Fable: Blood Ties
When it comes to blood, you can either spill it...or save it.
Based on the worldwide video game phenomenon, this novel from the New York Times bestselling author includes a code to redeem for FABLE III Dye Pack.
When they write down the histories of Albion, the name of Ben Finn will be remembered in honor. But at present, I'm feeling a bit of wanderlust-and I'm on the move again. I had to leave the beautiful Page behind, unfortunately. So, instead of a brave woman at my side, I've acquired a troublesome toadstool of a gnome who will neither leave me alone nor shut his insolent mouth.
Not that verbal barbs can hurt me-they're nothing compared to the foe that is assaulting the walled city of Blackholm. A mysterious warlord has been slowly devouring the surrounding lands, and Blackholm is putting up a fight. What better place for a drifting warrior to make his way and earn his pay?
But a darkness that no mortal can withstand is about to be unleashed. And it holds a secret that is bound with my very blood...
The One Thing
The Bowerstone Resistance had been formed as a protest against the onerous policies and dictatorial philosophies of the despotic King Logan, who preceded our current ruler. It had headquartered in the sewers of Bowerstone Industrial, and I know what you're thinking. Sewers? How repellent is that? Not so much as you might think, actually, for there were sections of the sewers that had long since been cleansed of, well, sewage, and they were actually quite habitable. More so than some actual inns I'd stayed in during my time. It wasn't where I would have chosen to reside, but then again, my preference and Page's didn't always exactly match up.
On the way down to the docks, where the best and most direct entrance to the sewers was situated, I passed the standard assortment of ruffians and disreputable types. They watched me warily, doubtlessly alert for any sign of my lowering my guard so that they might try to catch me unawares. There were many light fingers to be found in the area, not to mention those who didn't hesitate to use more aggressive means. One by one, though, as I passed every one of those villainous creatures, I saw the recognition in their eyes. Whatever might have been going through their minds, it immediately went away as, instead, they nodded in acknowledgment or even tossed off a stray salute. It annoyed the hell out of me, I have to say. I thrive on challenges, big and small, and it was becoming painfully evident to me that there were no longer any such to be found in Bowerstone. I was becoming too well-known a commodity. Worse: I was becoming respectable. Respectability and Ben Finn were not the most comfortable of mates, and I had no desire to embark on a long-term relationship with it.
I entered the sewers, and a blast of heat washed over me as it typically did. No doubt the warmth was being generated in the distance by one of Reaver's many factories, as he was using the sewers as a means of venting exhaust. It seemed a safe bet. If there was any discomfort anywhere in Bowerstonein the whole of Albion, reallythen five would get you ten that somehow, somewhere, Reaver had his fingers in it.
I didn't know all that much about Reaver's background although I'd heard that he used to ply the trade of piracy once upon a time. Since those early days, however, he had become quite possibly the most formidable businessman and entrepreneur in the history of Albion. There was nothing, no decision either for or against his interests, which he couldn't somehow manage to turn into a profit. You've heard the cliché about making lemonade out of lemons? Reaver could take a lemon and transform it into an entire lemonade factory, pollute the air and rivers while manufacturing it, then create an entire separate company that would be paid handsomely for cleaning up all the pollution that he'd produced in the first place.
I hadn't had all that much interaction with him and was thankful for it. Page, on the other hand, had wound up at cross-purposes with him on any number of occasions and despised him, his morals and principles or lack thereof, and the very air he breathed and no doubt managed to turn a profit from.
Then again, it wasn't as if Page readily warmed up to anyone, even someone on her side. The Bowerstone Resistance had arisen from her personal drive to better the city, and even if you willingly allied with her, she always seemed determined to test your dedication to her and the cause by challenging everything you said and everything you did. Nothing ever seemed good enough for her, and she was quite possibly the most aggravating and demanding woman I had ever known.
Naturally, I adored her.
Not that I would have admitted that, though. She would likely have taken it as a sign of weakness.
I made my way through the sewers. The first time I had come through there, I had become hopelessly lost. I have many fine qualities, but my sense of direction betrays me from time to time, and I might have wandered around aimlessly for days if Page herself hadn't shown up to guide me. She had just seemed to emerge from the shadows as if they were her second home, looked me up and down, and said, "So you're the great Ben Finn. You're shorter than I expected."
