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 Benjem Heartson

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Posts : 13
Join date : 2015-05-09
Location : Silden

PostSubject: Benjem Heartson   Fri Jul 10, 2015 10:20 pm

A Mask for Dawn

Shadowy faces trailed him through the woods.  Benjem fled, his heart pounding in his chest, the wind ripping the breath from his lungs.  No matter how fast he ran, the faces always seemed to get closer.  They were almost upon him, now.  A claw reached out, scaly and dark, and Benjem looked into the nearest face, evil and smoky.  It looked as if it were wearing a mask of shadows.  The claw raked Benjem’s shoulder, and Benjem increased his pace.  The face got even closer.  When Benjem looked behind him this time, the face was clearer, much clearer.  The smoke had parted.  It was with a shock that he recognized his own face behind the shadows, a perfect copy down to the last scarred imperfection.  It was another shock to feel the ground suddenly drop away.  Benjem reached out desperately for anything to hold on to as he fell from the cliff, but found nothing.  He fell, and fell, and fell...

... into his bed.  Benjem jerked into a sitting position, gasping for air.  He tried to shake off the image of the shadowy faces chasing after him.  He had been plagued with nightmares for days now.  He thought it was probably something to do with being brought back to life.  In the gloom of night, his chamber in the hospital of Norngard seemed solitary and depressing, more of a cell than a room of relaxation and comfort.  Benjem rose and went to his window.  He looked out upon the icy town.  Stars still shined in the sky.  Norngard was safe, and there had been so little bloodshed.  The Flaming Cart had indeed done a great service to this town, to these people.  Perhaps they were right, Benjem thought for the first time.  Perhaps it was a good thing to fight for others, to endanger yourself to bring peace to a whole people.  And yet, at what cost?  Benjem involuntarily raised his hand to his face, where he knew a scar remained from Krisom’s lyre.  Benjem had done everything he could to ignore these damned Norngardians and proud Uturkitak and save himself and his brother, and yet these people lived, while he was trapped in this room alone.

Benjem lowered his hand.  He did not think heroism suited him.  What was the point of heroism when no one protected you?  The Flaming Cart was breaking apart anyways.  Fractures were already forming before they had found Krisom, and now that their purpose had evaporated and Krisom’s controversial betrayal stared them in the face, these fractures were becoming marked divides.  Benjem recalled Wild’s sudden disappearance.  Wild had always had a mind for subtlety.  He knew how to take care of himself.  Aidina had gone, too.  Perhaps it was time for Benjem to make the same move.  The hour was certainly right for it: early morning was the best time for escaping unnoticed.

Benjem turned around and cast about the room for anything that he might need.  He picked up the money he had been given, stored his few possessions in his pack, and moved back to the window.  If he left by the door, someone would see, someone would know, and Nakoma or Arva would be after him in an hour.  Of all the times he tried to escape from the Flaming Cart, this one must be successful.  He grabbed some rope from the bottom of his pack and tied one end to one of the bedposts on his bed.  Holding the rope, he stepped back over to the window.  He felt like he had recovered from the attack, more or less.  He felt strong again.  He looked down.  It was a good thirty feet to the ground.  Too far to jump, but the rope would reach.  Benjem lowered himself out of the window, clutching the rope between his hands, and climbed slowly down.

Upon reaching the foot of the hospital tower, Benjem immediately made for the nearest castle wall.  Walking in its shadow, he found his way to the main gate.  It was guarded by two men, tired at their posts.  The gate was open.  Benjem pulled up his hood, stepped forward out of the shadows, and passed nonchalantly through the gate.  The guards did not stop him: he was exiting, not entering the castle.  They didn’t care.  He hoped they would forget him entirely.  Benjem walked down the main road that wound its way through Norngard.  He wasn’t quite sure what he was doing or where this path would lead him.  But it would lead him onwards and away, and that was all that mattered.

As Benjem walked through the town, he considered what he would do next.  It was strange... there were too many options, too many futures stretching out before him.  He could do anything.  He was free.  It was what he had hoped for, fought for, over the last five years.  As Benjem approached a central square in Norngard, he saw the sun break over the slanted roofs of the town.  The light glanced off the snow, illuminating the groups of people who were already coming together in the square to do business.  Benjem could travel anywhere, could become anything, could do anything.  He might become a sailor, or a magician, or a master of animals.  He would never again be an assassin.  He would never again have to end another’s life.  He would never again be tied down to anyone.

Giddy, Benjem approached the first group of people he saw who seemed to be packing up their things, curious as to where the cards of fate would fall.  Which direction would Avandra take him?  He tapped the shoulder of the nearest person in the group.

“Excuse me,” said Benjem.  “I was wondering if I might be able to travel with your company out of Norngard.”

The man turned around.  He was handsome, with a broad forehead and curly brown hair that gave him the appearance of being ever-so-slightly disheveled.  “Where are you headed?” asked the man, smiling at Benjem.

“Anywhere, really,” said Benjem.  “I’m just trying to get out of the city.”

“Independence too dangerous for you, eh?” said the man.  “Want to get out before the Boros change their minds?”  Benjem was about to deny these statements when the man ran on.  “It’s been tough on us, too, you know.  No one wants to see theater when the times are bad or dangerous.  Our jokes fall too close to the truth, and our tragedies are more frightening than sad.”

Benjem’s heart rose.  “Did you say you were in theater?” he asked.  Memories flooded back from his childhood.  Memories of happiness, of safety, of spending nights listening to beautiful music before a crackling fire.

“I did, indeed,” said the man.  “My name is Wyliam, and these are the Hawklight Players.  We’re travelling southeast along the Icy Path to the Lule River.  From there, we turn southward to get around the desert and cut into the steppes a little, then circle back around to the Trail of Spice, Summerport, and the Capitol.  Will that suit your needs?”

“That and more so,” Benjem laughed.  “I grew up among travelling performers.  I would be honored to travel once again with such people.”

“Did you?” asked Wyliam, his eyes sparkling with interest.  “Which company?”

Benjem opened his mouth to reply, but the words stuck in his throat.  He could not tell this man that he had grown up among the Dragonscales.  If he recognized the name, and knew the history, he would immediately be branded a liar.  I am dead, Benjem realized.  I am dead in every sense of the word, yet here I stand, living still.  “You wouldn’t know them,” replied Benjem, instead.  “They weren’t very well known, and we played mostly in and around Publia.”

“How did you get up here, then?  This is an awful long way away.”

“That is a story for another day, my friend.  How much will it cost to travel along with you?”

The man suggested a price.  Benjem bartered it down a little, perhaps not as much as he could have if he had wanted, but the two reached an agreement.  Benjem was ecstatic.  His heart felt like it was flying – to be travelling again among performers, his people – it excited him to no end.  At least, until Wyliam asked another question.  “What did you say your name was again?”

Benjem, he wanted to say.  Benjem Heartson, of the Dragonscales.  But Benjem Heartson of the Dragonscales no longer existed, and if he did, he would only bring trouble down upon these kindly people.  The Dimir lurked just beyond his vision, and Benjem was terrified of what they would do when they found him.  If they found him, he mentally rephrased.  It would not do to be fatalistic.  “I’m Aidran,” lied Benjem, smoothly.  

Wyliam nodded his head.  “Very well, Aidran,” he said.  “Follow me.  I’ll introduce you to our director, Horald Hawklight.  He likes to know everyone who travels with our troupe personally.”

Wyliam led Benjem through the group of people and into a nearby inn.  They stepped inside, went up a flight of stairs, and walked down a hallway.  At the end of the hallway, Wyliam stopped and knocked on a door.

“Come in,” came a voice from within.  Wyliam opened the door and walked into the room.  It was in a state of disarray; it seemed that they had caught Horald Hawklight in the midst of packing away his large number of belongings.  Clothes and papers scattered the floor, a large trunk sat in the center of the room, and a long curtain trailed from where it was hung on the ceiling.  “Ah, Wyliam,” Horald said when he saw him.  Horald was an older man, in his early forties.  He was balding, with grey hair and a grey beard to match.  Benjem could tell that he was younger than he appeared by his spry movements around the room.  Horald’s eyes were bright and full of laughter.  Horald gestured in Benjem’s direction as he kept his bright eyes fixed on Wyliam.  “Who is this?”

“This is Aidran,” replied Wyliam.  “He has asked to travel with us.”

“I see,” said Horald.  “Tell me about yourself, Aidran, while I finish packing away my things.”

Benjem opened his mind, and let the lies come pouring out.  They tasted bitter on his tongue.  He kept things succinct, as if that would make the lies any easier to spit forth.  “I am Aidran,” he began.  “I grew up in a small troupe of travelling performers in and around Publia.  Later, I left them, and travelled alone.  My wanderings have brought me here, and I find myself in need of new travelling companions.  By chance, I encountered Wyliam here, and we worked out an arrangement.  I look forward to getting to know you and your troupe better.”

As Benjem spoke, he felt Horald’s eyes pierce into him, even as Horald made a show of clearing his room.  “I see,” said Horald, again.  “And why did you leave your troupe?”  The question was quick and aggressive, as if Horald were trying to pressure Benjem into making a mistake.

“Artistic differences,” Benjem promptly replied.  It was an answer that invited no questions and, at the same time, provided sound reasoning for Aidran’s breaking off.

“Hmmm...” muttered Horald.  Benjem prepared himself to field another one of Horald’s questions; however, Horald instead turned to the other man in the room.  “Thank you, Wyliam,” he said.  Wyliam raised his eyebrows at Benjem, and then exited the room without another word.  Benjem got the distinct impression that this was not a usual occurrence.  “Tell me, Aidran,” said Horald Hawklight.  “Why are you lying to me?”

“I—what?” asked Benjem, caught off guard.

Horald laughed, looking at the expression on Benjem’s face.  “Do not worry, boy.  You may still travel with us.  It takes more than a good liar to get past me.  But do tell me what really brought you to Norngard.”

Benjem immediately began coming up with another personality, shifting ever-so-slightly his posture, his face, his very aura to connive of a way out of the accusation.  But after a moment he stopped, and dropped it all.  Redgar had worked beautifully, hadn’t he?  Benjem was tired of the confusion of keeping several different characters in his head all at once.  Instead, he gave Horald a warm smile.  “You are correct,” he said, gambling everything on this kindly man.  “I am not Aidran, nor am I from Publia.  Yet I cannot tell you my real name nor where I am from.  It would endanger me and your troupe.  There is nothing I want less than that.”

“A prince in disguise!” said Horald, jokingly.  “I will keep your secret safe, whoever you are.  Plenty of stories tell us that it is the betrayers of trust that have the worst endings of all.”  Benjem felt his heart hurt.  “I can tell that your theatrical past was true: you lie well enough to fool even clever Wyliam.  But where did you acquire that fascinating scar on your face?”

“It is a long story, and one I do not wish to relive any time soon,” said Benjem.  “I do hope you will forgive my inability to talk about my past.  Indeed, I hope you never understand why, for if you do, you will be dragged into a tale that is darker than most of your tragedies.”

Horald laughed.  “I like you, young Aidran,” he said.  Then he called out, “What do you think, Sulla?”

Benjem was momentarily confused, and then a woman stepped out from behind the curtain.  She was younger than Horald; her blonde hair was only flecked with grey, but her face held the same fire that never seemed to leave Horald’s eyes.  She was pleasant to look at, with rosy cheeks and full lips, although no matter how much attention her face commanded, it was impossible to overlook the bulge that was in her belly.  It was obvious that she was many months pregnant, and that the troupe would soon be graced with a baby.  She beamed at Benjem.  “I don’t care how much he lies,” she said.  “He seems to have a good heart.  How well can he act?”

“I can act well,” Benjem interjected.  “I would be honored to step back onto the stage with the Hawklight Players.”

“Let us see what you can do,” Sulla commanded.

Benjem cast about for a monologue he still could remember after five years.  His mind immediately went to King Schreyr, but the stabbing pain in his chest and a tickle on his face warned him to stay well away from that play.  Instead, he selected one from the great play of love, Wither the Marshlands, in which a man speaks longingly of his lover.  All Benjem could think about the whole time was Krisom and what joy this troupe would bring him.  He was torn between past and future, and in the tearing, Benjem hoped some of his soul shined through.  When he finished, he looked to Horald and Sulla for praise, and they applauded him.  Smiling, he left Horald’s room and made his way back down to the tavern.  Looking around for a minute, he found Wyliam sitting in a corner of the tavern talking to a young woman about their age.

“Hello, again,” said Benjem, walking up to the two of them.

