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[A Fractured Song] - Chapter 59 - Fantasy, Isekai (Portal Fantasy), Adventure

Cover Art
Teaser: The Battle of Freeburg is over and they've held the castle. It's time for a victory celebration, where Frances makes a terrible discovery.
Story Summary: After years of beatings and neglect from her parents, 13-year old Frances was summoned with her entire class to the fantastical world of Durannon to fight the monsters invading the human kingdoms and defeat the "Demon King." If she succeeds, she might have the home she never had. But if she can't overcome the trauma and self-loathing inflicted on her by her abusive parents, Frances will die, and be summoned back to the home she escaped, on the day that she left.
[The Beginning] [<=Chapter 58] [Chapter Index and Blurb] [Chapter 60=>]
[Map of Durannon]
This chapter was pre-read by u/totallyundescript.
Want to hang? Join the Discord Community!
Conthwaite Castle...
With the Battle of Freeburg over, the Otherworlder heroes were invited to a feast by Martin’s mother, Countess Esther of Conthwaite. The orc prisoners that had been taken, were transferred to the custody of the Royal Army, and the Fortress of Freeburg was re-garrisoned by, hopefully, more loyal troops.
Apparently, as far as feasts went, this one was somewhat smaller than usual, but that seemed to be the case with the war being so fierce. Still, there was apparently going to be dancing and entertainment.
And that was why Martin was taking Frances and Elizabeth to the tailor’s shop. Elizabeth had no suitable clothes for the feast, which Martin saw as a travesty. Frances did, having brought with her one of her nicer dresses, a light-blue affair with a high collar. The moment she tried it on, however, she realized that it was much tighter in certain places.
She’d been downcast with embarrassment, until Elizabeth and Martin, examining her in her dress, reached a unanimous conclusion.
“You’re not getting fatter, Frances,” Martin had said in a very officious tone.
Elizabeth had nodded. “The dress is tighter at the arms, around the chest, and it’s too short, ill-fitting over your hips. You’re growing.”
“Really?” Frances had whispered.
“Yeah, it just needs some adjustment.” Elizabeth had giggled with glee. “We’re going on a shopping trip!”
The tailor had indeed agreed with her friends’ opinion. And so, after getting their measurements, the three friends bought sandwiches at a streetside hawker and started to walk through the town’s streets.
Martin’s home was the castle Macedin, the seat of all the Conthwaite lords and ladies, but he spent much of his childhood in its adjoining town of Macedin’s Rest. A bustling, busy town on a rise just under the castle, it had winding streets that zig-zagged up and down, with houses balancing on uneven slopes. The coming fall turned the leaves brown and scattered them onto the cobblestone roads, making the town incredibly picturesque.
The knight led them to what he claimed was the best spot in the town. A small patch of wild garden stuck between two warehouses, broken by huge boulders, with scraggly trees growing between them. It loomed over the valley of Conthwaite, allowing the three to just appreciate the view of the beautiful valley.
“So, are you heading off to Salpheron next?” Martin asked.
“Actually, Edana said that we’re going to travel to the city of Erlenberg. So she’s coming to Conthwaite to meet me first and stay a few days.” Frances bowed her head. “She said she’s arriving tomorrow, or really late tonight. But I… I’m sure we’ll see each other again, soon.”
“We can keep up by writing, and through mirror messages. When I get the opportunity, I’ll ask to visit you,” Elizabeth said.
Martin nodded. “It’ll be easier than you might think. With fall coming, and winter soon after, I’m pretty sure we will. It’s too late in the year for anybody to embark on a new campaign. It’ll be a good time for everybody to rest.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “I don’t think I will get much time to rest, though. Igraine said she’s been more than satisfied with my performance and said she’s ready to begin my training. I’m going to join her at Leipmont Forest. I… sense she’s going to go hard on me.”
“Yes, but she is a really kind person. She won’t ever let you get hurt,” said Frances, giving her friend a reassuring smile.
Elizabeth nodded slowly, with a bit of doubt, but also understanding. Mostly because she did sense that Igraine was a good person, but hadn’t seen much of the side that Frances was describing.
“What are you doing in Conthwaite, Martin?” Elizabeth asked.
“Administrative work. We need to bring in the last harvest before winter arrives and then there are supplies to be prepared for the next year’s campaigns. With my sister across the continent in Roranoak, fighting with the Erisdalian Expeditionary Force, it falls to me to help my mother ready Conthwaite for the winter.” He sighed. “I wish you could spend winter with us. There are evening dances, board games, and other activities to pass the time. At least you’ll both be here for tonight’s feast and dance.”
