Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it isn't mine.
Well, dearies, here is the next installment in our saga of Paton's life. Here's a little blurb exploring a snippet of Paton's school days and the origin of the rather unique blade he carries into the final battle in the last book of the series. This actually isn't the chapter I referenced last time when I said I had already written another; that one (and another, if you can believe it) are waiting to make the jump from my notebook to my computer. So, be prepared for an onslaught of updates. Are you excited yet? I know I am; I am in the writing zone lately, and I am going to roll with it!
As always, read, enjoy, and please review; I love to receive any and all feedback.
Paton pursed his lips, casting an anxious glance around the area. They would choose tonight to hold the first ruin scavenger hunt in over three decades. The air was cool and crisp, the sky sable and speckled with a bright dusting of stars and host to a glowing silver moon—and it was All Hallow's Eve.
Students were lined up along the edge of the abandoned castle yard, trading nervous glances and shifting back and forth, rubbing their arms, in a half-hearted attempt to stave off the cold. The air hummed with a nervous energy that was laced with thick undercurrents of excitement. After all, the ruin was a mystery—typically forbidden, dark and daunting, and probably the most appealing playground imaginable for an adolescent on Halloween.
Purple, green, and blue-cloaked bodies exchanged excited whispers, faces glowing in the lunar light as they stole repeated glances at the dark turrets protruding from the heavily-wooded yard beyond. Anticipation sat heavily in the air, a heady tonic to teens long-bereft of any adventure.
One member of the group was not so enthusiastic.
Paton stood apart from his contemporaries, aloof in his distrust of the apparent spectacle. He had a certain acquaintance with the Bloors and their inner circle—courtesy of his sisters and their…associations—and knew quite well that these "games", so to speak, were always backed by some sinister motive. People disappeared in those ruins. Children went in and did not return; unidentified belongings were recovered and masked, their owners' identities forever a mystery.
There had not been a scavenger hunt in the Red King's castle since years prior to Paton's arriving at the school; he wondered who had so displeased the current regime, who had so upset the status quo to the point that the Bloors and their ilk were provoked into such a state of agitation as was being displayed.
The thoughts weighed heavily on his mind, chipped away at the conscience necessity often dictated he keep sealed away. He should warn his classmates, should intimate that this night was more than it appeared, that all was not as innocent as it seemed—but to what end? If he risked speaking up, no one would listen. He was the resident pariah, living in a semi-imposed state of hermitdom that he welcomed with open arms. He was Powerless Paton, a name cruelly inflicted by those who saw some double meaning in his endowment ("What good is bursting light bulbs?" they would mock. "You'd be toast against any real endowment").
And, even if he were to obtain and hold the attention of an audience, it would only serve to shift the Bloor's—and his sisters'—animosity toward him. He had been living safely on the fringe of their evilness for eight years; he was not about to sacrifice his established neutrality now, for what could prove to be a threat. If he jumped at every ill-flavored deed, he would have long since disappeared himself. People who crossed the Bloors, who defied his sisters, tended to vanish very soon after.
Tonight, on this moonlit Halloween, he expected similar results; somewhere amid those tangled thorns, thick trees, and scattered stone ruins, one of his classmates would learn a lesson that he or she would not soon forget.
He flinched as he thought of this, recoiling from the haunting, accusatory glare of his conscience that seared a deep brand into his psyche. He should not be so complacent, should not allow such acts of malcontent to progress. It was wrong, and innocents were going to be harmed.
But, he was only one person, one single, young, powerless joke of an endowed teenager. What could he do in the face of Ezekiel and Harold Bloor and the motley assortment of mutants and monsters that flocked to their standard?
Frowning furiously at these frustrating thoughts, Paton shook his head and returned his attention to the present just as a hush stole over the assembled students, sweeping across the courtyard in a fluid ripple. Ezekiel Bloor wheeled himself out before the group, flanked by Grizelda and Lucretia Yewbeam and his son Harold, recently returned from university abroad. "Good evening, students," he said, attempting a friendly smile as he surveyed the assembled student body. The result was a toothy leer, the predatory smirk of a collector valuing his miasma of trinkets.
"Tonight we bring back a Bloor's tradition—the ruin scavenger hunt. Somewhere at the heart of this maze sits an artifact of great value—a token, of sorts. The student who finds this item and returns with it will receive immunity from detention and have priority status at meals for the duration of the year." He paused to allow the excited whispers die away.
"Any student who refuses to participate," he continued, eyes narrowing as he passed a dangerous look across the crowd, "will face severe consequences. Everyone must enter the maze and remain for at least half an hour."
One girl, a bold senior flaunting the drama department's purple cape, raised her hand.
"Yes?" Ezekiel acknowledged her query with a raised brow.
"What is the artifact, sir?" she asked. "So we know what we're looking for."
A pleased smile swept cross Ezekiel's face. It was evident he had been waiting for someone to pose this very question. "It is a sword," he said, a hungry gleam in his eye, "so slim it could barely be called such, about three feet long from hilt to the tip of the blade." A queer light lit up his face. "Even we do not know where it is—just that it will appear tonight to one very lucky student."
Suddenly all of the pieces fit together. This was not about punishment; it was about obtaining some weapon or artifact of the King's, of using some hapless student as a means of obtaining a weapon too pure for them to possess themselves.
Paton idly wondered what was significant about the blade, but his thoughts soon turned to more practical matters and he contemplated how he would spend his mandatory thirty minutes within the maze. He had no intention of trying to win, and certainly not of doing the Bloor's dirty work for them. No, he would just wander in a few hundred yards and wait it out.