"I'm taller when I stand on my charisma," I had said, which had actually prompted a laugh from her. She had a lovely laugh and, in my opinion, didn't use it enough. Page also typically dressed in such a way that her extremely muscular arms (and, on occasion, her flat and well-defined belly) were very much on display. It was like the woman was one big walking sinew. She was very dark skinned, with her lengthy hair held backrestrained, reallyby some sort of kerchief or perhaps even a turban. I'm sure it has a name, but I'm a warrior, not a haberdasher. "How did you know me?" I had then gone on to ask.
"You're part of my collection," she had explained to me. This was naturally an odd thing to say, and when she had gestured for me to follow, I had done so. She led me to her inner sanctum and there displayed an impressive assortment of wanted posters that she had collected during her sojourns around Albion. My smiling face was among them, which should not have come as much of a surprise. Although there were parts of Albion where my services were very much welcome, there were others where the only interest people had in me was collecting a bounty on my head. A number of people who were working with her in the Resistance movement were likewise models for wanted posters. She kept the posters in a drawer, like a file of résumés. Her own wanted poster, on the other hand, she had proudly framed and hung on the wall, like a portrait. It wasn't especially flattering to her; she was much lovelier in person, as the poster had her nose too large and her eyes too small. Perhaps she figured that it was the thought that counted.
I admit it: I found her instantly fascinating. But I also knew just as instantly that making any sort of serious overture toward her would be ill-advised. I knew her type. She was utterly focused on her cause, and for someone like her, people were weighed and judged by one and only one measure: how they fit in to her accomplishing her goals. Anything else simply didn't factor in.
Now, though, the cause was over, was it not? King Logan had been thrown out. A new ruler was in his place. What need was there for a Resistance?
Perhaps Page's time could be occupied with something more fulfilling.
I made my way through the sewers with a confidence that I could not have imagined upon my initial arrival months ago. The heat was starting to dissipate, for which I was extremely grateful. A cross breeze was doubtless helping in that regard. Previously, there had been sentries along the way, but there were none remaining. That was just a further indicator that the need for the Bowerstone Resistance had come and gone. Unfortunately, that begged the question of why in the world Page was still rooting around down there. Didn't she realize that the fight was over, and she had won?
I entered the main area, and, sure enough, there was Page, just as if nothing had changed. Except things had indeed changed, starting with the fact that she was the only one in the chamber. She was leaning forward, resting her knuckles on the table and staring fixedly at a map of Bowerstone. Several places were marked with colored pins, and she barely afforded me a glance when I came in. "What kept you?" she said.
"What kept me? Was I expected?" I glanced around. "Was there a meeting that I missed? Or am I simply very early for the next one?"
"A bit of both, I suppose." She studied me. "So how was she?"
"That little biscuit you met up with at the Cock in the Crown. How was her crown? For that matter, how was your?"
"All right, that's quite enough," I cut her off. "How did you know about that?"
"I have eyes and ears everywhere, Finn. It's what I do."
"Spying on me"and I walked toward her slowly, one eyebrow raised"is what you do?"
"Not on you. Not only on you. On everyone."
"Oh, well, that makes it okay, then," I said.
The sarcasm in my voice went right past her. "Yes. It does. I'm trying to watch out for the citizens of Bowerstone. Someone has to, and it might as well be me." She stared at me and tilted her head. "What's wrong, Finn? You look like you have something on your mind."
"Well, I do, actually." I was standing near one of the chairs, and I pulled it out and dropped down into it, putting my feet up on the table. She frowned. She hated when I put my feet up on the table. I didn't care. "Page… what are you still doing down here?"
She looked as if she didn't understand the question. "Where else would I be?"
"The castle, for one thing." Her face remained inscrutable, so I continued, "I heard that our noble leader offered you a position of authority. Your own office, people to answer to you. A sort of people's guardian within the halls of power, watching out for the affairs and concerns of the population of Bowerstone. I'd have thought you'd leap at such an opportunity."
"Is that what you think?"
"I'm pretty sure it is since I just said it."
