For the rewrite of Laevatein’s Choice, chapter 8 ended up being by favorite. It’s full of references, snarky quips, and the first fight scene of the book. And it solidly introduced Geoffrey, who was a blast to rework and get to know.
The following contains spoilers for all of LC, I’ll give you more of a heads up at the big spoiler moments, but if you haven’t read LC, I highly recommend you go and do that first.
He sighed. There was a rock in his stomach he could do nothing about, but at least he was alone for a few minutes.
“Mark?” A voice called over, and Mark groaned. Thirty seconds and his moment of peace was gone. “Is that you?” the man asked.
He looked up abruptly and spied a man at the threshold of the shop with a long rifle case. Mark perked up a little. “Geoffrey?”
“Oh, look at that. It is you.” Geoffrey smirked and stepped lightly across the parking lot. “What are you doing out here in the cold?”
Mark smirked. “I’m pyrokinetic, remember? The cold doesn’t bother me.” (Literally a Frozen reference)
A gleam in his eyes, Mark couldn’t help but see the laugh Geoffrey was trying to hide. “Mhmm, sure, that’s a lie.”
Admitting it as his shoulders fell, Mark stood up and leant against his dad’s car. “Me and my dad came here to do some archery, but I snapped my bowstring because my fingers were cold. There’s the truth, you happy?”
Geoffrey chortled, almost the same sound Rita made when she laughed. “Wow, didn’t see that coming.”
Mark rolled his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
Geoffrey just raised the case. “Making sure this bad-boy doesn’t get rusty.”
Drawing his brows together, Mark stared at the old case. It didn’t look like a modern gun case, didn’t have the same locks or safeties, but it looked old and probably contained an even older weapon. Mark didn’t have to ask to know that the thunder he had been hearing through the wall was not for Geoffrey’s sake that he was practicing. It was for the weapon.
“What is it?” Mark asked curiously. “Aside from a really old gun.”
Geoffrey slapped the case over his shoulder. “Shadow-Infused gun, a trinket my father and I picked up over the years.”
“Infusion?” Mark’s interest piqued.
“Oh, you know what Infusion is? I figured Keller wouldn’t be spreading that technique around the younger Shadows.”
Mark pushed off the car and crossed his arm. “I figured out how to do a class one Infusion all on my own, then Ocie Keller told me about Infusions.”
“And that…” Geoffrey hummed without a breath in between, “is why you don’t teach teenagers how to do Infusions. There’s potential for them to make insanely powerful weapons that can end up in the wrong hands.”
“It was just a rock!” Mark assured, getting defensive. “And it’s in the ASH now, so it’s not like it’s a danger to anyone.”
Geoffrey cackled. “I’m just messing with you, relax.” He slammed a heavy hand down on Mark’s shoulder. “But seriously, don’t experiment with Infusion. It’s dangerous.” (Part of the fun of this scene is how it’s seemingly random that they happen to be here at the same time, but we learn later that it’s no coincidence, Geoffrey knew he’d been experimenting with infusion, he knows how curious Mark is, and he probably knows about the strain on his family)
“Fine…” Mark glowered, making the first motion to go back inside.
Bemused pity appeared in Geoffrey’s expression, rash and sly, but he set his hand on his hip. “How about you put all that untapped power into something a little less dangerous,” he offered playfully. (And of course it’s no coincidence he has practice swords with him. The previous chapter where Geoffrey is introduced, he’s 100% using reverse psychology on Mark, getting him frustrated and making it seem like it’s his idea to learn sword fighting.)
“Like what?” Mark asked without hesitation. Now his voice came out irritated and gruff.
Geoffrey rummaged through his coat pockets, and while Mark assumed he was about to reveal some small Shadow-Infused object, what appeared was car keys, and Mark’s hopes lowered with his expectations. Geoffrey unlocked his car and popped the trunk to stuff away the gun case, but he returned with a pair of full-length wooden practice swords.
“What do you say to playing around with these?” Geoffrey offered candidly.
Mark’s heart pattered excitedly. “You said you weren’t going to teach me!” he gasped, the words falling out faster than he could stop them. (Geoffrey only told him no initially to make Mark want to more.)
Geoffrey smirked. “This is just for fun. Come on, let’s give it a try!” Abruptly, he tossed one of the wooden staves across the blacktop at Mark.
