I think you’ll like this. Nice and long, nearly 3000 words, and it took forever to finish. Whew!
When Finch next woke, it was the evening of a third day. He lay in his bed for a long time, staring at the ceiling, and trying to fit the memory of the n’juzu in among the rest of his thoughts. He blushed a lot. He had been entirely captivated by Chloe’s voice. He had wanted to touch her. Now that his brain had enough blood to think properly, this all seemed ridiculous.
Is that what he would have thought of her? What he would have felt if he had seen the Prince for the first time through adult eyes?
Then, Finch’s mind focused on Alice. He knew exactly what he had done with her memories, because it had happened the last time something bad had happened. This is what he did with bad memories, he piled information on top of them and tried to forget.
He blinked. His eyes were puffy, and he had a feeling he knew why. Finch lay back and thought. He would have to search the entire city for Alice, it was the only thing he could think of. Unless Jutt had come up with something.
For the first time, Finch realized he wasn’t in Gwenhime’s clinic as he had been last night. He was in his own room. They must have moved him. Finch opened the shutters. It was still dark, but he could see light blue in the distance. It was definitely dusk. He changed his clothes at high speed and then headed to the kitchen to raid the food cupboard, and then heard footsteps.
“Finch, you are okay?” His father asked.
Finch turned around, “Yeah, I guess. What time do you think it is?”
“Sun will be down in a two or three, I think.” Ilias said, sitting at the table.
Finch hadn’t noticed, but his father had already set dinner for them both.
“What was that you were saying the other day?” Ilias asked.
“What?” Finch took a water skin from the shelf and sat down too.
“You were saying something about getting your own place, now that you’ve been working for a couple years.”
“Oh yeah,” Finch remembered, “Yeah, but I decided that it might not be so good an idea if I decide to go to university after.”
Ilias smiled and nodded, “I definitely think you should study. You’ve always been someone who valued information. It was Natural Studies, am I right about that? You must keep in your mind that doing something you like for your living improves your quality of life immensely.”
Finch had to agree. His father had become so much happier since he had started his job as a cook.
“Well, I’m off,” Finch said.
“Where to? Work?”
“No,” Finch said, “It’s Secast, I don’t work today.”
Illias nodded. He was on a different schedule, so he had forgotten.
“Well then where are you going?” His father asked
Finch thought for a moment, then said, “I’m going to find an old friend. We have a lot to talk about together.”
He put his on his feet sandals and then ran out into the streets. He figured he should head to Jutt’s house, and maybe even Artus’s. Although, maybe he would bring Artus along later.
Finch navigated the dark streets almost randomly. He had first headed to where he thought Jutt lived, the building that she had come out of that one day when Chloe had been hit by the beam, but he didn’t recognize anything. He was lost now, and just wandered along aimlessly. Eventually, he found his way to the outdoor town square, surrounded by the six kingdom halls and the southern castle wall.
Jutt came out of one of the six towers with a look of triumph on her face.
“Oh, Finch.” Jutt still had a subdued manner about her.
Finch looked at his hand. It had been bandaged, and the fabric had a small red dot on it.
“What did you find, Jutt?” He asked.
She unravelled the scroll like a royal messenger and read. It was the will of Batshiva, the East Metch he had seen years ago while looking for Alice. He was the one who owned the cathedral for the Servant of Conflict.
“So, he willed all of his possessions to… Alice?!” Finch’s eyes widened.
Jutt nodded, “Yep. He couldn’t give it to someone in the East Metch Kingdom, it’s against the law. Something about retaining the Kingdom’s wealth during times of closure,” Jutt waved her hand, “Anyway, Alice was literally the only person he talked to on a regular basis, so he gave everything to her. I’m sure we could find her at the temple. Where else could she have gone?”
Finch nodded. He looked at the sky. It was getting dark.
“Let’s go then.” He said.
“I think it’s best if you meet up with her alone,” She said, and when Finch gave her a confused look, she added, “I’m the one that’s read the romance books, right?”
Finch looked at his clenched hand. He nodded and continued alone. Again he got lost many times. He really only knew his assigned district and the way to the library, university, and castle. Everything else was a mystery to him, and he had very poor navigation skills. He was sure a couple of sixths passed before he found the tilted lane.
Finch had expected the cathedral to look impending in the dark, but instead it looked shabby, sad almost.
Finch took a deep breath, and then stepped to the door. And then he heard a scream.
It was a high pitched scream of terror. It quickly changed into a roar of fury, and shortly after a window burst outwards his right. Finch saw a holy symbol made of wood fly out, a crossed rapier and falchion. He knew that the roar was Alice’s, so he opened the door to see what was going on.
