At first Fal hid within the familiar darkness, dreading the arrival of the voices that haunted him. He waited, resting in the gloom. It felt good to rest. The terrible hunger for more, more power, more domination, more control, was absent. Like a body part cut off, he kept expecting it to be there, but there was only a frozen empty space inside where there should have been burning need. It was oddly restful.
Over time, Fal accepted that icy cave within. He felt a growing curiosity and chose to enter the void and explore. The voices were silent still, seemingly allowing him this.
He floated in blue space, surrounded on all sides by frozen, translucent perfection. He felt calm and content just to be there. Gradually, his attention was drawn by a slight movement, just visible within the blue ice that was before him. He looked deep and saw a face. It was Wufn, the man who raised and abused him. The man who died for him. Then another face, the Hunter, a man whom he never met in the flesh, but who also died because of him, even as the Hunter himself was an instrument of death. Then many other faces of those who had feared him, those who revered, obeyed and died for him. He saw his boy, Tim, cringing before him, and he saw himself, raging, mindless, obsessed. Surrounding the faces and visions in the ice were countless beasts, pullers, runners, rooters, even hoppers all watching him. He knew without knowing how he knew, that these were the creatures he had hunted, unwilling and tormented they died a death unsanctified, a death for his pleasure.
Emotions long frozen trickled through cracks that appeared in the ice all around him. He felt scalding droplets where they landed hot and painful within him.
Now another face, the girl and the faces of her companions, wandering deep within the ice then turning to look at him, one by one. He saw terror and anger in their faces. He saw the Guardian, Ell, in all her beauty, wings stretched outward, graceful neck curved, and glorious golden eyes caressing him, knowing him; and even knowing all he was, she loved him.
It was too much, the cracks in the walls split wide open and he was drowning in a flood of shame and soul-deep regret.
The flood bore him up and out of that inner space, and he floated once again in the comforting darkness. Now, surely the voices would take him and he would be lost within that roiling greed. But no voices came, and the dark held him. He was reminded of the feeling he knew before hatching, curled within his shell, safe, warm and cared for. The memory was so strong, he almost felt that delicate protection surrounding him, could nearly see the translucent green light filtering through. He felt once again what it was like to be an unhatched Guardian of the One, the unwavering trust, the sure knowledge of his place on the Pathways and the deep understanding of his purpose. He wanted that again, with all that was within him.
Fal made his choice, he closed his inner eyes and fell into the eternal embrace of the One.
When once again he became aware of himself, he opened inner eyes to see darkness surrounding him. It was lit with dim pathways of white light, just barely perceptible. With joy, he recognized the Pathways of the One. It had been so long since he had turned his back on the One, he didn’t deserve this. Still, Fal dove deep and the Pathways grew brighter.
It was the outer world that was a shadow to him now, the only reality for Fal was here, tracing the Pathways. Here was freedom. The voices no longer haunted him. The void of the One so dark before, was now filled with light. He reveled in his liberty and wanted nothing more than to stay, a sparkling point of light moving, exploring, playing among countless other sparks.
Occasionally his mind touched upon a question, and then leapt away again as if from a sharp pain. Did he really deserve such joy? Perhaps not, most assuredly not, but he would accept this delight, allow it and seek more of it. He was a creature of the One again. He had chosen and the One welcomed him.
During the short periods of time in which Fal was aware of the shadow outer world he felt his boy there beside him. Though he never opened his eyes, he felt the devotion of that heart holding him. He wondered how it could be so. Surely, he never earned such devotion. When one night he felt the warm presence of the boy curl up next to him in sleep, he didn’t drive him away as he might have in the past, but allowed that small familiarity. Waking fully, Fal raised his head and curling his neck backward, looked at the boy, seeing his long legs tucked up beneath him, arms clutched about his thin chest. For the first time, Fal thought love to his boy. Then, with sudden realization, Fal knew peace. Resting his head on the ground beside his boy, his Contracted, he slept.
Tim had no idea how to help Fal. As far as Tim could see Fal needed nothing from him, lost as he was in his inner world. But Tim loved Fal. One only knows why, thought Tim. So, Tim did what he could, which was to watch over his Guardian.
As the days passed, he left Fal’s cave for only short periods of time. Fal didn’t need to eat but Tim did, and he would scavenge as quickly as possible, bringing what he found back to the cave and resuming his vigil.
When night fell, Tim curled up in the corner of the cave in his usual spot, but the air flowing in from the cave mouth was chilling and Tim’s thin body shivered. The heat radiating off of the Guardian’s scaled hide was irresistible and he dared to move closer to Fal. Tim had tried this in the past and been forced away with a hard thrust of Fal’s powerful tail. But maybe now, when Fal seemed to be so unaware. Maybe just a little bit of warmth, he thought. Walking his hands and knees along the cave floor, Tim quietly crept closer, close enough to rest against Fal’s enormous side. He felt the Guardian’s heat flow into him, soothing his shivering muscles. It was a joy to allow himself such closeness with his Guardian, even for just a few stolen moments. He pillowed his head on the warm surface meaning to move away again before Fal woke. But the deep, wooshing sound of the great Guardian’s breath lulled him to sleep.
He dreamt. He was a small younger held in the warmth of his mother’s arms. The sound of her breathing comforted him as he rested his head against her softly lifting chest. He felt love surround and fill him with a glorious, rose-hued light, and he slept more deeply, more restfully than he had for a very long time.
In case you missed a post, or if you've just tuned in to Lisle's story,
here are links to previously posted chapters to save you scrolling all the way through.
Introduction Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27
Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33 Chapter 34
Chapter 35 Chapter 36 Chapter 37 Chapter 38 Chapter 39 Chapter 40 Chapter 41 Chapter 42
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