The sun rose slowly over the great oak trees that nearly engulfed a small clearing. Its rays warmed the earth upon which it gazed. A group a wrens picked at some seeds that were hidden beneath a patch of lush grass. Their chirps and whistles filled the fresh morning air. A feeling of content tranquility rested upon the forest.
Slowly the crackling sound of someone treading upon undergrowth broke the peace. Soon a tall man entered through the trees into the clearing. His curly, dark brown hair ruffled slightly in the gentle morning breeze. He was clad in black slacks and a buttoned white shirt. Slung across his shoulder was a full quiver and a stout wooden longbow.
Upon arriving at the center of the clearing, the man laid his bow and quiver gently on the ground. For a moment, he remained still and silent, surveying his surroundings and breathing deeply the purifying air. His gaze then landed on a nearby tree which stood roughly thirty yards from him. Attached midway up its trunk hung a familiar rounded target. The man then picked the quiver off the ground and securely placed it on his back. Reaching for the bow, he held it still for a minute while inspecting for any deformities or cracks. When satisfied with its condition, he contemplatively pulled the string taut, paused, and then slowly returned it to the original position. Taking a deep breath, the man in a single, fluid motion quickly drew an arrow and sent it flying towards the tree. The arrow found its mark in the direct center of the target with a dull thud. A second immediately followed striking the nock of the first and cutting a sliver out of the wood.
The man paused for a moment to observe his shots. Apparently pleased with the outcome, he smiled halfheartedly and placed a third arrow on the string. Suddenly the sound of soft clapping broke the silence.
“Well done, Bran. You are a man of many talents it seems.”
Turning around, he beheld a tall woman. She appeared to be in her early to mid twenties. Her wavy flaxen blonde hair which fell to just beyond her shoulders was speckled with golden highlights. She had streamlined yet piercing hazel eyes. Her nose was soft and complemented her face, which bore a naturally complacent expression. She wore dark grey legging jeans with midcalf leather boots. For a top, she sported a purple blouse over which hung a black jacket. Around her neck dangled a small silver cross.
Lowering his bow, Bran greeted the woman, “Miss Churchill, this is a pleasant surprise. What is the reason for this particular honor?”
The woman gestured haphazardly with her hands. “I came to pick up your gracious donation for my fundraiser. The doorman said you were out here; so I came to thank you again for your gift.”
“It was the least I could do really. You fight a righteous battle. I truly hope you succeed in your aspirations.”
The woman, brushing a few locks of hair from her face, moved closer to where Bran stood fiddling with his bow’s string. “We do need help. Your further involvement would always be welcomed.”
“My work in America…”. Bran raised the bow and quickly loosed another arrow at the target. “...is complicated, Miss Churchill, but do know that I would seize the opportunity to help should it arise.”
Reaching out, the woman gently placed a hand on Bran’s shoulder for a split second in a reassuring manner.
“Of course. I know you would if you could. Don’t worry. I shall find help elsewhere.” Gracefully stooping over, she picked up an arrow that had fallen to the ground and inspected it for a moment before handing it to Bran. “I didn’t know you used an English longbow.”
Bran chuckled slightly at her mention of the object he held is his hand. “They were Welsh longbows far before the English adopted the weapon that won Agincourt, and I would hardly be Cymraeg if I didn’t know the inner workings of one” He spun the bow in a few times in pride before handing it to her. “Please, be my guest, Miss Churchill.”
Bran watched as the woman took the bow contemplatively from him. She rotated it slowly in her grasp, seemingly admiring the craftsmanship. He couldn’t help but smile as he saw a sparkle light up in her eyes. Reaching back into his quiver, Bran offered an arrow. She gave a soft, small laugh as she received it. “And you use wooden arrows as well… Your adherence to tradition is amiable. Please, do call me Felicity.”
The name stirred Bran as if it was his first time hearing it. The name, as its owner, was, simultaneously, mystical and beautiful, reminiscent of a Scottish glen on a crisp, foggy morning. “Some mock me for my use of an archaic projectile. In many cases, a more modern arrow would be beneficial. I don’t shun this fact, but I do hold a special place in my heart for the wooden arrows. After all, there were accounts of Cymraeg bowmen penetrating a four inch-thick, solid oak door with their weapons during the siege of Abergavenny Castle.”
