Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 37

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 36

Though he had not asked Ursa to stay, Leonard was so surprised at her cavalier entrance as if she belonged there that he shut the door as if he’d invited her in himself. He was still trying to shift his thoughts from Coppa’s enigmatic visit when Ursa demanded his attention.

“So you’re the Letterman, huh? How long did you say you were in Palloria before coming here?” Ursa was right next to Leonard as he turned from the door, causing him to jump half a step back. They were standing so close he could feel the warmth of her breath as surely as he could feel the weight of her stare.

Being nearly the same height as Osric, Leonard had to look up slightly to look Ursa in the face. He took another causal half-step back, the better to take in the overwhelming presence before him. She stood with her legs wide, anchoring her to the spot like she expected someone to attempt to thrust her from it. Her arms were crossed in their characteristic shield over her chest.

“Well, I was there for an evening, maybe later afternoon or so….stayed there overnight, and then came here first thing in the morning,” Leonard answered. He reminded himself that he’d done nothing wrong and had no reason to be defensive, but Ursa’s accusatory scrutiny made him uncomfortable.

“And how long have you been corresponding in some way with anyone from Palloria?” from her tone, and a shrewd look that reminded him of Wilhelmina, it was evident that Ursa believed she’d caught Leonard in some sort of falsehood.

He was surprised to find that Ursa’s skepticism of him hurt and tried to brush it off; they were practically strangers, after all. He also declined to remind her that Osric had given everyone a brief summary of his and Wilhelmina’s arrival.

“A day? I got a letter on my route yesterday, which led me to a pond, that was afternoon my time, and the pond took me to Palloria. As I said, I was there for the afternoon, the evening, and the earlier morning hours, and have been here ever since.” Leonard tried to keep his tone even, hoping to invite conversation that would sow a seed of confidence instead of suspicion.

Ursa did not relax her posture, but her face took on a shape that Leonard was unfamiliar with at that point; she softened the most austere edges of her expression; her lips were no longer the flat line of a tug-of-war rope being pulled at both ends, her eyes no longer narrow slits with daggers at the ready. She almost looked like a different person, certainly a shade more approachable without the threat of decapitation emanating from her.

Before speaking again, Ursa examined Leonard by sight from head to toe, like she was searching for something tucked into a pocket or behind his ear. It gave Leonard to urge to start patting his pockets for something he hadn’t realized was there.

“Why did you decide to come?” her tone was not unkind, more concerned or curious than derisive. Her head had a slight tilt to the side.

Leonard was stunned into silence for a few seconds. He would never get used to the question when it had such an obvious, humane, answer. “I was asked for help…”

Ursa nodded in approval, though Leonard had the impression that he’d somehow answered more than the question she’d voiced. She uncrossed her arms and reached out to put a sizeable hand on Leonard’s shoulder.

You, I will help,” she vowed, voice low and sincere. Her fingers gripped his shoulder with a gentle squeeze before retracting. “Keep sharp, we’ll get through this, yet,” she added before turning on her heel and pulling open the door.

“What’s that supposed- Wait!” Once again Leonard found himself scrambling to follow his visitor into the hallway, throwing out words like hooks in hopes of reeling them back. But Ursa would not be caught; by the time Leonard had stepped into the dark hall, he’d lost sight of the ghostly figure.

Leonard scratched and shook his head. Giving way to his frustrations for a moment, he reentered his room and shut the door with considerably more force than was necessary. Leonard crossed his arms over his chest and leaned heavily against the door.

He had only just started to review his recent brief and strange conversations when another knock interrupted him. Leonard jumped away from the door, the vibrations from the would-be entrant giving him as much of a start as the interruption.

With a steadying breath and a sigh, Leonard went to open to door. Surely it would be Osric this time.

He was wrong.

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Click here for Part 38!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 36

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 35

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photo from Flickr by IceBone

 

Leonard turned away from the door, resisting the temptation to pull on the circular handle to be sure it would open. He focused instead on the walls, littered with shelves of books and papers, and the single-person bed tucked into the far corner. None of the texts or furniture had the opulent touches that were present in the various rooms he’d seen in Palloria; it made the room friendlier to Leonard.

There were no windows, and the only door was the one that Leonard had entered through. The chamber was lit by an oil lamp attached to the left wall, just over the foot of the bed; the bedframe was some strange dark wood that Leonard could not name, and the mattress a well-worn but cozy enough affair, which Leonard sank down onto.

He set his pack on the mattress behind him when he noticed his bow and weapons belt leaning against the wall, all its occupants in their places. He was up on his feet seconds later, reaching out to touch the hilt of his sword, the curved edge of his bow, to be sure they were his. Once satisfied that all was accounted for, Leonard turned his attention to the books.

He ran his fingers over the spines cluttering the shelves creaking from their weight. Most of them were in languages he could not read, some of them he could not recognize at all. Leonard paused to scan the titles of those he could decipher; most looked to be history books, atlases, or notes on flora, tools, and weaponry. There were a couple of titles that might have contained some form of fiction, but a knock on the door pulled Leonard’s attention away.

His heart sped up. He hadn’t even had a chance to wonder what Osric might want to speak with him about, yet.

The knock came again, this time in a friendlier rhythm, as if it was trying to convince him to open the door.

Leonard took the two short steps to reach the door, pulling it open an inch with a perspiring palm. Instead of finding stately Osric, Leonard found Coppa’s youthful grin.

