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Imperfect Copy

A Novel by David Carroll


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Short Stories

Tabula Rasa

Imperfect Copy: Chapter 5

by David Carroll, 1994

'Come on!' Ajlmo Dunstaro almost shouted, breaking the silence.

The four council members looked up quickly, and Ajlmo coloured under their stares. He didn't think of himself as an impatient man, but how much time did they need, and he wasn't backing down now. 'Make a decision,' he said in a quieter tone.

'But only if it's the one you want to hear, eh?' said Rudolfo with a slight smile. The senior member, [G]ako Mendelo, frowned slightly and raised his hand.

'We have heard your story, Ajlmo, and it is an intriguing one. But there is no precedent for the action you suggest, and no justification for creating one.'

'But...' Ajlmo felt old, he felt tired, and he knew he couldn't argue with these four men. He had tried to express himself as best he could, but they had danced around his words, arguing trivial matters, tripping him up, and now they were talking of precedent and justification. That was fine for all the stupid things they discussed at their monthly meetings, but this was important. Why couldn't he just tell them that, in a way that they'd understand? 'But...' he said again, sounding pathetic in his own ears.

'You are scared of these two, aren't you?' said Petro [S]afisto suddenly. 'This Kuracisto and his friend. You have shown us your "proof", as you call it, and it certainly proves what you have to say. We know of your feelings, and why they exist. But we will tell you again. They are simply visitors to the this village, and they have done nothing wrong. We will naturally want to talk to them as soon as possible, but the opportunity has not arisen. When, and if, they do anything to threaten the village we will do as you suggest and lock them up. We cannot let an old man's fear dictate...'

Ajlmo Dunstaro turned abruptly, and walked out of the room.

The village council watched him leave in silence. 'That may have been a little harsh,' [G]ako said presently, but Petro didn't respond.

A couple of minutes later Helano Lenkso knocked, and entered the room. She nodded briefly to the four men, and started her report.

'The girl Aso and Erico Sanktemo arrived back at my parents shortly before dinner. La Kuracisto did not leave the house all afternoon, but is now taking his friend up to the theatre. I was able to see them actually enter the theatre grounds, and someone is watching if they leave. As I reported before I was unable to follow Aso this afternoon because... well, she'd know I was doing it. You can tell, though it's sort of hard to define.

'Anyway, there was a minor disturbance at the dock, and I presume the raid they were talking about was successful. They re-entered the village over the Lestano farm, but that may be to throw us off from where they've hidden the barge.' She shrugged, humourless. 'Oh yeah, as you may know Sinjoro Dunstaro isn't looking very happy, and has a couple of friends who share his views. That's it.'

The council considered the news for a while, and thanked her. She nodded again, and left.

[G]ako got up to retrieve the robes that Helano had delivered to them this morning. There hadn't been any time to examine them yet, what with Ajlmo's interruption and the Trasto death.

At his exclamation of surprise his three colleagues hurried over.

The two robes of unknown material had been put in a drawer in a desk at the side of the council room. All four of them had been in the room since then, and none of them could figure out how the strange white garments could have disappeared.

* * *

The crowds that made their way to the theatre were getting heavier, and the Doctor and Ace seemed to mingle with them with no trouble at all. People would nod to the two strangers, or mutter a word of greeting, and walk beside them with an easy stroll. The Doctor replied to each greeting with one of his own, and even Ace found herself nodding and smiling briefly in return. She guessed that just about the entire population of the village would be here for their weekly thrill, what with the distinct lack of ITV, Channel 5 and BBC 1, 2 and 3.

The conversations around her flowed and ebbed like conversations should, if a little subdued, and within ten minutes they caught sight of the theatre itself. Numerous torches lit up the whole area, and figures clothed in black walked among the crowd, keeping the flow of people into seats orderly. Ace saw a pair of them literally carry a man who looked about a hundred and fifty into the front row. A table had been set up to one side serving small cups of sake and fruit juice, and she tallied some forty or so children dodging their elders, running under the seats and even behind the stage, before she gave up the count.

