Mini-Interlude 44 – Davis

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The following is a commissioned mini-interlude focusing on the character of Davis, the Committee member who is commonly referred to as ‘the lumberjack’ for his habit of wearing flannel shirts and his impressive beard.

July 17th, 1838

“Pa! Hey, Pa!”

Sixteen-year-old Davis Neal, a tall yet scrawny youth with gangly arms and ears that he had yet to grow into hopped the fence at the edge of his family’s property. They lived in the heart of Arkansas, the twenty-sixth and most recent territory to be granted statehood in the United States (Desoto had beaten them by only a few months), several miles outside of the tiny (and just recently incorporated) capital city of Little Rock.

With his fishing rod in one hand, and the day’s catch (three good-sized trout!) in the other, Davis called for his father once more while jogging up the path, past the paddock where Goodheart, the family’s lazy mare, was munching her food. He wanted to show off the fish.

Moving around the corner of the house toward the front porch, the boy stopped at the sight of three strange horses tied to the railing there. They were big, strong beasts, flanks sweaty from a long ride and laden down with a lot of supplies.

Blinking at the animals for a moment, Davis turned to look at the house, listening for a moment. He didn’t hear any voices coming from the window of the nearby parlor, where his father always entertained any company that came by. Maybe they were in the kitchen.

Knowing that he’d be due a whuppin if he went tearing in like a banshee in front of guests, Davis carefully opened the door, mindful of the squeaky hinge as he slipped through the gap. Now he could hear voices. But they weren’t coming from the kitchen as he’d assumed. Instead, they were coming from the room that he and his brother shared.

Davis’s heart sank a bit at that realization. The only times that his parents took guests into the boys’ bedroom was when they would be staying for awhile. Did this mean that he and Peterson were going to have to share a room with strangers?

With a sigh, he set the fish and rods down before carefully creeping that way. He was hoping to overhear something that would tell them how long the guests would be sticking around and praying it would only be for one night. As he reached the short hallway that led to his room, Davis leaned around the corner and listened intently.

The only voice that Davis could hear at that moment was that of his younger brother. Peterson seemed to be in the midst of a prayer. But why was he praying in the middle of the day with their parents and guests in the room? Squinting, the boy put his hand on the edge of the doorframe for balance and leaned in a bit more.

Unfortunately, the bit of wall where he put his hand felt sticky and wet. Blinking back that way to see what he’d put his hand into, the boy saw something horrific. The entire wall, from the doorjamb leading into the hallway, clear past the doorway into his bedroom, was smeared with fresh blood. Blood which led all the way into the dim corner that he hadn’t bothered looking toward when his focus had been solely on hearing what was going on in the other room. And as the boy’s eyes moved that way, he saw the body of his father, lying in a pool of what remained of his blood. His chest had been ripped open, leaving bits of bone and organs strewn about.

Before he could catch himself, Davis’s hand reflexively jerked away from the blood on the wall, and a strangled cry escaped him as he fell to the floor on his side. He landed hard, head just within sight of the open doorway into his room.

His mother’s body was there, lying next to his bed. It was torn open, identical to his father’s. A little further in, twelve-year-old Peterson knelt with three men crowding around him, mocking the boy as he continued to desperately pray for divine intervention.

Men. They didn’t look human. Two seemed part-wolf, with beastial features, extended claws, and visible fur. The third, meanwhile, had rough, scaled green skin like a lizard, and his solid red eyes were twice the size of a normal person’s.

All of their eyes, both Peterson’s and the three murderous monsters, turned toward Davis as he landed on the floor while crying out. At the sight of him, all three ‘men’ started to chuckle. Their predatory smiles grew, and the boy could only lie there, staring in horror as the lizard-man began to walk toward him. In the background, he could distantly hear his younger brother screaming his name, but it seemed to be coming from far away. All of Davis’s attention and focus was centered on the creature stalking his way.

He was going to die. He was going to die like his father and mother, torn open by these… these…

Thunder like none that Davis had ever heard filled the air. The lizard-man was blown backward, a good chunk of his upper body missing. A figure stepped over the prone boy, that of a man holding what looked something like a rifle with two wide barrels and an attached blade in between them that stuck out several inches beyond the barrels.

