Editor's note: The following story is a standalone, but also a teaser of sorts for upcoming series, so don't worry if you're a bit confused. If you really want details, observe it carefully... if you're not in any big hurry, though, don't worry; you won't miss anything that won't be restated later. Happy reading!
“Close your eyes.”
I take a deep breath as I obey the instruction.
This is it. If I can't reach the dreamworld, everything I've worked for will have been a waste. Not to mention that it would devastate my family. We haven't had a dreamwalker in sixty years; if we don’t get one soon, we will become just another once great clan tossed by the wayside.
“Now, prepare yourself.”
I grit my teeth and wait for the cold touch of the dreamholder’s fingers on my forehead. A few seconds pass in silence, and then his skin brushes against mine. Suddenly I’m falling back and upward into a dream.
Here we go.
When I arrive, I quickly take stock of the situation. It's a fairly normal dream: I'm in my house, my brother and sister are sitting at a table playing some sort of game, and despite the few quirks that always show up in dreams — my mother appears to be juggling geese while washing the dishes — everything looks just as it does in reality.
Everything except one very, very important line of purple light that hovers about six inches above the ground a few feet to my left. The dreampath. I've seen it every night of my life, but I haven't ever been allowed to touch it. Until now.
The dreamholder appears close by and gives me a curt nod. I bite my lip, hesitating for one moment. Then I reach out and take hold of the purple cord.
As soon as my fingers wrap around it, I'm being turned inside out — a disgusting feeling I know quite well from my shapeshifting experience — and sucked upward at the same time. Something grabs me before I rise too high, and trails along behind me, slowing my progress somewhat.
A few seconds later, all of my body parts return to their proper places, and a huge empty plane appears around me. I stop with a jerk and fall the few feet back down to the ground, where I am quickly joined by the dreamholder. He glances around, then turns to me.
“Congratulations,” he says. “You are a dreamwalker.”
Elation bubbles up inside of me, and, as if in response, dozens of golden fountains begin gushing up from the ground all around. The dreamholder, however, begins speaking again before I have time to examine them.
“Before we return, let me remind you that as entering the Second Level for the first time is dangerous, it is unadvisable to—”
He is cut off as he suddenly disappears. I let out a startled cry and leap forward, grabbing the empty air where he'd been a moment before.
I stand for a moment, frozen, before dropping my hand back to my side. I’ve never heard of a dreamwalker vanishing during a test. If it was my fault, somehow… I’d better travel back down, wake up, and find out what happened. But as I turn to grab the dreampath again, a jolt of panic stabs through me.
Nothing in my training has prepared me for this. Dreamholders don’t disappear at random, and the dreampath never leaves a dreamwalker’s side.
I start to wonder if the whole thing is simply a rather elaborate, but altogether normal, dream. Perhaps my test has not even started. Encouraged by that thought, I begin to look around again. The golden fountains are gone, replaced by what look like rain clouds in the distance. The ground below me, I notice for the first time, is a silvery-black, reflective substance. Marble or jade, perhaps.
Thunder claps in the distance. I look up and see the clouds — now huge thunderheads — rolling in at an incredible speed. Alarmed, I turn to look for shelter, but as I do, my foot catches on something and I fall to the ground. I put my arms out to catch myself, but instead of hitting hard stone, they slide right through the ground, followed by the rest of my body.
A moment later, I’m lying on my back in a green field, blinking up into a blue, sunlit sky. Soon my eyes adjust, and I stare up at the sky for several minutes, enjoying the mid-morning sun on my face, until I hear light footfalls approaching. Quickly turning over and scrambling to my feet, I see a beautiful girl, dressed in white and wearing a wreath of yellow flowers in her hair. She smiles and waves as she draws nearer, her golden eyes flashing in the sunlight.
I find myself smiling back. I don’t really know her, but this feels… right, somehow. When she reaches me, her charming smile widens and she holds out her hand. I take it without hesitation, and--
I’m standing on a dais, before a huge crowd. The girl — now a woman — is again standing before me, our hands still clasped. I gaze into her radiant face, barely aware of anything around me, until someone approaches and hands us both one end of an elaborately braided rope.
Instinctively, as if I’ve always known what I was supposed to do next, I help her tie a knot around our hands. Cheering erupts from the crowd, and I step forward--
But now I’m lying on a bed, surrounded by a crowd of young men and women and a few very small children. Glancing to my right, I see my wife. She’s old, but as beautiful as ever. I offer her a smile, and then--
I’m flying. Soaring above the seas, watching the continents flash by beneath me… Sabine… Tenebris — a shiver passes through me as pass over that dark island… Thebel… Vanya… and then I’m not flying through space, but something different… I watch as wars begin and end, kingdoms rise and fall, seas advance and recede.
The images become so quick and blurred that I can no longer decipher what I’m seeing, until suddenly, without warning, it stops. I’m now standing on a dark plain. Everything around me is black; the trees, the flowers, the grass. It hasn’t been burnt, though; there’s no ash. It’s all simply… dead.
Could there possibly be a place in Ildathore this dismal? Tenebris, perhaps, but something tells me I’m on Vanya. I have to know, though… looking up, I see the red sun shining hazily through a thick cloud of dust. Hoping I’m correct in thinking that it is afternoon, I start off in the direction I determine to be east.