The two visitors stood and looked round, taking it in. It should, the girl thought, have been an excited crowd, with farmers and housewives who could forget work for an hour or two. But it wasn't, not really. People acknowledged each other, smiled even, but only for politeness. Even the children seemed to be playing simply by force of habit. As the Doctor lead Ace to the drink stall she wondered if this was normally a happy town, or whether something deeper than this morning's death was at work. She consoled herself that in a few hours it wouldn't matter, to her at least. The Doctor ordered a freshly pulped apple juice and, after only a moment's consideration, she did the same with simply a pointed finger. Once again Ace noticed that no money was changing hands, either for the drinks or the performance itself. She pointed it out to the Doctor, and he nodded but didn't comment.

A young man came up to the girl, and he seemed happy, smiling and chattering ten to the dozen. 'May your artichokes be a rusty shade of cucumber,' she replied politely, and then let the Doctor finish the exchanged pleasantries with the puzzled farmer.

Then, finishing her drink and getting bored with the crowd, she dragged the Time Lord away, and the two went round the back of the theatre to find Andreo.

* * *

And when they did, he looked like the calm in the eye of a hurricane.

The preparations were nearly complete. The stage had been set up to look like some sort of forest encampment with green and brown and amber tapestries forming the three sides, and a scattering of leaves and sticks over the floor. A tall boy Ace didn't know moved nervously about the stage, rearranging several blankets spread around a small tee-pee of blackened sticks that was obviously meant to be a camp-fire (and would, she guessed, last a good five minutes if actually lit).

Ace didn't know much about the theatre, but reckoned that some last minute fiddling was alright, but she wasn't so sure about the group of actors running round in what almost seemed like panic.

Andreo was simply standing there, talking patiently to a young woman while perhaps fifteen people went through frantic costume changes and practised their lines in small groups around them. The woman, dressed in black and with flowers in her hair, shook her head resignedly, and moved away. Andreo looked round, appearing a little worried, saw the two observers, and threaded his way towards them.

'First night jitters,' he said in welcome English, indicating the confusion behind him. 'Mind you, since we usually only perform each play once, it's a common complaint.'

'Strictly limited seasons, obviously,' said Ace. 'Need any help?' The offer came almost unbidden, half out of politeness, but Andreo actually considered it.

'Well... we are a cast member short, which is why there's a bit of rearrangement going on. We could do with another guard, a non-speaking role only, I promise. Want to try it?'

The girl looked doubtful. 'I don't know, I've never...' she looked at the Doctor for a getaway, but he was no help, studying the stage arrangements intently and, she thought, with a slight smile on his face. 'What the hell,' she decided. 'Do we have to ask the director, or something?'

'No need,' Andreo said, leading her into the confusion, 'I am the director'.

As he moved into the crowd, pointing Ace towards the girl in charge of costumes (who herself wore a white dress and flowers) Andreo turned, his gaze seeking that of the Doctor.

The two simply looked at each other impassively for a couple of seconds before the boy turned away. The Doctor remained there, alone in the shadows, for another quarter of an hour -- until the initial actors took their places, the back tapestry was lowered properly to obscure the stage from behind, and the performance was about to begin.

He slowly made his way round to join the audience, and though he was prepared to stand, a group in the second row shifted along and offered him a seat. As he sat the curtain opened, and the crowd's chatter died.

* * *

Erico wasn't allowed to go to the play.

Not after missing an entire afternoon's chores. So he sat in his room and waited till it was safe to sneak out and join the festivities.

The trouble, he thought as he sat on his bed and looked out his second storey window, was that he wasn't even in a particularly festive mood. So for a full half an hour after it was probably safe he had decided to wait a little longer, and just a bit more.

But then he remembered this morning, and what he had found on the bank of the River. He reached into the spacious pocket of his trousers, and there it was, the little shiny square, now warm, with the question mark carved into it.

