As Halem and Myst wove their way through the tombstones, it was all Halem could do to hold up the feet of the body that had once belonged to Krendon Maw… and his father… and then the elf named Jurisk. He was exhausted and his body didn’t move or act the way he was used to. Of course, he had only been in this body for a few hours, so he felt that his disorientation was excusable.
He stumbled over a small stone and Myst, who was actually carrying most of the body’s weight, made an annoyed grunt.
“Keep up,” she growled.
Halem almost started to remind her that he was her master, but then it occurred to him that with his father back and in the correct body, that was probably no longer the case. The situation was so absurd that he couldn’t help but laugh, which sounded strange in his ears as he realized it was just about the first sounds that had made with this new body. And that made everything even funnier.
“Would you shut up,” Myst hissed back at him without turning around.
Halem let the legs fall from his hands. “This is good enough,” he told her, still chuckling. “I don’t think I can go any farther anyway.”
She gave him a rather cold glare and then dropped her end as well. “Sure, whatever.” She tossed one of the shovels to him. “Start digging. Looks like,” she read the name of the gravestone, “Aron the Scar is getting a new bunkmate.”
Halem wearily began shoveling but it quickly became apparent that Myst was doing most of the work – and she was not terribly pleased about it. Halem didn’t care, he was so drained and so happy that there was very little she could say or think that would bother him at this point. Against all odds, he had brought his father back and – even more incredibly – had been able to return his father’s body to its rightful owner.
He set the shovel down and sat next to the mound of dirt they were creating. Holding his hand in front of him, he examined his new skin. It was oddly copper colored as was his hair. He’d known that he would be a Sun Elf, of course, having seen Jurisk’s body beforehand, but it was still an odd sensation to look at hands that were not his own and have complete control over them. When he had woken to find himself in his father’s body, it had been similarly disconcerting, but at least he and his father had looked similar. In fact, unless he was looking in a mirror or some stray hair fell in his eyes, Halem had not thought much about being in his father’s body. Things were not so easily ignored this time around.
“I’ve become something of a parasite,” he thought aloud. “I keep slipping into other people’s bodies and taking over.”
“Do you think you could use that body to help a little?” Myst asked from the hole she was digging.
“Sure,” Halem replied with a smile, “you need to make it a little longer, Krendon Maw wasn’t this short.”
Myst grumbled something under her breath that did not seem appropriate coming out of a mouth that looked so young, though Halem had no idea how old she really was.
In fact, he didn’t know much about her or his father. When it came right down to it, Halem had known his father was alive for less than two minutes before he died again. He had no idea what Erim was like outside of his childhood memories and his time training with the dark and mysterious master who had tended to be irritating as often as he was helpful.
“What’s he like?” Halem asked Myst who was making the hole a little longer despite her grumbling. “My father, I mean.”
Myst planted her shovel in the ground and looked at Halem for a long moment. In fact, it occurred to Halem that she might not be having an easy time with the body switching either. She’d lost a master, gained a new – and far less experienced – one in the same body, then that master had left her for five years, and upon coming back had only worked with her a little before all hell broke loose in the city. And now, her old master was back in his old body while her new master was now in a new body and asking about the old master…
Halem rubbed his new hands against his new face. It was probably best not to think about it too much. That had been his policy the first time around and it had served him well enough.
“He’s your father,” she said with a shrug.
“Yeah, but I never really knew him. He trained me for a little while, but I didn’t know it was him and I have no idea if that is how he normally acts. You know him better than I do.”
Myst rolled her eyes. “Fine. He’s… bossy, I guess. Kinda a jerk.” She began pacing back and forth in the small grave, beginning to warm to the subject of venting about Erim. “Really, he’s a lot like you, but with less talking and more staring. Lots more staring. Creepy staring, angry staring, all sorts of staring… and some stabbing.”
Halem did his best not to smile. He doubted his father would do it for the same reason, but it was easy to stare at Myst. She was undeniably beautiful. In fact, it was probably a toss up between her and Alora as to who was the most beautiful elf Halem had ever seen, though it was also very difficult to compare the two given how different their personalities were. Myst was darker, more prone to violence, and had a tough exterior that Halem had no idea how to crack. Alora was, usually, gentle and bright, like the sun on a warm spring day.
