And then…then I actually finished a thing! The next comic may be viewed on the website.
A website: ficuscomic.com
And then…then I actually finished a thing! The next comic may be viewed on the website.
A website: ficuscomic.com
I got bored and started messing around with styles and coloring, since I didn’t dislike the outcome I made a wallpaper of it here.
I was going through some of my old sketches and came across this one from a few years ago: link. After resigning myself to an inability to travel back in time and explain the concept of basic human proportions to a younger me, I turned to the more practical (if not more uninteresting) approach, of redeeming myself by redrawing it. So here. Have some sap.
Tom’s ribs still hurt him the next morning, though not as much as his pride was stinging. Being injured by a former subordinate was a shame that was likely to keep him up at night, but there was nothing he could do about that now. Until he was given the word that it was time to escape, he was going to have to tolerate anything that Yose decided to give him, good or bad. He had not expected kindness, Yose was not well known for it, but he had not expected Ivor to be involved in his humiliation. Psychologically he had braced himself for anything, knowing that Yose would be made to pay by Ferndale, once Ferndale had prepared for war again. Tom just hoped that someday he would be able to deal with Ivor personally.
Luckily for Tom, the pace set by the Yose army was not likely to aggravate his injuries. Tom had been living above ground for half of his life. The soldiers of Yose were mainly people who had not been forced to live above ground at any point of their lives. They did not know the tricks for walking on sand, which was always shifting under foot. Tom trudged along with the others, knowing that he would be able to physically outpace them if he wanted to, injured or not, but that he would never be allowed to. It was hard to tell what Rashieka thought of anything, she spoke very little. Tom had known her long enough to not be bothered by her silence, they were not surrounded by friends, and Rashieka was a person who only spoke when she thought it was safe to do so.
Ferndale was about a three day walk from where there had been another town. That was for Tom though. It took the Yose army that was escorting them four days to make the trip. The town was empty now however. Evacuated a year before, along with everything else. Weather was starting to take its toll on the buildings, and Tom felt a pang of sadness. As the town that he went through when leaving Ferndale, he was very familiar with every building, and to see a once busy place as a ghost town was haunting.
While Tom and Rashieka had been allowed to do as they pleased so long as they behaved, once they were in the town things were different. Two hours after entered the town soldiers came and got them. They were escorted to a building which had hastily been converted to a prison, and locked in. Tom imagined that for the army, the past two hours had been a flurry of activity to prepare this building for them. It was clear that no chances had been taken. The windows were barred, both from the outside and the inside, barely allowing any light through at all. The doors were reinforced as well. Outside Tom could hear the guards that they had been marched past, they were still there, which suggested they were sentinels.
Tom and Rasheika had both had their packs confiscated, so they entertained themselves by going through the house and seeing what they could find. When the towns above ground had been evacuated people had left anything that could not be carried. That had made exploring the abandoned houses an alluring prospect for Tom for some time. He was to be disappointed however. It was clear that the Yose army had cleaned anything that could be useful from the house before it had been turned into their prison. There was not even any furniture. In the end the only thing of interest that Tom and Rashieka found was a bag of old dry beans that had mummified in the desert heat.
Tom always carried a pack of cards with him, having discovered long ago that life was full of dull moments that had to be filled. Having decided that the house was decidedly dull, Tom and Rashieka settled down to a game of poker, using the beans as betting chips. They had only played a couple of hands before the door was suddenly unlocked, and Vondel entered. Tom stood, though Rasheika remained where she was seated on the floor. Tom did not have to worry about formalities though. As soon as the guards had locked the door again, Vondel took off his uniform coat, threw it in a corner, and settled himself on the floor next to Rashieka. It was clear that this was for once a friendly visit. Without an audience they could speak candidly for the first time, though Tom kept his voice low, not wanting to risk the guards outside overhearing them.
“Hello Fred,” Tom said, sitting back down across from Rashieka and picking his hand of cards up again.
“I didn’t know your name wasn’t Tom,” commented Vondel.
“Legally,” said Tom, who had gone by Tom since well before he moved above ground.
“You will find that the army is very fond of legality,” said Vondel.
“I was just playing around,” said Tom, shrugging off Vondel’s chiding.
“Playing around with cards that Larlarn has signed, I see,” said Vondel, picking one of them up. “I would have thought you would be bitter enough about her joining our side that you would destroy anything she gave you.”