“Hi,” said Wyliam.  “Man, what did Horald want?  I’ve never seen him talk to someone alone like that before.”

“Oh, it was nothing.  He just had a few more questions,” Benjem deflected.  “I’m really looking forward to seeing more of the northern countryside,” Benjem continued, changing the subject.  “I’ve haven’t been up here much before.”

“Trust me, there’s nothing special.  Mostly just ice and more ice,” said the woman sitting next to Wyliam, dryly.  It struck Benjem now that she was beautiful: she had long, raven-black hair and prominent, high cheekbones.  Ah, theater, thought Benjem, remembering his own troupe from many years ago.  The world in which everyone is beautiful.  This thought was immediately followed up by the image of a scar like shattered glass and the disquieting realization – everyone except me.

“This is Alayne,” interjected Wyliam, before Benjem got a chance to reply.  “Alayne, this is Aidran.  He worked with another theater troupe down in Publia when he was younger.”

“Oh, really?” asked Alayne, tossing her hair behind her shoulder.  “Which one?”

“You haven’t heard of them, I’m sure,” repeated Benjem for the third time.  It seemed he would never escape these lies.  Never: as long as Benjem slept and Aidran lived, the lies would continue to flock and wheel around him like vultures around a corpse.  Again, Benjem changed the subject.  “What do you do with the Hawklight Players?”

“I dance,” she said, gesturing elegantly with her lithe left arm.  “Oh, and I play music, but not as often.  Horald even persuaded me to take a role in a play once.”

“What did you play?”

Alayne smiled, recalling it.  “Julia, in Wither the Marshlands,” she replied.  It was the main lover, the one who Benjem had just finished declaring his love of for Horald and his wife.

“Against yours truly,” added Wyliam.

“You act, too?” asked Benjem.

“Yeah.  I’m Hawklight’s good-guy-hero character, usually.”

“Oh, that reminds me!” exclaimed Alayne, suddenly.  “I need to get my pink dress back from Netty.  She’s such a headjob, and she’ll ruin it if she packs it in with her stuff.”  Alayne stood up gracefully, and headed toward the door.  “Goodbye!” she called back.

Wyliam sighed and turned to Benjem.  “She’s so wonderful,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

The man grinned shyly.  Benjem noticed his hands twisting in his lap.  “Oh, nothing,” he said.  “She just... has such a good way of expressing herself.”  Benjem looked back across the room to the doorway through which Alayne left.  “You’ll see.  She’s the nicest, funniest person in the whole troupe.  I never realized it until Wither the Marshlands.  But I know now...”


The next day, the troupe packed up and set off East from Norngard along the Icy Path.  Benjem had spoken to several other members of the troupe, but none as much as Wyliam.  He almost felt like he was making a new friend.  Friend was a strong word, though, as always.  Even the members of the Flaming Cart hadn’t really been his friends.  More like... pawns.  Or maybe companions.  Not friends.  Nakoma had come the closest, though she was unbearably naïve.  He liked Wild and Aidina, but didn’t trust them.  Vox was to be admired, not loved.  Kana and Arva were too heavy-handed with their justice, and that made them easily exploitable.  Tym was simply too eccentric for Benjem’s taste.  Benjem was not unhappy to be leaving the Flaming Cart, even if it was the vehicle by which he finally achieved freedom.  Benjem stepped through the city gates and silently acknowledged he would never see any of them ever again.

As for Wyliam, Benjem didn’t know if he still possessed the capability to make friends.  Perhaps he would find himself manipulating Wyliam like he had done to so many before him.  But Benjem was putting the Flaming Cart behind him.  He was putting Lady Malum behind him.  He was putting Krisom behind him.   As he rode out of Norngard, he realized that finally, finally he was escaping his past.  All that was left was the present and the future.

From the clear blue sky, the sunlight sparkled blindingly off the white snow all around him.  It reminded Benjem of a great canvas.  Following Wyliam’s horse, Benjem imagined he was making the first hesitant strokes on the great masterpiece of the rest of his life.
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Join date : 2015-05-09
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Mon Aug 10, 2015 6:05 pm

A Mask for Morning

“I whisper here, within the black of night,
And wait for Gohan’s signal to hue the sky
Beyond the torpid waters at my feet.  
Long he waits, and long wait I: for the guards
That must not see my treach’ry wrought tonight
Are still upon the battlements—”

“Stop!”  Exhausted, Benjem looked up in Horald’s direction.  The morning sun was growing high in the clearing where they were rehearsing, though it did nothing to mitigate the cold that was beginning to seep into to Benjem’s very bones.  “You are expressing too much with your face and too little with your body,” Horald continued. “You are going to be wearing a mask.  I can’t see your face.  All I see right now is a person standing here reciting lines.  Express yourself.

“Okay,”  Benjem replied, and tried again.  This time, he crouched and extended his arms, the clichéd “sneaking” pose.  “I whisper here, within the black of night, And—”

“No!” cried Horald, once again.  “This is not a mime show!  This is a staged performance!  What are you doing?”

Benjem groaned.  He straightened back up, and tried again.  “I whisper here, within—”

But Horald was already shaking his head.  “Have you ever acted with a mask on, Aidran?”

“No,” replied Benjem, truthfully.

“Ah,” said Horald.  “Well, there’s the problem.  It’s a different thing entirely.  Wyliam,” he said, calling to the actor who was about to interrupt my monologue.  “Run and fetch the training mask, will you?”


Wyliam ran to a nearby tent.  Meanwhile, Horald turned back to Benjem.  “You must let the mask become you, or you become it.  Control it, but do not conquer it.  Savor its differences, but do not forget that it comes with bitterness, too.”  Horald was full of weird semi-contradictory phrases like these.  The other day, he lectured Benjem on the script itself.  “Let it flow through you, but do not stem the flow; be the character naturally, but do not forget the fact that you are speaking verse.”  Benjem expected he would understand these things eventually.  In the meantime, he would bluff his way along as well as he could and try to roll his eyes as little as possible.

Benjem hadn’t wanted to play the antagonist in the production of Murder in the Sanctuary.  But he needed to be in a play, and he needed to be masked (what hero could have a scar like his?) so accepting the part had been a no-brainer.  It was natural to him, too, to be the assassin, and that made the acting somewhat easier.  He did have trouble representing the villain as, well, as a villain: he kept trying to find reasons for his treachery that might validate it.  But the script was fairly clear: the assassin was a villain, and his victory was to be mourned by all.

Wyliam returned shortly, and handed Horald the mask.  “Why are you giving it to me?” asked Horald, rather brusquely.  He had been in a rather petulant mood all week.  We were unsure why, but Wyliam speculated it was because he was getting older, and “old people are just like that.”  Wyliam apologized and passed the mask to me, instead.  Benjem held it in his hand, weighing it.  It was a dark mask, with a neutral expression carved into the eyes.  There was no mouth: this allowed the wearer to be heard while he or she was onstage.  Thin, silvery letters were traced into the outside.  “This is our training mask,” said Horald.  “It should serve, for now, until your regular one is made.  I suggest that you wear it as often as possible until your actual one is completed: only this way may you learn to express emotion from behind the mask.”  Benjem put it on.  The slight pressure on the sides of his head and around his eyeballs was uncomfortable. However, the mask immediately seemed to change form.  The pressure eased, although Benjem could still feel the mask’s weight on his cheekbones.  The sudden change surprised Benjem, who looked up to Horald.  Horald was smiling wryly.  “We don’t use much magic here, but we do manage some,” he said.  “Oh!” he added, fishing around in his pocket, “here’s another little treat that should help you...”  Horald held up a small silver coin, about an inch across.  He tossed it to the ground, and a large silver surface sprang up in its place.  Benjem gasped appreciatively.  “A mirror,” explained Horald.  “So you can see how ridiculous you look.”  Horald chuckled.  “Again!”

Benjem watched himself in the mirror.  “I whisper here, within the black of— No, I totally see what you mean,” said Benjem, interrupting himself.  Horald shot him another wry smile.  “Let me see...”  Benjem thought.  He moved his head in front of the mirror to see what it would look like.  He tried again, this time focusing on drawing attention to the mask on his face with his body, and with slight, quick movements of the head.  

“I whisper here, within the black of night,
And wait for Gohan’s signal to hue the sky
Beyond the torpid waters at my feet.  
Long he waits, and long wait I: for the guards
That must not see my treach’ry wrought tonight
Are still upon the battlements of this fine place,
Where I shall do the deed.  But who is here?”

“Good!” cried Horald.  “Continue.”  Benjem breathed a sigh of relief as Wyliam danced onstage.  He was playing the clown in the piece, the well-meaning, simple clown, that the assassin would use to get to the priest.  Wyliam picked out a tune on his lute, sang a bawdy song, and danced a jig that ended with him falling over several times.  Benjem fought to keep from laughing.  Benjem was about to continue when Horald stepped back in and made Wyliam do the whole routine again.  Then again.  Then again.  Benjem’s knees started getting tired.  He was about to sit down from “hiding behind a bush” when a young girl ran up and tugged on Horald’s shirt.  They passed a few words, and Horald stood up.  He seemed a little shaky.  “I’m... I’m going to go now,” he choked out to the actors.  “Our baby is coming.”  

Wyliam turned and looked at me as Horald strode off.  “Let’s go!” he said.


“The whole troupe is going to be outside that tent until that baby works its way out.  Let’s go get good seats!”


Benjem and Wyliam had indeed got the best seats in the house.  There was a wonderful maple tree with low-hanging branches that grew in the center of camp, right beside Horald’s and Sulla’s tent.  A about three yards off the ground, there was a odd formation of the tree’s branches that almost looked like a bench.  Benjem and Wyliam claimed this spot as their territory immediately.  Beneath them, miscellaneous members of the troupe came and went, whispering urgently about the coming baby.  Cries and groans erupted periodically from Horald’s tent.  When night fell, Wyliam ran back to his tent to grab a blanket and his pillow for the both of them to share; in this way, Benjem’s companion fitfully passed the night.  Benjem himself could not sleep.  Not because of the discomfort of the tree branches boring into his back, but because he had far too much to think about.  His thoughts raced around his head all night long.

It started with the mask – he had not taken it off.  Benjem had never seen much acting with masks: the Dragonscales had not favored the art.  It put him off balance to have his face changed so dramatically.  Yet Krisom had seen that Benjem’s face would be changed forever, whether wearing a mask or not.  There was nothing that could be done about the scar, save an atrocious amount of makeup, and that would be more like a mask than anything else.  Benjem’s mind drifted to his speech in Murder.  

“...for the guards
That must not see my treach’ry wrought tonight
Are still upon the battlements of this fine place
Where I shall do the deed.  But who is here?”

Benjem looked at Wyliam.  Who was here?  It was a man, an actor, a co-worker, a friend.  Benjem had grown curiously close to this man over the past few weeks.  He had learned much about him, much about his struggles and his despairs, about his desire for Alayne and his fear that she would reject him.  He had learned about his commitment to his work, about his ambition to one day lead the troupe, about his wish to be a father.  Benjem smiled.  He hoped he would see Wyliam accomplish each of these goals, one after another, until he was satisfied.  Benjem felt his body moving in, as he tried to get a better look at his sleeping companion.  There was a particular flare from the firelight below which illuminated it, and for a moment, Benjem felt something he had not allowed his heart to feel for years.  It was a good feeling, a dangerously good feeling.  He sat back and tried to remember when he had felt it before.

It was odd, he reflected, as he thought: it was almost as if he had experienced an emotional coma in the service of Lady Malum.  He could not truly feel, could not let himself get attached to anyone, for fear that the woman’s next missive would be to kill them.  In his work, he just had to keep Krisom in the forefront of his mind as his hands did the dirty work.  Sometimes he didn’t even feel like they were his hands at all, but someone else’s.  He had other people’s memories in his head; Benjem himself had been sleeping while others took control of his body.  Redgar, Grayg, Tedmond...  And after all that, Krisom had died anyway.  How awful.  How simply terrible.  After all the murdering, after all the stealing, after all the raping... it had come to naught.  He recalled the first time Lady Malum had made him kill someone.  It was a helpless prisoner, alone, friendless, caged.  She had cried when she saw him.  And Benjem had cried, too.  All that he had escaped with was his body.  Not even his self: for Benjem was now Aidran, and Benjem was dead.