The two wolf-men were reacting by then. Abandoning their torment of Peterson at the sound of the gun, they spun that way. Seeing their companion’s body, the pair made unearthly howling sounds, lunging toward the attacker. One blurted a single word: Heretic.

A second deafening blast from that gun took one of the beast-men in the stomach. He staggered backward, while the other continued on. The man with the gun pivoted, snapping his rifle down and out. As he did so, the barrels flipped backward while the blade extended, turning the weapon into a sword with two gun barrels pointed back as if to act as handguards.

Continuing his pivot, the man allowed the charging figure to rush past him. It nearly reached the spot where Davis was lying, before that blade suddenly appeared as it was thrust into the creature’s back and all the way through his chest.

By that point, as that wolf-man stumbled to his knees, the other had risen once more despite the shot it had taken to the stomach. Instead of charging, it twisted to run for the window. The man, the Heretic, was ready for that, however. He twisted, yanking his gun-sword from the back of the first wolf before hurling it that way.

The wolf-man leapt out the window, disappearing from sight. But the sword didn’t simply fall to the ground or embed itself in the wall as Davis had expected. Instead, those gun barrels pointed themselves down, and some strange purple flame-like energy shot out of them. Rather than burn the floor, the energy lifted the sword over the edge of the windowsill. Once it was at the correct height, the barrels adjusted themselves to point fully backward, and then propelled the sword through the window. Then they adjusted themselves yet again to turn the sword, sending it out of sight.

A few seconds passed before a terrible squelching sound reached them, cutting off what had sounded like a scream. The Heretic made a noise that sounded a bit like enjoyment. Then the sword returned, covered in more blood. He caught it, pivoting back just as the wolf-man that he had gutted struggled back to his feet. A quick slice of the man’s blade took the creature’s head from its shoulders.

Almost before the body had finished falling, Davis was up and lunging for Peterson. He caught his little brother around the waist, pulling the sobbing boy against himself tightly. Both boys knelt there, practically lying in the blood of their dead mother, while the Heretic pushed the headless body of the wolf-man to the floor contemptuously.

“Evil beasts,” the man snarled, lowering his gun-sword as he turned to face the boys. His expression softened slightly, though he had the kind of face that made it impossible for him to ever actually look inviting or friendly.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured quietly then. “I am so very, very sorry, boys. I should have gotten here sooner. But I promise you, these things will not harm you or anyone else again.”

Peterson was too busy sobbing and clinging to Davis to actually say anything. The older boy stared up at their savior, stammering, “Ma…. Pa… those… those th-th-things. They were… they were…” He trailed off, frowning. The men… the men who had killed his parents. There was something off about them, wasn’t there? Why… ? Were they Mexican or Negroes? What was… what had they looked like? Why was it so hard to…

“Monsters,” the Heretic finished for him with a sigh. “Yes. Yes, they were. Come, let’s get you cleaned up. I won’t leave you alone here, you have my word.

“My name is Gabriel Ruthers. And I swear on my life, I will not let anything hurt you.”

******

December 5th, 1918

“This is impossible,” Davis, now a fully-grown man (yet still appearing to be in the prime of his life despite being nearly a hundred years old) announced. “They’re making a mistake.”

“No, my boy,” Gabriel Ruthers assured him, “it’s no mistake.” He beamed with pride, rubbing a hand over his own chin. “You’ve earned your reputation.”

Davis shook his head. “But I’ve only been a Heretic for about eighty years. How could the Committee possibly want to recruit me? They should want you. You’ve been around since before there was a Crossroads.”

Ruthers smiled, shaking his head. “My place is here, making sure the school runs smoothly and protecting the students. You’re the one who’s been making such a name for yourself, hunting down every target they give you. What was it at last count, an eighty-nine percent success rate? That’s extraordinary. And it’s why they want you. The Committee will put you in charge of tracking Strangers that have been eluding everyone else, and they’ll want you to teach others how to do what you do.”

Davis flushed at that. “I just do what you taught us, that’s all.”