His monologue regarding the merits of wooden arrows seemed to amuse Felicity as her musical laughter filled the forest. “Wooden arrows it is then. You’ve convinced me.” Her contagious smile filled Bran with a warmth that seemed to clear his mind. For a moment, all felt right in the world.
Bran watched as Felicity gracefully took a few leisurely steps away from him. Turning towards the target, she pulled the bowstring back with infallible form. Then taking a deep, controlled breath, she released the arrow which flew towards the tree and struck Bran’s first arrow directly on the nock before being deflected. After admiring her shot, she returned the bow with what appeared to be a slightly self satisfied grin.
“Now then, wooden arrows are quite exceptional really. You do have good judgement, Mr. Brychanson.”
A half smile appeared on Bran’s face. Her skill with the bow was a surprise, but it was a pleasant one.
“You have a hidden talent. I am impressed.”
Felicity shrugged carelessly and returned his compliment with a sly smile. “There’s more to me than meets the eye.”
Setting down the longbow, Bran lapsed into silence. He and Felicity stood there for a few minutes, gazing at one another. It was as if they were trying to delve into each other’s mind, to see what lay behind the thoroughly practiced artificial mannerisms.
A soft buzzing sound broke the tranquil silence, and Felicity slid a hand into her jacket’s pocket and retrieved a cellular phone. After a quick glance, she looked up and gave an apologetic smile.
“This is truly a bother. I must take my leave. It has certainly been a pleasure to see you though.”
Bran nodded his head. “Likewise. This has been a pleasant morning. We will see each other again. Do have a wonderful day.”
It seemed to Bran that she lingered a moment in hesitation before turning and gracefully making her way out of the wooded clearing. He stood there for a few minutes, watching her depart. Once she was out of sight, he returned to his longbow. Raising it contemplatively, he released a shallow, tired sigh. It had been a fascinating morning, and he looked forward to what the future would bring.
(Written with Chase).
A black cadillac sedan turned onto a road which wound up a lonely hill speckled with rocks and grass. The engulfing fog smothered the sound of the ties as they rolled along the damp pavement. On a clear day, the great city of San Francisco could be seen sprawling like an ocean into the distance, but the visibility was less than a mile on this particular morning.
An occasional drop of rain splattered onto the window of the sedan as it reached the crest of the hill where it came to a halt. After a few minutes, a man clad in a dark grey overcoat emerged from the car. He was tall and a dark cloud over his face indicated that he hadn't slept for days. He stood still for a few seconds and studied his surroundings. Some cars were parked along the roadway; apparently they belonged to tourists who had come to enjoy the vista. The man then walked across the road to where a railing was placed to ensure no one tumbled down the cliff that formed the side of the hill facing the city. Grabbing it with both hands, he peered down the steep slope. It was covered with dagger shaped rocks in between which patches of grass disguised the danger below. The man froze in that position; his face grim and his mind contemplating something. A few silent minutes passed before he finally left the railing, slowly walking towards the very top of the hill.
Not long ago, Chase Devineaux received a call from one of his former recruiters. A possible ally, selected nearly 7 years ago, has finally decided to join the agency. After reviewing this man's file and deciding that recent events meant ACME needed more hands, the Field Director of Special Operations came to see Bran Brychanson for himself.
Devineaux, in a heavy calfskin coat stood contemplating at the hilltop. He liked the rain, he didn't so much enjoy the wait, but rain calmed him. To pass time, he studied the hazed cityscape and imagined the kind of people that lived here. Hearing footsteps, Chase turned, and gauged the approaching figure systematically. The man looked like he came from wealth, but he hasn't been well. His hair indicated a lack of sleep, lack of self worth, or maybe both. Each step he mustered looked forced in a pair of worn leather loafers.
The Director second guessed the recruiter's recommendation and almost walked away, when he noted a sense of determination on the man's brows.
Bran reached the top of the hill and surveyed the small group of people. There were a few couples and one family, but a man, standing near the edge of the hill, immediately caught his attention. Chase Devineaux. The Field Director's willingness to meet surprised Bran. Bran's request, wishing to accept a seven year old offer presented by a now retired agent, had certainly been a unique one. But his appeal had been answered, and the Field Director had agreed to this meeting. Still, Bran wondered whether Devineaux understood who he really was or what his past contained.
