What came next were a lot of hard work and no answers. Momma insisted I get rest before they threw me in the deep end. Rangers insisted I be trained to use my head now and then. Cassandra simply smiled like it were all part of her plans.
Momma and the Rangers reached a compromise. For three months I’d been forced to work with the grumpiest man I’d ever met outside the mines, and that meant something considering everyone near Chandler’s field were surly. But I’d learned a bit about my markings. I felt better and worse than ever, and my body had gotten a heap stronger.
“One day maybe, you’ll measure up to a real soldier.”
I frowned but couldn’t talk back. Instead, I ran through the same nasty thoughts I’d been having for weeks.
Rangers, the lot of them, were a standoffish bunch of assholes. They didn’t like me, and I felt silly for ever wanting to be in their ranks. Had life taken a different turn on the river of choices, then maybe we wouldn’t be at odds. Yet here I were, slaving away in a field under the gaze of The Mountain.
Ranger Obsidian had me bent in a crouch he called Horse Stance holding a blade in front of me and making it change colors like a rainbow. The small dagger in my hands glowed a bright orange that would burn near anything it touched. This had been the first sort of markings I’d gained over the last year let me channel different types of energy into an item held by that hand. My other hand hadn’t added anything to blade or bullet despite practicing.
But it would tingle with a sort chill when pointed at an ink-touched monster. That it reacted when facing Flops and Rangers and the like told me much about what they’d become.
“You’re controlling that color well enough,” Obsidian said. “Fast. Stable. Got a lot of anger in you. That makes reds. Rage.”
That were as close to a compliment as the Ranger got. He also repeated himself a lot. Red were anger until blind. Blue were a calm absence. Green were full of energy. They had other sides to them too, like coins. Red were passion. Blue were frozen moment before a storm. Green were sickness and rot.
Emotions tainted the colors, making them shift from pure expressions to muddled bits of art. I felt like I’d need a canvas and all the paint in the world to really understand inks.
“You remember have to shift it to another hue? Focus the emotion. Without constraints from your thoughts the Wilding Touch will be random. You’ll get anything, like when you shot that cougar.”
I nodded to show I’d been listening then adjusted a leg. My knees were close to giving out but Obsidian said this were the critical point. When a boy felt like quitting is when a man would persevere.
The stance served as form of strengthening. Working the mines for months had left me sturdy but not outright strong. Obsidian believed all power came from the legs, for every single marking. I didn’t know enough to prove him wrong.
“Blue now,” he said.
I nodded but couldn’t get the damned metal to coat in a new color.
“Chase. Blue now. Focus on a soothing image. Or clouds. Wind. All are variations that bring on blue. A river, hell, Sterling used to focus on the sound of pissing on rocks. Said it reminded him of a babbling brook.”
Changing it to blue proved difficult. For each color I’d need a concept, an image to hold onto. Orange proved easy. Obsidian said that hot summers day, hiding in a shadow while staring out at a field of cooked hey could do the trick. A lazy day where nothing could be done about the world.
He had an emotion for every color. Even though he were spare with compliments, Obsidian had a lot of knowledge. He pratically spouted it in my ear at every turn, after letting me get frustrated trying to sort out the problem on my own.
“You’ve done this one before. Reds to blues are hard switches for anyone, but try. Ash’s staffs for example. He can’t change between them in a blink like Hardwood does with her weapons. It takes a few seconds so don’t get frustrated. Change your mind, change the color.” He gestured then his chest heaved. The chair he sat on rocked as he fought to control himself. The other man coughed frequently. Obsidian, a ranger who almost always seemed shrouded in darkness, had been declining in health for the last month. The smell of rot hung off him no matter which way the wind blew.
I grunted softly, a hard sound to make when my voice refused to work. It hadn’t since I’d been reborn from The Mountain’s depths. That’d been my price.
