The Dresden Files/Codex Alera is copyright Jim Butcher. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.
Author: Travis Holley
Spoilers: "Cold Days"
Warnings: graphic violence, some harsh language
Summary: Short story about the sword Fidelacchius and a young man's faith
It was Halloween night and this street was fairly quiet. Brandon had been scoping the neighborhood all day for the right house to break in to. He'd narrowed his choices down to three. That was until two of the families got back from trick-or-treating. Brandon was starving, the last meal he ate being a half rotten apple from the garbage can across the street from the house he was now zeroing in on.
The mailbox read Murphy. Brandon kept track of the names of the owners of the houses he robbed. Not just the names either but addresses too. One day, when he was rich he planned on paying the money back.
Brandon never stole from anyone that was poor, and he never broke into any house with someone in it. This was a well maintained single floor house. The owner wasn't too flashy or too reserved. That meant practical. That meant the chance to score some useful stuff. Useful meant more money from a fence. See, the thieving world worked on the principle of whether something could move. Stones from jewelry could always move, solid electronics could move. People that were practical tended to shop better than flashy people. They tended to actually want things that worked well and took care of them too.
There was a security system, but Brandon knew computers. He built his own from scrap out of garbage cans and sold them for money. Being seventeen and having no education past the seventh grade put a serious damper on his ability to get a job with any of the local tech companies however. The fact that his homeless status left him incapable of showering regularly didn't do anything to help him out in that department either.
"You will never amount to a load of crap, you worthless loser!" His alcoholic father loved to scream at him before the old man died from exposure one night when he tried staggering home drunk in the middle of winter. Brandon shook his head to clear the thoughts away. It wouldn't do him a bit of good to go into this job unfocused.
Whoever the owner was, they weren't home by three o'clock in the morning. Brandon figured by that point, they weren't coming home. The bars closed around two and most people that were out celebrating had already made it back. Someone as practical as the owner of this house wasn't going to be staggering back in at four.
Brandon carefully moved through the shadows. His three years of training himself to move in darkness to feed his little brother and sister had taught him more than he ever wanted to know about sneaking around. He'd tried doing odd jobs but there wasn't really any money in it. And he had absolutely no intention of having his siblings wind up in a foster home with a child molester or an abuser. Some orphanages looked like maybe they were okay but he saw the feral look in some of the children's eyes there and he wasn't having it.
Kim and Daniel lived in an abandoned warehouse in an old industrial area that the business had dried up and blown away from. It was always really quiet out there and with the small grouping of offices being in the middle of the warehouse, no lights ever showed to the outside world. Perfect for a little home for his kid brother and sister. Brandon usually tried to hit houses that had kids roughly around Kim's and Daniel's ages so he could bring them toys to play with.
This house didn't have any kids living in it, but Brandon needed to score tonight or his brother and sister would go hungry tomorrow. It was a rough fall and summer hadn't been very easy what with monsters and such walking the streets. He could see how gaunt he was becoming and that meant soon enough, his brother and sister would be suffering too.
Brandon smoothly worked his way from shadow to shadow that covered only few spots on the lawn. The security lights were massive monstrosities. Brandon did make it through to the back door, only barely avoiding numerous tight spots where he nearly revealed himself. Whoever lived here had something they really wanted to protect.
Brandon breathed deeply, easing his fast beating heart, and standing just out of the light that illuminated the back door. A loud thump sounded out in the night down the street and Brandon looked up in panic. Just then, all the lights covering this neighborhood died. Brandon couldn't believe his luck!
Quickly, he knelt down in front of the door knob and began examining the lock. It was a fancier one, having two separate sets of pins for both the teeth and dimples etched into the side of the key. He pulled out a filed down key that was designed to fit the lock type and inserted it. Using a leather headed mallet from his set of tools, he sharply tapped on the back of the key a number of times, then tried turning it. The lock didn't budge. He tapped a few more times, tried again to turn the key with no luck.
Bump keys were his basic stock and trade in breaking into places but it appeared they might not work on this one. He pulled up the mallet one more time and tapped on the end of the key. He heard a small snick, and smiled. The last pin must have settled into place. He turned the key and the door opened!
Brandon smiled to himself and made his way inside quickly. He slung his back pack off and began looking around for things to snatch. In the kitchen, he found a utility drawer with an expensive high power led flashlight. It went into his pack. Nothing else in the kitchen appeared to have any worthwhile value. He made his way into the next room off the kitchen and found it to be the living area. A set of antique figurines sat on a fireplace ledge and he immediately stuffed them all into his bag. Those usually could fetch a nice price to the right fence and Brandon had taken his time to learn who all the best fences are. You didn't know who to sell to, you didn't make money.