He barely caught it, fumbling with the weight and grasping it just before it hit the ground. “First rule,” Geoffrey stated loudly and Mark looked up to see him rolling his wrist with the other sword flying about him effortlessly. “This is my way. Don’t question me. Don’t seek out fencing terminology and doubt me. I know what I’m doing, and I’m better than you. Got that straight?” (SPOILERS”I control the information you receive, so I can manipulate you however I want” This was also my excuse for not researching fencing terminology)
“Um… what?” Mark flustered.
Geoffrey didn’t hesitate, taking one certain step forward and leaving the other foot behind. “Second rule…” He pointed the end of his sword skyward and tucked his left hand behind him. “Don’t whine like a baby when you get hit in the arms because it’s gonna happen.” (I absolutely love this! It’s subtle gaslighting, diminishing Mark’s pain before it even happens.)
He motioned for Mark to emulate the stance, and Mark did his best to mimic him. “Third,” Geoffrey reached into his collar and pulled out a small, shiny, blue object: a metallic tube with a single hole cut into it. He took it off from around his neck where it was attached to a lanyard, and he proceeded to take off his coat, chuck it on the ground and stuff the lanyard into his pocket so that the object dangled out. With a smirk he met eyes with Mark once more. “Get the whistle.”
(So early on when I was first getting into writing this series, I did a couple fun sparring sessions with a friend with those foam nerf swords. It’s influenced a lot of how this scene plays out. He had a whistle on a lanyard, and my only objective was to get it. The whole fight I never got close and it was that feeling of helplessness, no matter how frustrated I got, that inspired that scene. No amount of speed, fakeouts, or playing dirty would work. My opponent and Geoffrey, are just that much stronger. This scene absolutely serves to give Mark a deeper sense of insecurity about himself.)
The ominous words hung over Mark like a curse. His eyes locked on the blue whistle and he gulped. What was he getting himself into? His cold fingers clung to the polished wood, unsure, trembling, and causing him to doubt himself. He gripped the sword with both hands, his feet spread apart and glued to the ground, and he kept his eyes locked into Geoffrey’s. He was as prepared as he could be.
Geoffrey didn’t rush at him. He raised his sword, and Mark adjusted, preparing to receive the blow, but Geoffrey stopped. A twinkle appeared in the man’s eye, and he stepped back. No words, not even a hint of his intentions. Geoffrey swung again, this time from below, and Mark adjusted once more, his arms twisting and fumbling awkwardly to bat the wooden sword away.
He hit the other blade, and Geoffrey parried him off, driving the tip of Mark’s sword into the ground. “Easy!” Geoffrey warned as Mark tripped, and he grabbed his arm to steady him.
Geoffrey stepped away, and without waiting for Mark to acquire his stance. He swung at Mark from the opposite side, at his left, and this time Mark firmly swat Geoffrey’s sword and pinned it there lightly. Mark tensed, but Geoffrey relaxed and smiled. “Are you left-handed?” he wondered.
Mark shot a quick glance down at his hands, the left above the right. “No…” he switched quickly.
Geoffrey hummed, eyeing up his stance but rather than testing him, he swung at Mark in exactly the same way, at his left. The tip of the sword jabbed Mark in the elbow, not very hard, but Mark still jumped back nervously. “Keep your feet planted. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
“What was that then?” Mark demanded a little too nervously. “If that were a real sword—”
“Go back to left-handed. You’re obviously ambidextrous,” Geoffrey interrupted him with a flat voice. (Making Mark ambidextrous is a product of having written him for so many years, through every challenge. In the original drafts, Mark grows to become proficient with both hands out of necessity, like Geoffrey, but this time around, I thought it would be fun to make him canonically ambi from the beginning. Geoffrey is also trying to puff up his ego a little. And it’s the subtlest hint that Mark is bisexual.)
“What?” Mark gasped, switching, but his gaze lingered on his hands. How could Geoffrey learn that about him after just a few seconds? How come he hadn’t even known himself? “If I’m… ambidextrous… shouldn’t I be training with my stronger arm?”
Geoffrey smirked and relaxed his stance, flippant and a bit irreverent. “Your left is your stronger arm.”
“Really?” Mark beamed a little, slightly proud of that fact. But as he thought about it, he remembered he had beaten Sil with a fist from his left arm. Archery was awkward, pointless, and his aim was awful. Maybe Geoffrey was on to something.