“What are you doing here?” Leonard asked, holding the door further open in his surprise. He poked his out into the hall a moment and saw that it was empty, except for the sharp-featured, slightly-freckled face in front of him.

“Well, I-I fancied a chat with yeh, a brief one, if you don’ mind.” Coppa grinned sheepishly, his eyes flickering to the open space over Leonard’s shoulder. The sincere expression in his face settled things; Leonard stepped back and gestured Coppa inside.

With two people now in the room, it was considerably smaller and no longer looked able to contain much in the way moving bodies. Leonard shut the door and propped himself on the narrow foot of the wooden bad frame; it supported his weight without protest.

Coppa tucked himself up against the many shelves lining the right wall, across from Leonard, but within arm’s reach in the enclosed space. His tipped ears peeked out beneath his auburn hair, but there was a downward tilt to them.

“So, what did you want to chat about?” Leonard asked as he leaned forward with an elbow on his raised knee, foot propped on the lowest rung of the bedframe under him.

“I noticed you didn’ say much earlier and, well, I wanted to see what kin’a chap yeh are, since we’re set to be workin’ together and all,” Coppa said with a nervous chuckle and a smile that reminded Leonard of a child’s. The young man seemed genuine, searching Leonard with a curious expression on his face.

“Is there something in particular you wanted to know?” Leonard asked, unable to suppress his amusement at his unexpected visitor.

“How long yeh known the Lady Pond?” Coppa tried to sound nonchalant, riffling through the pages of a randomly selected book while pretending not to be waiting for Leonard’s response.

“Not long,” Leonard replied warily, following the auburn-haired imp’s every movement in search of explanation. When he seemed in no hurry to reply, Leonard added, “Is there a reason you ask?”

Coppa’s eyes leapt from the page and locked onto Leonard’s; it was then that Leonard noticed that not only did Coppa have green and yellow eyes, but his pupils were vertical like a cat’s. He wondered how he’d missed that before.

“Look, I like yeh, Leonard. I think you’ve the makin’s of a good mate and”- Coppa began, but Leonard interrupted, unable to help himself.

“I thought you came here to see what kind of person I was.” Leonard smiled as he said it to make it clear he was joking.

Coppa returned a pained smile that had more than a spoonful of pity sprinkled over it. “Leonard, I think you’re a genuinely good person, comin’ all the way here to help strangers…yeh don’ even have a clue what this place is like yeh- well, lads don’ generally volunteer for Krosis duty if they’ve another place to go,” he said pointedly.

He licked his lips before continuing, the book he’d been pretending to look through clutched absentmindedly in his hands. “What I’m tryin’ to say is, I believe why you’re here, and I’m here because of that.”

Leonard felt a pinch in his forehead from his furrowed brow as he tried to decipher Coppa’s words into something that made sense. He was saved the need of forming a question just yet, because the other man continued.

“You’re probably drownin’ in information so I don’ blame yeh if you’re ready to go along with whatever the Lady says, and I’m not tellin’ yeh to necessarily go against her or anythin’! I’d just like to encourage yeh, as a mate, to listen. Listen and make your own decisions.” Coppa finished heavily. His strange eyes glowed, giving him the appearance of a misshapen ginger cat.

Leonard was still absorbing these words when Coppa spun and replaced his pilfered book before making for the door.

“Wait, you”- Leonard said in a rush to his feet, grabbing Coppa’s shoulder to prevent him from slipping into the hallway.

“Please, just think about what I said. Have to go for now, but I’m sure we’ll talk more soon,” Coppa said, cutting off Leonard’s words. He clapped Leonard on the back convivially before breaking the hold on his shoulder and gliding into the hall.

Leonard thought about going after Coppa, but as he pulled the door further open, he found the hallway completely deserted. Shaking his head, Leonard closed the sturdy door again and returned to the bed.

He was starting to wonder if the encounter had been some strange dream when another knock shattered the silence; this one was not a friendly knock. Whatever had happened before, it was certainly not Coppa on the other side of the door this time.

After a second’s hesitation, Leonard retraced his steps to the door. He grabbed the handle, bracing himself, then pulled it open.

The pale and disgruntled Ursa met his surprise with a shove of her shoulder as she invited herself inside.


Click here for Part 37!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 35

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 34

No one spoke for a moment, absorbing the news. It was abruptly broken by a snide tone.

“And what reason have we to believe that?” Ursa snapped as she sat back in her chair, arms locked over her chest in a vice grip.

Osric took his time answering. In that period he continued his staring contest with the table, not looking up as his fingers tapped inconstant rhythms against the wood. Eventually, voice gruffer than usual, he said, “There is reason to believe that Etta is the one responsible for poisoning Wilhelmina as a child. There wasn’t anyone else who traveled between here and Palloria, except the Letterman.”

Leonard noticed that almost everyone’s attention shifted momentarily to him. He tried not to squirm out view.

Osric noticed too and plowed on. “Lacking other possibilities and motives, we should review what we’ve heard from Etta and compare it with what we know to be true from own eyes and knowledge.” He made a point of locking eyes with Wolfhart for the space of a breath.

“From there, we can attempt to choose our course of action,” Osric finished with a look around the crowded table. Most everyone seemed to be pondering this information with subdued expressions and the occasional shadow of reservation.

Ursa, on the other hand, looked like a natural disaster about to unleash its fury. Her pale face was turning a brilliant pink that was soon becoming a mottled reddish hue. Leonard was put in mind of a volcano preparing to unleash molten rivers onto the unsuspecting landscape.