Brandon moved around the room and spotted a quality entertainment system set up. The central piece fit into his bag so he unhooked it and placed it carefully inside. TVs and such were great but if you scored a really nice stereo component they could wind up fetching a better price. Everybody stole TVs, but very few realized there was a higher demand for the component pieces because of how cheap some places sold TVs.
Right after he finished placing the component into his bag, his eyes were drawn to the closet. There was something in there, he just knew it! Brandon moved quickly to the closet and tried to open the door. It was stuck.
He put the backpack down next to the closet door and gripped the handle with both hands for better leverage. At the second turn of the knob it opened up smoothly and Brandon almost fell from overcompensating. He swiftly regained his balance and peered inside. His eyes zeroed in on the back right hand corner and he moved aside the few coats blocking the view. A dim light from outside had filtered its way into the house and illuminated a two finger width wooden walking stick.
Brandon pulled his eyes away, disregarding the walking stick but found them returning on their own to it. Shaking his head, he quickly reached out and grasped the stick in his hand. Cold struck his arm like a lightning bolt! The entire closet was illuminated with a bright soft white light that came from the simple old walking stick. Brandon paid no attention to this, because at precisely that moment, alarms began going off! Somehow the power had come back on.
Brandon bolted through the living room, into the kitchen, and out the back door. He didn't even bother to close the door because he knew the alarm system model and this one didn't go off on its own. The police or the owner were the only ones that could shut the system down. Brandon had even bigger problems when he saw a Monoc Securities company van was speeding down the road! How in the name of God did they get there that fast?
Brandon, hurdled the backyard fence and ran through a darkened house's yard. The alarms were loud! The flood lights that switched on lit up almost the entire neighborhood like a baseball field they were so bright! Dogs began barking all over the place and Brandon could hear people behind him running into the house.
That was when Brandon realized his mistake. His backpack was still sitting in the living room and he was carrying the walking stick with him. The young thief was about to fling the stick away from him, but some deep core of who he was stopped him cold. He looked down at the stick in bewilderment but figured it didn't much matter anyway. Might as well get something out of the horribly ruined job.
Three hours later, Brandon was walking along the street as the sky was beginning to lighten. The city was starting to wake up, but the area he was walking through was still quite sleepy. Another hour and he would be in the warehouse district where he would have to face his brother and sister with the news that they were going to have to scrounge for some food and hit up the soup kitchens.
He hated having to do that and cursed himself for not disarming the security system while the power was out. That would have been a great haul. He could have fed his brother and sister for a week off of just the surround sound system component. Hopefully his luck would be better tonight, and tomorrow they would all be able to eat well.
Brandon was lost in thought, planning for tonight's run when something struck him as odd. He looked around and found that he was going to the wrong way to get back to the industrial area. Glancing around, he began working out where he was and the quickest way back on track. He didn't want his brother and sister to get too worried when they woke up this morning.
Finally getting his bearings, Brandon turned right down the next avenue and picked up the pace to hopefully make up some for the lost time.
"Help!" Brandon heard some woman scream. Brandon's eyes snapped up and he saw a scene out of a nightmare! Five frog like things were attacking an older lady out in front of an apartment complex. On instinct Brandon sprinted forward, bringing the stick up to guard position.
Brandon's father was a former Marine that at one time had been stationed in Okinawa for years. During the duty station, and before the old man had been so severely damaged by fighting that the Marine Corps had forcibly retired him, Brandon's father had studied under some of the greatest swordsmen that Okinawa had to offer. Brandon remembered those days fondly. That was before the drinking, before the beatings, before their mom had left never to be heard from again.
Brandon's father had been heralded as a natural by all of his instructors and the trait had passed right along to his son. For years, Brandon trained alongside his father and under his father's tutelage. It was only when the drinking started did those sessions turn brutal.
"Keep your guard up, you idiot!" His father would scream at him, smacking him hard across the back with the practice bokken. The bruising and welts were so bad at times that Brandon wasn't allowed by his mother to go to school.
These images flashed through Brandon's brain in an instant and he felt his anger build at the thoughts of the strong beating on the weak and helpless. This woman was old! She was easily outmatched by even one of these creatures and there were five attacking her! Righteous rage burned through his veins.