“I couldn’t stand to, I haven’t seen such beautiful cards anywhere else,” said Tom. It wasn’t a question he had expected, he always forgot how observant Vondel was, so he hadn’t had prepared an excuse before hand. It was a fair reason though. Larlarn was a very talented artist, even if she generally used her talents as a forger. She was so talented in fact, that she had been able to forge documents to bring to Yose, and convince them that they were real. Even Ivor had believed that the documents were legitimate, and he knew of Larlarn’s talents.
Vondel raised an eyebrow but did not say anything. Tom was not worried. Vondel would of course suspect that Tom had plants in the Yose army, but with luck he would distrust both Ivor and Larlarn, rather than just Larlarn. In any case, Vondel was not the sort of person to act without concrete proof, and Larlarn was far too careful to give him any.
“So where are we going?” demanded Rashieka in the ensuing awkward silence. Vondel turned to her with a smile.
“That’s just what I’m here to talk to you about,” he said. “As usual Tom, you have caused no small amount of chaos. Right now you are in the hands of the Yose government, as our prisoner.”
“I don’t need you telling me that,” snapped Tom.
“I don’t suppose I do, but the problem is that both you and Rashieka are from New Philly, who isn’t so keen on seeing any of their citizens in our hands. For the moment there is currently a flurry of letters going back and forth about who you two belong to, so we’re stuck. We’re staying up here until they figure this out.”
“Which means that you are considering the surface neutral ground, negating your claim on Ferndale,” said Rashieka. Vondel stared at her.
“Beg your pardon?” he asked.
“The claim was that Ferndale, since it was built over Yose, belonged to Yose. Making what you did putting down a rebellion of a subservient city, rather than an invasion. If being above ground now is neutral, you are undermining your own argument, idiots.”
“I thought you didn’t read,” said Vondel, looking at Rashieka with a shocked expression.
“Doesn’t mean I don’t think,” said Rashieka calmly.
“She once tried to take over the world,” said Tom, his voice equally calm.
“Really?” asked Vondel, his voice incredulous.
“Really,” said Rashieka firmly, and there did not seem to be anything else to say on that subject.
“Is the prison needed?” asked Tom, looking around.
“I have traveled with you before Tom, I cannot trust you,” said Vondel, sounding a little regretful. “Especially if you get bored and decide that you need to entertain yourself.”
“And I am being included?” asked Rashieka. “Just because you can’t trust him.”
“I don’t know anything about you, so I am in no position to offer you parol,” said Vondel, shrugging. “Let’s stop talking business though, it is uncomfortable. I hear you are a married man, Tom. Did you get my gift. I cannot say I trusted the smuggler, he seemed shifty.”
It is the nature of the business,” said Tom, grinning. He had worked as a smuggler more than once in order to fund his spies, who got no financial support from Ferndale. “Lucky you chose one who knew me, and knows that if I had found out he had taken off with something meant for me he would have regretted it.”
“I keep forgetting that you know every troublemaker in the world,” said Vondel, propping his chin in his hand.
“You accepted a gift from an enemy captain?” asked Rashieka, her voice ringing with disbelief.
“With the knowledge of their majesties,” said Tom, quickly. “It was kept quiet.”
“You told your leaders and they allowed you to keep my gift?” asked Vondel, now sounding as incredulous as Rashieka.
“There were some questions about what sort of captain would send two enemy spies weapons in a time of war. At first they thought it might be some kind of threat, I had to convince them it wasn’t like that.”
“What sort of wedding present are we talking about?” asked Rashieka.
“A practical one for a time of war,” said Vondel, still calm.
“Matching sheath knives, nice ones,” elaborated Tom.
“Thought about swords, but I thought that knives were better for spies,” said Vondel.
“Well thought,” laughed Tom.”I left mine with my wife, figured it’d be taken off of me.”
“But you brought a knife,” said Vondel, his voice suddenly sharp. Tom simply smiled at him.
“When their majesties asked me what sort of man would arm his enemies, I told them an idiot. Don’t make me right.”
“My men are searching your luggage right now. If they find a knife in your luggage it won’t go well for you. It would be better for you if you told me before they find it,” warned Vondel.
“They won’t find a knife in my luggage,” said Tom, his voice full of complete confidence. Still, he ran a finger down a scar on his face, a nervous habit he only watched when he did not feel he was around friends. The scar was a long and impressive one that barely missed his eye, and tended to draw attention away from any of his other facial features. Back when Tom had been smuggling on the side he had told people it was from a knife fight. In truth he had been jumping a fence, tripped on the top rung, and when he had fallen slashed his face badly on a branch that had been laying on the ground. Since Vondel was a friend, he did not say anything about the nervous tick but instead simply smiled back. Rashieka had the idea that she had just watched a small and rather polite skirmish.