“You do far more than that,” the other man insisted. “Don’t you be selling yourself short.” Tapping Davis against the head, he added, “So you go right back in there and tell them you accept the invitation. Do you understand? You’ve earned it.”

Swallowing hard, Davis lifted his chin. Despite being old enough to be a great-grandfather in human terms, he still saw Ruthers as a father-figure. Though not nearly as much as Peterson, who basically worshipped the ground the man walked on, did. Peterson would do anything for Ruthers after the man had saved their lives and killed the monsters who murdered their parents.

“Do you think I’m ready?” he asked, a little hesitantly.  

Ruthers gave a short nod, grunting, “Yes. You are. Now let’s go, they’ll be wondering what’s going on out here.”

The two turned, only to almost run into a first-year student. She was a pretty blonde with short hair, who came up short with a gasp as the two men nearly ran right into her. “Oh! Sorry, um, Headmaster. I was looking for Professor Pericles.”

Giving the girl a short look, Ruthers replied, “I believe he was down by the beach, the last time I saw him, Miss Atherby.”

“Oh!” the girl perked up, giving a little wave. “Thank you, sir!”

As she pivoted and darted off, Davis kept watching for a moment. “Did you say Atherby? That would make her–”

Ruthers gave a slight nod. “Yes, it would. With her onboard, we may be able to coax more of the clan to join us. Maybe even Prosser himself, given some luck. It would be… encouraging.”

Davis glanced back that way once more, watching the girl disappear in the distance. “I know it’s only been a few months, but do you think she’ll be a good student?”

“Oh yes,” Ruthers confirmed.

“Our most promising one in decades.”

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14 comments

  1. God damn it, Ruthers, stop being an actual father figure and go back to being the blind asshole that everyone knows you are. You’re not supposed to have redeeming features, or an actual reason that Peterson Neal is so loyal to you beyond being a stooge. And you’re definitely not supposed to say nice things about Joselyn.

    Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed that little look at Davis and Ruthers’ backstory (and Peterson’s), as well as the revelation that not every Committee member is quite as old as others. Thanks for reading!

    Oh, and as a quick reminder, if you have ever donated either through Paypal or by signing up to Patreon and you have NOT e-mailed me at ceruleanscrawling@gmail.com to be put on the mailing list for donators to help decide what future end-of-arc interludes should be, please feel free to do so! Thanks, guys. You’re all the best. 🙂

    Tags for this chapter are: Davis, Gabriel Ruthers, Joselyn Atherby, Peterson Neal, Somehow I’m Almost Disappointed That He’s Not Actually A Lumberjack., Who The Hell Told Ruthers He Was Allowed To Use Such A Cool Weapon?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Given that his job description is hunting down and taking out priority targets that keeping away, he has to have good investigative skills. It’s probable that he simply applied those and decided that since Flick wasn’t in contact with her mom, she’s just another student.

      And Ruthers having such high hopes for Joselyn probably didn’t help Davis’s opinion of Ruthers’s ability to judge a student’s personality as opposed to talent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. >Davis glanced back that way once more, watching the girl disappear in the distance. “I know it’s only been a few months, but do you think she’ll be a good student?”
    “Oh yes,” Ruthers confirmed.
    “Our most promising one in decades.”

    The schadenfruede/irony level here is amazing imo.

    Like

  3. Sorry, no sale. People who are genocidal would-be eternal slavers in the present, absolutely, positively, under exactly zero circumstances, get credit for incidental good acts in their past that are vastly outweighed by the evil their far more recent self is guilty of.

    You could write a War & Peace length thesis on the twenty-seven times Ruthers has single-handedly saved the Multiverse. He’d STILL be a monster 😉

    Like

    1. There’s a difference between doing/planning monstrous things and inherently being a monster. It’s called motive.

      Fundamentally, the problem with Ruthers is that he’s working off one catastrophically bad piece of information thanks to enemy action. There’s no need to change WHO Ruthers is to get him to stop doing fucked up stuff, only to get one particular data point through his head. Which, admittedly, may be harder than just killing him, and he’s a big enough problem that killing him because it’s easier than persuading him is totally reasonable.

