Sahn awakes in a dark expansion held in the sharp talons of a giant bird with blood-red feathers. In the minimal light whose source seemed unknown he could see the curved pointy beak of the giant bird just above his head with the oversized eyes on either side staring down at him. He reeled back at first thinking the bird was about to try to eat him, but realized the bird was just a statue. His gaze was inexplicably drawn to the bird’s eyes. Appearing like two dusty red nebulae clouds with a dark blue center the eyes were the only part of the bird that seemed to move, until he felt the talons constrict around him a bit tighter digging their sharp points into various parts of his body.
“So it’s to be torture?” he shouted out into the infinite darkness. “You cannot even come close to the pain I’ve caused to myself.” He soon learned how truly wrong he was. As he looked into the nebulae eyes he saw them start to spin and was unable to look away from the images that formed within the oval cavities.
He heard the steady rain as much as he saw it form inside the mesmerizing portals. He was drawn in until with the exception of the pain from the sharp talons he was part of the action in the spinning nebulae.
“Ammaline…” he more mouthed the word of his wife’s name than actually spoke it, as he saw himself with her in an orchard. She was picking the large striped berries from the low branches of one of the multitudes of fruit bearing trees. His mind merged with his mind in the vision, as he relived a scene from a very distant past.
“Do you think it wise to be away from the quarry so long?” Ammaline asked of him, as she tossed him one of the berries.
“It is too fine of a day for stonework. I’m allowed some time off after the consecutive months of cutting stones,” he caught the berry while lying on his back in a tuft of grass. “Besides…” He bit into the fruit with tiny seeds and purple juice dripping down his chin. “You are soon to be my wife and I can hardly let you out of my sight for too long; you may change your mind and marry one of those fancy dressed priests you seem so fond of.”
“You’re about the only one I know who would consider a rainy day fine… and you need not worry about those priests. I am only interested in learning from them. They speak of the energies of the world. Do you not find that fascinating how the world works? How everything is so connected?”
“The rain is a blessing.” He spoke in a profound way. “You speak of these energies as if they are so important, but we would not have the food we eat if it were not for the rain. The rain brings life.” Ammaline stepped closer to him reaching for some berries in a tree near where he lay, when he pulled her down to him. She dropped the basket of berries and rolled into Sahn’s arms. Sahn rolled on top of her and looked into her eyes. A light steady rain drizzled onto the two, as they lay together in the tall green grass alone in the quiet orchard. He looked her in her eyes, his lips so close to hers she could feel the warm rush of his breath wash over her mouth, as he spoke. “You are my rain,” he brushed the hair out of her face and kissed her deeply.
The sharp sting of the bird’s talons brought Sahn back to his dark realm of reality.
“What is it you expect from me?” he shouted out again into the dark unresponsive void. “Is this punishment for the lives I’ve taken? What do you possibly hope to gain from me?” The talons tightened a bit more, the tips digging further into bloodied wounds. Sahn looked up at the eyes of the bird looming over him, but he could see no more visions, just the slowly swirling red clouds around the dark blue center. He looked around in other directions, but could see nothing but endless darkness in all directions. Any sign of sky or ground was either so far beyond his sight or not existent in the endless black expansion. The only sound to permeate the vast darkness, was the sound of his sore weary muscles rubbing against the grip of the claws constraining him and sweat dripping from his exposed skin. The talons heat increased steadily warming Sahn as if sautéing him over a slow fire.
“I deserve this and more for what I’ve done,” he spoke solemnly toward an unseen, unknown audience. “Many lives were taken by my hand. I regret my rage. I shall endure your torture. Bring up the heat.” He braced himself expecting the claws holding him to intensify their heat, but they did not. He remained laying in the grip of the talons with no room to turn. Lying on his back with his arms pressed to his side, he stared again at the head of the bird looming a short distance above him. No images appeared in the eye, no matter how focused his gaze. “Why do you show me such images and then take them from me? I know what I’ve lost. I need not your reminder….. My Ammaline was precious to me and the gods saw fit to take her from me and make me watch. Why do you not show me that image? the image of my wife and newborn daughter roasted by the ash of the gods. An image so familiar to me it is permanently etched upon my mind.” As soon as he spoke it, Sahn realized he was answering his own question. If whoever was behind his constraint and torture truly wanted to bring him great agony it would not be with an image so known to him he has become desensitized to its horror. No, his captor must find new ways to torture him; new ways to agonize a man so deepened with rage that once unleashed this rage took the lives of many of his brethren, including the lives of the parents of Darvin, the young man whose mind he once possessed. Still there is the looming question that raced through Sahn’s mind, why.
Elsewhere in the hot desert Millaney and her father stood over Darvin’s body half buried in the rubble of the collapsed pyramid.
“Was he someone you knew?” Millorny asked, as he stood beside his daughter.
“I only just met him… but if it weren’t for him I couldn’t have found you.” Laney knelt near Darvin and touched his bloodied forehead with her fingertips.
“I only have a broken memory of what happened. I felt Casanna’s presence in my mind, but couldn’t push her out, until you stabbed me.”
“Oh I almost forgot.” Laney jumped to her feet and took a look at his wound.
“I’ll be fine. We need to wrap a blanket around your friend and take him back with us so that a priest can perform the ‘passing’” Millorny spoke as somber as he could sensing his daughter felt more for this young man than she was letting on. Laney scarcely looked up, but hesitated while bandaging her father’s wound.
Darvin’s spirit watched from a short distance away hidden from view by Laney and her father. A tentative smile drew from the corners of his lips, as he watched them wrap his body in a blanket and toss it unto the back of one of the dragons. He continued to watch, as they flew away. He stepped closer to a glowing image of Laney on her dragon flying through the bright blue sky with thin yellowish clouds. The closer he stepped to the image, the closer the image came towards him until he reached out to touch her hair with the tips of his fingers causing a glittery glow that was visible in both the mortal and spiritual realm, then the image vanished.