I don’t know how long I walk, but the scene never truly changes. Plants, rivers, animals; all dead and dry. It might have been minutes, it might have been months, but finally I reach my destination: the great river. I’ve heard it said that the river of Vanya would not run dry until the ocean was drained. But when I arrive, it’s just the same as all the other rivers I’ve seen: a bone-dry bed of dirt and dust.
Straining my eyes toward the north, I make out what used to be an island. I walk along the bank until I draw even with it and then cross the riverbed. Only when I set foot on the island do I realize that it was once a city; there are enormous buildings, expansive mansions, and intricate statues. All is covered in a thick layer of dust.
A sense of dread builds in my chest as I work my way deeper into the city. Unless I am much mistaken, this is Erith, the capital of Vanya, perhaps the greatest city in the world. Something truly horrific must have happened for it to be abandoned like this.
When I reach the center of the city, I stop. Before me is a great tree, its huge branches spreading high into the sky. It must have been beautiful once, but now it is black and dead like everything else. But no, even more so; huge cracks run up its trunk and along the branches, and it is slanted, a few of its roots sticking up out of the ground. I hope that whatever man or beast had the strength to shift such a tree is no longer nearby.
But from the look of things, I don’t need to worry. There can’t have been anyone in this city for fifty years at the least.
I begin to turn away, but am suddenly filled with an overpowering sorrow, coupled with an urge to touch the tree. I hesitate, but slowly start towards it, as though moved by some unseen force. As I draw close, my hand rises to meet the bark. I take another step, and another, and my finger brushes the dead wood.
A wind like a hurricane picks me up and throws me backward toward the ground. I again feel the strange sensation, like flying, but the space around me as I travel is more dense, somehow, than air. After an indeterminate length of time, I hit the hard ground. I lay there for a moment, eyes closed, pain stabbing through every part of my body. I strain to push myself to my feet, but pause as a light begins to grow somewhere behind my closed eyelids. It is not the hazy red color of before, though, but a warm, yellow, living sunlight.
With tremendous effort, I force my eyes open, and see--
The dreamholder, along with my father and mother, standing over me.
My mother gasps a sigh of relief and seizes my hand. “Son, what happened?”
I stare into her violet eyes, blinking slowly, trying to process the question. When it finally sinks in, I open my mouth to speak, but no words come. Where can I begin?
Written by Elia Tyson
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2019 by The Flabbit Room
Editor's note: I've had the privilege of beta reading and editing several parts of this story so far, and it is amazing. The White Knight is a very talented author, who's strength in story telling (especially world building) is incredible, and I love reading everything he writes. That being said, this story deals primarily with such themes as darkness and depravity, and if you haven't yet read any stories from the world of Ildathore, or are looking for a lighter read, I would suggest Icestorm or The Mapmaker.
Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, here to read Part Three, and here to read Part Four.
You dream, and my cousin dreams, and my brothers dreamed before they died. I dream too. I feel as if I have dreamt the way that no son of man before me has ever dreamed. Water was pooling around my feet, and I sank into a well of sadness. The Man in the Mirror Shield watched me as I fell, and the Pale Maid waved to me. I passed through the waters, and the feeling of falling surrounded me for many days while I cried.
“Fly.” A Voice spoke over my shoulder, and I screamed. I had never heard a sound that filled me with such fear. My screams surrounded me, and I knew that I wasn’t alone, for there were other screams in the darkness. I stretched out my arms, and attempted to slow my descent, but I only seemed to fall faster.
“Are you human after all?” the Voice asked me with a deep rumble. “Dream faster and fly, it shall make you stronger, harder, better. You will be more than just a man after all.”
I landed with my face on the ground, and I knew I had broken every bone in my body. I lay there crying, though I had long since run out of tears. Grass grew up around me, until my eyes were glazed over with green. I waited for the sun to rise, yet it never did. I could not move without the greatest agony. Winter came. I froze, and was covered with a sheet of ice, but my bones were set back together. I did not hunger or thirst, as one might do in a dream, but I was sustained by every whisper of the wind.
Suddenly, just as the ice had come as a relief, I shattered into a million piece like glass. The ground disappeared again, I was floating in a sea of a purple-blackness. I looked out from my square of glass, and I saw thousands of squares of glass. And I was standing in all of them, and on all of them I was screaming, trying to escape.
“Do you remember, child?” a Voice asked me. I imitated my counterparts as I shrieked and rammed myself up against the square of glass that caged me in. I was trapped here. Could I never get out?
“Remember what?” I half shouted and half wept the question. I sunk to my knees; I had never felt so trapped.
“Life,” the Voice said to me.
“No,” I said, wiping my nose. It was true. I had fallen for so long I could remember nothing before it. But that didn’t stop me from knowing that Life was some good beyond my realm of understanding.
“You are living,” the Voice responded. “As every being who has ever been has.”
“But what is Life?” I shouted it into empty air. The glass was gone, and I was stepping onto a field, with a house. I saw a man by a bed in the house, and a woman in that bed. The woman hefted a boy child into the air with a laugh of amazement as the boy shouted and breathed for air. The man, the father, reached out a finger to his new son’s hand. The air around them shimmered with light. The light shone so brightly I raised my arms to shield myself from it, yet I was blind.