“We had those too in Salpheron. Not the dances, though.” Frances blinked and her eyes widened. “Oh no!”
“Frances? What’s wrong?” Martin asked, alarmed at the panic in the mage’s voice. Elizabeth sprang to her feet, ready to rush to Frances’s side.
“I don’t know how to dance!” Frances exclaimed.
Martin blinked owlishly and was blindsided by Elizabeth’s panicked scream. “Oh no! Martin, you’ll have to teach us!”
The knight pulled himself to his feet, confused. “Wait, hold up, you don’t know how to dance?”
“No, we weren’t taught. I mean, we were taught some dancing in our high school, but that was an experience everybody wanted to forget.” Elizabeth grimaced. “I sucked. Clomping around with my big feet and long legs. I nearly dragged my partners off their feet.”
She hesitated for a moment. Frances reached out and touched her friend’s shoulder. “I just remember you seemed to actually enjoy yourself, which was nice. I enjoyed dancing with you when we were paired.”
Elizabeth blinked. “We danced? Wait, why were we paired? They were pairing boys with girls.”
Frances swallowed. “We had more girls than boys for that class… and not a lot of people wanted to touch Foul Francey.”
Elizabeth’s jaw unhinged for a second and she growled. “Right, that’s it, we’re learning how to dance properly, even if we’ll be dancing between the three of us. Martin—” she raised her hands in as best of an imitation of a dance posture as she could think “—instruct us please.”
Martin snorted, but his lips were set in a determined smile, and he had drawn himself up straighter. Extending his hands, he reached out and took Elizabeth’s. “Right, watch closely, Frances. To start with, this is not how you hold someone. There are actually no male and female parts in Erisdalian dance. We just have a leader and a follower. For the moment, we’re going to learn a simple…”
While they were never going to become master dancers after an afternoon session, Frances and Elizabeth learnt a lot by watching Martin guide the other, by being guided by Martin himself, and finally by dancing together under Martin’s watchful eye.
It was so that when it finally came time for the feast, they felt far more comfortable. After all, they knew that when the dance portion came, they wouldn’t be embarrassing themselves too much.
The feast was glorious. Roast pork and chicken, sausages and mash, fresh vegetables, steamed pork and vegetable buns that seemed unique to Conthwaite, and lots of Conthwaite beer. Then there were the desserts. Cakes, pastries, tarts and pies that the Otherworlders and the Erisdalian Rangers stuffed themselves with.
All the while, they watched a play put on. A comedy that nobody really got the plot of, but it had most in stitches by the end, as it involved some amazing stunt work and pratfalls. France suspected that there was a mage assisting things behind the scenes because some of the falls the costumed actors took, looked rather painful, or downright impossible. There was one large performer who bounced across the floor like a ball, and yet somehow came out of the bounce to land perfectly on his feet.
Then the dancing came.
All the Rangers celebrating with them knew how to dance. The Otherworlders mostly simply tried to follow along as the musicians played a lively jig.
Sure enough, Frances and Elizabeth still were pretty bad at dancing, but they were much better than their classmates. Everybody laughed and giggled with each other, for nobody wanted to spoil the festive mood carried by the music.
Frances, for her part, stayed as far away from Jessica and Leila as possible. She was helped by her friends who lent their eyes to the task, whisking her aside if necessary.
Having danced their feet tired, the three retired to a small table where they were joined by Nicole and Jim.
“This is a fantastic party!” Nicole whooped, slamming herself down onto the bench.
Martin, grinning, offered a mug of beer. “More?”
“I think she shouldn’t,” stammered Jim, and Nicole, although grumbling, didn’t take the mug.
“It’s going to be very weird when we get back home and we can’t try any alcohol,” Nicole quipped.
“Mm-hmm! I wonder how our beer tastes in comparison to theirs?” Elizabeth mused as she caressed a mug. Everybody had decided that, given she was nearly fifteen anyway, she deserved a mug.
As the conversation continued and Frances listened, she felt a pang of sorrow. Because, aside from Martin, she knew that after they killed the Demon King her friends were going to go home, to Earth. She knew she was staying in Durannon and that when she died, she would die in Durannon. She’d never see Nicole, Jim, or Elizabeth ever again. And that was if all of them survived the war.
The emotions welled up so suddenly, so heavily in her chest that she sprang to her feet.
“I think I need a moment alone, everyone. I’m going to go for a bit of a walk.” Frances smiled when Martin and Elizabeth glanced at her with concern. “I’ll come back for the night games.”
