(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Anna was written by A. N. Mouse.)
It was a pleasant spring day, cool and sunny but with a warm breeze and the smell of salt in the air. These days were certainly good for the city guard, walking around in all their chain and leather armor as they did their patrols. That had been Anna’s day, walking the docks with Flint until the sun started to dip down into the water. For as much as Flint was a troublemaker, he made good company. Anna appreciated his ability to speak to all manner of people and his sense of humour certainly helped the time go by.
Flint checked out with the people at the desk of the barracks. It was a low building of grey stone, like almost everything in the city was built of. Their job at the desk was basically to know which guards were doing what and where, and make sure no one was running around with any equipment they weren’t supposed to or that they didn’t have two pairs doing the same job. Occasionally it was Anna’s turn at the desk and she always did it but never enjoyed it. She was much happier in the town, actually doing something. Anna needed to have work. She had always been that way.
Her goal had been to do the same thing, give a wave to the people at the desk and head home to where Charon and Simon were. That was delayed a little when Rose grabbed her attention as she passed by.
“Hey, Commander Springvale wanted to see you.” The white-haired woman said. “Can you head there before you’re done for the day?”
“Of course.” Anna said, nodding. She waved absently to Rose as she passed, the physical version of ‘message received’ to go with her verbal one, and headed down the hall to where Iris Springvale kept her business.
Anna knocked on the heavy wooden door with one hand and reached behind her to undo her ponytail with the other. She kept it up during the day to stop her long hair from tangling into her armor, but she much preferred it down. Although Belem was a large city with a suitably large guard contingent, talking to the commander was an easy task. Iris preferred to be available and hands-on. It was one reason in a long list why Anna had left her job as an elite peacekeeper to work for her.
Iris opened the door for her and Anna stepped inside, surprised to see another woman in the familiar office. It held a shelf along the one wall of neatly-tied bundles of records, and a desk in the middle of the room where the commander usually sat. The window above the desk still filtered in well enough light for them to comfortably talk. Anna nodded to the woman politely before turning her attention to the one who had called for her. “Commander.” She said, simply.
“Anna, I was hoping you could spare a little while to talk to Ms. Blanchard here. She’s come inquiring about you.” Iris said plainly. “I don’t know if it’s possible for you at the moment, but she’d like to speak with you.”
Anna was a little surprised. This wasn’t a thing that happened every day, after all. It was doubly surprising that someone who actually knew who she was went out of their way to talk to her. Generally, people in that position avoided her as best they could.
“Are you expected at home?” Iris asked.
Anna took a moment. There were drawbacks to someone like Simon, who’s power outgrew his rather meager form. But there was a benefit too. Now they knew she wasn’t going to be home right away.
“No, it’s alright.” She said, “I have some time. I’ll borrow one of the other offices, if that is alright with you commander?”
Iris nodded and Anna turned her attention to the woman. “If you’d like to follow me, Ms. Blanchard, I’d be happy to speak with you.” She said. With the woman’s agreement Anna would lead her into one of the adjacent rooms but she’d also snag an unlit torch from the wall as they passed it and stick it into the brace in the room, just in case their conversation was not quicker than the approaching sunset. There were no shelves in this office, merely a table and a few chairs.
Kelly followed taking in her surroundings. She could tell Anna was well-trained and a fighter, and Kelly respected that.
“Thank you for agreeing to this meeting,” Kelly said when they finally came to the room. “I understand it’s short notice, but I’ve been given permission to speak with you and ask you some questions. Is that all right with you?” She raised her brows as she watched the other woman.
Anna took a seat at the table, relaxed enough to rest her elbows on the chair’s arms but not casual enough to do so on the table itself. “Certainly.” She said, and gestured for the woman to take a seat as well. “I’ll do my best to answer to your satisfaction.”
Kelly gave her a warm smile as she lowered herself into a chair. “So, Anna, tell me what exactly it is that you do? You’re a peacekeeper of some kind, correct?”
Anna shook her head. “No. I’m afraid that information is a little out of date. I’m a city guard now, although I did once work as a peacekeeper.” She explained. “I held the position for a little over ten years, and left it for a simpler line of work. These days I work under Commander Springvale, trying to take care of our little town.” Bellem wasn’t little by any means, but it held that same sort of familiarity to her.
Kelly furrowed her brows. “What’s the difference between a peacekeeper and a city guard?” She assumed they would do something along the same lines, and she wondered where Anna’s role as a former knight fit into all this. She’d have to ask that question later if she had a chance
“Peacekeepers are a rank of knight that work directly for the crown. Their job is to aid city guards when things get a little out of hand. My last assignment, as an example, I was going after an arsonist that spanned a few cities and was apparently too much for the locals to deal with.” Anna explained to her. It was clear the woman wasn’t from the area but that didn’t seem very surprising to Anna. Bellem was the first city for a lot of new arrivals to the country. “City guards stay in one place and handle all of the local problems.”
