Chapter 4, and we find out a little more about Victor. Public opinion has this guy as some sort of saint, but the reality is apparently far from the truth. I've used some older material on this chapter, and I'm hoping it still comes together to make a coherent chapter; much of it, about 80%, is brand new and written this evening, mostly after a pint of beer, so I hope it still makes sense. As always, this is a FIRST DRAFT.
It was as if he was transported, suddenly; a darkness without end surrounded him and he was floating through it. Ahead of him a vast white floor stretched out to the horizons and Trip suddenly realised that he was plummeting towards it, unstoppably fast. He screamed but the rush of air took the sound away, and then he fell through the whiteness and continued to drop.
Ahead, another whiteness lay in wait, but this one had writing on it; just as he fell through it he made out ‘Arbour’ on the text. The next one was ahead, the next page, he realised. The words were clearer here. ‘This is the true word of the tree,’ it began, words that were seared into his mind. The Codex!
Suddenly he became aware of someone standing above this colossal book, a shadowy figure. There was a rattling laugh and two white eyes narrowed in its head, then suddenly the ground was much closer. The figure was closing the book! The rattling laughter grew louder as, unable to stop himself, Trip screamed again and threw up his arm to cover his eyes.
With a sudden jolt, Trip woke up.
Trip opened his eyes suddenly, a gasp escaping his lips; almost immediately he blinked and felt his eyes tearing up against the light. It was day; how long had he slept?
Feeling every ache from his desperate flight from the monastery, he levered himself up onto his elbows and looked around. He was lying on straw that smelt strongly of horse in a three-sided shed with windows open on every side. It was a small stable, the only occupant of which was a tall and slightly portly horse chewing on something. It looked down at him completely uninterested as Trip got slowly to his feet.
“Good… boy?” he said, gingerly patting the horse on its nose. It continued chewing, paying him no attention, and he backed away and out of the stable.
The house was a few metres away, or would have been; instead there was a pile of rubble with intermingled greenery, bits of broken furniture and shards of glass. Victor was walking over it, occasionally stopping to poke things or move something aside, his head bent and shoulders slumped. He suddenly looked very old.
“Um…” the boy began. Victor turned to look.
“You’re awake,” he grunted. “Good… good.”
“Thank you for saving me last night, Mr Junn.”
“Mmm,” Victor replied, picking something up and and discarding it.
“I’m… I’m sorry this happened, Mr Junn.”
“Your fault, is it?” Victor said, keeping his back to Trip.
“This… plant, whatever it was, it was following me. I led it here. I’m responsible. I… I should go.” Trip sighed and looked around. It was just like the monastery, more senseless destruction and death following him everywhere. He felt tears well up in his eyes and a yawning gulf opened up inside him. He turned and started to walk towards the edge of town.
“Boy,” he heard behind him, and he stopped. Boots crunched on the rubble behind him, then Victor’s hands held his shoulders fast.
“Where are y’going?”
“Rootholme,” Trip replied, feeling tears well up in his eyes. Stupid little boy, he thought furiously, this isn’t the time!
He heard Victor sigh. “Why’d you come to find me last night?”
Trip turned round, tears streaming down his face. “I knew you were here, like I said. Thought you could help.” He sniffed and wiped his nose on the sleeve of his habit. “Was going to pay you,” he muttered, feeling in his pocket and drawing the medallion out again. Somehow it had survived the mad flight through the cottage.
“Let me see that,” Victor said, taking it out of Trip’s hands. He turned it over and over, then held it up to the light and looked closely through it. “This is a pretty jewel indeed. Reckon it can buy my services to Rootholme.” He put the medallion in his pocket and stuck out his hand. Trip shook it, not entirely sure how to react to buying someone’s services.
Victor looked down at the ground suddenly. “Ah, there it is,” he said, crouching down and picking something up. It was the picture of the woman in its frame which had sat on Victor’s table. The glass in it was broken; Victor carefully removed two shards of glass and then pulled the picture away from the frame, dropping that to the ground. He stared at the picture for a moment, evidently lost in thought.
