No Matter How Badly You Want to Fight Your Own Battles, It’s Usually Better to Accept Help
This chapter was voted on by my Patrons in November, and I think is the perfect chapter to close out 2021 with. Thanks everyone!
Robby took a deep breath as he stepped through the portal into Techen’s Stand. He’d been spending so much time away from it lately, in the capital and in Stag Keep with Edwin. It was nice to be back. He wished he wasn’t back.
It was so quiet everywhere, in the keep, in the town, in Robby’s head. It had been quiet in Robby’s head ever since that moment at the orgy when he’d been with Edwin and suddenly it had all just stopped. All the thoughts, all the noise that he’d lived with since Drew had come to his house and told him he was a priest and ruined his life, ruined his family’s lives. They were all gone from his head.
Lyren was gone from his head. And it was because of Edwin. Robby should have found it funny what had cleared him of the invader who’d taken control of his mind had been that Edwin fucking him for all he was worth, but it wasn’t funny. It had just happened, and Lyren was still out there. And if Robby wasn’t careful, he’d get Robby again, and all the people Robby loved.
Robby was being very careful.
He hadn’t been back to Techen’s stand, to Lyren’s base, in days. And now that he was coming back, he was coming alone.
Edwin would have come with him in less than a heartbeat if Robby had asked him to. If Robby had just told him there was someone here who’d hurt him, and who’d hurt Millicent, who’d hurt other people, Edwin would have dropped everything, put on his armour and sword, and come here to kill Lyren himself.
But Robby couldn’t let him do that. Because he wasn’t immune to Lyren’s powers, no matter how cool his armour was. And it had taken every shred of will Robby had not to bring him under their control when he’d been part of the church. It had been what Lyren had wanted. What Drew had wanted. It hadn’t been what Robby had wanted, and normally what Robby had wanted hadn’t mattered.
But he must have wanted Edwin safe more than anything, because he still was. And Robby wasn’t going to put that in jeopardy by bringing him here unawares. Making him aware wouldn’t help. Because he loved Robby so much—Robby hadn’t needed mind reading powers to know that, and he’d never used them on Edwin anyway—that he’d make Robby stay out of harm’s way.
Edwin was amazing. He was the best person in Robby’s life. But he was awesome and powerful and in charge of himself. He didn’t understand what it was like to have his will taken away. To have his body taken away. He didn’t understand why Robby had to come back when he could just tell the knights and the mages and everyone and have them do it for him. Robby couldn’t let anyone do this for him. So he’d borrowed Edwin’s knife and come here without telling anyone.
The air in Techen’s Stand was clean like it never was in the capital, cold and brisk and mountainous. Robby had grown up here and not realized that air could be mountainous. He’d always just thought it was air. But it was his air, the air of his home. Techen’s Stand was his home.
And someone had polluted it.
The portal was on the stable door around the back of the inn, so Robby stepped out onto the main street, heading for the front door without pause.
And also without looking. Robby nearly walked into an old lady moving slowly. “I’m so sorry,” he told her, stepping around her.
“It’s fine,” said the old lady, who was hunched over, wearing a white dress under a white fur cloak. She was the oldest person Robby had ever seen out and walking around. “Are you from here, young man?”
Robby nodded. “Yes, ma’am. Born and raised.”
“Good. Is this inn any good?”
“Yeah,” Robby said, smiling. “The Tower is a great inn. My friend runs it, actually.”
The woman nodded. “Well, it seems I’ve no choice but to stay here, so I’m glad.”
“Yeah. Come on, we can go inside.” Robby didn’t like anyone coming to the Tower until this was over. But Drew wasn’t interested in old ladies. She’d be able to just sit and eat her food and go to her room without anyone bothering her.
They went inside, and Robby took a breath, trying to look calm, happy. His left sleeve was heavy. He smiled, empty, meaningless. Nobody’s smiles meant anything in Lyren’s church. “Hi, Hope!” he said, sounding cheerful. “This lady here needs a room.”
“Okay,” Hope said, smiling too. He took a key from a hook behind the bar. The hooks were a little too high for him, because Magnus had been tall. Before Lyren had killed him.
The only thing stopping Hope from completely falling apart was Drew’s magic. Robby knew that. He also knew nobody could keep a collapsing building up forever by wrapping it in chains, and Drew’s magic was too dangerous to let it keep working on everyone. “Is Drew in the courtyard?” he asked.
Hope nodded. “He was looking for you.”
Of course he had been. Robby smiled wider. “I’m here now. Let anyone in town know if you need anything, and we’ll be happy to help,” he said to the old lady.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine, but thank you, young man. What’s your name?”
