I’ve been neglecting this story for a while, but I have some big plans for it. I suppose it has much to do with my love for anti-heroes.
The Monkey — Part 06, Forgiveness
Finnrick had been away from the great cities for his entire life. Mattis fled from the capital with him in his arms, crying for his dead mother. They weren’t actually brothers, but Finnrick could think of no one better to fill the role. Tillie had been the lone divide between them in their lives. Outside of that, they were thick as thieves.
The capital city, Prost, thrived like a single living thing. Market barkers filled the air with calls, beckoning to try their meats and vegetables. The famous clothiers boasted the quality of their fabrics. Finnrick had a difficult time appreciating any of that. Prost had been under the command of the Usurper for as long as he lived, the very reason he fled, along with hundreds of others.
Most did as he did and scattered among the forests and plains to fend for themselves. However, some settled into the order of Lye and planned to overthrow the Usurper, and bring the blessings of the gift of Light to the land.
That is where Tillie came in.
Finnrick turned to Tillie, who wore a hood covering her long blonde hair. She planned to get to one of the hidden temples scattered about Prost and secure help. As a paladin, she could see to cleansing or controlling the corruption that spread through Finnrick’s body. Tillie couldn’t do it alone; she needed anointed materials and a holy site. From there, he planned to join the order and serve as her protector.
He made no move to hide his face. His drab features didn’t stand out among the citizens and simple gloves hid the encroaching corruption in his palm. Tillie on the other hand would likely draw the attention of guards. The Sons of Lye, while left unchecked, were being watched carefully. Anyone with the sense to verify her divinity could use it as an excuse to detain both of them.
The soldiers under the same banner that killed Mattis patrolled the streets in Prost, but Finnrick was safer here than the forests. Any man or woman found outside of the city or on the main roads was treated with suspicion and attacked on sight. The usurper had zero tolerance for the free forest and plain folk. In his eyes, they were traitors.
“We’re close. Once we get in the temple, let me do the talking.” Tillie said, squeezing his hand.
Finnrick saw no great buildings around them, only hovels and shacks. They ducked into soup house, smelling of foul meats and rotted vegetables and pushed past the kitchens without a word. The owner, a burly fellow with a belly as large as his kettle, only offered a passing glance. He raised two fingers, pressing them to his forehead, in silent acknowledgement.
“That’s Barrista.” Tille said, leading Finnrick to a wooden trap door. “He’s been here as long as I’ve been alive.”
“So you’re from this city?” Finnrick glanced back at the door.
“Yes. I was born here at least.” Tillie doubled back, putting her hands in his. “I need you to promise me that you trust me, alright? Things might be a little scary from here out.”
“Sure.” Finnrick leaned in for a kiss, but she turned away quickly. He pushed back the feeling of irritation and watched Tillie heft the door open. A pale light pushed outward, painting a square on the ceiling above.
“Stay close. I’ll need to do some explaining.” Tillie wiped her hands free of the dust.
“Mind explaining to me?” Finnrick made a face. “Why are the Sons of Lye hiding like rats?”
“It’s not all of us. Just… this group of us. If I would have taken you to the temples they would have opted to kill you. Here, the rules are a bit different. Assuming I can convince them you’re able to keep it in check.”
“That doesn’t make me feel very good about this.” Finnrick eyed the door to the soup kitchen.
“Too late now. Barrista saw you come in.” Tillie said, grinning. She sidled down the ladder.
Finnrick followed close, as instructed. The pale light came from a glowing globe at the base of the hatch’s entrance. Despite being a low light, it burned Fennrick’s eyes.
“See? It’s a good sign you’ll be fine. That light burns away creatures of shadow. If you were taken over, you would have burst into flame.” Tillie wrapped her arms around him, smiling up at him. “You’re intact. So that will be the first piece of proof I can use.”
“I’m not a creature of shadow.”
“You are now.” She amended. “I helped you suppress it, but your body has already been changed. Our bond protects you.”
“So that’s why we—“
“Not here.” Tillie said, blushing. “This is a holy place. And there were… parts I improvised simply because I’m fond of you.”