Benjem looked at Wyliam again, recalling the feeling, trying to determine what it was.  It was a feeling from before Lady Malum: that was certain.  But what?  It was like what he felt when he remembered his parents, or remembered Krisom.  But that was not quite it: it was more like... more like...  It was with a surge of despair that he realized exactly what the feeling was like.  He pushed the feeling away with revulsion without giving it a name.  Wyliam would not be the next Welli: Benjem would not allow it to happen.  Besides, Wyliam was not interested in him; Wyliam was interested in Alayne.  Benjem would not allow that seed to grow.  He would crush it now.

Benjem would never love again.  Benjem would never kill again.  Benjem would live, whatever that might truly mean.


As the morning dawned, Wyliam roused himself.  “I haven’t missed anything, have I?” he asked, urgently.

“No,” replied Benjem, shaking his head.  “Nothing’s happened except a lot of people coming and going.”

“Oh, good,” said Wyliam.  He stretched.  “God, it’s awful sleeping in a tree.  Remind me never to do that again.”

Benjem agreed.  Just then, a shout came from below.  “Is there room up there for a third person, you thieves?”  Alayne’s black hair flashed beneath them.

“Come on up,” said Wyliam, shifting over, “if you can make it all the way,” he teased.

“Making it all the way isn’t something you’d know much about, is it now?” countered Alayne, as she clambered up the tree.  She sat down next to Wyliam, and Benjem found himself immediately excluded from their attention.  He was actually happier this way – now he could watch them without feeling like a creep.  And without feeling guilty about becoming too attached.  “What do you think Horald wants?” mused Alayne, eventually.  “A boy or a girl?”

“A girl, of course,” replied Wyliam, without a moment’s thought.  “But only because he must want a child as similar to you as possible.”

Alayne laughed.  Her eyes shone in delight.  Benjem could see that she liked him, too.  It puzzled him: why, if they had lived so close together for so long, had they not yet become a couple?  “You flatter me,” said Alayne.

“It is a shame,” continued Wyliam, as if she had not said anything.  “Horald’s girl will never live up to his father’s expectations: they are too highly placed.”

Alayne laughed again.  “It will be interesting to see,” she said then, more seriously.  “Boy or girl, the child will surely be talented.  With Horald’s skills as an actor, and with a mother like Sulla...  I don’t doubt that child will accomplish great things.”

“What did Sulla do?” asked Benjem.

Alayne looked at Wyliam for a brief moment, as if she were seeking his permission, before she turned to me.  “Some say that is that she was nobly born.  We don’t quite know where she came from – she had clearly wandered far before she fell in with us – but she is clearly well-read, and very knowledgeable about geography and history, far more than any of us.”  Alayne’s brow darkened momentarily.  “Then again, the same could be said of you, Aidran,” she continued.  “Your history is hidden from us.  You know a great many things, but reveal very little.”

“This is true,” Benjem replied, nodding.  “But I, regretfully, am not of noble birth.  I can honestly tell you that I grew up among travelling performers, just like Horald’s child will.  Beyond that, I cannot say, for fear of risking many lives, including yours.  Someday, I hope, you will hear the full tale.  Otherwise...”  Benjem shrugged his shoulders.  Otherwise they would never know.  Benjem hoped this latter option was the one that was to occur: he did not look forward to telling his companions about Welli again.

Wyliam smiled at Benjem.  “So mysterious,” he joked.  “It’s no wonder you’re playing the assassin in Murder.  It suits you well.”  Too well, thought Benjem. Too well indeed.

It was at that moment that the tent flap below them waved and out stepped Horald Hawklight into the morning sun.  He was smiling a great, broad smile – something Benjem had not seen since his first conference with the man.  Tears of joy ran down his face.  He turned around in a full circle, drawing the attention of all the onlookers.  He stepped forward, threw up his arms, and joyously cried, “I have... a daughter!”

The crowd cheered.  Alayne turned to Benjem excitedly.  “I wonder what he’ll name her!” she cried, ecstatic.

Wyliam was clearly excited as well, but he tried to put on more of a façade of tranquility.  “I guessed it all right.  You heard me.  I guessed it.”

Benjem smiled, too.  He had not felt a true part of such a celebration for years.  This time he was not distant and cool.  This time he was happy for Horald – truly happy.  He was thrilled by the prospect of a baby, and he was even more pleased by his companion’s eyes shining in his direction.  Here was the world: fresh and new.  He felt almost as if he had a newborn’s eyes.  He even was beginning to feel safe among these simple people.  For the first time, in a very, very long time, Benjem Heartson was at home.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Fri Aug 14, 2015 10:30 pm

A Mask for Midday

Exactly one week after the baby was born, the troupe arrived in the town of Silden. It was a small, old town, which spread itself across the Lule river like a pool of spilled ale. It did not seem to be a very rich town; the effects of the Cataclysm could still be seen here in old, abandoned buildings rent in half, and great crevasses that snaked their way beside dirt roads. Yet people nevertheless lived here: Benjem spied a marketplace, complete with a dwarf selling gems, an elf selling small trees, and a halfling who seemed to be running a bakery. After such a long time among Horald’s relatively mono-racial theater troupe, it was a relief to see men and women of other races. For a moment he recalled the Flaming Cart – he and Vox had been the only humans in the party. Then he pushed the memory away as painful and unhelpful. Benjem was focusing on the present, and only on the present.

The troupe stopped marching when they reached the town square; there, they set up camp. Benjem set his tent up next to Wyliam’s; Wyliam set his up next to Alayne’s. Benjem snorted when he realized what had happened. What is this? he thought. Certainly no love triangle – perhaps a love line. He snorted again. That sounds like some kind of incredibly boring sex position. As soon as camp was set up, some of the troupe began to perform, to raise awareness of their presence in the town. Jugglers took their balls and clubs and set off through the old streets of Silden, in search of audiences. Benjem had never been good at juggling. His father, however, had been a master. Benjem remembered watching in awe as his father managed to keep ball after ball flying in the air, levitated, as if by magic. But Benjem’s father never used magic. Indeed, Benjem had encountered more magic than his father ever had, if only by virtue of the mask he still wore. The only time his father had come into contact with magic was, Benjem realized, on his final day. He pushed the image of his father’s body surrounded by flames out of his head, and instead focused on the nearest juggler.

Benjem shook himself. It was not making out to be much of a good day. He had already been reminded of horrors twice. Maybe he needed a break from the troupe, from acting, from being the assassin in Murder in the Sanctuary. He took off the mask, and felt the wind on the sides of his face. He put his mask inside his tent, told Wyliam that he was going off for a walk, and set off in a random direction. He was about to leave the camp when he felt the daggers hidden at his side. They reminded him of – but Benjem wouldn’t let his mind get any farther. He disarmed himself and placed his weapons in his tent, too. One unarmed trip wouldn’t kill him, he thought. He walked, and walked, and walked away from Horald’s players. Silden had narrow, winding roads, and for a moment, Benjem thought that he might have gotten lost. But then, suddenly, the road he was following opened out onto a great square. Benjem recognized this as the marketplace he had seen on their way in.

He looked around for a moment, trying to decide if he should turn back. The sun was now high in the sky. He would need to be back by afternoon; they were going to do one final run of Murder in the Sanctuary before the show tomorrow night. He looked at the stalls lining the square. Suddenly, he felt a little hungry. He made his way to the bakery and bought himself an apple tart. He turned and headed back towards camp, eating as he went. He was just finishing up his tart when he realized that there was someone who was taking the exact same path as him from the marketplace. A nonchalant glance behind him revealed that the person was a human woman in her early twenties. She was plain: Benjem made note of this particularly. He knew well that being plain had so many advantages in his business. Benjem pretended nothing was wrong, and took the next right turn, away from the path he would normally take. The woman did, too. He took another right. The woman followed. He took a left turn. The woman turned left. Again. Ditto the woman. She was following him. For what purpose, Benjem did not know, but it frightened him. Benjem fought not to betray himself. He quickened his pace slightly and took another turn. He found himself in a dark alleyway that smelled of rotten fruit. He spied a pile of empty crates off to one side and quickly stepped behind them. She turned the corner, paused for a moment, and then continued down the alley. Benjem saw her eyes scan around, trying to figure out where he had gone. Moments later, she saw the crates. She smiled.

She raised a dagger.

Benjem reached for his, and suddenly remembered that he had left them all behind. Of course, he thought. Fucking hells.

The woman approached the crates.

Benjem felt his heart pounding. For once, he did not want to die. There was so much to live for now! The troupe, the baby...! Wyliam... He grabbed one of the crates, stood up, and, holding it in front of him, leapt out towards the woman.

“What do you want?” he asked her, as she sized him up.

“You,” she said. She dove in with her knife. Benjem batted it away with the crate. It was an unwieldy weapon, and one that did not leave him much room for maneuverability.

Benjem saw her pull back to strike again, and this time tried to hit her over the head with the crate, first. It would be a feeble attack compared to a knife’s blade, but perhaps it would give him an opening.

She stopped his swing with one hand. Benjem was surprised. She was far stronger than she looked. But there wasn’t much time. She slashed at his side with the knife in her other hand.

Benjem blocked with... his left arm. Blood showered the two of them as Benjem cried out in pain, feeling the dagger sink into his flesh. The crate toppled to the ground. Benjem grabbed for his arm and fell over backwards. He looked up at his attacker. She smiled again and stepped in for the kill. Benjem looked down at her legs. One was placed too closely to him. A trap? No, Benjem thought, a mistake.

Benjem threw out his leg, and it connected with hers. She began to tumble. In the same motion, Benjem reached with his uninjured arm and caught her right forearm. She was now on the ground behind him, her arm exposed, the knife pointed away from the two of them. Benjem pulled the arm behind her, twisting it roughly. “Drop it. Drop the knife. Now.”

She struggled for a moment, but Benjem held her fast. “Fine,” she said. “Do you promise not to hurt me?” Benjem did not respond. After a moment, she appeared to loosen her grip. But this time it was a indeed trap – it was followed by an immediate kick to Benjem’s groin. Benjem recoiled and released his hold. A split second later, he felt her knife rake across his chest, tearing his clothes. Benjem was now losing quite a bit of blood. He began to feel weak.

For the first time in a long, long time, he thought he was going to die. “You’re making a mistake!” he shouted, desperately. “I’m not the man you’re looking for.”

“I think you are,” she responded. “You make that clearer with every move you make, Benjem Heartson of the Dragonscales.”

Benjem groaned and force himself to his feet, shaky as he was. She was going to kill him. The Dimir were going to get him, after all this. After everything, he was going to be killed by someone he didn’t even know. It was worse than a proper tragedy.

Benjem threw himself once more at her. She was ready for him. She grabbed him and threw him against a wall, and then pulled her hand into a sharp descent towards his chest. Benjem grabbed at her arm, and managed to halt the stab. Yet she was stronger than him. The dagger moved downwards, slowly. Benjem’s nails dug into her skin, drawing blood. He looked into her eyes, and saw hatred. Hatred? How could she hate him? She didn’t even know him. Had he hated the people he had killed?

Benjem slammed his head into the woman’s. They fell apart, both of them stunned. Benjem fought through the fog and fiercely kicked her hand that held the dagger. It skittered along the ground. She dove after it. Benjem dove after her. He landed on top of her. She had reached the knife, and was beginning to twist around when Benjem, in a last ditch attempt to save himself from falling on her knife, grabbed her head. With the last of his strength, he twisted the opposite direction.

There was a sickening snap, and the woman went limp.

Benjem, gasping, turned over the body. She looked skywards, blankly, her mouth slightly ajar. Blood trickled from Benjem’s arm into her eye. She did not blink. Gasping for air, Benjem stood up. He took the woman’s dagger and turned back towards camp. Then he looked back at the body again.

Benjem felt a surge of... what was it? Pride, perhaps? He was filled with a good emotion. Benjem hated himself for it. Benjem couldn’t keep himself from going through the woman’s pockets for information and money. He found nothing. He hadn’t wanted to kill her. He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, ever again...

As he left, he noticed that the woman lay on the ground as if she were sleeping.

The Dimir was inescapable.

As it turned out, so was the past.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Tue Aug 18, 2015 11:29 pm

A Mask for Afternoon

“Oh, my gods!” cried Alayne when she saw Benjem’s ragged shape approach the camp.  “Aidran, What happened to you?”

“I was mugged,” lied Benjem.  It was all back.  The lies, the disguises, the killing.  The name Aidran felt like sandpaper on his ear.

“You were mugged?  You look like you were nearly killed!”

Benjem laughed.  “No, really, I’m fine.”  At this point, the world gave a sudden lurch to the left and Benjem stumbled.

