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EPISODE 4: THUGS OF ARAN
The light is dim and hazy. I walk, without expression or emotion, towards a door I know very well. But my mind is blank. I have no other senses than sight and hearing. I am like a mindless body, devoid of thought and reason. I can only watch, helpless to whatever will happen next, and I do not possess the aid of any memories at that moment.
Then I receive a sense of familiarity, an understanding of my surroundings. I am in my home. Slowly, I watch the distance between my parent’s bedroom door and myself grow shorter and shorter. It is dead quiet, and everything is utterly still. When I near my parent’s bedroom door, it opens on its own, croaking loudly as it does. My eyes fix on one thing; the empty bed in the corner of the room. All of a sudden, knowledge flows into my mind regarding what the empty bed means, and I receive a simple emotion: fear.
I continue staring at the bed, when, as I blink, the light flickers, and when I see the bed again, my parents are sitting there, watching me. Yet I do not experience comfort; their stares are empty, their faces are white, their eyes are lifeless.
The light seems to twist and turn, and the room grows darker. The eyes of my parents begin to glow white, and between them, two faces, translucent like a ghost’s, begin to flash in the air, appearing and then disappearing again and again.
I gasp; the faces are of two Evil, each one black, dripping with blood and grime, and horrifying. But as they appear over and over again, and I am forced to watch, I feel like their faces are familiar. The realization sends a pang of terror through my stomach. Their faces resemble my parents’.
Suddenly, the light in the room grows unnaturally bright. My vision is utterly corrupted by the white light, and the room, my parents, and the faces disappear.
An instant later, I find myself lying on the ground outside. It is dark, darker than any sunset in the Golden Lands. And it is cold, wind howling around me, rushing over my limbs and making me shiver. As I stare up at the deep, dark blue sky, I see raindrops plummeting for me. They land on my face, heavy and cold. I flinch as they hit me.
That’s when I see them. My parents, or not my parents—I can’t tell which—are standing over me. Their faces are unearthly, eerie, dead. Their eyes are mere glowing white spots in their black, terrifying faces. My mother’s face is thin and streaked with blood, her nose long and crooked, and her ears twisted and pointed. My father’s face is wide and bulky, with a huge, round nose, horns instead of ears, and white fangs protruding from his mouth. Beside me, in my peripheral vision, I see two pairs of hands reach up for my parents—my Evil parents. The hands are small and round, cute and chubby. Then I hear two loud cries, and they are the cries of babies. They scream louder and louder, and I realize that they are coming from either side of me. The hands reach higher, when suddenly my two parents, silent and gruesome, slowly turn away and slip into the blackness.
The screams of the babies grow louder and more frantic. I feel new emotions now; anxiety, confusion, and rage. I feel tears begin to well up my eyes, prepared to gush forth like the rain from the dark clouds overhead, when I see a figure appear out of the blackness. It swoops towards me, flying with long, narrow wings, and I see its face. It is the leader of the beasts who took Soror and Frater. I shrink away, and he opens his mouth to swallow me when—
I wake up. As if I am still in the dream, I strike at the winged creature with my right hand. Instead of my fist striking the beast, my sword stabs into the rock I’m sleeping under, sliding to the left on account of the rock being rounded. The sword rings as it scrapes against the stone, and bright, yellow sparks flash in the darkness. My heart is pounding rapidly, I have broken into a cold sweat, and I feel tears on my face. But I am not sad. My face is tight, I am huffing serious breaths, and my eyes are glaring. I am angry, and afraid, and confused.
I lay back down. I have removed my cloak so that I could use it as a pillow, but when I put my head down I am surprised to find that it is wet both from sweat and the light rain falling over the forest. It is early morning. Last sunset, after walking a couple miles from the spot where I killed the two Evil, I found this rock overlooking a bed of moss and decided to rest here for the evening. I still feel tired from traveling yesterday, but my dream has left me uneasy, so I have no desire to sleep again. Consequently, I get up, breathing in the cool, moist air.
I keep on heading in the direction I’ve been going the whole time: North. There is a town a few miles from my location, North-East of my home. That’s the first place I’m heading. I have decided to track Soror and Frater, but, though I have done a fair amount of hunting, I have no idea how to trace these Evil. Therefore, I’ve decided to go from town to town, farm to farm, and ask if anyone has seen a band of Evil. It seems like all I can do. And besides, I will welcome detours, because, while I’m traveling, I might as well enjoy the places I see. But also, if I do chance upon other beasts, I will gladly distract myself from my original quest to give them what they deserve.
I know I am near a town because I have been to it before with my father. Sometimes, we would trade for things, other times we would borrow things, and other times we would visit friends. I have also not forgotten, though, that we also had enemies there.
As I step out from under the overhang the rock provides, I frown and glance at my sword. The rain could make it rust. I mean, I don’t know for sure, because I don’t know a lot about swords, but it seems possible. Taking my shirt from my back, I wrap it as best I can around my longish sword. Then, I don the wet, cold cloak. I will have to sacrifice my comfort for my life, I think, if I want to survive. If something happens to my sword, then I’m as good as dead if I encounter any more Evil.
I move through the forest with a quick stride. Even after I have woken, my dream still haunts me. Did it have a purpose? Was it merely something random, something my mind created that possessed no meaning? I can’t be sure about any of these questions. Yet, the questions raised by the dream itself are still worthy of my attention, and they refuse to leave my mind. What happened to my parents? Did the Evil have something to do with it? Did my parents leave me, Soror, and Frater? Why did my parents look like beasts?