“Alright. I will check up on you if you don’t show up, though.” Elizabeth waggled her finger at Frances as she said that, prompting both to chuckle.
“I’ll be right behind her,” said Martin with a grin. “I still need to introduce you both to my moms.”
Frances, still managing to smile, nodded and made her escape quick. She managed to just get out of the ballroom before her eyes moistened and her smile shattered. Staunching her eyes with her handkerchief, she made her way to a spot she noticed earlier.
Martin had given them a really long tour of Conthwaite Castle, a grand, yet, archaic-looking stone fortress that stood upon a hill of black granite. He’d also shown Frances a small greenhouse garden that was maintained in the castle.
In the night, lit only by some oil lamps, the leaves of the fronds and flowers cast broken shadows on the paved ground. Frances, still sniffling slightly, walked to where she recalled there was a sitting table and two chairs.
As she rounded a rather odd-looking frond that she made a note to ask Edana about later, she heard two people whispering. There was somebody here already. Disappointed, Frances turned to leave.
But then she heard something that made her blood freeze.
“I thought you gave Helias the plans! Told him every detail!”
“I did. But there was no possible way we could have known the Otherworlders would bypass every single trap and then drop a cliff on his army.”
Frances clamped her hands over her open mouth. She could not make a sound. Her head was screaming at her to run.
“Freeburg Castle fell to treachery two nights ago,” Edana’s voice echoed in her mind. The Great Tower had been trapped. They’d rigged the bridge to explode. They had an orc army ready to reinforce them. The whole plan was exposed. They had a traitor in their camp.
Or traitors, from the sound of it.
With small, light steps, Frances turned around and walked towards the exit. She didn’t have Alanna, her sword. She did have Ivy’s Sting, but she’d rather not fight. The important thing was to run, and get her news to someone.
But… she didn’t know who was talking. If she didn’t know that, she would have no idea how to identify the traitor. She needed to look at their faces.
Frances swallowed. That meant getting closer. Or… apprehending these traitors herself.
There was no time for further thought. Frances took a deep breath, steeled herself and drew Ivy’s Sting with her right hand, left one hitching up her dress.
“In any case, we need to get you all out of here. They know they have traitors in their midst. Hell, Edana Firehand is arriving tonight, if not tomorrow. If we wait any longer, we might not be able to extract.”
Frances thought the speaker sounded familiar, but there was no time to think. She had to act. She leapt out, her notes filling the greenhouse.
The two traitors were thrown backwards. One smashed into a bed of flowers, tulips she thought, and rolled head over heels.
Yet, somehow, the other yelled a word of power and landed on his feet with almost cat-like grace. He drew a wand himself.
Frances switched to a different set of chords, and mentally apologizing to Martin, directed the sunflowers that grew beside the stocky traitor to wrap around him. All the while, she began the process of casting her lightning spell.
But, as the sunflower stems wrapped themselves around the struggling traitor, human colored peach skin faded, giving way to a tan-coloured skin. A tail suddenly appeared, and the illusion, for that was what it was, shattered.
Frances found herself staring at an all too familiar trogre. His pointed ears alert, black eyes filled with anger.
“Timur?” she gasped, hesitating.
Timur blinked, but unlike Frances, he didn’t hesitate. He ripped his wand arm from his side and before Frances could react, he yelled a word of power. Frances felt the air in front of her expand and she was knocked backward. Her vision blurring, she hit the ground and slammed into what seemed like the trunk of a tree.
Tears filled her eyes as she scrabbled for balance. She felt surprise, fear and betrayal all at the same time, in a confused flux. Desperately she raised her wand and screamed a note, throwing all her power into it.
The keening noise that rang out shattered several panes of glass and everybody in the entire Conthwaite castle could hear it.
Help! Traitors in the greenhouse— ”
Pain exploded across Frances’s cheek as something hard hit her and she knew nothing more.
But it was enough.
In a corner of the ballroom, Nicole and Jim were holding each other on a bench. Their lips were nearing for a kiss. The scream made them freeze and spring to their feet.
In the same ballroom. Elizabeth broke off from her dance with Martin and raced toward the direction of the noise. Martin bellowed orders for the guards to rally to him and to lock down the castle.
Igraine, at the top of a tower, quietly watching the half-moon with a tankard of wine in her hand, rolled off her borrowed couch and seized her sword.
