Names Always Mean Something, Even When It’s Nothing
“I don’t like horses.”
“Too bad,” Cal said to Joey, patting the flank of Joey’s mare before she could try to bite him again. Horses didn’t like him much either. He wondered if it was because they were prey animals. “It’s faster to ride than to walk and we’re done wasting time.”
“It’s faster to teleport than to ride,” Joey reminded him. “And I won’t get my hair eaten.”
“No, but you’ll get your puny ass frozen in a glacier at the bottom of the world,” Sully told him irritably. “We’ve been through this.”
Joey just made an inaudible noise that sounded like a growl and looked away, hand tight on his reins.
Cal shook his head, leading his horse up the road towards the gates of Pelican Bay. “I would imagine Travis would rather spend an extra week in captivity because you want to walk instead?”
Joey glared at him, then relented. “Fine.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say.”
Seeing as how Cal had already bought the horses anyway, it wasn’t like Joey had much of a leg to stand on. He’d taken way more money out from the banks than he usually did for any job; he wanted to be fully prepared for this. Anything that they could use to help them rescue everyone was worth it.
Sully had spent a night and day at Saint Lyra’s with Bartholomew, and he’d come back absolutely sure that they were going to get the help they needed. He was a little quiet, but that was fine with Cal as long as Bartholomew was going to help them. They needed all the help they could get.
“So on horseback it’s about three weeks east, right?”
“Maybe shorter if we push it, but we have to be careful not to…” Cal was distracted by a cat’s meow. It was just a regular alley cat, grey and scarred, darting off into a gap between two houses.
Cal looked at Sully and Joey. “Is there a gap between those two houses?”
“Yeah,” Sully said, glancing over there. “Not big enough for anything to be there or anything, but…”
“Thanks.” At least Cal wasn’t hallucinating this time. He picked up the pace, speeding away from the cat and the houses. But now he was thinking. Anything that could help them, any help they could get.
Biting his lip, Cal handed his reins to Sully. “Hold these.”
“I’m going to go…over there.” Cal said, ducking under the horses, approaching two different buildings, a cobbler and a wineseller, with no gap between them. He closed his eyes.
I shall be here, when you wish to speak with me again, she’d said.
Cal opened his eyes, and now there was a gap there between the two stores. He swallowed. “I’ll be right back,” he promised.
“Where are you going?” Sully demanded.
“To have a vaguely unsettling supernatural encounter,” Cal said, nodding to himself. “I’ll tell you about it after.”
And he stepped forward, ducking into that gap that didn’t exist.
Cal flew, the world rushing by him, and nearly lost his feet when the void stopped screaming and tossed him down inside the old lady’s cottage, the matted cat hissing at him.
“Sorry to intrude,” Cal said, eyes finding the old lady hunched over her fire.
“I don’t believe you,” the old lady said, looking up at him. “You’ve never been sorry for anything. Are you Nathen, or Calvin?”
“Calvin,” Cal said, stepping a little closer. “I’ve always been Calvin, and I always will be.”
“I hope so,” she said, waving at a stool for Cal to sit. “And what brings you to break your promise not to visit me again, Calvin?”
Cal sighed, remembering that he’d come here for help. “Wes and Mick have been kidnapped by demons.”
“And you seek my help to rescue them?” The old lady smiled. “I cannot provide you martial aid.”
“I know that. But you know things.” It sounded stupid when Cal said it like that. But knowing things was important.
“I know what can be known. The Child of Misfortune and the Gatekeeper of Shadow are alive and healthy at this moment.”
Cal frowned, though relief stole through him. Thank God. “Why don’t you call anyone by their names? Why all the nicknames?”
The cat hissed, and the old lady chuckled. “Names are the most powerful thing ever given to living beings, Calvin. One should be careful with them. But most of us have many names and use only one in the world. Do you remember my name?”
Cal looked at her, shaking his head. The way she talked, it was clear she’d known Nathen. “No. Sorry.”
“More dishonest apologies.”
“Nathen may never have been sorry,” Cal said, firmly. “But that’s because he was a psychopath. The world should be glad he’s dead.”
“The world is, Calvin,” she said, smiling sadly. “Some of its denizens less so.”
“As far as I can tell, there wasn’t anyone he didn’t want to kill. You knew him. Why does anyone want to bring him back?” If this person had known Nathen, she might know the people who’d killed him. She might know more about him than anyone else. She might know something useful.