“I’d best be going, duty calls,” said Vondel, standing up, and picking up his coat. “I just came to tell you to watch your step, I do know how you work. My orders are to keep you here for as long as I can, but if you get to be too much trouble, we will have to go to Yose, New Philly be damned.”
“A place that tortures prisoners they don’t like,” said Rashieka, her voice dripping with contempt, fleshing out what she had thought of as a threat.
“Rashieka,” snapped Tom, his voice threatening. He knew Vondel better than she did, and knew a warning when he heard one.
“That will not happen,” said Vondel, pulling on his coat.
“Don’t make promises that you can’t keep,” said Rashieka.
“My family has a lot of money,” said Vondel, “money that I never use. If it comes to it, I’ll use some, and money has a lot of power to stop things I don’t like. I need to go. Tom, for both of our sakes, don’t try to leave this house.”
“As you say Captain,” said Tom, giving a mock salute. “Send food though.”
“From my own supply,” Vondel promised, and he sauntered out of the door, seemingly with a clear conscious and an easy mind.
“If you had told him you just had a daughter, he probably would have sent her an ax or something,” said Rashieka, her voice sarcastic.
“I’m not giving out information, didn’t tell him Uzuri’s name either. I suppose Ivor told them I got married, that doesn’t mean the Yose government needs to know who if he hasn’t told them.”
“Maybe you are thinking after all,” said Rashieka, though she sounded as if she doubted it.
Captain Vondel did not order their handcuffs off of Tom or Rashieka until dusk, when they made camp.The two prisoners were pretty much left to their own devices at that point, much to their relief. Neither was in a very social mood, and while the camp around them was loud, Tom and Rashieka made their own camp fire in silence. Tom cooked, Rashieka had never attempted housework to the best of Tom’s knowledge.
Tom was in the middle of cleaning up after dinner when he heard someone behind him. He turned to discover it was a soldier who had decided to set up his tent near them. Tom wasn’t certain if the man was supposed to be guarding them, or if he had simply decided that he had found a good spot to camp. Either way, he clearly had no idea what he was doing with a tent. Tom and Rashieka both sat and watched for a little while as the man fumbled with the folds of cloth. Tom had spent more than a quarter of his life either sleeping under the stars, or in a tent. There was only so long that he was able to watch. At the point where the soldier ripped the corner of the tent, Tom stood and offered his assistance. The soldier gratefully accepted, past caring about who Tom was.
“Helping the enemy,” muttered Rashieka as Tom stood up.
“The war is over,” said Tom, taking up the pieces of the tent. Between the two men the tent was up quickly, though Tom was the one who did most of the work, while patiently explaining to the soldier what he was doing. Rashieka did not help, but did sit near and make snide comments occasionally.
“You should allow my soldiers to do their own work,” said a voice from behind Tom, just as the knelt to weigh the edges of the tent down with stones. He turned, still crouched, to see that Captain Vondel had arrived unannounced. The soldier Tom had been helped had a look of frozen horror on his face, and Tom already knew he could expect no help from him.
“Then you should teach your soldiers how to use their equipment,” said Rashieka, from where she had been sitting next to the fire. Tom glared at her. She had been sitting in such a way that he was certain that she had seen Vondel come up, and she had not even given him a significant cough to tip him off.
“My soldiers would know how to use their equipment, if they paid attention during training,” said Vondel, turning his attention to the soldier. Tom used the opportunity to go sit next to Rashieka. He felt no pity for the soldier he had helped. Tom had spent most of his life in trouble, he could never understand why it was that other people were so afraid of getting yelled at. Vondel did not acknowledge Tom’s existence again, and having given his soldier a severe dressing down, he stalked off back in the direction of his tent. As soon as Vondel was gone however, a shadow fell over Tom. Tom glanced up, and then quickly looked back down.
“Don’t forget that I know all of your tricks, Tom,” said Ivor. “Next you’d be offering to take over guard duty for him I suppose. I’m watching you, I’ll see to it you won’t be able to make friends with the guards.”
“Is that what you would do?” asked Tom, still not trusting himself to look up at the man. It was all that he could do to keep his voice calm, but he did not want to give Ivor the satisfaction of knowing that Tom was angry with him.