Page shook her head. "I guess that shows how little you know me, Finn."
"I guess it does. So why not take a few minutes and explain it to me?"
"You'd think I shouldn't have to," she said, which was a frankly annoyingly female thing for her to do. I mean, that's the way of women, isn't it? They say you don't understand, then when you ask them to explain it to you, they turn around and say that you should have grasped the whole thing in the first place and, if you haven't, then there's no point in trying to explain it because clearly you're not going to get it anyway. Is it any wonder that I've attempted to limit the duration of my relationships to assignations and one-night stands?
"Yes, I guess I would think that." I didn't offer anything beyond that, curious to see how long she would let it lie there that way.
Not long, as it turned out.
She rolled her eyes and began to pace. "I just don't fully trust our new leader, that's all."
"Why? On what grounds?"
"Because of decisions that were made. You were there. Decisions that were made that served Reaver's interests and lined the royal coffers with money. Decisions that went against principles and also broke promises and alliances. Of what use is a ruler whose word can't be trusted?"
"Of what use is a ruler," I countered, "who isn't willing to make the hard decisions even if it might put people's noses out of joint?"
Page stopped and studied me for a moment. "Have you no sense of history at all?"
"Very little. The past is past, and there's really nothing you can do about it."
"You can prevent it from becoming the future," she said. "The fact was that, early in his reign, Logan was a fairly reasonable sort. But then he started making certain decisions that favored industry, and before you knew it, he was in Reaver's pocket and endorsing child labor and eventually just slaughtering anyone who stood in his way or offered any manner of opposition. And those early decisions, Finn? They were the exact same kinds of decisions that our new and supposedly far more benevolent leader made. The exact same. The fact is, Finn, that when you've been touched by great darknessas we both know has been the case with our beloved rulerthere's no going back. It's impossible to determine when it will assert itself once more. So if you don't think that our new ruler could easily head down the same path and wind up the exact same way as our old one, then you are sadly mistaken."
"I have a hard time believing that," I said. "I was there early on in the quest that brought our ruler to the throne. I saw the heroism close-up."
"Yes." And Page nodded as if I had just proven her point. "And because of that closeness, you developed a loyalty. Loyalty is commendable, up to a point. Unfortunately, it can also blind you to what people are becoming and makes you useless in making sure that their actions don't lead to disastrous consequences. You becomes insulated, a part of the bubble. I can't afford to let that happen, Finn. I have to remain on the outside, a watchdog on behalf of the people. I know the potential of what can happen because I've seen what happened before, and I'm not going to allow others to suffer for it because I let down my guard."
"Even if others don't agree with you? I mean"and I gestured around the room"obviously they don't. You're the only one here. The last member of the Resistance."
"They'll be back." She sounded confident. "If and when things start to deteriorate, trust me, they'll be back."
"You do allow for an 'if,' I see."
"Well of course. I mean, come on, Finn, do you think…?"
"Do I think what?"
She looked away from me then. It seemed more like she was talking to herself than to me. "Don't you think I wouldn't like to be wrong? Don't you think I wish that Bowerstone and Albion and all the lands beyond get to be all peaches and cream, and people like Reaver wind up left in the dust as we march along a path to a happier and brighter future? I would love that."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because," I said more sharply than I should have, "then you won't feel like you're needed so much. I think you'd rather be right and miserable than wrong and happy."
Another woman might have been taken aback at the accusation. Page just stared, then shrugged. "Maybe that's true. I don't know. I guess we'll just have to find out, won't we?"
There was something in the way she said "we" that caught my attention. We had become friends immediately and always danced delicately around the prospect of being more than that. But now…?
"Actually, I'm going," I said. It burst out of me rather more than I would have liked, but there it was nevertheless. "So I'm not sure how much of a 'we' there is since I am, in fact, going. As I said."
"As you said," she echoed. No one played her cards quite as close to the vest as Page did. "May I ask why?"
"It's just… it's time," I said. "Despite whatever you may think, despite whatever outside vigilance you feel needs to be maintained against our ruler, just because you didn't like some of the decisions that were made"
"It's more complicated than that."
