Friday, March 4, 2011

Chapter 38 In the Wildlands

Sleeping out in the open has been a new experience for me.

Cold morning air chills my skin. I curl into a tight ball. The dying embers of the fire from last night don't do much for warmth. Alex lays with his chest to my back and an arm over my side, warming me and protecting me.

I should still be angry with him, but it is hard to when he’s my only real source of comfort. I can only remind myself that he offered to take me back. At least he said he would. I didn't test it.

Nothing much has happened in the two days we were in the forest. My body aches. Every morning it's difficult for me to get up, but I still try to do it with minimal help from Alex. He offers, but I politely refuse. Not quite angry with him, but not quite okay with him either.

He gently puts a hand on my hip and gives it a squeeze, sensing that I'm awake. It's time to start again. Today we're heading to a village with the intent on sleeping in a proper room with a proper bed.

The building is warm with the smell of a stew simmering in fresh spices. It makes my stomach rumble. As Alex speaks to the man in charge, I look around the room. It reminds me of Pat's place. People sit around at tables, villagers and tribals. Alex says this village is a trading hub. It's larger, well protected, with more resources. People come here to trade their items.

Alex comes back and has a seat next to me. "We can stay."

I nod. That had been a concern with so many people passing through here. I didn't really want to sleep outside again.

We don't speak. I rest my head on my hands and my elbows on the table. I'd always been taught that was bad manners, but I don't really care at the moment. It's either that or put my head down and go to sleep, but my rumbling stomach won't let me.

Alex has his eyes up, watching the room. Only his eyes are too steady, as if he were staring someone down. My muscles tense even though it hurts. I want to ask Alex what it is, but I don't. Our food is served, and Alex lowers his eyes for a moment, probably as able to resist the smell as I am. In that moment, I look up and catch the eyes of the man watching us.

He looks harmless enough, but I've learned better by now. He's dressed in normal clothes, sitting at a table in the corner watching us intently. When he sees me look, he seems to make a decision. He stands and I look back down at my bowl. Alex said there would be no fighting here. It was a safe place no matter what the tribe or the history.

The first bite of the stew is delicious. I can almost forget about the man with those hazel eyes. At least until he takes a seat at our table.

“What is going on here?”

Alex puts his spoon down into his bowl, letting his hand rest on the table. The man turns his unique hazel eyes on me. He looks very young, close to Alex’s age. Nothing from him sends me any sort of warning the way the man from the alley had.

“You’re obviously a Neutral stray, and you,” the man says as the muscles in his face harden making him look very stern, “are obviously a Lost Lander.”

Before Alex says or does anything, I jump in. “We’re friends. It’s okay.”

“You don’t have to lie,” he says to me after we place our order for dinner. “I can help you.”

In a world where it seems anyone wise would mind there own business, it renews my hope, and I can’t help feeling at ease. He hasn’t made any overt threats to Alex, and while I know that doesn’t mean anything, still I can’t help having a feeling that he’s really just a normal guy trying to do the right thing.

I draw my mouth closed to swallow the small lump in my throat. “Really. I'm fine.” I glance over at Alex, but he starts to turn towards me. I look away again before I accidentally look into his eyes. He's been good so far as we've traveled. Still, with this new situation, I don't know what he'll do if he wants us to get away from the man with the hazel eyes.

“This is Alex. I'm Paula.”

The man looks from me to Alex. I cringe when he looks Alex in the eye. “I'm Stephan. You’ll forgive me, I hope, but I've seen too many strays taken. And being Neutral, you’re the easiest picking.”

I blink at him for a moment, my mind completely blank. “How do you know I'm Neutral?”

A corner of his mouth lifts up. “How could I not tell with questions like that?"

It takes a second for me to realize what he's saying. When I do, the words slip out in a whisper. "They throw people out frequently?"

"Yeah. Pretty frequently. I’d guess that someone in your family is a political prisoner-- that’s the most common reason lately.”

I blink back tears. Alex tenses next to me and Stephan's face softens. Both actions happen simultaneously and it almost makes me laugh. I go back to eating to calm my stomach. Stephan sticks with us making small talk with Alex who makes nice and plays this game with him though I can sense a bit of annoyance on Alex's part. I'm not sure why he continues on with it, but I don't say anything about it. I just eat my meal quietly, content to not have to talk until we say our good byes.