I wandered around and when my sight returned, I looked about me to see infinite fathers, infinite mothers, infinite children. Their eyes and skins were of all different colors, there was not one face amongst them that was the same. I heard the chanting of the priests of Night all about me. “Praise the mother eternal, she who brings forth life from the womb. Blessed be the first and foremost of all beings, woman.”
I wanted to be them. I wanted to reach out as a father with wonder, to hold a being that was from myself. I wanted to be a mother, to be the most honored being that carries and shepherds new life into the world as a great hero. I wanted to be a child, and I realized that I was once one myself.
“I was once one like unto these,” I said aloud. I feel to my knees. There was never such joy in the world, never could there be a feeling like that which I felt.
A hand was upon my shoulder. I was in a room filled with weeping people. I looked up and saw a woman on a bed, blood covered the sheets. She was without life. Dead, I realized. An old woman handed me a swaddling bundle of a babe. At least, I thought, there is some joy here. A child saved nobly. But no, once the baby was pressed into my hands, I knew the babe was as dead as its mother, and there was naught I could do about it.
“Is this what Life looks like?” I yelled unto the skies. I no longer held the babe, but instead held a woman’s hand. She too had given birth, and instead of reaching out for her child, she simply stared at the sky and said nothing. I held millions of hands. Eventually the hands changed. The bodies were no longer confined to birthing beds. As many people as I had seen be born were buried. I buried some myself. There was no one else. I stayed by two young girls and their dead mother on a riverbank longer than I should have. I felt an especial sadness for them. I felt the trauma of a young man seeing his parents slain before his eyes. I felt the hurt of having come so close to finally having a parent as a daughter buried her long lost father. I felt the regret of a father as he realized that he couldn’t save his family whom he loved, and had to watch them die.
I was in the Endless Torment, I realized, or some form of it. Life was a lie, that only had an ending of sadness. Some men may fade softer than others. Some men may even leave in peace. All but the worst of men left behind someone that was forever marred by their departure. Sorrow was the chief end of Life so it seemed. And so Life seemed to be for me through many deaths and many funerals.
Death eventually led me to a battlefield. It was everywhere there. I saw the eyes of men, black and white they were, like beady jewels on a statue. Men fell on the swords of other men, some fell on their own. When knights cooked in their armor, arrows rose overhead to provide shade, and men roasted in their places. When the arrows turned to rain, men raised their shields. When men raised their shields, others pushed spears into the soft places the shields uncovered, and that with no armor was left bare. So men lowered their shields and locked them together, and placed back on their armor. It rained until the field turned to muck and grime, and men yet writhed in pain and agony. Boys and beardless youths and bearded men and old grey beards came to battlefields, and they sunk in the muck. I saw the battle where my brothers died, where my cousin died, and I saw the ones where my ancestors had perished as well. There were many and more of these battlefields that I came and witnessed. Many and more young boys and old men’s eyes faded into blackness and stared into my eyes as if they were being entranced by a pair of glimmering stars.
My mind was gripped with such a fear of death, and of the pain, that it was all I could do to run away, but I saw that all the earth was turned to a battlefield. I ran from the sunrise to the sunset, and taking wing I flew from ice to ice without a place to alight upon green earth or blue waters. There was not a sea that was not sailed for blood, or fields that were not plowed with swords. I saw a great battle in the black. I saw a great battle in the white. I saw a battle so great that the rivers ran red and the lands were stained with a crimson sheen. Banners innumerable were everywhere, each one so downtrodden and soiled that I could no more make out their various devices then I could discern the one side from the other. Men used crossbows that fired the rays of the sun, they crawled along in tortoises of lobstered steel, their swords were as ribbons of light, and they flew dragons whose roars were great and terrible. And I saw them then, a red heifer roaring through the night sky at the scarlet-handed one, while the saffron souls poured across the starry spirits like the desolation of a fiery mountain. A great greaved gauntlet stained with innocence swept up through them all, and it pulled them down. The stars. The Seven Stars. With Roger’s colors.
They descended as a rainbow of Purpe, Azure, Verde, Gules, Or, Argent, and Sable. And they fractured the great battle. The great battle that fractured a war. The war. And that war had shattered the world. And the world was made new with a roar that was greater than ten thousands of dragons. And the world was so changed that men could not walk along the face of the earth.
Golden eyes met mine with rushes of seething hate, and blackness masked all else, and I felt the rumbling of the earth as the flame of the stars enveloped me, and the golden eyes rushed upwards in a dark tower. Those eyes made me shiver, and I was driven to my knees as I observed more and more, of what seemed to me great heroes of yore. Warriors great and terrible I saw, giants, kings, lords and tyrants, of great valor, and of great cruelty. In one eye I saw a giant’s son on a horse, bearded, barded, and in green. He bore a crown of flowers upon his head, and he led men with a holy fervor against the kin of his fathers with a booming laugh and an outstretched sword. Through my other eye, I saw a gaunt grey man with a black crown atop a throne of crumbling bones, passing sentence on his young sons. I saw a boy on a blue dragon, a girl with the power to summon ice walk on water, I saw a woman walking through the woods singing the song of earth against her enemies, a hero breaking empires with his bare hands and igniting the flaming sword, a child reaching out to a burning horse, a man running from his wife and life through an endless mirage of faces and sadness and dreams, a man stuck between his son’s life and burning the last book of yore, a bowman firing his weapon with the accuracy of a thunderbolt, a young maiden sprouting wing and taking flight. She waved at me, and blew me a kiss. I realized that I was flying with her. I looked at the clouds, the shapes they made, the wisps and winds that seemed like the waves of the sea. I had forgotten what peace felt like. I had forgotten there was such a thing at all. I turned back to the woman with wings. I was to tell her that I loved her. I had flown with her in her silence and her smiles for so long that I knew that there was no one else for me. I had the body of a young boy with the soul of a champion in his prime and the mind of the most ancient of heroes. Who would refuse me my love? Who would not give it in return?
