Nathan awoke with a start sitting bolt upright, sweat sliding down and dripping from his forehead. A feeling of fear receded into his mind as he attempted, unsuccessfully, to recall the nightmare he had been having. He stared at the wooden ceiling above, following the narrow support beams with his eyes as they adjusted to the light. Throwing off his covers and groaning, he rolled out of his bed, which was more like a pile of wool blankets on a wooden frame, and walked toward his window to look out amongst the streets. His footsteps were less confident than usual despite the familiar sensation of the floorboards below. An uneasy feeling pressed down on him, as if something from his nightmare stirred in the back of his mind in warning. He rested his hands on the window frame to try and steady himself. The window frame was made of oak and pressed into the clay stained material that made up the walls of his small house.
A house that was really only a single room and better described as a shack. However that didn’t prevent Nathan from making use of the space, having his bed in one corner immediately to his right as he entered through his front door. Across from the bed was the table where he sat to prepare food and wrote his thoughts into a journal. Further along was the fireplace which had just enough space for the fire and a small pot he could boil water and prepare food in. Opposite the front door was a small dresser where he kept what little clothes he had. It had a mirror that Nathan often used to check how his facial hair was looking which more often than not was scruffier than he hoped. Lastly, on the other side of the dresser was the window where he now stood, taking in the fresh air of the outside breeze, he looked out to the street where other small buildings lined both sides of a cobbled stone pathway. Made up of the same clay material, the most defining feature of the houses in this area were the different roofing tiles used and shapes of the chimneys. He reached over and grabbed a slightly worn grey shirt he left on his dresser from the previous night as well as a pair of brown trousers and lazily threw both of them on.
He began absently humming to himself, mimicking the hum that resided in the back of his mind. Hearing the sound out loud caused Nathan to realise what was making him feel uneasy. He spun to look back out the window again. The usual sounds of townsfolk moving about and chatting as the day began was eerily absent. A typical day had people wandering the streets, greeting one another and going about the morning’s daily chores. That’s when he heard screams and shouting coming from the direction of the town centre. Turning on his heels he sprung out the door of his little shack into the street and began sprinting down a nearby alleyway towards the square. As he approached, he noticed a large crowd in a circle outside the main town hall building. Getting closer he also noticed that there were soldiers in a uniform he didn’t recognise. It was a series of dark purple plates layered almost like scales with a silver trim to the edges. They reflected sunlight and appeared well polished and looked after with only light scratches on the surface picking up in the glint of the sun.
The soldiers were facing towards the crowd and away from a tall hooded figure in the centre. He was dressed in a brown hooded robe that gently brushed the ground, the robe was trimmed with a bright gold and a symbol made up of a horizontal line, separated by a diagonal line going from the top of the figure’s right shoulder to his left hip, was printed on the back. The figure spoke aloud to the crowd which had been yelling at the guards for shoving them.
“You may not realise it, but you are in need of saving!” the figure called out. He was a man who sounded older than Nathan by a fair few decades.
“Who among you is willing to accept my gift and be blessed with salvation?” he turned, spreading his arms around the gathered crowd. The crowd began shouting, clearly uninterested in the man’s offer and offended by whatever had caused the earlier screams.
“Leave us alone, we don’t care for your blessings!” one man shouted.
“Yeah, go away and leave us in peace!” another shouted in affirmation. The hooded figure simply lowered his arms and without speaking a command, one of the soldiers began moving forward. The soldier reached out and grabbed one of the townsfolk, an elderly man that was balding. It was one of the town’s bakers, a gentleman who had always offered Nathan the first loaf of the day whenever he stopped by. He was wearing his usual white robe and brown apron which was stained with flour.
Several townsfolk tried to step in to help the baker but the nearby soldiers at his side lowered their spears towards the crowd, forcing them back. The baker was thrown down on his knees in front of the hooded figure.
“Fear not, for you will be born anew” he spoke in a calming tone. The tall mysterious man reached out one of his hands towards the baker and spoke a strange incantation in a voice too low for anyone but the baker to hear. Nathan swore he saw a slight shudder in the air between the outstretched hand and the baker as he finished speaking. All of a sudden the elderly man’s expression darkened and he began looking around in a panicked state.
“It’s gone…” the old man said quickly.
He spoke again, his voice losing energy and tempo.
“I can’t feel it…” he added as he clutched his head with both hands.
His voice lowered until it was almost a mumble.
