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Transients: The Story of a Band

Chapter Eight: Getting to Know You

By Daniel BradburyPublished 2 years ago 11 min read
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Within two hours, the tiny band of transients and their new gear were huddled in the belly of a ferry and headed for the island of Cretir: a place their newfound benefactor claimed to be the home of the site they needed to cast their spell. “If the writings are correct, the music should be inscribed on a Witches’ shrine on the north side of the island.” Morgana paused to steady herself as the boat met a rough wave. “But given the attitude towards Witch-Faith at the time of No'kjül’s writings I think we’ll probably be looking for an hidden shrine.”

The Drummer’s expression was a mask of disbelief. “The Witches built secret shrines?”

“Yes.” Replied Morgana. “Attitudes towards faiths outside of our mainland gods were a lot less tolerant in No'kjül’s time than they are today. Witches would often build shrines deep in the woods or in caves in order to practice their faith without fear of persecution.”

“Wait a second,” interrupted Zed, “if this shrine is hidden so well, how do you know where to look for it?”

“I don’t. But there’s a Godschurch dedicated to Storyteller-Who-Stole-Fire on the north side of the island.” Morgana paused, grinning slightly. “And it’s built over the entrance to a cave.”

“The Witch-Priests had a sense of humor?” chuckled Simone, “Not only that but the balls to hide a shrine by building a church for the trickster god? I’m impressed.”

“Well, officially the Godschurch was commissioned by a priest named Oswald Bartholomew Scurian III, but there isn’t really anything else about him on record.” Answered Morgana, “And if you know your witch faith…”

“Wait… are you serious?” Simone wore an expression somewhere between genuine disbelief and a stifled laugh.

The men of their ragged party leaned in and begged for clarification. “The truths that maketh song are of three, and concealed are behind the veil of the obscure.” Simone quoted. “O.B. Scurian the third? The three secret principles of witch-chant? That’s almost a pun.”

The day passed slowly. Time was difficult to measure on an endless plane of sea, and companionship born of necessity rather than choice is fertile ground for awkward silences. It was during one of these that Zed excused himself and climbed to the deck of the ferry. It was his first time seeing the ocean. Zed felt almost meditative as he looked out into the vastness of it. It was like the rest of the world, the troubles and worries of his life on land couldn’t find him there. He fantasized briefly about being a sailor. If he sold his guitar he’d have enough money to live while he looked for work. He could get a job on a fishing boat, or even a ferry like this one and let the rest of the world go fuck itself. He could live out the rest of his days safe and happy on the water while Karth burned. But that was a selfish thought. He wondered what Alex would have thought of the ocean. What he would have felt when he looked out at it the same way Zed was looking now. Alex would have felt guilty. Guilty for being safe, for wanting selfish things when there were people who were suffering. He would have told Zed to stop dreaming and go practice. All the same Zed wished he could have been there to see it. “Hey.” Zed started and turned quickly, calming as he saw Simone walking towards him across the deck. “It’s pretty, huh?”

“Yeah.” He answered, turning his gaze to the ocean again.

“So,” Simone began bluntly, “what were you doing in Karthage? We haven’t had a lot of time to talk about it but that was a pretty fucking wild situation we found you in.” Zed’s normally jovial features suddenly darkened. He turned towards her, but still seemed to be staring at the ocean around them. “It’s sort of a long story.”

“Well, we are stuck on a boat.”

“You’ve got me there.” He inhaled deeply. “Gods, where do I start?”

“At the beginning?” Zed wasn’t looking at her, but he could almost feel Simone shrug as she said it. Zed liked Simone. He couldn’t remember meeting someone under weirder circumstances but he liked her. He decided to tell her.

“I was raised in house Tuhl-ret. I never knew my parents, but the governors there gave me a good life. The heir to the High House, Alex, and I kind of grew up together. He was in training to be a court musician and after a while I started training with him ‘cause his parents wanted him to have an accompanist for when have gave concerts for their guests. I took to it pretty well. We were really close. Me and Alex, I mean. I don’t know if I have any blood family, but he was my brother. He was more family to me than any asshole that would just leave a baby on a doorstep.” Zed paused. When he spoke again his voice was quieter. Simone almost had to strain to hear it above the boat’s motor. “About two months ago, we took a road trip to go to the harvest festival in house Rooq. There was this girl he’d met on the forums that he couldn’t shut up about. She was gonna be there. He’d written this song that he was going to sing to her so he brought his family’s guitar and it was actually really good. We stopped to make camp on our way there. I can still hear him talking, you know? About how excited he was.” Zed chuckled softly. “He was trying to play it cool about how much he liked her but playing it cool wasn’t really Alex’s thing.” Zed paused again. When he spoke his voice was just above a whisper. “We were setting up camp and we got ambushed by shades.” Simone’s face fell. “I tried to get to him but I was so scared, and they were just on him so fast, all I could do was grab the guitar and start running.”