In the stables, a white-robed figure with a green staff was just exiting her carriage. She was smiling eagerly, ready to meet with her dear student. Frances’s magically-magnified scream wiped the smile from Edana’s face. The pain in it sent cold horror straight into her chest and lent her speed as she ran towards the main castle building.
Timur pulled back his fist, wringing it with pain. He’d been so desperate to quiet the human who was ruining everything that he’d punched without adjusting his strength. His ears still ringing, he slowly drew his dagger. He needed to end the enemy mage. Yet, with the adrenaline fading from his veins, he hesitated as it suddenly dawned on him he would be killing his opponent in cold blood.
That was when he realized that the very pretty human mage, was actually a girl, of only fifteen. The cream-coloured silk dress had made her appear more mature. Timur’s eyes narrowed. The bruised face of the girl was known to him. He gently turned the girl’s face so he could examine it better.
Timur gasped and felt his heart sink as he realized who he’d just battered into unconsciousness. “Oh fuck. Oh fuck. Frances! Please be alive. Please be alive!” He slipped his finger underneath her chin to find her pulse and was relieved to feel that she was alive.
A human woman ran into the garden and cursed. “What the fuck happened—Russell!”
“I’m fine, Claudia!” muttered Russell, who was pulling himself up out of the flowerbed. “We were overheard. Prince Timur knocked her out.”
“Well she’s alerted the entire castle! Timur, slit her throat and let’s scatter!” Claudia hissed.
Timur froze.
There was no way in hell he was going to slit Frances’s throat. Not after everything she’d done for him. Especially since he knew that if he killed her, he’d be sending her back to the monsters that were her parents.
It would be a fate worse than death. He could not imagine putting the kind, caring girl in front of him at their mercy. He would never forgive himself.
That, and he’d die shortly afterward because the magic she provided would stop keeping him alive.
But he couldn’t just leave her. It’d taken an Alavari agent weeks to cultivate the trust of Russell, Claudia and their traitor friends. Weeks of promising a life away from the war, land in Alavaria, and a way for them to escape their dreary lives as foot soldiers and servants. However, Timur didn’t have the same relationship that agent did. He was here only to help with the extraction. If he left Frances, he suspected they’d turn on him in an instant.
“No.” He forced a grin to his face, even if it brought a sour feeling to his lips. “This is Frances, beloved student of Edana Firehand. The only way we’re getting out of this alive is if we let her go, which I don’t think you want, or take her as a hostage.”
Claudia and Russell turned to each other, whispering briefly, before nodding.
“Yeah, good call. Take her to the safe room. They’ll be searching the castle for her, so you both need to lie low.” Claudia grimaced. “I hope you have that escape plan ready.”
“It is. Now let’s get out of here so we can actually use it,” said Timur evenly. Claudia helped Russell up and began to walk him out of the greenhouse. When she wasn’t looking, Timur gently picked up Frances in his arms, wincing as he realized she was still quite light.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Author's Note: ... I'm sorry-not-sorry about this chapter.
So on continuing notes on how I write A Fractured Song, let's talk about Frances and how I came up with this girl you all love so much. I'm also posting more notes here in a not-so-subtle nudge to get my patreons to ask me more questions for the upcoming Q&A.
I can't exactly pinpoint which came first, the plot of A Fractured Song or the character of Frances. I suspect they came together, which is usually what happens in my experience. However, I do know that Frances was inspired by a number of my favorite female fantasy characters. Actually I made a graph here: Link to graph. Tell me what you think of it.
But a TLDR: Lirael from Garth Nix's Old Kingdom Series, Alanna, Daine and Keladry from Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe, Hermionie from JK Rowling's Harry Potter, and Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony.
For the update question: What kind of heroines do you like to see in your fiction, or can you name your favorite heroine?
submitted by vren55 to redditserials

[A Fractured Song] - Chapter 50 - Fantasy, Isekai (Portal Fantasy), Adventure

Cover Art
Teaser: Where Frances and her friends plan to take Freeburg and run into immediate complications involving her bullies.
Story Summary: After years of beatings and neglect from her parents, 13-year old Frances was summoned with her entire class to the fantastical world of Durannon to fight the monsters invading the human kingdoms and defeat the "Demon King." If she succeeds, she might have the home she never had. But if she can't overcome the trauma and self-loathing inflicted on her by her abusive parents, Frances will die, and be summoned back to the home she escaped, on the day that she left.
[The Beginning] [<=Chapter 49] [Chapter Index and Blurb] [Chapter 51=>]
[Map of Durannon]
This chapter was pre-read by u/totallyundescript.
Birds-eye view of Freeburg Fortress.
