Hopefully you’ve already seen chapters 1 and 2 posted here and read the hell out of them. Actually, I really hope you read them when they first were published in my anthology. Either way, here is chapter 3 and 4 of Monolithic, the story that sets the stage for our antagonist from Thoughts of Steel. Enjoy.
The loneliness that plagued Vesik no longer mattered as he excelled at his job as an assistant and maintained his grades. The silver he’d received as payment for his duties was mostly put away in a locked chest hidden at home. He contemplated moving into his own apartment but decided against it. Lodging was available to him at the Watch station he worked at for a subsidized rate. But he couldn’t fathom the idea of leaving his parents.
Vesik’s parents would only take so much of the money he tried giving them, but he spent what he could for them without them knowing though. Now, as Vesik made his way through town to the college, the morning sun warming the back of his neck, a hefty amount of coins jingled in the purse tied to his waist. He planned on buying new tools for his parents once his class was over today.
Vesik daydreamed as he walked, smiling at the few people he passed as he caught their eyes. One man sneered at him and Vesik’s nerves jumped but he continued onward. An arm suddenly draped across his shoulders and he turned to see a homely woman leaning on him.
“Can you walk with me over here? I’m not feeling well and need to get out of the sun.” The woman’s eyes drooped and she staggered with each step, putting most of her weight into Vesik, guiding him to a place between a shed and a house. Beyond the house and shed was a field of green grass.
Vesik was nearly too uncomfortable with the touch of a woman to speak, but he said, “Yeah. Are you sick?” He certainly was too uncomfortable to think.
Shade from the two buildings fell over Vesik and the woman like a blanket. She suddenly seemed fine as she stepped away from Vesik and stood on her own. The man who had mugged Vesik earlier appeared from the road, brushed past the woman. Vesik knew that something was wrong but that was as far as his thinking took him. The man drove his fist into Vesik’s jaw. Surprise more than pain had Vesik on his backside, breathing heavily and trembling.
The woman walked behind Vesik as the man began speaking, “Give me that purse now.”
Not a single thought of resistance crossed Vesik’s mind, but he was too scared and surprised to act. He simply sat and looked up at the terrible man. Life felt as though it had frozen over, trapping Vesik in it. He wanted so badly to simply close his eyes and wish this whole confrontation away. This was so alien to Vesik that he felt as though it wasn’t real.
The man sighed in frustration and nodded to the woman now standing behind Vesik. She bent down, reached under Vesik’s arm and around his waist to grab the purse and yank it free. The string keeping it tied together snapped and then the two rogues took off at a jog out into the open field.
Tears swam in the corners of Vesik’s eyes. He didn’t think of the money he’d lost, but rather the reality of what had just happened. He was still trying to understand and accept it all when someone walking along the road caught a glimpse of Vesik and stopped.
It was a boy and he focused on Vesik’s mouth as he said, “Are you alright?”
Vesik finally broke himself from his paralysis and touched his fingers to his lips. They came back bloody but Vesik couldn’t feel any pain. He slowly got up and felt as though he’d continue ascending right through the clouds. He looked to the boy and nodded his head slightly, wiped his lip on his sleeve, then trekked back onto the road, aimed for home again.
Erik called Vesik out onto the porch of their small home and Vesik knew immediately what was on the agenda. Sure enough, two large mugs of ale were gripped in Erik’s hands. Vesik looked down at the porch in shame. Why couldn’t his father be toasting him for defending himself, beating his attackers, then taking them into a Watch station? Why was Erik instead showing pity for Vesik because he was too blind to see the robbery coming and too weak to do anything at all to prevent it?
After getting home, Vesik had hidden himself from his parents as long as he could. In that time, he thought about how he hated himself for not doing anything. Even throwing a single punch or refusing the thugs would have left him with a more intact sense of pride then playing the helpless victim role. His physical wound paled in comparison to his emotional hurt.
Vesik took the mug and sat down. The rest of the day had served him well to bread anger in him and he said, “I should have done something, anything at all would have been better.”
