|A Remarkable Change|
|Series||A Twist in the Road: The Black City by Jewelist|
|Previous||A New Companion|
|Next||The Dark Seal|
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2. A Remarkable ChangeEdit
When I found what I believed to be all the citizens in Bloodstone gathered at the top of the hill that I had come down when entering Bloodstone, I got very suspicious. The feeling must have touched Theresa's mind, because I heard her voice only moments later. Keep your guard up, Sparrow. No good can come from this. I understood what Hammer felt about Theresa sometimes. But, I knew she was looking out for me, for all of us. 'All three of us, now. First me, then Hammer, now Garth who could honestly give Theresa a run for her wits...' I shook the thoughts from my head and climbed the hill to the gathered crowd, re-focusing my attention. Marten trotted at my feet, having a hard time wading through the legs of others.
Pushing my way to the center, I saw the body of the man that had warned me. His eyes bulged in terror, mouth ajar, and his body sprawled out. One limb had been severed, a clean cut at the shoulder, and the arm was torn to shreds only a foot or so away. Kneeling by his side, was Phoebe. She was inspecting the missing limb. "Looks like a Hollow Man got a hold of him." She said, looking hopeful to satisfy everyone's panicking. "Everyone, go home and bar your doors. If you can't, get as far away from here as possible, and make it safe." She stood without further word.
The people scattered off as if bandits were raiding Bloodstone, but I stayed. "Phoebe?" I asked. She had her back to me, arms crossed, and looking into nothing. "You never answered my question. Did you know him?"
"No, I didn't. I don't know anyone here." Her response caught me off guard, and I didn't know how to answer to that. "No matter. I suggest you find a place to stay, or come with me to where I stay. It's not safe out here." She turned back around, and the settling evening cast a misplaced glow on her. "Unless, you prefer to sleep with the Hollow Men." The offer cracked my lips into what was a dry grin. "Follow me, in that case." Usually when I followed a girl, it was one night and meaningless. I can't say I was attracted to the whores, even if some did look nice. And dressed... Well.
But following this strange girl, who seemed more like a complete stranger than just some harlot standing on a corner, but whom I had actually spoken to, in the disappearing sun, was different. I felt nothing, but something like a friendship. But, all I had really known was a sisterly love, friendship. A mother's care and a father's pride weren't anything I'd experience, and that seemed to include the love of someone unrelated and the returned feeling.
"You'll have to excuse my home. If you consider it one." Her small talk was effortless, I noticed. As I walked behind her, I took notice of her strong strides. "And, you don't have to follow me like a dog. Excuse me, little fella." I had completely forgotten about Marten, who actually barked in an approving tone. I introduced the critter, and she took a moment to get down and shake his paw. She stood, and we continued walking. I held Marten's gaze for a short while. When I turned my attention back to Phoebe, she added, "Meaning, you can walk beside me if you would like." I took up on the offer, and picked up the pace for all of a few strides.
Once beside her, I suddenly became aware of something. I was looking at her from the point of view of the size of a man that I should be. No, I met her sitting down, and that must have been what caused it. I looked down on everyone as a midget, and it was quite pathetic. It was inevitable. I was giant because of the increasing skill, and my body building from strength orbs. "How long have you been in Bloodstone?" I asked, surprised myself that I had asked it.
"Not long enough," Her tone was something I never could have imagined; exasperated. But it didn't last, because when she spoke next it was as mild as before. "So it seems."
"What makes you say that? I'm here on business and I've been here a total of two days. I hate it here and want the hell out." I blurted it out of sheer puzzlement.
She eyed me with curiosity. "Business? Care to explain that one to me?" I took a breath, and the story spilled out. I didn't explain why I was going after the Heroes, but I explained as much as I could. "So, your girlfriend's name is Hammer? Or Hannah?"
"Hammer is not my girlfriend, thank you." I said in defense. "I just happened to be taking her through caves filled with Hollow Men because I'm a gentleman."
"Uh-huh, sure." Phoebe's teasing was refreshing. She herself was a clean change. Someone to talk to. 'Forgive me Marten,' I thought to myself, and risked a glance at my dog. He was no longer by my feet, but trotting alongside Phoebe's. 'Traitor,' I accused.
"While mentioning Hollow Men, how did you know it was a Hollow Man that severed that, ah, Wayne's arm off?" Phoebe's free grin became complex as the words left my mouth. "Sorry to bring it up if it was a sore topic, but really. Not to be sexist or anything, but I've never seen a girl identify a wound so quickly."