“Wish we could pull you back enough to get that voice to work. Handling the physical forms has been easy enough. Which makes you a sight luckier than the others that come out twisted. Maybe Hounds are like that. I’d never seen your grandfather in action, before my time,” Obsidian said. He spit a gob of snot onto the ground with a wet pop.
These three months my life had been the same cycle of events. Wake up, do what Obsidian told me to do, go home to a house that no longer felt big enough. I still couldn’t force the Wildling Mark to shift colors quickly. Apparently no one could. Rainbow drops were wild for a reason. I think Obsidian hoped my Hound status would break the rules.
On the gruff man went, “Your grandfather taken on a wolf, which should mean more instinct than your other half. Dogs are trained, taught, rewarded and punished until they learn. Wolves study and learn by seeing what other’s get away with. Remember what I told you, markings have meanings. Shape has meaning.”
We’d been at this crash course in Ranger school for awhile. It included his grumpy explanations at how markings worked, fighting monsters inside and outside the mines, and a lot of stuff most of us at Wellbrook already knew. Rock Snakes, Dirt Rats, and Blink Hounds were the most common type to make it above ground. People living around the mines could take out one on their own, even those unmarked by a tattoo. Though a single Rock Snake could bring down an army of unwary if they walked into it’s dugouts.
“That’s enough,” Ranger Obsidian said. He broke into a coughing fit before finishing his next sentence. “Let it go before you get a backlash.”
The blade dropped and heat raced up my arm. My mind shut down and focused inward. A cool spiral tingled toward my heart, starting from the other hand. Both legs buckled and down I fell. Knees slammed into the dirt and I rolled to one side. Holding any mark took a lot of energy. My body still couldn’t handle more than a minute or two at most of channeling the rainbow drop.
At least using the blade proved easier than bullets. Two rounds of bullets from daddy’s gun and I’d be turned into a sopping mess of sweat and jumbled emotions. I’d made progress, even if the gruff Ranger’s tone implied otherwise at times.
Obsidian coughed and bowed at the middle. His head shook and one leg slipped. Helping him only irritated the man so I’d stopped a week back. I weren’t sure how a Ranger could be dying, but I felt like Obsidian had one foot in the grave and the other in a barrel of poison.
He finished coughing and I managed to find the energy to get off my knees. He pushed upright and glared at me with dark watering eyes. Shadows at his back danced around briefly then froze.
“Watch where you’re keepin your eyes,” he said.
“Quiz time. Your three touches. They’re about the same as a battle marking and obvious in their powers. Anyone with a brain will know your eyes do something. So, if someone knows your markings, they can fool you. Imagine fighting an enemy who knows everything you can do. How do you stop them?”
I didn’t know.
“Say they’ve got battle marks like you. Ones you can see but don’t know about. Take Ash and his fragmenting, say you’ve got to stop him. What do you do?”
He coughed and shivered. Despite that, I still didn’t know. He acted like fighting against marked people might be commonplace for me, but I’d never met anyone with battle tattoos that weren’t a Ranger.
“Think.” Obsidian stomped his foot. “Ash. When damaged his body flakes to Ash. That’s where his name came from. Subject him to water. Won’t come back together right. Counters his flame staff. If you could use your Wildling,” he devolved into a fit then finished weakly. “But Ash’s prepared. He’s got a staff of ice to make up for his short coming. Takes him time to switch though, so bait him to the fire one, counter him, then while he switches, go for the kill.”
I pretended not to notice his coughing and thought about his words. The benefit to my rainbow drop lay in it’s adaptability. Other people weren’t as lucky. There were a few levels of marks that people could get using the mine’s ink. Battle markings, or Ranger marks, were often used only for Rangers, who fought back the monsters, or some high end military personal. Even they only got one or two. Nearly everyone else could access basic tattoos that gave minor enhancements to strength or nimbleness.
“Hardwood’s brier rose. Tawny’s dead man’s skull. My flickering shadows. The design means something. The color means something. What do you do? How do you stop my shadows?”
