Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 109,226,905 Issue: 218 | 2nd day of Celebrating, Y7
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Inexorable: Part One


by haannsolo

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"It looks like rain."

     Sylver's earlier prediction had turned out startlingly accurate, then and from then on, as nearly everything Sylver said was apt to do. The trouble with Sylver, Ryddle thought irritably between shivers and ruffling his neck feathers in a vain attempt to avoid them, was that she knew everything. She was not just likely to be right, she was right, and if you caught a mistake she could always turn the argument right around so that you were once again in the wrong.

     Ryddle knew he was supposed to be happy. But it was raining, and sometimes he felt that his life was worse than empty.

     "No," he told himself firmly. "There is nothing wrong with my life." This was true, really, although his Gruslen Tyger was giving him a strange look. Well, he couldn't exactly blame the petpet when he was talking to himself. His mind wandered as he walked over to Tyger and gave him a pat. Rainy weather just depressed him, as did cold; he wasn't used to being in it. Of course his fireplace would wait until now to have something wrong with it. Ryddle wasn't exactly sure what. It was Phantom who had decreed that a carpenter would have to be called, and all Ryddle had felt able to do was nod knowingly as his older brother explained something he didn't understand. For whatever reason, perhaps because he did after all have only one brother, Ryddle always disliked having to ask him things. Well, some things were fine - but a lot of the time, it made him feel stupid. And although he knew there was small chance of it, Ryddle was driven by a desire to impress Phantom on the rare occasions that he was home. Stupid really.

     Of course, in reference to the fireplace, he could always venture downstairs to warm his feathers. There was one problem with this plan of action. "Downstairs" - which really only included the kitchen, dining room, living room, and, now and then, parlor - was Sylver's domain. The thing was, she loved to have it invaded. This was the main reason for Ryddle's reluctance. Sylver was one of those essentially irritating people that delighted in an activity most commonly known as nagging. If you had indeed done nothing earlier specified as wrong, she would invent something. That was what Ryddle and Flytta called it, although Sylver insisted that she had already told them not to do it.

     It was only to be expected that at that moment Sylver called, "Ryddle! Dinner! I hope you're not up to anything you shouldn't be."

     This naturally made Ryddle feel guilty. Perhaps this was part of the explanation of exactly why Sylver referred to him as a "doormat" and Flytta as a "completely trashed doormat", but Ryddle couldn't help feeling a certain degree of awe at her apparent psychic abilities. Why was it that whenever he thought unpleasant things about his sister she always asked him if he was "up to anything"?

     With a sigh, he started carefully down the stairs, talons click-clacking on marble. He really had to talk to Phantom about getting the hall stairs carpeted. He never could get used to the noise, and it made sneaking anywhere very difficult. He could always ask Sylver, he knew, but all in all he preferred the minor irritation. Conversations with Sylver were always an ordeal.

     As he entered the kitchen as discreetly as possible, Sylver caught sight of him. "Ryddle! What took you so long? I certainly hope your feathers are clean; the floor was just scrubbed."

     Ryddle sighed. The logic of complaining about the floor defied him for two reasons. For one thing, his feathers were perfectly, visibly clean. Also it was no great task for Sylver to call more servants to clean the floor for her. Ryddle himself might have considered the servants; Sylver wasn't one to linger on empathy. Thus her reasoning was…well, just what her reasoning always was. No reason. A continual desire to point out Ryddle's faults.

     He was about to voice this opinion when he realized that doing so would only extend the uncalled-for discussion. Instead he snapped his beak shut, ruffling his wings irritably, and sat down to wait for dinner to be served.

     "There's no need to look so sulky," said Sylver immediately. "I'd think you would be happy that a Neomail from Phantom arrived."

     Ryddle jumped up instantly, almost overturning his chair. He decided not to point out that he couldn't have known that Phantom had mailed them before she told him. Sylver expected you to be born with that sort of knowledge, even if she wasn't. "A letter from Phantom?" he reiterated excitedly. "Where? Let me see!"

     "Actually, I waited for you and Flytta to come before I opened it," Sylver announced in a saintly sort of way. She went over to a chest of drawers in the dining room and rummaged about in it for a moment. Ryddle stifled a laugh as she disappeared behind a drawer. His sister might be imposing, but she was certainly rather small.

     Actually, Ryddle had always thought she was fat. Many seemed to think that she was pretty. She was, Ryddle could tell, in a plump, cute sort of way, not that he considered that sort of thing very often. Sylver was a Faerie Poogle, of the perfect type. Nothing about her was ever out of place. She had no feathers to get ruffled, and very little fur - although that which she had always lay smooth and silky - and her paper-thin wings were delicately shaped, invariably graceful and unrumpled. Her one woe was lack of mobility in the air - very possibly due to her stout figure; Ryddle could fly circles around her hardly beating a wing. But something about her expression usually looked somewhat unpleasant to him. Now, though, as she looked through toppling stacks of papers, mind momentarily centered on something other than the general aggravations of life, her features were softly relaxed. For a minute Ryddle could see what others saw in her.

     "Here," she said finally, pulling out an envelope. Even Flytta, Ryddle's other sister, a grey Wocky, skulked over for a look.

     Something about the letter struck Ryddle as odd at a glance. He puzzled for a moment over what it might be before it clicked in his mind: of course. As a general rule, Phantom's Neomails were impeccable, sealed with their owner's seal, addresses written in the finest ink (and the finest handwriting, an art of his). This one was a little different.

     To be sure, the handwriting was still beautiful. And you could make out the seal…in a manner of speaking.

     The seal itself was torn in half, and the envelope had obviously been ripped open without much care or consideration. There were rents torn through much of it, some of them extending to the letter within. The paper was browned, withered, and faded, almost as though it had been sent long ago or exposed to some horrific element.