"I'm sure it is. Anyway, I came to Bowerstone with a purpose, and that purpose has been served. So I just think that it's best if I go elsewhere now."
"All right. Well, then"and she shrugged as if the announcement of my decision meant nothing to herwhich, for all I knew, it didn't"safe journey, then. Do you know where you're going?"
"I'm keeping my options open."
"How about home? Certainly it's been a while since you last visited with friends and family."
"Home." I laughed bitterly. "You obviously don't know Gunk."
"Gunk?" Page clearly had no idea what I was talking about. "You mean, like… the crud that gathers in the corners of your eyes while you sleep…?"
"No, that's the city where I was born."
"I'm serious. Well… calling it a 'city' might be kind of joking. Town. Village. Hamlet, actually, and even that might be kind of generous. It's somewhere east of Brightwood."
"And it was actually called Gunk?"
"If we're going to be strictly accurate and aboveboard and all, I have to admit that that wasn't its actual name. But that's what my brothers and I called it."
"Aha, so there," said Page. "See? You have brothers. You can go and visit them."
"No, I don't have brothers."
"But you just said…"
"I have none. I had three. Three older brothers." I sounded rather conversational about it. It was not without effort, for even though it was quite some time ago, the recollections were still like an open wound for me. "My eldest brother, Jason, was killed in a duel with an irate farmer, who also happened to be the husband of Jason's last sexual conquest." Those circumstances resonated particularly strongly for me when I considered what my own activities earlier that day. "The duel was fought using pitchforks, and my brother, who had never done an honest day's work in his life, made the fatal mistake of holding the farming tool the wrong way round.
"Then there was the second eldest, William. For whatever reason, even though he wasn't the closest to me in age, William was the one who I always felt the greatest kinship to. I got much of my sense of humor from him, and when I was reluctant to join in the family tradition of earning money through scams and bilking, William was the one most inclined to support my decision instead of calling me 'weak' or 'gutless.' I preferred the prospect of being a street performer, you see. Having people give me their money willingly in compensation for my efforts to entertain them, at all of eleven years old. Of course, as the audiences would gather, laughing heartily at my jokes, my brothers would work the crowd and relieve them of their purses and valuables without their knowledge."
"Anyway, shortly after Jason wound up on the business end of a farming implement, William was arrested for trying to run a con game on the wrong person: a passing plainclothes towns guard. He was taken to Bowerstone and was never heard of again."
"Finn, I'm so sorry," she said softly.
"But wait, there's more!" I said with far more exuberance than I should have displayed, as if this was something that was genuinely a good thing. "There was my big brother, Quentin, who contrived to accumulate enough gambling debts to have a price put on his head. Quentin's death I remember most clearly of all, because I got to see it with my own two eyes. When the assassins and bounty hunters came to collect his suddenly valuable head, I did what I could to protect him. But no matter how accurate the shots from my rifle, nothing could change the fact that I was shooting peas instead of bullets. I had not yet been able to afford a real weapon, you see," I continued when I saw the question in her eyes. "My brothers had instead gotten me a pellet gun because they'd discovered my knack for shooting with nearly supernatural accuracy. They set up a booth at the local fair in which they challenged all comers to pit their target-practice skills against me. Me, who was scarcely out of short pants. I must have seemed easy pickings, but, obviously, I was not. Once we got done fleecing all the local clods, we soon had to rely on traders, passersby, and occasional tours of neighboring villages, out of which we would more often than not be run by the authorities.
"While my accomplices spent or gambled most of their earnings, I saved every gold coin I could to fulfill my burning ambition of exploring Albion one day and becoming a great adventurer, such as the ones whose stories I read in two-penny pamphlets and thirdhand storybooks. Every day and every night, Page, I dreamt of getting out of that damned place. So why in the name of any of the gods would I go back there, especially with such wonderful memories attached to it?"
"And…" She hesitated to ask. "And what of your parents?"
"My poor, shop-keeping parents? Tell me, Page: What do you think the fates of their three eldest wound up doing to them?"
She didn't answer. She didn't have to. I knew, and she more or less obviously figured it out.
Instead, she stared at me, her gaze fixed upon me, and she said, "You never told me any of this before. You've always been vague about your life. Why?"