“You are not fine,” responded Alayne.  “You need help.  Come with me.”  Alayne took Benjem over her shoulder and they walked towards Horald’s tent.

“Really, I can take care of myself,” protested Benjem, but Alayne overpowered him and they walked onwards.

They entered the tent.  “Sulla?  Sulla, where are you?”

“Sulla?  Sulla just gave birth!  She can’t help us...”

But a woman sat up in a bed on one side of the tent.  “Alayne?  What is it?  What’s wrong with Aidran?”  Sulla looked drained – she had great dark circles under her eyes and her face was paler than normal.

“He got ‘mugged,’” Alayne replied.  “He’s really injured.  Can you help him?”

“Bring him here,” said Sulla, calmly.  “I’m sure I will be able to work something out.”  A baby’s cry erupted from behind Sulla.  “The baby...”  Sulla turned and picked up a wrinkled shape.  “Shhh, shhhh... Little Cassie... shh...”

Benjem smiled when he saw the baby.  “Cassie... that’s a beautiful name...”  But all he could see now was the baby, and soon he couldn’t see her either.  Benjem reached out towards them, but he was rushing down a dark hallway backwards.  He turned to see where he was going.  He was running down a path, away from something.  Something he didn’t know, a secret he could not bear to understand.  Music drew him onwards.  There was something odd about the music... something that gave him a bad feeling.  But he knew if he reached the music, he would escape the hallway, the hallway that already seemed to be stretching, becoming longer and longer...  The end flew further and further away with each passing second.  The music was getting softer.  Desperately, Benjem rushed onwards.  But he wasn’t going to reach the end!  He wouldn’t get there!  Suddenly, he saw a door to his left; he reached for the doorknob and forced himself through it.

He was floating, floating in the void.  All he could see was a great disembodied hand, a huge, gloved, white hand reaching out toward him.  He turned back to the door, but it was gone.  The hand inched nearer.  The music suddenly crescendoed, and it was with a sinking heart that Benjem recognized it was the music of a lyre.  The hand grasped him in its palm and began to squeeze.  A voice, the voice of a woman he knew and hated floated across the nothingness.  “Benjem Heartson of the Dragonscales, I know where you are.  And I am coming to get you.  You cannot escape me.  You cannot escape yourself...  We are coming...  RUN!”

Benjem cried out and sat up.  He was covered in sweat.  The final word of Lady Malum’s speech was on Benjem’s lips.  “Run!”  He kept himself from shouting it.  Wyliam and Alayne were there.  They were looking concernedly at him.  “What’s wrong?” he asked, urgently, still possessed with the desperation that the vision had given him.  But suddenly Benjem was unsure whether it had been a vision or a dream.  It certainly was dreamlike.  Vox would know.  The look of shock on Vox’s face when Benjem killed Gemena lingered in Benjem’s mind.  It was not a useful memory to have floating around one’s head.

“You were... jerking around.  Shouting.  Are you okay?” Wyliam looked at him, unsure.

“I nightmare sometimes,” said Benjem, embarrassed.  “Sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” Wyliam said, smiling.  “As long as you’re okay.”

If Benjem could lay there forever bathing in Wyliam warm smile, he... wouldn’t, because Wyliam would never like him back and it was pointless to waste the emotional energy.

“What happened to you?”

“I was mugged.”

“How did you get away?”

“I...”  Benjem didn’t want to tell them that he had killed her.  “I was stronger than my attacker.”  Wyliam and Alayne looked at each other.  “Have you ever killed anyone?  Either of you?”  Benjem didn’t know why he asked it.  It was probably a mistake.  Somehow it seemed important.

They shook their heads.

“Never?” he asked, incredulously.

“Never,” replied Wyliam, curiously.

Benjem realized that he was indeed making a mistake.  One more question and they would realize that he had murdered more people than they could imagine.  He changed the subject.  “What time is it?  Have I missed the dress rehearsal?”

“Well, yes.  That was yesterday.  We’re performing Murder tonight, if you’re feeling up for it.  Sulla took good care of you,” said Alayne.

“How does Sulla know how to heal a patient by magic?” asked Benjem, incredulously, feeling his healed arm where there had once been a great slice.  Only the scar had remained.  It seemed that all Benjem was getting these days were scars.

Alayne and Wyliam looked at each other.  Then Wyliam shrugged his shoulders.  “She knows things, Sulla does.  We don’t know why or how.”

“That’s why you guys think she used to be noble?”

“Basically, yes,” replied Wyliam.  “How are you feeling?  Can you stand?”

Benjem pulled himself out of bed and stood up.  He felt a little fuzzy and sat back down.  “I’ll be fine in time for the show.”  He tried to focus on the images in his mind that were already dimming.  A hallway... and a gloved hand?  A voice...

Wyliam put his hand on Benjem’s knee.  “You rest as long as you want... but remember... the show must go on.”

Benjem smiled.  He put his hand on Wyliam’s.  Wyliam pulled away.  Benjem concealed his disappointment.  “I’m sure I’ll be fine.”

A woman’s cry came from outside the tent.  “Alayne!  We need to practice the panther dance!”

Alayne looked at the two of us.  “I’ve got to go,” she said.  She hurriedly left the tent.  

Wyliam sat down next to me.  “She really is something, isn’t she?” he asked.

“Yep,” Benjem said.

Wyliam looked at Benjem for a moment with a strange gleam in his eye.  “Tell me, Aidran, what’s your type?”

“My type?”

“In women.  What kind of women do you like?  You never say.”

“I... ah...” Benjem sputtered.

“Oh, come on, tell me!  What do you like?  Blondes?  Red hair?  Petites?”  Wyliam paused, and gave him a lecherous glance.  “You know what gets me off?  Tight dresses.  You know, when you can see the whole form, but it leaves just enough left to the imagination...  Come on, tell me!”

The lie was there, all prepared.  Packaged with a little bow on top.  A little bow that had been used so often it was worn.  Benjem threw it aside.  If the Dimir was going to get him anyways, what was the point in hiding?  “I... well, I don't...”  Benjem took a breath.  “I have a rather different taste in people.”

“In people?”

“I... well, my type is... men.”

“Ah.”  There was an awkward pause.  “You...?”

“No, of course not,” interrupted Benjem, lying, anticipating the question.

“What?” asked Wyliam, confused.  Beat.  “I was just asking if you knew that Jerrard is like that, too.  I mean, he likes men.”

“I... no, I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, well, he is.”  Jerrard was one of the acrobats in the company.  He had an odd, long face.  Benjem immediately tried to replay every conversation he had ever had with Jerrard in his head at once.  The result was only more dizziness.  

Benjem instead decided to shift the focus of the conversation.  “Anyway, what about you and Alayne?  Why hasn’t anything happened between you two, yet?”

“I don’t know...  I don’t really think she likes me.  It’s pretty hopeless.”

Benjem smiled at Wyliam.  “You must be the blindest person in the world, then.  You’re worse than Iachimor.”

Wyliam looked confused.  “What?”

“Oh, come on...  She obviously is interested in you.  Watch her eyes when she talks to you.  They light up like stars...”  Wyliam blushed.  Benjem decided to press his advantage.  Lewdly, he continued,  “I bet you enjoy watching her dance... in those tight dresses...”

The two men laughed.

Benjem found his training mask and put it on as nonchalantly as he could.


The audience watched as the actors moved along their predetermined paths, acting out the tragedy.  Behind his mask, his real assassin mask this time, Benjem, or Aidran, or the assassin, or whoever he was, stepped through the evil plot that would lead him to success... and the rest of them to ruin.

“I whisper here, within the black of night,
And wait for Gohan’s signal to hue the sky
Beyond the torpid waters at my feet.  
Long he waits, and long wait I: for the guards
That must not see my treach’ry wrought tonight
Are still upon the battlements of this fine place,
Where I shall do the deed.  But who is here?”

Benjem retreated behind a column; Wyliam stepped out onto the stage and began to dance and sing.  Benjem smiled behind his mask.  Wyliam was a friend.  He was a friend he didn’t owe anything to, from whom he had to keep fewer secrets than from anyone else.  Wyliam didn’t force secrets out of him like the Flaming Cart had, at sword-point.  The Flaming Cart suddenly gave him an idea.  He kept the image of Arva fixed strongly in his mind as he approached Wyliam from behind, quietly.  Some memories will be useful.

“This boy can speak no word of what is here:
He’s alone, so will I him kill: no fear.”

Benjem drew his fake knife across Wyliam’s throat.  With a horrified look at the audience, he turned to stare at Benjem, and Benjem grabbed the red cloth hidden in Wyliam’s neckline.  With a scream, the jester died.

Benjem smiled with the same odiousness as the woman who had approached him in the town the previous day.  The play continued.

As the assassin reached the sanctuary, a hush began to fall on the audience.  They knew what was coming, the knew it and yet they were transfixed.  As Benjem climbed the stairs towards Horald, who played the good cleric to be martyred, the voices of the chorus from the sides of the stage cried out:

“Clean the sky, clean the earth; but do not yet
Forget the greatest man who ever lived,
Who ever saw such painful end as this.
Red blood is spilled upon a gold floor like ale
We pale in fear!  Oh, how we pale!

Benjem turned to the audience, raised his knife above the man, and laughed.


Benjem collapsed to the floor, exhausted.

The show was over.  And it was the best damn performance he had done in years.


Benjem was in his tent, going to sleep late at night, after the celebration of opening Murder in the Sanctuary was over.  It had been a great party.  There had been drinking, singing, and dancing.  He had watched Jerrard from across the square.  Wyliam and Alayne had sat close all night long and spoke in low voices.  Wyliam told Benjem that he planned to tell Alayne how he felt about her tomorrow.  Benjem was excited by this prospect, but also disappointed.  He had always known this was coming, yet it still filled him with some kind of irrational sadness.  It was an emotion he stored deep down inside, hidden in with his memories of Krisom and the princess of Wavenlon.

Benjem was just asleep when an odd smell awoke him.  He jerked up, horrified.  He sniffed again.  Smoke.  It was definitely smoke.  Then he heard a cry of pain.  Benjem was on his feet in an instant.  He pulled on the mask and picked up his daggers.  He slipped one dagger into his boot, put two on his hip, and slid another few inside his cloak.  Then, he pushed his way out of his tent and into a memory.

Tents were aflame.  Sounds of fighting were coming from everywhere.  Sounds of death were coming from everywhere.  About a hundred feet away, a tent suddenly burst into flame.  Whose was it? Beyond the flames, figures moved.  Perhaps most importantly of all, in this memory, he wasn’t too late.  They were still here.  It wasn’t like before: this time, he hadn’t accidentally escaped the attack.  He was actually in it.

A man leapt out at him from behind his tent.  Two seconds later, after a deft slash of Benjem’s knife, the man was dead, sprawled on the ground.

Had they followed him here?  Had the woman reported his identity before he could kill her?

For a moment he didn’t know what to do.  Should he run?  Hide?  Escape with his life and let Horald’s troupe die?  He looked at the two tents next to his.  Wyliam and Alayne.  He needed to help them get away, even if they couldn’t save the rest of the camp.  Judging by the power of those attacking, he doubted if the Hawklight Players would make it through the night.  He rushed into Wyliam’s tent and found him asleep.  He roused him and pulled him out of his bed.  He next rushed to Alayne’s tent and did the same.  The three of them stood outside in the night beside Wyliam’s tent, looking at the dead body of Benjem’s first attacker.

“Come with me,” cried Benjem.

The other two looked about, shocked, now that they had properly woken up.  “What’s going on?  What’s happening?”

“It doesn’t matter.  We’ve got to get out of here.  Come on,” Benjem implored, backing away from the camp.

Wyliam and Alayne hesitated.  “What about the others?” asked Wyliam.

“We can’t save them.  Come on!”  It was the same story again.  Images of Sprite flashed before his eyes.

Just then, a small red orb soared in a great arc over their heads.  Benjem grabbed his friends and pulled them to the ground, as Alayne’s tent exploded.  Alayne cried out.  “That was... all my stuff!  Everything...!”

“Come on, quickly, please!” cried Benjem.

But Alayne’s eyes widened in fear.  “Sulla...!  The baby!”  She darted off towards the fires.

Benjem groaned.  Wyliam started after her.  Benjem groaned again.  “Do either of you have any weapons at all?  What are you going to do, spit on them?”