It was now obvious what he had to do with it, who would find it useful. It should have been obvious all afternoon, but the sight of the strange man lying in the grass, and all that followed, had driven it from his mind.

It was a mistake he could correct, he knew, but he also knew that sometimes the most obvious course of action was anything but the best one.

'Something is happening,' he whispered, echoing his earlier thoughts. And he was part of it. If his adventure this afternoon didn't prove that, this object which he had carried all day did.

He thought about it, everything, and came to a decision. It was a hard one to make, and he hoped it was the right one. He slipped the little square back into his pocket and, not bothering with the open window, walked downstairs and out into the night.

* * *

Ace had no idea what the play was about, other than that it started out being set in some sort of forest and now, after the interval, it seemed to have moved on to the house of some important lord. At least the audience had laughed every now and again during the first half, which she had supposed to be a good sign.

She had been positioned against one wall in the supposed house during the interval, and told to stand there until the other guards moved. It would, Andreo had assured her, be simple.

Right, thought Ace, as several people on stage sat down to a nonexistent meal. Simple.

It didn't help that the outfit she was wearing, coarse dark cloth covered with strips of leather, was atrociously uncomfortable, managing to scratch her even through the normal work clothes underneath. It also didn't help that she was standing directly under a burning torch which, combined with three layers of previously mentioned clothing, made it almost unbearably hot.

But she tried to look stoic and disinterested and guard-like, tried to ignore the itching and the sweat, and tried to ignore the fact she was feeling a little faint in the stomach. Not scared, of course. When she had been younger she had had been scared of things she hadn't understood. Little irrational things she could now laugh at. This was just a mild discomfort. Butterflies in the stomach, she thought, that's it, using the amusing image to distract her from the bright lights and the gaze of five hundred. She shook her head with a small grin, and checked her stance again.

A mug clunked against a table, hard. Voices raised. Dinner had turned into a heated argument between the lord and the young woman in black, presumably the heroine.

Guard number four rushes forward to defend her master's honour, and strikes a killing blow to the little vixen. Yeah right, thought Ace. No such luck.

So she waited for a cue, and kept her eyes on the other guards (all of whom were male and at least three inches taller than her), the action on centre stage (the girl's anger was being reduced to tearful pleading), and even the young man creeping behind the small wooden throne (who was, she guessed, the 'young lover' and who, she also guessed, was not supposed to be seen by the guards).

Ten minutes went by, slowly.

The young lover and the girl were now reunited, and creeping surreptitiously with joined hands along the front of the stage. The two reached one side and glanced around an invisible door back into the throne room, drawing back hurriedly (the crowd laughed at the synchronised move, but Ace didn't think it was that funny). But Andreo himself, dressed in a higher ranked uniform than Ace's own, came strolling down the 'corridor' behind them.

They panicked, made a run through the room and three large guards, followed a couple of seconds later by a smaller fourth, jumped on them. A half-hearted scuffle ensued, followed by the boy making a half-hearted break for the door. Ace lashed out with her spear, swinging it in a tight arc to connect solidly with the floor in front of his face. He just blinked at it. Score one for the constabulary, thought Ace with satisfaction. And then Andreo joined the party, walking through the invisible door and laughing evilly, rubbing his hands together and gloating over the two misfortunates.

Before all hell broke loose, three things went through Ace's mind in quick succession.

Andreo was very, very good at laughing evilly.

It was still far, far too hot, even away from the torch.

And a woman in the second row of the audience had two Blue Peter badges hanging on a leather necklace.

Ace was still staring at the badges, crest shaped, two ships, white on blue and blue on white, when all hell broke loose, and people backstage started screaming.

* * *

When [G]esemio heard the first screams she grabbed her dagger tight, and made straight for the door, prepared to slink away or run away, prepared to do battle for all she was worth.