I turned back to the woman, and the clouds turned grey, and lightning clashed with thunder in streaks of light that served only to make my ears bleed and illuminate the body of a great black beast that stared at me with a sworl of a golden eye the size of a thousand suns. I realized then that I had the soul and mind of a young boy still within me. The beast smiled with his great fangs bared at me and growled out a roar that would shatter the foundations of Londkongkai. In its rumble, all the fears and emotions that I had withheld from all the death and battlefields was let loose in one scream. I was falling. I was a boy. I was going to die. I fell from where the stars had been pulled down through a midnight haze of darkness to a shining jewel of green and blue; a pinprick of light in an ocean of eventide. I came back through the clouds I thought I had left far behind me with the speed of a space dragon, and I felt my soul return into the spaces of our world.
Crack. My wings had broken. I was sobbing. My wings, my wings, my beautiful white wings. Did I have them when I had begun flying? Had the woman given them to me? That did not matter, for they were broken and gone with my heart. I felt for it… My heart… It was not there. I screamed and tore at my chest, the pain in my wings becoming more intense as my fingernails clawed and clawed in the place where my heart should be. Blood was soaking my hands now, and I thought I touched a rib, when suddenly a voice laughed.
“Silly boy, why are you trying to find your heart within yourself? It appears to have run away.” This voice was strange, rumbling and womanly, ancient and young, hard as stone and fluid as a rivulet of fire.
“I loved someone…” I whispered to no one, huddled on the cold green grass, my eyes closed tight as a vice, and yet bursting with diamonds of salt. I placed my red-stained hands upon my face, to cover the tears. “She was good and kind and… and… I lost her…” My eyes snapped open and I sat up. “She took my heart.”
“Yesssss…” The voice agreed. Or sang. Or suggested. Or implied. Perhaps it intoned it. But the voice went on. “She has it. And she is waiting for you. She can take away your pain…”
“Where?” I was standing now, forcing my wings to spread again. I yelped at the pain, but I stretched them again, making a weak flutter that took my feet off the ground, before falling face flat on the earth again.
“I can take you there…” The voice said to me, and a mist rose from the earth and surrounded me. A cold wind came from before me, and blew it away. I was at an angle now, on a slope of some mountain. There she was, by a tree and a cave, from which poured forth four streams of water. They were afar off, yet within my reach. One of them splashed down into my face, filling my mouth with its sweet taste. Was it only sweet because of her? Or was it sweet because this mountain was special? I scrabbled up from my knees, invigorated by the cool drink. The pain in my wings dissipated, and I lifted myself up lightly from the cold stone of the mountain with an experimental flap. I hovered up the hard rock face, and I came to where my love was. She was as beautiful as I recalled her to be, surely, it had been a thousand years since I last saw her form, exquisite and perfect. Her wings were gone though, and I looked around for them. I heard a flutter a flap and behold! There they were! But they were changed… where were the feathers?
All that remained of them now was grey sinew and muscle, stretching like a canvas over long thin bones. And what they were attached to… A small scaled creature, sinuous like a snake, whiskered, and preeningly licking its new wings with a forked tongue. It was wound around a branch of the tree, which I saw now bloomed with beautiful fruit. It seemed to me that there were a stem and two branches, one to each side, lobed at intervals with globes of light, bound together with twigs of the same. Then, there was one stem and six branches, now eight. And it grew and grew, till it shaded the whole mountain in it’s great green shadow. Fresh fruit fell and landed at its roots. They splattered on the ground with a satisfying sound that echoed around the winds. Round and red and four-chambered they were; they seemed like… hearts.
I looked back at the woman. My woman, I thought to myself, a maid pale and beautiful. She had bitten into one of the four chambered fruit, the red juice running down her face and on to her neck. She smiled at me, and extended the fruit out at me. The little grey beast wagged its tail excitedly. I had never seen anything as good as that woman with that fruit… I had to have them. Both. Right then and there.
She giggled at me then, and asked in a delicate voice: “Are you not hungry, young one?”
“Very much, lady,” I replied. I could not discern her age, she might have been my age from her laugh, perhaps a woman in her prime from her form, or maybe even older, for eyes seemed to shine at me with the same sadness and longing and weariness which I had felt while I had passed through this world. But all this did not matter to me. She was going to make me happy, take away all that sadness and tiredness, embrace me, and she would be mine and I hers.
Her smile widened, and I felt an ache, and I felt the void where my heart should have been, more than I had ever before. “Your hands are red,” she said to me, looking down at them curiously. She took a step towards me, fruit outstretched. I saw then that her hands were red too. “Did you already eat of it?”