Images of him and his mother knelt against the side of his bed, begging God to bring back the man they remembered and loved so dearly flashed by. Prayers sent up on the wings of hundreds of tears spilling out of tired eyes. His mother had finally given up hope. Her faith had broken and he had found her packing her bags one day to leave.
"You, your sister, and your brother are coming with me. We can't stay here anymore." She told him, her eyes flat and dead.
The memory of what he did next was forever burned into his brain. He stood up and told her, "No."
"What did you say?" His mother had asked, completely shocked.
"He doesn't hurt them, he still makes money, and the only time he ever hits anyone is when I work with him with the sword. But I know it is going to get better!" Brandon had told her, fire in his voice.
"What makes you think that? It has been two years, Brandon and he's only getting worse! I'm not leaving you three in this house with that man!" His mother cried out at him.
"God will fix it! I know he will! He may not have answered our prayers yet, mom, but we can't lose faith!" Brandon yelled right back at her.
"Don't you dare talk to me about God! Do you know what God did? God took your father away, took my husband away and left us with that broken wreck." Tears were pouring out of his mother's eyes as she advanced toward him. "THAT IS NO GOD OF MINE!"
"Semper Fidelis." Brandon retorted.
"Oh, you fool! They beat that into your father's brain all the way through his training, almost every day I heard those words. I remember watching him teach them to you on his knee, telling you all about faith and how important it is. But you know what? What has it gotten us? A broken man! A broken home! I cry myself to sleep when I see the bruises he leaves on you! That isn't my husband, I don't owe that monster anything!" His mother turned and zipped up the suitcase.
"You aren't trying to take us away from danger, this isn't about us. This is about you. I hear you talking to your friends on the phone about how it is so hard for you. How you suffer so much. You don't talk about me, or Kim, or Daniel. You just talk about you. The only reason you keep me home from school is because you would be embarrassed if they saw the bruises! I heard you say it mother so don't even try and deny it." Brandon remembered the anger he felt then, raw and powerful. "You go! You leave us if you lost your faith! I will never lose mine! NOT EVER!"
His mother had left then and Brandon remembered watching her drive away. That same anger he felt that day flooded through him now looking at the scene before him. It was different now though. Something about it was changed. It felt keenly focused and seething below a tight web of self-control within him. Sights became sharper, smells became stronger and the very air around him crackled.
Time slowed down to his eyes and mind. The frog creatures looked almost like they were swimming through water with their movements. One of them held the woman's arm in a crushing grip and was bringing his other hand up to strike her and knock her unconscious.
Brandon leapt and brought the cane down with all of his might on the creature's wrist. Whatever passed for bones in its arms broke with a loud snap that greeted Brandon's more sensitive ears. The battle was joined!
Carol was scared nearly witless. She had been going out to buy some groceries when the five Fomor had attacked. All of the paranetters like her were aware of them, but these were the first she had ever seen in person. Talking about something, looking at pictures, reading about sightings and attacks meant nothing next to the real experience.
They were hideous froglike things that had no soul in their eyes. They had ambushed her when she came out of her apartment building. One had a tight, punishing grip on her arm and she had watched in slow motion as the thing's other hand came up to hit her. Before it had a chance to connect though, a young boy came flying through the air and smashed the arm with a stick.
Carol heard the monster's wrist break and winced when it howled in terrible pain. It let go of her on instinct and she dove for cover in a bush next to the apartment building then stared mesmerized as the scene played out before her.
The boy landed in a perfect fighting stance! Carol had been working with Karrin Murphy sometimes on different martial arts techniques and saw that this boy was quite accomplished in Kendo. When the creature swept its unbroken arm at him, the boy executed a flawless Tenkan to pivot away from the blow! The stick flowed like water as it smoothly deflected the strike away. Another monster reached in, quick as a snake and grasped the stick to pull it away. Part of the stick came away, revealing the flowing wavelike patterns in the steel.
Carol's breath caught! Could it be? Had Karrin finally found the blade a wielder? These questions rushed through her mind as she became even more engrossed in the battle. The Fomor that had pulled off the scabbard lifted it and rushed forward to attack the young man. With movements faster than even Carol's eyes could track, the blade was flicked up to strike position and shot downward.
The scabbard careened off the blade and went wide. With no wasted movements, the boy straightened the blade and stabbed so blindingly fast it almost appeared that he was in two places at once! At that moment, as the blade swiftly sank near to the hilt within the creature, Carol saw a nimbus of pure white light surround the young man.
Brandon twisted the grip in his hands and stepped back, sliding the blade out of the monster's now lifeless body. Years of training was flooding back into his mind so thick, he felt like he was floating weightless in a pool of memory. His dad's reassuring and calm voice leading his movements through the forms, the swordmasters looking on with only hinted at approval.
