Tears streamed out of Dock’s eyes, gliding back across the side of his face toward his ears before disappearing into his hair or else flying off into oblivion as he ran for his life.
With single-minded determination, Dock forced his legs to keep moving despite the pain. His bare feet relentlessly beat into the ground, aching so badly he thought they would eventually just crumble into dust. The blood had no time to ooze, but instead was just splattered out in gobs under his soles as he pounded across the forest floor, littered with leaves, twigs, brush, and roots sticking out of the ground. Sharp branches slashed at his arms and face as he tore through them, biting at him with no regard to whether they took thread from his clothes or flesh from his body.
Still he ran. He didn’t dare to slow, not even to catch his breath, not for one ticuit. He knew, if he did, the beast would catch him.
Dock’s eyes flew open. He hadn’t even realized they had been closed. He had been running through the forest. How had that even happened? What was going on? Where was he?!
“Dock, what are you doing?!”
Dock looked up at Raven. She was staring at him from across the room, her arms outspread questioningly. She held something in one of her hands. Dock was vaguely curious what it was, but something else was drawing his attention. His eyes slowly wandered back downward until they fell on his own hand. He was holding it out in front of him. He was holding it directly in the center of a large, golden flame.
Dock opened his eyes again. He was back in the forest. It was daylight now. The light streamed down in a slant from various openings in the tree-cover high above. Although it was still very shady in the forest, the light hurt Dock’s eyes, and he squinted his eyes against it.
Dock groaned, and tried to move, but his body screamed in protest. Something was wrong. He was lying on the ground. He tried to look down at his body, but his vision was fuzzy, unfocused, and he couldn’t quite move his head. The back of his neck in particular was throbbing painfully.
Suddenly, something moved above him, blocking out the light. He slowly raised his eyes, though even that seemed to require a daunting amount of effort. A man was standing over him. With the light streaming down on his back, the man’s face was in shadows, and Dock couldn’t make out any of his features.
“Can you hear me?” the shadow man spoke. As he knelt down, Dock could see color spread into his face, the shadow dissipating, but his abysmal, unfocused sight still relegated the man to little more than an amorphous blob to Dock’s vision. “What is your name?”
“S-Silver,” Dock heard an unfamiliar voice seep drearily out of his own lungs in reply. Dock obviously hadn’t intended to say that. He couldn’t figure out why he had.
“To match your eyes,” said the man, and Dock thought he saw white teeth appear as the man smiled at him. “Hello, Silver. My name is Page.”
There was a deafening roar like a thousand waves crashing violently against the shore all at once, and Dock looked around. He was back in the tomb with Raven, but the room was no longer lit with the light of the golden flame into which he had for some reason stuck his hand. Now, the chamber was pulsing with a faint silvery light, that seemed to be coming from something that Dock held in his hand. Dock stared at it, but he couldn’t quite comprehend what it was. It seemed to him as if he was holding a crackling ball of silvery lightning.
“Dock! No!” Raven shouted at him, slowly pushing her hand out toward him as if trying with difficulty to reach him. Her clothes hugged her tightly, and her violet-streaked hair flew back as if blown by a strong wind, though Dock felt nothing. Dock stared at her for a moment, his mind unable or unwilling to grasp what was going on. He looked down again, his eyes fixing on the thing that he held in his hand. The crashing sound overwhelmed him again, and something sounded like it was ripping apart, until all of a sudden…
His vision was filled with the sight of a beautiful woman standing before him. She was completely naked. Her skin a deep, golden tan. Her figure slender and delicate. Her eyes blazed with a golden-orange fire that matched the long hair that flowed down from her head like a waterfall of flames.
She reached forward, cupping Dock’s cheek in her hand. A single glittering tear escaped her eye and cut a trail down her flawless cheek. And she whispered to him, her voice an enchanting cadence, “Take care of him.”
Tears were flowing freely now across her cheeks, and as she pulled her hand away, the skin all across her body exploded into flames, the heat surging forth to burn Dock’s face.
Dock screamed. His face still felt warm from the flames. The horrifying visage of the burning woman branded into his mind. He screamed in pain and terror until the breath was all but expelled from his lungs, and the scream deteriorated into a painful sob. He tried to suck in a new breath just to continue the scream anew, but the air felt heavy and scorched his lungs, and he could barely take in enough just to sustain any breath at all.
He looked up, but all he could see all around him was white. It filled the air like a dense smoke, obscuring anything from sight that was more than a few cartras in any direction around him. He realized that the smoke itself felt hot, and an acrid odor invaded his nostrils. His body was buried in a thick sloshing mud up to his chest. He waded through it with difficulty until he came to the blackened stub of a tree-trunk that seemed to have died and crumbled at the base, toppling the tree it supported to the side. He propped himself up against the trunk, wondering where he was and what was going on.
