Fal lay collapsed on his side. His Wufn was gone! The utter devastation of Wufn’s loss was impossible to comprehend. Greystone rubble on the floor of his cave dug into him, large enough for him to feel through his scaly flesh, and yet he barely noticed that discomfort. The pain inside was raging hot, burning and consuming him, eating a huge hole inside his chest. He could not understand it, how could Wufn possibly matter so much to him? He couldn’t allow it.
Wufn doesn’t matter. He never mattered.
Fal sought desperately for another reason for his agony.
It must be his failure that matters. It is failure that eats me up inside, like a forest aflame.
The Fallen dragged himself upright, sitting back on his haunches. He closed his eyes and felt the size and shape of the searing hole inside. It threatened to consume him entirely. He could not let that happen.
He filled that inner hole with ice, feeling the frigid cold enter and quench the flames, numbing that burned and shattered part of himself. He encased it all in thick, aqua blue ice, like the frozen rivers pouring over the far ends of the Mother, seen only in his dreams.
I will never feel that kind of agony again. Never. When I succeed in my quest, I will have the power and control I need to feel whole. Nothing will hurt me like that again.
He sat, cold filling him deep inside. He was almost there, when unwelcome thoughts crept into his mind.
It is written, Guardians protect the balance of light and dark. I have blasphemed. I have sought the death of a Guardian. I have turned my back on the One. I suffer for this.
No! I choose. I choose my own path. I choose the path of power!
Then the voices, always the voices, slithering, creeping.
You are weak, powerless, an insignificant crawling worm.
The ice filled him completely. He was protected. He felt nothing now, nothing but the cold. It burned almost as the fire had done, but that was right. That he could focus upon, center himself with.
The sun finished crossing the sky and sank to its sleep below the horizon. The moon rose and walked with silvery footsteps across the stones outside his cave. Still he sat, centered in the cold, his thoughts silent now.
As the sun woke once more, sending shafts of pale, morning light into his cave, shimmering on the deep green scales on his forearms, he knew what he must do.
I need another to be my hands and my voice.
Benumbed and determined, the Fallen sank deep into the blackness of the void and sought that small light he had taken note of before.
Tim walked along a wooded path. The boy’s slim legs moved easily, one long, black curl falling over his forehead. Green eyes, a startling contrast with his dusky skin, surveyed the trees he knew so well. He would often come, just as he had today, to spend time in the woods. To feel the sun on his back and sit upon his favorite rock and wait for the tight place in his belly to ease.
Sometimes the woods creatures came near, and he threw them crumbs from his morning cakes. The hoppers and the climbers didn’t fear him. Why should they? He wouldn’t hurt them.
Tim shuddered, remembering, and felt his belly tighten up. Six moons ago, in his twelfth change, his brothers had taken him hunting with them. He was so pleased and excited that he was big enough to go. He loved tracking through the woods as his brothers pointed out the signs of a large runner. Then they came upon the runner. Tim remembered the wonder he felt as he drank in the sight of its proud, antlered head and liquid, brown eyes staring at him from beneath the trees ahead. Then the terror and agony as the arrow pierced its side. His belly had tightened into a knot so intense he fell to the ground crying with pain. His brothers were disgusted with him, and called him a suckling, not big enough for the hunt. They sent him home in shame.
The next time, his brothers brought him along only at their father’s insistence. “Teach him,” he had commanded. Tim had gone reluctantly.
His delight in the woods, its sounds and smells had sidetracked him and he almost enjoyed himself, forgetting what was to come. Then the rooter they were tracking was hit. Again, he was doubled up with agony in his belly. He tried not to cry aloud, but the pain was too great. His brothers had refused to take him after that, saying that he ruined the hunt.
Tim reached his favorite rock in the woods and sat down, munching on a morning cake, tasting the oaten, nutty flavor he loved. He could feel the sun warm upon his back. His belly eased and he was able to think a little more clearly. It was getting so his belly was always in a knot when he was at the cottage. His brothers no longer treated him as one of them. He was shunted to the side, ignored, unworthy to be included in their jokes and banter. His father looked at him with irritation now, and something like disgust. He felt like a crawlie, something beneath their notice and it hurt badly.
A climber, tail down, moved along the ground toward him, hoping for a little bit of the cake Tim held in his hand. Tim looked at it absently, started to break off a piece of cake, then stopped. Bitterly he said, “You’re why I don’t belong. What kind of a man feeds a climber? Get out of here you!” He scooped up a handful of pebbles and threw them at the startled climber, who raced away into the trees. Tim slumped onto the rock, tears filling his eyes. I’ll show them, he thought.
He took out his knife, fingering the smooth blade and the sharp tip. He stood up, grasping the blade tip between thumb and forefinger. That grip felt familiar now because he had been practicing daily. He pulled his arm back behind his head, threw straight forward, holding his wrist straight, and released the knife. It flipped through the air to land in a nearby tree with a solid, satisfying thud. The tree was marked and deeply pitted from the repeated throws of his practice. Over and over he threw, his stomach easing with each satisfying impact of the knife. I’ll be big and powerful and then they’ll be sorry.
That night Tim lay on his cot, listening to his brother’s snoring and sighing around him. He drifted in that in-between state, almost asleep, but not quite. He heard someone call his name. Tim. That’s all, just his name. Then again, Tim. It startled him into full wakefulness. He knew he wasn’t hearing it with his outer ears. The voice was deep and resonant, filling his awareness and holding a promise of power. It beckoned him, and he started to think about traveling, being free of his brothers, his father, and their disdain.
The same thing happened the next night, and then every night for a seven day. By then he had laid his plans. His filled pack was hidden in the shed and he was ready to leave.
Early the next morning, instead of doing his chores out in the yard, he was striding down the road, pack on his back and feeling free.
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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