Things had progressed while Paton was distracted, and he returned to awareness just in time to hear the groundskeeper, a burly, cantankerous old man, blow a short blast on a silver whistle to announce the start of the hunt.
The students surged forward, a single, massive wave of blue and green and purple. Paton let the worst of it pass and then slipped into the maze.
The dense foliage blocked the silvery light of the moon, and his pupils dilated, all black now but for two thin crescents of white, to adjust to the drastic shift in visibility. A badly-hewn rocky path stretched out before him, overrun with tendrils of creeping weeds and bushy thorns. He scrambled along it, tripping and stumbling over loose stones strewn across the path.
Calling the castle a ruin was no exaggeration. Rocky ruins sat along the path, trace remnants of some form of wall framing the walkway with its stony skeleton. Paton trailed a light hand along it as he walked, feeling the cool contours of the uneven rock passing beneath his fingers.
He could hear the crashes and conversations that served as telltale signs of his classmates' progress, and deliberately took a sharp left that led him in the opposite direction of the clamor.
His wanderings took him deeper and deeper into the ruin, beneath brilliant trees of red and gold that had not yet been affected by the gravitational pull of the cooler weather. Broken, grotesque statues leered down at him, eyeing him with headless faces and reaching out for him with arms that had long since broken away. An eerie gray mist hovered centimeters from the ground, writhing and twisting in a horribly sentient manner. Tendrils of it reared up to caress Paton's ankles, twining up and around his legs like a coiling serpent.
He shuddered—its touch was icy cold.
Suddenly the path he had been following disappeared, widening into a large, open courtyard. Strangely, this was the most established portion of the ruin he had encountered—yet it was set in the very heart of the desolation. The ground was cobbled with white marble, luminescent in the moonlight pouring through a hole in the high-domed, columnar ceiling. Trees peeked through gaps in the spiraled columns, their jeweled branches waving the autumn wind.
Paton stopped for a moment to appreciate the scene with an appropriate amount of awe. There was something so serene and surreal about the design, something beautiful in the blending of natural and man-made elements. He felt an intruder, a foreign element imposed on this long-hidden Eden.
In the center of the courtyard, framed by a small, clear pool of indeterminable depth, stood a small pedestal. The pedestal held a rock of considerable size, the slab of granite taking Paton by surprise as it alone, of all the marvels in this place, was exactly what it appeared to be—a chunk of rock, dull, misshapen, and altogether ordinary.
Then he saw the sword.
He shut his eyes tightly and rubbed them, shaking his head in denial. Not here, not now. Not him.
Black eyes opened and glinted with resigned disappointment; the sword remained where he had first espied it, embedded deep within the blocky grey stone.
Paton scowled, glaring up at the sky. "Fate hates me," he muttered, turning the glare upon the gleaming weapon. "I survived eight years at the mercy of my sisters only to die at the age of fifteen because some sword decides to play Excalibur." He frowned and shifted from foot to foot, desperately trying to force his body to turn and leave, to put the sword and all of the mysteries and adventures it promised behind him.
It was impossible.
Now that he had seen the sword, had tasted the forbidden fruit, he was lost; he had to approach.
Drawn by forces he could not control, his feet carried him up to the sword and stone. Without realizing he made the gesture, his arm reached out to the sword, hovering mere centimeters above the metallic hilt and leather-wrapped pommel. Paton hesitated, glanced down at the gleaming silver weapon that offered itself to him.
He knew if he took this sword, the moment his skin brushed against that metal, he could never again be considered "neutral" in the war between the King's descendants. Something long dormant flickered to life within him, igniting from a feeble flame into a burning blaze. His resolve hardened, his courage surged, and he closed his fingers around the padded hilt, skin and sword meeting with an electric surge that sent him reeling. Electricity coursed through his body, igniting every nerve and synapse, burning him with a searing, agonizing power that raced through his entire being.
Gasping, panting as though he had just run half a marathon, he released the blade and staggered back, eyes wide with awe, burning with residual shock and power.
Something about that sword…it felt as though it were made for him. But for such an object to choose him, a weapon of such immense power to deem him worthy…
Tentatively he approached the sword once more, an animal trainer approaching his uncompromising charge. He grasped the hilt once more and tugged; with one fluid motion the word slid free of its stony sheath, all sleek silver and sharp steel. He could feel the electricity pulsing beneath his fingers.
The sword…it was a manifestation of his endowment. It channeled the energy that coursed throughout his veins, the power that usually could only find an outlet in the electrical devices of his world. He screwed up his face in concentration, channeling the electric energy that was constantly surging beneath his skin.
The steel sparked, then ignited with a crackle of lightning, bolts streaking and jumping along the length of the blade. Paton grinned, the fierce grin of a fighter that drove away all traces of the timid boy from before. This…this was a weapon. His weapon, his alone—he knew of no other individual, no other endowment, similar to his own.
This sword was his, his to wield and bend to his will. It was meant to defend and protect, to unite and safeguard. It was not a destroyer or a slayer, but a guardian. It meant for its wielder to be good and genuine, to do right by any and all who needed it.
Paton sensed this, knew inherently the costs of accepting such a weapon, such a burden. He knew, and he chose. He took the sword, flicked his wrist, and sent a helix of lightning coiling down the blade. He made his choice—and his choice, in return, made him.