“You taught me a lot,” said Ivor, and from anyone else it would have sounded like thanks. From Ivor it only sounded like he was gloating. Tom just sat and faced the fire, if he gave Ivor too much attention, he knew that he would do something that he would regret. Being ignored was clearly not what Ivor had wanted from Tom, because Tom suddenly felt an impact to his ribs, and he realized that Ivor had kicked him as he fell to the sand. Tom braced himself for the second kick, which he did see coming while he was laying on his back. It still took his breath away. Tom rolled to his feet, ready to run if he had to, fighting back could start a war in such a situation, but Ivor was already walking away by the time that he had righted himself.
“I don’t remember you ever attacking a prisoner,” said Rashieka, from where she had remained next to the fire, watching.
“Thank you,” said Tom, clutching his ribs. Ivor might think he had learned a lot from Tom, but at least Tom liked to think that he had some honor.
“Want me to see to Ivor?” asked a voice from the darkness behind them. “It would be easy to slit the traitor’s throat when nobody’s looking.” Tom turned to see a young woman in Yose army uniform squatting in the shadows. It was impossible to know how long she had been there.
“You are not an assassin, Larlarn, no matter how much I would like to see the scum bleed. No,” said Tom. “That is not why we had you join the Yose army.”
“The skills are similar, it would be easy for you to cross that line,” said Rashieka. She did not sound as if she was joking, and Tom was certainly not laughing.
“Now that the war is over, go back a join John in Ferndale. He will need you there,” Tom ordered.
“No,” said Larlarn. “You aren’t in charge right now, John is. Since I’ve heard nothing from him, I’ll be seeing to it that you make it to Yose alive.”
“Get out of here,” said Tom, trying not to shout at his stubborn subordinate and draw attention to her. Larlarn disappeared back into the dark, and Tom tried not to think about where it was that she had gone. It seemed very likely that she was still close, watching him from somewhere.
“You shouldn’t call Ivor a traitor,” said Rashieka after a moment of thought.
“Don’t see why not,” snapped Tom, who was feeling more than a little put upon by the world at this point. “It is the general name for turn coats.”
“Then what is Larlarn?” asked Rashieka. “A traitor? She is a double agent as much as Ivor was.”
“I see what you mean, but I’m not the mood to be fair to Ivor just at the moment. Talk to me about my word use when my ribs heal.”
“It might be easier for us if you did allow something to happen to Ivor though,” observed Rashieka. “He knows the looks of all of us better than anyone else in the Yose army.”
“And who would be the first suspects? There is no one with better motive for seeing him dead than us. Did you miss the meaning of the word of hostage? Ivor isn’t worth it to me.”
“You’ve thought on it, haven’t you?” asked Rashieka, sounding almost amused.
“I don’t know a person in Ferndale who hasn’t,” said Tom. Rashieka was willing to believe that this was the case, but she would have also been willing to bet that few people took it as hard as Tom. The betrayal of one of his prized spies had been a painful thing for him.
Every once in a while you have to admit that how you are writing something is not working. That is what happened the last time I tried to write Ferndale and put it up here. Having walked away for a while, I am now satisfied that I am ready to try again. I have spent far more time thinking out how things should go this time, so we will see how it goes.
Tom considered putting up a struggle when the guard came to handcuff him, just out of self respect, but decided against it in the end. Yose had demanded hostages of Ferndale, and he had surrendered himself. To fight now would be stupid and pointless. So were the handcuffs for that matter. If Tom ran he would be risking the entire city of Ferndale, that was the last thing he was going to do, and Yose knew it. Yose was trying to make a point though, Tom was in handcuffs, and so was the entire city of Ferndale. Tom therefore held out his wrists with only a scowl.
Even the scowl disappeared from Tom’s face as he left the room of the town hall that had served as his cell. Rashieka, the other hostage, was already there, her face was frozen in a purely emotionless mask. Tom gave her a cocky smile in return. If Rashieka had not broken character then he would not either. He knew them to both be actors after a fashion, and she was a good one, though he did not like to think of her being better at acting than him. That meant that so long as she was maintaining her performance of not having human emotions, he would continue to act as though he had no cares in the entire world.
