Flame and Shadow

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Chapter 47

I collapsed against the river bank, exhausted. My lungs coughed and sputtered to expulse any water that I had swallowed. The ride through the underground river had been rough. I had no idea where I was, or how I got there. The underground river must have fed this stream, and I had come up into the surface world. Honestly, I didn’t even know how anyone could have survived something like that without a force field. Wait, where were Milo and Sera?

I tried to look around for them, but whenever I moved I coughed again, and couldn’t see well enough to find them. Eventually, I was able to get it under control. Still on hands and knees, I glanced around in each direction. Then, I saw them. Sera was lying on her back on the shore, with Milo leaning over her. I was able to slightly make out their words.

“Are you alright?” He questioned.

Sera coughed.

“Yeah. I’m…sorry for freezing up like that. I-I just can’t-“

“It’s fine. That guy’s a freak.”

“I know. He kidnapped me once, and almost killed me. And…what he did to Kyle…” The girl’s weak expression seemed to darken.

Milo awkwardly looked away, like he was uncomfortable somehow. I forced myself to my feet, and walked over to them.

“That was the Book of Prophecy…what that doctor had.” I explained. “My family used to own it.”

“Yeah.” Milo muttered. “Too bad we didn’t end up with it. Now that he knows we’re on to it, he probably took it hundreds of miles from here.”

“Most likely. But it wasn’t a complete loss.” I held up a semi-soggy piece of aged paper. “I got a page.”

Milo rolled his eyes, but Sera looked interested.

“If it’s thousands of years old, why didn’t it fall apart with the smallest bit of stress on it?”

“Well, it was kept sealed for ages, so it hasn’t had any exposure for a really long time.”

“So, do you know how to reveal it?” The girl asked.

I nodded.

“Uh-huh. I just have to touch the center and focus my energy on it. I think I want to wait until it dries out more. I don’t want to destroy it.”

“About that energy of yours…” Milo probed. “How do you do those force-field things. You’re not a Nephilim, are you?”

“Not that I know of.” I squinched my face a little. “I don’t know. I’ve been able to do it pretty much my whole life. I can’t really explain it.”

He nodded, seeming to accept the fact that there were going to be a lot of things that remained mysterious on this adventure. Meanwhile, Sera took off her shoes to help them dry out.

“Hey! What’s this?” she interjected.

Then, she pulled a piece of paper out from her left sneaker. It was covered with blue ink that had bled all over the sheet due to the effects of the water.

“I wonder if Kyle wrote this. Well, I’ll never know what it said now.”

She tossed the paper thoughtfully into the water, and watched it disappear.

The poor girl. I didn’t know exactly what had happened, but I could easily see that she felt the pain of loss. There was little I could say, so I just placed my hand on her back. Sera turned to me.

“Thanks, Hal. But I’ll be OK. I’m the big sister here. I’ve gotta be strong if I’m gonna look after you two.”

I simply smiled and nodded.

We let some time pass for the soaked page to dry. While waiting, I took another look at the weathered paper. The page was blank, with a decorative border about half an inch from each side. I had only ever seen inside the book one time before, but I knew a lot about it due to oral tradition. It was supposed to have been written at least three thousand years ago by an unknown author. No one knew exactly what it said, although versions of some of the prophecies had been passed down through the generations. One thing that had always puzzled me was the very fact that it was a book. Over in the Mesopotamian region where it had been written, shouldn’t everything have been penned on a scroll?

A while later, I decided it was time to try revealing it. Milo and Sera kneeled beside me as I lay the page on the ground, got down on my knees in front of it, and placed my palm in the center of the large sheet. Immediately, it felt like I was rocked by an earthquake, but inside of my body. Without being able to remove my hand, I screamed in pain. I squeezed my eyes ever tighter, and tried to keep from crying out again. Then, everything went white.

What was this? I’ve seen this before. I was standing in the snow, near a series of cliffs. Of course! This was my old home! I was looking into one of my old memories! I didn’t have amnesia or anything, but for some reason, I was vividly experiencing something that I had done before.

“Hey Hal! Check this out!”

I turned my head around, and saw my sister. She was poised with a snowball, ready to hit me. The throw was intentionally slow and inaccurate, and I easily dodged it.

“Nice try, Tabal!”

Her name was Tabalssayf, but everyone just called her Tabal. I scooped up a snowball of my own, and tossed it at her. She adeptly avoided it, then shouted a pretend war cry and started chasing me. I squealed, and made a clumsy retreat through the high snow. At this time, I was only 9 years old, and Tabal was seventeen. She was covered from head to toe in the markings of the prophecy, and I was not.

Life was simple. We lived together with our family in the northern parts of Ontario, hidden in a mass of cliffs. No one bothered us there, and there was nothing in the world to disturb our peace. The two of us girls tromped through the snow back toward the cliffs, Tabal still pursuing me. I made it into the shelter of a rocky structure, and pressed my back along the inside of it. My sister passed by. Either she hadn’t seen me, or she was still playing along. I giggled, and headed deeper inside the snowy canyon.