The next morning, Igraine assembled Frances, Martin, Elizabeth, and the forty-five Otherworlders that were to be part of their force on a field beside their camp. There, Igraine introduced Frances and Martin, informed the gathering that they were in command, and then left to arrange her own forces.
This left, forty-five pairs of eyes settling on Frances and Martin, only one pair of which—Elizabeth’s—was not judging.
Frances knew she was going to be tempted to freeze, and so before they had assembled, had discussed the situation with her friends, and proposed a solution.
Except, it got shot down.
Martin had looked extremely perplexed. “You want me to explain that to them?”
“I might fumble over my own tongue, Martin. You are a knight, commanding, shining example of chivalry—”
“No. You need to talk to them, Frances. If you don’t, they will have no confidence in your abilities, and that will become a problem in battle.” He smiled and pointed at Frances. “Besides, your approach is sound, you just need to explain it.”
Elizabeth, arms crossed, mirrored Martin’s nod. “They also don’t know you, Frances. Well, know-know you. They’ll be quiet for the moment. You have nothing to be afraid of.”
Unable to convince her friends this was a bad idea, Frances had swallowed, and now, raised her chin as high as she could, and coughed.
“Hello everybody. We are going to divide everybody into four squads, with the remaining six to stay with me as a reserve. To do that, I am going to assess your skills and abilities with the help of Sir Martin, and Elizabeth, whose abilities I am familiar with thanks to the previous missions.”
Hoping she didn’t sound too mechanic in her explanation, but seeing nobody interject, Frances continued.
“Melee specialists are to follow Elizabeth and Martin. As for the mages, I will assess your magical ability, so stay with me please.”
And, like that, the classmates split, about thirty of them following Elizabeth and Martin, and the last fifteen following Frances.
That last fifteen included Leila, who was glaring daggers at Frances, and Jessica, who had schooled her expression into an aloof grimace.
Frances forced herself to ignore the both of them.
“Right if you could all take a seat. I would like to see you try to break several targets I’m going to set up.”
Pointing her wand to a spot about a hundred yards away, Frances sang a spell.
Five mounds of earth rose. Each was larger than the next. The smallest was as high as a person. The largest was about the size of four carts.
When she was done, Frances turned back to the group.
“I’ll call on you one by one, at which are going to blast every mound to smithereens with your strongest spell, as fast as you can.” She smiled, in what she hoped was a confident manner, and pulled out a notebook and stick of charcoal. “Who would like to go first?”
The girls and boys in front of her exchanged looks. They didn’t whisper at each other, but Frances could see the wordless language of glances, flinches and gestures that communicated dare, question, and suspicion.
“Um, I’ll go.”
The group parted to let a lanky Asian teen holding a staff walk forward. He wore brown robes and his eyes were looking up, even though his head was bowed.
Frances however, recognized him, and she blinked.
“Jim?”
Jim scratched the back of his head. “Hey, Frances. It’s been a while.”
Frances nodded and smiled. Jim wasn’t exactly a friend of hers, more of an acquaintance. They sometimes compared notes and homework and would work together if there were any group projects. Sometimes, he’d let her play with his handheld game console. Most importantly, he hadn’t asked any uncomfortable questions.
“Which target would you like to start with first, Jim?”
Jim indicated the mid-sized target, and after pointing with his staff, and crying out a word of power, a bolt of purple magic slammed into the mound of earth. But while dirt went flying, most of the mound was still there.
He groaned, his brown eyes downcast. “Uhh I can do better, and I know other spells. I’m quite good at scrying.”
Frances nodded, examining the mound. It wasn’t a particularly good result, and Jim seemed to know it. However…
“I would love to ask you about your other spells Jim, and about my plan to take Freeburg. I remember you were quite a game and history nerd, right? You might have some insights.”
Jim blinked. “Oh. Um, thanks. It’s good to see you, Frances.”
“You too. Uh, do you mind sitting over there?”
After Jim took a seat away from the main group, a few more people raised their hands. After resetting the targets first, Frances picked the Otherwolder mages one by one, assessed them, took their names and noted down the results.
Slowly, they wound down the list with Frances recalling a few familiar faces and names. Once in a while, especially for those who could only disperse the smaller mounds, Frances documented things they specialized in. Healing, mists, and other details that Frances carefully documented. All the while, her classmates watched her, muttering or whispering to each other under their breath.
That changed after Nicole stepped up to do her test. Before Frances could ask her to choose a target, she quipped:
“So what’s the point of all of this, Frances? I mean aren’t we supposed to be planning to retake Freeburg?”