She launched herself to her feet, mouth open and ready to spew lava-coated words. Osric mirrored her motion and quelled her with a harsh stare. “Go to the armory, work out your anger. You and I will talk later.”

Ursa scoffed and tried to speak again but Osric cut her off “- I promise, I will listen to all of your thoughts and reservations. I swear I will take them into consideration as well, and then we can all reconvene at a later time. But for now, Ursa, I need you to go, or I can see that we will get nothing done.”

It was evident by the pained expression on his face that this decision bothered Osric, but he would not be swayed. Ursa eyes were bright and terrifying from the wrath she was holding in. Leonard expected her to detonate any moment. Instead, she silently fumed her way around the table, passing Wolfhart and Nox, furthest away from Wilhelmina, and through the door without a look back.

There was a moment of silence while most of the tension in the room dissipated like a kettle’s scream as it’s removed from the heat.

Leonard peered around the table; Wolfhart kept darting borderline mutinous looks in Osric’s direction, but remained otherwise silent and unaffected; Nox and Xandi remained as they’d always been, calmly observing with muted expressions making it impossible to discern their possible thoughts; Coppa looked bemusedly around the circle of faces, searching for at least some of the same answers Leonard wanted; Wilhelmina was the only one who seemed to be swallowing a distorted version of joy, tucking it away behind her mask of thoughtful consideration with only a mild slope of her lips to suggest otherwise.

It was again Osric that broke the silence. He cleared this throat and said, “We all have stakes in this. As I’ve said, we must work together, be willing to trust each other. Everyone is encouraged to speak their minds and share their voice, but in the right time. Outbursts will serve no useful purpose, and we cannot quibble as we go over every little thing.

“So, to the matter at hand,” Osric turned to Nox and Wolfhart. “Let’s start with you. Where might we be vulnerable given this new information, and what do we know for fact about our current situation and intel?”

It wasn’t long before Leonard was lost and overwhelmed by the waves of information that crashed into him. It was all the more difficult to keep everything straight given his utter lack of knowledge and context.

He felt like a mannequin overseeing the others’ conversation, unable to contribute or do more than dumbly nod along as if he understood what was going on. Osric occasionally smiled at him in a reassuring way, but Leonard didn’t know what exactly he was being assured of; so, he continued to look at whomever was speaking, glance around at the others’ faces, and either nodded or shook his head in minute movements as the conversation wore on.

All sense of time was lost to Leonard, as much from being in a foreign world that moved at a different pace as from his lack of an adequate timepiece. Eventually, enough had passed that Osric at last brought attention to it.

“I think we could all do with some peace and refreshment. Some nourishment and time to reflect,” he said as he rose from the table.

“I will show you both to rooms,” Osric directed at Wilhelmina and Leonard, who stood and swung bags over their shoulders. To what remained of the original table group he said, “I’ll find and speak with you all individually soon.”

Leonard’s stomach clenched and churned with every step as he followed Osric through the labyrinth of dripping stone hallways; the dark and gloom was only marginally chased away by the flickering torch in Osric’s hand. Leonard’s mind was buzzing with doubts, nagging him about every scrap of information that had been discussed but he couldn’t properly recall; peppered with questions about what he was still doing there and whether he would become more asset or liability.

“Here you are Leonard.” Osric’s voice surprised Leonard as much as the abrupt halt, which caused him to crash into Osric’s solidly built frame. Waving off Leonard’s apologies, Osric opened the door and gestured Leonard inside.

The room was considerably smaller than any of the rooms Leonard had seen in Palloria; it wasn’t much bigger than a sizeable walk-in pantry, but it had a surprisingly homey feel to it just on walking in.

“Someone will be along shortly with something of sustenance. And I will be in to speak with you privately at some point, if you don’t mind.” Osric waited for Leonard’s nod of approval before reaching to pull the door closed. Looking over Osric’s shoulder to Wilhelmina standing in the hall, face cast into deep shadow from the low light, Leonard noticed a withering glare directed at her brother; it seemed she was less than pleased at the prospect of Leonard and Osric speaking alone.

But it was gone in a flash, and Leonard wondered if it might have been a trick of the light, because Wilhelmina gave him a small but encouraging smile and a small wave before the door hid her from sight.

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Click here for Part 36!

 

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 34

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 33

“Your sister?” Coppa exclaimed, his eyes roving over Wilhelmina as if looking for someone he’d once known.

“The Letterman,” Xandi intoned with another thin smile, her voice slow and deep, rich like a decadent dessert.

Silence fell over the motley band, giving Leonard the impression of the calm before a storm. He was not wrong.

In a surge of motion and sound, as if a match had struck and caused each to explode into action, Coppa, Ursa, and Wolfhart rose from their chairs, voices crashing into and over each other to be heard.

“-didn’ you tell us your sister was-“

“-is the meaning of –“

“-far more of an explanation-“

-was all that Leonard managed to catch in the swarm before all three abruptly halted. Wolfhart looked most abashed by his outburst. His eyes darted to his father, who remained calmly in his chair, observing Leonard and Wilhelmina with a new, searching look. Wolfhart slowly sank into his seat, recovering his statuesque posture, a red tinge creeping up the side of his neck.

