Confessions of a Dead Man

This is a vignette that occured off-camera and spans the time between Live Ammo and What Was, What Is, And What Will Be.

“Why couldn’t I have just burned in the fire?” Tenebrous muttered to himself.

It wasn’t the first time that he’d found himself grumbling such a thing, and while he wasn’t really serious about wanting to have perished, the complications of his life over the last few sevendays had made it a morbidly appealing prospect. The last month had indeed been trying for him, and only a day after the Xanadu healers had pronounced him physically fit, his right arm withstanding, he had taken a dragon transport back to Fort Hold. There was a great deal on his mind, and the more that time passed, the more he seriously began to suspect that almost everyone he’d met that month had ulterior motives where he was concerned.

Even without the use of his arm, Tenebrous still found it easy to move about without anyone noticing him. With his new, shorter haircut, his tanned skin and the borrowed clothing that he wore, he looked a different person all together, not that anyone paid him particular notice before. So it was that he found his way into the hall of Masters, to the Craftmaster’s door itself. He actually laughed a little when he saw a sign that had been nailed to it: ‘Occupant has a large scalpel. Intruders will be stabbed. Survivors will be stabbed again.’ When no one answered the three sharp raps that he offered, he smiled to himself. The old woman had probably never bothered to move out of her old office, and had left the note as a deterrent to anyone who had come looking.

It was nice to know, despite the massive void that seemed to exist in his life, some things never changed.

Tenebrous had found his old master in her usual haunt, one of the abandoned laboratories that she had simply taken over. The room was, in essence, a great square, with the rear wall occupied by a massive window. The other three walls were lined with shelves and tables, all heavily laden with samples and experiments, manuscripts and lesson plans for apprentices to learn from. Fraille’s desk sat just in front of that window, a huge affair of deep, sturdy wood, its surface broad enough to seat three people comfortably behind it, to say nothing of the smaller woman. He didn’t even bother knocking, just brushed the door open as he’d done so many times over the last sixteen turns, calling out a quiet, “Good evening, Master.”

Fraille never looked up from her work, one gnarled hand scribbling notes down onto a piece of paper while the other absently stroked her green fire-lizard’s head. The little green looked up with a small grumble of welcome, but otherwise paid him no need “Hello, boy,” she rumbled in reply. Tenebrous waited calmly for her to finish her work, and only when she looked up at him did he smile a little. “I have come, as you have asked me,” he stated quietly, his hands at his sides. Fraille simply snorted and went back to her work. “You didn’t do anything of the sort, boy,” she growled, marking a hard line under the script that flowed from her pen. “You don’t think I’ve been reading your case files from the Mind Healers, that I haven’t been keeping tabs on you?” At last, she sets her pen down. “Where has the boy I raised gone to, Tenebrous?” She blew on the ink quietly before looking up at him. “You shut one of your healers out into the rain, you openly mocked another one, and then you blew off your physical therapist in favor of … what, resistance band training on your own? What’s gotten into you?”

Tenebrous sighed quietly, nodding to each accusation as it was made, one hand unconsciously fishing a chair away from the front of Fraille’s desk and sitting in it heavily. “Have I truly been so horrible?” Fraille’s answering smile was like a pile of rocks rearranging themselves into a less ugly pattern. “Don’t get me wrong, boy, I’ve done horrible things to my fair share of mind-healers. One of them said a bad thing about me once, a long time ago, and I decided to soak a pair of his underpants in pepper oil as payment. It was completely worth it.” She pauses to pull a mug of some kind of pungent smelling liquid from beneath her desk. “That aside…you wouldn’t have done such things a turn ago.”

“This is normally where I would interject that a lot can happen in a turn, but there’s a problem with that statement right now,” Tenebrous fires back quietly.

“Is that what this is about?” Fraille shook her head slowly. “Tenebrous , as much as I don’t care for mind-healers, they really are trying to help you. You might have found yourself in more pleasant straits today if you’d listened to them a bit more closely during the last month.”