I lifted the dagger and jabbed it forward, pantomiming a fight.
Obsidian shook his head.
“Ain’t always easy. Rarely simple. Light though. If you had enough daylight. A sunrise mark, stars. The north star if it were done by the right tattooist. But then I counter with the new moon mark on my thigh.”
He had the right of it. Many tattoos were specialized, like having a strong power to make plants grow. They came with side effects. Growing plants would be the power, but a soul might lose their eyesight. Worse still, a few markings like that and the body might be transformed into a Flop. Then there were raw marks, untouched by a tattooist. Those were the most dangerous kind.
“Then there’s wildlings. What if you have to fight them? It’s a test boy. Listen. Think. God damn you, think.”
Raw marks made Wildlings, or made becoming one easier. I still weren’t entirely sure on how it all worked. They were near impossible to fight according to Obsidian, mostly because their abilities were utterly random.
“You’re a lucky sort. The eyes work without needing to be touched, because they’re eyes. See?” He snorted weakly. “But the Heart Seeker only ties to one hand. The Wildling Touch on the other hand? Only works on what you hold. Your foes will have limitations too.”
His tone stretched and thinned as he fought back the endless coughing. I nodded and reconciled his reminder with what I’d been learning these last few months.
It weren’t all standing out here in a field and practicing. Like today, Ranger Obsidian had been telling me what different markings meant followed by something contrary like “Markings ain’t always what they look like”, which made little sense.
“Ain’t what I wanted boy,” Obsidian said. “But I got little say. You’re a Hound. Much as I don’t like the idea of putting that on one man, but Hounds have a purpose I’m told. One that means being ready to fight anything. Us. Them. Saracons. Everyone.”
He hadn’t liked me when I’d first wanted to be a Ranger. He’d liked me even less when I’d been named. Obsidian seemed content to detest everything in eyesight. Judgments were all he issued, reminders on how I’d failed and been doomed from the start.
At least he’s stopped preaching about asking for help, I thought.
“You think on what I’ve said. Might be easier for you, with no voice. All you’ve got are your thoughts.”
I nodded yet again.
“Cassandra’ll see you tomorrow,” he said then grunted. “Got words for you. As for us, we’re done. Your momma got her promised time and I’ve got work to do. Don’t know what more I could set you to learn anyway. It’ll be trail by fire.”
I nodded, took dismissal at face value, then headed home.
The path home lay away from The Mountain’s peak. Halfway between the crossroads and Chandler’s Field lay the homestead my daddy had laid claim to. We were behind on the bills, and the government wanted it’s taxes, but they’d stopped calling since I’d been named Hound.
Who do I owe for that? I wondered. Favors didn’t come free. The Mountain’s ink extracted a price equal to every bucket pulled from it’s depths, and in the end all of us touched would be sent below. Returned to where we’d come from.
Kenneth had said it, or a twisted version of him. Our souls were Gods, but our bodies belonged to The Mountain.
I stepped a half mile away from Obsidian and set my clothes carefully to one side. In the old days, I’d hop on a Wellbrook mine stage coach and be home well after dark. It’d take almost as long if I were to walk. I had no intention of being late home. Momma had started cooking again and food had become an important facet of my life.
It felt strange, being naked. Not that being without clothes bothered me, but more than it exited me. Goosebumps crawled along my legs and arms.
My clothes were still worn in spots. Most were hand-me-downs but the pants were newer. They hadn’t yet worn at the knees like the ones I’d had from daddy’s collection. His shirts still fit and the jacket were a bit too small. Momma had yanked the shoulders out and hemming up the sides leaving me with a vest of sorts. It weren’t as snazzy as the ones worn by Mister Proctor or other well-t-do’s around
I folded the pants carefully. The worn shirt and vest went around that. If only to keep my newest piece of clothing in decent shape for as long as possible. Those were bound with a bit of twine. A thick monkey’s knot were placed on the end.