Next Chapter -->


Oh man! It's actually up! This one took forever. I had so many issues. But I'm trying to soldier on because I don't have that many to do. About six chapters left right now. Exciting! Still, I will probably be taking next week off (as loath as I am to do that) so that I can be sure to have the next couple of updates ready. I'd like to actually release those on time.


  1. So, the title picture...just have to say that Alex + stubble + that lighting = drool.

    Ok, with that out of the way--Stephan! What an interesting young man. He seems so different from anyone else--I'm wondering how he fits into the area, and what kind of help he thought he could provide. He's pretty brazen to confront her about it right there in front of Alex, if he really suspects that Alex has taken her on as a stray. I hope we find out more about him!

    I'm sorry this took you all day, but I'm selfishly glad that you were able to get it done! :)

  2. Sorry you had so many issues! I know how much of a pain that is!

    I must admit I agree with Rachel that the title picture had me wiping my chin. I think with each chapter, I fall more and more head over heels with this pairing. I like this slow journey back because I like the idea of them alone. SMH

    Hazel eyes is something else. I was surprised that he actually walked over to them and confronted them just like that. Bold. I like that. I too wonder how he fits into this and can't wait to see where this goes.

  3. First...I am not finding myself drawn any closer to Alex, but you know, that's just me, go figure. It's interesting that they would just walk into a town and expect everything to be ok when they know they're being hunted/followed. This Stephan fellow seems rather out of place in town to me. The idea that someone would be willing to help out random strangers is quite possible, unlikely, but possible. Perhaps some kind of underground railroad getting neutrals back into town? Though, I'm curious if he plans on "helping" both of them, or is just trying to get Paula away from Alex seeing Alex as being a threat to her. Though, I'm thinking he's more likely one of the ghosts and knows exactly what he's doing.

  4. Rachel, lol!

    Stephan is rather fun. Another one of those things. He was rather brazen, but then they are in something of a safe place. So he seems to know what he's doing.

    haha, thank you for commenting so quickly! It does mean a lot after all that hard work.

    Qui, thanks.

    Alex does have that effect. He's so cute sometimes, lol.

    Thanks again. We might see Stephan again.

    Migy, you're not? Clearly Alex must try harder. ;) lol!

    It is interesting, isn't it, that Alex would just walk into town when he knows they're being followed. :)

    Some good theories on Stephan. XD

  5. This is so weird, according to blogger, you posted this on friday, but it's only just showed up for me today... lousy blogger.

    Interesting, as much as Stephan seems genuine, you can never really take anyone in that world at face value (I'm also starting to wonder a bit about Alex as well), and there is something ominous about that last picture.

    And did I read that correct, only six chapters to go?...

  6. Six chapters... of Paula's story, yes? Not of Ruin?

    Stephan is intriguing - something of his appearance reminds me of someone else in Ruin but not sure who...

    Really intriguing chapter, I really felt Paula's terror.

  7. poida, oops! That's my fault. I put the draft in on Friday and forgot to update the date. I've been working on this damn post all weekend, lol. So not Blogger's fault this time.

    No, you really never should take anyone at face value. Not here.

    Yes, you read it correct. Probably only six chapters left for Paula's story. That doesn't feel like a lot. :( But my entries are long. This one here is like two pages long, lol.

    Rad, yes of Paula's story. Ruin has so many stories I'm sort of always panicked about how to share them all, lol.

    :) I think that one would be hard to call.

    Thanks, Rad.

  8. Another great chapter!

    "I can only remind myself that he offered to take me back. At least he said he would. I didn't test it."

    I still wonder if that's what Alex was counting on, actually! I think I said as much at the time. I think Alex might have assumed Paula wouldn't take him up on his offer to take her back home.

    I'm not quite as quick to trust Stephan as Paula seems to be (though, I think she's cautious herself but she really wants to trust him). He was very quick to act when he saw a Lost Lander and a Neutral together. That sort of rashness could be dangerous.

    Only six chapters left of Paula's story! Wow. That seems so soon. I remember when you wrapped up the last story, I was thinking "how is she going to finish this?" but you did it so well that I have no such thoughts this time.

  9. Stephan's story has me intrigued. From some of the things he says my first guess is that he has been outside of the Neutral territories much if not all of his life - especially when he talks about how the family of political prisoners are the most common of neutrals to be thrown out now, implying that he remembers before and that in times past there were different reasons.