Thinking of Alora left Halem wondering what she would think of his body jumping. He couldn’t quite tell if her feelings – or perhaps infatuation – had more to do with his appearance or with him personally. If her interest was only skin deep, he would probably need to warn his father to stay away from the orphanage.
“But I guess he’s better than my Aunty was,” Myst continued, unaware of Halem’s wandering thoughts, “ except, sometimes he shows me something once and then forces me to do it over and over and makes me feel pathetic when I don’t get it perfect! He only shows it once! Who could possibly learn something that quickly?”
Well, Halem thought, I guess he wasn’t just messing with me when he trained me. What Myst was describing was almost exactly what Halem had gone through during his abbreviated training sessions.
“Who was your Aunt?”
“None of your business.” Myst paused for a few seconds, then went back to pacing, picking her rant back up, “Once, he made me hang from a wall for three hours. Three hours! And then he drilled me on knife throwing. Have you ever tried throwing a knife when your fingers have been holding your weight for that long? It’s impossible! He made me keep doing it until I got it right. It took the rest of the night and I couldn’t lift my arms for two days!”
Halem decided that it would be best not to compare horror stories of Erim’s training methods. She would clearly win.
“Did he take you on many missions?” he asked. “I wasn’t sure if I should have done some with you but I’d never even done one myself, so it didn’t seem like a good idea.”
“Missions?” she looked confused. “Like jobs? Psh, not really. He always said I’d just get in his way.”
“What about with Prim, do you get to work with her?”
“No, Erim wouldn’t let me. Plus, she… she probably wouldn’t let someone like me work with her. I’m practically a baby compared to her.”
“I guess that makes two of us. Maybe we can work a job or two together, you know, get our feet wet.”
“Or our hands bloody.”
“Uh, sure, but let’s not put it that way in front of my friends.”
“You mean the crybabies who wouldn’t even let you take the body of someone on a death row sentence so you could save your own father?” She rolled her eyes. “Sure, let’s worry about what they think.”
“I do worry about what they think,” Halem retorted, though a moment of honesty forced him to add, “sometimes.”
“Fine, whatever,” Myst shrugged, “If you’re rested up enough, princess, why don’t you held me drop the body in the hole so we can get out of here.”
Halem nodded. Without agreeing on it, the two checked the body for any items that might be better in their hands than buried in a hole. Halem had already taken most of it, but they did find a small dagger tucked in an ankle sheath that Halem hadn’t bothered grabbing previously and Halem noticed that there was an odd bulge around the index finger on the right hand. Had the rest of the body not been in such perfect shape, he would have assumed that it was some old injury or a deformity. He frowned and pushed against it, it moved slightly and he noticed that it was perfectly circular. There was no way this was from some past injury. He plucked the dagger out of Myst’s hands and cut the finger off. He pushed on the object again and a ring slid out from under the skin on the severed finger. Halem had seen this ring many times, but not on Krendon Maw’s body. It had belonged to Kevros.
“Did you find something good?” Myst asked.
“Just something that belonged to a friend,” Halem replied as he gave Krendon a hard kick that sent the body tumbling into the hole.
Halem looked down at the body of the man who had twisted his friend and ultimately led him to his death. He spit into the hole. “Enjoy the Wall, bastard,” he growled and then picked up his shovel to start filling in the grave. Myst contemplated him for a moment and then joined him.
“So, how long has the thing with Prim been… a thing?” Halem asked once the hole was almost completely full. He needed something to pull his mind away from the loss of Kevros.
“A thing? I don’t know, a while.”
“What are the chances that she stabs him when he tries to tell her that he’s back?”
Myst shook her head. “Zero. She’s a lot less stabby than your dad. She’d rather make people suffer if they cross her and he wouldn’t do that. I think she’ll be happy that he’s back, once she’s sure that you aren’t just messing with her.”
They finished filling the hole and leaned against their shovels, resting for a moment.
“So,” Halem began, “wh-”
“What’s your deal?” Prim cut him off. “Why are you being so nosy? Can’t you just be glad that your dad is back?”
