There is something inherently disorienting about walking in the dark. I'm not talking about walking in a darkened room, especially not one you are used to like your bedroom at home. I'm talking about walking somewhere completely black; somewhere you're not familiar with. The human being is used to the set of conditions that it uses every day. That means a sighted person suddenly relieved of that sight is at a distinct disadvantage to their normal condition.
As I walked in that darkness I tried to keep track of how far we'd traveled, but steps merged into one another, breaths became ragged, and everything took on a dreamlike quality. I strained my ears, trying to get some clue of where we were going. There was some whispering going on back and forth between my captors, but none of it was loud enough for me to make out.
Still the walking continued. In that timeless space it seemed that I'd been walking forever. When they finally removed the blindfold, I realized that it couldn't have been more than an hour.
"So," a voice said from behind me, "we have before us the prince of the elves."
I turned and saw the last person I expected to see in charge of a rebellion. "Daniel?"
"At your service, my liege," he said with a little smirk.
"Well, this is a pleasant surprise. I thought for sure I was being taken to the fae."
His smile twitched minutely and I realized that my arrow had hit its mark. The rebellion was being supported by the fae. "You do realize that you're being played for fools, right? The humans and elves are unified."
"The humans are slaves."
"Is that what they told you? Sure, some of your countrymen refuse to accept the change in reality, but they're not slaves, they're prisoners."
"They are still forced to work for their elven masters."
I laughed, it was just too much. "Is that what you think? The greatest number of these 'slaves' as you call them work in the human palace where the King still rules."
He opened his mouth to speak but one of his men jumped forward, "You lie! I served in the castle."
I looked at him for a moment before I walked quickly over and grabbed his right arm and lifted his sleeve. "I see no brand on you."
"I washed it off."
"Warden!" I yell out. "Oh, man." I hear someone whine. Everyone relaxes as we wait. "So, Daniel, really roughing it I see."
"Yeah, but it's not that I wanted it this way. From what I hear the attack on King's Cross was masterful."
I smile at the compliment. A gentleman in modern clothing finally waddled into the camp site. No, I don't mean to say that as an insulting comment. He weighted about four hundred pounds, or so it seemed, and he rolled form side to side as he walked.
"What is the complaint," he said in a nasal voice.
"Bran is complaining that Eldred isn't wearing his slave brand."
"Ok, let me check the rolls....Eldred...Eldred...Eldred...nope, no slave brand required."
I glared at the man, Eldred, and he had the decency to blush, "you know, you could have just admitted that you lied."
"Hey, none of that," the Warden said. "That all you need me for?"
"Yes," Daniel said with a little smile.
"Then game on."
We walked back to our previous positions, "You don't have a slave brand."
"Ok, so maybe I heard it from someone who heard it. It's not right what they're doing, Daniel."
"It's not about right and wrong, it's about freedom, Eldred. We're fighting for our independence."
"Is that what the fae told you? They just want to enslave all of us."
"We're not discussing this right now. Will you give your parole?"
"No," I said, "I fully plan on trying to escape."
"Boys, tie him up."
I did what I could to make sure that they didn't tie me too well. Unfortunately they knew what they were doing, and soon I was well trussed.
I just smiled at all of them. This was going to be fun. It would be difficult, sure, but there was an element of fun in it for me as well.
The guard that they'd left watching me nodded off again. He sat up with a start a moment later and stood to walk around a bit. I was between him and the fire so he had to look into the flames to see me. That was all to my advantage.
I'd slipped my bonds a couple of hours ago and gotten a little sleep. The guard was beginning to lose consciousness on his feet. I smiled a closed mouth smile at him. My teeth would probably show against the darkness of my face even with the backlighting.
He sat down after a few moments and nodded off again.
I leapt to my feet and ran. After getting outside the light from the fire I changed direction. We'd walked mostly uphill to get to the camp, so I ran uphill from the camp figuring that they'd expect me to take off directly toward where I assumed the Greenwood to be.