Erik nodded, took a pull of his ale, then said, “The money can be made up, son. Don’t let that –”
“It isn’t that. I couldn’t do anything at all. I could barely breathe. I was a perfect victim and didn’t do anything at all about it.” Tears rolled down Vesik’s cheeks and he felt more ashamed and angry because of it. He wanted to beat the mug he held against his temple. Instead, he lifted it to quivering lips and drained half of it.
Erik glanced at his son but was sympathetic enough to not stare at his son’s weakness.
Vesik knew a stronger man would have fought back. His father would have fought even with his injured back and old bones. He suddenly thought of his solitude in the real world, his alienation at the college that seemed to just naturally happen. He thought of how people were forced to interact with him when he served as Bors’ clerk. He made a decision then.
“Dad, I’m going to try to become a sentry. There should have been one there today to take those two in for what they did to me.”
“What about school? You haven’t finished yet, Vesik.”
“But it’s already served a good purpose. Bors won’t kick me out because of this, he’ll probably agree with my choice. I can go back later if I want to. It’s just, I don’t know. I just don’t think I can keep doing this. I want to be somewhere where people like me, and want me around.”
Vesik hadn’t told his father about his alienation at the college but he figured that Erik had surmised as much as he merely nodded without question. He then said, “You know you’ll have to make difficult choices as a Sentry. Even more difficult than the one you’ve just made, or ever have made before. Vesik, you might have to kill someone at some time. You think you can do that?”
“I don’t need to make those decisions now, dad. I can cross those bridges when I come to them.”
“And if you can’t get across them? What then, if you don’t make it?”
It was finally time for Vesik to unleash his anger. He knew what his father referred to; his weakness. It wasn’t easy for Vesik to raise his voice to his father but he couldn’t ever do so to any other person. He said, “You think I’m soft. You don’t think I’d make it through.”
Erik began to speak but Vesik wouldn’t hear any of it.
“All the stuff you’ve said to me about loving life and seeing the best in everything, that was all a mask to hide my weakness. I’m weak, I get it. You’ve known it. And that’s what you always meant.”
Erik slammed his mug onto the wooden planks, a wave of ale spilling over the lip. A hole must have opened in Vesik’s heel as his rage drained from him. He looked at his father and forgot all about his righteous anger.
“Vesik, don’t ever speak of your gift like it’s a curse. It is not a bane on you or anyone. You learn to love it and just know that it’ll only help you one day.” Erik looked at his son with sadness in his eyes. It was easy to see that he didn’t enjoy startling his son.
Erik continued, “Son, I just want you to tell me that you can make it through. If you do, then I’ll believe you and stand behind you completely. And you know your mother will too. So?”
An iota of zeal crept back into Vesik, he took a deep swallow of ale then said, “Yes, dad. I’ll make it through. This won’t tear me down.”
“Okay. And you know that your gift will help you. You’ll be able to take down the vile people in this city and help those who need it with passion. You won’t be led astray by the promise of power, money, anything. You’ll be the best Sentry any man can be, Vesik. You’ll do fine, kiddo.”
Unlike when Vesik had decided to attend college, he didn’t feel a foreboding fear creeping into him, infecting his bones, flesh and heart. He was driven this time by an angry fire. One that would only be snuffed out by the reclamation of his pride and the achievement of his goal. He’d become a Sentry and never again be a victim. He’d save innocent people from being victimized each day he breathed.
Vesik finished his ale, hugged his father, then went off to bed. He laid down and craved sleep, only because he wanted time to pass as quickly as possible. The current term was coming to an end in two weeks. He’d finish out with flying colors then apply for the Watch. Tomorrow though, he’d walk the streets of Cavia again with a pocket full of silver, then use that to purchase a strong blade.
Sleep came upon Vesik as he imagined the feel of steel in his hands and all the evil in Baronfall at the blade’s point.
Vesik was crammed between two other trainees for the Watch who were crowded by dozens more themselves. Not one made a noise as the instructor hastily described a drill. He pulled one man out of the crowd and positioned him between two junior instructors.
“This drill is meant to simulate a real encounter that you may come to face while on duty. The officer holding the weapon is the bad guy and the other officer is an innocent bystander,” barked the senior instructor.
He looked to the trainee he had pulled out of the crowd then handed him an unloaded crossbow. “Your job is to keep the bystander alive and to only shoot if you absolutely have to.”