“Ah, I see.” Kelly nodded. This made more sense. Then she smiled as a question came to her. “So what do you enjoy most about being a city guard?”
Anna was surprised into a smile by the question. It was less the inquiry itself, which seemed perfectly in line with what Ms. Blanchard had been asking before, but more her immediate reaction to it. She supposed ‘everything’ was not a particularly useful answer, however. “I enjoy being more in contact with my superiors, it makes me feel like everything is more organized. I like not having to move around so much, I’m able to get to know the area and my work much better that way. And the work is much more directly beneficial. I can see the immediate results of what we do here, compared to more widespread, vague results when I worked as a peacekeeper.”
“Seeing immediate results to your hard work is always satisfactory.” Kelly smiled with a nod. “So, I heard mention of Charon. Who is he?” Kelly knew a bit from what Anna’s author had told her, but she wanted to see what Anna would say.
Anna’s smile, which before had been a brief but honest flicker, grew to be more present. It was not an unguarded expression but it was still sincere. “Charon is my partner. We came to Bellem together when I was still a peacekeeper and looking for that arsonist. Luckily for me, I suppose, he never decided to leave.”
“Partner as in city guard partner, or more romantic partner? Sorry, I’m not from around here at all, and was given just enough information to ask questions, but other than that—yeah, I know nothing.” Kelly had to chuckle at her lack of knowledge but then looked up at Anna. “So what can you tell me about Charon?”
The suggestion that Charon might have been a city guard earned the woman an honest laugh from Anna, who quickly tried to compose herself. “Oh, no, sorry, excuse me. He’s a teacher, and my romantic partner.” The idea was a little endearingly funny though. “I can attest to you that he’s capable of defending himself, but he hates to fight. He’d never last in this work.” Another brief giggle and Anna took a steadying breath. “Again, my apologies. What are you interested in knowing? I’m afraid I’m not sure what you have in mind.”
Kelly grinned when Anna laughed. She was glad Anna was relaxed with her to laugh, so Kelly leaned, setting her forearms on the table. “So, he’s a teacher—you’re a city guard. That’s very interesting. What does he teach?”
Ah, this was something more concrete that Anna could answer. “Charon doesn’t cover a specific subject so much as an age group. He tends to work with younger children, so he teaches reading and writing, math and social conduct, a few different things. He’s very patient so it suits him well. As the students get older they move on to more specific subjects and other teachers, but he covers a little bit of everything.” Anna was familiar with the Bellem school system, having been through it herself although that was many years ago. “Our hours do not always agree with one another, but that is easy enough to work around.”
“Very interesting…” Kelly mused as she heard about what he did. She’d like to meet him one day as she could relate to teaching–especially writing, but she focused her attention on Anna once more. “So how did you two meet?”
Surprisingly Anna was fairly used to these sorts of questions. On Charon becoming her partner, it was a big matter of curiosity at the time. She had some practice with how to respond. “I had mentioned that we came to Bellem in search of that arsonist. In fact it was that assignment that allowed me to meet him. He was a first a suspect and then later aided my investigation.” She said.
Kelly had to chuckle. “Well, that’s one way to meet a guy—interrogate him on first meeting.” She shook her head. “But I’m glad you two worked out your differences. Now, you’ve mentioned this arsonist before—seems pretty important. Was it one of your last…cases as a peacekeeper or so? Or what exactly?” Kelly furrowed her brows as she sat back in her chair curious.
Anna nodded at her sentiment. She didn’t feel it prudent to include that generally her interrogation techniques didn’t allow for that kind of reparation. She had been overzealous in her youth, as it were. But that wasn’t exactly something you brought up in conversation. “Yes, exactly. As a peacekeeper you’re assigned work as guard contingents request help, so it was my last assignment before I changed positions. Because of that, it’s been fairly relevant to the questions so far, I suppose.”
“But why was it your last assignment? What made you change your mind?” Kelly tilted her head to a side as she observed Anna.
That was certainly a more direct question, and it was one that Anna thought she might have a hard time explaining. She took a deep breath and got right in to it. “I went in to the job with my usual enthusiasm, but I discovered along the way that a lot of my certainty had been misplaced. Had he not been trickier than I suspected, Charon would have merely died in interrogation and I would have closed the case prematurely, for example. There were many cases like that, where I now suspect they were never given my proper attention because I sought only the answers the reaffirmed the beliefs I already held. The problem is systematic; I was encouraged to do so because it led to more closed cases. But it wasn’t real work. It was nothing but an organized war path. When I looked at these facts, I decided on a change of career. I became a peacekeeper to strengthen my country and to help good people. I can do that with much less complexity as a guard.”