Darvin took a look at his surroundings. The desert was the same as it was, only distorted. Everything seemed bent in unusual patterns. He walked toward a leafless tree that was bent over and twisted. A grolnik hung from one of the distorted branches and as Darvin reached forward, his arm was also bent in an unusual way and even appeared a bit melted. He sat down at the base of the tree with the furry grolnik hanging from a branch that bent around him.
“Looks like it’s just you and me now Grolly,” he spoke to the critter who simply reached out for a large nut hanging from the tip of the tree branch amongst some tiny brown needles. “This sure is a strange home you have here.” Darvin reached for his water-skin and noticed the grolnik hang upside down eating his nut. “You must be thirsty.” He said to the small creature and held out his water-skin. He found a rock with a bit of an impression on it and set it away from him in the limited shade of the tree. He poured out a bit of his water in a tiny puddle on the rock then backed away. He watched as the grolnik looked toward the offering and climbed down the tree. “Go ahead I’ve got more,” he smiled, as the small mammal neared the rock and started to lap up the droplets of moisture with its tiny rough yellow tongue.
Darvin sat back and looked around at the horizon around him. He squinted his eyes, as he looked at a group of cactus with a single red flower that blossomed at the top of the tallest plant. It took him a few moments to realize that this cactus wasn’t bent in an unusual manner like the tree he sat near, then he noticed a thin straight line that framed the cactus in a rectangular box. He looked at himself and the distorted tree he sat near and saw a similar line nearly transparent that framed this area too, then he realized…
“These are my paintings. I’m in my own painting,” he looked again at the grolnik lapping up the rest of the water. “But where did you come from? I never painted you.” As Darvin questioned the animal, it stopped drinking from the tiny puddle of water and looked directly at him. The grolnik drew a wicked smile on its face, a smile not of the natural world, a smile only donned by mankind. The grolnik picked up the stone it once drank from and hurled it at Darvin’s head. Darvin ducked out of the path of the flying projectile, as it streaked passed his ear. The grolnik started to laugh and its form started to distort and twist and grow in size until it was a shadowy figure that loomed over Darvin.
“You always were too trusting.” The figure spoke with a voice Darvin seemed to recognize. Darvin’s eyelids drew back inside of his face exposing as much of the whites around his pupil as they possibly could, and he crawled back turning away from the looming shadow that now took on the form of a large Shrkai man. “I thought I broke you of that long ago, but it seems you have become even more pathetic in my long absence.”
“Please father I’m sorry,” Darvin cried, as he got to his feet and cowered under his father’s presence.
“Yes you are. A sorrier wretch has never been born, but I’ll see to that.” The figure raised a stout callous hand that closed into a fist, as it shot out toward Darvin’s face striking him so hard as to knock him to the ground. “Have I not taught you to be strong? Get up and face me!” Darvin stood trembling before his father averting his eyes to the ground, with a trickle of blood clinging to his lower lip. “Look at me! And stand straight or so help me I’ll crack you again!”
Darvin brought his feet together and pulled his arms to the side, then slowly raised his head and with a quivering lip, he looked upon his father’s face for the first time in ten years. His father took a step forward squinted his right eye and stared into Darvin’s face.
“I see I’ll have to start all over training you boy! The weak are soon eaten by the strong and you my child are fodder for the taking.” Darvin stood as straight as he could, as he looked upon his father’s enraged face and felt the spray of his words splatter in his eyes, but he dared not wipe off the saliva knowing it would only provoke another strike from his father’s rough hand. “You’ve grown quite a bit in my absence. Do you think you’re capable of taking on your old man?” His father bellowed with an increased spray of spit. “Well do you?” Darvin pressed his lips together and thought of just how much he had grown. Maybe he could ‘take on his old man’, but the thought quickly vanished and he meekly replied a simple…
His father stepped around him, looking him over, then looked at the paintings that now were set on wooden easels, or hanging from a stone wall.
“And what are these? Paintings?! Are you a painter now? A painter?” His father swept out with his right arm and gathered up all the paintings in one swoop, pulling them together and crushing them in Darvin’s face. “We are not painters! We are the raisers of the dead! We worship the god of chaos and do his bidding. We do not Paint! Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir.” Darvin answered with moisture forming in the corner of his eyes, as he watched years of work destroyed in his father’s vengeful hands.
“Now come with me. We have work to do.” His father stepped away expecting Darvin to follow behind him, but Darvin dropped to his knees and ran his fingers through the debris. He lifted handfuls of crushed canvas that dissolved in his palms and fell softly to the hard soil and were scattered by a gentle breeze. Darvin lifted himself to his feet and with head hung low, turned to follow his father.
They soon stepped into a room with two large portals looking out into the darkness, the eyes of the bird statue. Darvin’s father stepped over to a large crystal sphere imbedded in some stone with only the top half exposed. He hovered his right hand over the sphere and moved his left hand to one of three waist-high levers with release handles at the top. He gripped the release and pulled back on the lever and the two caps that covered the eyes spiraled open.
“Step over here!” Darvin’s father commanded. Darvin etched closer to him, as the portals opened he could see a man held in the talons of the bird hovering in a vast dark void. “You don’t recognize him do you?” Darvin stepped closer taking a look at the man held in the bird claws. “Well you’ve never actually seen his face, but this is the same man who murdered your mother and I.” Darvin opened his eyes to their fullest. He stepped right up to the edge of the portal. Sahn was held tight in the talons below, the heat slowly burning his skin and the tips poking into his flesh. Darvin’s father ran his hand over the crystal sphere which responded with a bright glow. A new image appeared in the dual portals. Darvin took a few steps back to view the image, as Sahn saw it as well.
Sahn was working hard in a quarry with other Shrkai men cutting away a large stone slab when a young man ran up to him calling his name.
“Sahn! Sahn!” The man gasped nearly out of breath. Sahn dropped his tools and ran over to him. “It’s time. She’s calling for you.” Sahn pulled his head back and looked out across the quarry.