Taking in Nicole’s tone and her hands on her hips, Frances’s small smile vanished. “I am making a plan, and to do so I need to know what magic you are all good at.”
Nicole groaned, running a hand through her hair, not that there was much of it. Hers was cut so short her ears weren’t even covered. “You’re making a plan? Don’t you think you ought to consult with all of your classmates? Or I dunno, tell us what you’re going to try?”
There were several ways Frances knew she could answer Nicole, but none of them seemed perfect. On one hand, she could explain her thought process, but she hesitated, unsure if it would be a good idea to air her entire plan before she had actually decided to commit to it. Yet, neither did she feel confident in just telling Nicole to sit down.
One thing was for sure, she did not want to consult with all of her classmates. That didn’t seem what Edana, General Forowena, or even General Darius would do.
Then again… Lady Igraine hadn’t told her classmates that they were only part of the attacking force.
She closed her notebook. “We’re part of two attacking groups, the one that is going to attack Freeburg from the southern gate. I plan for the mages will blast a hole in the walls and pin the defends down whilst our fighters breach them. But I need to determine what are our best strengths first. I promise that I’ll present the complete plan to you all when I’m ready.”
Nicole’s brow was furrowed, but her eyes were now looking up towards the distant Freeburg rather than glaring at Frances.
“Alright. But I’ll hold you to that.” She gestured to the second-largest target and after an aria that took several seconds, she unleashed a bolt of force that blasted the target apart.
Frances nodded, somewhat impressed, and made her notes. She continued to call more of her classmates up until she got to—
“Leila.”
Her former bully stood up, and stomped towards Frances, but instead of stopping at a respectable distance, Leila kept marching on.
Frances’s fist clenched around her wand as her broad-shouldered came to a stop, her nose mere inches from her face.
Leila sneered. “Sup.”
Frances stepped back and gestured to the targets. “Please pick a target—”
She was cut off by Leila crying out a word of power. The fireball she summoned whooshed over Frances’s shoulder and obliterated the middle target.
With the heat of the spell still warming her cheeks, Frances had to bite down the wellspring of anger that had once again been reignited.
“There. How did I do? Commandah?”
Leila’s lilting tone and taunting words broke Frances’s stoic mask. Scowling at her former bully, Frances hissed, “Very well. However, you showed a total disregard for safety.”
Smiling smugly, Leila cooed, “Aw, sorry, commander,” and sauntered off to join the others.
It took all her willpower to rip her eyes away from Leila to glare at the last person she had to assess.
“Jessica.”
The statuesque blonde stood up and walked over, but unlike her friend, she didn’t violate Frances’s personal space.
Her crossed arms and narrowed eyes, however, were not giving Frances a comforting feeling. But she didn’t seem to be hostile at first. She demolished the second-largest target without incident, and after that, informed Frances that she was most familiar with earth spells.
Then she said, in her haughty tone, “May I ask you a few questions, Fo—Frances?”
Every instinct on guard, but because she had no reason to deny the request, Frances gave a short nod.
Jessica smiled, but to Frances,, it looked like a shark’s bloodthirsty grin. “So like, why did Lady Igraine assign you to be our commander? I mean, yeah, you did a few good missions, but it’s not like you did anything special.”
The words stung, and old, dark thoughts whispered in the background as Frances tried to think of an answer.
“Lady Igraine trusts me as do other members of the War Council including Earl Forowena and my master, Edana. If you have questions as to why I was appointed, please talk to them.”
“But you have no command experience?”
“No.” Frances crossed her arms. “Where are you going with this line of questioning, Jessica?”
“Jeez. Why so uptight? I bet your parents must have hated having you around the house.”
Frances froze, the whispers in her head crying out:
Worthless waste of space.
Whiny crybaby twerp.
Stupid sister.
Foul Frances
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Oi, what’s wrong? Come on don’t tell me your parents actually hit you as a kid.”
Ivy’s Sting hummed in her hand and this time, she wasn’t holding Frances back. Except, both knew that if Frances blasted her bullies right now, she’d get in trouble. She had to be smarter about this, use what she had.
Hold on, she was their commander...
“That’s it. Jessica, Leila, you’re assigned to the mess tent!”
Jessica blinked and Leila leapt to her feet. “Excuse me?” the blonde spat.
Even as spittle shot past her cheek, Frances retorted, “You heard me! Report to the mess tent and speak to the mess captain! Tell them that your commander has assigned you to wash dishes, and carry out menial tasks alike, and don’t you dare think about shirking this. I will be checking with the cooks tonight!”