He had barely even begun stringing thoughts together when he felt his thoughts slipping away from him again, and…
Dock looked up to find his own father glaring at him, his arms crossed, his face set. Maddock Traz appeared to be looking at his son with an anger and hatred so intense, Dock could feel it coming off the man in waves. When Dock opened his mouth to speak, he heard a strange voice slipping across his tongue, speaking words other than those he had intended.
“You will!” said the uncontrolled alien voice through Dock’s lips. “You must! He will be defenseless! Vulnerable!”
“Then, the monks…” Maddock began, but Dock cut him off, again surprising himself.
“No! They have been entrusted with more than I would have liked already! I fear it is only a matter of time before even Sari…” Dock trailed off, turning his back to Maddock, and cradling his forehead in his left hand.
“Silver, this is too much to ask!” Maddock roared. “If it weren’t for you, my wife… my…” Maddock broke off. When Dock turned back around, Maddock now had his back turned. His head was lowered, his shoulders shaking.
Dock’s eyes opened suddenly. He instantly saw the smoke, felt the mud, but he could still sense someone else in control of his actions. That… Silver…?
He only just saw the man when he felt himself dive forward and grip the man’s shoulders. The man, who Dock suddenly realized may not be old enough to be called a man at all, looked startled. Although very tall, Dock could see the boy’s youth in his face. He was perhaps almost of age, but still probably in schooling. In fact – Dock thought as he looked into the young man’s eyes, which glowed with bright orange light – he may even be a novate at the Academy… Although why a novate would be dressed in robes that looked like they belonged in a monastery…
“Page! Page, is that you?!” Dock heard himself say, remembering the man who had identified himself as Page in the woods. Something tickled at Dock’s memory as he repeated the name in his mind, but whatever it had been was drowned out by a thought that flowed through his own, as strangely alien as the things that he had been listening to himself saying. The alien thought wasn’t fully articulated, but Dock felt it vaguely think, No, not Page. Ash…
Before Dock could seize on the thought, it faded away. With it, Dock could sense the other consciousness fading too. Dock started to try to say something to the young man who had found him, but he suddenly realized he had closed his eyes again, and when he tried to open them, they wouldn’t. Dock drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Dock didn’t know for how long he slept, but he knew before he opened his eyes that he was not himself again. Before he had simply been flung into – memories, he thought – that had not been his, without warning or explanation. This time, he sensed it the moment he was awake. He didn’t even consciously think about it. He simply knew:
Silver. Young… Only ten revs old. At home, in the borderlands between Divinia and the Alban forest. Dock knew that this was the location by some sort of strange instinct, though he had never heard of those places, and couldn’t imagine where they might be.
Silver opened his eyes.
There were loud noises coming from the room below. Silver could hear his mother sobbing as someone banged around the room. Silver sat up from the thin mattress on the floor, pushing off the single scratchy blanket that covered him. Quietly, he crawled over to the edge of the landing which spread across half of the upper portion of the one-room house. A ladder was fixed to the edge nearby and descended down into the kitchen area of the large, open room below.
It was there that Silver saw the rest of his family. His heart leapt in his chest at the sight of his father loudly opening cabinets and collecting various pots and utensils. His father had been gone for weeks, and Silver was surprised to see him, but he did not call out to him. His eyes had already wandered over to his mother, who was leaning against the wood stove, sobbing into her palms, staring over her fingers at… Silver gasped as he followed her gaze to the table. There, spread out onto the old, splintery table where they took their meals was Silver’s older brother, Mace.
Mace barely even looked like himself. One eye was closed, the other... was missing… along with half of his face. The skin across his forehead flapped loosely in a long jagged line which descended down from his hairline, where a large chunk of hair had been ripped out, continuing down the left side of his nose and along what had once been his cheek. Everything between that line and the ear on his left side, which hung onto his head only in tattered shreds, was just blood and muscle. His clothes had been ripped into rags, and long bloody scrapes marred his chest, arms, and legs. There were a few spots on his body where blood gushed as large chunks of flesh appeared to be missing. One of his boots was missing, and Silver counted only the three smallest toes among the bloody mess of his brother’s foot.
“Don’t just stand there, woman, help me!” Silver’s father growled angrily as he set a pot of water over an open flame. Silver’s mother yelped at the words, and sank to her knees, crying even louder. Her husband sighed, hastily setting down his gathered supplies by Mace’s less-injured leg, and knelt beside her, holding her firmly by her upper arms.
“Mere… Mere, get a hold of yourself,” he said softly, lowering his head to try to look into her eyes, though she held her head down toward the floor. “I know this is hard. I know… But we don’t have a lot of time if we’re going to save him…”
Mere looked up, her eyes raw and red. “What can we do, Henrick? There’s so much blood… He needs a healer,” she whined.