“It’s time?” He looked back to the out of breath man who accepted a wooden ladle full of water from another man nearby. “It’s time.” Sahn turned to some of the other men nearby who had stopped working and were huddled around him.
“Yes now go.” One of the men laughed and gestured for Sahn to leave. Sahn clumsily stepped through the men shaking their hands and repeating “it’s time” to each of as he passed. After clearing his co-workers, Sahn ran to the edge of the quarry, scrambling up the wooden ladders leading up out of the pit. He ran passed the wagon being loaded with the stone building blocks and ran through the narrow path leading through the forest. Once near the city, he ran through the orchard and stopped to grab a handful of berries out of one of the baskets, again excitedly repeating, “It’s time” to one of the gatherers. He continued to run toward a city built in the depth of a dense forest. The center of the city had one building taller than two stories, but mostly the city had simple stone structures of only one story in height with walls made of cut stone pieced into place and locked together without mortar.
Nearly out of breath, Sahn continued to run toward the north end of the city barely visible through the thick leafy trees that were in and around the ancient city, the first city ever built. He passed under a stone arch with a small glyph carved at the peak and ran through a narrow alley between two stone buildings with his footsteps echoing off the walls. He slowed a bit to catch his breath, as he stepped into a rectangular courtyard filled with trees, shrubs and benches surrounded by long one story residential buildings linked together in succession. He ran toward one of the arched doorways where several people, mostly the young and elderly had gathered.
They all turned to look at him, when he neared and separated to make a path for him to pass by. Breathing heavy from his long run, Sahn stepped slowly into one of the small stone living quarters with skylights and open windows the only source of light and moved toward an area against the far wall that had curtains drawn around it. An elderly woman opened the curtain and Sahn stepped in to see Ammaline lying on a mat holding a newborn daughter.
“She’s a fine healthy girl.” The midwife said to him, as she stepped passed him, patting him on the back, then she stepped out and closed the curtain behind her leaving Sahn alone with his wife and baby. Sahn knelt beside Ammaline and set the berries down on the blanket beside his wife.
“Here I grabbed these for you,” he said to her without taking his eyes off of the newborn baby in her arms.
“Take her. Hold your daughter,” Ammaline said to him, while moving the child closer to him.
“No… My hands are rough and dirty from cutting stone.”
“Then wash them, there’s a pan of water by the wall,” She said to him, he then without taking his eyes off his newborn, smiled and washed the dirt off his hands in the cool water. He then gently stroked the child’s face with the tips of his fingers. “Take her.” Ammaline insisted.
“No I couldn’t she’s too small. You hold her,” Sahn said, as he lay beside the two of them and gazed into his daughter’s eyes.
Back inside the skull of the bird, Darvin stepped back a bit from the image. He looked more through the image and saw down into Sahn’s watery eyes, as he lay helpless trapped in the sharp heated talons of the bird. Darvin pressed his lips together and lowered his head. He could hear his father’s soft low maniacal laugh. It had been years since he was the young boy who helped his father with his necromancy. He never really knew what his father was doing with the old bones and incenses and prayers, he just knew his father wanted him to help. Then came the day they summoned Sahn’s spirit. He didn’t understand his father then either, all he really knew was his father wanted him to wave the incense around. “The senses draw the gods,” he remembered him saying that day. The right sights, sounds and smells combined with the incantations his father often used were to draw the favor of the gods. Part of him knew even then that what they were doing was wrong. They were outcasts in their community. In a society that had a strong basis of community fellowship, they were shunned and would practice their necromancy in the dark caverns outside of the city. He shivered, as he remembered the smell of the animal corpses they would leave to fester in a pile in the back of the cavern they stayed in. Now after he had passed, his father would again bring him to aid him in his forbidden sorcery.
His father reached for one of the long levers and was about to grip the handle and squeeze closed the small release, when he suddenly stopped with a new thought. He turned to look at Darvin standing there looking through the eye portal and in a sickeningly calm voice he asked…“Darvin could you come over here please?” Darvin turned to look at his father standing near the levers with a rare smile on his face. “Darvin come here,” his father again called in a more demanding tone. As Darvin started to shuffle his feet toward his father he could hear a soft nursery rhyme his mother used to sing to him when he was a toddler, a rare happy memory from his childhood.
Fruits and flowers all drawn in a row.
Walk with me through them, to the darkman we go.
Bright and fresh is the path we walk through,
but the darkman is waiting in the shrubbery for you.
He cannot be tricked or diverged from his task
He lets none of us escape, so don’t even ask
But only a few serve him though he’s pale and dark
Walk with me baby. Walk with me to our beloved patriarch.
Darvin found himself standing before his father. “Here. Take hold of this lever,” his father said to him with a crooked smile. Darvin eased his hand toward the lever as if he was expecting it to spring a trap and grabbed the handle with a loose grip. “Now squeeze the release and pull it back slowly.” Darvin did as he was asked. He squeezed the release handle finding the tension tighter than he had expected. He heard a quiet “click” from the base of the lever and felt the tension stiffen, as he slowly pulled it back until a louder “click” echoed from below. He saw Sahn flinch in the grip of the claws through the portal, as the sharp talons entrenched in his muscles pulled back. “Pull it back further boy!” His father hollered with twisted jubilance. “Pull it back! Become the man I’ve always hoped you to be. Pull it back!”
Darvin’s palm started to sweat and he reached forward with his other hand and pulled the lever back another click, another and yet a third click echoed in in the quiet chamber. He could see Sahn’s face distort his eyes crinkled and teeth clenched. Sahn arched his back as the pain radiated through his body and blood trickled from the wounds where his muscles and flesh were being pulled from his body.
“Pull it back further boy! Pull it!”
“No I can’t. We’re killing him,” Darvin cried out, as he returned the lever to its original position and let go of the handle.
