His whole head was a blur. He couldn’t remember where he was, who he was or even what he was doing. There seemed to be some dark cloud sitting inside his skull blocking all conscious thought. And yet he was running, He could feel his feet crashing through sticks and crunching leaves as he raced forward. He couldn’t see where he was going but something inside of him knew the way. He could feel his body weaving and ducking between trees and around obstacles. This wasn’t just running, it was running with purpose, running towards something. Varian had no way of knowing what it was he was running towards, but the thing inside his head was telling him he needed to kill. He could feel the blood pumping around his body, the madness and the rage building within him. Wherever he was going, he pitied the creature he would meet there.
‘Doesn’t exactly look inviting does it?’ Tiana said gesturing to the dark and twisted trees in front of them. The trees grew in a ring encompassing a specific area of the forest, blocking it off like some kind of natural wooden wall. It stretched on for miles in either direction and the trees grew impossibly close to each other.
‘It’s never going to be top of my list of places to visit, put it that way.’
The pair stood on the edge of the forest for a little while longer neither one wanting to be the first one to enter. Eventually Phan went to grab Tiana but stopped himself just short of her hand,
Tiana grabbed his hand and pulled Phan into the ring, ‘And they say you can’t teach an old bird new tricks.’
Stepping through the tree wall felt like stepping into a completely new world. Where the outside had been a beautiful autumn forest, with cascading leaves of deep crimson and pale yellow, inside everything seemed to be dying. The trees were mangled and twisted as if they’d been beaten as they grew. The colours on everything seemed muted, like the whole place was dead but hadn’t quite noticed it yet. Phan bent to the ground and picked up a grey leaf, as he touched it the leaf instantly fell to ashes and floated to the ground through the lifeless air.
‘This place is dead.’ Phan said, clear disgust audible in his voice.
‘I hate that that means we’re probably in the right place.’
‘Let’s get going, I don’t wanna be here any longer than I need to be.’
‘I hear that.’
Tiana and Phanuel began moving deeper into the forest, the atmosphere becoming thicker with the overwhelming stench of decay as they pushed forward into the increasingly dark forest. Phan was walking tall but he couldn’t help but feel thankful that he wasn’t in this place alone, he glanced sideways at his companion, taking his first opportunity to really see her. She was shorter than him, probably about five foot five, and had dark curly hair that matched her complexion. She didn’t have the typical cheerleaders physique, instead he would have described her as a more full figured woman, it suited her. His attention then turned forwards, focusing on the steadily fading light, it seemed the deeper they penetrated the forest the darker it got.
Phan turned to Tiana as they walked ‘Don’t suppose you brought a torch did you.’
‘Dude, you barely let me get dressed, I didn’t exactly have time to pack a survival kit.’ Tiana sniped, though the smirk on her face gave away the fact that she meant no offence.
‘Well we’re going to have to think of something because pretty soon we’re not going to be able to see anything.’
‘Maybe we should set up a camp and wait for the sun to come up.’
‘It should be rising by now, I don’t think sunlight is the issue, this place just feels odd.’ A cold shiver ran down Phan’s spine, Tiana would have mocked him for it but she agreed. This place did feel wrong, like the forest knew they were there and was unhappy about it. Tiana opened her mouth to say something but immediately stopped when she noticed that the light within her chest had begun to glow again.
‘The nightlight strikes again.’
‘You’re just jealous that you’re not the only magic one around anymore.’
‘I’m just worried you’re gonna blow up.’ Phan chuckled, Tiana gave him a light punch on the arm in response before saying ‘Let’s keep going.’ The pair walked in silence for a while, the sense of dread momentarily abated with the welcome addition of the light and the warmth of a newly blossoming friendship.
Varian was still running, his bare feet felt like they’d been torn to shreds but he could see no sign of slowing. His muscles and bones were screaming for relief and if he wasn’t filled with pure rage and bloodlust he might have been concerned that his body would give out long before his destination. Without warning a blazing light cut through his dark and his body paused momentarily as if to analyse it. The moment passed quickly and Varians body snapped in the direction of the light before resuming its unrelenting pursuit.
Tiana and Phanuel had been walking for some time before it dawned on her that she actually knew next to nothing about her winged friend. She’d simply followed him into the night. There was something instantly inviting about him to her, like she somehow just understood that this mysterious stranger would never do anything to harm her. Nevertheless it wouldn’t hurt her to at least ask some questions.
‘What do you do most days?’ she asked, breaking the silence.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well i’ve never seen you at school or in town so I assume you just hang around the forest, even with wings I imagine that gets boring eventually.’
‘Well you’re right, I don’t go to school but I don’t just hang around the forest either. Me and the flock travel, we seek out other colonies.’
‘There’s more of you?’
‘There used to be, years ago, none as big as the one here but they all started dying out a few years ago.’
‘Because of the darkness?’