As soon as the campfire was out of sight I dropped into a hollow behind a tree and brought my breathing under control. I lay there, smiling up at the stars through the leaves. Everything had gone better than I thought it would, which was why I should have expected what happened next.
I heard a crashing through the trees and tried to still my breathing. I was doing my best not to make any sound whatsoever. They grew closer and I held my breath. Daniel walked around the tree where I hid looking around into the darkness. He didn't see me where I hid in the deeper shadows under the tree. He moved and the noises from the other individuals moved off with him.
I let out a quiet sigh of relief and settled in for a long night.
A ray of sunlight peeking through the leaves woke me up with a start. I'd been asleep longer than I'd hoped to be. I looked around me, and there weren't any rebels to be seen. I got to my feet and began my escape. I'd hoped that I would be able to slip out around dawn, but now I was wandering through a well-lit almost noon-day forest.
I dropped to the ground a couple of times when I thought I heard movement. I didn't realize how lost I was until I ran into the fence. The entire perimeter of the land we played on was enclosed in a simple chain link fence. The fence had a couple of notice signs on our side that would direct people to places of note. I wasn't the first person to get lost after all.
I followed the fence until I got to the notice for Kelethin and struck off into the woods. Soon I was back into familiar surroundings.
I smiled. The more life changes, the more it stays the same.
"I need an escort of soldiers. I'm going to report important information to the Queen."
"Not without me you don't," Gregor said descending the ladder nearest me.
"I'd never go without you, old friend."
It was close to four o'clock when we got to King's Cross and entered the palace. I sent my soldiers to get something to drink and Gregor and I entered the throne room alone.
"Mother, Father, the fae have been supporting the rebellion."
"We'd wondered why their members never appeared at the human resurrection ritual," the King said.
"Husband, I think we might have to increase those rituals in frequency. We might be able to catch some of them before whatever ritual the fae are performing."
"Next time, my Queen. It's unfortunately time for us to begin packing."
"You're right. Bran, we're not going to be here next time."
"Where will the two of you be?"
"Honeymoon. We considered doing the whole LARP wedding thing, but in the end I think it is better for both of us if we get away from this for a bit. Too involved and all that," the King said.
I smiled at the two of them, "Congratulations, then, and good luck."
"Thank you, Bran. You're in charge of both nations for the next weekend event. You're going to need luck more than either of us," the queen said.
"Come, Gregor, let's go pack up the forge and get ready to go home."
I walked into a dead house. The air felt a little stale, as if no one had been there for a while. "Mom?"
There was no answer. Mom was never gone from home, except when she was at work, and I'd never known her to work on a Sunday once. The house had never been left empty for more than a few hours, except on the rare occasions that we'd actually gone on vacation.
I called her phone, but it went right to voicemail. I wasn't worried, yet, but I was working my way there. For some reason, I still don't know why, I decided to turn on the TV.
I flipped idly through the channels until I got to a news program, "...word as yet about the causes of the fire at Come out an' Play a club known locally as a hangout for the LGTB crowd. More than fifty individuals perished in the fire initially with almost thirty succumbing from their wounds since the fire Friday evening."
"Is there any mention of this being a hate crime, Janice?"
"The police and fire inspectors are keeping a pretty tight lid on the results of their investigation so we don't even know if this is arson, let alone whether this was motivated by any sort of antipathy toward the LGTB community."
I shut off the TV at that point and called my mother's cell phone again. I didn't think she would have been in a place like that, but she wasn't here, and hadn't been here for a while.
It went directly to voicemail again.
I was restless that night. Even when I slept, it was fitfully. I kept waiting for the sound of the door opening and closing, but it never happened. When I woke up on Monday morning I went into my mom's room to make sure she hadn't slipped in at some point when I'd dozed off.
Her bed was still un-slept in, and her phone still went to voicemail. I tried to GPS her, but her phone was off. For the first time since I entered high school I skipped. The longer that I went without hearing anything, the more worried I became.
At about ten in the morning I called the police.
"I'd like to report a missing person?"