Neither of them was listening.  Benjem was torn.  Did he leave, and never see them again?  Did he follow?  What was the right thing to do?  Benjem had resolved to leave the tragic youth of his past behind him.  He would be a hero.  Not a stupid hero, one that would bite off more than he could chew, but a hero for those he really cared about.  A hero for his friends.  He ran off after Wyliam and Alayne.  It was his fault the Hawklight Players were being attacked, he realized.  He was sure of it.  He should not have gone into town alone and without his mask.  That was stupid.  And, as usual, people were dying for his stupidity.  “Wait!” cried Benjem.  “Wait for me!”

Wyliam and Alayne were standing around a tent that was already aflame.  “I told you,” cried Benjem.  “They’re dead.  Everyone who stays here is going to die.  Let’s go!”

Wyliam turned to look at Benjem.  His pale face was suddenly paler.  His eyes widened in shock.  “Behind you...!”

Benjem heard the snap of a twig and whirled around, bringing his dagger across the attacker’s throat.  It was an elf.  An elf with scarlet hair.  On the ground, the her hair lay around her head like some sort of wreath.  Benjem had a nagging feeling of déjà vu, before noticing four other creatures advancing on them.  “Stay back,” called Benjem.  He leapt forward and stabbed one in the eye, then jumped backwards to dodge the second one’s attack.  Another step and the second creature had a knife lodged in his back.  The third and fourth were getting past him and rushing at Alayne and Wyliam.  He threw one dagger, and the third fell down dead.  He wasn’t fast enough to stop the fourth.  It brought its scimitar down heavily as Benjem struggled to draw another dagger.

But mid-swing, it was blasted backwards by a jet of water.  Sulla stepped out from the darkness, screaming baby tied to her chest, her hand extended.  “Get out of here,” she shouted at the three of them.  “Aidran, take care of them.  Don’t let them out of your sight!”

Benjem waited just long enough to make sure all four of the enemies were indeed dead.  Then he shouted, “Come on!”

The three charged off the way they had come.  As they passed their tents, Benjem saw that both his and Wyliam’s were also burning.  The fire in Alayne’s tent had almost burned out.  The far side of the camp was near, now.  Another man burst out at them; Benjem slashed at his throat and he too fell down, dead.  They were going to make it!  Just a little further!

Benjem turned around to see where Wyliam and Alayne were.  They were only a few steps behind him.  When he turned back around, their path was blocked by a great, green, awful-smelling, slimy-looking creature.  It had huge clawed hands, long, strange arms, and large warts all over its body.

“Oh, shit,” shouted Benjem, backing up a few paces.  The troll’s stupid eyes focused on the three of them.

“What the hell is that?” came Wyliam’s voice.

“It’s a troll...  Where did they get a troll?  How the fuck did they get a troll up here?”  Benjem couldn’t believe his eyes.  A troll?  In a populated area like this?  It simply didn’t happen.

Behind them, a great column of flame erupted from the middle of camp.  It was swallowed by an equally large wave of water.  The troll lumbered towards them.  The three of them retreated.  Benjem racked his brains for what he knew about trolls.  He knew they didn’t like fire particularly much.  Fortunately, there was fire all around them.  

“What do we do?” asked Alayne, a slight tremor to her voice.

“Get some fire, if you can,” Benjem replied, trying to seem as calm as possible, and watching the troll carefully for any sudden movements.  “And above all, stay back.”

“You’re not going to fight that on your own, are you?” asked Wyliam.

“Only as much as I have to,” said Benjem.  “Now go get fire.”  He heard Wyliam and Alayne scurry away behind him.  The troll advanced, upset that his prey was getting away.  Benjem shouted at it, instead.  “Hey, you asshole!” he cried.  “You’ve got to deal with me, first!”

The troll looked down at Benjem.  He breathed.  Benjem took yet another step backwards.  The troll swiped at him.  Benjem dodged it, ran towards the troll, and buried a dagger in its calf.  The troll spun as Benjem passed underneath it.  It was a slow beast, and Benjem would use that to his advantage.  The troll bellowed with rage.  He ducked under the troll’s next claw and cut a long gash in the troll’s upper arm.  The troll bellowed again.  It swung for a third time, and this time, Benjem did not move quickly enough.  It caught him in the side and threw him back several feet.  It knocked his air out.  He struggled to breathe.  The troll advanced.  

Just then, Alayne reappeared with the fire.  “What now, Aidran?”

Her shout made the troll turn.  Its eyes widened with fear as it saw the fire.  Benjem fought against his diaphragm to breathe.  Finally, it seemed to give way.  Air flooded into his lungs.  Benjem gasped, then leapt to his feet.

The troll was approaching Alayne.  “Aidran?” she asked, again.  “Aidran, are you okay?”  

The troll drew back his arm.  Benjem saw what it was going to do and didn’t have time to stop it.  He threw a dagger, anyways, but it missed the troll, hurtling off into the darkness.  Why did this keep happening to him?  He felt useless.  “Run!” he shouted.  But it was no use.  Alayne only flinched backwards as the claw came down.

Benjem was not Arva or Vox; he did not have the constitution or endurance to take hit after hit, protecting his party.  He was not Nakoma, who might be able to heal her companions.  He was certainly not Tym, Aidina, or Kana, who could blast foes away with magic.  He was like Wild: weak, pitifully so.  With just one hit, he was down, and his friends were vulnerable.  Perhaps this is why he never wanted to save people.  Perhaps something within him knew he would never be successful.

He heard a cry of despair as Alayne hit the ground.  There was a figure over Alayne, ignoring the threat of the troll overhead.  His torch lay to his side.  Wyliam.  Benjem shouted at the troll, trying to draw attention to himself..  It did not turn.  It clawed again at the pair, rolling Wyliam off Alayne.  In desperation, Benjem leapt up on the troll’s back, stabbing downwards with his dagger.  That did make the troll turn  He dropped off the creature near Wyliam.  For a moment, it seemed to be confused as to what had attacked it, but then it jerked back around to face the three.  Benjem noticed that it did not seem to be doing well.  It was breathing heavily, and blood was dripping from several lacerations.  Perhaps they would defeat the monster.  Wyliam was getting back to his feet.  Alayne hadn’t moved.

The troll bellowed.  Benjem ran for Alayne’s torch and picked it up.  “Wyliam, get out of here.  Run for the woods.  Go!”

“No, I won’t!” he shouted.  Benjem dodged one of the troll’s claws.  “I won’t leave her.”

“This isn’t some goddamn play, Wyliam.  Get the fuck out of here before you get killed.”

“No!”  Wyliam ran to Alayne.

“Get down!” cried Benjem, as the troll took another swipe.  Benjem counterattacked with his torch, scorching the troll.  It bellowed again.  The beast retreated a step.  Benjem pressed his advantage, waving the fire high in the troll’s face.  “Grab her, and let’s go!”

“She doesn’t seem to be hurt.  She seems... more beautiful than ever...”

“That’s great.  Simply wonderful, Wyliam,” Benjem called, sarcastically.  “Pick her up, and follow me.”  Benjem took a second to look behind him.  Wyliam was struggling to get a good grip.  Honestly, who doesn’t know how to pick up a--  But that was as far as his thought got, because at that moment, he was once again thrown aside by the troll’s claw.  He felt its nails dig into his side.  When he landed, Benjem looked up.  

The beast lumbered towards Wyliam.  He abandoned Alayne and picked up the stick he had brought with fire.  The troll bellowed at Wyliam.  “Back!  Back you fell creature!” came Wyliam’s heavy voice, the voice he used in theater to make himself sound brave.  Benjem tried to get up, but failed.  He tried again.  A sharp pain in his arm prevented him this time.  He collapsed onto the ground.  They had got him this time.  They really had got him.

The troll’s body obscured what he did to Wyliam.  Benjem heard his cry of agony, though.  Benjem reached out his arm, as if he were trying to help.  The cry seemed to stab into his very heart.

He saw the troll bellow, but couldn’t hear it.  Then he couldn’t see the troll, either.  Benjem almost expected to be hurtling down a corridor.  But this time as he lost consciousness, he wasn’t.

There was nothing but an oddly familiar darkness.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Sun Aug 23, 2015 9:35 pm

A Mask for Sunset

Benjem came to in yet another hospital bed.  This time, however, there were no friends surrounding him.  And the bed was... moving?  He felt a sudden surge of nausea as he tried to sit up, to ascertain his surroundings.  He must be in some sort of wagon, being pulled along by a horse or something.  Of course, he thought.  The Hawklight Players had had to leave Silden immediately.  It was not a good place to stay.  He wondered how the fight had gone.  Obviously, his side had won.  Otherwise, he would be dead, or in some kind of cell somewhere.  Not free, on the road, moving.  Benjem tried to sit up again.  This time, the nausea was not too bad.  Beside his bed someone had left all of his daggers – even the one he had got off that bastard priest in the Sanctuary at the Capitol – and his mask.  He presumed the rest of his possessions had been destroyed in the fires.  Outside, the sun was setting.  

He swung his legs out of bed and stood up.  The room spun for a moment, but ultimately chose an orientation.  As he put on his mask, he looked at the bed beside him.  Alayne slept there serenely.  Benjem felt his heart soar.  Alayne was alive.  She was safe!  He had saved at least one life.  He had saved a life!  It felt good – no, great – no, marvelous – to have saved someone.  A whole person who was alive because of him.  So many people were dead because of him, but this one, this one with hair black as a night’s sky, this one he had saved.  He bent down to examine her, to check for the amount of damage the Dimir had done and found surprisingly little.  Wyliam will be happy, Benjem thought.

The wagon suddenly stopped.  Benjem looked outside again, and saw that the Hawklight Players had stopped to make camp, somewhere in the foothills.  They had left the Lule River behind them, and Benjem could already feel the ebbing of the chill that accompanied every Northern traveller.

He stepped out of the carriage and went to see how he could help.  The first person he saw was Sulla, her baby strapped to her chest in a sling.  “Aidran!” she called.  “You’re awake, at last!”

“I am,” he responded.

“What happened to you?  You looked awful when we found you.”

“They had a troll.”

“So it was you who fought the troll?  That thing would have put an end to us if it hadn’t already been injured.”  Benjem swelled with pride.  He had saved everyone.  He had saved the whole troupe!  But suddenly Sulla grew grave.  “Oh, I nearly forgot! Horald wants to talk to you immediately.”

“Where is he?”

“This way,” she said, and he followed her towards Horald’s tent, which was already set up.

Benjem suddenly noticed that the number of tents going up was barely one-fourth of those that he normally saw in Hawklight camps.  The camp seemed empty, almost.  “Where is everyone?” he asked Sulla.

She looked at him.  “They’re...” her voice quavered and gave out.

Benjem looked around again.  “That many?”

“That many.”





Pause.  Benjem thought.



He didn’t know if he wanted to ask the next name that was on his lips.  Would she treat it with as much indifference?



She had indeed been as indifferent.  How could he mean nothing more to her than any of the other performers?  He was the best, the most talented, the kindest man...  Dead?  “No.”

“I’m sorry...”

“He can’t be dead, you’re joking.  I was with him, he was still alive, he was fine...”

“He’s dead.  From his body, it looked like the troll got him.  We found him lying over Alayne’s body.”

The sun was now behind the hills on the horizon.  Dusk gathered all the more quickly.  “He loved her.  She never knew, but he loved her.”  Benjem held back the tears that were pushing at his eyes.  He rubbed his chest and was glad he was wearing a mask.  It was all his fault, he knew.  He endangered all these people by coming to live with them.  He had killed more than he had saved.

“It’s awful,” Sulla said.  “The whole thing is a tragedy.  I can’t get over it.  I haven’t slept since it happened.”  She held open the flap of her tent and beckoned Benjem inwards.  “Horald, Aidran’s here to talk to you.”

“Ah, Aidran,” said Horald.  “Sit down.”  He gestured to a chair sitting on one side of the tent.  Horald remained standing.  Sulla entered and stood by the entrance to the tent.  Benjem looked between the two of them suspiciously.  “What information do you have about this attack?  What do we need to be afraid of?  What enemy have we made by taking you in?”

Could he tell Horald about the Dimir?  Benjem didn’t think so.  The presence of a huge secret organization that wanted to kill him, and him alone, seemed ridiculous.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”

“Really?  We take you in, you have a mysterious past you can’t tell us about, and suddenly, a month later, we are massacred for no apparent reason.  We did not perform anything controversial.  Our performance was not disliked.  Yet we were attacked.  Why?”

“I have no idea, sir.”

“Hmm...”  Horald paced up and down on the floor.  “Do these lives mean nothing to you?  The lives of your friends?  The lives of your fellow performers?  We need to know what we’re up against, so we can defend ourselves.  I charge you to tell me, in the name of your father who was my good friend, Benjem Heartson of the Dragonscales.”