‘I don’t think so, Ha’uul just said that they moved on.’
‘Moved on to where?’
‘Tiana, you’ve heard them talking, getting information from them isn’t exactly easy.’ Phan chuckled.
‘It’s been years since we found another colony, the running theory now is that we’re the only ones left… or...we were.’
’Don’t be, it wasn’t your fault. It sounds stupid because they’re birds but for a long time they were all I had, they kind of became my family.
‘That doesn’t sound stupid. It’s sweet.’
‘Don’t get mushy on me now.’ Phan joked, turning away from Tiana to wipe the tear from his eye. Tiana pretended not to notice.
The peace was suddenly broken by an ungodly roar followed by the sound of something heavy crashing towards them. The pair turned just in time to see a bear made of pure shadows charging at them, Phan grabbed Tiana and swooped them out of harm’s way as the bear went crashing past.
‘I know you have a no touching rule…’
‘I think i’ll make an exception for this.’ Tiana shouted, as they landed in a huddle. Phan clambored to his feet as the bear turned around, sighted them again and began another run. This time phan ran forwards to meet the bear. Moments before they should have collided, phan beat his wings and launched himself skywards, spinning as the bear passed beneath him and landing on its back. The bear stopped, puzzled and very clearly not happy about its sudden passenger. It began trying to claw at itself in a feeble attempt to reach Phan. Phan simply used one hand to keep himself in place and with the other reached into his belt loop and produced a small dagger, with a hand carved bone handle. Phan raised the knife into the air and plunged it into the bear’s back. The monstrous creature roared in pain and redoubled its efforts.
Tiana was enraptured in the fight, worry filled her throat as she watched Phan be thrown around on the back of the shadow bear. Where did the creature come from she wondered, there were no bears in this forest. Tiana gripped her staff tight, hoping that she would have no cause to use it but knowing she needed to be prepared to. As she tightened her grip, the light from her chest began to move upwards, Tiana glanced down just in time to see the light split into two and shoot up into her head. The world suddenly appeared to shift into focus, like she had been viewing the world in standard definition her whole life and was only now seeing what high definition was all about. Tiana deduced that the light must now be in her eyes. She looked up at Phan but was shocked at what she saw. Where once had stood a monstrous black creature she now saw a limp lifeless rabbit, hanging strangely in the air. Phan however, still appeared to be clinging onto where the bear once us. As she struggled to take in what she was now seeing she began to be able to see the outline of the bear again.
The bear finally managed to hook a claw into Phan’s left wing and used it to swing him round and slam him to the floor with a sickening thud. Tiana screamed as the bear reared up onto its hind legs, preparing to slam itself down onto Phan’s motionless body. Tiana acted almost on instinct hoping beyond hope that her idea was right and that she wasn’t about to be killed by a shadow monster. She charged forward, her staff pointed directly at the rabbit she could see clearly in the centre of the bear. The monster was now on it’s downward descent and so Tiana threw the staff like a javelin, praying to anyone that would listen that she would meet her target. The staff flew straight and true, cutting through the air like an arrow and met its target. The rabbit was knocked from the centre of the mass of shadows that formed the bears body and landed with a thud on the other side of it. The shadows immediately lost all form, like a marionette with its strings cut, they landed on Phan like smoke, causing no harm before dissipating into the air.
The rabbit, took this opportunity to scamper away, wishing to never be a part of human affairs again.
Tiana sprinted to Phan who was clearly very badly injured. A deep gash had appeared in the muscular part of Phans left wing and blood was oozing out of it. Tiana had no idea what to do, how do you fix a birdman’s wing! She knew that she needed to stop the bleeding, and so thinking fast she took off the leather jacket and ripped the sleeve off of her right arm. She then rolled the sleeve into condense package which she then applied to the wound, putting pressure on it. The sudden pressure on what was clearly a sore spot, caused Phan to groan in pain. Tiana used her free hand to slap Phan around the face ‘Listen up bird brain, you’re going to get through this but i’m going to need you to help me okay. Stop complaining and hold this to the wound.’ Even in his injured state Phan knew better than to disobey and took over from Tiana who immediately ripped off her left sleeve. She used the sleeve to go around the width of his wing and tied it tight with the cloth package underneath, effectively relieving both of their hands from duty. Having done all she could do, Tiana pulled Phans head onto her lap and started stroking his hair as he passed out from the pain and blood loss. Tiana was a little grateful he had, she didn’t want him to see her sobs, as she sat there in the dead forest hoping that just this once, something might live.
The trees scratched and clawed at his skin, creating little crevices of blood along his exposed flesh. The light that he was chasing had died down and once again, Varian’s vision had gone dark but still his body did not slow or falter. His legs pumped like pistons, his heart beat like a jackhammer, his entire form had fallen into a rhythm. He was no longer a man, he was a machine, with one purpose and one purpose only; to kill.