He thought about it. “I am glad, but… I don’t really know him, but I’ve spent my entire life looking up to him, trying to make him proud. Now I’ll actually get to know him, the real him, and I just…”
“You think you might be disappointed?”
Halem shrugged, not liking the way she had put it. “Forget it, let’s just go back. You’re right, I’m being nosy when I should just be happy.”
One thing he appreciated about Myst was that she never pried, about anything. He said forget it, so she dropped the subject and started walking back towards the crypt. Halem followed behind, feeling almost like a little boy trailing behind his mother. He spent the entire walk back thinking about what Myst had said and wondering if she might be right.
They entered the crypt and headed down the secret passage. Lila was gone and there was no sign of the others. Erim, however, was sitting quietly, something almost like a smile on his face.
“We finished,” Myst informed him in a voice that said she hadn’t appreciated the chore. “Halem wasn’t very helpful.”
Erim stared at her with an expression that immediately shut her up. Halem could see why she would complain about the staring. It unnerved him and he wasn’t even on the receiving end. Taking a cue from his father he sat down and remained silent. His eyes met Myst’s and she shook her head as if to say “I told you so.”
The three of them sat in silence for almost ten minutes before Halem could hold in his questions no longer. “I get that it’s been a bit of a messed up day, but I have a lot of things to ask you.”
Erim didn’t reply or even respond beyond shifting his eyes from the wall to Halem.
Since his father hadn’t given any sign that he wasn’t allowed to ask, Halem let the floodgates open. “Did you know mother was a drow? My grandmother said that you helped them kill her, is it true? Did you know about her room above our store? Did-”
The first few questions had rolled over Erim without earning even the slightest reaction, but the last question caused his eyes to narrow. “What room?”
“There’s a secret room, behind a wall panel. She has some crazy drow symbols all over it. When I put my blood on it – and, I guess, your blood too, for some reason – it activates some runes and she talks to me… but she hasn’t been very helpful.”
Erim’s brows furrowed. “She can talk to you?”
“If you put aside the times when I didn’t know I was talking to you, I’ve had more conversations with her than with you in the last eight years. Mostly she just wants me to help the drow win or get her a new body.”
“That’s very dangerous,” Erim said, “I didn’t know what your mother was when I met her and I did love her dearly, but she is what she is and you can’t trust her. If her soul is in those runes, you should not be messing with them. We need to go and take a look at them.” He started to rise, then stopped and lowered himself into a seated position again. “But not tonight.”
An uncomfortable silence settled over the room and went on for several minutes. Finally, Halem asked, “Why didn’t you keep me with you? Or at the very least come and get me when you were ready? I assume you had some reason for faking your death, but…“ he glanced at Myst and said, “You took Myst as an apprentice and left me at the orphanage.”
Erim almost seemed to smile. “Myst? I had to take her on because of a debt, but I couldn’t risk bringing you into my world then. There were too many people who would have killed you or used you as a way to get to me.”
Halem thought there might be a hint of pride in his father’s eyes, but he over a decade out of practice in reading his father’s emotions and couldn’t be sure.
“You learned on your own and can take care of yourself,” Erim continued. Myst choked down a laugh and Halem shot her an annoyed look. “I’ll be able to teach you more now that you are older.”
“And,” he added, “I’ll show you the safe houses I have around the city and tell you about the others. I should have done it earlier, but… I suppose we should say that the timing didn’t work out. I’ll also talk to Arthur and get you admitted into the Exchange on your own.”
Halem started to ask another question, but Erim held up his hand to silence him. “I know you have a lot of questions. I’ll answer them if I can, but no more tonight.”
“Just one more.”
Erim shook his head and really did smile at last. “It is very weird seeing another man’s face making the expression that my little son used to try on me when he wanted to stay up an extra hour after his bedtime. Fine, fine. What’s your question?”
“Can I have my weapons back?” Halem asked with a grin. “You seem to have… all of them.”
Erim stood and drew Halem’s two short swords. He twirled them expertly with a grace and ease that even Halem could not have matched, then flipped them around and tossed them to his son. “These are fine blades. Don’t lose them again.”
Halem accepted them with a smile. “I didn’t lose them, I just lost the body they were attached to.”
“Then let’s not lose that either.”