“HAAA HAA HAAA,” his father’s laugh echoed throughout the chamber so loud that even Sahn heard it outside in the grip of the bird’s claws. “You haven’t figured it out yet have you boy? He’s already dead! HAA HAAA HAAA. We’re all dead. We have no flesh.” Darvin’s father struck him down with the back of his hand. “Only the feeling of flesh, an illusion. We can’t kill him, but he can still feel pain as if he were still alive.” Darvin’s father loomed over him, as Darvin crawled backwards along the floor. “I can do anything to him I want and his flesh, or his appearance of flesh will heal and then I can do it to him again.” His father reached forward and grabbed the lever pulling it back halfway, much further than Darvin pulled it. Sahn’s screams rang out in the dark expanse below and radiated through the chamber walls. Darvin curled up into a ball on the floor covering his ears from the agonizing sound of Sahn’s cries. He again heard the nursery rhyme inside his mind and pictured himself lying in his mother’s arms looking up at her smiling face.
Fruits and flowers all drawn in a row.
Walk with me through them, to the darkman we go.
Bright and fresh is the path we walk through,
but the darkman is waiting in the shrubbery for you.
He cannot be tricked or diverged from his task
He lets none of us escape, so don’t even ask
But only a few serve him though he’s pale and dark
Walk with me baby. Walk with me to our beloved patriarch.
After a few minutes of listening to Sahn’s blood-curdling screams, Darvin’s father returned the lever to its original position and walked over to where his son was curled up on the floor.
“You’re no son of mine” He scoffed, kicked him in the side and walked away. His father’s words and actions triggered a long forgotten memory that was soon vividly displayed in Darvin’s mind.
Darvin saw himself much younger, about ten years ago, a time shortly before his parents first summoned Sahn’s spirit. He and his parents lived in a cave in a short mesa separate from the rest of the Shrkai people near the populated city built in the foothills of the long mountain range. One day his father brought home a klatuu fold that couldn’t have been more than a week or two old. Klaatus were mountain goats that were not native to the desert region, but brought with the Shrkai people when they were forced to evacuate the northern regions after a massive volcanic eruption. Klaatus adapted well to the desert environment over the thousand years or so since the Shrkai first settled in the region. Darvin took to the klatuu as if it were a new friend. He played with it constantly. He would run with it marveling at how easily it leaped among the rocks of the mesa and even hide from it behind amphoras in the cave and would jump out and give it a big hug, when it found him. The two were inseparable.
One night Darvin was sleeping with the klaatu lying on the mat next to him, when his father came over and kicked him awake.
“What’s wrong with you boy? That animal is not for sleeping with. Get up!” His father bellowed. Darvin rolled over rubbing his sleepy eyes when he heard his beloved pet squeal in pain and fear. He opened his eyes wide and saw his father lifting the klaatu by its throat.
“What? Father no!” he screamed, as he threw off the covers and reached out to try and protect his beloved pet, only to fall over at his father’s feet.
“Get up boy!” his father kicked him again. “Get up, or so help me, I’ll make you wish you had.” Darvin weakly climbed out of bed and got to his feet with his whole body trembling and his eyes fixated on his screaming pet still dangling by the neck in his father’s tight grip. “Now follow me. It’s time I made a man of you boy.”
Darvin walked beside his hulking father with his head lowered and his eyes scanning the rocky floor of their cave, as they walked out the top of the cave via some stone steps dug into the cavern wall. Crimsonna the blood red moon was full in the sky and directly overhead when they stepped up to a stone altar. The father plopped the animal down hard upon the altar and pulled out a curved ceremonial dagger. Darvin’s eyes grew wide, as he looked at the dagger in his father’s hands and he looked up at his father begging him with his eyes. No father please, not this one. Can we not spare this one? He pleaded in his mind knowing that if he were to say the words aloud it would only bring out the back of his father’s hand. Darvin’s lower lip convulsed and his eyes watered, as he realized his father was handing the dagger to him. He started to step back, but his father grabbed him by the bag of the neck and pulled him up to the stone altar. The klaatu took the opportunity to try to get up and run away, but Darvin’s father quickly pulled it back down. “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be boy. Take the dagger!” He thrust the dagger into Darvin’s palm then held the klaatu down with both hands.
Darvin stood trembling with the blood-stained dagger gripped in his palm. His father looked up at the red moon and started to chant to the moon-god Crimsonna. Tears streamed down Darvin’s face, as he raised the dagger high over his head. He listened to his father’s chanting and knew the time when the animal was to be sacrificed, as he had saw his father do it many times before. He waited watching the eyes of his pet stare back at him seemingly pleading for help and screaming the whole time. Darvin hesitated for a brief second when the time came to strike, but closed his eyes and brought his arm forward. His aimed veered at the last second and sparks flew from the edges of the dagger as it struck the stone near the animal’s neck.
“I can’t father, I just can’t” Darvin dropped the dagger and dropped to the ground sitting with his back against the stone altar.
“You’re pathetic” his father grumbled, as he held the animal with one strong arm and retrieved the dagger with the other. He sliced the klaatu’s throat silencing its cries. Blood spewed from the wound splashing up onto his father’s face and spilling into a recessed basin carved into the stone altar. His father turned sharp and walked away leaving Darvin to sit alone on the dark mesa beneath the red moonlight. Excess blood streamed over the altar and fell down the sides and dripped across Darvin’s face mixing with his streams of tears.
Back in the chamber Darvin still lay curled up on the floor when he heard a soft voice calling his name.
“Darvin… Darvin” his mother called to him, as she placed a gentle hand upon his head. Darvin pulled his hands back from his ears and opened his eyes to see his mother’s smiling face. He lifted himself partly off the floor and embraced her. “I wish you wouldn’t fight with your father. He does want the best for you.” She said, as she helped him to his feet. Darvin paused a moment and pulled back from her a short distance.
“The best for me?”
“Yes. He only wants you to be strong. We serve the dark lord Crimsonna and now that the goddess Casanna has risen we serve her too. They need our powers. Our control over death.”
