This week’s prompt: The clever man will be laughing all day.
The clever man will be laughing all day.
Hal hates him, whoever he is. He knew it from the moment he laid eyes on his smug, begging-to-be-punched face. There’s just something about him. Something in the way he’s almost hard to look directly at, like he’s always standing in front of the sun. It’s something like a shroud around him, something no one else seems to see. Something that glitters like dust floating through a beam of light in an otherwise darkened room, only a thousand times brighter. Something that follows him everywhere, cleaving to everything he touches.
It’s the same sort of something that lingers in the ruins of what used to be Hal’s home; on the wrecked furniture, shattered glass, the flattened houses of his neighbors, and in the crater that was the epicenter of the explosion that leveled half the village.
The stranger has something to do with that disaster, and every other horrible event the village has suffered since, Hal is certain of it. He just has to prove it
Hal cringes at the rapidly-becoming-familiar sound of Penny’s voice. “Will you stop calling me that?” He hisses as she flops down on the ground beside him.
“Why?” She sounds genuinely surprised by the request. “It’s a great name! It’s so very… very—”
“Up it’s own ass?”
Hal ignores the rebuke and instead tilts his chin at the stranger, standing in the courtyard in front of the temple. “Know him?”
Penny forwards her gaze along as directed, and her disapproving expression morphs into one of puzzlement. “No… I’ve never seen him before.”
“And isn’t that weird?” Hal presses. “In our village? When was the last time you saw someone you didn’t know, or at least recognize?”
“Uh, Elyse.” She says it as if it were obvious, and, well, she may have a point.
Elyse. Frankly, Hal has his suspicions about her too, but, admittedly, they’ve been fading of late. Though her aura nearly identical to the stranger’s, hers is… muted somehow. Residual even. Hal is more inclined to think of her as a victim of the newcomer, rather than a co-conspirator, her memory loss a likely side effect from whatever run in they might have had. Maybe. Or, they’re just playing the long game, and Hal is falling for it ass over teakettle.
Movement across the courtyard draws his attention, as Rassalas, who’d been absent for the last hour, makes his reappearance from the interior of the temple. Hal scowls at the sight of him. He doesn’t like him either, but for different reasons. That he was just a little too eager to bow to the stranger upon his arrival didn’t help matters, nor the fact that the priest has been waiting on his hand and foot all day. No, the two of them are up to something together.
Hal watches as the men have a quick, quiet conversation, then make to leave the courtyard altogether, waking toward the northern lane. There isn’t much in that direction — the district had slowly been emptying for years, ever since the disaster. It’s a perfect place to have a private conversation without prying eyes or ears. Or so they think.
“Look, he’s with Lord Rassalas,” Penny observes, and the words are not yet out of her mouth when Hal reaches his feet.
“Go home, Penny,” he tells her, his gaze never leaving his suspects.
“What, why?” She asks, scrambling to stand.
“Because I need to be able to hear what they’re saying without being seen, which means you can’t come.” There’s an insult there he chooses not to make explicit, but it doesn’t matter because she seems to have missed the point anyway.”
Her mouth is arranged in a frown, and her brow is furrowed, crinkling the corners of her brown eyes. “Rassalas is a good man,” she says quietly. “He really took care of me while Papa was away. He takes care of everyone. He loves us, all of us. Why do you hate him so much?”
Hal groans, watching the pair progress further and further out of view. Of course she would want to have this conversation now. “Penny, I don’t have time for—”
“Tell me, Hal!” She insists, louder this time, her voice cracking with desperation.
Still, he really can’t afford to — shit. She called him Hal.
Hal takes a deep breath. He’s going to have to do this really fast if he wants a chance to catch up with his quarries. “Because he has a stupid amount of power in this village, Penny. No one will attend his church services, but they still trust him enough manage the affairs of the whole town. How does that make sense? He turns the volunteer guard into his own personal enforcers, and everyone just goes with it. And, you’re wrong, by the way. He doesn’t take care of everyone, does he? He says the role of the church is to offer succor to the needy, but he still put Elyse out on her ass. Labeled her a heretic, and no one bats an eye. No proof necessary, because Rassalas said so. She’s evil and unwelcome, and that’s final. And honestly, Penny, I don’t like him because nice girls like you shouldn’t promise away your whole life to someone who’s done nothing to earn your respect, other than outlast everyone else in a dying faith.”
Penny doesn’t respond right away, though he can tell she didn’t like what she heard by the way her fists are clenched at her sides.
Well, she did ask.
“Thank you for your honesty Hal,” she says at last. She crooks her mouth at him wryly. “Now get going, don’t you have a clandestine meeting to spy on?”
Hal doesn’t waste any time, loping away from her as fast as his legs will carry him, but, as he ducks into the alleyway, hot on the trail of his foes, he can’t help but smile.