They took her information. They asked me why I'd waited this long to report her missing. I told them where I'd been and who to contact for information about it. They said someone would be in touch.
Eleven o'clock came and went, then noon, and still the phone went to voicemail.
Close to one o'clock in the afternoon there was a knock on the door. I went to answer it.
"Yes, I'm Raven." I didn't want to get into my name with the police right now. Legally I was still Raven.
"I'm Detective Green and this is Detective White."
"Pleased to meet you Sam and Dean." They looked at me as if I were insane. I laughed and gestured them inside.
"So, is this about my mom?"
"In a way, yes."
"In a way?"
The two officers looked at each other and then back at me. "Someone matching your mother's general description was seen at the Come out an' Play on Friday night."
"Her general description?"
"If she was there..."
"There's no way to really say this easily. If your mother was there, she was dressed as a man."
"Go mom," I whispered to myself.
"You said general description..."
"Many of the people inside the club were badly burned and we're having trouble identifying them."
I felt an emptiness fill my stomach. "You mean..."
"There's still a possibility that your mother is somewhere else, but if she was still at the club when the fire started..."
There were no tears. Somehow, from the moment that I heard the news report I knew that something was terribly wrong.
"There's no possibility she's alive?"
"Oh, sorry, we identified the dead bodies already from dental records. We have three individuals who were trampled and burned. All three are hanging in there. One was a woman."
"She sustained second and third degree burns over most of her body. They don't think she'll make it."
"Can I see her?"
"She's not lucid. They wanted us to get your mother's blood type and a sample of her DNA for comparison."
I provided what they were looking for and I sat there in the empty house after they left. Sure, I'd fought with my mom about a lot of things, what teenager, boy or girl, doesn't? Even the most 'well behaved' teen argues with their parents at some point or another. It's part of growing into adulthood. That didn't mean I really wanted to live my life without her.
I'd already lost my dad when I was a kid. Would I be losing my mom now too? I had a little over a week before my eighteenth birthday. It was a mess, but I had the means, luckily, to see my way out of it.
I went to the yellow pages and went to the 'L's. Under Lawyer, I looked until I found a nice add that wasn't one of the full-page spreads.
"Thompson and McGee, how may I direct your call?"
"I need to become an emancipated minor. My eighteenth birthday is in a week and a bit, but my mom is missing and possibly in a hospital dying."
"Um...let me get Mr. Thompson on the line. Hold please."
I held and listened to the muzak on the line. "Hello, this is Frank Thompson."
"Hello, Mr. Thompson. Did the receptionist explain what is going on?"
"She said something about you needing to become an emancipated minor in a week?"
"Mostly I need something that prevents me from going into the system until my birthday on the thirteenth. I'll be eighteen then."
"Well, I could easily refer you to a pro bono attorney..."
"Are you qualified to handle this, Mr. Thompson?"
"How much do you charge per house for something like this?"
"I charge fifty to seventy and hour, usually."
"How much is your retainer?"
"Check or cash."
"Do you prefer check or cash for payments? I can do either, I just want to make sure what I need to bring."
"How old are you really. You sound thirteen."
"I am a seventeen year old female-to-male transsexual. I started taking testosterone three months ago. I don't want whatever legal guardian the state appoints to screw that up."
"I can call someone else if you can't handle this."
"No, I can handle this. I have an opening on Wednesday at noon, would that work for you?"
"I'm still a senior in high school, Mr. Thompson. After school is preferable."
"Why are you out of class today then?"
"My mother was likely in that fire on Friday. I was trying to track her down."
"Oh...how about we do this tonight at five then. I suppose that will work?"
I agreed but I wondered where the sudden willingness to rearrange his schedule came from. Likely it was related to my mentioning the fire. He was probably looking for some free publicity, and I'd probably talk to him about his rates with that in mind later this evening. I just hoped that I'd picked someone who was competent enough to handle my case.
Around four I grabbed the spare keys for the SUV and drove downtown to where the club was located. It only took me a little while to find the SUV where it was parked in a lot four blocks away. Lucky for me it was one of the few free parking lots in the area so I wouldn't have to mortgage my home for having the car parked there for three days. I left the rust bucket there and drove the SUV to my appointment.