Captain Vondel of the Yose army was already in the room, waiting for them as well. He did not look happy, and Tom knew he was in a complicated position. Tom had met Frederick Vondel when Tom was undercover as a servant in a military camp, trying to find out as much as he could about their soon-to-be enemies. Vondel had never really trusted him, or any of the other spies who Tom had brought with him for that matter, and yet he had never been hostile either. They had formed a strange and uncomfortable friendship in the end, one that had been tested several times during the recent war. In the end the two men had pretended that they did not know one another, which was safer for both of them. That was a hard thing to do now that Captain Vondel had been placed in charge of escorting the prisoners back to Yose. It was a mark of favor from Vondel’s commander, since being put in charge of such an important task was likely to result in attention from superior officers and the government. Vondel was a name with a lot of history and money behind it and favoring the son of such a family, even the black sheep middle son, was politically a good idea. Vondel, who had hardly been able to say that he had befriended a man who was spying on him, had not been able to come up with an excuse to not take the job.
Tom quickly turned his eyes away from Vondel, not wanting to make the man uncomfortable. He was not expecting any favors, not having done any for Vondel. Instead he turned his attention to a man with a clipboard who was scurrying towards him. He likely would have noticed him sooner had he not been trying to think of how to reassure Vondel that he did not expect him to stick his neck out.
“What is your name?” demanded the man, coming to a stop in front of Tom. Tom blinked at him for a moment, everyone knew his name, and then decided that this was a formality that he clearly had to take care of.
“Tom,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Thomas, this is official paperwork that will be sent to Yose,” said the man with the clipboard, his voice dripping with disapproval. “I will require your full name, and your signature.” The corner of Tom’s mouth went up, in what was almost a smile.
“Thomas Friends,” he said, “and my comrade is Rashieka Zirie.”
“His name is Adrian Bleeker, Mr. Pince,” came a voice from behind Tom, though it was one that he knew well.
“You don’t have to hide, Ivor,” said Tom, rattling his handcuffs, but not turning to face the speaker. “I can’t hurt you.”
“Lying on government paperwork is a very serious thing,” spluttered the man with the clipboard.
“Just a little joke, Mr. Pince,” said Tom, doing his best to smile disarmingly. He was normally very good at disarming smiles, they were practically his stock and trade, but at the moment he was imagining what he wanted to do to Ivor, which was making smiling difficult. Tom reached out for the pen, signed his legal name for one of the first times in his life, and then passed the pen to Rashieka. Rashieka slashed an X on the paper where there was space for her to sign and handed it back to Mr. Pince.
“I was under the impression that everyone in Ferndale was able to read and write,” said Mr. Pince, looking at Rashieka suspiciously. It was clear that having been lied to once had put him on his guard.
“Almost everyone,” said Tom. “Rashieka refuses to learn.” Tom was not so great at reading and writing himself, having spent most of his time outside of the city as part of his job, away from the only public school in the world.
“It is bad enough to have to listen to the thoughts of people now, without reading the thoughts of people hundreds of years ago,” said Rashieka, summing up her entire philosophy of education.
“We need to stay on schedule,” said Vondel, who was clearly tense. The guards came forward, to form a circle around the prisoners, and they were escorted through the door of the town hall. It did not escape Tom’s notice that Ivor also had a guard around him, Tom was not the only person in Ferndale who would like to do physical harm to the turncoat.
There was a crowd outside the town hall, but they were deathly silent, with only a few small children making noise. Frendral, the king, was standing next to Kerma, the queen. As part of the official surrender they were able to retain their titles, though they gave up a lot of their power. John and the other spies were also present, all wearing black, their unofficial uniform. John was the leader of the spies with Tom gone, it was not the first time, but John had never enjoyed the experience, and he looked miserable now.
Noticeably absent from the crowd was Uzuri, Tom’s wife, and their infant daughter Zara. Tom and Uzuri had not spoken since he had told her that he had volunteered himself as a hostage for the city. There had been a fight about that, with her accusing him of caring more about the city than his family. He had not been able to argue really. He had helped create the city from the age of eleven, it was his life. Uzuri had always lived above ground, she was a farmer’s daughter, there were some things that she just did not understand. Tom tried to push his family out of his mind though, and give the crowd a brave smile as he was marched through the city. This might be the last time he saw the city, and the last thing he wanted was for people to remember him as a defeated and broken man. Tom paused for a moment in front of the city gate, reluctant to take the final step, but a guard pushed him through, and so Tom left his home behind.
I have been subsequently informed that doughnut holes do not, in actual point of fact, sparkle. I would like to apologize on behalf of myself, Kesia, and the ficus for the inaccurate portrayal of deep fat fried foodstuffs in this comic. The next comic may be viewed on the website.
A website: ficuscomic.com