“Robby,” he told her, stepping towards the kitchen.
“Nice to meet you, Robby. I am called Cameron.”
Robby nodded. “It was great to meet you. I hope you enjoy your time in Techen’s Stand.”
He retreated into the kitchen. Everyone should enjoy their stay in Techen’s Stand. It was a nice town. Everyone was nice. Nothing bad happened here.
Nothing bad had happened here until Drew had come to town.
He was standing out there in the courtyard, in the church, looking at the ground. There was nothing there, but there would be someday. It was where he wanted to build his tower. That Lyren wanted to build. It was so important to keep remembering that, that everything Drew wanted was what Lyren wanted. Drew was just Lyren but with human skin on. Robby had never met the real Drew, but he was a victim too. Lyren had hurt him too.
He just didn’t know it. And Robby didn’t think he’d care even if he did. “Hi,” he said to Drew, getting his attention.
Drew turned, a startled look on his face. “Robby, I didn’t hear you come in.”
Robby nodded, approaching him, trying not to be obvious about trying not to draw attention to his left arm. “Sorry.”
Drew shook his head, peering at Robby. “You…disappeared. From my mind. What happened?”
Robby took in a stuttering breath. Drew would be reading his mind now. He thought about how happy Lyren had made him feel, how content and welcomed and warm, and how he didn’t feel that way now. “I don’t know,” he said, not having to work hard at looking like he might cry. “I don’t know what happened, Drew. I just disappeared. I can’t hear anyone. I can’t hear you, or Lyren or anyone. It’s so quiet. It’s so quiet, Drew.”
Drew nodded, holding out his arms for a hug. He looked upset. He probably was upset that he’d lost Robby. He’d been at the same orgy as Robby; Robby wondered how long it had taken him to notice. “It’s okay, it doesn’t have to be quiet anymore. Come here.”
Robby nodded, shaking all over as he stepped into Drew’s arms, hugging him. How different might this all have been if Drew had someone who loved him as much as Edwin loved Robby? He reached into his left sleeve, finding the handle of his knife. “I’ve been so lonely, Drew.”
“It’s okay, Robby,” Drew promised, arms around Robby, one on the back of his head. “It’s going to be okay. I’ll make it all okay again.” He could feel it. He could feel Drew’s power creeping towards his brain.
Robby nodded, sniffing. Behind Drew, he lifted up his right hand. “No,” he said. “I will.”
He stabbed Drew in the side in one motion, scared by how easily the knife went in. But it kept going, right to the hilt.
“What…” Drew stepped away from Robby, and Robby pulled the knife back out, just as easy. He looked up. “Robby, you…”
“I’m sorry,” Robby said, crying for real now. Drew looked so lost. “I know it’s not your fault. But I have to stop him. And that means I have to stop you.”
Drew fell to the ground, blood leaking from his mouth. He twitched, once, twice. Robby took a breath, preparing to stab him again.
Then he wasn’t alone. A person about his size stood between him and Drew, stone-white skin and hair that looked almost blue, eyes gold and red and furious.
“How dare you,” was all Lyren said, before he hit Robby in the face with the back of his hand and Robby was flying, but only for a second. He collided hard with the brick wall of the Tower, vision going black as the air left his lungs and he crumpled into the snow.
“It’s okay,” Robby could hear Lyren. “It’s okay, Drew, it’ll be okay.” Robby had lost his knife. “I’ll fix you, I’ll fix it, I’ll make it okay again.”
Someone was beside Robby, brushing by him briefly. “You’re too late to fix anything, Lyren Techen Le’Carden.”
“Wait,” Robby said, holding out his hand as Cameron stepped into the courtyard like nothing was wrong. She couldn’t be here. Nobody was supposed to be here. “You can’t.”
“You’re young,” Cameron said to Robby, not looking over her shoulder. Lyren was standing up slowly, Drew still bleeding at his feet. “So I’ll let you make that mistake just this once.”
Cameron shrugged off her cloak and stood taller. And taller. As her cloak hit the ground, a rush of snow filled the air, swirling all around all of them. The snow around Cameron shimmered, and the little old lady disappeared, replaced with a really tall woman with grey skin and horns growing out from the front of her head like a crown that was also the beginning of long braids of hair. She wore a green gown of heavy velvet, with lines of gold and silver all down it from the neck to the hem, which was spread out around her. Around her shoulders was a black shawl with silver trim.
Robby could feel power coming from her in pulses so short they were a constant pressure. Not power like Lyren’s. Something different. Something bigger.