Coppa looked sheepish and scratched nervously at the back of his head, also taking his own seat again. He gave Osric an apologetic smile before resuming his surveillance of Wilhelmina, igniting Leonard’s curiosity about the young man’s persistent interest in her.

Of those that had taken their feet, only Ursa remained standing. Shea rolled her eyes again and crossed her arms over her chest, leaning heavily to one side so that her hip jutted out. She looked bored, but her narrowed eyes told a different story.

“There is much to discuss, and though we must work swiftly, we cannot be hasty in our actions, but the time has come, my friends. The truth must come out and we will put an end to the destruction, and the portals, once and for all,” Osric emphatically imparted to the room, looking each in the eye in turn.

Most everyone in the room seemed to take heart from Osric’s words, but Leonard noticed that neither Ursa nor Wilhelmina appeared altogether pleased by them. It gave Leonard an uncomfortable sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Here’s as good a place as any so….” Osric gestured to the open chairs at the far end of the table.

Wilhelmina brushed past Leonard and her brother and took the open seat at the head of the table, smoothly swinging her pack from shoulder to lap in one easy motion. She settled back in her seat and smiled at Ursa, who looked like she’d swallowed something vile.

Without missing a beat, Osric walked around Wilhelmina to take the open chair on her left that would place him between her and Ursa. He gave her a reassuring smile before sinking into his seat, waiting for Ursa to follow suit, before waving Leonard over to take the last empty place around the table.

Leonard hoped he didn’t look as much of an imposter as he felt. Sitting among proven fighters and magic wielders, those with formidable skill and power that would be useful in the days to come, Leonard feared he had already served his only purpose, and that his presence would all too soon become obsolete; this left him all the more confused and swimming in convoluted emotions and thoughts, torn between the desire to be safe at home where things made sense, and being able to help the obviously dire situation.

“I realize we all have questions and feel our own are the most pertinent,” Osric began, cutting off Leonard’s more self-deprecating thoughts and redirecting his attention to the moment at hand.

“But I ask that you be patient. Everyone will have a chance to speak. Collectively, I believe we have the same, if not similar goals, though perhaps with different motivations. As we move forward, we must be open with each other, willing to trust each other, if we have any hope of seeing this through.” Osric ended with a pointed look at Ursa, who sat with a sour look on her face as if she’d sipped old milk.

“Do we blindly trust those with a supposed Letterman, now? Disregarding our own eyes, ears, and intellect?” Wolfhart asked in a low, challenging tone.

Osric’s face hardened as he leaned over Ursa to better look the other man in the eye. “Do not spin my words into your own malformed creation, Wolfhart.”

Sitting back in his seat, Osric continued, addressing the entire group, “We have reason to believe that we have been given false information, and so we must reevaluate what we know to be true, and what should be called into question, before we can act accordingly.”

A strained moment passed while the information was absorbed, burrowing into their hearts until the stillness was broken.

“Whose words are choosing to doubt?” Nox calmly inquired from his place at the head of the table, opposite Wilhelmina.

Osric looked uncomfortable, dropping his eyes to the table and taking a steadying breath before returning his companions’ gaze and replying in a low tone, “Etta.”

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photo from Flickr by Mustafa Khayat

Click here for Part 35!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 33

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 32

He took barely two steps until he was looking down on Leonard and Wilhelmina, surveying them with a glare. Standing this close, Leonard was acutely aware of how tall the other man was, who seemed to even have an inch or two on lanky Osric. Leonard was eye to chin with him.

Leonard swallowed with difficulty as the hazel eyes of the older man continued to bore into him. A scar ran down the right side of the man’s face, growing out from his gray hairline in faded scar tissue, down until it met the curve of his chin. Leonard found himself wincing at his earlier rush for action, the judgmental way he’d viewed Osric’s response, even if the words “come up with a plan” still sliced at his nerves like razorblades. He swallowed again, and still there was only silence to accompany the unyielding gaze.

At last, the man’s lips parted to release a grave and gravelly voice. “Would you so willingly and recklessly send friends, family to be tortured, killed, when you knowingly lack information and possible tools necessary to be of any help?” there was no accusation in his voice, which surprised Leonard. Instead, there was only a deep and weary sadness clinging to space his words had taken up, and in the forest of his eyes.

Leonard’s insides withered. He felt like an impulsive teenager trying to race off and save the day, or someone too young to understand the importance of patience. Though he was tempted to point out that his family was one of the ones taken, as Leonard looked at Wilhelmina, and even Osric and the strangers in front of him, he knew he’d never be able to send them into danger…at least not without knowing it would be worth it, which it would have to be.

The older man nodded silently at some change he saw in Leonard’s face before turning his hard gaze to Wilhelmina. Leonard looked over as well and saw her standing with her arms crossed and jaw set, but her face had a crumpled look to it that illustrated her own second thoughts.

“Good. When there’s plan, I will help you,” he said approvingly with a nod before turning and reclaiming his seat. The younger version with black hair did not look pleased.

Osric beamed momentarily at each face in the room, then clapped his hands together and said, “Well then, let’s have introductions. Then we’ll work on that plan.” The last part Osric said to Leonard pointedly, and with a sincerity that moderately calmed the urgency in Leonard’s veins.

“Here we have,” Osric started, nodding in the direction of the gray head, “Nox, his son, Wolfhart. Both are the best strategists and fighters this side of Krosis.” The woman with white-blonde hair rolled her eyes while Nox inclined his head in acknowledgement, but his younger version remained as still as a statue, complete with stony expression.