I blushed sheepishly. “No.”
“Then wash out the stains on your hands with something new, and beautiful, and healing.” Her violet eyes bored into mine like endless pools, and I could never look away. I found myself floating towards her and her fruit. Mine hands touched hers. The fruit was in my hands now. Her red hands brushed a hair away from my face. “Go on, eat, and be like me. Be whole, have your heart return to you.”
I bit down then. It was sweet and luscious and everything good. It was the smell of the hearth, and the words of honey and love. It was my mother’s warm arms, I had forgotten her. It was my father and my brothers and my cousins ruffling my hair. I had forgotten them too. It was the woman I love leaning down and taking my lips in a kiss that lasted forever. Could it be that I had forgotten her? The moon was beautiful.
And then the fruit was ashen. I was eating some sort of amniotic paste, with a strange texture and a heat that stung my mouth and throat like a thousand bees. I choked, and threw the fruit down, but it was no longer a fruit. It was an egg… cracked and leaking, full of pus and blood. And then… my wings started burning. I screamed to crack the moon. I could feel the flesh being ripped away, the bones turning to ash, the light and airy feeling disappearing from my body, to be replaced with a scraping brutality of an eternal pain. I felt my head swimming, it was about to burst open. I fell to the earth clutching my skull, and landed in a pile of white feathers, swirling about in a fierce east wind. And the laughter was a cacophony of noise in my bleeding ears. It surrounded me, and all I could do was smash my hands on my head and howl at the moon which was blood.
“Yes! Yes!” the voice thundered, and I raised my head from the earth. The pale maid waved at me again, and was crushed by a great smash of a mass of vicious talons.
I shrieked and leapt back from the feathers, landing in a pile of ash… my wings. My eyes gazed upward once again, and the little snake had turned into a great, long worm. It lifted its head and released a mass of flames up into the tree with a roar that shook the foundations of the mountains. And from its sides, before the smaller, weaker wings that already protruded from its frame, came two beastly, grotesque, and bat-like grey wings. The tree was black now, scarred by golden flames, charred beyond recognition, with only a few of its scattered leaves falling to the earth unscathed. The fruit at the bottom of the tree I saw now were eggs, black and grey and red and golden, shimmering and rippling with an allure that rang of a deathly beauty. The great worm rose up into the sky on its four rings, and quickly spun up into the air, till it was almost out of sight, before crashing down like a thunderbolt upon the eggs, stomping and smashing them into a mass of red pulp. It was the same pulp that filled my mouth. My eyes were dry, and I chanced to take a hand off of my ears, which continued bleeding in torrents. While the cries and laughs and bestial howls increased in volume, I felt my back, where my wings had been. They were gone now, and so was she.
Where she had once been was a crimson stain upon basalt, and I crawled to reach her. She was to be mine, she could not leave me, she could not. But she had gone into nothingness, leaving me unfriended, unprotected, alone.
A shudder of an earthquake rattled my crippled and earthbound frame, breaking the ledge which I lay upon in my sorrow. I fell down the mountain, and I flapped wings which were not there. I fell slowly, amongst the rocks and shattered stone, down the mountain, over and over, head over heels, heels over head. My heart was still missing.
I did not stop rolling when I reached the bottom. I landed in a river, large and wide and swift. It was dragging me out to sea, away from the land, away from where she died. I pushed my head above the water, and saw that evil beast flapping its four wings around the mountain… but it was no mountain. It was a great oily black stone, four sided, and monolithic. It towered above everything else, through the clouds to heights unknown, but the clouds were parted… A great streak of smoke ran through the sky, to where the great stone sat. That eldritch horror that had taken my woman away from me still snaked through the sky, singing in its slinking screams in worship… to it.
“I want in!” I could hear it begin to tantrum, once its singing did nothing. “I want in, I want in, I want in!”
“I want what you took from me!” I shook my fist at the monster, although I knew it could not hear me. Then the waves of the river filled my lungs and sunk me to the bottom of the river. All sorts of monsters were there. Some were reptilian, some seemed fishlike, some were great tentacled beings, and yet some were even stranger things of ancient evil and profound knowledge which seemed to have been sleeping beneath the waves since before the world began.
They whispered to me there.
“We hear your pain.”
“You are like us, poor, poor worthless creature that you are. Where are you?”
“I’ll eat you.”
“You’ve lost your heart, do want your heart back?”
“You want to die like your brothers? Do you have one left to you?”
“What is a heart? Is that not something pertaining to humans?”
“What makes a human being?”
“Come to me, and I will give you rest, and answer your questions.”
“You don’t truly want a heart, a heart gives you pain, and sadness, and unrest.”
“Is that one of us? Come, let us bring him to ourselves.”
“Yes… He dreams as we dream. Come to us, and learn how to truly be at peace, and to bring peace to others.”
“The only true rest is found in sleep. So sleep with us here in the dark beneath the waves.”
“No!” Water filled my mouth, but I did not care. It wiped away the sordid taste of the fruit that was an egg. I kicked and kicked. I had to find the surface. My hand shot to the surface, where another hand seized it and pulled up.
I emerged in the ocean, coughing in the midst of a great storm. It was black, and lightning flashed around me.