“But why mother? Why must we serve them? Why must we hurt people?” Darvin turned from her and looked out the portal where Sahn was still trapped in the talons of the giant bird.
“Do you forget what this man has done?”
“No mother I haven’t. I wish I could, but I can’t. It’s not just Sahn either.” He turned sharply to look back at his mother standing behind him. He found himself more able to speak his mind to his mother in a way he longed to speak to his father, but was afraid to. “I may have been young but I remember why we lived separate from the rest of our people. In a society that prides itself on the strong bond of community, we were the outcasts.” He pressed his lip together trying not to unload on her too much, but there was much he wanted to say, much he wanted to know.
“Honey we serve the gods and they reward us in ways you may never know.”
“Well I want to know mother. What rewards?”
“Your father is a very powerful man,” his mother spoke with great pride in defense of her husband. “You could be too, if you’d only let him show you how.”
“Power is an illusion,” Darvin shook his head and walked away.
“Is it? Listen this world isn’t as rosy as you might think.” His mother put her hand on his shoulder. Darvin just shook his head and pressed his lips together as if he wanted to comment, but held it in. “Our society has been manipulated by ‘power’ for centuries. The council has power and they tell people what they want to hear. We are but drones marching to their rhythm. The people believe they have individual autonomy, but really they are being manipulated by the council and structured into groups in order to maintain control over them. The recent growth of the market near Shrkai City is proof that profit grows the economy. It would grow even faster if the prices weren’t regulated by the council. Individual proprietors have every right to make as much profit as they want. An item’s value is no greater than the amount a buyer is willing to pay for it.” She saw Darvin’s expression change and realized he didn’t understand any of what she was trying to say. “Listen I know you’ve been kept hidden away and on house arrest for nearly ten years. You’re not the only one in the dark. Your father has great vision and he only wants the same for you.” Darvin turned from her. “Darvin… I need to tell you something.” She waited for him to turn to look at her before continuing. “You have not yet crossed over. This is not the spirit realm.” Darvin wrinkled his brow and gave her a confused look. “I’m not sure whether it was because you and Sahn were joined when you died, or because it happened as Casanna was ascending, but you have not crossed over.”
“Then where am I?”
“This is a zone not of the spirit world or of the mortal realm. Your father and I can enter because of the power bestowed upon us by our lord. We have command over the dead.”
“Will I stay here forever?”
“I can’t say. I only know that if you could only work with your father, you could rule beside him.”
“Rule what? Who? Look mother I love you very much, but I could never be like father. I could never cause people pain like he does.” Darvin turned from her and walked over to the portal. She stepped up behind him and placed a hand upon his shoulder.
“Let me show you something.” She hovered her right hand over the glowing sphere on the control panel and a new image started to form in the portals.
Sarnay flew out across the dark sky on her dragon with Frolin seated behind her. They flew straight to the academy complex on top of the tall mesa just outside the city. Darvin stepped closer to the portal to try and see what was happening, but his view remained an aerial view from a distance. He could see them land on the dragon near the front steps of the main building and dismount. They removed the saddle and Sarnay gestured for the dragon to fly off and they walked towards the steps. He closed his hands into fists, when he saw dozens of armed soldiers appear out of the darkness and surround them. He could see Sarnay shouting something out to the soldiers, but couldn’t hear well enough to know what she was saying. He cringed, when the priest who watched over him all the years of his imprisonment stepped forward from the crowd of soldiers. The priest spoke something to Sarnay and then gestured for the soldiers to move forward and arrest both her and Frolin. Darvin lowered his head as the image faded from view.
“Your friends are traitors to the regime. This is power. Our society is changing Darvin your father wants you to join us. Which side of history do you want to be on? Think about it dear. Now even spirits need their rest. Why don’t you go lay down and I’ll talk to your father.”
Darvin’s mother turned from the window and a small bed appeared nearby and the portals vanished. With his head hung low, Darvin slowly turned and unclenched his fists then went to lay down. After he got comfortable in the bed the room he was in faded into darkness and his father walked up behind his mother.
“Do you think it will work?” He asked of her when he got beside her.
“I’m not sure, but I think it will, the two of them have a strong bond now. It has the best chance of any to bring out Sahn’s rage.”
Darvin lay on the mat staring up at the blankness above him, as thoughts percolate in his mind. What have I done? I was better off in the care of the priest. At least then I could go to the market when I wanted or tend to my garden. Now I’m back with my parents and I’m even more of a prisoner than ever. Is this to be my eternity, is this my HELL? Darvin rolled over on the mat and an easel with a blank canvas on it appeared nearby floating in the darkness. He got up from the bed, walked over to it and a paintbrush materialized in his hand. He looked at the paintbrush then back at the canvas with a smile on his face, he started to paint. He didn’t have to dip the brush in paint to change colors he just touched it to the canvas and the color he wanted flowed from the tip of the brush. He started to paint very slowly at first painting landscape scenes like he used to when he was alive.
His hand slowed and even stopped on a few of the paintings, as images of his father circled around his head.
“You’re painting?” The face would shout at him. “Painting won’t get you anywhere in life. It’s time you became a man.” Darvin tried to ignore his father’s scolding and continued to paint. “You’re no son of mine.” The face was replaced by a giant hand that streaked out of the darkness and struck Darvin hard across his cheek even snapping his head to the side. Darvin turned back to look at the canvas with a trickle of blood on the corner of his lip and started again to paint. His father’s hand appeared again and again striking him hard across the face, but Darvin continued to paint. “There’s no need in life for art!” His father’s voice would echo in the darkness, as Darvin continued to paint. “You will obey! You must serve the gods!” His father’s open hand closed into a massive fist and punched Darvin so hard he fell over backwards in the dark expansion.