What I had, I cared for, but I wished I’d been able to afford better clothes at the least. It seemed all I could do were think of the things I didn’t have.
My soul is mine, I thought. Though I couldn’t say it. Once I’d had dreams too, but those were taken over by visions of the past. Fragmented pieces of what had been. They might have been nightmares.
Where once I’d dreamed of silver, now I thought of black feathers and winged birds. Visions were one problem, on top of The Mountain and it’s deep pit of endlessly spewing magic ink. Obsidian’s rants about how I didn’t think enough. That said nothing of momma, Jenn, or the rest of life’s woes.
I’d had plenty of time to ponder but grown no closer to an answer on how to solve it all. Obsidian had said it, patience, be ready, and changes were coming. He’d preached that for our first month together.
One problem at a time. I’d get food and rest my legs. Everything wrong with life would seem less troublesome with a full stomach and time to heal from Obsidians wearing exercises. I’d get home on four legs instead of two.
It weren’t hard to trigger the change. I only had to close my eyes. Not the physical ones, but those on my back. The eyes of a man that Cassandra had carved into my flesh using black ink from the mines. The Hidden Soul. The Watchful. The Darkness Ward. Three eyes that let me see past the regular sights of the world and into something deeper.
Their location across my shoulders made it hard to see what they looked like. Harder still to see what they did while I were using them. I’d studied using rough polished metal that Jenn’d shined up and put in the bathroom.
Two deep breathes. Both feet wiggled uneasily. I’d shift soon enough but the moments before hand always unnerved me. Changing brought on twisted memories. Mixed moments that rode high in the back of my mind. That’s how ink worked, it dug deep into who we were and anchored to the past.
For me, changing into this other beast always brought up rushes from the past. Moments where I’d been eager and stupid. High on life and free to play. Sometimes it dredged up the bad blood of those days gone by. I’d felt them all.
My feet stretched and cracked. Pain hit then spiked outward, fading into my body like a lightning bolt. On came a bit of distorted history.
There were two ponds around Chandler’s field. Most days of the year we avoided them, as monsters of one sort or another often hung out at them. But on nights of the new moon, when the tides were at their thinnest, Greg, Lily, and I had snuck into the darkness for a night swim.
They’d been different times. When the absence of light above and any town lamps hide everything from view. Dangerous, but that excitement had made it worth venturing out.
I’d gone for Lily. Greg had gone because that’s the sort of boy he’d been. Lily had gone to feel free, or so she’d said. I’d thought of my first crush too much over these last few months. She’d been there when I first started, but left to find her greener pastures. Somewhere out of The Mountain’s sight.
The vision shifted quickly. Still the lake existed, but it didn’t. We were in a bedroom of POss’s on Greg’s going away party.
“Once more,” Lily said in the dark lake water. “Gentle like.” The waves rode us away.
Greg burst in the door and pointed. Only he hadn’t, but he did. My head shook and I felt fur spirking across my body. Bristling in a way that no man should feel.
“Caught in my wake!” Greg said then fell over laughing. I could barely see him in the darkness but his presence were like cider tasted. Bubbly. The water of the lake spun around me and bled with a sudden swirl of colors.
Then came another face. One closer to my age than Greg’s boyish grin. Ducky’s features, hard and sour. Both lips puckered while one of his arms twitched. Ink threatened to swallow his limb. “Quack quack mutie!” Ducky yelled. “Quack quack!”
The sudden mash-up of my past tilted sideways. Water rushed over my head like a tide and everything popped.
Then the change were over.
My legs felt stiff despite being remade. Obsidian’s exercises stuck with me even thought my body had shifted into a new form. My front legs supported a chunk of weight now and reduced the strain.
The ground’s nearness made me pause. I’d pressed my face against the dirt more than once climbing through the mines, but this felt natural. I stopped and sniffed the earth for any hints of other creatures. Mice. I could smell mice. They had a musky sharpness of urine that lingered along the trails they scooted.