Leila spluttered, “For what reason—”
“Insubordination. Endangering your commanding officer. Challenging your commanding officer’s authority. Now carry those orders out or I will report to Lady Igraine that you are disobeying my commands.”
“You can’t do this—”
“Oh I definitely can. I don’t want to, but your behaviour leaves me no choice,” Frances hissed. All the while, her wand trembled in her hand ready for a challenge.
Leila and Jessica, shaking with fury, stormed off in the direction of the mess tent, leaving whispering, awestruck teenagers. They were so infuriated they paid no attention to the very sweaty Elizabeth and Martin who stared at the pair’s departure.
“So… didn’t go quite to plan?” Martin asked.
Frances shook her head. “No. But no matter. I’ve made it clear as I can to them that they have to respect me.” Rubbing her hands, she turned back to her classmates. “Sorry everybody, I will… I will speak to those who I told I promised to speak with. Um, who was first?”
After assessing the Otherworlders and conferring to discuss the results, the three friends enjoyed a hearty meal and washed up for the evening.
There was, of course, no way to actually have a shower, but some nearby streams had been designated for bathing. They were cold, but none of the friends were complaining about the water temperature after a long day of labour.
Martin found his two friends after he’d finished, sitting on the grass in casual dresses, with Frances standing behind Elizabeth, comb in hand. A roaring campfire had been set, with a kettle filled with what seemed to be Hearthsange sitting to one side, along with some yams.
“Evening snack?” Martin asked.
Straining at a particularly annoying knot in her friend’s black hair, Frances muttered, “Yup. Ugh, I wish we had some conditioner and shampoo.”
“Oh God I know right? I think I miss that the most. And hot showers, flushing toilets being commonplace, and toilet paper. Don’t get me wrong, using leaves or old rags is better than nothing, but they’re nowhere near as comfortable.”
Martin pinched himself. “You used paper. Expensive paper, to wipe yourselves after going to the toilet?”
Elizabeth frowned, making a face. Frances thought for a moment, before her lips formed an “O.” “Paper is much cheaper where we come from, Martin, and toilet paper, isn’t the same as writing paper.”
“Ah, that explains it.” Martin dug into his pack, pulling out a small wooden box. “Want some chocolate?”
Frances and Elizabeth nodded eagerly, and so Martin shared his sweets and the three just started to chat, talking about nothing really, but anything.
At least, until a hesitant voice called out.
“Um, may I join you?” Jim asked stepping into the fire’s glow. “I have some fruit if you’d like some.”
“Of course. We have some yams and Hearthsange. They’re not smores, but it should taste good.” Taking in Martin’s confused look, Frances added, “Smores are made by putting chocolate and marshmallows—a kind of fluffy sweet—between two crackers.”
“Oh, I miss those! My mom used to make them whenever we went out for barbeque. She’d get the cook on them just right!” Jim sighed and handed his fruits, crisp Dale apples, to the group. “That’s definitely the first thing I’m going to have when I get back.”
“You mean you aren’t going to go on the internet first, Jim?”
Frances turned to see Nicole strolling into the firelight. “Yo, Frances. Do you mind if I join?” She raised the bag over her shoulder. “I brought some scones.”
Although she was wondering where exactly were all these classmates coming from, Frances gave a short nod and was surprised when Nicole waltzed passed her and took a seat right next to Jim.
“Hey Nicole—” Jim fell into a splutter as the taller girl kissed his cheek and leaned against his shoulder.
“Not too uncomfortable are you? Good, stay there.” She said several words of power and levitated the scones by the fire to warm them up.
Frances stared at the pair, even as she freed her comb from Elizabeth’s now presentable hair and took a seat next to the fire. Shy, nerdy Jim and brusque, tomboyish Nicole, were dating? Jim was bullied by Jessica and Leila quite frequently, and wasn’t Nicole Jessica’s and Leila’s friend?
Yet, Elizabeth only smirked at the sight. “About time. When did you ask Jim out?”
Nicole yawned, and closed her eyes, a content smile spreading on her face. “Actually he asked me out.”
Stunned, Frances nearly dropped the kettle of Hearthsange she was pulling out of the fire. “Wait, Jim, Nicole’s Leila’s and Jessica’s friend. Why would you ask her out?” As the question left her lips she winced. She had not intended to ask in such a blunt fashion.
