The Clock Tower Guardian NEW Chapter 2
A/N: Sooooo, I've decided that simply writing from Etti's POV is very limiting and there's a whole other story line that revolves around Aaron that's been in my head this whole time. Therefore, I'm adding to The Clock Tower Guardian and showing Aaron's POV as well. I hope you guys like it. Please tell me your thoughts, good and bad! Enjoy! :)
City of Derdon
I tossed and turned and tossed some more. Then with a sigh, I gave up. I wasn’t getting to sleep tonight. My mind was whirling and my face was hurting. My black eye and bruised jaw weren’t going to give me any peace, even if my mind would have let me rest.
Instead, I sat up and pulled my heavy work boots on. I felt around on the floor for where I had thrown my shirt when I fell into bed and pulled it on when I found it. It was plain cotton, as all my shirts and pants were.
Standing and tapping the heel of my boots on the stone floor to make sure they were securely on, I made my way out of my room. Our home was large, even by Dwarf standards, and set in the center of the city. I was forced to move as quietly as I could to avoid waking any of my seven siblings or my parents.
The last thing I wanted or needed right now was another lecture or fight. I almost couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a civil conversation with any of them except Nadia, the baby of the family.
Pausing around the corner of the main door, I debated my route. There were guards outside, of course, since my father was so important, but even the regular citizens had been giving me dirty looks lately when they thought I wasn’t looking. Did I want to face that?
I took a deep breath and slowly let it out, schooling my features to be unreadable, and moved forward. Turning the corner, I didn’t even look at the night guards as they shot me dark looks. I paused, waiting for one to open the door for me, as he should have already done. Another moment passed and nothing, so I slowly turned my gaze to the guard on the right, letting it darken.
He stared back boldly for a moment before seeming to think better of messing with my six and a half foot self. He moved toward the door and opened it as he should have and I turned my gaze away from him as I passed.
As the door closed behind me and I saw all of Derdon laid out in front of me, I had a sudden urge to turn back, but knew I couldn’t. Just like the other choices I had made, I couldn’t take them back now and I wouldn’t. I couldn’t look weak. I couldn’t back down under the pressure of it all. Especially since the pressure of my position was part of why I was leaving.
Cowardly perhaps, but true, though I would never admit it out loud.
I didn’t want the lot I’d been dealt simply because of my birth. I didn’t want to conform to the position and life expected of me just because of who I was. I didn’t want to marry some shy Dwarf maiden who would later turn into a banshee just to continue an alliance with her clan. I didn’t want to raise a brood of mindless, tradition-following offspring who would have their whole lives already plotted out for them before they could walk. I didn’t want the position and job I was supposed to have just because I was the second son.
Taking a deep breath, I let it out as I began walking.
I didn’t want it and now I definitely wasn’t going to get it. I had completely cut myself off from any semblance of a normal future with this decision and the thought was terrifying, yet exhilarating.
My feet took me to the underground pools where I knew I could find some peace at this time of night.
The caverns echoed with the sound of falling water. I passed pools and waterfalls, found my favorite spot, and settled myself next to the pool. I watched the low lights dance on the water in front of me and tried to clear my mind.
Glancing down in the water, I watched my reflection look back at me. My hair was a mess, as usual, and my black beard fell to my collarbone. Tired black eyes stared back at me from a strong face. I sighed and pulled back. My family had Giant blood in their veins and we were all abnormally tall for Dwarves, but myself even more so. I made my older brother Oberon, who stood at almost six feet himself, look short with my six and a half.
My thoughts began to turn back to the last argument I’d had with him and I tried desperately to think of something else. He didn’t understand why I was doing this. Reuel, our younger brother, thought I was being crazy and that it was just a phase I’d get over soon. Isana and Ambelaine, the eldest girls, were convinced I was doing it on purpose to shame our family and make sure they would never get worthwhile husbands. Tala and Taji, the twins, had simply stopped talking to me unless it was to ridicule or taunt.
Our parents were the ones I avoided the most though. Anything I said, anything they said, became an all out battle and yelling match. The last time I had looked at my father we had come to blows. That’s why my face hurt so much now. The black eye and bruised jaw were courtesy of the man who ran our clan. I may have had the advantage in strength, but my father wasn’t the Chief for nothing and still got his blows in as much as I did. I couldn’t wait to leave. The tension in the house was too much.