      Ruthers TRIED to commit one spectacular global-scale atrocity and did commit a much lesser one because he was conned into believing that the likely results of not doing it included human extinction.

      Compare that to the actual monsters like Kushiel, Fossor, or the Hiding Man, who do terrible, fucked up shit basically for the sake of doing terrible, fucked up shit.

      Ruthers is a major league villain, but he’s not a cackling supervillain like those three. His evil is that of someone who thinks what he’s doing is a necessary evil and is missing the information that would show that it isn’t.

      You know who else did fucked up shit because she thought it was a necessary evil? Sariel. You know who still is doing extremely dubious stuff only justified by necessity? Gaia.

      You know what one of, if not the biggest differences between Gaia Sinclaire and Gabriel Ruthers is? Ruthers is operating off of catastrophically bad intelligence, Gaia isn’t.

      Before you say that Gaia wouldn’t consider a blood plague .. I’m not 100% sure she wouldn’t if she genuinely thought she was in a position where it was use a blood plague or seriously risk human extinction. We know she’s willing to deploy nuke equivalents on friendly territory, bring Bystanders into large scale Heretical conflicts, and engage in large scale sacrifice gambles with children when she thinks the stakes justify it. And we know Ruthers approved of her willingness to do anything to win when faced with the Fomorians. Gaia’s not any less ruthless or hardcore when faced with serious threats, she’s just got better IFF.

      God, I can’t believe I’m defending Gabriel Ruthers, but it’s important to realize that he’s a complex character with actual redeeming features and good qualities. If you don’t, you’ll get blindsided when he does the right thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s basically everything I wanted to say.

        And as an aside, I think Cerulean pretty much lost any chance at making Ruthers a complete monster when he explained just why he feels as he does. I mean, sure he’s an antagonist, and a raging asshole, but not a complete monster.

        Some good advice I got from a demotivational poster, of all things: “Before you try to beat the odds, make sure you can survive the odds beating you.” Ruthers almost wiped out the human race because he tried to beat the odds by trusting a Stranger. He’d be foolish to make that mistake again, unless he became certain that a given Stranger was not capable of causing much damage.

        Like

    2. Want to know how Ruthers feels?

      Imagine this same story up to Ammon’s visit, with two differences. No Asenath interlude, and Ammon got to her before she met Flick with the orders “If Lincoln is still alive at x day y hour, kill him in front of Flick.”

      As the story goes, you (along with Flick) learn that all Strangers are evil. Then in a time of need, one of them claims otherwise and helps. Only to take it away right when you think it’s over.

      Would you trust any other “friendly” Strangers after that?

      Hells, this sounds like a great fanfic idea now that I think about it….

      Like

  4. So my commission request for this one was “Davis and if he’s really a lumberjack and if he is if he’s OK. (Basically what he was doing before this whole “Committee Member” gig.)” The answer: “A young boy before the civil war who got pulled into being a Heretic because his parents were killed by Nocen and then became a highly successful hunter of the things that hide in the dark.” Fun times.

    and the propelled the sword through the window.

    Have an extra ‘the’ there. Or maybe this was supposed to be a ‘then’ but I think the sentence works better without a ‘then’.

    So I was looking over the cast page to see what committee members we still need to know more about and saw that Calafia was listed twice.

    So, Litonya has only been in two chapters so far, both group committee chapters. Same goes for Oliver, Jue and Sigmund.
    Sophronia has three, the same two as the others above and the Teach one where she recruits him.

    Looks like we could stand to know a bit more about those five, I’ll have to come up with some ideas for how to word any commission requests I might make. ^_^
    And wait for my wallet to recover, it’s that time of year again after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you’re gonna commission more of these, remember that while Litonya hasn’t appeared more than those couple of chapters, she’s had more of an offscreen presence than the others you listed. Prosser told us how she killed her brother in arc 19, and that brother’s descendent told us more about “Great-Aunt Litty” in arc… 21? I want to say 21.

      Whether that info makes you want more on her or less is up to you.

      Like

      1. Also, it’s possible we’ll see Sophronia visiting Zeke whenever Family Day rolls around at Crossroads. I don’t think we know enough about the other four yet to know of any reason they might have to show up in future chapters.

        Like

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