Benjem stared at him in pure shock.  It was the first time in his life he had been unmasked by a regular person.  


“You are Benjem Heartson, are you not?”

“I... am.  How did you...?”

“Oh, it was simple, really.”  Horald failed to suppress a smile.  “You’ve obviously had theater training.  You’re obviously good.  Yet you’ve never acted with a mask on, and you seem oblivious to the many uses of magic in a theater troupe.  There’s only one man I knew who hated masks and never used magic: your father.  And your father had a son who would be about your age by now.  I went through my old letters to check myself.  More and more fit together...  He had been killed, along with his troupe, no survivors.  Yet what if there had been one?  What if he had been captured by the attackers, or had escaped?  Surely one person could be overlooked?  What if that person had lived a life of mystery, never staying in one place for very long, never leaving a trace, taking false names at every turn.  And then he finds himself back in a theater company.  Excited to once again be among his people, the people he grew up with, he lets himself go a little bit.  He gets a little careless.  He gives himself away, is attacked first in private, and when that fails, has his whole troupe attacked in the hopes of finally erasing the last bit of evidence.”

He was almost entirely correct.  “I... don’t know what to say.”

“What was the secret your father was hiding?”


“His troupe was attacked for some reason, obviously.  What was it?”

Benjem sighed.  Horald had made the right guess, but had it the wrong way around.  “That wasn’t why...”  Benjem caught himself.  Did he want to tell this man, this near stranger, about Lady Malum, about Welli and the Flaming Cart?  “He never told me.”

“Hmm...”  Horald mused again.  “I guess he wouldn’t, after all.”

“You were friends with my father?”

Horald smiled.  “I was.  We met as children when our troupes performed in the Capitol together.  We’ve kept in touch ever since.”

“You have my father’s letters?”

“I do.”  Horald produced one from a bag at his side and passed it to Benjem.  “This was the last I received from him.”

Benjem passed his eyes over it eagerly.

Dear Horald,

It is a shame that you cannot be in the Capitol this year as we pass through.  I would love to see you again.  It has been too long, far too long.  I’m sorry that I still cannot tell you about the project I am working on.  It is too big and too dangerous to be discussed openly.  Perhaps when I see you next?  It is coming on well, though.  I think it will only be a few more months of work before it all comes to fruition...

Making a silent note of this mysterious project that he knew nothing about, Benjem skipped several paragraphs, hoping to find his name somewhere.  When he did, he jumped back to the beginning of the paragraph and read on.

We’ve been trying to change our routine lately, to shake it up a little.  Now that Jaxon has retired in Duskpoint, we’ve had trouble subbing people in for the multitude of roles he played in our performances.  I definitely wanted to add another play to our repertoire; we’ve been short on them for far too long.  For a long time, I was torn between Wither the Marshlands and King Schreyr.  A comedy or a tragedy?  I have ultimately elected, however, to add Schreyr.  It is just too fun to overlook.  My son, Benjem, of course, will play Iachimor.  He is just the right age, and he seems to have inherited my talent for the dramatic.  He is perfect for the role.  When I told him, he practically glowed with pride, but there has been nothing he has done in rehearsal that has not made me do the same.  It is a pity, Horald, that you have not found a wife: children are perhaps the best part of life on this planet.  I do not know where I would be without mine.

“Did anyone else survive the attack?” asked Horald, interrupting Benjem’s perusal of the letter.

“No,” said Benjem.  “Not that I know of.”

“Just you.  How... curious.”

“What are you trying to say?” asked Benjem, defensively.  “That I arranged to have my family murdered?  That I set up the attack on the Hawklight Players?”

“Well, if I had done those things, I would tell everyone I knew nothing about either attacker, to protect myself.”

Benjem rolled his eyes.  “Fine.  I’ll tell you what really happened.  But you won’t believe me.”

“We shall see.”

“There’s a giant secret organization in Daernika.  I now believe they arranged for my family to be killed, and almost certainly led the attack on the Hawklight Players.  I worked for them unwillingly for a time, before I accidentally discovered far more about the organization than they would have liked me to.  Under threat of death, I fled, and found myself here.  I hoped they would leave me alone.  They are known as--”

“The Dimir,” interrupted Sulla, speaking the words simultaneously with Benjem.

“How did you...?”

“I’ve heard whispers... when I was younger, there was a crazy man who arrived on our doorstep telling this ridiculous horror story about them... they secretly controlled everything, and had evil purposes in mind...  He was dead by morning.  I never believed him... not until now.”

“They’re after me, and perhaps after you, too, now.  I do not believe they will rest until the all of us are dead.”  Benjem saw Sulla look down at her newborn baby, sleeping gently at her breast.  It hurt Benjem’s heart to know that this babe would have so little life.  “I suggest you disband.  I suggest you fake your deaths, discard your old names and take new ones.  They may find you even still.  The Dimir have power that neither you nor I can possibly imagine.”

Horald put his hand shakily upon his table.  “No,” he said, simply.  “I cannot.  I would rather be dead than a slave to secrets.”

Benjem raised an eyebrow.  “And you would risk the lives of your troupe?”

“I will risk the lives of my troupe.  What life is left for them other than that of the stage?  If what you say is true, we will all be dead within a few months.  Why not enjoy our remaining time?  Why not...  ahhhhh...


“I have come up with an idea.”

“What is it?”

“I am going to write a tragedy.  About the Dimir.”

“They won’t even let you perform it once.”

“We’ll see about that...”  Horald smiled, determinedly.


Benjem found a spot to set up his tent, then returned to the wagon to get the last of his supplies.  Alayne was just waking up.  “Aidran!” she called, happily, when she saw him.  “We made it!  We’re alive!”

Benjem tried to smile, but failed.  “Yep.  Yep we did.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Most people didn’t.”

“Oh.”  Beat.  “Wyliam?”

“I...”  Benjem took several breaths, trying to get a proper noise out.  Tears welled in his eyes.  All he could see in front of him was the body, was Wyliam’s body, slashed apart by the troll’s claws.  Alayne came over and embraced Benjem.  Benjem did not allow himself to sob.  Instead, Alayne cried enough for the two of them and Benjem held her, comfortingly.  That poor woman...  That poor, poor woman...

Her tears were his fault.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Thu Aug 27, 2015 5:18 pm

A Mask for Nighttime

Benjem approached Wyliam.

“This boy can speak no word of what is here:
He’s alone, so will I him kill: no fear.”

He made a slashing motion in front of Wyliam’s neck, and Wyliam turned, as he was supposed to.  But this time something was wrong.  Wyliam’s look of terror was too real, it was all too real, and the blood coming from his neck wasn’t fabric but real blood and Benjem looked down at his knife and it was covered with Wyliam’s blood and Wyliam collapsed in his arms he was dead he was dead he was dead and Benjem ran away he had to get away from the actors before they found him but their head approached them he was his father and his father told Benjem that he was a failure that he had killed Wyliam and would forever be banished from the troupe and Benjem wanted to cry but his father took him by the hand and led him into a room of darkness and he was floating floating or falling which was it he didn’t know but there he was and he couldn’t move and then suddenly there was the final look on Wyliam’s face and there was the face of the woman whose back he had broken and there was the elf woman he had killed when the Dimir attacked and there was the blood running down Gemina’s forehead from where he stabbed her and there was Lyda his sister he had killed her too by sheer stupidity and there was the priests from the Capitol and Jerrard and Elena and the second man he’d killed and the prisoner shivering in the darkness and the prince and the baron and the wife and the sailor and the other sailor and the captain and...

Faces over faces over faces over faces over...

Then Krisom.  Krisom, his eyes shining like they did when he laughed, like they had before he had plunged the lyre into Benjem’s head.  Blood trickled from those eyes like tears.


Benjem awoke in a sweat.  It was late afternoon.  He had been trying to nap; the nightmares had gotten ever more frequent since the attack on the Hawklight players.  He took several deep breaths and got up.  He hadn’t been able to sleep last night, either.  He was tired, very tired.  Benjem rubbed his eyes and put on his mask.  He stepped outside.  The Hawklight players had finally arrived in another town, a small one this time.  They intended to perform; they needed money for food.  They would do Murder in the Sanctuary again.  Benjem would perform tonight.

Horald called to him.  He and Alayne were standing some ways off from the camp, discussing something.  Benjem walked over.  “I need you and Alayne to go into town and see if we can get anything on this list of supplies.  Can you do that?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Alayne smiled at Benjem, and they set off.  The sun set before they got to the shop.

“Nervous?” she asked him, when they had gotten some ways out of the camp.

“What, for the show tonight?”


“No, only worried that we’ll be attacked again.”  It was the wrong thing to say.  Alayne turned her face away and did not respond.  Benjem sighed.  He tried something else.  “Are you nervous?”  Alayne was taking over Wyliam’s role as the jester in Murder in the Sanctuary.  She was the only one who could play the lute and sing as well as he had been able to.

“Yeah,” she said.  “But just for the show.”  She allowed a small smile to reach her face and tossed her dark hair.  She was beautiful, beautiful even in mourning.  Her face darkened again.  “I just wish I had someone to see... I wish he was here to see it.  I wish he were here to comfort me...”

Benjem put his arm around her shoulder.  “It’s going to be okay...”  Benjem knew that it was only going to be okay because time would dull the memories.  Krisom was dead: Benjem was finally moving on.  What was the precise shape of Krisom’s nose?  He didn’t know.  How full were his lips?  He didn’t know.  What was the color of his eyes?  He could only barely recall glimmers of brown.  Maybe brown.

As they entered the store and bought the things Horald wanted, Benjem reflected on his death.  He fondled the rope that they were going to buy.  He had, indeed, died.  And yet he was alive.  He strained to remember what death was like.  Had it been peaceful?  Terrifying?  He could not remember that, either.

Benjem and Alayne left the shop in silence.  Nighttime had fallen; darkness was everywhere.

Most people ask themselves at one point or another why they were brought into this world.  Indeed, Benjem had asked himself this several times before.  Had it been to kill people?  He had always assumed that he would survive Lady Malum and go back to doing things for the good of society, thing he wanted to do.  Or so he had hoped.  But now that he was...  The question now was not why was he brought back into this world in the first place, but why was he allowed to live again?  Sure, he had heard the story about Tym’s yellow rain boots.  But beyond that, beneath that, in the scope of the greater powers in this world, why was he brought back?  What would he do with this new lease on life?  He did not want to kill people any more.  He wanted to just live alone, live in a little cottage somewhere far away and never be worried again.  But that was impossible.  They were everywhere.  They were coming for him.

Just then, he heard an odd sound behind him, and felt something slide in his pocket.  The Dimir.  He whirled around and saw someone, drew a knife, and stabbed downwards.  He stabbed again.  Again.  Blood splashed out of the body, covering his arm.  Benjem stabbed again.  They were on the ground, Benjem on top.  He stabbed again.  Again.  “Benjem!” cried Alayne, and Benjem looked up.

Alayne was looking at him, horrified.

Benjem looked back down and beheld the figure of a twelve-year-old boy.  His eyes were wide with shock.  His tattered clothes were now more tattered by the bleeding holes Benjem had put in him.  His mouth was slightly ajar, as if he was about to cry out, but Benjem had never given him that chance.  His face was... like Krisom’s.  If only the boy had been holding a lute, Benjem himself would have been unsure whether he beheld his brother or this stranger.  And then came the shock.  Benjem suddenly remembered exactly the precise shape of Krisom’s nose.  He remembered exactly the fullness of his lips.  He remembered exactly the color of his eyes.

This boy was dead, too.  And Benjem smiled.  He laughed, even, a coarse, hacking, throaty sound.  Not because he was happy he had killed him, but because he had suddenly realized a great truth.

I should never have been brought back to life.

All that he had brought to anyone, including himself, since he was resurrected, was misery and death.  Wyliam was dead because of him.  That poor woman in the alleyway was dead because of him.  This boy was dead because of him.  All those people... the Dimir, the Hawklight Players, the innocents... all dead because of him.  Even when he was trying to live a normal life, just go along and do the things he loved, all he could do was kill people and cause people to be killed.

Then came the sobs.  They were great, gasping, unstoppable things.  Gods, he hadn’t cried in years.  He hadn’t allowed himself to.  But he couldn’t stop himself.  He couldn’t stop the tears that seemed to flow from some great well within his chest.  He couldn’t move.  He couldn’t think.  All he could do was weep.