But the door didn't open, the handle slipping through her hand unmoving, and in her rush she bounced off the wood and took an unsteady step back into the semi-darkness of the little hut. She thought, a little panicked, unnerved by the continuing cries, that it must be locked, that she didn't have a key.

But she was inside, that was ridiculous.

And she saw that, indeed, it wasn't locked, the horizontal locking beam was still in its normal position. And she knew that the door must have been blocked, wedged shut from without.

The light filtering in from outside got brighter, suddenly and sharply, and dry heat hit her in the face, and then she did start shouting, and screaming, and she pounded on the solid oak frame, and she knew that no-one was going to hear her.

* * *

Ace looked round quickly, trying to work out the cause of the clamour behind her when suddenly it became obvious. The entire left wall of the stage was suddenly and completely engulfed in flame. The cast scattered, guards and lovers alike ran from the stage, out into the audience. But Ace didn't notice. She just stood there, and watched the wall explode in yellow and red and flickering tongues of heat and the roaring of the air and the crackling of the so beautiful flames and she thought, just for an instant, My God it's true. You can be young again.

The floor was starting to smoulder, she could feel the heat through her shoes, distinct from the heat not ten feet in front of her face.

Then someone was shouting at her to get off, get out, and she let Andreo drag her away.

'I know what happened,' she shouted to the boy, trying to make herself heard over the cries of five hundred people who had suddenly discovered there was somewhere else they'd rather be. But he shook his head, and ran off to try and bring some order to the evacuation.

And she did know. The flame must have started beneath them, nurturing, slow and quiet, drying things out. But the "wall" of the theatre was a blanket of dark wool, non-flammable unless the sheep round here were as strange as the culture. The wall had been doused with something, she sniffed, probably based on animal fats.

She suddenly realised that if she had been standing guard on the opposite side of the stage she would have smelt it before it lit, and she cursed herself quickly before moving on to more important matters.

The flame was spreading rapidly, the stage floor was alight and it was starting to gain hold of the roof. But that wasn't the worst of it. The fire was spreading outward as well, and as she watched a burning piece of cloth floated down towards the wooden seating choked with panicked humanity.

Many were already gone, jumping over the top of the seats or round the right-hand side. She even vaguely registered that the man who had looked about a hundred and fifty had found his legs useful again. But many hadn't moved. Ace saw someone trip over the rough planking, land awkwardly and heavily, waving their arms pathetically. The press of the crowd rolled him downwards, in the direction of the stage. Some men and women just stood there, on their seats, shouting something she assumed were names. Some just sat there, sweating, looking too frightened to move.

She saw and noted all that in a matter of seconds, then she moved. Starting with the man who had fallen, she began helping people to get out of the way of the spreading flame.

And as she did, a question bobbed up to the surface of her mind. Where is the Doctor, and why isn't he helping?

* * *

Everyone still in the village, and there were over fifty people who hadn't gone to the play, saw the glow of the fire arch into the night. Those indoors heard the sounds, and rushed to their windows or doors and just looked up in wonder and fear.

Ajlmo Dunstaro saw it, and knew what it meant, and as the nine men he had gathered this afternoon started to move North East he called them back, if briefly.

'This is what I mean,' he shouted at them. 'This is what is happening, and it will continue to happen unless we do something about it.'

'How far you want to go, Ajlmo?' said Timoteo, still in the same slow voice. He almost sounded amused.

Ajlmo thought about it, and saw the men looking at him, waiting for him to say something. He knew what they wanted him to say.

'We kill them,' he said at last. 'We have to. La Kuracisto and Aso must die.'

* * *

She was still struggling with the door, only now it was starting to get too hot to touch. The room was filled was amber glow, so bright, and there was no other exits, only hard earth beneath her, and the smoke-hole was tiny, a couple of centimetres wide.

She was crying, and her hand hurt from contact with the wood and she just kept on hitting it and hitting it and crying, and any shouting that had been outside had already moved away.