“That lad there is Coppa,” Osric gestured, with a tilt to his lips, to the chestnut-haired young man, who looked like a mischievous character, emphasized by the slight point to the tip of his ears.

“Coppa has a knack with any kind of technology, and can engineer or fix almost anything.” Coppa rubbed the nails of his left hand against his tunic then blew on them with a carefree expression and an impish wink. Leonard thought he heard Wilhelmina chuckle softly.

“Coppa is also studying with Xandi,” Osric continued, this time pointing to the woman with her hair wrapped around her. “Xandi is a gifted sorceress.” She gave them a thin smile as she stroked the black river of hair that flowed across her chest. It was impossible for Leonard to tell how old she was; every time he blinked, her features appeared older or younger, never constant enough to form a true mental image of what her face looked like, but always with the same regal countenance. Leonard’s mind filled with questions and curiosities he wished to ask her about, but his attention was recaptured by Osric speaking again.

“Last, and certainly not least, we have Ursa. Her stealth and reconnaissance abilities are unmatched. She’s also an excellent, experienced fighter, particularly close quarters.” Ursa looked much happier after her own introduction.

“Everyone,” Osric said to the group around the table, “this is Wilhelmina and Leonard.” There was a pregnant pause, the seated occupants looking expectantly from one face to the other before settling back on Osric’s.

He took a deep breath before saying, “Wilhelmina is my younger sister, from Palloria, and Leonard, is the Letterman.”

From the expressions around the table, it was most unexpected news.

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Click here for Part 34!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 32

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 31

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Leonard drew comfort from the hand tucked in his that pulled him along since the owner seemed to know where they were going, or possibly could see better in the dark. Whatever the reason, Leonard was glad that Wilhelmina was undeterred by the pitch black hallway leading them to further into the unknown.

For a while, Leonard could only hear the shuffle and tromp of their paired feet, which echoed slightly off the walls. At some point it sounded like there was a soft, steady, drip to be heard between the footfalls. There was a dank quality to the air the farther they walked, and eventually a gentle downward slope to their path that caused Leonard the slightest hesitation when placing his feet.

They’d been walking long enough for Leonard to start wondering whether they were in a corridor or a tunnel when a dim and distant light could be seen up ahead; between their steps also came the steady rumble of voices that grew louder as they neared.

Leonard’s pulse quickened at the sound. Wilhelmina’s fingers twitched in his hand.

The darkness of the passage they’d been traversing had acclimated Leonard’s eyes enough to the dark that he was partially blinded when they found themselves outside of a room with an open door as the source of the light. His head gave another nasty throb, reminding him of its recent contact with stone.

They could hear the voices more clearly now, but it seemed like there were at least two people speaking at once at all times, though the pairings seemed to change. It made the tangled mess of words difficult to separate and absorb into any meaningful message.

Osric halted at the door to give Wilhelmina and Leonard a measured look before squaring his shoulders and entering the room with a low, “this way,” to them.

The many-tongued conversation paused immediately when Osric stepped into the room. His presence was soon followed by a raucous greeting, which abruptly ceased the moment that Wilhelmina and Leonard appeared at Osric’s shoulder. At some point, Wilhelmina reclaimed her hand.

Leonard squinted marginally, resisting the urge to raise his arm and shield his eyes from the blinding light. The room looked far smaller than its dimensions suggested, the space largely filled with a battered but sturdy looking table surrounded by mismatched chairs in similar condition, most of which were occupied.

Five pairs of eyes grew wide as they surveyed Wilhelmina and Leonard. They looked to be of a variety of ages; the oldest seemed to be a man sitting at the corner of the table with gray hair knotted at the base of his skull; the youngest appeared closer to Wilhelmina’s age, a man with chestnut hair and sharp features who had turned in his chair to gape at them.

There were three men and two women. The remaining man looked like a younger, wilder version of the eldest, his long hair dark and untamed, left to entangle itself in the scruffy beard that reached his chest. The women looked like inverses of each other; the younger had hair so blonde it looked white, cropped short in a fashion similar to Osric’s and blending into translucently white skin, giving her a ghostly appearance; the other had her long, black hair plaited and wrapped around her shoulders like a scarf with golden beads threaded through it, her dark skin emanating with an ineffable glow.

Osric held up his hands to deter interruption. “My companions do not understand why nothing has yet been done about the information we recovered regarding the portals and the taken.”

Though obviously riddled with questions and shock at the unexpected arrivals, Osric’s statement had an even more surprising effect on the seated group, which seemed to push all focus on who the visitors were from their minds.

The man with iron gray locks rose slowly from his chair.


Click here for Part 33!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 31

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 30

A chill had crept into the room that had little to do with the temperature. The light shivered again.

“Am I to understand that you’re opposed to coming up with a plan?” Osric crossed his arms over his broad chest. He eyed Leonard with a pompous air that Leonard was certain was more bravado than anything else.

“Plans are good to have, but not when you’re too busy doing the planning that the acting on it part gets left out,” Leonard retorted, glaring back at Osric.

It took Leonard more than a moment to place where the anger pounding in his chest had come from; not only was there a possibility that his father was somehow, inexplicably, alive, but few if any efforts had been made to rescue him, or the others being held against their will. The blood in Leonard’s veins boiled like a molten river.

“Neither of you understand!” Osric countered as he launched himself to his feet and renewed his pacing. Each footfall felt like a jab in Leonard’s side, nudging him onward.