"I'll let you in on something, Sparrow." Phoebe didn't look at me as she spoke. "It wasn't a Hollow Man that killed Wayne. I'm not sure what it was." I took that in. "Not to be judgmental, but by the looks of you," She must have meant my beastly figure and bloody weapons, "You look as if you would know a thing or two about death. Or, killing, I should perhaps say." No words formed in my mouth, so instead I nodded. "What do you think it was?"
"Honest?" I looked at her.
"Honest." She repeated, stuffing her hands into her apron pockets.
"I don't know. It wasn't a jagged cut like most Hollow Men wounds are. It was a clean slit, as if someone pinned his arm down and he just let them cut it off. Well, couldn't have been that easy, judging by the look on his face." I said. She nodded, and I added, "How do you know anything about Hollow Men, anyways?" We were coming up on a tattered little building, like a shed. "You don't strike me at the type."
"Oh, I've gotten around." She said, and opened the door, which I was mentally refusing to touch, even despite good manners. I might have accidentally ripped it off its hinges. If it had any. "And feel free to bring Marten in." I patted the side of my leg, and he scampered in.
We stepped inside, and I had to duck a little to fit in. "Around? How do you mean?" She cast me a look and disappeared into a different room, not answering my question. I glanced around. It was shabby, that was for sure. There was a tiny furnace and a stack of wood next to it. The floors and walls were bear wood, and in the corner was a tiny table and two rickety looking chairs.
Before I got a more thorough inspection through, Phoebe came back with some bedding. "Here. It's not much, but it beats just sleeping on the floor."
"It beats sleeping in one of the abandoned houses in Wraithmarsh, which is what I have been doing." I laughed, and it felt good. "It's not pleasant to be woken by a Banshee sometime in the middle of the night."
"Well hopefully you get a good night's rest tonight." She said sincerely, and handed me the blanket and pillow.
As gingerly as I could I took them from her hands, and gave her an appreciative look. "Thank you."
She looked up and met my eyes. "I like you, Sparrow. You're a rare kind of person," I liked how she didn't say 'guy' and instead put 'person.' "I think we are going to be good friends if you stick around." This was nice. It was a good change. "Now, get some rest. Marten, you can have a blanket, too." Marten wagged his tail.
"You're going to make my dog betray me..." I accused, crossing my arms after I had my area of bed made and she had come back into the room.
"I wouldn't hold me to trial," Phoebe gestured to Marten pulling the cover with his teeth to be beside my heap of blankets. I crawled beneath the covers, feeling like I could just die right there. Marten was already huddled into the soft material. I called out a good night, and for the first time since Rose had been gone, I heard a "good night" in return.
On the verge of falling asleep, I realized she had never answered my question about why she hadn't been in Bloodstone long enough. Marten nuzzled my hand so that it would rest on his head, and I decided that it didn't matter, and I let sleep take me.
* * * *
The next morning, I awoke and stretched out my stiff muscles. There was no doubt that I felt better. I had slept soundly, no dream, and I was pretty sure that I hadn't moved once. It was until I noticed that Marten was gone that I felt at peace. "Marten?" I called out, sitting up hurriedly. Almost at once Marten came bouncing in and relief filled me. "Jeez boy... Don't do that again." I laughed quietly, playing a little rough house with him. Finally, I looked up into the doorway to see Phoebe.
"Good morning, Sparrow." I returned the greeting. "I trust you slept well? Since, ah, you slept over fourteen hours."
I gaped. I usually slept somewhere around three hours at a time in between different times. "Is that healthy?" I choked out.
Phoebe cocked her head sideways, some of that ridiculous long black hair fell with it. She looked truly innocent. But even knowing her a day, I knew otherwise that she wasn't such a person. In a way, she was. I didn't know how far her innocence stretched, though... "Asks the man with the scars."
"Don't get personal." I warned lightly, teasing. She smiled back. "Now, would you like for me to get out of your house? Since I have slept over half a day and am more than likely in your way?"
"Stay as long as you would like," Phoebe said kindly. "Or leave. If you stay, I can give you a somewhat 'proper' tour of Bloodstone. Ah, at least... As proper as you can get around here." Phoebe had the expression that she was chewing something over. "Unless you need to get back to the business you have here. I don't want to keep you from anything important you need to be doing."
"No, it can most certainly wait. I have no wish to go boasting around until Reaver sees me famous enough to consult with." Oh, the hell Hammer would give me if she saw me now. Theresa, included. That woman knew every thought in my head and saw everything I was doing, though. She hadn't said anything yet, so that was a good thing. "I'll take a tour."
"Alright, then let's go." I got up and tossed a questioning glance between Phoebe to the covers, silently asking what she wanted me to do with them. "Leave them, and I'll get to them later."