“What would you do, Remira?” he murmured, almost too quiet for Trip to hear. Then he seemed to shake himself and come back to the moment.
“We need supplies, lad. Stir yerself, get to the general store and tell old man Hicks that Victor Junn’s callin’ in the favour with the giant rats. Then get yerself back here; quicker we leave, quicker I can get back to retirement.”
“Y-yes,” Trip said and, before he could help himself, scampered off into the village.
It was mostly single-storey buildings built around a small tree in the centre of the square and, even early in the day, it was bustling with people. Market stalls took up most of the room, most of them seeming to sell variations on a theme of ‘dead animal’ and Trip felt his stomach turning at the sight of so much meat. The general store had a large sign and Trip walked past several more signs advertising the boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables arranged outside before he went through the open door, passing a woman with flour-covered hands as he did so.
The man behind the counter was short and fat, an enormous moustache covering most of his face; he had his hands in the pocket of his striped apron and had just finished smiling at the woman as she left. When he saw Trip, his eyes narrowed but the smile stayed in place.
“Can I help you, young sir?” he asked.
“I’ve come from Mr Junn’s house, sir,” Trip began somewhat hesitantly.
“I saw the rubble; talk of the town! Some of us went over there this morning but, well, Victor’s not the sort to take help. Can I help you?”
Trip cleared his throat. “Well, you see, Mr Junn sent me over here to get some things. Supplies, for a journey.”
The shopkeeper’s smile melted into a frown. “Uh-hmm, I see. And I suppose he doesn’t want to pay for these things. Or more accurately, you don’t want to pay for them?”
“I’ve hired Mr Junn to take me to Rootholme and-“
“Mr Junn is retired, lad. I highly doubt you’re going anywhere with him.” The storekeeper took his hands out of his apron and placed them on the countertop, leaning over slightly. “Now, are you buying anything or not?”
Trip closed his eyes and let the words come unbidden from his memory. “Supplies for the journey. Mr Junn said ‘Tell old man Hicks that Victor Junn’s callin’ in the favour with the giant rats.’” Trip felt a sneaky kind of satisfaction in seeing the storekeeper’s face fall even further and his shoulders slump.
“That does sound like something Victor would say… Rootholme? You’ll need at least two weeks iron rations, a waterskin each…” The storekeeper started to bustle around the shop, picking up first a large knapsack and then several other items which he placed inside it. Within minutes Trip was walking back through the town towards the ruined cottage, feeling ever-so-slightly guilty for the way he had spoken to the storekeeper. Then again, the man had been less than polite himself.
By the time he got back to the rubble pile Victor had changed. “Time to go, boy.” Victor was dressed for travel, a pair of thick trousers and a coat that looked like it was made from the pelt of a snow bear. Trip’s eyes widened.
“Is that… the skin of the bear you killed with only your teeth in the treacherous mountains of Zar? The one that almost cost you your left lung and four of your toes?” He reached out a hand to touch the fur.
Victor’s hand was faster, grabbing the boy’s fingers before they could make contact.
“No, it’s not,” he said shortly and then turned away, releasing Trip. He picked up a pack that was leaning against the wall of the house and held it a moment as if testing its weight.
“Where did you kill the bear for that coat, then? Is there one of your stories I’ve not read?” Trip said.
It was almost as if, in donning his travelling clothes, Victor had put his personality back on as well. “I won this off a two-bit gangster playin’ Jin-jin, and you’d do well not to listen to everythin’ you read, boy. The man I won it from, he were drunk and when I won ‘e decided it was cheatin’. Want t’know the game we was playin’?” Trip could only nod mutely as Victor’s face crept closer and his voice dropped lower. “It was called ‘Little boys what ask too many questions get dropped off at the nearest monastery, payment or none’. That enough?”
“You get what we need?” Victor said, adjusting his belt. Trip gave him the bag. Victor looked inside it briefly, nodded and thrust the pack back at him. Then the hero turned and walked around to the front of the house without another word, leaving Trip holding the pack. With a deep sigh he slung the pack onto his back and followed.