“Where is my heart? What happened to it? Where did it go? Where did she go…” I faltered. I no longer kicked my feet, and long smooth arms of slime wrapped around my shins, to drag me back beneath the waves.
“Behold! She is waiting for you at sea,” one voice said with an air of thoughtfulness.
“Nay, for look! She meets you at the mountain!” another voice broke in with a sharp hiss.
“Behold! She we will be with you, and you shall find your broken heart, and you will come to houses of healing, and love will be within you again, once you see me through her.” This last voice spoke with calm and confidence, and filled me with the same.
“Who is speaking to me?” I shouted, as the slimy tendrils tugged at me. I placed my hands on the water, and strained upward, the liquid supporting my weight.
“It’s me that’s speaking to you boy.”
The voices came with the rolls of thunder and roared together into a discordant melody. I yelled with all my strengthen, and pulled myself up, inch by inch, but I knew my strength would not last forever. The rain lashed my face, and I felt it ripping into my skin.
A man came to me then. He was hooded and cloaked, and his visage was shrouded with shards of glass. He floated above the tempestuous waters, and looked down at me in a sinister silence. A metallic clicking filled my ears, in time with the thunder, in time with what should have been my heart.
“Help me!” I shouted to him, trying to make my voice heard over the deluge. “Help me! You saved me before, right? Help me now! Curse you!”
He extended his hand, just as my strength gave out. I began to slip beneath the waves, and my head submerged again. The water was grimy and salty now, revolting and full of slime. I gritted my teeth, trying to not take any of it in, but it flooded down through my nose. It was the end for me… But the man seized my hand, and flung me up, up, up. It was a different hand than the one that seized me before, metallic and cold, but our touch was so brief that I could not fathom anything else. I passed above the clouds once more. I saw cities below me, and continents, and the mountains in the oceans. The sea enveloped them all. I heard the cries of men, women, and little children, as their homes were swept away, and all their lives vanished. Only the black stone remained.
I was still going up, I realized. The man had thrown me high indeed. I needed my wings back, so that I would not fall. But wait, why did I need them? I had risen for a thousand years now, and was amongst the stars, those myriad eyes. I past the Lions and their roaring jaws… Why did I need wings? I would not fall. I had soared too high for that.
“For love,” I whispered to myself. “To find my heart… And the girl who holds it.”
A blinding light surrounded me. Seven creatures swirled around me… A rainbow they were, Purpe, Azure, Verde, Gules, Or, Argent, and Sable. They cried about holiness, and purity, and about a love that does not die by the hands of man. A shield they gave me, fit for a warrior, polished to reflect the arrows of my enemies, to defend all the weak, women, and children. A singing began, pure and beautiful, and my pale maid was there, in a palace of purest marble. But she was all I could think to look at in that gilded place. She was clothed in white, as if for a wedding. I was taller than her, I realized, and my arms were strong and powerful… and I too was in white I realized then. Still all I could think of was her, my heart, before me again. Were we to wed? Was she to become mine? What was I doing here? She smiled at me, and took my arm… and I felt it… my heart was within me again.
But, then… a boy appeared. He was dressed in golden silks, and seemed no older than twelve. It seemed to me that he was the most radiant being that ever existed, and that his visage was the image of all that that was right in the world. He looked at us, and smiled, a perfect smile. She smiled back. My stomach turned.
“You have finally come?” he asked, his lip trembling slightly. “Have you brought her to me?”
“What?” I took a step back, incredulous. “Is she not mine?”
The boy laughed. “No! You’ve kept her safe for me! I cannot thank you enough, she is my life, and reflects my light perfectly. My heart is in her, and hers in me. Thank you for bringing her to me!” He extended his hand to the woman, and in it was a band of purest gold, surmounted by a burning ruby, that beat with a shimmering light. It was my heart. “You brought her to me… And now, if she accepts, she will be mine, and live with me, forever.” His smile widened, and it could have soften the most hardened of warriors, wooed dozens of maidens, and brought light to thousands. But to me it was a mockery. I did not speak. I did not think. But with a single sweep of my arm I brought my shield across his face with the most resonating crunch. The maid shrieked as he collapsed to the floor, blood pouring from his nose in a torrent, staining his doublet and the marble floor on which he lay.
“No!” she yelled at me, but I was already atop him.
“She’s not yours!” I brought the shield down into his chest, and I heard a rib crack. I raised my arm back and shouted with all my might. “She was never meant for you! She’s mine! She’s mine! She was always mine! She can’t leave! I can’t let her leave me again! You think you can steal her from me? My life! My light! My everything?”
The boy’s face was a mush now, all black and blue. I hacked away at him so many times. Over and over, up and down, the shield crashed into his frame. I was crying. She was never meant for me. She never loved me like I loved her. I would have killed for her, and now I finally had. But I killed the one she was meant for. Is this what being human was? To be heartless, soulless, devoid of any meaning? I would have my heart back from the one that stole from me, I would take it, I would take it and guard it and let no one touch it again. It was mine, and he took it from me!
“You took my heart you monster!” I plunged my hands into his chest, and ripped out the beating mass of flesh. “And now I’ve taken yours!”