Kelly nodded, understanding her explanation, but it brought to mind another question. “What lead you to become a peacekeeper in the first place?”
“My family has a long history of the work. My father was one, and I wanted to do well by them. I was raised into the knighthood, so by the time I was able to take the position I was already one of the most highly skilled people they had available to dispatch.” The was no shyness in her words. She hadn’t worked her whole life to be hesitant about her accomplishments. “I feel that was one of the reasons why I never realized that the work is not as I had imagined, because I had been mistaken for so long.”
Now this was interesting. “So tell me more about your family. Do you have any siblings? What happened to your father?”
Anna shook her head. “I am an only child and have no surviving blood family, or at least none that I’m aware of.” Anna answered her honestly. “My mother died when I was a teenager, my father died several years later after I was twenty.” There was the possibility that she may have had cousins or the like, but she had never tried to seek them out. What was once a solitary life was now simply an independent life with other people in it. “He died in the field, as I suspect he would have wanted.”
Kelly nodded, taking all this in. She decided not to press the subject but went to another topic she was curious about. “So, who is Simon Ford? I was given his name as well.”
The mention of Simon brought another smile to Anna’s face. “Charon’s younger brother, and, well, I suppose mine also, now that I think about it.” She hadn’t really considered it that way before, but it was true enough. “He’s a kind boy, much like his brother. More clever, though.” She pointed out. Simon was a little less reckless than his passionate older brother, that much was certain.
“Charon’s little brother?” Kelly furrowed her brows. “Okay, I’ve got to be honest. I’m under the understanding that Charon is a blood demon…” as she said this, she watched Anna closely but went on, “Is Simon his actual brother? I’m not sure how demons work in this realm. They’re different in other realms I’ve encountered.”
Well that certainly got Anna’s attention. Still, the focus was just a moment; as soon as it became apparent that the woman’s questions were still curios in nature rather than demeaning, Anna relaxed again. “That is a complicated subject. I’ll start with the easiest part. They are not blood relatives. Charon adopted Simon several years before I met either of them. I believe he was seventeen, perhaps eighteen at the time.” She had heard the story, but she couldn’t quite remember. “Simon was still very young.” As for the demon part, that took her a moment to try and approach. “That is the usual term for what Charon is, yes. There is some debate over it’s accuracy. I fear that the social stigma attached to magic may have badly coloured the naming process.” She pointed out. Magic being legal did not suddenly erase the troubles that followed it in other ways. “He is human enough, merely with a different set of skills.”
“So he’s human with magic…wouldn’t that make him like a wizard or a sorcerer or something? How is he a demon?” Kelly folded her arms as she sat back with furrowed brows because she was very curious and trying to understand.
Anna shrugged. “You have to understand, this isn’t my area of expertise. Neither is it his; he wasn’t raised in a community of people like him, so the only words he has to use for what he is are the ones others have called him.” She explained. “We do know a few magic users who use different words for what they do, but nothing that they do exactly matches his skills so perhaps he doesn’t feel right taking their words to use as his own.” While Charon being a demon was a non-issue to them now, Anna had never really thought too much about the linguistics of it.
“Interesting, so is Simon also a magic user?” Then Kelly paused and had to smile, “I think I should talk with Charon sometime for the actual details of how Simon and he met, but still!” She fixed her gaze on Anna, still smiling. “I’m sorry, back to the question. Does Simon have magic then?”
“You’re very good with these complicated questions.” Anna pointed out to the woman, but not without a hint of teasing in her words. She wasn’t renowned for her sense of humour but it still existed. And the woman had been very pleasant so far, so that made it much easier. “Simon is gifted, although I do not know if it is magic or not. I suppose it is on some level. But, like Charon, we have little to compare it to so I can’t say that I understand it very much.” Perhaps someone with some background in the subject would have more answers, but she would try her best. “Short answer is yes, I think he does.”
Kelly chuckled at Anna’s compliment about complicated questions. Well, she liked to try! She then had to smirk at an idea that came to mind. “You must have a very interesting household with two ‘magical’ people. Do you have magic?”
That was a simple question and Anna shook her head. “No, not at all. And to be honest, what makes our house interesting has less to do with their skills and more to do with who they are, I think.” She said. “Simon’s magic, well, it does impact our lives because of how it affects his health. Besides that, I think we are like most other households.”
“Simon’s magic affects his health?” Kelly creased her brows once more. “That’s perplexing. So what exactly is his gift or so?”
