In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
By AL BRUNO III
Saturday, December 4th 1996
By now Isobel was cold and miserable and biting back the urge to whine Are we there yet?
The path they were taking had evened out so she no longer had to worry about falling down and cracking her skull or her tailbone or both. The trees had thinned out but that only made the wind colder and stronger. The snowfall was reaching blizzard-like levels, it was almost knee deep already. She’d never seen snow accumulate so fast. It was as though nature itself was trying to push her back to the warmth and safety of Laurel House.
Not that she could find the way back now, the snowfall and the utter darkness had robbed her of all sense of direction. She felt small and lost and utterly dependent on her guides.
Hao had gone on ahead leaving Isobel alone with Zeth a man she had taken to be a prick from the moment she met him and he’d done nothing to change her mind in the weeks since. His movements were smooth and graceful as he kept pace with her; she wondered idly what kind of animal might be hiding under his skin.
He grabbed her elbow and pulled a step backwards, “Quiet now.”
“Ow, you’re hurting me!”
“I said quiet!” he hissed.
“Because someone else has been through here recently.”
So she was quiet. She even tried to make her breathing shallow and silent. What was he listening for? She strained her own ears but all she heard was the wind. Minutes passed and she turned her attention to the man everyone said was Jason Magwier’s bodyguard. His skin was dark, darker than Hao’s, so dark it almost seemed as though he was a shadow himself but his eyes seemed to glitter in the dark. Isobel thought that it was just possible he could see perfectly in all this, that he was in his own way quietly mocking her clumsiness.
Zeth set her walking again with a shove of the same arm.
“Let’s go, she’s waiting for us up ahead.”
“I don’t care, you better stop shoving me around.”
He laughed, “Or what?”
“What is your problem?”
“What’s wrong is you?” Zeth said, “If anything goes wrong out here I’m going to have to put myself at risk protecting you.”
“What’s wrong with that?” she said, “I’d try to help you.”
His laughter became even more mirthless, “Oh that’s very relieving to know.”
Now she pulled on his arm, surprise made Zeth lose his footing, “Look it isn’t my fault your boyfriend sent you along with me. If you miss him so much you can turn right around. I’m sure Hao and I-”
“Boyfriend?” Zeth voice rose in volume, “You think Jason is my boyfriend?”
Part of Isobel was delighted that she had gotten a rise out of the other man, another part was worried she was five-seconds away from getting punched in the mouth “I’ve seen the way you look at him.”
The snow crunched underfoot as he took a step towards her, “You know I thought you were just naive but you’re a fucking imbecile.”
“Did you two come to Laurel House for all the closet space or is it...” she addressed him with all the bitchiness she had been saving up since high school, “...oh it is. He doesn’t know? Or, maybe he just doesn’t care...”
“No, you’re not an imbecile, you’re insane.”
“Hey we’ve all been the-”
The ground fell out from beneath her legs and she crashed backwards into the snow. Her arms were pinned and she felt hands clamp down around her throat. “You don’t understand me! You don’t understand anything.”
Isobel’s fingers scrabbled helplessly. She tried to wriggle free but he had her immobilized from the waist down. She couldn’t even scream.
“Do you know what else you don’t understand?” he sprayed spittle over her face with every word, “That your Prince Charming is a traitor and a coward. He sold his family out to the Monarchs and then he ran when the deal turned sour!”
She tried to kick free and when that failed she raised one leg off the ground until she had enough reach and leverage to wrap it around his neck. It was enough to knock him off her. The she was on her feet looking for something to defend herself with; a stick, a rock, anything, but it was too dark and panic had made her clumsy.
“You’re in love...” the voice said from behind her, “you’re in love with a man that would sell you out the first chance he got, that would kill you just to cover up his trail.”
“Shut up!” she reached down for the only weapon she could find, “Shut the fuck up. He came back for me. He saved me!”
“Then he brought you here. Did he tell you that this was his secret clubhouse? That it was where you would live happily ever after? Did he ever bother to tell you what Laurel House really was? That it’s a temple of-” her throw caught him by surprise and he stared at her, dazed and shocked, “a snowball? You threw a snowball? A fucking snowball?”
“You don’t know him! You don’t know anything!” Isobel launched herself at him, tackling him. He pushed her tackle aside but she managed to catch his sleeve and pull him down with her.
Isobel didn’t feel the cold anymore, or the bruises from her journey, she was too an angry to know anything else. He was laughing at her! No! Worse yet he was trying to ruin everything she and Galen shared.
An expertly placed punch left her seeing stars. She flailed, her hands hooked into claws and didn’t stop until she hit something that made him yelp.
Zeth wasn’t the only one trying to pull Galen down, Hao was doing it as well and even Sig. They were trying to fuel the worries and suspicions she had put aside in the name of love.
Why didn’t he come with me when I asked? She thought, Why didn’t he come?
Hao’s voice froze them both in place, she sounded like an angry schoolteacher, “What is going on here?”
“We were...” Zeth said, “having a snowball fight.”