I threw it across the floor, and heard it splat in some corner. It was only then that I heard her weeping again. I turned, and saw her in a corner, bawling. I looked down at my hands. They were stained red with the boy’s blood, and a strange device had been splashed in crimson upon my once spotless shield. The boy grabbed at my leg, pulling weakly. I whirled hacked down at him again.
“Can’t you die!” Tears were coming to my eyes now. “You’ve taken everything from me! Even… even her love… my…”
The words died in my throat. The boy was holding out his hand. There was the ring with my heart. He was giving it to me. It glimmered and shone brightly in his trembling hand.
“Take it…” he gasped, tremors seizing him. “Take it…” His face… was familiar. Was it… Paul’s? The boy collapsed onto the floor, the ring splattering along the samite I stood upon. I fell to my knees, clutching the ring. It was mine, mine at last. But what had I done to get it? What had I done to deserve it?
I gasped. The boy spoke my name. I knew that voice now… It was Paul. Young, foolish, broken, alone, but Paul. I felt sick. He reached up and held my face. Tears flowed freely now. I’m so messed up. I’m disgusting…
Paul looked up at the sky, with eyes swollen almost shut. He pointed towards the heavens. We were on the beach now, and the sea was rising to swallow us whole. “The… The moon…”
I nodded, wiping my eyes. “I know. It’s beautiful.”
Written by The White Knight
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2019 by The Flabbit Room
Click here to read Part One, here to read Part Two, here to read Part Three, here to read Part Four, and here to read Part Five.
Isaac watched Katarina, shivering underneath her drenched dress, meekly lead the soldiers out the courtyard beneath a torrent of falling rain. The evil, terrible, soldiers— the monsters — the murders. He cursed under his breath and helped his mother up as the remaining soldiers began yelling for everyone to move.
Cynthina’s betrayal hurt enough, but Katarina too? He bit his lip and wrapped an arm around his mother. He couldn’t believe it. But then again she was probably still in shock from her Grandmother’s death. The girl turned slightly as she passed to the street and gave a tight lipped smile. Something white fluttered out of her hand and she turned away. Isaac glanced around. Had anyone else noticed? The soldiers were busy getting everyone to stand and start moving.
“Just a minute mother,” he whispered, ducking from under her arm, and burst into a sprint.
“Hey you!” a soldier yelled and pointed. “Where do you think you’re going!?” Isaac dove for the paper. It crumpled it in his hands and he shoved it into his pocket. The man pulled out his whip as he towered over him. “You can’t run away,” he snarled.
“Isaac!” his mother screamed but it was to late. The whip crack down on his back and he reared in pain, gasping. His nails dug into his palms and he bit into his tongue. The bitter taste of blood filled his mouth and he coughed. Bright red droplets trickled down his chin and sprinkled into the puddle of mud and water he knelt in. Lightning split the skies and thunder boomed, shaking the courtyard.
“Get up boy!” the soldier growled and raised his whip again.
“No!” Elizabeth shouted and grabbed the end of rough leather rope as it flew toward her son. She wrapped it around her hands quickly and pulled, yanking the surprised soldier into the mud. He gasped and began westling back and forth for the whip. Isaac leapt to his feet and jumped on the man’s back, clawing at his hands to make him let go of the whip.
Suddenly, the entire courtyard was filled with yelling and fighting. Villagers pushed their children out of the way and tackled soldiers, struggling for their lives and for the lives of those around them. The kids followed behind. They tore and pulled at hair and kicked and stomped on feet, screaming furiously, tears and anger filling their eyes.
Isaac couldn’t see, rain blurring his eyesight, but he could feel with his hands. Everything else disappeared from his focus as all his will was bent to tear the whip from this man’s hand. He clawed at the man’s face with one hand and tried to ply his fingers with the other. The man was heaving beneath him. His breath shaky. And then his grip began to slip.
“No!” the man gasped. Isaac slammed his head into the mud and the soldier gurgled for breath. He pushed harder and struggled to keep the soldier's face planted in the deep puddle. The man began lashing wildly and then, he stopped. Isaac relaxed and pulled the whip free of the muddy, stiffening hands. He pushed himself up and managed a small, weary smile.
“I love you mother.”
Elizabeth rushed over and hugged him fiercely. “My son,” she whispered.
Isaac pulled back, wincing from his burning back, and his hand closed around the paper in his pocket he pulled it out. “Surely I shall see the sun rise beyond the distant shores, Flaming red—” it began.
Lightning flashed and he looked up. Silhouettes in the field. A dozen.
Katarina shivered again. She could hardly stop. There were no buildings or walls to protect her from the strong wind that froze her bones and made her icy, soaking dress cling to her skin. She stumbled in the mud and barely caught herself from falling.
“Are you sure that it’s this way?” the captain yelled over the noise.
Katarina nodded and looked ahead. Fog and mist and rain and pitch black. She could hardly see either. “Yes!” she shouted back. “He lives by the cliffs in a tent!” She coughed out the rain and cupped her mouth in her hand to help her breath.
“Shouldn’t we be there by now!?” he asked.
Katarina shrugged and strained to make out any shapes in the darkness. She stopped and looked around. Beside her Amir hautled and motioned his soldiers to search for any signs of where they were. They slid their knives out and crept forward quietly. They quickly became black shadows in the mist. Katarina started after them when suddenly a scream pierced the storm. Before her one of the soldiers bumped into the one before him and they slipped and disappeared. Katarina froze in shock and Amir began yelling as he fought the wind and stood above the spot.