“Okay…” Geoffrey breathed, taking one step closer and raising his sword. “Hit me as hard as you can. I want to see how strong you really are.”
Gulping, Mark nodded and raised his wooden blade. He couldn’t hold back. Geoffrey could take it. Mark wanted to hit that other sword so hard it would snap in half. He held his sword like a bat and jumped a little, light-footed and springing closer. The two rods cracked against each other, but they didn’t break, they reverberated, rattling into Mark’s bones, and the vibrations hurt his hands to hang onto the sword. The wood fell out of his grip and onto the pavement, clattering against the asphalt pathetically. (For this bit, I literally took my sister outside and we whacked training swords against each other as hard as possible. Very fun way to get the descriptions accurate. )
Geoffrey sighed, unfazed by the impact. “You can do better than that.” He groaned, picking up the wooden sword and handing it back to him. “Again?” he offered as a question.
Mark nodded, determined and level-headed, but he could feel the fire in his eyes. He took a step away from Geoffrey, adjusted his grip, consciously tightening his left hand and loosening his right. Like a baseball bat, he swung it, beating against the other sword and letting his hands remain firm in spite of the pain. It was immediately easier.
Geoffrey pushed back the sword, throwing Mark’s balance and forcing him to take several paces away. “Come on, I know you can hit harder than that!” he jeered, a growl in his voice.
Grinning, Mark pulled back even farther, giving himself enough space to go at it from a run and to drown himself in the adrenaline. In the last second, he switched to his right, changed the direction of his swing and tried to blindside Geoffrey.
The man reacted within an eighth of a second, deflecting Mark’s blow behind his right shoulder and sending Mark’s sword flying into the air, but Mark held on. He wouldn’t be disarmed so easily. He let go with his left hand, swinging around the sword with his right and guiding it, to strike at Geoffrey again from below.
In the same motion, Geoffrey’s hilt collided with Mark’s, and he jammed his shoulder into Mark’s right, throwing him back down. “Oh, you think you’re quick, do you?” Geoffrey mocked, only making Mark smile with elation. He wanted more.
He ran again, holding the sword left-hand first again, and swung at Geoffrey’s other side, hopefully his weaker side, assuming he was right-handed. Mark barely took note of it, catching that Geoffrey’s right was over his left before he put all his muscle behind the blow. Geoffrey parried him off like it was nothing.
“You’re just a child,” he aggressed, “drunk on the power of your new Shadow!” This time he swung at Mark and forcing him to raise up and take a defensive position. “Swinging around a toy like it’ll teach you a life lesson!” Geoffrey yelled, driving Mark back toward the car. (This is a brilliant little bit of manipulation, belittling him even though it’s framed as a friendly spar)
Geoffrey’s sword came at Mark’s left side again, where he was certain he was most comfortable, and he met the blow perfectly. Feeling the vibrations rattle through his hands filled him up with rage and fire, and he loved it. He pushed forward, throwing himself into Geoffrey and trying to fight back against someone who was obviously wildly stronger than him.
“Now!” Geoffrey threw him off, his sword between his eyes. “Hit me like you mean it!”
Mark didn’t hesitate, swinging the sword back and forth madly. (Mark has been successfully manipulated, has lost control of his emotions and is open to influence)
“You have no technique!” Geoffrey insulted him. “You don’t have a clue what you’re doing!”
The blades came down on each other again, and each time it hurt Mark’s palms more.
“Is this as hard as you can go? Come on!”
Now Mark was aiming for his head, a sweet rage filled his veins just like the fire rushing through them. He wasn’t mad, he wasn’t even frustrated, he was loving this. Geoffrey was letting him take out all his anger without any consequences. (As it’ll be revealed in the climax, Shadow Strength as the ability to screw with adrenaline)
His blade missed and struck the blacktop. Mark only had a second to process before the other sword came down on his right arm. The hit sent him to his knees and the pain shot fire across his flesh. The crimson flames spread out from him, driving Geoffrey back just one pace. Mark didn’t yell. He let his Shadow react for him. The fire was his response to getting whacked in the arm.
With his left arm guiding the sword, he tried to hit Geoffrey back, but the man deflected the weak blow effortlessly. He was wide open and below his opponent. He scrambled backward. It was the only thing he could do to get good ground again.