“Hello, General,” said Lyren, smiling as the snow settled, as if he was about to offer to put on a pot of tea for a guest. “I see no reason why this has to be acrimonious. We want the same thing.”
“Given I want you dead, that seems exceedingly unlikely,” Cameron said, voice deeper, more dangerous.
She moved forward in a green blur, fist out, punching the air Lyren had been standing in. He’d disappeared, appearing a few feet to her side. “We both want Nathen dead.”
“I do,” Cameron said, blurring again, appearing behind Lyren this time for another punch that missed, hit and cracked the ground, shaking the inn. Robby tried hard to stand, but it wasn’t easy. “But you have proven that what you want most is to build a power base. Further, I am able to want multiple people dead simultaneously, and if you believe that I need your help with anything, you’re even more delusional than I’d imagined.”
She punched again, and her arm disappeared. It appeared several feet away. Lyren had a hand up. He’d opened a portal, Robby thought distantly. He smiled at Cameron. “I suppose I must be if I thought you could be reasonable,” he said. “You know I’ve never been the most powerful of my people, but I do have information and connections you would find valuable.”
“And I’ve always been the most powerful of mine, and don’t value anything you have to offer. A poor matchup.” Cameron withdrew her hand and kicked upwards, her dress blocking out the setting sun. Lyren stepped through a portal and was briefly in two places at once as he appeared behind her, tentacles suddenly out.
Cameron vanished through a portal of her own, coming at Lyren from above. He went left and appeared on the other side of the courtyard, but his tentacles came through a portal to wrap around Cameron’s neck. She didn’t let them, grabbing them and pulling Lyren through the portal, vanishing into another of her own so that she was behind Lyren, kicking him in the neck and sending him flying in a blur of portals that Robby couldn’t follow.
They ended up in the eastern corner, Lyren tossing Cameron to the side and lunging at her with a growl. Cameron stepped sideways, appeared near Robby, but only for long enough for Lyren to follow her. As soon as he did she was behind him, fist aimed to connect right with the back of his head.
Cameron’s fist collided with Drew’s hand and sent out a ripple of power that displaced everything around them. The snow in the courtyard went flying everywhere, blanking Robby’s vision. When had Drew gotten there? He was standing there, pale and bleeding from his mouth, eyes vacant. Covered all over in black threads that floated off into the sky. “Cameron,” said Drew, voice tilted in a strange way. This wasn’t one of Lyren’s powers, Robby was sure of that. Lyren treated real people like things, he wouldn’t make a dead thing into a person.
“Klaus,” said Cameron, withdrawing her fist. “As usual, your presence is not wanted.”
“And yet as usual, it is necessary. Lyren is useful to me.”
“Ah, I should have known your desire to kill all the gods was only a front to let you have access to the ones you wanted,” She sneered, letting some venom enter her voice for the first time. “Oh wait, I did know that.”
Cameron threw another punch at Drew—at Klaus. Robby didn’t know who Klaus was, but he’d seen enough to know he didn’t like him. He was another asshole who thought he could use someone else’s body as a tool. In Drew’s body, Klaus deflected the punch with the flat of his hand, moving to the side. He didn’t use portals to fight. Cameron just punched and swiped and clawed at Klaus and he stepped back and sideways and away, Drew’s blood painting the snow as he moved.
Around the courtyard, there were occasional flashes of light, occasional bursts of flame, of ice. Robby didn’t think the part of the fight he could see was the real fight. He could almost see something else, lights or something vibrating all around him, colliding in the air. Or, not even in the air, in the space between them and the air. They were mostly using magic on each other, and it struck Robby that they were probably feinting and countering and blocking each other with magic just like they were in person, which meant they were equally matched enough that only once in a while did one of their spells become real.
“I will remind you,” said Klaus as he blocked one of Cameron’s punches, “that you have promised someone important not to hurt any of the townspeople of Techen’s Stand.”
“Ah, you were listening in,” Cameron said with a snort. “I did promise that.” Klaus smiled. Cameron reached out and snatched him by the neck. “But this boy isn’t from Techen’s Stand,” Cameron said.
Lyren’s tentacles wrapped around Cameron’s neck. Robby hadn’t even noticed him move, but he was there, hands out and tentacles moving, pulling Cameron towards a portal.
Cameron tossed Klaus aside, slamming him into the wall near Robby. She pulled on the tentacles, yanking Lyren towards her. “Will you fuck off?”
“Robby,” said Klaus, standing like Drew wasn’t bleeding out from the wound in his side. “I require your help.”