Anna mimicked her expression while she tried to figure out how to explain it. “He…Simon can hear the things people think and feel what they feel, although he does not have the option to stop all of the noise it brings. He’s very young, so Charon thinks that the strain is too much for him.” It was as good a theory as any to Anna. “He can make use of it to do certain things, but it usually spends it’s time making him feel unwell and tired. He handles it as best he can.”
Surprisingly Kelly could actually relate but likely not to the extent as Simon experienced things, but it was what made her good at her job. She lowered her gaze and shook her head before lifting her eyes back to Anna. “That…isn’t easy at all, but if he can use his gift to encourage, motivate, and inspire others, even when he’s not well, he can be satisfied that he is doing the best he can do.”
However though, Kelly wanted to bring the attention of the conversation to another subject. “So, tell me, in ten years from now, where do you envision yourself? Still a city guard or what exactly?”
Anna didn’t mind the subject change. She worried about Simon enough as it was, even if it wasn’t exactly obvious. It was not a bad idea to move on to something else. “Honestly, if in ten years my life is just like it is today I will not be unhappy. I am happy in my work and my home, the people I work with and under are competent and hardworking.” She said. “My house is certainly one of the happiest I have seen in my life. If in ten years things are unchanged, I will have no complaints.”
Kelly smiled at this. It was nice to hear, but then she went on to another subject. “And what is the one thing you fear the most?”
Anna stopped short, a little surprised by the question. “That isn’t something I’ve considered before.” She said to the woman thoughtfully. ” I think…I fear harm coming to those that I love. Not violence necessarily. I feel all of us can survive whatever we may be subject to, especially if we are together. Sickness then, would be what I fear.” Anna frowned a little as she considered it. “Something that could hurt them that I could not defend them from. That is truly frightening to me.”
Kelly nodded. That made a lot of sense. “You certainly seem to be the protector your house, so having something affect your family that you can’t fight against—that would be hard.” Then Kelly tilted her head to a side, curious to the answer for the next question. “And what do you regret the most?”
“Almost killing my significant other might count.” Despite her somber tone previously she answered this question with a quick quip. Her smile was wry, but not entirely insincere. “No, really what I regret is all the wasted time. I know I am capable of good work, and I feel that some of the work I have done is good. But what could I have accomplished if I had been this focused and clear-headed when I was younger? How much trouble could I have saved myself and others? I feel it was a necessary learning experience, but I wonder what I could have done with this knowledge in my youth.” Anna said.
“Well, all things considering, if you didn’t go through what you did, you likely wouldn’t have met Charon and you wouldn’t have the life you have now,” Kelly pointed out. “Sure, it’s not fun, it’s not pleasant to think about, but it’s the truth. Your past made you who you needed to be and put you in the right place at the right time with the right people to turn you into who you are today.” She gestured toward Anna. “Now though, having said that, who would you say has been the most influential person in your life and why?”
Anna gave the woman a knowing look. “You’ve answered that question yourself. Although my parents have influenced me, giving me the means to build myself as a person, Charon is exactly as you said, the reason I have the life I have now.” Although the man in question likely would have protested that statement, Anna did not have to silence his arguments here. “The most important thing he taught me was that there can be no growth without asking questions, and that you don’t always need the answer before you ask.” That was it, the one thing that had turned everything Anna knew upside down. Once upon a time, that is. Now it was her second nature. “I suppose it is to his credit as a teacher that he made it an easy lesson to learn.”
“Very interesting.” Kelly took the words into consideration—considering the nature of her interviews and how she had to constantly ask questions. But then she smiled at Anna. “I’m very happy you’ve encountered Charon and that he has changed your life for the better, and I hope you the best for your future—especially regarding Simon because I know that does worry you. Unfortunately though, I believe I’ve taken enough of your time.” She offered Anna another smile as she rose to her feet. “But thank you for answering all these questions. I know it must be odd for someone totally random to come in here and ask questions like this, but…I’m a curious person by nature.”
Anna also stood when Ms. Blanchard did and nodded at her words. “I assure you, I too am happy to have met him.” Anna’s adventure had been turbulent but she had undoubtedly come out of it better off. Not only did she feel like she had a better grasp on herself and her work, but she had even gotten a few friends in the turmoil. “Although it was unexpected, I can tell you that you did not cause any harm. Not to worry.” Anna reassured her. She reached out and extended a hand to the woman. “Good day, then, Ms. Blanchard.”
A.N. Mouse’s books, ‘Melankholia’ and ‘Bright Stories for Dark Days’ are available online at the following links. His more recent work ‘The Ashen Path’ is set to be released next fall. Be sure to follow him on social media for more updates!
Bright Stories for Dark Days: https://www.createspace.com/5914079