Leonard opened his mouth to reply, but a small hand gripped his shoulder, effectively freezing his tongue. Wilhelmina reassuringly squeezed his shoulder again before rising to her feet as well. The argument that had roused him now made much more sense as it was take up anew.

“You see! I’m not the only one that finds it hard to believe that nothing has been done yet. We can’t wait forever. There must be something, Osric,” Wilhelmina nearly pleaded, her voice a painful swirl of emotions, but with iron at its center.

Osric continued to pace and rubbed his forehead as if he hadn’t heard her, deftly side-stepping Wilhelmina each time he found her in his path. At last, he turned with a dramatic sweep to face them. Osric gave them a measured look before nodding and striding towards the door.

“Come with me,” he said, reaching one of his large hands out to Leonard, who was still on the floor with the wall at his back. Leonard hesitated for the space of a breath before grasping the taller man’s wrist and allowing himself to be pulled to his feet effortlessly.

“Where are we headed?” Leonard asked as Osric pulled open the heavy chamber door and entered the dark corridor, pausing after a stride to wait for his companions. Leonard’s legs felt a little shaky but seemed likely to support him. He leaned against the wall to steady himself as he made to gather up his satchel and arms.

“You can leave those here for now. We will either return here or have your things brought to you when needed,” Osric called from the hall. Leonard caught Wilhelmina’s eye, his hand hovering over the satchel’s strap.

Wilhelmina considered before setting aside her bow and her sword belt, but Leonard noticed that she did not relieve herself of all the weapons she had brought, such as the ones tucked into her boots. She also kept her own pack safely slung over her back. Leonard followed her lead; he grabbed up his own bag and left all else behind, then tailed Wilhelmina in to the hall.

Osric said nothing of their still laden shoulders, but turned and continued down a side hallway that Leonard had not realized was there in the shadowy corridor.

“Where are we going?” Leonard whispered as he blindly stumbled after Osric’s footsteps. Out of the darkness, a soft hand slipped into his and pulled him along.

“To enlighten you,” Osric called darkly from up ahead, his voice echoing off the empty stone hall.

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photo by Ioan Sameli

Click here for Part 32!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 30

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 29

“You can’t just go tearing off into the city’s heart! You know nothing about this place, and I won’t let you get yourself killed, or worse, while you get yourself lost. Especially not without better intelligence than we have,” a deep voice stressed to whisper commandingly, only partially succeeding at both.

I will go where I see fit, Osric. Someone needs to straighten this out and I won’t be left behind waiting, left in the dark!” a woman whispered back, far more effective at replying in both a whisper and commanding tone.

The voices continued to murmur to each other, but it didn’t make much sense to Leonard, who heard them as if they were far away. Any of the words he did managed to catch seemed to float around in his mind, but never anchored into fully coherent messages.

Leonard was sure the voices sounded familiar, and in a far off way, he knew that what they were talking about mattered. He also became aware of his cheek against cold stone as he lay prostrate. An unbidden groan escaped his lips, head throbbing murderously at his first attempt to shift his position from the unforgiving ground.

The whispering stopped, replaced with the shuffling of feet. Leonard moaned again as he tried to move his arm to life himself from the ground. Before he’d managed to realize he felt nauseated and maybe should lay back down, there were hands on either side of him, gently assisting him to shift into a sitting position; his head gave another unceremonious throb that sent him falling sideway while cradling his head. The hands held him in place with his back against the wall.

Eventually, Leonard became aware that the murmuring had started up again, but there were longer pauses between each muddled message. He leaned his back against the wall and tried to concentrate on the words floating around his head.

“Leonard? Leonard, how are you feeling?” it was a woman’s voice, but it sounded watery and muffled. Leonard’s head continued to pulsate. He wasn’t sure he wanted to open his eyes, he felt dizzy just being propped against the wall.

“Imkaywhappen?” the string of smashed together and half completed words fell out of Leonard’s mouth in a rush of wheezy air.

“I didn’t quite catch all of that, but I do not think ‘okay’ is any way to describe the situation at hand,” the woman’s voice said near Leonard’s ear. Though everything still felt fuzzy and he had not yet opened his eyes, Leonard was able to recognize Wilhelmina’s voice as hers at last. Small comforts, he told himself through the pulsating of his head.

“You’ve been out for a while, so don’t move too fast,” Osric’s deeper voice sounded in Leonard’s other ear. Leonard felt the weight of the larger man’s hand rest on his shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. To Leonard’s surprise, it also made him feel a little better.

With great effort and much trepidation, Leonard slowly opened his eyes, though quickly shaded them from the only lamplight with his hand, grateful for the dimly lit room. “What happened?” he asked after a moment, resisting the urge to shake his head to clear it for fear of angering his gently pulsing head.

“Well, we were discussing the direness of our circumstances when…well, you hit the floor- I tried to catch you, mate, sorry about that. But you just sort of…shut off, blacked out. We were actually going to ask you what happened,” Osric answered.  Though he attempted to sound lighthearted, Leonard could see the uncertainty Osric felt; his drown together eyebrows and worried gaze were telling enough.

“How long have I been out?” Leonard asked, trying not to cringe from the answer. Collapsing for any amount of time after the mention of things getting more dangerous didn’t sound like the best way to contribute to a mission or an adventure to Leonard.