    But something in his manner strikes me as very different from the humans we have met up to now (Pat, etc). I don't know what it is exactly - a formality perhaps? Maybe it's the clothing he wears, again, much more formal than most others, but something about him just screams government agent.
    Or I could just be paranoid.

  10. Carla, aw, thank you!

    True, Alex could have considered that. She's obviously a caring type of person, and she hears that there's a child in trouble. I'm sure Alex considered that she wouldn't turn her back on that.

    Paula does want to trust Stephan. And he is rash! Definitely not wise unless you have something to back up your words.

    Yep, probably only six unless my subconscious takes another detour. My chapters are long though. Each entry is like two pages long!

    Judi, I'm glad. He's another character who told me he had to be at this point in time to entice you and make you curious. So I love your theory!

    You have caught onto one of the important clues. That the most common reason now has to do with the family of political prisoners.

    You're also right that he is different from the humans we've met up to now.

  11. I have not forgotten why Alex brought Paula there in the first place, or why he said he did. If he intends to rescue his daughter, is he closer to accomplishing that? He has a lot of distractions, and he surprised me by chatting to Stephan since Alex never struck me as the kind of guy who could chat if his life depended on it LOL!

    Stephan. Well. That's one interesting outfit he's wearing. If I were Paula, I wouldn't trust his sincerity if it were branded across his forehead. Trust what you know and keep everything else at bay.

    I think Alex is stunning....and it is amazing how you have brought us so far into this piece and it is a flashback! Incredible writing!

  12. You know, this government agent thing got me thinking. If he were to be working for the government, it is possible that Alex brought them into town knowing they would meet up with him in a way to get Paula back into the city, and possibly with her mother (assuming she was rescued has yet to be stated either way). Now then, his apprehension towards Stephan would be that he knows he's "giving" Paula away to go back home, because he has feelings for her. Which would also mean that he had brought her here under Henry's orders, and the daughter issue was just a story to get her to go along with it.

  13. SB, it's good that you remember that. They are on their way though he has had a lot of distractions up to now.

    And you're spot on about the chatting. Paula is probably painting a nice picture of it because she's distracted. I imagine it more like Alex grunting in response to whatever Stephan was saying, lol!

    Thank you.

    Migy, man, I should have just had you all write the story, lol!

    Also, no one spotted the clue. There is a visual clue in this entry. :) Ah well, we'll get back to that soon enough.

  14. Clues or not, now I'm curious as to why there was cup stacking going on in the first image XD. And, it's more fun to conceptualize different scenarios...

  15. Those cups are suspiciously stacked! What about that woman poking at the fire? *narrows eyes*

    I'm enjoying reading the conceptualizations. Don't get me wrong, lol.

  16. I don't think I've mentioned yet how much I am enjoying this quest style path you've steered the characters on.

    I like Stephen. The fact that he offered help should it be needed warmed me to him instantly. I am curious about him too. He isn't afraid of Alex. Not in the least. That says he must have something up his sleeve. He knows what Alex is but still he meets his eyes straight on. Very very curious.

    Six Chapters left? Is that for this arc or for the overall story?

  17. The girl poking the fire eh? Would that be Ms. Shawn by chance? And, is it common for most the people to wear clothes that would hide any and all tattoos they might have? And Stephan has rather nice shoes.

  18. Thanks, Carnaxa. I didn't think about it until last week, but it is rather a quest style. I usually hate that, but it can't be avoided. An evil necessity, lol.

    Oh one outright for Stephan! Yes, true. He knew what Alex was (but probably not his specific power). He most likely had something up his sleeve.

    Six chapters left for Paula's story. I have already plotted it out, but not written it out.

    Migy, the clothes thing really depends. If they're just a regular villager/human, then most likely no tattoos. Otherwise it depends on what they're wanting to do.

    I had to look back at his shoes, lol. He does, but then he is in this trading village, so I imagine that materials are easy to come by.

  19. Hmmm, I'm suspicious of this Stephan dude. I'm still suspicious of Alex now too though, lol! Poor Paula. And the start of this had me feeling very sad for the trust that they've lost still :(

  20. But Stephan's so cute!

    Yeah, the trust Paula had for Alex is pretty much blown to pieces even if she still wants to trust him. He keeps doing things that make her question it.