Branwen paused in her work. Setting down the handles of the plow she let the horse come to a stop.
A lot had changed on the farm since Soldier had arrived. He’d paid for a new work horse as well as enough food stores to last the two three winters.
Which left Branwen free to turn the crops into food for now, or to sell the extra food. And she was using going to use that money in turn to improve the farm.
The only bad thing about Soldier being there was Soldier himself.
Staring across the field at him trying to coax the riding horse he had bought into a harness was a task in and of itself.
His total lack of experience with anything real made her want to strangle the man, and his idiot parents, and all of the nobility for not teaching their children how to do something as relatively simple as hitch a horse to a wagon.
Of course the fact that he was trying to hitch a riding horse to a wagon was in and of itself an error. Watching him now she struggled not to go over and help him, but she had decided that she would not help him.
She picked up the handles of the plow and set it moving again.
She wouldn’t help Soldier until the stubborn man learned that asking others how to do something was just how the world worked.
Tomas glanced over at Laerian before moving to the entrance.
The man’s scarves were not at the ready, and there was something about his face that made Tomas worried.
A darkness that had not been there before. But, so long as whatever it was did not get in the way of their quest then he did not care what it was.
He didn’t care about Laerian either. The man was unimportant. The bandits were unimportant beyond what they could tell him.
Nothing mattered right now but stopping the war to protect his family, and having revenge on whoever would try to use him.
Those were the things that mattered to him at the moment.
“Laerian, are you ready?”
He put his palms on the blockade of crates and set his feet.
“I am ready. When you clear the way, step aside. And when you follow me, watch out for the bodies”
His voice was a monotone. Tomas glanced back again, but the man’s face was entirely in shadow. His clothes seemed to blow in a non-existent breeze.
“Are you saying that I won’t be there beside you?”
“No. You’ll be out here so that you’re safe from me”
“Safe from you?”
“If you go in, no telling if I’ll tell you apart from them”
“Will you be able to tell the captives apart?”
“I’ll be able to feel their ropes”
“So can’t you…how will you feel their ropes?”
“Break the barricade partner. Do it now”
Tomas turned to push on the wall, but then turned back.
“No. Laerian, we are partners, correct?”
“Then explain. This. All of this”
“No. Break the barricade Tomas. Do it now”
He looked at the man’s face and one more time and decided to give up.
The argument was not worth the energy it would take.
“Someday I would love to see a partnership where both sides are truly equals”
“It will never happen Tomas. This world is too cruel”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the light-hearted one?”
Without further ceremony he dug his heels in and began to push. After a moment the crates slid backwards, and then with another shove they exploded inwards.
Splinters and supplies flew as Tomas leaned back then threw himself bodily into the crates, breaking through then turning into a dive.
A few crossbow bolts went past him, and he was for a moment concerned he would have to clear the mine on his own.
Then Laerian stepped through the doorway and there was a moment of stillness.
“Step outside Tomas”
Something in Laerian’s voice made Tomas comply. He suddenly realized that he truly did not want to be there for whatever was about to happen, his fear of being hurt overriding everything else.
He just needed to escape the madman who had been unleashed.
Laerian took another step into the fog. A bolt flew at him, but it was aimed at his chest. It would not be a problem.
It impacted and he barely felt a brush on his skin, his coat turning hard as steel, alive and angered at the assault.
A grin began to play across his face as he pulled a pair of white silk gloves from where they were looped in his belt. Pulling them on he felt the softness of the cloth and the squirming of the threads, each and every one. His skin became the thread, his thread became the skin. They were one, as he was one with the coat as he was one with the clothing on those around him.
He could feel the thin black material of Tomas’ outfit drinking down the fear sweat. He could feel the places of wear and tear, where Tomas had abused it, where it was damaged, where he was not properly caring for it.
Tomas’ clothes were none too happy with their owner, which was why he had told Tomas to leave. When he let the clothing free it would not be a pretty sight if he was still there.
His own clothes however…they loved him. He cared for them, wove in new threads of just the right shade in just the right way, made sure that they were never patched, never needed to be patched. He kept the, clean, but fed them regularly, their favourite foods, dyes and threads, care, soap, water and blood.
And so they loved him.
His grin grew wider, too wide as he drew the cloth hood from his pocket. It was also silk, and fit his head loosely. He drew it on and then let it too come alive.
His coat continued to catch and stop crossbow bolts as he took another step in. The hood adjusted itself, closing around his head, tightening until it was, like the gloves, another skin. It pressed into his eyes, filled his mouth perfectly forming his grimace, outlining his nose, flattening his hair until it was almost not visible.
He did not know what he looked like when he donned the hood as he could not see. It was possible that it to others appeared as a black silk bag over his head, no shape at all.
But he could feel it pressing against his skin so tightly he was sure that that was not the truth.He was sure that his anger was represented faithfully in the hood.
He could not see while he wore the hood, no.
But he had other means of sensing things.
The clothes of others told him things. They knew that he was a friend to clothing, that he cared for it and repaired it, loved it and was kind to it. So they told him where they were, where they were moving, going, where they had never gone.
He could almost see the world in shapes with the hood one.
Except for the clothing. He could always see the clothing, knew where and what it was, every single detail.
While he wore the hood the clothes were more real to him than those that wore them.
And so it was easy to bring them to life, to let them do what they would with their owner. And he didn’t need to worry about himself as his own clothes loved him too much to let him die.