The trainee nodded. He turned to the two junior officers and the drill began as the senior shouted an order.
The trainee immediately aimed the weapon at the man with the wooden blade. “On the floor, now! You take one step towards him and I’ll put a hole through you.” The officer with the blade grinned then rushed towards the man playing the innocent victim. He only got one step closer when a twang announced the firing of the crossbow.
Another trainee shuffled out. He fired the weapon before the ‘criminal’ had a chance to make a move. “Too quick! You just killed a man without giving him a chance to cooperate. That’ll be some fun paperwork. Next!”
And so it went, until it was Vesik’s turn. He gripped the crossbow hard, tried to stay the shaking of his hands. The order was given and he leveled the weapon at the officer. “Get on the ground.” There was little zeal in Vesik’s voice and he felt cold sweat drip off him as his tension and apprehension swelled.
The officer lunged towards the would-be victim and surprise crossed his face. He poked the man with the sword and still Vesik stood there with an uneasy grip on the weapon. The officer with the weapon looked to the senior instructor then advanced on Vesik.
Cold fear stayed his hand. As he watched the man advance, he felt as though it was a real situation and that made his body go rigid. In the back of his mind he expected some other valiant person to step in and end this for him, just like that day twelve years ago.
But that didn’t happen.
The wooden sword poked Vesik in the chest and still no noise emitted from the crossbow. The man looked at Vesik as if he was crazy and Vesik then realized what he had done. If this was real then he would not only have let an innocent person be killed, but he would be dead as well.
“What kind of shit was that!?” Vesik gulped and turned to the senior instructor as the enraged man stomped towards him. “What’s your name?”
“What is your problem, Vesik? You just let your city down then died like a pansy bitch! What if that ‘bystander’ had been one of the Watch? A disarmed man who placed his life in your hands? Even if you did manage to live through that by some miracle, what the fuck would you say to his family?”
Vesik stammered until the instructor cussed him back into the ranks. Once Vesik was lost in the sea of other trainees, the instructor said, “Been doing this drill for sixteen years now and never have I seen that! Next!”
Vesik dropped his eyes to the ground and felt the cold glowers of the people around him burrow into his back and pierce his very soul.
That night a few of the men who were witness to his blunder approached him. He prepared for a tongue lashing and maybe a few bruises.
One man said, “Vesik, right? Man you really screwed up today. We think we got you pegged though. You’re one of them guys that doesn’t like hurting things. Something psychological,” The big man next to the speaker seemed impressed as he shuffled his feet a bit, “that just won’t let you go through with it. Well we got something that might help; you gotta come with us though.”
Vesik spun the cogs that made up his brain in an attempt to discover any hidden motive behind the man’s offer. Nothing came to the forefront so he asked, “Why do you want to help me?”
The man rolled his eyes. “Contrary to what you might think, not everyone here wants to see you flounder around until you’re thrown out of this place on your ass. Also I’m bored, and so are my chaps.” The man flashed Vesik a cheesy smile. “What do ya say?”
Vesik came to a decision after only a few seconds of contemplation. Either this was going to be what got him through the last weeks of training or he would still be shit out of luck. “Alright. So what’s the plan?”
As the sun fell beneath the earth and dragged the blue sky away, the four men made their way to the forest, Vesik carrying a bow.
Vesik walked next to the man who had done all the talking. His name was Fal, short for Falantor. His name and accent suggested that he was from the regal east country of Dumen. And after inquiring about it, Vesik discovered that he indeed was.
Fal disdained his full name and normally beat any man who used it if not came close to doing so. Oddly enough though, that was exactly how he introduced himself. Vesik thought he had the guy figured out soon after meeting him.
Fal told everyone his background because he wanted to be an oddity; a diamond in the rough. He made damn sure to tell everyone he met that his name was a curse though because he could never identify with one of those ‘tight-ass, stuck-up, sons of bitches’, as he so elegantly put it.
The other two men weren’t quite as odd, but still made sure to angle themselves against the grain of normality.
The big, stupid one was named Alitor. Well actually, the last thing he could ever be rightfully deemed was stupid.