“It’s hard to say for sure in here, but an hour or two, I’d wager,” Osric replied as if reporting that the sun was shining that day, and it was of no consequence. Leonard could tell the minimization of time was for his benefit.

“It was enough time for Mi-Wilhelmina and I to get each other caught up on a few things, get a little reacquainted,” Osric added with a soft smile in his sister’s direction. Wilhelmina did not return the smile, but her eyes were brighter.

“Oh?” Leonard asked, slowly looking from Osric to Wilhelmina.

Wilhelmina nodded and said, “We weren’t able to revive you, and so thought it best to use the time we had to go over a few important things. Osric is now more knowledgeable about what’s be going on in Palloria, and I was learning about the situation here in Krosis. We were just discussing what actions we might need to take-“here Osric cut across Wilhelmina.

“Actually, we were having a disagreement about that,” he said with a hard look at Wilhelmina, who seemed unabashed, but remained silent, allowing Osric his say.

“What is it?” Leonard inquired, still shielding his eyes, but no longer needing to squint at his companions. Now that he was more conscious, he was becoming aware of the rising tension between Wilhelmina and Osric and couldn’t help but think that he woke up just in time.

“Osric was explaining to me that there have been some disturbing reports coming in concerning the nature of the portal and shards, mainly what powers then and allows them to work as they do. There is a high likelihood that those that have been abducted have been put to use, in one way or another, to keep them working.” Wilhelmina’s voice drained of color as she shared this information with Leonard, who felt his heart grow painfully cold.

“But…but they’re alright aren’t they? Maybe hurt but, we just need to go and find them, right? Destroy whatever machines are being used, break everyone out and then return everyone home?” Leonard searched both faces for any sign of hope, but he recalled the argument that he’d awoken to, and his heat sank even further.

“It’s not that easy. Everyone has been getting false information from Etta, Wilhelmina and the Palloria side, as well as me and the base here. Only recently have some of the more disconcerting reports made their way through, so it’s been slow work trying to piece the truth out, as well as any possibly compromised people. But we are going to form a plan,” Osric insisted when Leonard’s face hardened.

“You’re telling me that there’s a good chance that the people that have been abducted across various worlds, including Palloria, are being used to somehow power the portal shards, something that really doesn’t sound good for anyone’s health, and we’re going to ‘come up with a plan’?” Leonard was unable to dampen his incredulous tone.

The lamplight flickered.

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photo by Stefan Klocek

Click here for Part 31!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 29

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 28

Leonard gaped at Osric, his mouth hanging out, heading shaking at the impossibility. Leonard couldn’t understand why Osric would say it if it wasn’t true, but it just wasn’t possible. He searched for Wilhelmina’s face in scope of his blurry vision, finding a paler version than usual, her mouth also agape. She too was shaking her head at the impossibility.

“I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but that’s what we need to find out,” Osric said, turning to Wilhelmina, imploring her with his eyes. “We have a lot of talking to do,” he added with a hard look and disquieting undertone.

When she’d finally unfrozen, Wilhelmina put a hand to her brow and began shaking her head emphatically. Leonard thought he heard her muttering the word “no” but he couldn’t be sure. He felt all the more lost and confused, like the floor had complete disappeared from under him, leaving him scrabbling in free fall hoping for anything to cling to on the way down.

Leonard jumped when the weight of a hand rested on his shoulder. He almost knocked into Wilhelmina, the owner of the hand, with his jarring movement, but steadied after recognizing her touch. Though she looked like she’d aged, Leonard still saw the fierce strength in her gaze, which soothed his anxious thoughts.

He took a slow, deep breath, eyes still locked on Wilhelmina, who nodded at him as he exhaled. The feeling started coming back to his legs, and though his arms still pricked and tingled, they didn’t feel quite so heavy anymore.

“What did he say?” Leonard heard himself ask a little hoarsely, his throat dry. He cleared his throat and swallowed a few times before trying again, sounding much more like his usual self, if a little shaky, “What did my father say to you the last time you saw him?”

Leonard shifted his body and attention to Osric, searching his face for any and every answer that may make itself known. Osric stood in the far corner, where his pacing had taken him, with his hands clasped behind his back.

“He didn’t speak much. That’s part of the strangeness. He hasn’t been fulfilling his duties in the usual fashion for some time now, but Etta’s been explaining it away with one thing and another. Though at this point, I don’t know how much to believe…” Osric’s voice tapered off and his eyes went out of focus. Leonard was sure he was recalling and reexamining everything his older sister may have said to him for a long time.

“When is the last time you saw Gerard in Palloria?” Osric asked Wilhelmina with a shake of his mane, his eyes coming back into focus.

“The last time Gerard was in Palloria, to my knowledge, was the last time Etta was in Palloria, again to my knowledge. And that, was around ten years ago Palloria time. I was still recovering from being sick…or poisoned, as the case stands,” Wilhelmina said, finishing with an indignant huff as she crossed her arms.

Osric’s eyes widened before his furrowed brow overtook them. He slowly shook his head, much in the same way Leonard had moments previously, though Leonard couldn’t imagine what would shock anyone as much as the possibility of their dead father being alive.

“How can that be?” Osric asked the room so softly that Leonard almost missed it.

“How many years has it been, Krosis time, since you came to Palloria with medicine for me?” Wilhelmina inquired, cutting into whatever swarm of thoughts Osric was losing himself in. The shrewd countenance had returned to her features; it was comforting to Leonard to see.