“Fuck Zed, I’m really sorry.”

“Thanks dude.” Zed exhaled deeply and stared out into the sea. “I thought since Tuhl-Ret and Karthage were so close I could change something. I thought if I got in front of the right people and told them what happened they’d know that people weren’t lying: that the shades are really back. But I guess you saw how that wound up. Thanks again for rescuing me, by the way.”

“Hey of course!” Simone said, patting him on the back. The conversation trailed off into silence, or at least the white noise of the motor and the calls of seagulls. It was some time before Zed spoke again: “So what about you?”

“Huh?”

“I mean you can’t just expect me to tell you my entire sob story and get nothing out of you. Why are you out here? And how the hell did you wind up travelling with The fucking Drummer?”

Simone laughed. “I mean shit, dude, my story almost seems silly next to yours. It’s almost not worth hearing.”

“Don’t be a goober dude. I think it might be impossible for a story that’s lead you to this point to be lame.”

“I guess you’re right.” Simone smiled wanly, and turned to lean against the railing of the boat. “I guess if you had to boil it down to a single reason, I left home because of a girl.”

“No shit?” Said Zed, turning to face her, his eyebrows raised.

“No shit.” Simone squinted against the setting sun as she spoke. It made a halo around Zed’s head. “I fell in love with one of the gardeners at my parents’ place in house Qu. It’s funny, they always made this big deal about Qu being a tolerant place: this big melting pot where anyone could live and thrive.” Simone dropped her voice into her lowest register and stiffened her bearing, imitating her father. “They worked it into almost every speech they made somewhere. But I guess all that pro-gay stuff goes out the fucking window when your daughter’s supposed to produce an heir to your line, huh?” But as the memories of her leaving home settled on her, the feeling of the story changed quickly. She looked as though she had tasted something bitter. “Of course with their personas and the whole image that they were trying to project they couldn’t do anything about it, at least not publicly. Can you just imagine the headlines?” Simone fell silent. She was visibly angry.

“So what happened?” Zed asked. It was some time before Simone answered.

“They paid her. At first she came to me and told me what had happened. Said they’d offered her some absurd amount to break up with me. We made plans to run away: we could’ve lived off what they gave her for years if we were careful. We could’ve made a life together.”

Cautiously, Zed asked what had gone wrong.

“They found out about our plan and tripled her price. Of course I didn’t know that then. I showed up to the place we were supposed to meet and she never came. I waited all night.”

Zed cursed and exhaled loudly.

“And you know the fucking kicker?” Zed shrugged. “They came to pick me up. They fucking picked me up from our spot, I was this sobbing wreck, and gave me this talk about how I needed to get through this phase. That they were going to help me find a nice boy to settle down with and everything was going to be alright. I’ve never felt so fucking angry in my life. When we got home I kicked their precious fucking instrument of power to pieces. I kicked it to pieces, gathered them up and I ran. I had a builder on the outskirts of the city turn them into my amp head. I’d admired The Drummer for a while.” Simone closed her eyes and sighed. In that moment Zed thought she looked much older than she really was. No one should have to know that kind of hurt at twenty. “I guess he gave me something to look for once I was out of Qu. I’m glad I found him though.”

“Me too.” Answered Zed. Simone raised an eyebrow. “Hey,” Zed continued, “If you two hadn’t met there’s a good chance I’d be in prison right now.” Hearing footsteps on the deck behind them, they turned to see The Drummer emerging from behind the ship’s cabin. Simone’s brow furrowed. “Were you eavesdropping on us?” He raised his hands in a gesture of diffusion. “I was smoking. The eavesdropping was secondary.”

“That was private, you asshole.”

“I know. But it got me thinking.”

“About learning some damn manners?” The Drummer coughed out a humorless chuckle. “No, but you’re close. For better or worse we’re kind of stuck in this situation together right now. We might as well get to know one another.”