The only person who was still willing to speak to me was Nadia, my youngest sister of fourteen. She wasn’t even allowed near me very often, I guessed because the family knew we were close and didn’t want my insanity rubbing off on her too. She was destined to be given to the son of another Chief in a few years and spend the rest of her life popping out babies and cooking. She had less freedom than I did.
With a frustrated sigh, I stood. This place wasn’t helping. All I was doing was thinking even more. Maybe the training rooms. Turning, I marched away from the pools and headed to the outskirts of the city where the barracks and training rooms were.
Finding the barracks quiet, I ignored the looks the night guards gave me and headed for the training room furthest out. The training rooms were small caves that had been carved out and opened up to allow those with skills like mine to safely practice without fear of hurting someone if a rock was lost control of.
Stretching, I began regulating my breathing and trying to focus.
I really should have been asleep. I should have been resting my mind, preparing for tomorrow. I should have been letting my body re-cooperate for the big day to come.
But there were a lot of things I should have been doing for the past year. What difference would it make now if I added another to the list?
I should have been following my parents wishes. I should have taken up the position expected of Chief Baerandor’s second son. I should have been visiting my intended on a regular basis. I should have been happy to do my duty, like my brother before me.
All the should haves in the world wouldn’t change anything now. What was a night where I should have been asleep added to all that?
I moved to the center of the training room and took a solid stance again, feet apart, knees bent, hands up, relaxed but ready to spring. Breath in and exhale...
The stones came flying up out of the floor as I reached out for them. I threw punches at the rock wall, hard and fast, keeping light on my feet, but solid stance. Always, always a solid stance.
Rock flew at the wall, exploding in showers of dust and debris.
I followed the routine. My muscles knew it without my mind directing, I’d been doing it for so many years.
Left, right, uppercut, uppercut...
Rocks flew through the room, shattering into dust as they hit walls and floor. I began sweating, my muscles warming and my mind emptying of everything but now.
Right, left, right, right, turn with the momentum, and stance. Left...
I didn’t want to think. I was tired of thinking. So incredibly tired of thinking. Father and mother would say I hadn’t been thinking for a long time now. I was raised for what I was expected to do, so why wasn’t I doing it?
That was the worst part of the whole thing. I couldn’t even be sure why I had turned away from my destined path. I thought it was because I wanted to be more than just another cog in the machine, doing what I was supposed to and living my life as I’d been told since the day I was born. But there were days when I felt it was much more petty than that.
There were days I thought I was only doing it so that my parents would actually look at me and not what I was or was supposed to be. If that was the reason, it had definitely worked. I had received more attention from my parents in the past two months since I had announced that I was joining NORTH than I had in the twenty two years before that.
Not that I was different or special that way. Chief Barel Baerandor and his wife Sirrah never looked beyond what any of their children were supposed to be. Oberon seemed fine with that and was perfectly happy to follow the path our parents had laid out for him.
Uppercut, uppercut, left, right, left, turn, stance.
Whatever my reasons, it was too late to stop it now. I was leaving to start my training as a MAGI in the morning.
Why a MAGI? Because it was the most foreign occupation I could think of, it would take me furthest away while still using my skill set, and... I knew it was the last job my parents would want me to have. Depending on how my luck ran, they might even disown me. I hadn’t yet decided if that was a good or bad thing and wasn’t sure if I should hope for it or not. Somehow, despite the yelling and fist fights, they hadn’t been pushed quite far enough to outright say they were disowning me.
Stupid. Stop thinking.
Right, left, right, right, turn, stance, uppercut, left, uppercut, right...
I heard a footstep, light as a feather, and stopped, looking over at the door. Seeing who it was, I sighed heavily and straightened, releasing the magic as I did.
“Nada, what were you doing here? For that matter, what are you doing up? It’s the middle of the night.”
Nadia Baerandor, my youngest sister, looked back at me from the doorway. Her thick black hair fell in a long braid down her back, mused now from tossing and turning. She was only an inch taller than the average Dwarf, making her the short one in the family. She had on a too-big shirt, pants, and slippers and her big black eyes watched me thoughtfully.