Ever so slightly, Geoffrey hesitated, letting him get away, letting him recuperate and strike once more. Geoffrey let Mark be the aggressor, to come at him and come down on his shoulder. Geoffrey did not, however, let him land the blow. He moved, only an inch or so, freeing his right arm from the range of Mark’s swing and them coming down with the hilt right onto Mark’s back.
Crying out, Mark stifled a scream. He wasn’t winded, but the heavy end of the sword had landed right on his spine. Mark stumbled to his knees, the sword falling free from his hands that clung to the pavement. His bare hands shivered and pain washed all over his back unlike any other.
Geoffrey stepped over him, ready to beat him one last time, expecting him to jump up and deflect it. Mark wanted to, he tried to go for the sword, but he knew he wouldn’t make it. He grasped the hilt, but his breath stopped, preparing his body for the pain.
“Mark!” January screamed, sprinting out of the gun range faster than he had ever imagined his father was capable of.
“Wait…” Mark gasped. “Geoffrey, I’m done!” he pled, trying to get up before his dad did something brash.
Geoffrey immediately lowered his sword and offered Mark a hand, yanking him up to his feet.
January stormed up, fists bared even though Mark was fairly certain his dad didn’t have the slightest capacity for violence. “I don’t know who you are or what makes you think you can—”
“Dad, it’s fine! I’m fine!” Mark shrieked, writhing to his feet even though his back ached. He couldn’t make himself stand up straight, and he winced, not helping his case or Geoffrey’s. (Big Red Flag! Mark has just been physically injured, but he’s already been conditioned to diminish his own pain, so rather than having any apprehension that Geoffrey is dangerous, he’s defending Geoffrey against his father, who is showing protective instincts for the first time despite being introduced as a passive character)
Sil and André appeared, rushing out toward them, and Mark took the distraction to pick up Geoffrey’s other wooden sword. He caught the look in his father’s dark brown eyes, ready to explode, ready to protect his son, and Mark groaned. After today, he’d never be able to see Geoffrey again, and he’d never get the chance to learn how to fight. He gripped the sword, his knuckles shaking, but his eyes lit up with fire.
“Teach me how to sword fight!” he demanded, thrusting himself between his father and Geoffrey.
Pausing, Geoffrey’s smirk vanished, and he sent January a quick, stern look. (With just a look! Geoffrey is giving the illusion that he wants parental consent but what he’s really doing is implying January will take away his opportunity to learn.)
Mark looked from Geoffrey to his dad. “You want his approval, seriously?” he yelled through the parking lot with no regard for anyone who might hear him. “You just beat me to the ground without his permission. Just teach me! You’ve obviously been training with swords all your life, and I want to learn too!”
“Mark…” January murmured, his timid nature returning as Mark disregarded him.
He pushed down a little regret. He didn’t really want to hurt his dad. But he was done seeking January’s approval. “I’ve spent the last four months trying to figure out why I don’t feel satisfied! Why I can’t be happy with the Realm or Shadows, why nothing makes me feel like I’m doing what I should be. And nothing but fighting makes that go away. I’m supposed to be fighting! I’m supposed to be able to protect the Shadows, and you can teach me!”
“I’m not a teacher.” Geoffrey crossed his arms over his chest, unflinching. “Go into a Kendo Dojo. You’ll have better luck there.”
“I’m not taking no for an answer!” Mark yelled. “You were teaching me just now, and you know it! In five minutes, you figured out I’m ambidextrous, that I can always hit harder, and I don’t know when I’m beat!” He wasn’t without a touch of pride in that realization. He raised up his sword, brandishing it as his own. “You don’t live far away. You know all about Shadows. I want to learn from you!”
Geoffrey scoffed softly. “You’re too young to know all the things I’ve learned about Shadows.”
“That’s a load of crap! I’m Nova Liberanti! I’ve spoken with Shadow Trust. I can handle it!”
“That doesn’t matter!” Geoffrey insisted, brutally firm. “I don’t believe in age to determine wisdom, only experience, and you are not ready!” He snapped, his inflection an abrupt staccato.
His hands tightening around the sword, Mark’s nose wrinkled up and he raised it. “I’ll fight you again! There has to be a way to prove to you I’m ready!”
Geoffrey leant on his sword and laughed. “And get beaten down again? You really don’t know when to quit!”
