the wooden shutters, his family couldn’t afford glass. Behind them stood Alice, smiling.
“What are you doing here?” Finch jumped.
“You didn’t come! It’s almost night now.” She stated bluntly.
“My dad didn’t work today, I just had school the whole time. Look, I’m doing work right now even.”
Then he heard the doorknob turn. Adrenaline pumped into Finch’s bloodstream. He pushed Alice down, whispering to hide.
“Hey Finch, I’m now going to go to the market before they close all up.” His father said.
“Okay.” Finch replied.
“Hey, don’t break for too long. It looks like you still have a page of work to do.”
Finch nodded, his hearts pumping in rhythm with each other. When his father left, Finch turned and leaned out his window. Alice was there crouching and looking up at him.
“You have to go, we can meet up tomorrow.”
Alice gave him another sad face.
Finch didn’t know what to do.
“Uhh,” He said, “Don’t worry, my dad works tomorrow.”
Alice looked down, and then ran down the alley.
Finch went back to his desk and then-
“Ah! It’s you!” His father shouted.
Finch stood up so fast that his chair fell over, and then ran out of his room. There was his father, in the doorway. His must have run into Alice out on the road. Finch had to play innocent. He ran to the door.
“What’s wrong dad?”
“It’s her!” He said, “The monster! Stay in the house. You, get out of here! You are not welcome, leave!”
Alice looked frightened. She was small compared to Finch, and next to his father, she was almost nothing. She stared at him, frozen a few cubits from the doorway. Finch peeked out of the door and tried to shoo her with his hands. She looked at him, and then at his father. His father grabbed the broom. Finch wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but he watched as his father stepped out and prodded at Alice.
Alice jumped back.
“Leave! Go back where you came from!”
He swatted the broom again. By now a crowd had formed, and Finch’s dad and Alice were at the center. She looked around, panicked and cornered by all the people. The crowd slowly grew.
“Out!” He said, shoving her with the brush.
Alice’s expression changed. Her eyes turned from a calm maroon to a bright red. She bared her fangs, all six of them, and then grabbed the broom. The handle splintered in her hand, and then she pounced on Finch’s dad. She knocked him over amid gasps from onlookers, and then clawed him twice, once in the face, and once across the chest. Then she jumped up and ran, tackling people in the ring, knocking one of them down.
In his state of shock, Finch’s mind receded into logic. She must be pretty heavy to knock my dad down. She must have been holding back if she could so easily destroy my broom. Why is such a small person so heavy? I wonder if she hates me now.
What he didn’t think about was the repercussions of Alice’s actions. People started talking, and one of them hailed a guard over. The guard looked at Finch’s dad and just nodded.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” The guard sneered.
The next few days were a blur for Finch. Too many things happened, and his regular schedule was jarred open. His father went to the hospital where they declared his wounds unusual but superficial. The guard returned, and they did some paperwork. His father was sent to the poet’s tower to make a statement. To testify against Alice.
Finch woke up that morning to the sound of the door slamming. He lay in his bed on edge. He was nervous, and he couldn’t stay still anymore. He got out and changed his clothes and headed for the door himself. Then he stopped, turned around, and went through his window instead. He wanted to keep it open just in case.
He decided to follow his father to the poet’s tower. The northern town square was surrounded by the castle and six towers. Each tower managed a certain aspect of the city, the guards, the poets, the academics, and so on. Finch followed his dad to the tower, but after the door closed, he didn’t know what to do. He would surely be seen if he followed him inside.
Finch looked around. The roof of each tower was connected by a bridge, but he still didn’t feel comfortable entering any of the towers. But, the two farthest towers also connected to the castle, making a sort of D shape, the flat end being the castle wall. The first floor of the King’s castle was public space, and Finch headed inside. He found a staircase and hoped it went all the way to the roof. It did. Outside, he went to the bridge and crossed it, going from tower to tower until he reached the poet’s tower. There was a hatch on the roof, and Finch cracked it open a little and peered in.
“Yeah, he’s here now.” He saw the guard from the other day talking to an unhappy looking woman, also in uniform.
She said, “So you think we’ll finally be able to get rid of this nuisance now that she’s actually attacked someone?”
“Well who’s going to defend her? She won’t stand up in court on her own, will she?” He replied.