     For a few seconds they were silent. Then Flytta spoke tentatively. "What…did that?"

     "That's what I'd like to know," said Ryddle. Slightly irrational anger was boiling somewhere deep inside him. Phantom was a very busy Lupe; Neomails from him were rare and precious. He was the one sibling that Ryddle could truly claim to have bonded with, and he already had to deal with the Ghost Lupe's never being there.

     Then, suddenly, the possibility of what this might mean came to Ryddle.

     "Phantom is very important," he said slowly. "At least in context with our owner. And with Kass in power, there's no way anyone would have the nerve to do this. It has to be some sort of rogue - someone who thinks they're more in favor than he is right now. But who? And why this way? Did Phantom include confidential information in this, or something?"

     Sylver shook her head and Flytta just looked at her paws, neither able to answer.

     "Why didn't you ask the post officer if he had anything to do with this?" demanded Ryddle, rounding on Sylver. It wasn't often that he tried to look threatening, but when he did he excelled effortlessly at it. Darigan Eyries weren't known for being cute and fluffy; and even if Ryddle's personality didn't come anywhere close to matching the stereotype, he often unconsciously portrayed an image of ferocious strength. Now, with his red eyes blazing at her, Sylver seemed to shrink beneath his gaze.

     "I - I just didn't think of it, I suppose," she stammered. "Does it matter? I was in a hurry. I didn't inspect the letter."

     "Matter," said Ryddle, with an unusual note of scornful disgust in his voice. "Oh, no, Sylver. This could be important. Our lives and Phantom's could depend on it. But no, it doesn't matter." Strangely enough, Ryddle was feeling elated. For once he was in control - and it felt so good, coming out on top of his sister.

     "Well, you'd hardly have done any better," Sylver snapped. "Just because you're standing up for yourself now doesn't mean you've ever done it before, Mister Doormat. Why don't you fly after him and ask him yourself if you know so much about it?"

     Her words stung, and Ryddle felt his sweet, temporary boldness slipping away. "Well. Um. Why don't we try to see what it says?"

     Extending his talons cautiously, he pulled the letter out of the ravaged envelope. If his sense of touch was any judge the whole thing was likely to disintegrate at any moment. Nevertheless, he managed to extract it without more harm than a forcefully removed corner, which had snagged on the jagged edge of the envelope. He stepped aside to let Sylver read it out loud, her usually smooth voice stumbling slightly.

     "'Sylver, Ryddle, Flytta - I hope this letter finds you in good time and that you are all safe.' But - but-" she broke out. "That makes it sound as though he expects something to happen to us!"

     "Keep reading," prompted Ryddle grimly.

     "If you say so," she muttered. "Where was I? Oh. 'Things are changing, all of you. Our owner is about to take a big risk. He's already supporting a large portion of Lord Kass's army, and we can only hope that Kass is victorious. Otherwise King Skarl will not deal us with very kindly.

     "'I'm afraid there's little chance that I'll be able to visit within the next few months. I have a great deal of work to do, as does our owner; besides the usual avatar collecting I am in the Battledome almost continually, fighting off the vile creatures who believe they can serve their own interests by serving that weak King of Meridell. As we know, Kass promises to uphold the rights of all of us, including those less fortunate that we are. As of yet Sylver may be relieved to hear that I haven't been on the battlefield, although frankly I'm longing for the excitement.'" Ryddle almost missed Sylver's next words in his admiration for Phantom's courage. "'Well, let's see, what have I left out? Ah, yes, of course.

     "'The little rebellion of the peasants. As you know, our owner kindly lets out most of what we call the village to serfs who have never done a decent day's work in their lives - and mind you, he doesn't charge very much, but then we mustn't begrudge any bit of charity we can give to help keep our land strong and free - and they seem to think that's a bad thing. Naturally what we strive to explain to them is that we are doing them a favor, not vice versa. I still have to warn you that they might be making trouble. If they do, contact me immediately, and the General whose precinct our area is (I'm guessing he'll be easier to find!), and most importantly - don't try anything yourselves. You all know how mortified I would be to find that any one of you were injured.'" This was true, Ryddle reflected. He well remembered the time he had fallen out of a tree. It had been before he could fly, obviously, and so he had been very young; a fluffy, more innocent version of what he was now. Fortunately Phantom had been with him to rush him indoors and call the doctor. For the next few days he spent nearly all his time with him, although Ryddle had hardly been injured. Ryddle knew that his brother would do anything for him.

     "'Anyway, I'd have to say that's about all. Goodbye for now, and good luck.'"

     "Hmm," murmured Flytta. "That sounds a little hard on the peasants."

     "Hard on them?" exclaimed Sylver. "You've seen them, surely. Ill-tempered, ill-humored, violent. All they want is Neopoints, and they want them free. It's as though they've never learned to play games properly. And," she added, glaring fiercely at her sister, "I've never seen you lift a paw to help anyone. You won't even help me in the kitchen."

     Flytta hung her head further, and Ryddle couldn't help feeling sorry for her. She didn't say much, but that didn't prevent Sylver from…well, being Sylver…when she did open her mouth. Looking more dejected than he had seen her in years, she padded silently out of the kitchen, and he heard her make her way softly up the staircase.

     "There was no call for her to take it like that," muttered Sylver. It was obvious that she hadn't intended her hasty phrases to cut so deep.

     "Oh?" shot back Ryddle, aroused for the second time that day. "No, and there was no call except for your usual nastiness to say something like that."

     Sylver looked offended. She raised her head, frowning. "Ryddle -"

     "No," he said curtly. He got up and walked out of the kitchen with anger-inspired dignity. "I'm going out for a fly."

To be continued...

 
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