Uncertain, I nodded and then followed her out of the shed-like home. The weather was nice, but still the sun hardly shown down on somber Bloodstone. "Where to first?"
"Actually, everything around here is the same. Dingy houses, whores on the corner, the bard, tavern, miscellaneous shops and stalls." She admitted, laughing.
"You left out Reaver's place," I pointed out. She visibly shuddered.
I raised an eyebrow. "You don't like him?"
"You do?" She sounded disgusted.
"Hell no. But it shocks me that a girl doesn't." I paused. "I mean, no offense to you anti-Reaver-girls, but normally women swoon over him like nothing else."
"That would be girls like Krista and Jackie." Phoebe said patiently, waving to two broads on opposite corners. "I have no taste for men that spend their time shooting people or seducing women." Before I could respond, she continued. "I'm bored of town. How about we go explore."
"Well, alright," I was certainly caught off guard by that suggestion. And really, I didn't know what to make of it. I had heard some of the strangest pick up lines before... "Where are we, ah, exploring?"
"Don't turn this into some dirty joke," Her eyes went a little wide and she sounded childish. "And if you must know, surprise-killer, I was going to take you to Wraithmarsh. I want to see what you can do." This wasn't helping on addition to what I thought was a pick-up line, and I kept to myself that the imagined offer was both frightening and humorous. But not tempting. If she hadn't been smart, and that was really the only way to say it, I'd be tempted by her looks.
We strayed from the path on the waterfront and up the hill where Wayne had been murdered only yesterday evening. I made no comment that the body was already gone, as well as its detached limb. Bloodstone was a strange place, after all. We kept moving, and I knew we were in Wraithmarsh when I could smell the damp, rotting air. "Let's see what you've got, Sparrow," Phoebe breathed, placing a hand to my shoulder. I heard Marten's low, quiet growl, warning me something was near.
I didn't draw my sword, and rather, stepped forward, conjuring a ball of fire between my palms and releasing it at the Hollow Men in the distance. I moved up on the field and they came at me, arms back until they reached to hit me. I withdrew my sword then and began to fight them, fighting them pathetically easy. When I thought I was almost through, more came up on me. I was prepared, until my entire body went numb and something jabbed into my back. Pain threw me into a doubled over position, and I managed to use a fire spell to briefly encircle me so that I finished off the Hollow Men. I had a hard time focusing on things. It looked as if I were leaning back and forth and everything was blurry, like I was on a rickety ship. "Sparrow," I heard Phoebe say, things were spinning then. I didn't feel my body hit the ground, but I could make out vaguely that she was kneeling over me, a vial of strange colored liquid in her hand. "Drink this," She spoke quietly. With really no other choice, I swallowed it. I had been motionless, and with a great effort, I turned to my side. I wanted to get up, I needed to, because I could see a Hollow Man coming up behind her. My eyes flew open when I heard the familiar crunch of the creatures dying and its ugly soul dissipating into thin air.
The last thing I saw when I fell into black sleep was Phoebe, still knelt, an arm backwards, and a dagger in hand.
* * * *
When I awoke, I felt hungover. My world was still spinning, only slightly fuzzy now. I was aware that I was in a bed. It felt nice to my once again aching body. But it felt large. Usually things felt small, delicate, breakable. I moved my hand to my face, running it over, and stopping in the middle, because I felt nothing. I blinked a few times and held my arm back, inspecting my hand. It was... Average. Smooth, no scars. I bolted upright, immediately regretting so because I suffered an intense head rush.
"Take it easy," A gentle voice said. I closed my eyes as small hands pushed me back to the covers. "You took a pretty nasty hit. So if you plan on sitting up, how about trying it a little slower this time." It hadn't taken me but a moment to recognize Phoebe, even in my out of mind and wit state that I currently laid in. I sat upright again, much slower, and propped myself with one elbow. "Before you go into a frenzy, Marten is asleep over there, you're in my room. And I don't know what happened." I nodded, and she had answered everything.
I attempted to put my legs over the side of the bed, but it felt like I was just throwing around dead weight. When I stood, I felt odd. Light, but yet, like the weight of my clothes was going to crush me. "Phoebe... Do you think I seem, ah... Different...?" I asked slowly, looking to her for an answer. I searched her face, but it showed nothing. Instead of speaking, she took my arm and led me to a cracked mirror hanging on the wall.
Looking back at me, I saw Phoebe standing, and then I saw myself. I was average height, my inhuman sized form shrunken back down, rippling muscles toned to just a medium swell, my Will markings gone, and I could see the barest hint of stubble on my chin, neck, and face. My scar free face.
Had I no dignity, I would have screamed.