Robby shook his head. “I’m not going to help you protect Lyren. He’s a monster.”
“The world needs monsters just as desperately as it needs heroes, Robby. I know that’s hard to understand at your age, but…”
“Fuck you,” Robby said, choking on air. He was going to cry. Looking at Drew bleeding was making him want to cry. “Fuck you.”
Klaus let out a sigh that had more blood running down Drew’s chin. “I’d feared you might say that, Robby.” In a flash he was behind Robby, hand to his throat. “Come. I’m afraid you’re going to help me either way; Cameron can’t harm you.”
Cameron slammed Lyren into the ground, throwing Robby’s footing off and making him stumble forward. He threw his elbow back into Drew’s bleeding gut and detached them, turning around. And he punched Klaus in the face. “Fuck you!”
Klaus stumbled and Cameron was there beside Robby, reaching out. She grabbed not Drew—not Klaus—but the black threads above him, gathering them all in one hand. She held out her other hand and sliced through them, letting the threads fade away, leaving black streaks in Robby’s vision against the red stains and white snow of the rest of the courtyard.
Drew fell forward, empty. “Drew,” Robby said, hurrying over to him, catching him as he hit the ground. “It’s okay, you’re okay.”
He wasn’t okay. He was unconscious, barely breathing. Robby had genuinely thought he was dead, but his chest was moving, just a little, for now. His side was covered in blood and he was cold and not moving. Robby had done that. Not Klaus or Cameron or Lyren. Robby had done that to him. Robby had killed him.
There were portals open everywhere, everything was shaking. Cameron and Lyren were moving so fast that Robby could barely see them now. And then they stopped, ten paces away, Cameron slamming Lyren to the ground and punching as if to cave in his chest.
And she stopped. Lyren had brought his hand up to her cheek, looking her in the eyes.
Robby stood up. He didn’t know anything about Cameron. Would Lyren’s powers work on her?
Cameron moved a step back, and Lyren stood. “That’s better. You’re much better behaved this way.”
Cameron punched him with a growl, but the pressure Robby knew to associate with Lyren’s powers got stronger.
His knife was on the ground just over there. Robby stepped over Drew and picked it up.
“Do you really think this peddler’s trick will work on me?” Cameron demanded. She was fighting him, fighting Lyren’s power. Maybe she’d win. Maybe she wouldn’t. Robby didn’t know. He moved around behind Lyren, quietly approaching him.
“I think it will calm you down enough that we can talk like adults instead of animals,” Lyren said. “There’s no reason why we should have to…”
Robby leapt at him and pulled the knife across the side of his neck with a snarl. Lyren screamed and blood sprayed everywhere, all over Robby. Hand to his neck, Lyren whipped around, knocking Robby to the ground and reaching down to him.
Robby charged up into him, knocked him over, screaming as he stabbed Lyren in the chest again and again and again, making sure to plant the knife right in his heart. Then he fell, rolling to the side, and got to his hands and knees just in time to throw up in the snow.
Cameron’s feet clicked on the bare earth, and she looked down at them. Robby looked over. Lyren was a mess of blood, not moving. “Is he dead?”
“A wise question. It doesn’t occur to most people that a god might not succumb to such wounds. At least not their first time.” Cameron crouched down, examining Lyren. Lyren’s body. She stood again. “He does appear to be dead, however.”
She stepped on his head, and it caved inwards, more blood and brains and other crap splattering everywhere.
Robby threw up again, tears running down his face and sobs escaping him. He tried to get them under control and couldn’t, not right away.
He sat there on his hands and knees and retched and cried for a good few minutes that could have been an hour before he was ready to lift his head again. He looked at Cameron. “Is…is Drew dead?”
Cameron looked over her shoulder. “No. I healed his injuries while you were vomiting. He will recover.”
Maybe Drew’s body would recover. He didn’t know if Drew would ever get better from what Lyren had done to him. Robby sucked in a breath, trying to swallow his annoyance that she’d think it was that easy. “Okay.” He tried to stand, slipped in some blood, and had to be helped up. “Thank you. I guess I would have died if you hadn’t come.”
“Yes. It was profoundly foolish of you to challenge a god with only a knife,” Cameron told him. “What in the cosmos possessed you to make such a stupid decision?”
“He hurt my family, my friends.” And Robby himself. He looked at Lyren’s corpse. With no head and his tentacles laying flat against the snow, he didn’t look so scary anymore. “Was he really a god?”
“Yes. They’re a dying breed for a reason.”
Robby nodded, still feeling sick. “And the other one? The one who was controlling Drew’s body?”