“Probably not. The cleric might protect her. Starting conflict conforms with his Servant.” She said, “It doesn’t matter though. She’ll be in the dungeon for a decade minimum.”
Finch let go of the hatch and ran across the bridges, into the castle, down the stairs, and then out again. He ran south to Alice’s small house. She wasn’t there. He opened the Conflict temple door. It looked empty.
“Who’s there?” a voice asked.
The old East Metch man came down from a staircase on the side. The temple was large, a two story building with only one floor. Finch was momentarily dazzled by the fancy glass.
“What do you need boy?” The man asked.
“She got fidgety, as usual, and then left.”
Finch ran again. Back to his house. He looked into the alley, and there she was, hanging off of his eaves.
“Oh.” She dropped down.
“They’re going to take action against you you know.” Finch told her.
They looked at each other for a moment.
“I don’t know what to do, Finch.” She told him.
“I don’t know either. Where… where did you come from? You’re not a Solune, or a Riley, or even an East Metch.” He said.
Alice looked up between the buildings. “I came from the sky.”
Finch looked up, then back down.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” And then, “Wait. Are you an alien?”
Alice looked at him, “I don’t know! I just know I came from the sky.”
Finch thought. He had been hoping that she came from somewhere more specific, and that he could help her return.
“Wait wait, did you come alone?”
“No, my mom came with me.” She said.
“Where is she-” He stopped himself a little too late. She’d previously told him that her mother was dead.
“To the south.” Alice said. “Outside the wall.”
“Let’s go there,” Finch said, “Right now.”
They left the city through the north gate, and then headed south. Alice lead the way, but she wasn’t quite sure where she was going. She told Finch that she hadn’t been out here since she was very young. Maybe five or six. There was a mountain to the south, a spire that jutted out almost vertically into the sky.
Finch pointed to it, “Did you fall from there?”
Alice stared, and then began to run towards it. They ran through a forest, dodging trees and jumping over vines and roots. They reached the kingdom wall in front of the mountain, and Alice followed it to the left.
And then, “This is it.” She pointed to a large rock, carved into it was a name.
I am your Mother,
Inck Alice Dawngale.
Finch couldn’t read it.
“What does it say?” He asked.
“I don’t know. I just found the symbols on a stone in her hand after she died.” Alice said.
“How…” Finch trailed off.
Alice pointed to the summit. “Up there. She was looking for a place for us. She climbed from the other side with me on her back. It was cold, there was no food. We were going to die. And then she climbed the mountain and we saw this. This world. This kingdom safe inside of walls.”
Alice sat on the moss. The place was bringing back memories.
“She pointed there,” Alice looked to her right, west. “And told me that’s where we were from. And then…”
Finch couldn’t believe it, “She jumped and took as much of the impact as she could!?”
Alice continued, “She didn’t die immediately, she bled from the wounds in her legs. And then she told me to wait one day, and then bury her. And then to go… And find a new home.”
Finch shook his head. Find a new home. Alice hadn’t done a very good job, but he guessed the next generation of Murdock would love her. He couldn’t believe his thoughts. Alice had built herself a home in the future.
“Alice you can’t go back, not now, okay? They want to imprison, to lock you away for ten years,” He said, “But listen, people change. When we’re adults everything will be different. All your friends, Artus, and the other girls and boys you play with, they’ll be running the city then.”
Alice stared at him, and tears started streaming down her face. They were dark red, like her eyes.
“When you, when we’re adults,” Finch said, “You have to come back to me.”
“But… how do you know I won’t be thrown in jail then?” She asked.
“I- I’ll make sure. I’ll join the guards, I’ll put,” He chocked on his grief, “I’ll put my dreams on hold for you, I’ll join the guards, and I’ll become the boss. The only person who could put you in jail then would be me, and I won’t do that.”
The two hugged and cried, and then said their goodbyes. Nothing extravagant, just:
“Yes, in…” she paused, “When?”
“Seven, wait,” Finch did some math, “Four years. I’ll be allowed to join the guard at fourteen, then I’ll have two years to, to rank up. And the current Captain will retire by then so I can, so I can…”
He trailed off.
“Anyway, it’s not goodbye. It’s…”
“See you later.” They both said.