The wall started to smoulder, and the stench of smoke was strong. Andreo, she prayed, Andreo where are you? Help me.

But there was no answer, and when the wall in front of her burst into flame her body jumped backward, and her mind just didn't seem to care any more.

* * *

The Doctor had also been too far away to notice the imminent signs of disaster, but he had reacted quicker than most. Immediately jumping to his feet, he had almost jogged behind the theatre, looking for something. Now he thought he might have found it.

Part of him listened to and analysed the voice of panic from around the theatre, and he knew there had been, so far, no sounds of imminent death.

So he stayed where he was, and watched.

* * *

She sat on the floor, against the back wall. You were supposed to stay low in a fire, she knew that. At the moment she just wanted to rest, and not be in this room.

Two vertical pieces of wall beside her exploded inwards, letting more air in, fanning the flames.

'Pressure points,' explained the fair-haired man from the opening. 'Easy when you know how.'

But she wasn't listening, dived for the opening, breathed in the new air in gasping wheezes as if she had something terminal.

The fair-haired man put out one leg, and stopped her in her tracks. She waved a dagger at him, blindly, and he reached down and plucked it out of her grasp.

'I won't hit you,' he said gently, 'your daddy wouldn't like that, might dock my pay. But if you don't look up and say "Please take me home" in your nicest voice, well, I'm going to stand here and throw you back in every time you crawl out. And damn the pay.'

He just stood there, though the fire must have been very hot against his face. He looked down at her, full of shifting shadows.

'Please,' she said, tears coursing down her face, almost unable to breathe, let alone speak. 'Please...'

He raised a finger warningly.

'Please take me home,' he said again.

'Easy when you know how,' he said again.

And she somehow understood, and hung her head and said the requisite four words.

'Right,' he said, bending down and grabbing her arm, pulling her to her feet. 'That will do for starters, so let's get out of here.'

He dragged her away from the burning building, and she simply clung to him, and let him lead.

The fair-haired man had his horse waiting in an inconspicuous spot a hundred yards away, and he wanted to be twenty miles from here by morning.

'Let her go,' said a figure materialising out of the shadows in front of him. It was an old guy, short and none too fit by the look of it. But the reflection of the fire in his eyes had some quality the fair-haired man didn't like.

'Get out of my way,' he snarled, suddenly angry at this man, angry at everything. The man took a step closer, and there was a predator's grace in the movement.

He swung the girl hanging on his arm like a flail, and lashed out with the weapon in his other hand. The man moved very fast, faster than any man he could ever remember seeing move before. But he didn't move to attack, or to dodge the blow, he simply twisted somehow, and gathered [G]esemio into his arms and held her tight.

The dagger thrust, meant as a killing-blow, went straight into the stranger's arm, and he didn't even flinch.

The fair-haired man silently cursed, and knew he had lost the girl -- by the expression on the other man's face more than anything else. So he turned to run, and disappeared into the night, not too sluggishly himself.

The Doctor watched him go, and made no move to follow. He simply stood there and comforted the girl in his arms.

After several minutes she looked up, and wiped the tears away from her face. 'Thank you,' she said.

'My pleasure.'

She looked round, the darkness darker for the radiance that still poured out of Malvarmo's little theatre. She shuddered.

But there was something she had to ask first, before she considered where her assailant had gone. 'How did you know the knife was fake?' she said, pointing at the bone weapon lying in the dirt.

He looked down at it curiously, picked it up and tested the spring-loaded blade. 'Trade secret,' he said with a wink, and they started walking back to the theatre.

* * *

Ace sat in an easy squat and watched the remaining infrastructure collapse. The seats were alight now, but with nothing like the energy of the initial blaze. She could see the three other buildings at odd moments through the flames, and they also weren't going to last long by the look of it. Whoever torched the place did a pretty good job.