Casting these questions from his mind, he strode over to where the Field Director stood. "Mr. Devineaux". He extended his hand in greeting. "Thank you for taking the time to see me".
With confidence, Chase took the man's offered hand with a smile, "Chase," he prompted to create a more informal air, "It's my pleasure, I've heard a decent amount about you."
Devineaux's handshake was strong and firm. It conveyed a sense of power and leadership.
Straightening, Bran gazed out into the mist for a quick moment before turning his attention back to the other man."Then, of course, you know where I've been and where I hope to find myself. Please call me Bran".
"Our mutual friend tells me you're interested in helping us," Devineaux referred to the retired Michael Feller.
"I do wish to join you, if you'll have me. My past is checkered, to say the least. When Feller offered me a chance, I soundly rejected it. I left this world to find solace deep within my own thoughts. I did not leave the grounds of Min y Coed for seven years after that day". A slight, haggard smile came to Bran's face. "But hiding from oneself is never a sound strategy. I wish to do good for the world, but this time I will do it the right way".
Listening to Bran and the way he moved when he spoke gave Chase insight into this man's intentions. Like the slight smile that came to his face, something was inside him waiting to be accepted, or maybe; forgiven. People usually gravitated to ACME because it was, in its own way, a group of vigilantes. Unregulated by a government, the agency established a good standing worldwide that it was a new, uncorrupted standard in law enforcement. Ironically, its popularity rose along with the notoriety of a certain international thief.
In Brychanson's case, the idea of ACME was granted a while ago by an insightful recruiter. It looked, to the Field Director, that Bran might have spent the past several years preparing himself for this.
In reply, Chase nodded, agreeing with Bran's statement on wanting to do good for the world 'the right way', "Michael also said you were an inventor?"
Reaching into his overcoat, Bran pulled out a small box. "I didn't entirely waste my time those seven years." He handed the box to Chase. "You might find this useful someday. It's just an example of my work. A glimpse of what could be".
Two rings were in the box along with handwritten notes on their functions. They looked like prototypes, almost directly out of science fiction.
Bran watched Chase closely as he opened the box. "You place the black one on your ring finger and the silver one on your thumb. The science behind this is all very complex and ambiguous, but, to force twenty pages of notes into a few sentences, the molecules in the rings interact with molecules in your hand and the muscles in your forearm creating a localized energy field akin to a magnetic field. This energy field attracts any type of object to your hand, and the field's focus is fine enough, within eight meters, to allow the wearer to control what is attracted. Open your hand to initiate the energy field; close your hand to terminate it. The attraction is also powerful enough to allow the wearer to scale objects, such as buildings and cliffs". Bran smiled slightly as Chase picked up the rings. "It has many uses. And, in the future, I hope to expand on its capabilities".
Chase placed the rings as instructed on his fourth finger and thumb. They didn't quite fit, but he felt a slight vibration signalling that they were ready for operation. Looking for a small object, he picked a nearby stone and opened his palms to 'pull it' towards him. The stone moved with little protest, and as it gained momentum, ACME's Field Director closed his hand into a fist. The stone, still affected by the energy field, flew to Devineaux's right and ended its arc near his foot.
The American chuckled, as he often did when he was impressed, "That's... something," he commented as he twisted the rings off and placed them back into the box.
"You'd be an invaluable consultant for ACME labs in San Francisco," Chase knew where to place people, and a consulting position was suitable for a man who would need to come and go as he pleased, "How soon can you start?"
The corners of Bran's lips raised in a pleased smile as he viewed the Field Director's reaction. "I would be honored to begin as soon as possible".
(A special thanks to Chase for writing the part of Michael Feller)
The long gravel driveway snaked between tall trees as it climbed the small hill on which Min y Coed manor stood in its grandeur. The manor was built in the 15th century, and it sprawled across the landscape in the form of a rectangle. At each corner, towers rose from the stone grey structure. Upon each, four Welsh flags undulated in the cool afternoon breeze. Clear, crystal water bubbled forth out of a fountain, formed in the likeness of a boar, which was centered in front of the manor.