“They’re not interested in helping me,” Tenebrous grumbled. “They want to solve their puzzles and make a name for themselves, and carry on with their pomp… And it wouldn’t have changed the fact that the majority of my problem isn’t with the mind-healers. It’s with everyone else.”

“That may be, boy, but not all of what they’ve done has been bad. There are times in life when you can’t judge the actions of a thing, but rather the outcome of those actions. Clichés make me want to vomit, but there are certain clouds out there with silver linings. Have they really done nothing for you? What about the fire-lizard training that they’ve had you working on?”

Tenebrous was forced to give ground with a slow nod, murmuring, “I will give them that. It’s been an eerie tool to use, summoning one of the little ones to gauge their reaction.” He looks up slowly. “But they’re not interested in me, Master. They’re interested in HIM. The man I was before the accident. They all want him back…”

Then Fraille did lean back, ‘ahhh’ing quietly, and gestured for him to continue.

“I remember the last sixteen turns, in some places with vivid clarity, master. I remember what I was one turn ago. How I felt, how I behaved. And then, one night, I went to sleep, and I awoke thusly, with a new face, a stronger body, and no idea of how I got here.” Tenebrous struggled for words briefly, his hands spinning in the air. “Every time they look at me, any of them, I know they’re looking at the ‘me’ from before the accident. Not the present.” For a moment, his eyes burn. “It’s like…I’m some walking tombstone to them, this living monument to a man they want back. A man that’s not me, and it’s just…eating me up inside, Master. “

Fraille simply looks on with veiled eyes, absorbing his words. “And what of your friends, boy? The people that came to see you as you recovered?”

Tenebrous laughs then. “It’s funny you should mention those friends.” He looks down at himself. “I’ve been wearing the same type of clothing for a very long time now, I haven’t really gone out of the way to make myself squeaky clean or presentable…and yet somehow, over the course of that turn that I can’t remember, not only did I suddenly start making friends left and right, but I somehow managed to fall in love. Twice, I suspect, though no one will give me the truth of it. And do you know what the rip of it all is, master?” He took a deep breath, spreading his hands, and the only warning was a sudden rush of blood to the face, and the angry flaring of his eyes. “I can’t remember a single, solitary sharding detail!” he screamed, his face livid. “The best turn of my entire life, and it was taken from me, and I have no one to blame or…” He made a strangled sound and uncoiled from the chair, standing with enough abruptness to send it skittering a few feet away.

Several moments passed before Fraille calmly offered, “Would it make you feel better if you had someone to accuse, boy? Someone to blame for the loss of your memory?” Tenebrous had to take several moments to calm himself before finally answering. “As completely petty as it sounds, yes. Yes, it would make me feel a great deal better if I had somewhere to focus-“ But before he could finish his statement, the old woman cut him off. “Look in a mirror, Tenebrous,” she barks suddenly. “You want to know who to blame for this? You want to know who was responsible for what happened? It was you. You did this.”

Tenebrous’ breath slowly left him in an exhale, and he simply stared, a bit speechless in the face of his former master’s words. For her part, Fraille cooled her voice enough to pass as civil before she continued. “Wind it back, boy. Wind back the clock, and ask yourself: You’re right there, watching someone about to burn to death in the woods, and not just someone. Someone important to you. Someone who represented, in a nut-shell, what the last turn of your life had been about.”

“Master, I’d like to think that I would have gone in and gotten anyone, not just my apprentice-“ But Fraille slammed her hand down onto the surface of her desk hard enough to make paper and fire-lizard jump at the same time. “Be still!” she thundered, her eyes narrow. “A year ago, you would have gone into the fire because it was the right thing to do, and that would have been good enough. But you did it for more than that when your would-be apprentice was so delightfully stupid enough to wander under the canopy that day. You risked your life because she was your student and your friend. Would you do it again?” Tenebrous could only nod mutely. “Then that’s the end of it,” Fraille finished, her voice calm again. “Yes, it’s frustrating, but it was worth it, and it’s time for you to stop moping around like a teenager. I put up with that from you once already, and I don’t have the patience to do it again.”