“The gods will give you POWER!” His father’s stone face screamed out as it hovered over Darvin lying on his back in the darkness with his paintings faded into the background. Darvin slowly stood and wiped the blood from his mouth. He stood defiantly before the image of his father’s grimacing face. “You think you’re man enough to stand up to me boy?” Darvin walked forward passing right through his father’s transparent image and his paintings moved back into the foreground. He lifted his hand with the paint brush in it and touched it again to the canvas. His father screamed out in rage and his fist again streaked toward Darvin’s face striking him even harder, but Darvin stayed on his feet and took the full force of the blow with only his head snapping back from the impact. He continued to paint the desert foliage and especially the red flower that were so often the focus of his paintings his brush vibrated across from top to bottom and one painting was done, the canvas leaped off the easel and another blank canvas took its place. Eventually the image and sound of his father’s voice faded away and Darvin was left alone with his paintings. Darvin’s intensity grew and his hand flowed across the canvas, as painting after painting started to fill the otherwise black expansion. After a dozen or so paintings, his style started to change from landscapes to images of his friends and the dragons and of Millaney.
Elsewhere back in the control room a hand hovered over the crystal sphere and the sphere started to glow and rotate in its placement. Out in the expansion where Sahn was still held in the grip of the talons an image started to appear on the eyes of the bird. Sahn opened his weary eyes his illusion of flesh appeared to have started to heal from where the talons of the bird tore it from his body. He looked at the images now being portrayed on the eyes of the bird and saw the same images Darvin was painting only instead of Millaney, he saw his wife Ammaline.
Darvin’s tempo slowed, as he painted the first portrait of her face. Then all of the paintings were of her and they started to fill the room until the canvas stopped being replaced by new blank ones and became a screen for his images which slowly started to animate. His hand moved at a lightning pace, as animations of his time with Millaney became more and more lifelike and at a realistic pace. His dinner date with her became a movie with him directing the shots, but when they were out sitting together in his garden instead of his shyness, he stood up and became taller and stronger and broke out of his leather restraints. He pulled her to him and kissed her soft lips with the passion he wished he’d had in real life. She swooned beneath his strong grasp her golden hair falling behind her shoulders.
They danced together in the dark sky sashaying passed the bright stars that shined on them as they held each other in their arms. They danced and danced without a care in the world floating out through the galaxy with the planets and nebulae and shooting stars as their audience. Darvin smiled as he started to paint a new animation, of himself and Millaney flying together on the dragons, then living together in Shrkai City surrounded by friends and family. They ate in a large hall sitting together at the head of a long table with merriment and laughing and smiling people sitting and eating with them and dancing all around.
Outside in the claws of the bird, Sahn grit his teeth. With all the torture he endured at the hands of Darvin’s parents he withheld his rage, but now as he looked upon a man who he didn’t seem to recognize kissing and dancing with his wife, he started to change. His pained body twisted in the grasp of the talons and unseen by him a metallic halo appeared over his head and a dome-shaped dream-catcher materialized from the halo. Darvin’s animations started to slow a bit as his left hand reached out toward a new easel. He tried to pull it back, but he had no control over it and his left hand started to paint using much darker colors on the second canvas. Darvin looked out of the corner of his eye as new animations started to come to life on the second canvas, darker animations. The only image to appear on the second canvas was that of Sahn standing there holding the bloody dagger.
The two animations soon became one and Darvin stepped in front of Millaney to protect her.
“Sahn! What are you doing? Do you not recognize me?” Darvin pleaded, as Sahn stepped closer to him.
“You dare to take her from me?” Sahn growled. He stepped closer and closer to Darvin.
“Look Sahn I don’t know why you are doing this, but please stop.” A sword appeared in Darvin’s hands, as Sahn stepped up and raised the dagger which also turned into a sword and the two of them started to fight with neither gaining, nor losing any ground to the other. The guests all disappeared and Millaney remained behind them watching as they fought. Their swords clashed time and time again, as if they were equal in training and style.
“My love for her is all that I have left in this world.” Sahn shouted out, as he swung his sword with increased fever. Back in the dark expansion the dream-catcher over Sahn’s head started to glow red as his rage intensified.
“Sahn stop you’re not seeing what you think you are seeing, my parents must be controlling you with their device.” Darvin pleaded, but it was a futile effort, as Sahn’s rage and the control of his mind reached critical mass.
“NOOOO!” Sahn hollered, as he started to swing his sword like a mad man. Darvin was only just able to block his fevered attack, until finally Sahn stuck his sword deep into Darvin’s gut.
The animations stopped. Millaney vanished and both Sahn and Darvin were left alone in separate dark expansions. Sahn was still lying in the grip of the bird. The dream-catcher over his head was glowing bright red. A maniacal laugh was heard echoing in the darkness, as the dream-catcher now filled with Sahn’s rage retracted back into the bird’s head. Darvin fell to his knees in the darkness near the mat he lied on previously. The sword in his gut had vanished, but the pain of his wound remained.
Meanwhile in the mortal realm, Millaney and her father flew out across the countryside with Darvin’s body wrapped in a blanket and tied behind Millaney’s saddle.
“Sarnay was supposed to meet me in this area.” Millaney shouted out. “One of us should fly out to warn Gaitlynne, but I think I should find out what happened to Sarnay.”
“We stay together. Patrah will look after Sarnay. Which way is Gaitlynne’s castle?” Millorny shouted back. Millaney thought for a moment not sure what she should do, but then kicked the side of her dragon and flew off toward the mountainside.
Further in the mountains Gaitlynne was in the bottom level of the tall, dark tower butchering a side of rooghon beef. A dozen or more dragons flew around the tower as if they were chasing each other in some sort of game. Haze the large smoke-grey male sat perched on the roof of the wider lower level next to a dragon statue with a broken wing. Haze matched the pose of the statue that was near half his size, as the merged yellow suns slowly set casting a dark orange glow across his face. He turned his head a bit to the right, as he saw two dragons flying toward the tower from the desert valley.