Mice wouldn’t get me home. I shook my head and caused a swirl in the dusting around me. A dozen other partial scents attached to my nose and refused to let go. A sneeze erupted. It took me a moment to shake that off and pick up my bundled clothes.
Off I went, on four legs instead of two.
Momma didn’t always cook a dinner. She’d been gone from home for days at a time. I’d grown no closer to knowing why she had black wings. Part of me believed a bit of delirium left over from changing into this other body.
It’s not even one simple form. In truth there were two. With the first change I became this dog. Near as I could tell in wavering pools of water, I looked like a slightly larger version of one of Cassandra’s mutts. An almost literal hound, save for retaining my brain and thoughts.
The other had been much different. Somewhere closer to a canine version of a Feline. They called me a Hound, but if there were more of me, we’d be Canines. Then we’d have a racial name. But there were no others like me.
On I continued, trotting at a much faster speed than tired human me could travel.
Fields went on for miles. There were farm houses out in the distance. Most were circled by thick fences that had build over a generation. Smarter people lived closer to town. Populated areas were better protected.
I kept an eye to the fields. There were a few smaller monsters laying in the grass but they’d stay quiet until sundown. Then they’d mill about, searching for trouble. I debated trying to take them down myself but Obsidian’s exercises had left me drained mentally and physically. Despite telling myself it weren’t problem, that I’d never actually become a Ranger, and that everything hurt, I circled back around to a pit of three Rock Snakes. They’d dug themselves a place to hide from daylight.
How do I kill them?
Obsidian would tell me to think. I’d learned a lot about them but hadn’t had much experience killing monsters while in this dog-like body. Everything had a weakness of some sort and mine were opposable thumbs.
Rock Snakes were one of the slowest monsters. They were also tough. Their twisted forms had been turned into something like literal rocks. A mixture of dung brown and slippery green.
It’d be easier as a man.
Shifting back took a bit more than simply closing my eyes or opening them.
I will die a man, I told myself. Over and over I repeated the thought until the pain from earlier went in reverse. It were a weird way to picture the hurt of having my body rearranged, but that were the truth of it. Changing into a hound hurt. Become a man felt like being set to rights.
That’s how I still knew that no matter how deep The Mountain’s hooks went, I were still a man.
And I will die one, I repeated.
The breeze hit me. Panic at being naked around a nest of Rock Snakes got shoved into a dark hole where it belonged. Ranger Hardwood, the orneriest woman I’d ever met, would tell me that fear served only as a warning and did little else of any good.
Rocks on Rock Snakes might simply make them irate. Then they’d chase after me in their slow ponderous wind. I’d do that anyway. They were easier to kill at a distance.
I grabbed a few sizable rocks from the nearby field and a stick or two. Channeling my markings would only drain me more, and one of the lessons I’d been learning were about energy conservation. Obsidian said it’d do no good if I caused myself to suffer another backlash. Especially if I were on my own, in the middle of nowhere, with monsters about.
With one eye attuned to the Watchful, and better aim than I’d had months ago, the first two rocks went in and conked one of the snakes. It didn’t move, but the other two wound up and slowly poked their heads out of the pit.
I beat the first one with a stick. The second’s head moved slowly in my direction and I hit it too. It’s mouth opened in an exaggerated hiss. It sprung before I could get a bead on it. Dirt went everywhere, small rocks the size of peas flew all over my clothes. I dove back, scraping my bare ass against brush. The first one to poke it’s head out lashed around but showed signs of slowing.
The second turned to run away. I felt confused at the creature’s flight only for a moment, then set about hitting it with rocks before getting close. Repeated pummeling with a stick put the small monster down. I hit the first one, then checked the initially dazed Rock Snake in the small pit. It didn’t move either.