Tenebrous stammered for a moment. “It’s been…less than two months!” In reply, Fraille simply waved a hand, her face still hard. “How long, boy? How long will it take before you move forward? You claim that everyone else is obsessed with what you were, and not what you are. Count yourself among them. You’re every bit as desperate to get those memories back as they are. The vast majority of your last turn was filled with friendships, boy. And if they’re worth anything, they’ll come back.”

Nearly a minute passed before Tenebrous spoke again, his voice low. “Some already have. Phylicia, bless her heart, is at least as concerned with the now as she is what was.” Fraille snorted. “Oh, she’s concerned, all right.” The old woman rolls her eyes. “You … drag all of those women off into the woods, and they lose what little sense is in their heads. Youth…” Tenebrous’ face offers just a bit of a smile at that, and even has the good grace to flush a little, eliciting another eye-roll from the craftmaster. “Good grief,” she mutters to herself. “Boy, let me make this easy on you. Once you pass your physical, I’ll see about posting you somewhere outside of Xanadu, like Rubicon or Ista. I’m going to be pulling several of their healers out for re-education anyway, so it’s not like they won’t need the re-enforcements. You’ll still be able to visit Xanadu when you wish, but you won’t have to worry about the strange looks.”

Tenebrous nodded to all of that before, in a low voice, he asked, “Master, why did I leave Xanadu? I’ve been gone from the forests there for less than two months and I already feel home-sick.” He took a deeper breath. “Phylicia…indicated that it was for a personal reason, and that I might not want to remember why.”

Fraille regarded him for a long moment before she slowly stood, making her way around her desk and to one of the shelves. From it, she pulls a sturdy box, being careful to move it gingerly to as not to disturb its contents. “Your former apprentice is both right and wrong, boy. It could be…argued that you left for both personal and diplomatic reasons. As far as you remembering is concerned…” She sets the box down onto the desk, opening it with deft gestures. One by one, she removed objects from it and placed each into view. And one by one, small corners of Tenebrous’ mind began to open.

The first item that came into view was a simple drinking glass, cracked, and filled to around a third full with what had become hazy water over time. Tenebrous felt his lips moving even before his mind registered it, whispering, “The water is clean here…” Fraille said nothing, simply bringing the second item to bear, a tiny statuette of a dragon, molded from silver. Tenebrous’ right arm lifted slightly, but with precious little will behind it, it doesn’t go far. In a dry voice, he murmured, “I have…nothing to offer in return…”

It was the last item that pulled a little noise from Tenebrous’ throat. It appeared to be a blown glass bottle, tinted brown and sealed with a sturdy bit of cork. The old woman set it down on the desk with a hollow little clink and then simply turned.

Tenebrous slowly paced up to the desk, reaching one hand out to touch that bottle. At first, his fingers simply ran over it, almost in disbelief, before he stammered, “To bidding the past goodbye…” Then, eyes full of many things, he turned to regard his former master.

Fraille merely nodded. “And that is precisely why you chose to leave Xanadu, boy. There are details, of course…but they’re irrelevant. More important is the simple truth: You chose to leave because Xanadu reminded you of something that you could no longer have, whose loss caused you great pain. There were other reasons, of course, small bits of minutia, but…” She shrugged. “You returned with some frequency to keep Stormhaven running and to continue training your apprentice…but your life had moved on.” She spread her hands. “That’s why you turned in your knot, Tenebrous.”

Tenebrous curled his fingers around the neck of the bottle, lifting it slowly. “Love lost drove me from my home?” Low light in the room made the glass of the bottle almost glow from within as he studied it. “A loss of your illusions drove you from your home, boy. Love was the catalyst, but not the result,” Fraille rumbled as she slowly began packing the items on the desk back up. Wordlessly, Tenebrous handed the bottle to her when she reached for it. “Do not mourn the loss, Tenebrous. There are far greater things than one silly girl waiting for you in the world, that I promise.”