“He’ll never make it to a healer unless we see to him first,” said Henrick, his voice cracking with emotion. “Now stand up. We have to clean and bandage these wounds…”
From above, Silver watched in terrified silence as his parents set to cleaning his brother’s wounds. They worked quickly, trying to bandage the worst wounds first, though Silver could see how quickly the blood soaked into the bandages, and even he was soon thinking the same thing his parents were: It will never be enough…
Silver began to move toward the ladder, intent on doing at least whatever he could to help his family, even if they objected. But before Silver had even moved an inklet, a long, piercing howl sang out from close by, freezing Silver’s movement. Glancing downward, Silver saw both his parents pause in their actions as well. His father’s pause was minute, barely even perceptible, save for a distinct increase in the speed of his bandage-wrapping immediately following. Silver’s mother, however, fumbled with what she was doing, her hands shaking, as fresh tears started streaming from her eyes. She looked up at her husband, who spared her only a glance and a tiny nod.
“Rouse Sil,” Henrick said quietly, his eyes intent on his work. “Bundle up. Put whatever you can grab quickly in a bag. We leave in—”
Before Henrick could finish, the back door flew off its hinges and slammed directly into his back, several large splinters of wood flying in every direction. Henrick gasped as he was mashed between the heavy door and his wounded son’s face, though almost instantly, he was grunting with effort and pushing the door off his back, turning to face what stood in the doorway.
Silver’s heart stopped for a moment as he stared at the creature filling the space where the door had stood a moment earlier. So massive to even fit through the doorway, it swiped two heavy claws first at one side, then the other, easily tearing away long strips of wood as if it was cutting through paper. The wall higher up from the doorway groaned at the unexpected weight suddenly thrown on it, having lost some support from below, but it held, and the creature stepped slowly into the little house.
Hunched over on four legs, the creature was still nearly as tall as Henrick, who was now facing it defiantly, his arms held out to either side as if to protect all which stood behind him. The beast eyed him carefully, glancing only momentarily at the trembling woman on her knees behind Henrick; it didn’t dare take its golden brown eyes off Henrick for more than a ticuit at a time. The jaw of its long muzzle hung open slightly, revealing razor sharp teeth above and below, a steady growl rumbling out from between. Long, black claws extended from each of its paws, which in turn were all roughly the size of Silver’s head. Its pointy ears stood at attention, and the dark, almost black, fur which covered its body stood up on end along its back. Its stance clearly spoke of its preparedness to fight.
To Silver’s surprise, his father spoke to the monster. “Leave my home now, beast, or I swear I will do to you what I did to the other.”
The corners of the beast’s mouth lifted in an unmistakable grin, and its growl broke and hiccupped, sounding to Silver almost as if the creature were laughing. Its eyes still fixed on Henrick, the monster stepped carefully to the side. Henrick tensed, obviously thinking that the beast was going for Mere, but it made no move forward, only to the side. And Silver quickly saw why: another beast, much like the first, though slightly smaller and leaner, its fur a rich, shade of brown, was now stepping through the doorway. The second creature limped slightly as it walked, and Silver thought he saw dried blood matting its fur on its leg and neck, but other than the limp, the beast seemed unharmed.
Henrick stared at the second beast as if he had not already seen the first, shocked to see such a massive creature standing in his house. Henrick whispered, “No… It was dead…”
The laughing sound of the first creature became louder for a moment, before being replaced by a deep, rumbling voice. Silver gasped as the beast said, “Give us what we came for, and I will spare your mate.”
Henrick’s hand shot absently to his wounded son’s shoulder behind his back. He shook his head fiercely, and muttered, as if not even realizing he was saying the words, “No… Never…”
“Then you both die,” the dark creature replied without hesitation, and in the same breath, without warning, both beasts leaped forward. The lighter, leaner monster sprang onto Henrick, who batted it away with a mighty punch to its flank. The beast was thrown aside, but not without taking a chunk of flesh from Henrick’s chest. Henrick didn’t even seem to notice the injury. Before the beast had even hit the floor, Henrick was spinning around and jumping onto the back of the darker beast, bringing it down to the floor within a hair’s breadth of his shell-shocked wife.
Henrick produced a knife from his belt even while falling and buried it into the creature’s neck, hilt-deep. Wasting no time, Henrick twisted, pulled, and was arcing the blade down to stab again when the huge beast pushed up violently with its legs, throwing him off its back. It rounded on him, snarling fiercely, apparently no worse for the wound to its neck. The breath was driven from Henrick’s lungs as the beast landed its front paws heavily on his chest, its long blade-like claws sliding into him as easily as if he were butter. Henrick, however, had every bit as much resolve as the beast, and slashed at its muzzle with the blade he still held firmly in his hand. The beast yelped at the cut, but the yelp quickly turned into a roar as it clamped its teeth down on Henrick’s forearm.