They were hardly a challenge, even without markings. People with strength, typically bull based tattoos, could often pummel a monster blindly with more speed than I did. My advantage were being able to see where their bodies were, and the concentrations of ink. If they’d been anything tougher, I could have lit the stick up with whatever random color came to mind and carve into them.
I beat at them a few more times to ensure they weren’t playing dead. Rock Snakes greatest strength, aside from durability compared to normal monsters, were their habit of not moving. They were stiff enough that I’d confused them with an actual club and swung one at Dirt Rats, moments before it turned on me.
Or maybe that hadn’t been real. I still hadn’t sorted out how much of my visions while in The Mountain’s depths were actual events, as opposed to fevered imaginings brought on by being encased in ink.
I contemplated what to do with the dead bodies. Leaving out monsters were frowned upon, but this weren’t the mines. Delvers were near zealous about putting these critters back where they’d come from. I only cared that they were dead.
Once again I shifted. Lily’s face flashed by, a younger girl who’d yet to put on her first bra. Her smile captivated me. Then her body swirled and the sun dress around her turned into a thick red lace. A corset pushed up her bosom.
“That’ll be ten dollars mister,” she said. Lily leaned in, providing a scandalous view that made me pant. “And for an extra five I’ll show you all the delights a lonely man might wish for on a winter’s night.”
I shook it off. Lily were gone from my life, whore or not. My original dream of getting momma away from The Mountain seemed further with every full moon, and I’d lost myself to it’s mechanisms.
For a moment I fought the urge to howl.
It’d do no good. No one would hear me. I turned to pick up my clothes. They were a mess due to the Rock Snakes flailings.
Momma would have my hide once I got home. Never mind that I’d made Chandler’s Field a bit safer, and likely saved someone’s livestock. Fighting those creatures a few months ago would have taken more energy and planning. A hint of desperation and proper weapons. And I’d bought these pants with my own funds.
On I ambled, with less energy than before. My legs were killing me and it’d take a day or two for them to get back to working order. Obsidian’s damned exercises had been putting me to test.
A time later I’d made it to my dimly lit home. A single candle in the window by the porch served as a beacon to my weary body.
“How’s your head?” momma asked.
I put out a flattened hand and wobbled it back and forth.
“No good comes of losing yourself. What are we going to do if you can’t undo that change one day? There’s no marking tied to it. No way to control the power and turn it off and on.”
One finger pressed deep into my forearm, causing a deep depression. I poked other spots on my body. This tattoo, marking, or whatever, weren’t on the outside like most inks. This had been laced into my bones, deep down with hooks that went somewhere beyond the marrow.
Momma shook her head then changed the subject by way of a wave at the bundle of clothes at my side.
“You take those mud riddled shirts and set them to one side. I’ll have that girl of yours do the laundry when she gets back. Lord knows my fingers aren’t what they used to be and it’s getting cold out. She’s got to earn her keep.”
I frowned. Jenn weren’t my girl. She’d been avoiding me since I’d started to shift. One day I’d ask why, assuming she stayed around long enough for me to write out my query.
“I know she tends the field and the chickens, but she can’t sew worth a damn and eats as much as she grows. Straight out of the field no less! We could have had twice the crop if she’d simply stop chewing the new growth before it’s had a chance to come up. Guess she can’t help it being what she is.”
The frown deepened. I’d thought momma moved past the nonsense with hating changed races. Though I’d come to suspect it had more to do with what daddy had almost been, rather than the races themselves. Where I’d stayed functional and able to switch between forms, daddy hadn’t.
And apparently it’d gone terribly wrong. Though every time I tried to get a complete story about it out of anyone, they hushed up. As if it somehow it were a taboo no one dared speak about.
“Oh hush,” momma said to my disapproving gaze. She waved. “I swear, you can’t say a lick and still talk to much. I’ll be damned if I can figure out where my sweet boy went. You used to be such a kind child. Loved pies. Now you hardly look at them.”