Alayne was alarmed.  “Are you okay?”

“No,” Benjem gasped, trying and failing to recover.  “No, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not.”  

Alayne stood there awkwardly.  “What’s the matter?  You’ve killed people before...  What is different?”

“Nothing.  Everything.”  Benjem was unable to speak for a minute.  “Who was his mother?  Where is his family?  Why did he need to steal from us?”

Alayne helped Benjem to his feet and helped him walk back to camp.  They left the boy’s body there in the alley beneath the full moon.

“We’ll never know, and that’s the worst part.  We will never know.”
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Tue Sep 01, 2015 2:38 pm

A Mask for Midnight

Trigger warning: This section deals with themes of suicide.

Benjem hid behind his column as Alayne sang Wyliam’s song.  She did it flawlessly.  She even managed to keep a smile on her face.  Her performance was funny to the audience.  Not to Benjem.  At the end of her song, he said his lines, stepped forward, and made the slashing motion across her neck.  She turned, her mouth forming a small circle, and screamed as he drew the red fabric out from around her neckline.  She died, and Benjem smiled.  He kept the scream building inside him down, and let the play continue.  

Usually, when he was onstage, Benjem found it was a respite from whatever he was dealing with in real life.  Worries about Krisom could be ignored just by becoming another person for an hour or two.  It was an immense relief.  But tonight it was different.  The eloquent scripts only brought Benjem nearer to himself, his own worries.  As he stepped through the blocking, killing character after character, all he could see was a reflection of himself.  And the reflection made him feel cold.

He tried to prevent it from affecting his performance.  By the time he was ascending the stairs to kill the cleric, he still felt the desire, the push, the need to kill, as always.  But there was nagging despair that lay beneath it all.  As he raised the knife above Horald’s body and gloated, he felt another tear trickle down his cheek.

No one had understood why he had broken down when he had killed the child.  No one could possibly understand.  No one knew about Krisom, no one knew about Welli or Lady Malum or the princess of Wavenlon or anything.  No one really knew who he was.  Not even Horald, for all his brilliance in guessing his identity.

The curtain went down.  Benjem walked to the side of the stage, dropped his fake dagger in the basket with the other prop weapons, switched to his normal mask, changed clothes, and picked up his real daggers.  He went back to his tent and waited.  The Hawklight Players ate a final celebratory snack before they turned in for the night.  Benjem didn’t want to be around them.  He didn’t want to see their uncomprehending glares, matching the look that had sat on Alayne’s face the whole way back to camp.

When the noises finally died outside his tent, Benjem began to pack his bag with all his possessions.  He only left the tent itself behind.  He stepped out into the night.  The full moon was bad for what he had to do, but there was no time to waste waiting around.  He looked around for the guards he knew Horald must have posted and melted into the small corners of darkness where the moonlight could not reach.

He made his way to Horald’s tent.

He noiselessly pulled open the flap and stepped inside.  The whole family was there, sleeping.  The old man, the mysterious woman, the newborn babe.  Benjem quietly took out a knife.  He closed his eyes.  It had to be done.  They were going to have to die anyway, even if he left.  He told his arms to fall.  He told them to slit their throats so they couldn’t cry out as they died.  But his arms did not lower themselves.  Benjem felt like he had when Lady Malum had forced him to kill that prisoner.  The man was hopeless, weaponless, filthy, and Benjem surely couldn’t kill him.  But he had.  He had taken the man’s head in his arms and twisted until a snap resounded around the cell.  He had done it despite the man’s pleading, despite his innocence, despite it all.  He was a murderer, and he would always be one.

This time was different, however, he realized.  This time there was no Lady Malum holding a knife to Krisom’s body.  Benjem didn’t have to kill anyone.  Let someone else do it.  His hands (dirty as they were already) would remain clean.  He stepped back and formed a new plan.

He went to Horald’s desk, instead, and lit a candle, shielding its light from the sleeping family.  He eased open one of the drawers.  Delicately, he moved page by page, searching for the plans he knew were there.  His hand knocked against the side of the desk.  Horald snored and rolled over.  A minute of tense silence followed, then Benjem went back to his search.  Suddenly, he found what he was looking for.


Benjem lifted the drafts out of Horald’s desk and stored them in his pack, taking care not to crease any page or make any more noise.  He looked back at the drawer just before he closed it, and saw several envelopes with his father’s name at the head of the return address.  He took these letters, too.

He blew out the candle and stepped back outside.  Picking a direction at random, he set off, away from the Hawklight Players, away from the sinking ship that was everything he loved, and towards the empty foothills.  It was a scene Benjem had lived more times than he could count.

He had walked maybe half an hour when a shadow materialized into a person in front of him.  Benjem raised his dagger, ready to strike, when the figure took another step forward into the moonlight.  

It was Sulla.

She looked powerful, somehow, as if she were made of darkness and the darkness was made of her.  She was in her element, Benjem realized.  He didn’t understand what it meant, but it was so clear.  The shoulders thrown back, the head held high, so different from the Sulla that he had known over the past months.

“What are you doing here?” asked Benjem, lowering his weapon.

“I was going to ask you that very same question, Benjem.”

Benjem was irritated by the use of his real name.  “The Hawklight Players are going to die... they’re going to die because of me... so I’m removing myself from the equation in hopes of saving a few lives.

“Oh, they’re all going to die anyway.  You and I both know that.”

Benjem hung his head.  It was true.  Had he been sent to kill himself, he could not imagine that part of the mission would not have been to also eliminate the Hawklight Players.  The members of the Flaming Cart were almost certainly all dead already.  Perhaps Wild had survived.  Benjem suppressed a smile, thinking about the Dimir trying to kill him off.

Benjem raised his head a moment later.  “What do you mean, ‘they’re all going to die?’  Aren’t you part of the Hawklight Players?”

Sulla’s mouth widened into a kind of grin.  Her eyebrows rose.  Benjem had never seen her use this expression before.  He wondered what it meant.  “You think my true allegiance lies with that oaf Horald Hawklight?  How cute.  Did my act really fool you?”

Benjem looked at her with dawning realization.  “You... You...”

“Yes,” said Sulla.  “I am an agent of the Dimir.”

Benjem flew at her.  Seconds later, she lay dead at her feet.  Benjem relaxed, but he was only granted a momentary reprieve.

“Come now,” came Sulla’s voice.  “Did you really think I would make the same mistake as that halfwit Gemina?”

Benjem turned, and beheld another Sulla standing behind him, face illuminated in the moonlight.  Benjem raised his dagger again, but Sulla only laughed.  “You can keep killing me all night, but it would be a waste of both our times.  Put that thing away and let us talk.”

Benjem complied.  “Why didn’t you kill me?  All that time, and you never took the chance.”

“What, and risk my life and my position?  What a blunder that would be.”

“Why aren’t you killing me now?”

“Because I don’t doubt you would find a way to kill me, instead.  Or, perhaps, you would yet again find a way back into this world.  I cannot risk it.  I have a daughter, and a life.  I have too much to live for.”

And Benjem had nothing.  He didn’t doubt Sulla had already bargained with her master for the life of her daughter.  After all this, after the massacre of the Hawklight Players, Sulla would have a family, have a life, have things to do and people left to see.  She would remain faithful to the Dimir.  And because of it, she would be free from assassins and assaults, attempts to eliminate her as a threat.  “So instead you arranged for an assassin to tail me in Silden, for the troll and the others to attack the camp!”

“I did.”

“You killed all those people.  You killed Wyliam!”

“I did.”  Pause.  “But you killed them just as much as I.”

Benjem hung his head again.  “I know.  I... I just want to settle down, you know?  I just want to find someone to love, find something I find fulfilling to do every day, and find time to relax surrounded by my friends and family.  Why can’t you all leave me alone?”

“We will never leave you alone,” replied Sulla, smiling cruelly.  “You can wish all you want for a nice happily-ever-after comedy, but you won’t get it.  Your tale is a tragedy, from beginning to end.”  Benjem sighed.  He knew it was true.  He knew it so well.  “But to business,” continued Sulla.  “You did, of course, take Horald’s manuscript?”

“I did.”

“It will, surely, be destroyed?”

“It will.”

“You took your father’s letters, too, I presume?”

“I did.”

“They’re interesting, but ultimately useless.  He never told anyone about his secret project.  As far as I know, even the Dimir do not know what it is.”

“Do they care?”  Benjem planted the question carefully, hoping it would bear fruit, give a reason for everything that had happened.

But Sulla just laughed.  “I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew.”

Benjem tried a different tack, not that any of it mattered, anyway.  “Are you going to kill Horald yourself?”


“Doesn’t that upset you at all?”

Sulla chuckled again.  It was a cruel, harsh sound.  “Of course, sweetie.  But I knew I was going to kill that man from the moment I met him.”  Benjem was strongly reminded of his own experiences with the princess of Wavenlon.  He understood Sulla’s sentiment.  “What are you going to do now?” Sulla asked, then.

It was Benjem’s turn tot chuckle.  “Come now,” he said, copying her words.  “If I told you that, it would ruin half the fun.”

Sulla smiled.  “Of course it would.”  And she burst into flame.  Benjem jumped back.  “You better run fast, and you better run far, Benjem Heartson,” said the mouth, whose flesh was blistering and peeling away.  “We are coming.”

Then Sulla was gone.

Benjem took a few more steps backwards, put away his knife, and turned.  He strode off into the darkness.

So that was it, then.

This was the end of the story.

Benjem Heartson searched for and found a good place to die.

There was a great oak tree, tall and beautiful.  Its branches hung low, perhaps ten feet off the ground.  The moonlight filtered through the leaves.  The wind blew softly, and the crickets chirped.  It was a beautiful night.

Benjem built a fire and burned Horald’s manuscript.

And then he climbed the tree.

Benjem was a virus, he was a plague that brought death wherever he went.  He was a scourge sent upon man by the Dimir.  And he was the only one who could stop himself.

Besides, he reflected, as he tied a knot in the rope around the branch he was sitting on, it wasn’t like he had anything to live for.  He would never have real friends.  He would never have a lover.  He would certainly never have children.

He tied the knot of the noose, put the loop of rope around his own neck and readied himself to jump off the branch.  He still wore his mask.  The moon was high and cold in the starry sky.

Krisom was right, Benjem thought.

It was high time that Iachimor used his silken scarf.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Wed Sep 02, 2015 12:58 pm

The evening was lovely. The air was cold, but comfortable. The air was not so still that it was stifling, but the breeze was only strong enough to make the branches of nearby trees whistle in an almost haunting lullaby. The sky was clear, lit by the pale silver light of a half shadowed moon. Lazy clouds drifted through the darkness like thin strands of wool. Even when they passed over the moon, they were so thin that the evening had a certain ethereal glow about it. Stars seemed too shy to shine against the bright glow of the moon, but there were still a fair share of the glistening lights here and there, poking out through the darkness that otherwise was so deep one could just fall into it.

Despite the peaceful evening, Nakoma’s mind raged like a storm. Her thoughts were a whirlwind, her anxiety like thunder, deep and rolling. Every fear, every terrible thought, every imagined tragedy flashed before her eyes like lightning. She walked, not sure where she was going or what she would find, in search of her lost and lonely friend.

A few nights prior, Kana had surprised the elf (and nearly gave her a panic attack) with a most terrified expression. She had apparently had a vision involving Benjem, and insisted that Nakoma find him immediately. From the vision she apparently gained some sense as to his location, but Nakoma prayed desperately for guidance. She had to find him. From the tone of Kana’s voice, it sounded like whatever was happening was serious, a matter of life and death. Still, Kana told her that this matter would be ‘too personal’ for her to intrude, that this was something Nakoma needed to do on her own, since she had been closer to Benjem.

It was while she recalled Kana’s instructions that she smelled the smoke. The visions of death and destruction became more frequent with each quick step. Each breath brought back every tragedy, every loss, every person who died when she could have saved them, each choice she made that lead to the destruction of the life of another. Nakoma was no child; she had been wandering Daernika for longer than Benjem had been alive. To say that she had never killed, that she had never seen true horror, that she could not understand pain and loss and suffering and guilt, was simply not true. She was just lucky enough to have someone who knew how to help her through it all, help her overcome it. Someone to help her grow.

Benjem had no such person. Life was a hurricane, Benjem a tree. No support. No love. No one.

Nakoma’s pace quickened. If only she had been there before, talked to him more. If only they could have saved Krisom faster. If only they had anticipated his betrayal. Maybe then Benjem wouldn’t have climbed out that window. Maybe she could have saved him from all of this pain.