They had finished moving everyone away, and there had been no deaths, at least not yet. The Lenksos were treating three patients with major burns and almost two dozen with smoke inhalation. The temporary "camp" that everyone had been moved to initially, some fifty feet from the fire, was awash with soft moans of pain and grief. Most of the women and children, and some of the men, had been sent home. The remaining folk were being organised by some sort of council, either helping the injured or joining the search party that was being created to look for the perpetrator of a very obvious case of arson.

Ace helped in neither of these activities. She had asked, with the help of Andreo, if she could be of help to the doctors, but was told she would be of most use doling out water to the wounded. She reckoned there were enough people standing round looking useless for that, and she didn't think much of any locally organised lynch-mob.

So she waited for the Doctor to come back, and sat and watched the theatre burn to the ground.

Nobody was trying to put out the fire, she noted with interest. But then, surrounded by a large area of dirt and without much of a wind, there was no chance of it going anywhere.

Something distracted Ace, nearby. She turned, and saw the girl who had been on stage, wearing black with flowers in her hair and soot on her face. She was weeping bitterly, looking at the wreckage. Leave it out, thought Ace when the noise got too annoying. I've seen an entire village massacred, the unborn children desecrated. You don't know what tragedy is.

But she didn't say anything. She didn't have the words.

The Doctor appeared, skirting the fire, with some girl Ace had never seen before. She was leaning on him, and looked a little worse for wear.

She stood up as the two got close, and Andreo, who was doing his own organising, came over. He said something to the girl, indicating the Doctor, and she smiled, actually leaving the Doctor's arm and falling into the boy's own. He whispered something to her, and Ace could see that, despite the smile, she had just gone through something traumatic. She smelled of smoke and fear, as did most of the other villagers, but there was something deeper than that in her eyes and shaking hands. Ace turned her attention to the Doctor.

'Sweat?' he said with a grin.

'Well,' she said, wiping a thin sheen off her forehead. 'The temperature was getting a little high in there for a while. What happened?'

'I had a friendly chat with someone, only he wasn't too interested in being friends. A fairly well-trained assassin, judging by the way he moved. Nasty temper too. I don't think I improved it.'

'An assassin?' broke in Andreo. The new girl looked up in confusion at the unintelligible conversation.

'Yes, not a local one either, I'd guess.'

That was when someone tried to back-stab Ace with a spear.

She turned, grabbed the weapon, struck him across the face with it, and looked down curiously at the man cursing through a split lip and rolling on the ground.

'I don't think he was a trained assassin...' she started to say, then saw the same thing that the others had. The lynch-mob she had dismissed earlier was more organised than she thought, and had apparently found a target.

'We run?' she asked the Doctor.

'We run,' he replied.

And, with Andreo and the girl fast behind them, they did.

* * *

It was all going a little too fast for [G]esemio Tanio. She had met Andreo and friends, and that was fine. He had explained that he had seen la Kuracisto going round to get her, which was why he hadn't come himself, and that was fine too. She had wondered briefly who this man was and why Andreo had told him she was there. But that was a trivial matter, and this strange Kuracisto-person was alright by her.

But now she was being led by the hand through darkness, angry shouts and torches behind them. Andreo was shouting something she couldn't understand.

She asked him, between breaths, what was going on.

'La Kuracisto and Aso here are being made into scapegoats,' he replied bitterly, still running, not out of breath. 'And by the look in Ajlmo Dunstaro's eyes this isn't the time for discussion. These two are leaving the village tonight, by boat, and have decided to continue with their plan. Does this make any sense?'

'No,' she said, wanting to stop, wanting to sleep so very badly.

'I'll explain later. Come on.'

And they kept running into the night.

* * *

It was very cold out here, and Erico sat within the little wooden boat and held himself tightly to conserve warmth. He had a torch, but he didn't try and light it.

He looked at the glow lighting up the sky from the North, and knew that it was a lot warmer over there.

Something had screamed within him when he had first seen the light, realised its magnitude and where it was coming from. His parents, his friends, just about everyone he knew was at the theatre tonight. But what was happening was happening, and he didn't leave his post. There was something to do, something important.