Alice was in full combat stance. Finch had never seen her like this, he didn’t know that the Plainkind’s ability to shift muscles became more apparent when they hit puberty. He didn’t even know that the Plainkind could shift their muscles around. Alice looked shorter, stockier, deadlier. And she was throwing things.
Candles, symbols, and even furniture were forcibly parted from walls, bolts in the floor, and tables. Nothing was sacred anymore, not after Alice had thrown it at a wall.
But she stopped when she saw Finch. Her face seemed to calm, but her muscles did not. Her had held a stone goblet with the rapier and falchion symbol on it. She said, “Finch, help me.”
Finch looked at her, incredulous, “Help you with what?!”
“We need to drive the Servant of Conflict out of this temple. Did you hear me awake from that nightmare?”
“I don’t want frightening dreams of war and combat. I don’t. This is my temple, not his!” She shouted, “Get out!”
She threw the goblet into the wall, where it shattered. I small piece got stuck in Finch’s hair, and he took it, looking. It was half of the symbol. Finch had never exorcised a Servant from a temple, but he was pretty sure smashing up all of its symbols was a great place to start!
“Let’s do it!” He said.
As he said this, Alice gave a smile, one more charming than any njuzu could, and promptly leapt up and tore the chandelier off the ceiling Finch grabbed a metal candlestick from the wall. It was surprisingly easy to tear from the wall. He ran around and smashed goblets with it, keeping an eye out for Conflict’s symbol.
Finch was a little more strategic than Alice. He specifically sought items with the symbol. Weather he was right to do this or not, he was never sure, but it added an extra level of fun to the ordeal.
It wasn’t long before a crowd formed outside the temple. Artus was one of them, and when he saw Alice swinging from fixtures through the broken window, he entered.
“What’s all this then? Destroying that poor man’s temple?” He shouted.
“No, he’s dead, this is my temple now.”
Alice didn’t say anything about the will, or that she really did own the place, but it didn’t matter to Artus.
“So? Explain your destruction!” Artus said. He was just waiting for a reason to begin revelry.
“We’re driving out the Servant of Conflict so I can sleep here!” Alice dropped to the floor, taking a ceiling lamp with her. She tossed it through an expensive stain glass window.
Artus had no idea what she meant by this, but he grabbed a bench and lobbed it into another bench.
“I’ve been waiting to try these out!” He said, flexing his guard’s muscles, “Can’t be punching citizens, right?”
As the night continued, one by one, Alice’s friends filed in and started helping them. Everyone was there before midnight fell. Finch watched Alice revel with her friends, and then he silently stepped out. He walked, almost marched, to Jutt’s house. She had left him to Alice, and it was time to return the favour.
He knocked on her door, and an angry looking Riley man answered.
“You’re lucky us Riley get up at around this time, you degenerate. Looking for the resident fiend I assume?”
Finch had not expected this.
Jutt thumped to the door, and then walked right past it.
“Hang on, honey,” She called out. Finch was certainly not her honey, but he eyed the man again and knew that playing along would be in Jutt’s best interest.
In the brief moment he’d seen her, Jutt looked very tired. It was like she hadn’t slept in days and Finch had just woken her up after only an hour’s rest. He felt immense guilt, but when she returned, her expression brightened and she stepped out with him. Jutt grabbed his hand in hers, interlocking their fingers. They faced the angry man, who’s expression was now on the border between murder and rampage. Jutt sneered at him, making his expression more sever and then pulled Finch close and kissed his cheek. Her fingers fluttered a goodbye to the furious man.
“You vexing witch! Don’t you dare come back here! I’m done with you, find your own place! Obviously you think you’re old enough, you fool. You will not curse my home any longer!”
He spat in her face. Jutt ignored this and they turned away together. He noticed that Jutt had carried a rather full rucksack out with her, which she now slung onto her back. Finch had the feeling that he had suddenly become one half of an eloped marriage. One that had been found out.
After they had crossed two separate blocks in silence, Finch said, “That’s not your father then.”
“No, he’s my uncle, worse, he’s an in-law. He really believes that bit about being a witch. I’m half Solune you know.”
“Half Solune?” Finch said.
“Yeah. You know how our blood doesn’t mix properly, right?”
“Well, mind did. It’s extremely rare, but when it happens you get someone that looks like both, instead of either Solune or Riley. And so, idiots like him think it’s an ill omen, my height, my eyes.”
Finch had never really cared about racial differences, but thinking back, people did seem to be either Riley or Solune and never in between. Jutt really looked like a Riley, but she was also tall like a Solune. Her eyes were also dark like a Solune’s.