She didn’t know where the smoke smell had originated. There was no real discernable fire - just a bit of scorched ground. She absently wondered what had happened there (for it smelled more of burning flesh than a campfire) as she wandered from that spot. It wasn’t long until she came across that great oak tree. She saw movement on the branch, at watched as a figure that could only be Benjem jumped. It scared her that she was not surprised when she found him with that rope around his neck. It was really only a matter of time.

She didn’t realize she made the shot until the arrow left her hand. In what felt like only a heartbeat, she had managed to equip her bow, draw an arrow from her quiver, and let it fly with the pure accuracy that only an elf can claim, her eyes almost effortlessly spotting the taut rope of his noose. The arrow severed the line as if it were as weak as cheap fabric. The arrow audibly embedded itself in the trunk of the tree as Benjem’s body fell to the earth.

At his side in an instant, Nakoma inspected his injuries. He was alive, thank the gods. Breathing heavy, no surprise there. Miraculously enough, it seemed that he didn’t have any broken bones, or at least none that Nakoma could see. Once he got over the shock of falling and came back to his senses (or what little senses he had left) he’d only have a sore throat and probably a headache, though Nakoma would do her best to heal those as well. “Oh, Benjem…” She mumbled as she removed his mask, revealing his gnarled scars. Her softly glowing (and, she noticed, shaking) hands hovered over his body, trying to heal him as she cautiously waited for him to speak up. At this point she was certain of only one thing - he was not going to be happy.

Life is series of mysteries whose secrets are veiled by the Luminous Cloud.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Sat Sep 05, 2015 4:11 pm

A little jump and a quick stop.  That was what Benjem had bargained for.  Typically, he hadn’t got it.  He had leaped.  Or fallen, really.  Fallen was a better word for it.  He had fallen off the tree branch, and he had felt Death’s fingers tighten, but no more.  For a moment, the world seemed to spin out of focus; for a moment, it felt just like it had when Krisom had brought his lyre to bear on Benjem’s head.  But that was all: just a moment of freedom, of soaring away...

And then he hit the ground.  The air was knocked out of him.  He had to concentrate on his diaphragm to make it work.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  He felt hands on his body, and looked up to see the face of the Dimir agent that they no doubt belonged to.  But instead he saw a different face, a face that he knew well, very well.  Nakoma stared down at him with passion and worry in her eyes and Benjem knew he had been saved.  Again.  Had he had more control over his body, he would have screamed in fury.  As it was, he focused on recovering from the fall.

When he was able to breathe normally again, he spoke.  He didn’t bother keeping the anger and vitriol out of his voice.  Benjem could not be allowed to live.  He was too dangerous.  “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?  I was trying to kill myself, I was trying to get out of this world that I should no longer be in.  I...”  He felt the tears push at the back of his eyes again, and swallowed.  He softened.  “Don’t you understand that I can’t live here any more?  All I can do is bring death to everyone.  Let me die, won’t you?”
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Mon Sep 07, 2015 9:58 pm

“I’m sorry, Benjem.” Nakoma replied, withdrawing her hands. Physically, he’d be fine, but the scars in the broken man’s mind far outnumbered those that marred his flesh. “But I can’t do that.” The cleric didn’t offer any comforting smile or angry rebuke. She offered neither joke nor lecture. She didn’t even tell him he was going to be okay. Instead, all she could do was be stubborn, and that she did very well. “I refuse.”

Life is series of mysteries whose secrets are veiled by the Luminous Cloud.
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Tue Sep 08, 2015 9:50 pm

Benjem feigned defeat.  He sighed.  He relaxed.  He closed his eyes.  He reached down with his hand into the sheath that was strapped to the side of his leg.  "I understand," he was saying to Nakoma.  "You don't want me to die.  You want everything to be as it always was."  He eased the dagger out little by little, inch by inch.  If he had to kill one more person to save the rest of them, he would.  Even if it was Nakoma.  Even if...

It wasn't Nakoma.  It was someone he didn't know.  Lady Malum still stood behind him, egging him on.  Kill her.  Kill the woman.  "You've changed my mind," Benjem said.  "I don't know what I was thinking.  I just..."

He jerked his hand upwards, towards her body.  It was a weaker thrust than he would have liked.  He didn't even know if it would connect, but he had to try.  He had to...!
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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Tue Sep 08, 2015 11:21 pm

“You’ve lost your touch,” Nakoma commented a she leaned back to dodge his swipe. She swiftly grabbed his wrist with probably more force than was necessary, wrangling the dagger from his grip with the other hand. He tried to be subtle with his movements, and Nakoma likely wouldn’t have noticed had she not been looking for that exact behavior (not to mention the fact she had been healing him. If she could notice the patterns of his breathing, she’d notice his arm moving to draw his dagger. She was no fool). He was desperate. He was frantic. He was scared. He was lashing out. She knew he’d be mad, and she knew he had quite a past where killing was his only option to solve his problems. She anticipated something like this - it wasn’t that difficult to put together. As complex and mysterious as Benjem was, he really wasn’t too hard to figure out once you had as many pieces of the puzzle as the Flaming Cart.

“I don’t expect you to apologize” she continued, tucking away the dagger, wary if he were to try again, either against her or himself. She wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he had a number of other blades hidden on him. “At least not right now. And I don’t expect you to be happy. I don’t expect you to suddenly start loving your life or even want it to continue beyond this conversation. At this point, Benjem, the only thing I expect from you is to sit up and at least try to have a civilized conversation. An honest conversation, so none of that ‘you’ve changed my mind’ crap. After everything, I think you owe me that much.”

As angry and sad as the cleric was that this man had been driven so far into his depression that he tried to take his own life, she was genuinely frustrated that he thought this was the best course of action. She wouldn’t call him selfish, because she liked to hope for the best in people and figured he just assumed something ridiculous, like that removing himself from the situation would somehow make everyone safer. But honestly, Nakoma couldn’t help but remember every time that she saved his life, that the Flaming Cart tolerated his antics, followed him blindly, listened to his whims, and went on a tireless journey all for the sake of rescuing his brother, even when in the beginning they were strangers. All of that, and for what? For him to kill himself? Did he honestly think that they didn’t care about him?

She didn’t want him to fall on his face in gratitude; it wasn’t like that. She just wished that he would stop living in his head and come back to reality. The reality he had constructed, the one where he was alone and unloved and brought death everywhere he went, was untrue. Yes, he had an unfortunate past, and yes, people were in fact out to get him, but they lived in a world of kill or be killed. It was clear he didn’t want to be a murderer anymore, and to Nakoma, that is what mattered. He needed to let Grayg die and figure out what it meant to live as Benjem. Was that harsh? Probably. But sometimes that’s what it took. Nakoma had tried being gentle and kind before. From her experience, Benjem didn’t respond well to that kind of encouragement. She tried being compassionate and he literally tried to kill her. Now was the time to be stern. After all, his world at the moment was the embodiment of chaos - maybe what he needed was just a little bit of stability.

The woman scooted back a bit and sat in the dirt, watching him expectantly. Sitting up, if he chose to do so, wouldn’t be easy, but she would wait.

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PostSubject: Re: Benjem Heartson   Wed Sep 09, 2015 12:34 am

Benjem lay in the dirt, feeling his arm.  Nakoma wanted to have a civilized conversation.  Great.  A civilized conversation.  That's what he needed.  The Dimir were coming, more people were going to die, and he was supposed to have a civilized conversation.  There was no way in fuck all that he was going to have a civilized conversation.  He wasn't even capable of killing someone properly right now; how was he supposed to speak civilly to someone who was stopping him from achieving what he needed?

He took a breath, and looked away from the elf.  He didn't know what he was going to do, but it certainly was not getting up to talk to her.  After everything, I think you owe me that much.  What the hell was that supposed to mean?  He didn't owe her anything.  Krisom was gone.  It had all been for naught... if anything, Nakoma owed her life to him: he could have killed her a thousand times when the Flaming Cart was still adventuring, and didn't.  She clearly didn't understand him.  She didn't understand that he had literally no future, except murder by the Dimir.  She didn't understand that he would never love anyone, that he would never stay with anyone for long without causing their death.  She didn't understand.

Benjem tried to calm himself and think.  It was crucial that he didn't lose himself here: he couldn't escape this confrontation alive.  Nakoma didn't understand him.  So how could he make her?

He turned back to her.  He sat up.  A civilized conversation, then.  He'd show her what civilization was.

"Let me tell you a story.  No lies.  Honest, like you want it.  When I was sixteen, just after I was ensnared by Lady Malum, I received my first task.  I met her in the large sacrificial chamber in the sanctuary, you remember.  He was only twelve or thirteen.  She led me down, down, down, deep into the tunnels beneath that building.  She carried a lantern that flickered frighteningly against the walls, casting great shadows.  We took hidden passageways... opened doors that looked just like the rock that surrounded them, slid threw narrow cracks, listened to the constant dripping of some tiny source of water.  Just when I thought I was going to have to take a break, when I was sure my knees were going to give out from under me, we reached a door.  The door seemed quite ordinary, except for a great iron lock just beneath the door handle.  Lady Malum drew out a silver key and unlocked the door.  We entered.

"Inside there was a naked man.  He was filthy.  He looked starved.  Someone had shaved his head poorly.  He was weak, helpless.  He was startled by the light, and tried to shield his eyes.  When he finally saw who we were, he cried out in fear and despair.  'No!' he cried.  'Not yet!  Please!'

"Lady Malum did not look at him.  She looked at me.  'Kill him,' she told me.

"'Kill him?' I asked, in disbelief.

"'Yes,' she said.  Her terrible eyes looked into mine.  'Break that man's neck, or you know what will happen.'  I remembered Krisom screaming.  My chest hurt.

"'With what?' I asked.  Surely she would give me some kind of weapon.

"I was wrong.  I was to kill him with my bare hands, and nothing more.  The man cried out.  'Please!' he cried.  'Please, don't!'  I approached him.  He clutched at my shirt.  'Young boy, please,' he said.  'We can make it out of here.  I'm innocent.  I didn't do anything.  You don't understand what you are doing!'  I didn't know how to break someone's neck.  I looked back at Lady Malum for guidance.  She didn't help me.  'I have a son about your age!' said the man.  'I have a son!  You could be friends.  I bet he would like you!'  I tried to turn off the man's gibbering, to not hear it.  I grabbed his head.  His eyes were wide with terror.  His cheeks were wet with tears.  I grabbed his head, and I turned it, I turned it as far as it would go, and he screamed.  'What will my children do without me!  Please let me go!  Please!  I haven't done anything!'  My hands slipped on his sweaty head and he moved away from me.  I looked down at my hands.  Could I really kill an innocent with these?  Could I really end this man's life, take this man away from his children?  Who was I to play at being a god?  The man continued to cry out, and Lady Malum sat there, sternly.

"I looked at her.  'I cannot do this,' I said.  'I cannot.'

"'You can, and you will,' she responded.  'For every minute you are in this chamber, there will be another minute of a certain boy's agony.  Break this man's neck and put them both out of their misery.'

"This time when I approached the prisoner, he jerked away from me.  I had to hold him down.  I sat on him, on the floor, and turned his head again, as far as it would go.  He screamed with pain.  'Please!' he shouted.  That's all it seemed that he could say.  'Please!  Please!  Please!'  I twisted harder and harder until I was in tears and the man's pleading had lost its consonants and had just become a hoarse holler.  His hands were flailing uselessly.  His feet were kicking out behind him.

"Then, finally, there was a crack.  He was dead.  The room was very quiet, except for my sobs.  'Very good,'  said Lady Malum, and she led me in silence back up to the sanctuary.

"You know what the worst part is?" Benjem asked Nakoma, then.  "The worst part isn't that I can still see that man's eyes, or feel the hardness of his skull beneath my hands, or even that his screams still haunt my nightmares.  The worst part is that when that man's spine broke, I felt good about it.  I felt a surge of happiness that wasn't related to the fact the ordeal was over.  That moment between life and death, that power that I feel when I take another life, that is like a drug to me.  I can't keep away from it.  And it follows me everywhere.  I kill to keep myself alive, but also because it is so damn fun.  And I feel guilty, so guilty, and yet I know I am not truly repentant because I will do it again and again and again.  Nothing will ever stop me.  That's why I need to die.  I cannot continue to live, because as long as I live, more people will die.  I was a evil person to start with, and I've been transformed into a monster.  Let me kill it: it will be the first good thing I have done in five years."
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