I was on the insurance for it, so I could legally drive it. Getting the car this way, though, almost seemed like cheating. I parked outside the offices of Thompson and McGee and sat there in the car. The more evidence I found, the more it looked like I'd just lost my mom.
Still the tears wouldn't come. No, it wasn't some macho male thing. Guys are still human and it's only this societal preconception that won't accept a guy crying. I don't believe in that.
The problem was the tears just burned my eyes and wouldn't spill forth. I don't know whether it was the shock of it all or the fact that even now I couldn't really believe my mom was gone. She was so alive. She made life fun, even when I didn't agree with her. I knew how I could live without her, I had a plan, but it was the living without her part that got me. How could life actually go on wither her in it?
I admit it; I was a momma's boy. I loved my mother and I'd kick the ass of anyone who had a problem with it.
I just sat there staring out at the parking lot in front of the strip mall where the offices where located, my hands gripping the steering wheel, and waiting for time to tell me it was okay to get up and go inside the offices.
At five 'til five I got out of the car and walked inside.
"Hi, my name is Bran Monroe. I have an appointment with Mr. Thompson for Five O'clock."
The receptionist was nineteen or twenty and smoking hot. I wondered briefly if she was hired for her looks.
"Let me check to see if he's free." She pressed a button on her phone and then spoke into the handset, "Dad, Bran Monroe is out here...I'll send him right in."
Well, I guess that answered that question. I smiled at her and then followed the directions she gave me into the back. The outside may have been a strip mall, but inside they were well furnished, and it actually felt like an upscale office.
The office on the left was open when I arrived. I knocked on it even so. "Come in, Bran," an older man said as he got up from behind the desk. He offered a hand and I returned his firm handshake. "Would you please have a seat?"
I sat in one of the indicated chairs and he perched on the edge of his desk. He could have seemed like he was trying to intimidate or take the position of authority in the conversation, but his posture more said that he was just chatting with a friend.
"Before we begin, I'd like to see some ID. Not that I dispute that you're who, and what, you say you are, I just need to cover my bases, you understand, right?"
I presented my license and my carry letter. He looked over them for a moment and then handed them back.
"So, Bran, are you looking to legally change your name before or after we take care of your guardianship."
"We can do that?"
"Changing your name isn't directly related to your gender. People change their names all the time for all sorts of reasons. That is something we could handle as its own process."
"Sure, but I'm more worried about my guardianship standing, personally."
"I understand that. With what's going on in the news right now, it would seem transitioning isn't as easy as one would hope."
"All I know about is the club fire."
"Oh, it wasn't just a fire. They're not talking to the media, but I already have some civil suits I'm pursuing against the city for that. It's part of the reason I moved you up. Your case actually helps me."
I try to smile and Mr. Thompson actually laughs. "I know. It seems cold blooded of me. It is when viewed from a certain angle. Three people were raped, two were knifed to death. That was before the doors were locked and the outside was set on fire."
I just stared at him, shocked.
"If I bring an injunction against the court taking action to appoint a guardian for you for the next week or so, as you're a transgendered teen who is affected by what happened that gets me pull. That get's more attention on the other victims that aren't as obvious."
"What do you mean?"
"Those weren't just members of the LGTB community who were attacked. They had families. Mothers and Fathers, brothers, sisters, children," he gestured at me as he said the last bit.
"I just want to transition in peace, Mr. Thompson."
"I'll insist that your name is kept out of the press. Is it all right if I refer to you as 'an unnamed transgendered teen'?"
"Sure. Just never mention that I'm Female to Male and I'll be fine."
"Hmmm…probably be best if I say, 'My Client' instead of him or her. That will keep it more ambiguous."
"So, am I your client?"
"Sure, Bran. Just leave the money with Tracey on your way out. I'll contact you when we need to be in to court. I'll sent in the injunction tomorrow morning on your behalf, and make a petition that I be placed in loco parentis for the short term."