“Huh. So, that uncle doesn’t like you then?”
Jutt nodded, “Yea, he got stuck with me after my mother went mad and wandered out of town.”
“Went mad?” Finch knew better than to ask about her father. She would tell him on her own if she wanted to.
“Yes, she was accused of manslaughter. My father,” Jutt nodded, and then stared into Finch’s eyes. Jutt had striking grey irises, and they watched Finch’s expression changes with great interest.
Finch, horrified, said, “What? How do you know that it was your mother?”
“I watched it happen. Finch, I don’t have the time or information to explain all this right now, but Batshiva’s will got me thinking. When I go to seek my revenge, not on my mother of course, but the one who made her do it. Anyway, when I go to seek my revenge, I’m leaving what little I have to you.”
Finch was going to ask her to explain what she did know, but before he could they arrived at the temple. It seemed that the teenagers within had started a bonfire using the wooden pews.
“Geez, maybe I shouldn’t have left them unsupervised.” Finch said.
Jutt gave a sweet little laugh, and they walked in. Both were treated with joyous fanfare. It seemed someone had brought sausages. Everyone crowded around and listened to Alice’s stories. Finch took great interested in hearing of her fight with his mother. It was interesting to him that she still existed somewhere out there, causing just as much trouble as she always had.
As the night moved on, some of the kids left for curfew, while others fell asleep in the cathedral. Jutt and Finch were among them.
Alice lay on her back, blinking. She was wearing a cute little dress and short pants. Finch found that it was the best outfit he’d ever seen her wearing. They eyed each other, and Finch smiled.
“I am sorry Finch,” she said, “I overreacted. You were with me this whole time, becoming a guard.”
Finch sat down next to her.
“Yeah.” He said.
“But, Finch, what do you really want to do? You like books, maybe you want to become a professional book reading person?”
Finch laughed quietly. It seemed that everyone else was asleep now. He stared at the fire, musing at how lucky it was the cathedral was made of stone.
“I don’t think that’s a real job, Alice.” He replied.
“Oh,” she blushed, “but you do want to do something with books, right?”
“Yeah, I was thinking of working at the university actually.”
“Hey,” Alice said. She pointed to a pair of people who had become tangled around each other in their sleep, or possibly even before.
But she didn’t say anything, she just pointed. Finch sort of nodded, but he wasn’t sure what he was agreeing to, or if it was something that one even could agree to. Apparently it wasn’t, because Alice shook her head.
“Why are they doing that?”
“Alice they’re in a relationship.”
“We are too, we’re friends,” she said.
Jutt, who had not gone to sleep, mumbled, “A romantic relationship.”
Finch shot her a look of surprise, but her eyes were shut. She had been faking.
Alice stared at Finch. “I think that we could have a romantic relationship too,” she said.
Finch shrugged, and Jutt said, “Don’t shrug you idiot, answer her properly.”
“Will you stop!” Finch poked Jutt in the ribs with a nearby board.
She stood up, stuck her tongue out, and left the temple saying, “I’ll be back in a bit, and you two had better be closer together then my family when I get back.”
Alice looked entirely confused.
“I think we should just continue to be friends until…” Finch saw her face become blank at this. He was going to suggest they strengthen their bond first, and then try dating, but apparently Alice thought they were beyond such pleasantries.
“Okay, how about we try dating for a bit-”
“Try again!” Echoed a voice from outside.
Finch threw a broken piece of tile out the window he guessed Jutt had called through. He heard her laugh again. This time, he leaned really close to Alice’s face.
The stared at each other. Finch was far more interested in Alice’s eyes then Jutt’s. He said, as quiet as he could, “Okay, you’re my girlfriend now.”
Alice nodded, like she knew this was an important statement, but had no idea what it meant.
“Okay, that’s great, but aren’t I already a girl friend?”
“No no, it means that we’re in a relationship, uh, in a romantic relationship now. I’m your boyfriend.”
Alice nodded, again taking this in slightly the wrong way. Finch had the feeling that she wouldn’t truly understand until they had been together for a few days. She seemed to think they had entered some sort of blood pact. Maybe they had, in a way.
Finch wasn’t sure if his father would be happy to find out that his son had fallen asleep in front of a bonfire with his hands intertwined with that of the monster he was supposed to be avoiding. But right now, his mind was bliss. The new couple was asleep before Jutt returned.
Jutt had her own problems to think about. She wasn’t intending to return to the place where she was thought a witch, and she went to sleep worried about the future.
No one dreamed of war that night.
One more. Maybe two if I do an epilogue.