Friday, June 24, 2011

Chapter 74 - MATING SEASON

Spring brought a new problem. All around me, creatures were seeking out females and coupling, even the great basilisk forgot the hunt in order to find a mate or two.

The snows had barely begun to melt and the winter had been hard on everyone. Those who were strong enough, sought out mates in order to pass their strength on to the next generation.

Everything was mating; everything except me. There was nothing for me. Or was there? The voice that soothed my sleep came from somewhere - I knew it did - but I had never seen her. I had to go see her at least once.

Almost as if a form of radar kicked in, I headed off across the landscape. I became possessed with seeing this woman of my dreams to the point of forgoing the hunt.

As I drew closer to my destination, I slowed my pace. I had to be cautious; other hunters were close and they were after the same thing I was after.

I came upon a valley out in front of a cave. Her scent was strong here. I watched the valley for days always changing my location, always watchful for other hunters. I would eliminate the competition. I would have my mate.

When I finally saw her, she was smaller than I expected, but the tug inside me was undeniable. I was about to show myself to her when another person came out of the cave. He was tall and very regular in his features. He looked vaguely familiar to me, so I hesitated. He spoke to the woman and rested a hand on her shoulder.

My hackles rose as her head dropped. She said something in response and I heard her voice. That was all I needed to be sure she was who I sought. I would have her, and if I had to, I would kill this two-legged hunter to get her.

The man escorted her back into the cave with an arm around her shoulders. He must be holding her prisoner or perhaps he was forcing her to be his mate. She would be mine if I had to go into that cave and get her.

I waited and watched for three more days before I resolved to go after her. I made my move in the darkest part of night. There were six life lights in that cave complex and none of them were close to any other one. That told me that the woman did not share the man's nest. Now if I could just find her without rousing any of the others.

As I ventured into the complex, I passed one, and then two chambers where other people slept before I found hers. I could see her well enough in the dark, but I wanted more. I caused her lantern to light, bathing the chamber in its soft glow. She was cuddled under a soft blanket with her dark hair spread over her pillow like a fan. I reached out to brush a lock from her face and felt its soft silk. Her breath was sweet and she sighed softly. I found myself on my knees and touching her cheek.

She opened her eyes and then sat up abruptly. "Liam? Oh, Lian, where have you been?" She was out of bed and in my arms dressed in something that was smooth and slick under my fingers.

Her words didn't register. Her warm body that was so close kindled a fire in my veins and her voice filled my soul to bursting.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Chapter 73 - FERAL

Approaching footsteps woke me with a start and I found myself curled up in a dark corner of the chamber. But the chamber didn't really have much in the line of corners. I needed to get away. I didn't want another person near me. I had killed everyone I had ever cared about, and now that I was fully magic again, I could kill everyone else. I had to get far away.

At first, I thought that the reason there were no bodies in the room meant that they were simply somewhere else, but I knew better. They had been taken away for burial.

I saw the dim light of a candle coming down the hall. It could only be Patricia or Haines. The others were all dead and they were the only non-magical people here. They wouldn't have been involved in the fiasco that had killed the others. They would be defenseless against me.

I slipped out of the cave before whoever it was rounded the corner and entered the chamber. The first thing I did when I reached the open air was change my sleeping robe for my leathers, but instead of the heavy boots, I made a form of moccasin so I wouldn't leave much in the line of tracks.

I found out quickly that I couldn't move very fast or very far, but I was determined to get as far away from here as I could. I was less than a mile away from the cave when I was forced to stop. I was depressingly weak. I made myself a stew and then curled up to sleep. Before drifting off, I looked with my magic to see if anyone had followed me and saw that they were looking for me but not in this direction; not yet anyway.

When I woke, I saw that the searchers were getting close so I moved on, choosing a different direction.

As time passed, I grew stronger and was able to put more distance between the searchers and me. Eventually, I took to following herds. I made my leathers grow hair and I made myself smell right to them. There would be no finding my footprints among dozens of thopper or baston.

I carried no weapon and didn't bother to make one, so I used my proximity to these animals to hunt, but this didn't endear me to them any. I was the black sheep in the herd to begin with, and as soon as I made a kill, I became the wolf in sheep's clothing. I seldom lasted with a herd more than one kill.

Cooked food was another thing that alienated me from the herd. It also wasn't what I was hungry for and I was soon quite happy eating my kill warm and bleeding.

Eventually, I forgot about anyone searching for me. I forgot my friends and all that had happened to them. I avoided all traces of civilization. I was all hunter now and my days were occupied with my next hunt or locating the next herd.

I was a mid-level hunter and not careless enough to think that I didn't have enemies. Many times, I was forced to abandon a herd, or even a kill, as a basilisk rampaged through where I was at the time. My survival depended on avoiding other hunters too - two legged hunters. I went out of my way to not be seen by any of those.