The man was a genius in many fields. Vesik discovered this when he asked Fal if the man was simple. Fal rolled his eyes then said to Alitor, “You don’t have to pretend around this one, Al, he’s the last guy you have to worry about stickin ya.”
Vesik raised an eyebrow as Alitor perked up and began speaking less like a brutish infant and more like a learned scholar. He explained to Vesik, “I enjoy playing the part of a simpleton because it makes people underestimate me. This one guy kept poking me in the head, so hard his nail cut me open. He was angry that I had bumped his pal and couldn’t apologize without sounding like a ‘fucking idiot’.”
Alitor rumbled out a deep laugh as Fal said, “Boy that poor fellow almost fell on his ass when Al came back with … ah you tell it, big guy.”
“I grabbed his finger then apologized with all these fancy bullshit words. Then I said, ‘How was that? If your pal didn’t understand me then I could reiterate my condolences in about seven different languages.’ The guy’s face was a truly heart-warming moment. I laughed the entire time I beat him.” Vesik couldn’t help but think the guy maybe had a few screws loose despite his apparent genius.
The final guy was really only special because of his skin. His complexion was very dark. For the most part he was a normal guy if not kinder than most. His native name was something unpronounceable so he just insisted people call him Koe, the first syllable of his name. He was from an island far south towards the end of the Endless Sea.
“You’ve seen it?” Vesik asked the small dark man. “The end? Well that’s a ridiculous name then!”
“Not completely. The sea does snake through the land it meets by way of rivers and what have you. The name is a bit over exaggerated though. It’s just a really big sea.”
Fal chimed in, “Hey, Al, why not come up with a name besides sea for the damn thing. That could be your impress on the world, or whatever.”
Alitor took on a very serious tone, “Impression. And that is far from what I desire to be known for. Any dullard can make a noise while screwing their mouth up then name something after it.”
Vesik discovered that he was the youngest of the group. Koe was closest to his age and the other two were only a few years older.
The distance passed quickly for the group as they conversed and joked and they nearly smacked right into the first trees of the forest. This was the part of the forest just west of the southwest gate. It was extremely close to the city and therefore held little if any game.
The sun had dipped below the horizon completely by now. Koe said, “Come on, Fal. We got maybe twenty minutes of light left, man. This is pointless.”
“Stuff it. We better put those twenty minutes to good use then. So, Vesik, my friend, you’ve never hunted?”
“Nope. I stayed home while my father went out.”
“Alright, but you agree that it’s okay to hunt for food, right?” Vesik nodded. “Okay, well, tonight you are going to kill every animal you see, then leave it. There is no reason for you to kill these animals. If you can do this then I think it might help you pull the trigger the next time someone tries to stick you.”
Vesik swallowed hard. He had already come to enjoy the company of these very different men but his instincts screamed at him not to go through with the plan. He forced himself to nod then stalked through the forest. Fal, Alitor, and Koe stayed behind.
Fifteen minutes and most of the remaining light fled before Vesik found an animal. It was a squirrel rapidly biting and pounding a hard-shelled nut. Vesik drew his bow and after almost a minute found the courage to release it.
The arrow flew faster than Vesik could see and when his eyes opened he saw the shaft of the arrow but not the tip … Which was because he had missed horribly.
The squirrel scampered away and Vesik pulled his arrow from the ground after steadying himself with a few deep breaths. He skulked back out of the forest.
Fal stared at him with interest apparent in his eyes. The other two seemed slightly uncaring. Vesik shook his head and Fal’s shoulders slumped.
“What happened?” asked Fal.
Koe guessed, “Probably couldn’t find anything, Fal.”
Fal feigned deafness to Koe’s voice. Vesik said, “No, I found one. A squirrel. I shot too, just missed him.”
Fal took it as a win. “Hey at least you had the balls to shoot. Al thought you were going to bitch out like earlier.” Fal clapped Vesik on the shoulder.
Alitor shrugged. “Guess I underestimated you, friend.” He winked.
Fal said, “Don’t think I’m gonna forget about the money you owe, Al. How about you pay me in ale? To a tavern then!” Fal laughed aloud as Alitor and Koe shook their heads. Vesik just smiled and trailed the trio, amazed that he was finally fit to be considered a friend by someone.