"It means that I be appointed your temporary guardian in legal matters."
"Don’t thank me until we win, Bran. Chin up. I know a lot came at you all at once, but it will get better from here, I'm sure of it."
I went back out to the front and pulled five hundred dollar bills from my wallet. "Your dad is intense, Tracey."
"He can be." She filled out a receipt for me which I put back in my wallet.
"So, where does a kid your age get five hundred at a moment's notice?"
"I'm an apprentice to a local blacksmith."
"Did you just say…"
"Yeah. Some people like authentic arms and armor for historical recreations in the medieval and renaissance period."
"Can't they just get replicas?"
"It's just a replica then. Some of the pieces we make go for upwards of a thousand. A replica might go for half that."
"You don't look strong enough."
"One of my curses," I said with a winning smile. "I can't bulk up. I was getting close to bench pressing four hundred pounds before I stopped that altogether."
"How, I don't see anything to lift."
"Well, how about me?"
She walked around the desk. She was an inch or two shorter than me at the time. She lifted her arms a bit. I put my hands to either side of her waist and lifted. She was a little more solid than she looked, but she couldn't have been more than one sixty. She must have had a solid bone structure. She had a killer figure, and my hands could just about meet at her waist.
I held her there about a foot off the ground for about a minute before she began giggling.
"I can keep holding you here if you want."
She just shook her head and I gently lowered her to the ground.
"If it weren't against my dad's policy I'd kiss you right now."
"No dating clients?" I guessed.
"That's the one. You are a lot stronger than you look."
"I'll take that as a compliment, all things considered."
"I need to sit down."
"Are you alright?"
"I'm wearing a corset, a really tight one. Lifting me like that…well…I'm a bit out of breath if you know what I mean."
I laughed. To each they're own, I thought. Apparently all it took was a reasonably strong guy to get her in the mood. She got me in the mood just looking at me. We were almost a match made in heaven.
"Thanks for helping me."
"Anytime, and you can lift me whenever you like," she said with a wink.
I laughed again and walked out the door.
I drove the SUV back home. The officers were there waiting for me.
"Raven…we have some news for you."
"What is it?"
"The woman in the burn unit isn't your mom. The blood type was wrong."
I was trying to catch my breath. My mom wasn't dying. She wasn't dead. Where was she?
"What does this mean?"
"We know for a fact that your mom was at the club."
"I know. I found her car four blocks away."
"Where was it parked?"
I gave them the address, "My car is still there. Could I get a lift after this to retrieve it? I can show you right where it was parked."
"Let's go right now."
I climbed into the back of their nondescript black car and they drove me back into the city. We parked by my little rust bucked and they got some additional information. They asked a couple of strange questions after that.
"Your mom…had she had a complete hysterectomy?"
I nodded. "There were complications with my birth."
They looked at each other and then thanked me for my time. They left without answering any of my questions.
I drove home in silence, a small sliver of hope creeping into the bleakness that was my life right now. I called Gregor as soon as I got home, "Where are you?"
"My mother is missing. She might have been involved with whatever happened at the club."
"You mean the Come out an' Play? What scares me is that if this hadn't been a weekend event, I might have been there. A lot of my friends died on Friday night."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"I take it you won't be in tonight then?"
"Will it help?"
"It's helping me a little. I could get some bigger pieces done if you were here."
"Be right over then."
I changed into my work clothing and tossed my leather apron in the back of the SUV. I drove out to the farm and threw myself into my work. The detectives had my cell phone this time, so they'd call me if anything came up.
We were working on a full suit of armor. We'd finished the legs last week and were working on the front half of the breastplate now. It took a lot of strength to keep it in place.
"How did you do this without me?"
"C Clamps…and…a lot…of patience. This task…took me…about…four times…as long."
I smiled and stopped talking to him. It was a little strange listening to him time his talking with his hammer blows. We finished the front and back of the breastplate before we called it a night. It was a little after midnight at that point so I drove home to get some much needed sleep.
I was asleep shortly after climbing into bed.
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