“Nearly five,” Osric replied darkly. The siblings exchanged a meaningful look that was lost on Leonard. He looked between the two of them, hoping one of them would explain the increased anxiety written on their faces.

Leonard tried to remember how to breathe, to send the proper signals from his brain to his heart and lungs to keep him pulling oxygen into his body, and expelling carbon dioxide. At every turn, there was another endless series of questions in need of answering before they could move forward. Each moment held within it the capacity to shatter previous notions of truth and understanding; Leonard wasn’t sure he wanted to be on an adventure anymore.

Pushing aside thoughts of his familiar mail route worlds away, Leonard managed to ask, “What fresh hell does that mean for us?”

Wilhelmina and Osric held each other’s gaze for an infinite moment. Leonard’s heart kept the seconds between his question and their reply.  Finally, Osric looked at him.

“It means, there’s a very good chance that someone is tampering with the power of the portal, or the shards…we need more information, more certainty and facts, but…if the differences in time between our worlds has been intentional, we could be in even more dire circumstances than originally thought…” Osric searched Leonard’s face as his voice died away.

Within the space of his next heartbeat, Leonard felt his legs give way beneath him. The stone floor rose absurdly fast to meet him.

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photo by Alexander Wilds

Click here for Part 30!

Fiction Friday: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 28

Previously: The Legend of Leonard Letterman, Pt 27

“I don’t know if I’d call it a burning question, but I’d like to know how you came to be here, Leonard Letterman.” Osric looked right at Leonard as he said his name. The shaggy-haired lion had as much curiosity in his eyes as he did amusement on his lips, though there was a foreboding quality to the long stare Leonard kept locked with him.

Wilhelmina remained silent, her eyes roving from one man to the other as they spoke, narrowing almost imperceptibly in Leonard’s direction.

“Well, the short of it is, I found a letter with ‘Letterman’ written on it while on my route. I found my way to some big house and then went through a pond on the grounds and found myself in a study of Wilhelmina’s,” Leonard answered, unable to keep the corners of lips from lifting up, or his voice from becoming lighter.

“How long have you been the Letterman?” Osric asked before Leonard could decide whether or not to continue.

“Oh, um-a day? Two days?” Leonard answered skeptically, looking to Wilhelmina for some sign of confirmation, but she continued holding herself nearly as still as a statue, and certainly as silent as one. “It’s hard to say, but my yesterday was essentially becoming the Letterman…and finding out what that means,” he added, returning his focus to Osric,

The man seemed to be suppressing his surprise, but he could not keep his eyebrows from disappearing under his shaggy locks.

“How is that possible?” Osric asked after a prolonged pause in their conversation. His eyebrows had returned from their hiding place to form a darkly furrowed brow line.

“Well, my father died before he, apparently, had a chance to tell me about…all of this,” Leonard answered, gesturing to the room around them and the situation they found themselves in.

Osric’s demeanor looked darker, his mouth slightly open as he shook his head without seeming to realize he was doing it. “Who is your father?” he asked, eyes now in danger of disappearing beneath his eyebrows.

“Gerard,” came Wilhelmina’s unexpected answer from her place against the wall. She had not moved, but her eyes were now focused on Osric, waiting for his reaction. “His father was Gerard Letterman.”

Osric resumed his pacing again as he absorbed this information, which obviously meant something to him. Leonard’s heart pounded forcefully in his chest as he watched Osric swiftly turn on his heel at each corner of the small room and waited for him to speak. In the back of his mind, a small voice asked Leonard if he really wanted to know the answer to Osric’s palpable agitation.

At last, Osric turned around with a different pained expression on his face than before; there was more frustration and anger muddled in with confusion.

First, he looked to Wilhelmina with a sardonic smile, shaking his head before saying, “I suppose there won’t be a need for continued secrecy between us, little sister. I will share all I know without hesitation or reservation because it will be the only way for us to work together and fix things.” Leonard heard the carefully controlled ferocity within each calmly spoken word.

Wilhelmina was too surprised to look pleased, her lips slightly parted, eyes wide. Her arms loosened from their frozen placement and she shifted away from the wall, still at a loss for words. Suspicion began to cloud her features, but Osric turned to Leonard and spoke first.

“Leonard, I-I don’t-“ Osric stopped abruptly and rubbed his temples a moment before putting his hands on his hips as he faced Leonard and tried a different opening. “How long ago did your father disa-die? How long ago did you say he died?”

Leonard felt like someone was sitting on his chest and it was becoming uncomfortable to breathe. Osric’s question, and correcting himself, didn’t make sense. He felt chilled, but he was starting to sweat, perspiration trickling down the side of his head, palms slickening by the second.

Leonard licked his lips before answering, the salty taste of sweat making his stomach churn. “Twelve years.” It came out raspy and hoarse.

Osric nodded as if this confirmed something to him, but remained silent, taking up his pacing path yet again. Leonard’s arms felt heavy as he moved the few inches that put him in Osric’s path, halting the taller man from his silent brooding.

“Tell me.” It was a demand as much as it was a request, Leonard’s voice small but strong.

Osric took a step back from Leonard, clearing his throat and casting a look in Wilhelmina’s direction before answer, “I saw Gerard Letterman myself, not a week and a half ago, Krosis time. Even with the distortions and time issues we’ve had between here and Palloria, it’s impossible for Gerard to be dead.”

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photo by Thomas Hawk

Click here for Part 29!