“The cliffs,” he shouted. “We’re here.” Katarina forced herself to breath. What were they going to do to her when they figured out that the man was long gone? The captain turned to her. “Show us the tent, girl.” She nodded and tried to swallow her fear.
“This way,” she yelled back and carefully weaved around some boulders to where she remembered it to sit. The soldiers followed, more cautiously then before. She could see the fear in their eyes. Soon it would be gone. Soon she would see it replaced with rage. It would be the last thing she would see in her life. She took a deep breath and pointed through the storm the shape of a tent fluttering between a cluster of rocks and beneath the watch of a couple trees. They were bending in the great wind.
Amir smiled and motioned for his men. Suddenly the light of a lantern flashed behind them and a crack resounded as one soldier fell.
“Run!” someone yelled. It was the old Storyteller. He spun his staff around and hit another soldier in the head. The man crumpled. “Run!”
“No!” the captain screamed and dove for Katarina. She dodged and scrambled up onto a rock but not fast enough. Amir snatched her ankle and dragged her back down. With one hand he gripped her neck and with the other lifted his sword and turned. Already the few remaining of his soldiers had fallen: some knocked out, two pushed off the cliff, another stabbed. Before him his men sprawled over the rocks now drenched in pools of red.
“You,” he spat.
The Storyteller smiled but it turned into a grimace. Someone had stuck him in the side and blood soaked his shirt. “You must not touch the girl,” he heaved.
“Too late,” Amir growled and pressed the cold blade against her neck. Katarina flinched and then sobbed.
The Storyteller’s eyes flashed. “I said don’t touch her!” he yelled and pounded forward. The man shoved Katarina aside and blocked and parried to the blows. The old man’s sword went flying and clattered against the rocky path.
“Liar, prepare to die for the welfare of all good citizens,” Amir sneered and raised his blade.
The old man smiled. “No — I am prepared to die for the safety of even just one good citizen.”
“No!” Katarina screamed and began running, but Amir didn’t hesitate. Grabbing him by the shirt, he stabbed the old man through with one great thrust as he did with the man in the courtyard. But then something happened. The Storyteller jerked out the knife tied to the captain’s belt and buried it in his side. There they held each other for a moment. Pain. Great pain for both. Then both let go. Amir stumbled back and fell against a rock for support. The old man collapsed to the ground.
Katarina rushed forward and slid down beside him, clutching his hand.
“It was an... honor to die... for you.” The Storyteller struggled and then went limp, blood seeped from his lips and his eyes rolled back. Katarina stared at him, stunned. He had died for her! Fury filled her every limb. The murder. That Amir. Screaming, she grabbed the Storyteller’s sword and spun around to face the man who had killed him.
The soldier’s eyes were deep windows to look into. Hate and pain — they were there, triumphing over every other thought. He shuddered and glared, his breath was strained and he clung to the knife in his stomach as if he was holding onto his life.
Katarina stared at him, emotions mixed. Rage and disgust. Horror too.
He didn’t bestow mercy for the young mother. He didn’t lower his weapon at her screams. He didn’t stop when the same desperation and fear filled her face.
He didn’t show forgiveness when the old man stood up for his village. He didn’t pause when he swung his sword. He didn’t stop when the old man tried to protect his family and beliefs.
He had almost killed both Isaac and his mother!
And there he hunched in pain. Helpless.
“Well do it quickly,” the captain spat out. “And get it over with.”
Katarina raised the sword but a sob racked her body. This was not love. This was not Light. She was not doing this out of defense or to protect someone as the old, kind storyteller had done. This was hate. This was revenge.
The girl lowered her head and the sword dropped into the mud. Every muscle ached; every limb shivered in the cold.
“So carry not hate,
For it is the weapon of True Kings,
And love always wins.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I can’t. For that is the way of your master. I follow the way of mine.”
One day punishment will be brought before him — the one that Dethrones and murders. This is the hope that I pass to you so you may pass it on to others, the stag’s words echoed through her head.
What hope was there though? For every soldier killed would not five more come in his place?
Katrina took a deep breath.
She must trust the Creator — the Maker of the universe, the Artist of the sky, the Master of the stars.
Katarina lifted her head with renewed strength. “Tell your master, that he will never conquer the Creator of all and his punishment will come. This is the promise He has given to me and all His followers. Hope shall never leave us but hate will,” and with that she lifted the heavy sword out of the mud and hurled it over the cliffs with all her strength, watching it spin and gleam in the flashes of lightning and before disappearing beyond the foamy mist.
“Katarina!” someone screamed into the wind and somehow above all the noise she picked it out.
The girl spun and tripped on a root. Mud smeared her hands and face and covered her dress, but she pushed herself up. Tears mingled with the rain as they streamed down her face.
Beyond the swirling river of the meadow she could see Isaac’s form silhouetted against the black storm; she could see a loving friend; she could see Light.
Written by Evelyn Kelly
Illustrated by Jeremiah K.
Edited by The Flabbits
Copyright © 2018 by The Flabbit Room
Welcome to The Flabbit Blog! Here you will find writings by the many members of The Flabbit Room, most of which will be set in the world of Ildathore.