Eating Clouds

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Chapter 12: Circle of Fire

Chapter 12: Circle of fire

The next time Ozzy awoke, it was night. He looked in the face of the moon, which was a great white bowl of light shining over him. It threw shadows between the strains of grass. There was no cloud to be seen, yet the stars seemed to have fallen asleep as they weren’t present.

At his right, Ozzy noticed a yellow beacon if light. There was a fire dancing happily over a few logs. Three shadows sat around it. One big one, a smaller one, and a tiny shadow.

The giant man, Buck, was speaking. His voice travelled through the air like a loud drum. When he laughed, the world underneath him seemed to do so too. The ground would shiver by the sound of his laughter alone. He looked nothing like the serious hunter he was that past afternoon.

Dawn, who was the smaller shadow, sat next to him, a brown overcoat thrown around her shoulders. She held a dark coloured cloth in her hands, which she was sewing together with another one. She sometimes looked up in an annoyed way when Buck said something. But along with those annoyed eyes was a tiny smile.

The tiniest shadow was, of course, the little elf Eddy. He sat on top of a log with his arms crossed. Whenever he spoke his voice sounded like an annoying insect buzzing about. He seemed to be stuck in a very interesting discussion with Buck.

Ozzy looked at the group, and after a while he noticed he was smiling. It looked so welcoming, a campfire like that. He wished he knew what they were talking about and what Dawn was doing with those cloths.

He threw the blankets of his body, and immediately Buck turned his head. “Ah, Oswald. Good to see you on yer feet.”

Ozzy frowned at the strange nickname the man had given him, but he decided to ignore it. “Yes. I’m feeling much better now.”

Dawn chuckled. “Anything else his majesty desires?”

The girl apparently hadn’t forgotten about their conversation earlier, and Ozzy felt a little shame in his stomach. He quickly pushed that aside, and figured that he couldn’t just back away. “No thank you, maid.

Buck burst out laughing, slapping his giant knees, but Dawn was less impressed. Her cheeks reddened and her eyebrows turned downwards so much they almost touched each other.

“Now, now” Buck said when he’d finally found the breath to speak, “let’s keep it light, shall we? Join us, Osman!”

Ozzy hesitantly sat down next to Eddy, who mumbled about the several names Ozzy had gotten in the past minute.

“How ’bout some soup?” Buck leaned back to where a cattle stood behind him. Ozzy felt his stomach roaring and nodded. Buck grinned underneath his beard and handed him a bowl. “It’s my specialty.” Dawn coughed loudly and gave him a look. “With a bit of her help, that is.”

Ozzy felt a delicious smell entering his nose. “Then it must be delicious.”

Dawn narrowed her eyes at him, before returning to her sewing. Ozzy felt a bit of victory that she’d gone silent. She was kind of annoying.

“Now, then” Buck said, as Ozzy took a first sip of his soup. “Now that we’re all gathered here on this beautiful evenin’, I think it’s time I’ll tell y’all some important things. Some of you,” and with that he leaned towards Dawn, who seemed annoyed once again, “may have already heard these stories a few times. For the new ones this might come as a shock, so try to keep yer food down, alright?”

Ozzy took another sip, as he saw this as a challenge. What story would be so scary he wouldn’t be able to eat?

Buck laughed at that, and his blue eyes sparkled mysteriously. “Now, where to begin? I guess I’ll start with the fact that you, my friend,” he pointed at Ozzy, “have been marked by that ridiculous bird. Thanks to you we’re now temporarily stuck in this circle. So thanks for that.”

Ozzy dropped his spoon. “What?”

The boy looked at Eddy, who shrugged his shoulders. “It’s true. That beast’s looking for you right now. The shadow touched your bum.”

“What?”

Dawn sighed. “Quit repeating the same thing over and over again. What these two idiots are trying to say is that the bird who attacked you used his shadow to harm you. While doing so, he left a mark on your back, parallel to your spine. Through that mark, he’s been trying to enter your mind to take over your body and-“

“Hold up,” Buck suddenly interrupted, as he saw how Ozzy’s face had gotten paler and paler by the second. “Let’s take it one step at the time, alright?”

“What is happening?” Ozzy whispered, as he felt the coldness surrounding him again. He heard the sound of branches breaking and great wings above him. Splinters of fallen trees danced around him as he was running through the forest.

“Hey!” There was a loud bang and suddenly the little elf floated in front of the boy’s face. Eddy grabbed Ozzy’s cheeks with both his hands and squeezed. “Snap out of it, you moron!”

“Aw!” the boy cried out as the little fingers dug deeper into his skin.

“I think he’s awake” Buck said, as a means of saying the little elf should stop.

“I don’t think so” Dawn mumbled, meaning the opposite of that.

The little elf let go, but didn’t remove his wings. He hovered in front of the boy’s face for a while longer, crossing his thin arms. He didn’t seem annoyed, not at all. There was some worry hidden in his dark eyes. When the boy picked up his bowl of soup, the little elf finally dared to sit down again, but he didn’t look away from the boy for a second.