Zed interjected. “I’ve got to admit I was pretty curious. I mean, we’ve all seen the videos, but I don’t know shit about you. What’s your deal, man?” Simone seemed to forget her ire at the prospect of getting her mysterious companion to talk. “More importantly,” she said, leaning back against the railing of the craft, “what’s your real name?”

“What?” The Drummer obviously hadn’t been expecting this as the first line of questioning. “I mean is that really important?”

“I mean, yeah it kind of is!” Simone laughed. “It’s weird referring to you like you don’t have one. I know you’ve cultivated this whole ‘nameless badass’ image, but if I stand a chance of fucking dying in some witch-cave or a government prison for hanging out with you I ought to at least know your name!” Zed nodded solemnly in agreement.

“Yeah, I guess you’ve got a point.” The Drummer joined them with his back against the railing. He sighed deeply and turned his head as though to look at the sunset. Almost at a whisper he uttered: “It’s Eustace.”

If someone had been watching their conversation and had to judge what was said by facial expression alone, they could have been forgiven for thinking that Eustace had just told his companions he was quitting drumming to become an exotic dancer. “What… what did you just say?” Simone embodied disbelief.

“No fucking way.” Zed whispered under his breath, his eyes wide. They began to scream with laughter. “Gods above!” Zed cried as he slumped into the railing. “I can’t fucking believe it! Eustace!”

“Eustace the shade slayer,” Simone cried, her body wracked with spasms of laughter, “Eustace the mighty Drummer!”

“Do you understand why I didn’t tell you before now?” Eustace looked more exasperated than angry. “Oh yeah we do,” said Zed, a laugh building in his throat, “Eustace, transient outlaw-hero!”

Eustace, the transient outlaw-hero, rubbed his thumb and index finger over a furrowed brow and leaned into the railing, facing away. “I think we can just stick with 'The Drummer,’” he pleaded. Humbled by the gesture of trust, Zed made a silent decision to use the Drummer’s given name sparingly, and only with excellent comedic timing. He glanced at Simone. The way she was vibrating with excitement to the point that her dark freckles blurred into lines, he figured he was the only one considering tact.

Three transients on a ship—what a silly bunch they were. Ah, he remembered—but they weren't three. On the bough, Morgana stood as if she had a meter stick for a spine with her hands folded at her lap, eyes watching the ocean’s every move. She looked almost as though she was trying to find some secret thing hidden in the gray-green of the water. Such a lonely sight compared to the three of them.

He gave Simone and the Drummer a grin. “Let's make this a party of four,” he said, lifting his hand to call out to her.

“No,” interrupted the Drummer. Zed whipped his head back in surprise. “I’m sorry. I'd rather keep my distance.”

They all hesitated to speak, until Simone nodded, albeit reluctantly. “Can’t see her up for caring and sharing. And, you know… everything she does feels very sus. Even her generosity just felt… sus.”

“I agree,” said the Drummer. “We might know what she wants, but her motives are a mystery. Helping an Order member amass power is definitely the last thing on my to-do list.” His eyes quickly scanned the boat, and he lowered his voice to a whisper. “I've been keeping my eye out for some kind of ambush. If we keep close to the truck, you two have a straight shot at your instruments and I can bolt over and keep her in check.” He gave his pants pocket a surreptitious pat, and Zed could hear two sticks of wood clink together. “Being split up wouldn't be ideal, but in our situation, it's the only thing I can think of to catch her off guard.”

“Shades on parade,” Zed muttered. “I get how you're so good at not dying.”

A wave crashed and the boat quavered as the Drummer looked at Zed. He’d never seen eyes so tired and so wary. How long had this guy been alone before he let Simone join him? Better yet, how had he let Simone join him? And Zed himself, for that matter. Granted, the two of them weren't a boat’s-length away from him, but Zed was suddenly aware of the distance The Drummer maintained. It wasn't that Zed was insulted—simply sad to realize there were two very lonely people on this ship.

“Must be a rocky life, dude,” Zed said.

The Drummer’s lips twisted up wryly. “Paranoia ain't healthy, but neither’s a knife in your back”. “CLOSING ON CRETIR!” came a voice from the ferry's cockpit. The transients looked again toward the front of the boat, past Morgana. Beyond a bit of mist, Zed saw a distant mound of brown and green poking out of the blue. “ALL PASSENGERS, PLEASE PREPARE TO DISEMBARK SHORTLY.”

AdventureFantasySci FiSeries
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About the Creator

Daniel Bradbury

Big fan of long walks in the woods, rye Manhattans, Spanish literature, jazz, and vinyl records.

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