On a whim, Tenebrous grinned, tilting his head. “I’m supposed to take relationship advise from a woman who is rumored to eat her mates when she’s done with them?” A bark of ugly laughter erupted from the craftmaster’s mouth, and she turned to look over her shoulder. “They’re still spreading that tired old story?” She sighed theatrically and resumed her work, calling, “Take it from me, boy. Don’t ever bite a man in the heat of the moment if he’s a known gossip. You’ll never, ever live it down.”

Tenebrous winced a little. “Thank you…for that visual, Master. Really.” He absently rubbed the side of his face, muttering, “That’s at least another week of therapy.” Fraille only chortled. “There’s a building full of people who can help you with that. You’ve come to the right place.”

And for a time, the two of them simply laughed.

It was hours later, after a warm meal and a bath, and as they had done so often in the past, Tenebrous and Flop had found themselves back in Fraille’s study, seated lazily in front of her window, letting the breeze flow over their bodies. “Do you know,” he called to her quietly, “that I’ve had not one but two people confess their affections for me in the last two sevendays?”

From her seat behind him, still working at her desk, Fraille snorted. “They were both women, I hope?” This brought a brief laugh to Tenebrous’ lips. “Yes, master, they were both women. At least, I think they were. I didn’t exactly have the leisure of getting visual confirmation.” Fraille mmms quietly. “Well, if I were you, I’d get confirmation of that before I made any promises. There are some awful pretty young men roaming around the planet. One of them might have a thing for rugged, dirty woodsmen.”

Tenebrous could only roll his eyes. “That will go well, I have little doubt,” he offered in a droll voice. Then, a moment later, “One of them…was Phylicia. My former apprentice.”

Fraille made a sound in the back of her throat before turning to look at the back of Tenebrous’ head. “I begged them to only allow same-sex apprentiships when I was younger. I absolutely begged them. Damn bunch of fools…” Then she turned back to her work. “You’re an adult, and I’m sure that she thinks of herself as one. Be warned, however. If the two of you are involved with one another, I won’t authorize you to teach her again, should you ever decide you wish to again. It’s hard enough to steal the young from their holder families without having to promise them that their child won’t be running off info the woods to play Healer just as soon as their short hairs grow in…”

Tenebrous raised an eyebrow at that, turning slightly in his chair. “You know, it is possible to have a friend of the opposite sex and not have something come of it.”

Fraille just shook her head. “And its also possible for family members to mate. Just because the pieces fit doesn’t make it a good idea, you know.”

Tenebrous burst out laughing again, turning fully to face her. “You really are a foul-mouthed, dreadful old crone, do you know that?”

The old woman turned slowly, blinking a few times in Tenebrous’ direction before she finally smiled. “Flatterer.” Then she turned back around with a chuckle. “Boy, you do whatever you want with your life. Just understand that there are consequences for everything. Make sure you know what you’re getting into before you get into it, and you should be fine.”

Tenebrous suddenly looked up. “Master, who was she? What was her name?”

Fraille sighed quietly. “You’ve had two people that know you and care about you work the conversation around to avoid telling you that name. And I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to. But if it’s any consolation, you’ll find out sooner or later, and you’ll laugh pretty hard when you do. She did you a favor, boy. She did it in one of the most idiotic ways that I could conceive of, and she could have chosen a less painful way to do it…but she did you a favor. You’re better for it.”

“Again, with the relationship advice. Are you hiding a suitor somewhere that I just don’t know about, because I was pretty sure the last time I checked that you were single,” Tenebrous chided her.

Fraille dropped her quill with a frustrated sigh. “Stones below, boy, you haven’t talked this much since you discovered masturbation as a child.” She turned fully in her chair. “But I tell you what else, you seem to have grown a great set of fuzzy ones on yourself over the last turn. You’re more confident than you used to be, more sure of yourself. I like that.” Then she leans in with a reptilian smile. “But you see, the problem with… a large set of gonads, is that they become infinitely easier to remove while you sleep. Just a thought.”

Tenebrous could only blink for a moment before he muttered, “You are a genuinely unpleasant old woman, do you know that?”

Fraille nodded modestly. “Thank you. I’ve worked hard to become so.”

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