“No, he wasn’t a god.”
“Okay. I’ll find a bigger knife and kill him next.”
Cameron’s lips curled into a thin smile. “Let me know when you embark. I’ll help you.”
Robby nodded, looking at what had used to be Lyren’s head. “How many more of them are there?”
“That’s not an answer.”
“That’s all the answer I know. Here.” Cameron reached to the side, then pulled an old-timey black arm brace out of nowhere. She held it out to Robby. “There’s a military unit dedicated to eradicating the gods. It’s called the Spider Company.”
“I don’t really think I’m old enough to join an army,” Robby said, looking at the brace. It had a spider engraved on it. It felt weird to hold.
“You are, but I’m not asking you to. It isn’t just a tool, it also means something. We used to give these to our members who’d killed gods.”
Robby wasn’t sure that anything meant anything to him right now, but he nodded. He put the brace on, felt it click. It fit him. “Thank you.”
“The brace will passively absorb magic while you aren’t using it,” Cameron said. “It’s an undetectable reservoir that passively absorbs excess energy from your body and your environment. It’s also linked to other such trinkets, should you ever be in need of emergency allies. It may be helpful someday.”
That all sounded really cool. “I’m not magical,” he said. “I’m not like you.”
“You are most assuredly not like me, but you are magically inclined,” Cameron told him. “Your limited abilities naturally might not have manifested for another few years, but given your proximity to people like Lyren and now me, you may find them appearing sooner than you expect.”
Robby frowned. Everything felt so distant. “I’m going…to be a wizard?” One of the boys Robby had met at the orgy was a wizard, and he’d said it was really cool.
“A mage, if that distinction matters,” Cameron said. She nodded. “I must go. Do you wish for me to take you somewhere? I know you live with Sir Edwin.”
Robby shook his head. He wanted Edwin. He wanted Edwin so badly. But he wasn’t done here. He couldn’t be. Everyone would be free of Lyren’s influence now. Hope would be. His family would be. They’d need someone to explain what had happened. What had been done to them. Somebody had to make it okay. “No. I belong here.”
“Very well. You did well today.”
Robby didn’t feel like he’d done well. He felt like he’d done what was necessary. Cameron disappeared, leaving him alone in the remains of the church.
No, not alone. “Robby?”
Robby looked over, saw Drew, standing. He looked awful, but he was standing. “Drew.”
“Where’s…where’s Lyren? I can’t feel Lyren, Robby.”
Robby nodded, went over to Drew. “Lyren’s gone, Drew. He’s dead.”
Drew shook his head. “No. He can’t. We need him. I need him. He can’t.”
“No,” Drew said, starting to cry. “No, Robby. No.”
Robby wanted to hate Drew. He’d done all this terrible stuff. He was responsible for so much hurt. But then, so was Robby. Lyren had been controlling him just like he’d been controlling the rest of them, hadn’t he?
Robby looked down at the knife sticking out of Lyren. Most of the blood covering it was Lyren’s, but some of it had belonged to Drew. “It’s okay,” Robby said, pulling Drew into a hug. They didn’t have to hurt each other anymore. “It’s going to be okay now, Drew.”
Drew shook his head and started sobbing into Robby’s shoulder, and Robby held him, crying again himself. It was going to be okay. He had to believe that. It was going to be okay.
It didn’t feel like it, but it would. It had to.
14 thoughts on “Others, 38”
You can definitely hear this ringing through the streets of Techen’s Stand today.
And that is why you never discount the little guys. They can kill you just as dead as your rivals and nemeses, if you give them an opening.
And boy did Lyren sure give Robby a lot of openings. Biggest and last mistake of his life. 😀
The big question now is whether Drew will realize how horrible the things he did under Lyren really were or if he’ll double down. And what he’ll do in the latter case.
Yeah, that’s a big and important question. We actually have no idea the extent to which his mind was altered by Lyren, and maybe he will genuinely organically believe he was in the right. Or at least miss the power Lyren gave him, which will amount to something very similar. It’ll be interesting to see his recovery or “recovery,” that’s for sure.
Oh, fuck off, Klaus. If Lyren is such a necessary monster then why don’t YOU volunteer to get mind-raped for the greater good?
Wild how people from the “someone people suffer for the greater good” crowd are never the ones suffering, huh? Klaus is pretty much the master of that particular hypocrisy.
At least he has Robby coming for his throat now.
I hope Klaus felt that.
Cameron made sure he did. 😀
Now that’s not true! Robby lost a lot of valuable time he could have been spending with Edwin!