A long sigh. “I only know what can be known, Calvin. You cannot save the Child of Misfortune and the Gatekeeper of Shadow.”
Cal went cold. “I can. And I will.”
“Not so long as you wish to remain human. No human can defeat the enemies you seek to face.”
Cal stood up. This had been a mistake. “That’s not true.”
“You came here seeking my help, did you not?”
“And that was a mistake.”
“Perhaps. Nathen never sought my aid. Never once. Not even when he had no allies in this world, not even when I would have been his only. He never asked a single soul for help once he started his quest, Calvin. And so in seeking help, you have already distanced yourself from him. Please continue to do that if you value this world.” She held his gaze, firm.
Cal swallowed. “I will. I don’t want him anywhere near me, or the world.”
Or Wes and Mick, or Sully. Or anyone else he cared about.
“I hope that is the truth, Calvin. Else Armageddon’s Vanguard will carry out its destiny. May I give you a gift, to aid you in your journey?” She held out a hand, shaking.
Cal considered it, then, slowly, held out his own hand as well.
She dropped a small bead in his hand. “When there is no one and nothing, you will find aid, Doomed One. Trust the King of Nothing. The Star Knight must not succeed. The False Prophet is in danger, and the One Who Leads begins his ascent. The Traitor is chained, and the Oligarch does not speak the truth. Do not fear the Sea, it is the Dragon who imperils all. The Horned Owl will act, and the Puppeteer plays dangerous games. Do not heed the Desperate Soul.”
She withdrew her hand. Cal stepped back. “I don’t know who any of those people are.”
A chuckle. “I am aware, Nathen. But knowledge takes many forms. Do you remember my name?”
“Meryan,” Cal whispered, the name filtering into his head from somewhere.
Meryan gave him a warm smile, like spring. “I’d never thought to hear you say it again. Do you believe we will meet again?”
Cal wanted to say no, he really did. But he nodded. “I do.”
“Then I shall wait for you, as I have always waited for you. Go, Calvin. People wait for you, as they always do.”
“Thank you,” Cal whispered, not sure what he was thanking her for. Slipping the bead into his pocket, he turned and headed for the door.
Hand on the handle, he turned. “Meryan. He wouldn’t have killed you, I think.” He wasn’t sure why he thought that. He wasn’t sure if he really did think that. Maybe he was just saying it to make a crazy old lady feel better.
A cracked smile. The cat had come to sit on her lap. “I wish he had.”
Cal didn’t have an answer to that, and he opened the handle, letting the world rush away.
He didn’t end up in Pelican Bay. Cal opened into a small room lit by lamplight, a bed in one corner, a small armoire, a writing table with a small chair, a trunk at the foot of the bed. From the small window, starlight filtered in.
The man sitting at the writing table looked up at Cal. “There you are.”
“What the hell is this?” Cal demanded, looking around. He pulled open the door, revealing a stone hallway, dark. “Who are you?”
“Don’t worry, you’re not in danger.”
“That’s not an answer to my question.” Cal had no idea where he was, and he didn’t like that. He could feel it rising in his chest, the need to run, to fight.
He wished he hadn’t left his sword with the horse.
He wasn’t sure which sword he wanted.
The man smiled. He was pale but tanned at the same time, features hard to pin down even looking right at him. Short hair, bright eyes, but tired. He seemed to glow, but he didn’t put off light in the lamplit room. “So you don’t remember me yet?”
“I wish you people would stop expecting me to remember you,” Cal hissed, taking a step back. “Who are you?”
“If I tell you that, do you promise not to yell? I’m not the only one who lives here and you’ll wake the others up.”
“Who are…” Cal closed his eyes, trying to breathe normally. “Just tell me.”
The man smiled. “My name’s Rawen.” He looked at Cal expectantly. “Nothing?” A snort. “Should have known.”
“Send me back to Pelican Bay,” Cal said, slowly. “I’m not who you want me to be.”
“I’ll send you back. I just want to talk to you. It’s been such a long time.”
“We’ve never spoken before,” Cal insisted.
“From your perspective. Here, I’ll try a name you might have heard before.” The man smiled, a smile that made Cal go a little cold. “Not a name so much as a title, but sometimes titles have meaning. They call you God, that means something.”
“It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Then I guess,” the man said, smiling still. He leaned forward a little, closer to Cal. “It doesn’t mean anything when they call me the devil.”