He took another step in and raised his hand to catch the sword that was coming at his stomach. The other man’s sleeve had told him where the sword was coming from. It had been simple to catch it on his palm.
As his glove closed around the end of the blade and crumpled it he turned his attention to the man’s shirt.
“Do you hate this man?”
The answer was always yes.
“Do you want to have your revenge on this man?”
He let the pants have enough life to hold him still.
And again, the answer was always yes.
“Where has he hurt you? The elbows, yes, a common sin. Here, you have my permission, an eye for an eye”
The man began to scream as threads pulled out of his shirt and dug under his flesh. The screaming got louder as those threads began to weave together again and pull outwards, slicing through skin, muscle and bone more easily than a sword could.
“Is that enough? Or has he hurt you in other ways?”
Again, the answer was always yes.
“And you pants? Do you also wish your revenge?”
The pants had suffered worse than the shirt. Both were stained with food and worn at the joints but the pants had been exposed to worse indignities while the man had forced himself no captives over the years.
“Yes, I can see your point. Imagine what those poor people did to their clothes. Not their fault, but imagine what the hurt this man gave to them made them do by accident? Imagine how those clothes felt when their owner was hurt in this way. Probably the owner was nice to their clothes, and now because of this man they never can be again. Why don’t you make it so that he can never hurt someone in that way again?”
The man’s screams took on a far more pained note as his pants began to cut at his knees and crotch in the same way as the shirt had done to his elbows.
“And shirt, you may do whatever else you like to him, but the beat of his heart must continue. That is my contract with you. You gain the power to have your revenge so long as he still breathes, so long as his heart still beats”
The clothing was more than happy to agree.
There was a tearing shredding sound as his crotch was turned inside out. He could feel the clothes soaking up the blood, reveling in the revenge against their erstwhile master.
Laerian stepped forwards as the other bandits broke and ran.
His grin stretched ever wider, the threads of his face unraveling to allow it. The fun was only beginning, and there were still so many left to punish.
Tomas struggled to take a breath.
His shirt was crushing his chest, his pants holding his legs rigid and near immobile. Only his great strength was allowing him to continue to breathe, continue to stumble away from the entrance.
Laerian had been right when he said that he would not be able to protect Tomas. He had been right when he said that Tomas would die if he stayed.
Tomas’ legs continually tried to backpeddle, to move him back towards the mine entrance as his pants swung backwards every time he lifted a leg.
He would use his arms to help, but he had learned his lesson when, upon lowering his arms at first they had swung down and his pants had in some way grabbed his hands. As his arms had swung backwards they had helped his legs to overcome his own strength.
It had only been through luck and pulling at just the right moment that he had gotten his hand free.
Even then it had been covered in tiny writhing hairs that had soon fallen still. They were still there, poking out of the skin of his hand. It was really disconcerting, and Tomas was sure that if he wasn’t so busy trying to win the fight with his pants he would be terrified.
Laerian stalked further into the mine. His clothing had run out of arrows and swords to block. And eventually the bandits had caught on that it was their own clothing that was killing them and stripped down.
Those that worried about modesty at a time like this died.
Those that didn’t worry about modesty also died though, so there was not much of a difference in the end.
It was merely those who died as screaming mewling cowards like they were, or those who died with swords in their hands and battle on their lips.
Laerian had so far spared seven bandits, leaving them in states of mortal agony, and eight captives. They had all been in one room, so it had been easy to stop the clothing from coming alive. Just make sure that no clothes in that direction came to life.
It was simple enough, since there were so many other clothes that wanted to be awakened.
But with the bandits now without clothing it was going to become even more fun.
His clothing was almost moving too fast for him now, eager to hunt.
With a quick reminder not to stretch him or break him, he let it off the leash.
There was a thrill to letting his skin take control. It felt so…easy.
He didn’t need to worry about anything anymore, didn’t need to worry about the blood on his hands, didn’t need to worry about repeating his father’s mistakes.
And he didn’t need to worry about dying. Even if something got past his clothing it would sew him up as fast as it could. He could stay in the State at least that long, long enough for it to save him.
And once he was saved it would be easy to stay in the State.
He returned to focusing on the fight, revelling in the release of control, in sacrificing his will, his body, to the desire for revenge that had soaked into his clothes and dried like day old blood.
It was never coming out of these, and he was fine with that. The revenge was channeled, so it wouldn’t hurt anyone except killers.
And his clothing had a very good nose for killers.
He felt his arm come up and then down again, felt warmth soak through his glove.
“Remember, try to leave them alive”
But he really didn’t care, and his clothes could tell. This had started as a way to find out who was starting the war, and to Tomas it still was.
But to Learian that didn’t matter anymore. It was about having revenge on these killers, rapists, thieves and worse, having on revenge on those like his father and fellow soldiers.
He had been denied the justice of killing them himself, so instead he would kill the others with similar crimes.
He would save these captives from the fate he his family had endured, save them from the fate that he could not save the families of the dead on the mainland from, save them from growing up with the same darkness inside that he carried.
He would save them, even if it meant killing every last bandit himself, with his bare hands.
His hand came down again on the face of the man he was straddling and something warm splattered across his face. It was all going to be ok.
His teeth parted enough for his tongue to get a taste of the goo on his hood.
He was going to kill them all and then it would be ok.