He had left it earlier, he guessed perhaps an hour ago. He had seen two wavering torches moving close along the banks of the River, but the movement had been too slow and irregular for it to be la Kuracisto and Aso. He had crept up on the two and discovered, without much surprise, that Helano Lenkso and a farmer Erico knew worked for the council were methodically searching along the bank.

The area here was a lot more overgrown and swampy than the grassed banks further up, but Erico knew they couldn't help but find the boat.

So he led them away. Sneaking closer to the village proper he had lit his own torch and moved back towards the River. He noticed the two torches extinguish themselves almost immediately, and as he walked he knew he was being followed.

He lead them for almost quarter of an hour before dousing his own light and creeping back in the darkness. He didn't know where the two were, but the boat was still there when he got back, and there had been no sign of anyone else since.

It wasn't too long after he returned that the fire started, and he thought that at least it was improbable that they would stay stumbling round in the dark whilst events took their toll in the village.

So here he was still, waiting and cold.

But when he saw the fan of torches, twenty or more, pour out of the village and spread out into this area of unfarmed ground between the village and the River, he knew he wouldn't be waiting long. Now he stood up, and lit his torch.

Into its light stumbled la Kuracisto, Aso, Andreo and the girl Erico had seen last night. He ignored the latter two, they weren't important.

'Erico,' la Kuracisto acknowledged with a smile. 'I wondered where you had gone to.'

He didn't return the smile, just stood there looking solemn, holding up the torch.

'Tell Aso,' he said, 'that I thank her for taking me with her this afternoon.'

La Kuracisto frowned, and Aso looked backwards impatiently at the line of searchers.

The message, or a least a message, was passed, and now Aso was the one looking at him strangely.

A sort of uncomfortable silence fell, highlighting the shouts of the villagers.

'I found this,' Erico said at last, and held up the little shiny square, the stark light highlighting the carved design on the side. La Kuracisto and Aso both took a step forward, but Erico took a step back.

'It is mine,' la Kuracisto said gently. 'Give it to me.'

'It may be yours,' Erico said. 'I don't know. But it doesn't belong in this village. It doesn't belong in this world.' La Kuracisto reached for it, but with a single movement Erico turned and threw the object as far as he could, out over the River.

The darkness swallowed it, and if it splashed as it hit the water, it was lost under the rushing waves.

I did it, thought Erico, slightly awestruck. But he stood his ground. Aso said something that sounded violent, and Erico just looked at them all steadily. He stepped out of the boat, left it with the two oars and looking empty.

'Goodbye Kuracisto, goodbye Aso,' he said.

The girl was still looking at him, with furious eyes. They both were. She tensed to leap forward, but the man, the stranger with the old eyes, raised his hand warningly. She didn't move.

They looked at each other.

And it was Andreo who broke the silence. 'Don't you want to know if your parents are alright?' he said.

And suddenly Erico burst into tears, his little thirteen-year-old body racked with grief and anger. 'Go away,' he shouted. 'Go away go away go AWAY.'

He dropped the torch, and the darkness swallowed them all.

Erico ran away, past the four of them, as fast as he could.

* * *

She had seen the fire and hadn't really cared. She had seen the fan of torches coming to search this area south of the village and for a brief second of horror she knew they were coming to take her back, to chain her or burn her. But she didn't care about that, either. She saw the five people by the bank of the River, and looked at them longingly. The sound didn't carry over that of the waves, but that didn't matter. They're having an adventure, Elizabeto thought. They're having fun, enjoying themselves. And even if they aren't, they're doing something. Getting something done.

They were crossing the River. That was supposed to horrify her, that was something that nobody should do.

She wanted to go down to them and say here I am. Let me come with you, let me cross the River and see what is on the other side.

But she knew what would happen if she did do that. Knew what they thought of her.

She settled back down into the damp cold grass, and didn't do anything at all.


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