“It’s gone… it’s so… quiet…” trailing off as the hooded figure spun around raising his arms once again to the crowd.
“This was just the beginning, soon I will return to save all of you from the darkness that resides inside you” he said loudly before making his way towards the main town gate, his soldiers forming alongside him two columns and marching in step. They left the old man rocking back and forth on the ground in the centre of the crowd. Nathan slowly approached the baker, and as he got closer he could hear him mumbling. “Why…” he said, staring into the ground.
“Why is it so quiet…”.
The next day Nathan made the trip down to the bakery, it stood at the corner of a street that bent around to lead from the edge of town towards the main square. It was made of the same clay stained material as the rest of the houses but was slightly bigger and had a large front window to allow people walking by to see what was on offer. As Nathan stepped in through the front door he looked around at the empty bakery. The two massive clay ovens that sat at the back were not fired and sat cold. The wooden racks that usually held the freshly baked loaves were empty and the old man was nowhere to be seen. As he turned to leave he heard someone speaking from a room in the back, behind where the ovens were. Slowly stepping forward he made his way around the counter.
“Hello? Are you here?” he said. He didn’t want to frighten the old man into thinking he was some kind of thief. He found the old man with a person he had seen regularly stop by the bakery. He was seated in a wooden rocking chair, staring straight ahead almost at nothing. The lady next to him turned to Nathan, she was a younger woman, just a bit younger than himself even.
“I don’t know what to do, he won’t eat or drink and only mumbles” she said looking defeated. Nathan stepped forward and gently held the hands of the old man.
“Remember me? I stop by every once in a while” Nathan said, trying to sound comforting. The baker didn’t respond and instead kept staring ahead. Nathan noticed his lips moving as if he was saying something so he leaned forward and turned his ear to the old man so he could try and listen.
“...quiet…gone” was all he could make out.
“What’s wrong with him? He said something about not being able to feel his hum, but that’s nonsense” the woman said. She sounded worried, more worried than a customer would be by the hurt in her voice. She must be his daughter, Nathan thought. Not knowing what else to do, he decided to go and contact the local healer to see if they could offer help. He said that he would be right back and swiftly made his way out into the street.
It was only a few short weeks before the hooded figure returned. The poor old baker had only gotten worse over that period of time. The healer tried but failed and eventually had to give up after they ran out of ideas. One morning, he was simply gone, nowhere to be found. Some of the townsfolk think he wandered into the nearby forest but nobody knew for certain. The townsfolk tried to resist letting the hooded figure into the town this time after seeing what happened to him. However the soldiers had threatened to kill anyone who tried to interfere. Nathan watched from the back as the soldiers pushed the crowd into a group in front of the town hall. Despite his best efforts to keep out of sight, Nathan found himself grabbed by one of the soldiers who had flanked behind the group and was brought forward to kneel before the hooded figure. He thought of resisting but the spear head pressed lightly against his spine made him think twice. There was probably nothing to worry about, after all perhaps the old man had simply been scared and was imagining things. The spear kept at his back, he thought better than to try and fight his way out.
Refusing to look at the figure he kept his eyes down. Were the stones in the town centre always so perfectly shaped? He brought his attention back to what was happening in front of him, he would show this figure that he wasn’t afraid. He noticed that he was one of a few that were all brought forward from the crowd.
“I told you I would return and hopefully with this additional demonstration you will see that I am here as your saviour!” the hooded figure said loudly.
“I will wash away your sin and make you whole again!”. He reached out towards Nathan, and began muttering the same incantation. Nathan’s heart was caught in his throat and he realised that he in fact was afraid of this man. He wasn’t sure why but after seeing what happened to the old baker he was frozen. He thought he saw the shudder in the air again between the hand and himself and held his breath in anticipation. At first it was as if nothing happened however the look in the eyes of the figure standing before him showed a dark sense of satisfaction. With a sudden realisation, Nathan noticed that his hum was gone. It was the hum he had heard since he was a young boy, the constant buzzing in the back of his head that almost everyone developed. It was quiet inside his mind for the first time in a very long time. He could still think, his inner voice panicking with endless questions. The sensation wasn’t like a weight being lifted but rather a flame being smothered. He wasn’t entirely sure what it meant but he had a cold feeling in his heart and nervously reached out to try and connect with the earth. This had been something that he had been able to do almost his whole life. It was as natural as breathing and took no more effort than blinking. This time however, it didn’t respond.
Nathan feared it never would again.
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