Silver winced and clamped his eyes shut as he heard his father’s bones crunch in the beast’s jaws. He didn’t see the beast turn its head violently, separating Henrick’s hand from his body in a sickening rip. He couldn’t look as his father bellowed into the beast’s face, wailing on its side with his one good arm, and kicking at its back legs with his last ounce of strength before the life drained out of him. Silver couldn’t bear to look… But he knew when his father had breathed his last when he could no longer hear him fight…
Only when he heard his mother’s scream did Silver open his eyes again. He couldn’t help it. He didn’t want to look, but his response was purely reactionary. Even as he leaned over the edge to look directly down at her, his arm reaching over as if he could take hold of her and drag her to safety, her scream was cut short, replaced by a small gurgling sound. The air flew out of Silver’s lungs as if he had been hit, and his chest burned, as he stared down into his mother’s face, the lighter beast on top of her, tearing at her throat.
Tears trickled out of his eyes, falling the distance to the floor and raining onto his mother’s pale face, and their eyes locked. New tears flooded her already tearful eyes as she looked up at her son, a strange calm coming over her face even as she shook in time with the monster eating her flesh. She had no breath to speak, but her lips moved, and Silver could actually feel his heart rip in two as he read the words on her mouth, I love you, and then…
Her lips formed one more word, very clearly, her eyes monetarily alight with urgency, she just managed to croak, “Run…” And then her eyes glazed over, and Silver’s reaching arm went limp as he looked down upon his dead mother.
Still looking down at his mother, his arm still hanging uselessly, his eyes still raining tears down onto his mother’s lifeless face, Silver let out an agonized scream. He wasn’t even entirely aware he was doing it. It just flowed out of his lungs like blood from a cut. Both the beasts below immediately stopped devouring his parents, and looked up at him.
The dark-furred beast grinned its nasty grin again, this time its muzzle dripping his father’s blood. “Another one. I hadn’t even smelled it over all the blood…”
Directly below, the lighter-furred monster suddenly sprang up, clawing at Silver’s dangling arm. With a sharp intake of breath, Silver retracted his arm, just quickly enough to avoid the beast’s claws, though he still felt the whoosh of air as the claws slashed within inklets of him. Silver fell back onto his rear and scooted away from the edge. His back hit the wall just as the bigger of the two monsters crashed down in front of him, having jumped all the way up from the floor below.
Only its top-half landed, and it buried its claws into the wood to hold itself in place before scrambling up. In tics, the creature was standing heavily on the platform before Silver, its enormous body seeming to take up all the space. Silver held himself in a ball, whimpering uncontrollably, and closed his eyes, muttering gibberish to himself.
“Fear not, human child,” the beast rumbled. Silver just hugged his legs tighter and pushed his face into his knees as hard as he could, wrapping his hands around his ears, though it did little to block out the monster’s loud basso. “We are not going to kill you. You will be like us!”
Silver could feel the monster’s hot, rancid breath on his skin as it stepped closer, and he had taken as much as he could take. Something in Silver snapped, and he leaped to his feet, summoning as loud a scream as his lungs could produce. He could feel a great pressure pulling at his body, inside and out, like nothing he had ever felt before, and he could no longer hear his own scream over the deafening thunder crashing down all around him. His skin burned, and his vision turned to white. And then…
Dock opened his eyes to find an unfamiliar face staring back at him.
Dock blinked, and looked around. He was lying in a bed, the mattress hard, but not uncomfortable. The walls were made of large, uneven brown stone, the spaces in between the odd-sized stones filled with mortar. The room was barren save for the bed, a small table next to it, on which a lone candle stood unlit, and a basic wooden chair sitting in the corner near the door. Sunlight streamed in through a tall, narrow window to his right.
Dock looked back at the man who was staring at him from the foot of his bed. The man was short, barely even tall enough to see him over the bed’s railing. He was bald, but an enormous, bushy gray moustache grew on his upper lip, hiding his mouth completely from view. Sitting up, Dock could see the man was dressed in plan, gray robes, similar to those he had seen worn by the orange-eyed boy he had dreamed of earlier, though the boy’s robes had been auburn.
“You are up!” the small man said, his moustache blowing around comically as he spoke.
Dock narrowed his eyes and frowned down at the man. “Who are you? And where am I?”
“My name is Tortin. This is the Wirksind Abbey,” the small man said, with a sweeping gesture indicating the space around him, “hidden deep in the Felloran Marshes… And you, I believe, must be none other than Silver’s heir… It is about time you got here!”
Next chapter coming soon!