My nights were spent curled up somewhere that provided some protection from the cold winds - not that I was cold, but the wind could carry my scent. My nights were also marked by the dimly remembered voice of a woman. Every night her voice would lull me to sleep. There were no words, I had forgotten words, but the sound of her voice made me welcome the night.

Winter was no different. Both my hair and beard had grown long, and to keep warm during the cold months, I made fur grown on my clothes to match. The rest of me had long since turned lean and hard, and the constant hunt kept me warm too.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chapter 72 - JUMP-START

I don’t know how long I slept but it felt like a very long time. I felt like a wet noodle that had been over cooked to the point of almost falling apart. I tried to look around, but my world was still quite dark.

“Master Durmas, he’s awake,” said Patricia from a point near my shoulder.

I turned to the sound and tried to speak, but my voice wouldn’t work.

“Take it easy, Liam,” said Durmas. “You have a lot of healing to do.

I turned my face away from both voices. Healing - I had done all my healing. Who were they kidding?

“Now, now, don’t be that way. Come on, you can do this. Let’s start with your energy. You’ve slept almost seven months and you’re weak.”

Weak is an understatement to say the least. I felt his hands on my shoulders, and then it felt like I was being jump-started. I must have jumped because Patricia let out a small squeak. It lasted for several minutes before I was able to push his hands away. It must have been what he was waiting for because he chuckled softly and left.

Patricia helped me to sit up and then to stand as soon as I felt secure enough to do so. Then she led me away. I don’t know where we were going, but it had to be deeper into the mountains. There was no reason to go outside for whatever was coming next.

A few minutes later, she sat me down on a bench at a wooden table. “I know you’re hungry, so I’ll let you eat free this time,” said Tsan.

“I’m not hungry,” I said in a horse whisper. I felt like I was about two hundred years old.

I felt his weight on the bench beside me. “Liam, you’re badly underweight. You can’t keep starving yourself like this.”

“But I’m not hungry,” I insisted. “I’m not sure I can keep anything down.”

“Here, it’s just a small bowl of stew. Eat as much as you can and then we’ll begin.”

Begin what? Who cared anyway? With Patricia’s help and encouragement, I managed to eat everything in that bowl, but every bite was a struggle.

“Now,” said Tsan as he turned me to face him. “Where shall we start? I think we’ll start with your eyes. He rested his huge hands on either side of my head. “Draw, Liam. Drawing is the most basic instinct you have. Draw from me and make yourself see; make your eyes work again.”

“Draw from you. No, I won’t do that again.”

“Do as I say. Don’t worry; you won’t be depleting me.”

I didn’t want to do this. I was afraid I would have another outburst and I wouldn’t be able to control it. I took a deep breath and reached out – or tried to. There was a tug. I could feel it stir.

“That’s right, come on,” said Tsan.

I tried again and something burst inside me. It was like reliving the explosion all over again. I think I screamed. At least I hope it was only me screaming; I could deal with that. I didn’t want to hurt anyone ever again; not like that. I had to find someplace where I could be safe.

I don’t know how long I was out – probably not all that long. The next thing I became aware of was someone slapping my face. “Come on, Liam. Don’t do this to yourself.”

Someone else’s voice said, “If he doesn’t wake up soon, he’s going to die.”

Die. That sounded like a good idea; I’d be safe then. I tried to turn away from the voices, but I was like a turtle on its back, I couldn’t roll over.

“That’s it, Liam,” said the first voice.

“Draw through him,” said yet another voice.

“Draw through him?” said the first voice.

“Yes, join hands; we’ll make it a circle.”

Then I felt the burning cold rush go through my body. I screamed again, but I think it turned into a yell as the pain became the most exhilarating rush I had ever felt. I reached toward this fiery channel running through my soul. I grabbed it with my whole being, though it was my hands that were the tools; I was so hungry for what it offered. I couldn’t get enough.

I don’t know when it ended. I’m sure I relived the experience in my dreams over and over. Then it occurred to me that I had used my hands. With that fraction of memory came another. I had felt shirts under my hands. I woke almost too fast to remember the dreams. I jumped up and looked around expecting to see bodies strewn around my bed; bodies that were all sucked dry like mummies.

I stood up too fast; I was weak still. I found myself on my hands and knees only seconds after jumping out of bed. My ‘bed’ wasn’t a bed at all; it was the stone altar with the orb hanging over it. The gentle blue glow, slowly fading now, showed no bodies on the floor, for which I was intensely relieved, it also let me see hands, my hands on the ends of my arms. I examined them. They were new and weak like the rest of me, but they were whole and healthy. I could see them. I think I fainted then.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Chapter 71 - JOURNEY

I heard the door open and footsteps approaching. “Here’s our driver,” said Haines.