Bran sat still as the limousine made its way up to the mansion. He was frozen, as one in a coma. His world which he had built around him was falling apart. One mistake. One terrible, enormous blunder had brought him crashing to his knees. In his sorry attempt at good, he had fallen off course and became the villain. He closed his eyes, and the familiar scene rushed back into his mind like a wave of darkness engulfing him...
It was his 22nd birthday. There were flashing lights and deafening music. The club... He turned around as a drunken patron poured a glass of alcohol down his shirt. Laughing, giggling and senseless noise surrounded him. Someone collapsed in a heap nearby. The clamour was too much for Bran, and he stumbled towards the back exit of the club, shoving his way through the crowd. A hand grabbed him from behind, and someone whispered, "...have him... outside...". The words barely penetrated his mind. Following the man, Bran exited the club and entered the alley behind it. The mist of the night clouded his mind as he tried to recall the event. Before him stood two large men who roughly held between them a frightened third man to keep him from escaping. A revolver was placed into Bran's hand, and he mechanically pointed it at the squirming man. "I'm innocent!". The words pierced the silent night. "Murderers aren't innocent", a second voice shouted. Bran recognized it as his own.
"I suppose you will claim that this is all a mistake, that you didn't kill the young girl'" Bran smirked. "But of course you did"
Bran kneeled in front of the man and stuck the gun in his face. "She deserved to live, didn't she?! You snatched life from her without any pity, forever forfeiting yours."
Bran stood back up and checked to be sure the gun was loaded. "Murderers are swept from this world. They are cast out". He pointed the gun towards the man and placed his finger over the trigger.
"Oh god, please!" The man wailed. "I have a wife and.. and a lovely daughter. I..."
His words were cut short by the sound of the shot, and he crumpled into a heap; life leaving his body.
Bran took a step back. His heart was racing. Rain started pouring in torrents from the sky. Swirling darkness closed in around him, smothering the vision...
The limousine pulled to a halt in front of the manor. Bran stepped out of the car and slowly looked on the familiar sight before starting up the long set of stairs which led to the manor from the driveway. Reaching the top, he headed toward the doors, but something caught his attention. A man.
The suited man straightened himself then walked up to foot of the stairs, "Mr. Brychanson? I'm Michael Feller, with ACME." With a handshake, he offered his card, "My employers want to meet you."
Pausing to gauge Bran's reaction, he continued, "I'm in charge of recruitment for our special operations," Hinting to the door, he nodded, "May we speak inside?"
Bran said nothing in return but gave Feller a suspicious, questioning look. He wasn't in the mood to converse with anyone at the moment, and, although Feller had produced an identity card, his instinct told him this was a media gag of sorts. But whether it was interest or his current feeling of despairing apathy, he decided to let Feller have his say.
Bran swung the great wooden doors open and entered the manor, purposely leaving them ajar for the agent.
Michael Feller, not disheartened, buttoned his suit jacket and followed the taller man into his lofty home.
Upon entering the house through a rather large hall, Bran took a left and passed through a few small chambers before coming to an enormous sitting room where he found a bottle of wine and, after pouring himself a glass, he addressed Feller.
"I fear you caught me at a wretched moment, you did. Forgive my ill manners. I've had what you might call a 'bad day'". Bran strode over to a large red, cushioned chair and lowered himself into it; then he, taking a deep breath, fixed his gaze on Feller. "Now... what does the great ACME want with me?".
"I like how you get right to the point, Mr. Brychanson," he straightened his upper lip into a smile of sorts before continuing, "ACME isn't always easy to recruit for. We're not a government agency, you see, Mr. Brychanson, we're a private corporation that deal in law enforcement. We need good agents, people who would do anything for the good of the world, and people who know how to do anything... for the good of the world.
I hope you understand me when I say we've seen your... uh... work, Mr. Brychanson, and we think you'll find what you do a good fit with our policies."
"My work...". Bran placed his glass on a nearby table. "As you represent a law enforcement agency, I can't even begin to imagine why you would be interested in ‘my work'. If you have truly observed it, then you will know ‘my work' was a failure...". Bran turned and gazed into space as if recalling something. "My father... my father said a man should always do what is right and... and good". He put a hand to his head for a moment and took a deep breath."But my father never killed an innocent man and he never would have...". Avoiding the eyes of Feller, Bran snatched up the glass of wine and emptied it.
Feller looked uneasy. He knew about Bran's misfortune a while back, and he understood, just like any agent prone to mistakes.