Then daddy died under now questionable circumstances. Then momma went into a mental comma and had been all but dead weight. Then I were throw into the mountain’s heart and reborn as a half man half wolf creature.
But here we were. Changed by a fate that I hadn’t realized were unavoidable.
Even now, I could see the faint outline of those black wings behind momma’s back. Like a crow’s, spread out all wide and stiff. Blown about only by the wind. They rarely moved and were near ghosts in their own right.
“Come on. We had enough change to buy some lamb from the Henders. Nice folks. Their daughter’s been looking for a suitor. Maybe if you’re,” momma turned away and walked inside. The door’s swing open caused air to waft out, bringing with it a spice meat I hadn’t tasted in ages.
If I’d had a tail still, it’d be wagging.Whatever momma said became unimportant as I got my clothes in order and brushed the shoes off. Meat sounded delicious.
I got myself cleaned quickly. Running about on four legs had left me with mud spots. We’d be getting more rains soon, possibly some snow, being this close to Butcher Hills. The clouds got stuck up on those mountain tops and made it seem like God hisself were pissing down on The Mountain.
This time of year had always been my favorite. The monsters were fewer due to the cold. They huddled inside Wellbrook, where heat and cold knew no reason but their own.
I sat at the table in a loose pair of clothes. Momma prattled on and I spent most of the meal tuning her out. She told me about the towns folks, though they’d hardly changed. Told me I’d gotten some post at City Hall to come pick up, which I only vaguely cared about. Then she went on about how we’d need more provisions for the upcoming winter. All of which went in one ear and out the other, until she hit on a subject that pulled me in.
“Now you listen to me. I know more than that shrew Cassandra would ever admit. I paid attention. Had to with my husband’s life on the line, for all the good it did. But I knew things then and I know more now than ever.”
My eyebrow lifted slowly.
“You think you’re the only one who’s been putting in time these last few months? Ever since I saw what they did to you. Made you into that hairy beast. But I’ll tell you, we’ve only ever had three hounds. All from your father’s line.”
I nodded then stared at an empty plate. There’d been food there moments ago. Bits of lamb stuck between my teeth and I struggled to pick them out with a tongue.
“Your granddaddy, I’d never met the man, but he’d been onto something. But to hear your daddy talk about it, whatever it were had been too dangerous for his family to stick around. That’s how I met your daddy. He’d been sent to college on the coast, same year I’d been.”
The damn bit of meat wouldn’t come out. I almost whimpered but oculdn’t rightly make the sound.
“Listen up!” Momma slammed the table.
My body jumped at the sudden noise. One ear began ringing.
“Not this time. I don’t care what fool idea your daddy put in your head. I ain’t being sent away. Not like what happened to your grandmomma. And if you have a boy, you raise him right and make sure he knows. Too much that your daddy didn’t tell us, what because his daddy didn’t tell him.”
My eyes went out of focus as I tried to keep it all straight. She had a point. I wondered briefly about the man I’d seen in that other place. The gruff fellow on the plains, fighting his endless war. The more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that he’d been my granddaddy.
“You hear me Chase?”
“Good.” Momma nodded back.
I weren’t entirely sure what I”d just agreed to. Momma grabbed the dishes while I replayed the conversation in my head. She’d been saying that no matter what, I couldn’t send her or anyone else away. That went against the promise I’d made to daddy on his death bed.
It also meant I’d be stuck providing for her, thought that seemed like less of a concern now than it had been half a year ago. Momma were driven and focused. Whatever had happened to me, had lit a fire under momma to do her part. Whatever that part were.
I’d think more on it later. My stomach bugled from a hot meal. My legs were worn and head throbbed from the day’s practice. I crawled into bed and ignored the messy state of my room.
As my eyes closed, I held the blade and focused on green. Not the sickly dirt green of poisons that went with fresh beasts from the mine’s depths. I dreamed of open fields, lush plants, and tall towering trees casting canopies that protected road weary souls from the overbearing sun.