However, while Nicole’s eyes opened, she didn’t move from where she lay against Jim. “Oh… that. Yeah, no. I’m not Jessica and Leila’s friend anymore. Do I prefer nothing bad happens to them? Oh yeah. We Otherworlders need to look out for each other, but no, we’re not friends anymore.”
Jim nodded, scratching the back of his head. “I probably would still have a hopeless crush on you, though.”
Nicole snorted. “You flatterer. I wonder how surprised our teachers are going to be when we go back and we’re all friendly with one another.”
“They’d probably be more surprised as to why two thirteen-year-olds are that friendly with one another. You know we revert to the ages we leave when we go home, right?” Elizabeth asked.
That got a chuckle out of everybody, which allowed Frances to distribute the snacks. The conversation then turned to the other things they all missed about Earth with Martin asking polite questions about what they meant.
Yet, while the knight was entranced with the stories and technology of her classmates, Frances noticed herself speaking less and less. There was a cold weight in her chest that dragged her shoulders down and shivered her fingers, even though they were wrapped around a steaming mug.
The weight—no, the pain was becoming unbearable, as the conversation returned to the topic of what was the first thing they were going to do when they got back to Earth. Elizabeth was telling Nicole of how she was missing going to church. As her friend finished her story, Frances suddenly realized why she was feeling this way.
But it was too late to stop Jim from asking, “Hey, Frances, what’s the first thing you’re going to do when you get back by the way?”
The question sounded like it was coming through a tunnel and Frances felt herself fall through the ground, even though she was sitting perfectly still.
The truth was, she missed Earth. She missed the skyscrapers of the city, the growl of car engines, the hustle and bustle of people in the supermarkets. She wanted to roam in sturdy, air-conditioned concrete and plaster buildings once again, instead of drafty castles. She yearned for a peaceful, sometimes directionless, always busy world without war.
But she couldn’t. Everybody else but she could return to Earth, to… to home. With all those fond memories, came nightmares that underlined her need to stay in Durannon. What she’d do if she died and returned to Earth was not a wishlist. It was a list of steps that she and Edana had worked out to preserve her life. It was a last resort plan based on everything they knew about the summoning system and the modern world.
Run from home and tell my teachers about what my parents were doing to me. If they don’t believe me, run away, draw the attention of the authorities, or get somewhere where you can make a living. Steal or beg the gold from your classmates that did succeed if necessary to do so.
That was the plan, a simple, vague plan. She had no luxury to think about what she wanted to do if she was sent home because if she did…
Gentle hands were pulling her up onto her feet, but she barely noticed. She could already hear her mother screaming at her. See her hitting her.
Hold on, her mother didn’t speak in a kind tone to her. She wouldn’t say, “Frances, it’s alright. You’re not on Earth.”
Blinking, Frances found herself held up by Elizabeth, her friend’s features mere inches away. Behind her, were Martin, looking concerned, and a perplexed Nicole and Jim.
Seeing the looks of her classmates Frances groaned, “I did it again didn’t I?”
“Yes, but don’t worry about that. Why don’t we sit down in your tent for a bit?” Elizabeth smiled. “It’s been a long day, you’re tired.”
Sighing, Frances allowed her friend to lead her away into the privacy of her tent. Just before she left, she looked up to examine Nicole and Jim’s expressions.
“Frances, are you alright? Is there anything we can do to help?” Jim asked, standing to his feet.
Frances tried to form words, but she didn’t know what to say. She knew what she felt, but it see-sawed between anger and sorrow.
“There’s nothing you can do, Jim. Not right now. Just… respect her privacy, don’t mention this to anybody, and that’ll be enough,” Martin gave Frances a sympathetic look. “Go. I won’t tell them. I know what to say.”
Her tongue was numb, but she managed to force herself to give Martin a grateful nod and smile, before letting Elizabeth half-drag, half-carry her back to her tent.
Author’s Note: So normally I recommend you check out TalesByOpheliaCyanide's Geela, but this time I'm recommending her shorter, but highly touching work Let the Little Children Come to Me. Which is also about an abused child. Just read it and weep.
For today's update question: I have a thing for ships. Like RMS Titanic, HMS Warspite, Queen Mary, Aquitania... yeah I have a thing for ships and liners and warships. What's your favorite ship in real life and fiction? I have so many I can't choose. Oh and I'm including Spaceships and airships for this question. Saying NCC 1701 Enterprise (Refit) is pretty is tots cool... mostly because I dig that ship so hard.
To further discuss the update of the week, join the discord server :) https://discord.gg/un5uEnt where we hang out and people interrogate me on my story.
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