“I could ask you the same thing, Aaron,” she said quietly, wrapping her arms around herself. “I couldn’t sleep.”
I sighed, giving her a small smile.
“Neither could I.”
I sat down against the one clean wall left and motioned her to sit next to me. She came forward and sat down. Always the thinker and feeler, was my littlest sister, and I could tell there was something on her mind by the look on her face. I could guess what it was, but I made a point never to rush her.
After a moment of silence, she sighed, wrapped her arms around her legs, and looked up at me. Her gaze was sad, fearful, and lonely.
“Nada,” I said frowning. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you hate me?” she blurted out.
I blinked in surprise. Definitely not where I had expected that to go.
“Of course I don’t hate you!” I replied, flabbergasted. “I’ve never hated you. You know that. Why would you think so now?”
She bit her lower lip and looked down.
“I heard Isana and Ambelaine talking,” she said quietly. “They were saying you’re becoming a MAGI to spite the family and make us look bad. They said you must hate us or you’d never do this and put a black mark on our family name and that it was going to ruin all our futures and... and... and...”
I saw a tear fall and Nadia sniffed loudly, clearly trying her best to stop herself from crying. I groaned inwardly. If Isana and Ambelaine had been here I would have gladly throttled them.
Putting an arm around Nadia’s shoulders, I pulled her to my side with a sigh.
“Hush now, Nada. I don’t hate any of you. Iz and Laine are making mountains out of molehills. The only person this will black mark is me and if anyone holds it against the rest of the family, they’re the biggest fools I know and not worth your spit in the first place.”
Nadia sniffed again and looked up at me with teary eyes.
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
I gave her a gentle smile which she did her best to return.
“Aaron, I don’t want you to go,” she said, sounding very, very small.
If I still had the option to turn back or was still sitting on the fence, that voice would have undone me. I closed my eyes and gave her shoulders a squeeze as I ordered myself not to cry too. I really had been under too much stress lately. My nerves were shot if I could be this close to crying just because my baby sister was. I took a deep breath and released it.
“I wish I could take you with me, Nada,” I said, keeping my voice under control. “I know you don’t like this place any more than I do and I know you’re even more trapped than I am. I wish there was something I could do for you.”
“I know you do, Aaron,” she said quietly.
“How about this,” I said, suddenly struck by a thought. “If you ever need me, you just call and I’ll come back. Whatever you need, whether it’s to knock someone out or whisk you away, I’ll do it.”
She smiled a very small smile, glancing up.
“You’re a great brother.”
“Of course I am,” I shot back with a cheeky grin.
Nadia choked out a laugh and dashed away a few more tears.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when you’re gone,” she whispered, looking down at her knees again.
“You’ll still have Madie,” I tried.
Nadia shook her head.
“Madie’s a great friend, but I can’t talk to her like I talk to you.”
“Well, that’s just because you know Madie won’t threaten to beat up your problems,” I replied, catching her eye and giving her another grin.
She tried to suppress another smile and failed, laughing. That was better. My little sister was meant to laugh, not worry and cry.
“Come on, now,” I said, heaving myself to my feet and offering her a hand.
She took it with a small smile and I pulled her up. Nadia launched herself at me, wrapping her arms around my waist in a tight hug. I hugged her back.
“No one else will really listen. No one else can always make me laugh. No one else calls me Nada. No one really looks at me. Except you.”
My little sister looked up at me and I looked down at her with a small smile.
“I’ll miss you, Aaron. Be safe and come back soon, alright?”
Come back soon? Would I come back? Ever? Could I come back? I had no idea if I would be welcome in the halls of Derdon again after defying my Chief and father. I was, quite possibly, making myself an outcast first thing in the morning. I might never see my family again.
“Alright,” I said quietly, keeping the smile on my face. “I promise to come back as soon as I can.”
If I ever could.
Nadia beamed up at me and I couldn’t help my grin widening.
“And always smile,” she added.
She released me and moved toward the door, pausing to grin back over her shoulder.
“Because, it’ll throw everyone off. No one will suspect what a dangerous snark you are.”
I laughed as she disappeared out the door once more. Whoever married my little sister definitely wasn’t going to get a shy Dwarven maiden.