Just then, I heard a strange sound from within. Cautiously, I ventured toward the noise. As I grew closer, it began to sound like a scared animal, like a fox or a bear or a…man.

At the end of the pathway was a man, dressed in heavy winter clothes. He looked absolutely freaked out.

“I knew it!!” he half-shrieked. “I knew you were here! All of you! I knew it!”

I looked at him quizzically. Who was this guy? I’d never seen anyone outside of our small organization. Then, the man brandished a knife, and made threatening gestures.

“Little girl! I-I’ll kill you! I’ll kill all of you! I need food, and warmth! I’ll kill you for it!”

I still didn’t know what to do, but I had a really uneasy feeling about this. There were still around thirty feet between us, but he began approaching. Before he made it halfway, Tabal stepped in between us.

“Settle down, there. We aren’t trying to hurt you. Just put the knife away.”

This only made him madder.

“Shut up! I’ll kill you too!”

“No you won’t. Please, just relax. We’ll get you some food and shelter. I’m sure you’ll be OK.”

“Not as long as any of you are still alive, tattooed freak! Get outta my way! I wanted the little one first!”

He then lumbered forward toward me again. I backed up against the cliff wall, but Tabal wasn’t moving. The half-crazed man tried to dart past my sister, but she blocked his path. Then he shouted with madness, and thrust his knife forward.

“Tabal!” I cried.

Several drops of blood fell to the snow, standing out like the deep red sun on a Japanese flag. I froze, not knowing what to do. The man stopped as well, completely shocked.

“Feel better now?” Tabal asked through gritted teeth.

She then stepped backward, holding her left hand. The knife had stabbed right through it and scratched, but not impaled, her belly. My sister gave as sweet of a smile as she could manage.

“Now just calm down. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The man was the opposite of calm, stumbling backward and shaking hysterically, then he started screaming again. The sound of his raised voice echoed through the canyon. In a moment, large chunks of snow and ice came crashing down from the surface above the canyon. An enormous mass of debris was falling directly toward the intruder. In a flash, Tabal leapt forward, caught him with her good hand, and propelled the both of them out of the way of the avalanching load.

As the snow settled to the ground, I hurried over to them. Tabal was just standing up, a look of pain on her face, but otherwise alright.

“Tabal! Tabal, why would you do that?” I cried. “He tried to stab us!”

She grimaced.

“I don’t care. Whenever I have to capability to do it, I try to always rescue people. Whether it’s someone I love, like you, or my enemy, like that guy. If it’s possible, I will always try to save a life.”

I wrapped my arms around her as I high as I could reach.

“I love that about you, sister! I love everything about you!”

She put her uninjured hand on my back.

“Well, thank you for catching this trash for me.”

Both Tabal and I turned to see the source of the voice. It was our father, dressed in his imposing black robes. He was also accompanied by a number of his guards.

Tabal stepped forward.

“Father, he was just lost. He wasn’t an attacker.”

He ignored my sister.

“You. You’re a dead man.”

He then strode toward the man, still lying in the snow. His guards stood watch.

The freaked out man attempted to clamber to his feet.

“You! You people! I knew you were here!”

“Father! Don’t! Don’t hurt him!” Tabal pleaded, but he flipped and glared at her.

“Fool! You’re a pitiful soft-hearted worthless piece of slag! You aren’t worthy of the mark you bear! Stay out of my way!”

While his attention was on my sister, the crazed man made a downward slash at my father. He blocked it, and delivered a quick low kick which instantly broke the man’s knee. He cried out in pain, then was flipped through the air and crashed to the ground. Father then walked away from him right past Tabal, and looked directly at me.

“Aaleilyah. Learn from this. There is no gain in mercy, no purpose in kindness. Everyone on this planet will die someday and their only goal is to cause as much misery and chaos as they possibly can in the time that they have. Having compassion is pure idiocy. Only when you learn this will you be able to accept your purpose in this world.”

He then addressed the guards which came with him.

“Please dispose of this man. And I want Aaleilyah to watch. She needs to become used to what life is really about.”

The guards nodded, and made their way over to where the whimpering man lay. I couldn’t look. I covered my eyes, and Tabal crouched down to hug me tightly as the sounds of the man’s screams elevated, then died out.

“Hal! Hal!”

I suddenly came back into reality. My hand was still resting on the page of the Book of Prophecy, and Milo and Sera were still beside me. Apparently, only a few seconds had passed.

“Sorry, guys. I guess I just zoned out there a little.” I apologized.

Some of the markings on my body, although a nearly negligible amount, traveled onto the page, and moved about to slowly form an image. As it became clearer, all three of our mouths dropped open.

“No way.” I heard Sera breathe.

On the page of the three-thousand-year old Book of Prophecy was a detailed picture of the highly distinguishable twisted corkscrew form of the Skypyramid, the nickname of the tower that dominated the skyline of Calmingo, the Azure City.

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