He ducked without thinking and watched as a webbed and clawed hand passed through the air where his head had been. Brandon stepped backward while his fingers easily flipped the blade to where it was pointing behind him. The tip sank at least a foot into the monster that had swung at him from behind. Twisting the handle just enough, he pulled the blade forward and it slid free.
The beast to his right was closing in and Brandon flipped the blade up back to striking position and slashed downward. All of his weight behind the edge of the blade as it cleaved into the skull of the froglike thing. The entire left side of the thing's head fell off as Brandon executed another Tenkan and was now facing the two remaining monsters. They both charged him at once!
Brandon shot forward, his left foot staying back while his right food lead. He brought the now brightly shining blade in a smooth arc down and to his left, flipped the blade back up, swept his right foot back behind him and while retreating cut another arc with the blade down and to his right. The battle was over. Five fresh froglike thing corpses lay on the ground at his feet.
He glanced around and examined the bodies again to be absolutely sure that the creatures weren't getting back up. None of them even twitched. Whatever queer effect the light was having on the sword was gone and it no longer was shining with its own light. Brandon still considered this incredibly strange but decided for now to ignore it. He looked around and saw the woman standing up out of the bushes and walking toward him unafraid.
"Son, where did you learn to fight like that?" She asked him.
"I was born and raised part of my life in Okinawa. I studied with and under my father who was a Marine stationed over there. He made it to Master level in Kendo before we left for the states." Brandon answered, picking up the scabbard. He carefully used a rag he had stuffed in his pocket earlier that day to wipe the blade down thoroughly before placing it back in the scabbard.
"May I ask, did Karrin Murphy give you that blade?" She asked, her eyes almost feverishly bright in intensity. Brandon almost stumbled from shock and tried to say something but only stammered. "Son, were you given the blade? Or did you steal it?"
Carol watched the young man after she asked the question. She didn't know why she had asked the question, but it felt right somehow. His reaction only confirmed the gut reaction. Someone had actually broken into Karrin's house and stolen one of the Swords of the Cross? The concept nearly floored her until she started really looking at the young man.
She could tell he was homeless. She had done so much volunteer work since her retirement from being a corporate finance specialist that she could spot all the signs. She asked him again. "I need you to tell me young man, did you take that blade from the home of Karrin Murphy?"
He sighed and lowered his head in resignation. "Yes, ma'am. I broke into her home when I saw she wasn't home tonight. I accidently ran out with the sword when the alarms started going off."
"Why would you do such a thing?" Carol asked him, making sure she gave him her best piercing gaze. The young man wilted back from it and stared at the ground.
"My sister, brother, and I live on our own. When my father died a few years back, we didn't have any family to take us in and I wasn't going to let my brother and sister wind up with some sicko like you hear about in the news. So we live in an abandoned building. No one will hire a kid that didn't even start eighth grade, so I took to stealing to feed us." The young man explained, tears beginning to fall freely. There had been too many painful memories flooding through him tonight and it was all too much to take.
"Oh, you poor thing!" Carol cried and moved in to hold him while he cried. They stayed like that for a good few minutes till Carol broke the contact and lifted his eyes to hers with her finger gently pushing up his chin.
"Look, if you give me back that sword, I promise to help you and your family. I am not a woman without means young man and I don't take someone saving my life lightly!" Carol told him. She watched as his eyes flicked to her large ornate and well maintained apartment building then flicked back to her. Carol knew she had her nice jewelry on today. For whatever reason she had decided to wear it this morning.
"You would do that ma'am?" The young man asked, choking back a sob. "Me, Kim, and Daniel? You will help us?"
Carol stood up very straight and nodded primly. "Of course, child. All you have to do is have a little faith."
Carol didn't miss the look of wide eyed awe flash across the young man's face and he choked back another sob. She wasn't sure what was going through his mind, but she got the gist when he handed over the sword cane. Carol swept the sword into her arms and turned to begin walking down the street.
"Come along then, no time to dawdle! Take me to your brother and sister and let's see what we can do for you three." Carol ordered in her best strong grandmother voice. He hurried and caught up with her, a look of wonder and hope flashing through his eyes. Carol smiled to herself. She pulled out her phone and sent a text message to Karrin Murphy saying, "I have Fidelacchius and an amazing story to tell you! By the way, if you aren't home yet, don't worry about the break in at your house. Amazingly enough, nothing other than the sword was taken from your home."