"You don't want to fix that, Mr. Brychanson?" he asked, "you don't want to try make a difference, make up for what you did?"
Bran snorted at Feller's words. "Ah, so you speak of redemption now". He put the glass to his lips but placed it roughly back on the table when he realized it was empty. "But we all know the devil can't be redeemed". Bran chuckled brittly. "You can attempt to accomplish good, but you will eventually become what you fight against. Ironic isn't it? Exactly as someone claimed, ‘You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain'. It's the inevitable truth no one wishes to accept".
Bran lapsed into silence and turned to stare at the floor. A nearby clock struck 1500; it's chime echoing throughout the manor.
Seconds passed without sound as if a mourning bell just struck commemorating graves of the fallen. Michael Feller had been recruiting for ACME for almost twenty years, and in his time, he learned to read when to urge the best in people. There was a lot in the younger man in front of him, but the 53-year-old also saw wounds that needed healing.
"I understand," he said while his body backed away as a sign of respect, "Here's my card, Mr. Brychanson," Feller presented a white ACME card on the table with his personal phone number, the title read: Michael Robert Feller, Senior Recruiter.
"If you ever need anything, even if it's just resources..." Feller gave an encouraging smile, "Thank you and good day, Mr. Brychanson, I wish you the best."
Feller took a few steps back to look around the manor before leaving. He would later recount to a friend that Bran Brychanson was the shortest and longest recruitment process of his career.
Bran strode down the long, dark hallway of the court house. His unbuttoned overcoat flowed behind him, filling the room with a quiet rustling sound that seemed to complement the steady clicking of his footsteps. Accompanying him were two heavily built men dressed in suit jackets. They kept in stride with Bran and looked straight ahead at the doors they were quickly approaching.
"Sir, there are bound to be plenty of media personnel through these doors. Keep walking and let us handle them". One of them addressed Bran, who only nodded in return.
They flung the doors open and entered into a large square room which was the center of the courthouse. Immediately twenty or thirty people with cameras, microphones, and notepads rushed towards the three men. There were shouts of "Mr. Brychanson!", "Can we get a comment on the trial?", and "Do you feel your defence will win?"
Bran, his face a blank stare, kept pushing through the crowd. He tried to block out the noise.
He tried to bury his feelings deep inside. I have to make it to my limo, he assured himself. Just to the limo.
Slowly making their way through the horde of reporters, the three men left the courthouse and pushed out onto the street. There they were met by a loud clamor of boos and and screams that came from a large mob of people. Shouts of "Justice!" and "Demon!" filled the air. Some held signs of protest. Some just shook their fists and yelled in the direction of Bran. One sign read "The poor die. The rich go free".
Bran ignored the many angry, unknown faces and hurried to his limousine, parked at the bottom of the steps which led up to the domed courthouse. Scanning the crowd one last time, he stooped into the limo and closed the door behind him. "Drive on", he ordered, and the car slowly forced its way through the people.
"Sad". A voice spoke from the far side of the seat. "You would think that they would have something better to do than uselessly protesting".
Bran looked over to the man who sat across from him. "They have reason to protest. I utterly failed...".
"Bran! You had no way of knowing! Don't be ridiculous." The man replied in disgust.
"I wholly deserve anything that's coming to me. What they say about me is entirely true".
"Nonsense! This type of talk will get to your head if you keep it up." The man threw a
packet of papers to Bran. "Everything has been taking care of. Your name will be cleared by tomorrow".
Bran tossed a glance at the papers before closing his eyes. "Did you stop to think that possibly I didn't want this?", his tired yet strong voice addressed the man. "Maybe I, maybe we should let the world run its course".
"Don't be absurd, Bran!" The man sneered at the very thought. "Can you hear yourself?! You're losing your edge. It shames me."
Bran apathetically stared back at the man but offered no response.
The man continued, "No, this trivial matter will not cause the great to fall, and we will not discuss the issue any further".
They proceeded in silence until the man declared that his stop was just around the corner. The limousine soon came to a halt, and he stepped out. Before closing the car door, he stuck his head back into the limo. "You would be wise to stay low while you... ". He cleared his throat. "...regain your nerves". With those final words, he slammed the door and was gone.
Separate names with a comma.