The emperor rested his hands on my shoulders and I could smell his breath. “There will be a space at my shoulder waiting for you when you return.”

“You will be guarded? You will not keep a place vacant just because I’m not there?”

“Don’t worry about me. Just come back to me when you’re ready.” He gently shook my shoulders. I felt like a rag doll in his grasp. “Get better. You hear me?”

I didn’t say anything. I heard him and his escort leave the room. Patricia’s hand took my left elbow and guided my steps as we headed in the other direction through another door.

As we drove to the little house where my parents and I had lived for three years, memories of the landscape flashed through my mind. That wasn’t all; my three best friends, what were they like now? It had been… “How old am I now?” I asked to anyone who wished to answer.

“You’re almost twenty four now,” said Haines.

Almost twenty-four; the trip had taken a long time. “Why so long?”

“The emperor ordered the doctor to wait for him to return. Then we stopped at the barony, thinking that’s the home you were talking about, but just as Patricia kept saying, your mother sent us here.”

I went back to my private thoughts, thoughts of my friends, my teachers and the changes in them and the landscape we were traveling through during my nine-year absence; nine years was a long time. Things change over that many years. Had my friends and their families been relocated? Did they have families of their own now? Were my teachers still there?

The car stopping interrupted my thoughts. I didn’t want to move. Moving meant doing something, walking or talking. I didn’t want to do anything. I had found a place to curl up and I was doing just fine.

“Come on, Liam,” said Patricia.

I didn’t want to move.

“Come on, kid,” said Haines as he pulled at my arm.

I climbed slowly out of the car.

“You’ve arrived. I’ve been expecting you,” said a voice I didn’t really wish to hear again.

“You have?” said Patricia.

“Yes, the baron contacted me and informed me that you were on the way. Please come in and have a beer.”

My hackles began to rise. “No thank you. The last time I accepted your hospitality, you called an ambush on me. I still have the scars.” Well, maybe not any more, not all of them anyway.

“I was just following orders, young man. I had no idea they were going to start shooting. What happened to you anyway? You look like…”

I turned and walked away from the voice. I didn’t realize or even really care that my feet had automatically taken the trail into town. The trail I had used every day for the entire time my parents had lived in that house. There was fire behind my eyes and ice in my blood.

Haines caught up with me. “Wait, Liam. We have to pack up supplies before we go any further.”

“You go back and pack supplies. I won’t touch any of it.” My voice was a hiss in my ears.

“Liam, be reasonable.”

My ‘tail’ thrashed. I spun to face the man. Even though my world was still very dark, I could still zero in on his voice, but before I could come up with some sort of retort, my magic stirred more than just its tail. “Get away.” I felt my voice go stiff. “Get away from me. Take cover,” was all I could get out before chaos arrived.

I dropped to my knees. I don’t know what I did, but if it was anything like what happened in my apartment, I’m sure there were many solid objects flying around in the air while they continued to shred and shatter into smaller pieces.

Much to my relief, the chaos was squashed only a few moments after it started, but I had nothing to do with it.

My confusion was settled a few seconds later when I heard another familiar voice. “You should have sent word. If we had known of Liam’s arrival and his trouble, we could have been here sooner,” said Tsan.

“The arrival of the baron’s son is none of your concern,” said Mr. Preston.

I felt my anger surge again, but the dampening grew to match. It was almost as if I was numb somewhere inside.

“You were mistaken, Mr. Preston,” said Tsan.

I heard a moan. “This one will be all right,” said Larak. “He only caught a small one a glancing blow up side the head.”

A chill washed over me. “Haines,” I said in a voice that was all too close to a whimper.

“I’m all right, kid. I just didn’t duck fast enough,” said Haines.

I sat fully on the ground and drew my knees up to bury my face in them. I curled up inside too and Tsan felt it.

“No, Liam. Don’t do that. Come on, get up.”

I curled up tighter.

“Take him, Tsan,” said Larak. “I’ll bring the others.”

Suddenly I felt the coolness of the mountain cavern where my friends and I had spent so much of our time shortly before my abrupt departure. I still couldn’t uncoil; I didn’t want to. I was detached from my body in a way. Some small piece of my brain could think, but I had no control over the rest of me.

I felt more than one pair of hands lift me off the ground, carry me a few feet and then set me down again. Then the hands pulled me from my coiled ball and pinned me down flat on a hard stone surface.

“Come on, Liam. Help us,” said Durmas, the most welcome voice I had heard so far, but I couldn’t do what he wanted. I was helpless.

“He can’t,” said Larak. “You know he can’t. It’s not too late, is it?”

“I don’t know. Help me,” said Durmas.

I felt their magic wash through my body. It felt cool and fresh, but my own magic rebelled. Ice washing through my veins was the last thing I remembered.