“Land down there by Haze,” Millaney shouted out to her father, as they flew over the dark peaks of the mountain range. “The youngest dragons haven’t had any contact with people yet and I’m not sure how they’ll react.” Haze walked over to nuzzle with the two dragons after they landed and Millaney and her father dismounted. Millaney started to pull Darvin’s body off the back of her dragon. When Haze came over to nuzzle with her as well, his head larger than Millaney was tall. Millaney smiled and hugged him around the neck, her arms barely reaching around the circumference of his thick scaly neck. Millorny smiled and stepped toward the wide tall arched doorway and push open the thick curtain.
Inside the wide chamber that stretched from one end to the other of the round tower. A large fire burned in a pit at one end of the chamber and three pair of dragon eyes flickered in the dim firelight. One of the dragons growled a low deep growl that seemed to vibrate the chamber and started to get up from where it lay.
“Whoa easy girl. I’m a friend.” Millorny spoke trying not to sound terrified although his spine shivered and he stepped back toward the arched opening he just stepped through. Before the dragon in the darkness could get to her feet, Haze stepped into the chamber and nuzzled Millorny playfully. “I’ve never been so glad to see you big boy” Millorny laughed, as he scratched Haze under his chin and hugged his snout. Millorny then saw Millaney enter and he came over to help her carry Darvin’s body and carry him through the shadowed chamber carefully stepping across the straw covered floor and piles of animal bones toward a spiral staircase in the center of the room. Millorny headed down first to the lowest level of the tower with brighter light seeping up the dark stone stairway that was much too narrow for the dragons to follow.
When they got down to the bottom level they set Darvin’s body gently against a stone wall and stepped toward the large chamber with torches lit on the walls and a large fire going in a pit on the far wall. The room had a door as large as the other dragon-sized doors, but this was the only one with a solid wooden door with a heavy wooden beam braced across it.
“That’s the birthing chamber down at the end of the hall. The queen would be the only dragon allowed down here and the door would keep the other dragons away from the newborn hatchlings.” Millaney told him, as they set Darvin’s body down near a stone wall.
“I suppose then these rooms were for the Shrkais,” Millorny commented, as they stood for a moment, then continued down the shadowed hallway toward the flickering firelight. He reached the end of the hallway and saw Gaitlynne standing behind a large stone counter chopping meat.
“I’m going to have to train my dragons better, they’ll let anybody in,” Gaitlynne smirked, when she saw the two of them.
“Oh don’t pretend you’re not happy to see us,” Millaney said, as she rushed forward to give Gaitlynne a hug.
“Well I’m happy to see you anyway,” Gaitlynne replied. “So what brings you up to my mountain?” She said, as she continued to cut up steaks.
“We knew you made the best rooghon steaks, but only cook mine a little more this time. You always make them too rare,” Millorny smiled, but Gaitlynne seemed unamused.
“We need to warn you,” Millaney stated, as she walked over to some barrels to dig out some long narrow potatoes. “Casanna has returned.”
Gaitlynne stopped cutting the steaks for only a brief moment and smiled, “Yes I’ve already been so informed.” Both Millorny and Millaney just froze and gave her a peculiar look.
“Uhh alright, but we think it best that you just stay up here. I’m not sure what her plans are, but last thing we need is another dragon war.” Millorny said, as he sat on a stool nearby.
“I’m fine with that,” Gaitlynne announced, as she threw three thick steaks on a grate over the fire. “I’m done with that bitch.” The steaks sizzled, as Millaney sliced up the potatoes. “I love it up here. I’ve got all the family I need in these dragons and I found a cellar filled with bottles of centuries old wine. What more could a woman ask for?” She then grabbed an uncorked dusty bottle that was sitting nearby and raised it to her lips.
“Well before we indulge ourselves, I must ask you one other favor.” Millorny breached a new subject with slight reluctance.
“Oh here it is,” Gaitlynne laughed and shook her head.
“Until we’re sure what to do with him, what friends he may have back in the city, we’d like to leave a friend of Millaney’s here with you for a while.” Millorny mentioned, as he watched Gaitlynne already pull one of the very bloody steaks off and slap it on a platter. Gaitlynne turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Wait what?” Gaitlynne asked with astonishment.
“Oh he won’t be any trouble,” Millorny laughed, but saw Millaney’s head was lowered and his smile quickly vanished. Gaitlynne also saw Millaney’s distress and turned her attention back to the two steaks still sizzling over the fire.
“Alright there are plenty of empty rooms back there. I usually sleep with the dragons anyway. You can leave him back there.” Gaitlynne answered. Millaney smiled and climbed up on a stone bench to kiss Gaitlynne on the cheek.
She and her father then walked back down the hallway to where they left Darvin’s body. Millorny reached down to remove the blanket.
“Looks like the stiffness hasn’t fully set in yet, let’s get him into one of these rooms.” Millorny commented, as the two of them lifted Darvin’s body and carried him into one of the rooms with a new wooden door. “This one will work great. Let’s set him on the chair over there.” They set Darvin up in the chair placed his hands in his lap palms down, then stepped back to look at him. Millorny put his arm around his daughter.
“I’m not sure what his beliefs were, but my family honored a person’s life, not his death. Unlike many cultures we don’t bury or burn the body. We left our loved ones intact and placed them in caves high in the mountains, not unlike it is here, the thinner air I believe helped to preserve the bodies.”
“I think I’d like that.”
“There’s usually a funeral procession too. We’ll see what friends he has in the city before making final arrangements.” Millorny turned to head out of the dark room, but stopped when he realized Millaney was not ready to leave. He paused for a brief moment, then stepped out leaving her alone with Darvin’s body.
Millaney stepped up to the body with only a tiny ray of moonlight shining on him from a small window on the opposite side of the room. She crouched before him and placed her hand over one of his.