“No complaints.” Finnrick’s lips widened with a smirk.
Tillie slipped away from him and pulled back her hood. Finnrick reached into his bullet bag and fished out a stone to roll between his fingers. Something about the place didn’t sit well with him. A dull moan echoed through the hall.
“What was that?”
“One of the captives,” Tillie said without hesitation, “We keep lesser beasts in here. They weren’t people. Animals sometimes change, so we study them here. The light in the hall is strong enough to kill them if they get loose.”
“So one of those cages is for me…?” Finnrick craned his neck around to see a shifting shadow on the ground of a cell. Two slits opened to reveal yellow eyes. The beast stood, sniffed at the air, then lowered a front leg and dipped its head. “What’s it doing?”
“I’m not sure.” Tillie settled next to Finnrick. “They aren’t usually so calm.”
They stepped away from the cage and pushed through several poorly lit halls. Candle light signaled their destination. The globes of light filled him with unease, when they made their way into the end room he calmed.
A robed figure knelt before the armored image of Lye, the patron god of the order. The figure stood, turned and lowered her hood to reveal hair like strands of silver.
“Tiliseia?” the woman gaped. “I can’t believe it. I missed you so—“
Tillie raised a hand, carefully placing it high on the woman’s chest, and making contact with only the tips of her fingers. She shook her head, slow and deliberate. “Yulos. This is the one. I apologize, but time is short.”
“Of course.” Yulos turned her gaze to Finnrick, twisting her mouth into a frown.
“Yulos is the caretaker here, she will be helping you with the corruption in your hand.”
“Let me see it.” Yulos beckoned him closer.
He pulled off a glove and held up his hand. The corruption settled into a small sphere but its presence was known always.
“It’s too late for him.” Yulos shooed him with a dismissive wave. “You should have never formed a pact.”
“Yulos. He made it past the globes without so much as flinching.”
“With your help.” Yulos said, narrowing her eyes. She turned to him. “Your best course of action is to end your life. We will not enforce this, as we are a holy order. It is merely a suggestion.”
“What? I’m not killing myself.” Finnrick said, clenching his teeth. “Tillie wouldn’t have—“
“You dare address her casually? Do you realize who she is?”
“My girlfriend,” Finnrick said, “for the past five years I’ve been protecting her with Mattis.”
“And where is this Mattis now? Dead. I know all about you.” Yulos folded her arms. “Meeting you only puts a name to the demon.”
“Not dead.” Finnrick raised his hand. Mattis burst from the ground drenched in shadow. Any trace of his friend had been replaced with inky blackness. Yulos stumbled away in shock.
“I told you to behave.” Tillie winced. “And you shouldn’t do that. Mattis will be in pain here.”
“Mattis? Walk in the hall.” Finnrick said, glancing over his shoulder.
Mattis nodded. Black smoke rolled as he moved, the shadow-beast stepped into the hall, bathed in the pale light and stood, unflinching.
“W– what?” Tillie said, eyes wide.
“Yulos may be right.” Fennrick waved Mattis back to him. “But it doesn’t mean I can’t protect Tillie with this. She’s the reason I can control it, the reason I can contain it.”
Yulos drew a dagger, charged forward with a shout. Mattis surged forward, flickering through Fennrick and enveloped the blade with a hand. Thick gobs of shadow fell to the floor, imitating blood.
“I will not let the Lady of Gold serve an agent of evil.” Yulos strained, but Mattis held off the woman with a calm gesture.
Warmth grew at the base of Finnrick’s neck, Mattis’ hulking form melted away, and he felt the gentle touch of Tillie’s hand on his skin. The room grew brighter and his thoughts fell blank.
“I said, behave.” Tillie turned her face to a frown. “As much as you mean to me, I will not tolerate violence against my lover.”
Finnrick’s vision blurred, his body grew stiff, and his consciousness dwindled to a single point.
“And for the record Finn. I’m not your girlfriend.” Tillie’s voice carried him to the blinding white of the light of Lye.