Unknown to the little elf, the giant man Buck stared at him. Hidden underneath his thick beard was a smile. He was surprised and glad to see the little elf had finally found someone other than himself to look out for. Buck sometimes wanted to crush the little elf under his giant feet, but other times he was a close friend he held dear.

“Alright, I think we’re clear now” he continued as Ozzy had taken his first sip again. “What Dawn just told you is true. The Beast, that demonised bird, uses his shadow magic to mark his victims. Whenever he does so, he tries to take over that person’s body. When he succeeds, he’s able to spy for his Lord and get his hands on important information.”

Ozzy frowned. “But I don’t know anything important. I’m just…normal.”

Buck smiled at that, and his eyes spoke nothing but sympathy for the child. It was obvious the boy had gotten himself in the troubles of a world he didn’t belong in. When Buck didn’t respond, Dawn did that for him. She didn’t have a lot of patience and in combination with her big mouth it mostly turned out disastrous.

“He apparently overheard you guys were heading for the elf’s village” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “Maybe he’s spying to see how far the war has progressed.”

Ozzy’s eyes widened, and from the corner of his eye he could see Eddy froze for a second, as if the boy had heard something he wasn’t supposed to. The boy slowly turned towards the little elf, his face more confused than ever. “War? What is she talking about?”

Eddy’s face reddened and he started to stutter. “Well…uh…you see…we….the elves…..y’know…..we got….well…uh…”

“So you didn’t tell him” Dawn sighed, rolling her eyes. “Do I have to do everything myself?”

Buck locked eyes with the little elf, and his look spoke a little disappointment. “I think we can give the honour to our little friend over there, Dawn.”

The girl shrugged again and bowed over her sewing again. “Whatever.”

Ozzy stared at Eddy, who scratched nervously behind his ears. “Alright, Ozzy, don’t hate me for this….but there are some things I didn’t tell you before….”

“Some very important things” Dawn mumbled, before she got silenced by Buck. She made it appear as if she wasn’t listening, when in fact she was. Eddy cleared his throat and wiped his forehead, which was dripping with sweat.

“Well…we, the little elves, have declared war on the gnome folk, a long time ago. It’s been going on for as long as I can remember, and…well, the bird you saw, the bird that attacked you….he’s a mercenary, basically. He’s always been an enemy of the little folk in general, but the gnomes have now hired him to, well, get information about our defences and what not. As you may see, little elves are very hard to catch and to take over. But a human like you…” He hesitated, and decided not to finish his sentence. “Y’know?”

“No I don’t” Ozzy responded quickly. He felt nervous and scared, and very tired, even though he’d almost slept for two days straight. “This bird is trying to take over my body? But…but…”

Buck raised a hand to silence the boy. Ozzy instinctively did so, as if Buck had already gotten some kind of authority in his eyes. He already respected the demon hunter to some extent.

“Don’t worry. You’re safe for now. As you may know, we’re in a magic circle. No livin’ creature can enter this sphere from the outside without my knowledge. As a matter of fact, they can’t even see the thing. All they see is a plain field of grass. The sphere’s not too big, but it’s doable. And I can keep it up for as long as I like, so we got enough time to figure somethin’ out for yah. And I already have a few ideas.”

As the giant man was speaking, Ozzy felt the nerves in his stomach die down. Buck had a really calm aura around him, and his voice felt like a warm blanket wrapping around him, telling him everything was going to be alright.

The boy wasn’t hungry anymore. He placed his bowl on the ground, and thanked both Dawn and Buck for the meal. The girl just snorted in a patronizing way.

“Our pleasure” Buck said, glaring at Dawn. “Tomorrow, we’ll start with the first few experiments I have in mind. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s better if you get another good night of sleep, because things will get intense.”

Ozzy nodded, and for some reason felt a lump in his throat. He had gotten the greatest scare in his life just a few minutes ago, and this man, this stranger, was willing to help him with his ‘condition’. The boy bit his lip. Buck was so nice.

“Thank you” he mumbled, barely detectable. His throat felt so thick he couldn’t speak. He was so happy and relieved everything was going to be alright.

Dawn looked up from her sewing work with widened eyes, surprised by the emotion the boy suddenly showed. Buck just smiled warmly as the boy sniffed his nose in the sleeve of his shirt.

“I’m just doing my job, kiddo.”

Dawn blinked, still a bit confused. She bowed over her sewing work and quickly finished the last few inches. The she stood up and walked over to Ozzy, who was wiping his eyes with his filthy clothes. Nonchalantly the girl threw the cloth his in lap.

“Here.” The boy looked up, his eyes still watery. Dawn felt a slight sympathy for him, but turned her head away from him before he could notice. “It’s a costume, accustomed to the fashion of this region. The bird already knew you were different, so it’s better if you just adjust from now on, before you get yourself in even more trouble.”

Her voice sounded cold and harsh, as if she had no interest at all and didn’t even want to help. But secretly, the girl hoped the boy would survive the things her uncle had planned for him.

“Thank you” the boy said again. Dawn didn’t respond. The robe she’d made had more chance of survival than the owner.

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