“We didn’t have enough time together. I was only starting to get to know you. Hmmph,” She couldn’t help but let a tiny laugh escape, “I remember that time you came up to the door to ask me to dinner,” She stood in front of him. “I thought Sarnay was going to slam the door in your face.” She then took a few steps away allowing her hand to slide up his arm caressing him with her fingertips. “And the dinner… Serving with your hands bound behind you.” She turned back to look at him again. “I’m glad that we had our time together. I’ll cherish every moment of it. I’m glad too that you were able to be free from your bounds at last.” She stepped up to him again and bent down to look in his face. “And I can never thank you enough for helping me bring my father back to me.” She brushed his hair back and kissed him on each of his eyelids. “I’m sure there’s a special place in the spirit realm for people like you.”
Back in limbo still hunched over as he was after his fight with Sahn, Darvin felt the soft kisses on his eyelids and opened his eyes. He grabbed at his aching stomach still feeling the pain, as if Sahn’s blade had actually tore into his gut. He looked around him in the vast darkness and a door came into focus. He rose up and walked toward the dull light shining through the partly open door and pulled it open. Inside the other room was the control panel used by his father with several long levers and the glowing orb imbedded in the counsel. He looked around, but no one was in sight. He felt a deep churning in the pit of his stomach masking the lingering pain of the sword entering his faux flesh. Once near the panel, he looked over the levers with great anticipation. One of these must release him, but which one? All the levers were in the same relative position, including the one his father had used to tear Sahn’s flesh from his body, except one. One lever was fully in lowest position, while the others were more upright.
Darvin reached for that lever and loosely wrapped his fingers around the release grip. He looked out the eye portals and saw Sahn laying in the grasp of the talons, then squeezed the grip releasing the lever. He kept an eye on Sahn, as he slowly eased the grip upward. He could not see anything at first in the dim-lit expansion, but after a moment he saw that the talons were retracting. With excitement and fear battling for control of his quickly beating heart, Darvin pulled the lever even further up until it was all the way to the top and saw Sahn fall free from the grasp of the talons. Darvin leaped from the console and ran to a heavy steel door. He fumbled with the large handle and struggled to pull back the heavy door. When he got the door pulled back a short distance and was about to step into the doorway, his father’s hand reached over his back and slammed the door closed.
“Where do you think you’re going?” His father questioned. Darvin hung his head and leaned against the door with his hands still gripping the handle. “Turn around when I’m talking to you.” Darvin cringed at the sound of his father’s voice and slowly turned to look at him. His father stood towering over him Darvin looked passed him and saw his mother walking up behind him as well. His father then grabbed his face and turned his head to look at him. “What have I got to do to convince you boy?”
“Perhaps we could just let them go,” Darvin’s mother said, as she looked out the portal and saw Sahn lying on the transparent floor under the open talons. “We’ve got what we need now and they can’t escape. The goddess Karr will see to that.”
“NOOO! He must learn,” Darvin’s father shouted out spraying Darvin with a shower of saliva and striking him upside the head with his open palm. “Get up!” He commanded of Darvin, who stood trembling before him and stood as straight as he could and looked up to his father’s distorted face and clenched teeth. “You think I enjoy this?” He spat out. Darvin refused to answer. He just stood there expecting a beating. His father grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled him over to the console. “You see this?” His father pressed his head toward the console as if he were scolding a pet for urinating on a rug. “This took a lifetime of learning. We have served our lord as our ancestors have for centuries. Who are you to defy him?” He turned Darvin back around to look at him, but his blank expression only angered him further. He pulled his hand back and slapped him so hard Darvin slid along the front of the console and nearly fell to the ground. Darvin stood back up with blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. He straightened out his clothes and stared into his father’s face. “Answer me! I want to know.” He smacked Darvin again, but this time Darvin didn’t fall. “How can an insignificant speck like you think he can defy our lord? Who are you?”
“Please this won’t help,” Darvin’s mother pleaded.
“He must learn! He must fall in line. He must serve his master as we all do.” He struck Darvin again. “I’ll not have my own blood break the chain of worship. WHO ARE YOU TO DEFY HIM?” He struck Darvin yet again.
“I’m Darvin!” Darvin finally shouted out with a spray of blood. “I’m not you alright! I don’t serve a dark lord who demands obedience. I’m not you! I don’t need to bully people into ‘falling in line’. I don’t need to bully people into worship.” Darvin’s father raised his arm, as if he were about to strike him again. “Go ahead beat me! Beat me a thousand times, as you have before. It won’t change a thing! I’m not you. I’ll never be you. You can beat me until eternity. I’ll never serve your god!” Darvin’s father took a step back and pressed his lips together, then closed his hands into a fist and slugged Darvin in the face breaking his nose. Darvin fell to his knees with blood dripping from his face. He reached his hand up to catch some of the blood in his palm. “Is this what you want father?” He held out his open hand showing him the blood pooled in his palm. “It’s your blood father, well have it back! I don’t want it. I want nothing from you!” Darvin flipped his hand and sprayed his father with blood. He stood defiantly before him a smile now etching across his face with blood dripping from his broken nose.
His father wiped the drops of blood from his own face and looked at his palm. He growled showing his teeth and closed his hand again into a fist. He reeled his arm back and was ready to throw another blow to his son’s already badly beaten face. Darvin stood strong and straight prepared for the blow, but behind his father his mother picked up a chair. He watched as the chair struck his father hard in the back knocking him to the ground.
“Go now!” his mother directed. “Take your friend and go before he gets up!” Without a moment’s hesitation, Darvin ran from the site of his father toward the heavy steel door. “And hide Darvin. Try to hide. He’ll have to turn his attention to the golem, to complete our mission, that’ll give you time to hide.” Her voice raised, as Darvin whipped open the heavy steel door and disappeared into the dark expansion. “Good luck Darvin. You’re stronger than your father will ever know.” She spoke softly after Darvin escaped from the room.
Darvin ran to Sahn and reached down to help him up. He wrapped Sahn’s arm over his shoulder and the two of them walked along the invisible floor hovering in the middle of a black expansion with the glowing portal eyes of the large bird fading into the background.