"Because I didn't want you looking at me the way you are now, with that sort of oblique pity."
"It's not pity. I mean, I feel bad for you, but"
I put up a hand and waved her off. "Don't. All right? Just… don't."
"Okay." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "Whatever you say. So if you're going to go, then go. You have to do what's best for yourself."
"And so do you," I said. "Why not come with me?"
The edges of her mouth turned upward ever so slightly. "Is that an example of the sense of humor you displayed on the streets of Gunk?"
"I'm completely serious," I said.
"Is that why you came here? To ask me to join you in wandering aimlessly around Albion?"
"You say that like it's a bad thing. Truthfully, I came here because I didn't want to just disappear without telling you that I was leaving. But now I see you here, by yourself, without any true mission or purpose no matter how much you might claim otherwise, and all I can think is that it's an utter waste of potential. Come with me." And I was truly warming to the idea. "We would make a great team. We already have made a great team. You and I, exploring, adventuring. No cares or responsibilities beyond a dedication to accomplishing great and amazing things. And if things here in Bowerstone deteriorate for some reason, you can always come back here and pick up where you left off."
"Or," she said, "I could stay here and continue to monitor the situation in order to try to prevent things from deteriorating to an unmanageable degree."
"And what's your endgame?"
"I mean, how long does this go on? Do you just stay down here in the sewers, watching, waiting, monitoring the world with constant suspicion until you grow old and die?"
"Let's hope not," she said. "But if that's what is required, then that's what shall be."
I studied her, and it was as if there was a shroud upon her. Not a real one, of course, but one that she had draped over herself so that no one in the world could see beneath it to the real her, whatever that might be. "What happened in your life," I said, "that made it so that you feel you are utterly undeserving of happiness?"
She laughed at that. "And is that what wandering about Albion with you would amount to, Finn? Is that what you define as happiness?"
"I don't know, but I sure as hell don't think that sitting around in a sewer all your life is. Look… I told you about my past just now, but you've shared nothing of yours. Tell me what's going on. Tell me why it has to be this way."
"It doesn't have to be. But it is. It is what it is." She patted me on the shoulder as if I were an obedient puppy. "On your way with you, Finn. If you encounter some sort of emergency that requires my aid, well… you know where to find me. Beyond that, enjoy your adventures. And when you tire of them and want to return to serving a cause, feel free to rejoin mine."
"I appreciate the offer," I said. The moment seemed to call for a hug or even a kiss; instead she turned her back to me and focused all her attention on the map spread out before her. "And in return, I offer"
"Trust me, Finn: There's nothing you can offer me." She didn't even look back at me. I suspected at that point that there was nothing on the map of such overwhelming interest that it required her entire focus. She just didn't want to look at me.
"You know what I think?" I said, unable to restrain myself. "I think that you like hiding down here so that you don't have to face the world."
"And what I think," she replied, her voice devoid of any trace of emotion, "is that you have strong feelings for me. Feelings beyond simply that of friend or ally."
"Is it? Then why come here at all to tell me of your departure? Your invitation to join you wasn't simply some last-minute impulse. It was the entire reason for your returning to me. You're torn, Finn. You're fleeing Bowerstone because you do not wish to stay here with me, yet you desire that I join you because you cannot bear to leave me behind."
"My God," I said. "Your ego is so massive, it's astounding you don't snap your neck just trying to lift your head in the morning. Believe me, Page: Where I go and what I do have absolutely nothing to do with you. Now if you'll excuse me, there's a whole wide world out there calling to me, and right now I have to tell you that the main attraction it presents is that you're not going to be there. Oh, and one other thing"
"Just the one?" she said with what sounded like false optimism.
"I really did kill three Hollow Men with one shot."
"Still not caring," she said. "And for what it's worth, I still don't trust soldiers. Not even you."
"Thanks for clearing that up."
I turned and walked away, then I thought I heard her say, ever so softly, "I'll miss you, though." But I didn't bother to turn around and see if she was watching me as I headed back into the labyrinth of the sewers and toward fresh air and a host of new possibilities.
Damnable Page. She'd picked the worst possible time to start thinking and acting like a woman.
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