Mark mimicked his stance. “I’m stubborn. Get over it!” (I love this snarky little response, they play off each other so well)
At this, Geoffrey cackled. “All right, all right, I’ve heard enough!” he reached out and snagged the wooden sword from Mark’s hand. “If you’re that dead set on learning swordplay, come over tomorrow, and by then I’ll have figured out some kind of entry lesson for you.” (This whole chapter really serves as a form of “love-bombing”. Geoffrey is framed as a narcissist, using abusive tactics to reel Mark in and control him. Despite the fact this is a literal fight where Mark loses, to Mark the fight is a reward, and so are the bruises. Geoffrey has made him feel like he’s won simply by engaging, which is love-bombing.)
Mark’s heart dropped. “What?”
Smirking, Geoffrey wrapped the two swords together. “And I’ll get you a practice sword to be all your own, but I need you to not blow up at me like that when you don’t get what you want immediately.”
“What…” Mark’s psyche exploded.
Turning to January, Geoffrey reached out and shook his hand. “I guess we need to be properly introduced. Geoffrey James.” (Gain the parent’s trust so he is no longer suspicious)
Suspiciously, January raised an eyebrow. “January Halo…”
“What!” Mark screamed, a smile starting to work its way across his face.
“I don’t suppose you’ll be wanting any kind of compensation for lessons, will you?” January wondered.
“Oh of course not!” Geoffrey insisted. “I’m not a teacher, but I learned by experience and so can he. As long as you’re fine with it?” he asked for approval.
Pleased, January crossed his arms over his chest. “Actually, I think this will be great for Mark. We were just talking about some educational alternatives now that he’s a Shadow.” (It could be interpreted that Geoffrey had a hand in Mark missing school because of Rita. Geoffrey definitely took in Rita to have an in with Mark, and gain his trust, it’s off screen but he probably encouraged her to go hang out with him.)
Mark nearly shrieked in happiness. “Is this happening?!”
Geoffrey laughed and finally acknowledged him. “Yeah, yeah, you’ll get your wish. You know what…” He unwrapped one of the swords again. “Why don’t you hang onto this, since you seem to be so attached to it already.”
He handed it to Mark, and all he could do was tremble. He couldn’t grip it, red blisters were forming on the inside of his palms and his knuckles trembled as it gingerly fall into his grasp. “Really?” he whispered, enamored by the smooth carved wood.
Geoffrey winked at him playfully. “I’ll see you tomorrow, eight AM sound good?”
Half-consciously, Mark nodded, letting January work out the rest of the details as he stared at his first practice sword in awe. This was real. Geoffrey was really going to teach him. His hands were so sore, his heart was charging, and his lungs had barely caught up with the war horse that had become his soul. He was ready for this. He’d never been more ready in his life.
Geoffrey dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder, offering a warm smile, and Mark finally acknowledged it was time to leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mark,” Geoffrey patted his left shoulder a few times, giving snarky wink, as if to praise him on his prowess with his stronger left arm.
Geoffrey turned his back on him, and January nudged Mark to the car, laughing quietly at how shocked he was. “All right, mister fire-in-your-pants, let’s get home.”
Mark let himself be pushed along to sit in the back of the car with Sil, but he wouldn’t let go of the sword. He clung to it, putting all his hope in it because, somehow, he felt like this was his purpose, and for once, everything seemed clear. Time blurred around him as they drove home. Even Sil’s sarcasm was muted as his friend nudged him with a playful, “You look like one happy little warhead!”
This book was so fun to write. In my printed version I literally have notes for every big red flag that Geoffrey has. I broke down his whole web of lies, translating what bits of truth are in it, and including the context that will become relevant in future books.
If you haven’t already go check it out on amazon, kindle or paperback, so that you’re all caught up when book 3 drops!
Halo’s Rag Doll is going to be such a fun adventure, Mark is just a tad scarred from his encounter with Geoffrey and his only concern is keeping other Shadows from falling into the same trap. So naturally, a powerful Orchestrator reaches out for Mark, drawing or luring him out into the mountains, seemingly in need of help. This time Mark has a team of Shadows to back him up, but he’s still paranoid that this is another trap. In the aftermath, Mark has a hard time trusting others and accepting help, because he’s Shadow Strength, he feels like he has to be the strongest of them all, any weakness and they’ll get hurt under his watch.