I always thought that my parents had left me and my younger siblings. Life was hard, times were tough, and work seemed to be fruitless. I recall that dreadful, fateful morning when I noticed they were not awake and I went to find them. The dream, I realize, replayed that part of my memory; me walking to their room, opening the door, and finding their room empty. Of course, the dream was different from what really occurred on a number of levels, like my parents didn’t suddenly appear, and there was no presence of the Evil whatsoever. But the fear in the dream, that was the same. The confusion, the lack of knowledge, and the deep-seated anger—that was all real.
I always thought they left us. I always credited them in part with my suffering. I credited them in part with Soror and Frater’s detached, depressed dispositions. I have always been confused and angry. Were we not worth enough to our parents? Did they ever really love us? All those times we thought they did, when we seemed to feel their love the most, was it all fake? That’s what hurts to contemplate the most: whether or not they really loved us, whether or not they were the people we thought they were. I loved them.
That was before they disappeared.
These questions fill my thoughts for the few hours it takes me to come upon my destination. I am cut short in my musing when, just beyond a short slope covered with trees, I spy a large clearing, and in that clearing is the town I’m heading towards. The town’s name is Aran, and already I can see the cluster of townspeople moving about, talking, laughing, shouting, trading, bargaining, eating, and playing. They appear to be living happy, undisturbed lives.
Too bad I might just have to disturb their happiness.
It has stopped raining, but by now I am soaked. My hair is wet and plastered down on my head and my pants are soggy. My sword is only damp, for which I am thankful, but I still think that I will need to find the means to dry it properly. So as not to look like a complete weirdo, I remove my shirt from my sword and put it on, and then wrap my cloak around me. I hope I don’t look like an outcast too much.
I make my way down the slope to the road that leads to Aran. Then I walk at a swift pace to the front gate of the town. Aran is fortified by a wall ten feet high, constructed of wood—walls in the Golden Lands are usually only present to protect people from wild animals, not other humans. The gatekeeper, a man named Turk, greets me heartily. I remember him from previous visits, and he remembers me. It feels good to be remembered by someone. We exchange greetings and I am admitted into the town.
I feel very different from the crowd of Knights and Beloved around me. They are all so absorbed in their own business, no one even acknowledges me. Despite the feeling of exclusion and loneliness I feel, it is still exciting for me to be surrounded by other people, whether they notice me or not. I find myself slipping away into the folds of all the commotion around me. I eavesdrop on a conversation here, smell the food from a bakery there, and try to catch the eyes of a few attractive girls passing my way.
I snap out of my daze and remember why I am here. “Where do I start?” I think to myself. I came here to ask if anyone has seen a band of Evil pass this way. The problem is, I don’t know who to ask. I am also in no mood to be thought of as a fool if I ask the wrong person. I don’t want to be made fun of. The wisest thing to do, I reason, would be to go to the center of Aran and visit the sheriff. Surely, I will be able to find answers there.
There are no kings in the Golden Lands. A region might possess a castle, but the ruler of the castle is no ruler of the people around the castle. The Golden Lands is a place of complete, harmonious anarchy. No large bodies of people quarrel, and there is plenty of land and food to go around. There is no wealth; if you want something, you trade something for it, or you learn to make it yourself. Figures of authority only exist to help regulate systems. That’s what every area of civilization has: systems, and people who regulate them. But there are no rulers.
I am about a hundred yards away from the sheriff’s building when I hear someone say to my left, “Well, if it isn’t little Johnny!”
It has been years, literally, since I have heard my name. I hardly realize that the words—or the taunt—were directed at me. I see a group of teenaged guys my age approaching me. I am both large and small; some of them are bigger than me, some smaller. I immediately recognize the person who spoke: Tarsh Landid.
Tarsh Landid was always something of a bully. He is not broad or muscular, but he is tall. Everything about him denotes his cockiness and his deviousness. He grins with his teeth at me, his comrades gathering around him, and he says, “You’re looking awfully nice. It’s been a while since you’ve shown that big chin of yours around here.”
For the record, I know my chin is not big. “I see you’re still rude as ever,” I return. I notice him place his hand under the tunic he’s wearing and grip the handle of a sword he was concealing.
I take a step back; is he really going to attack me for saying that? He grins again, “What’s the matter, afraid of me now that your daddy is no longer here to protect you?”
My eyes widen, and I grimace, clenching my fist. “I’ve never been afraid of you, Tarsh,” I say, “and you have no right to say anything about my father!”
“Sorry,” Tarsh replies with mock concern, “I thought you wouldn’t care. After all, you really can’t like your father that much, seeing how he left you.”
“We don’t know if he left!” I shout, raising my sword.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Tarsh continues, “didn’t your mom walk out on you too? I guess you really must not have been worth it to them.”
“Shut up!” I yell. All at once, any past anger I had for Tarsh resurfaces, and I scowl at him, baring my gritted teeth. He’s drawing the line…
“Or who knows?” he shrugs, “Maybe they just got bored.”
…And now I’m going to cross it. Crying out, I charge Tarsh. Tarsh draws his sword, laughing, and his comrades also draw swords from beneath their robes. I clash with Tarsh and we parry, our swords locked. We stare into each other’s eyes, mine furious, his taunting. As we push against each other, I see the other guys with him spread out around me. “Come on,” I growl, “don’t you have enough honor to fight me without help?”
“What are you gonna’ do about it, you parentless, little bastard?” he sneers.
I roar at him, shoving him away. He staggers backwards, but quickly regains his balance, and he regards me with more sincerity. “Well, what do you know?” he says in an overly loud, exaggerated voice. “It seems like little Johnny has grown up! He’s finally starting to fight like a man!”
“Unlike you!” I return. His gang has fully surrounded me. In quick succession, I block a sword coming for me at my left, then I stab—forcing my foe to shy away—and then I bat a jab away at my right. I slash twice more at the Knights beginning to surround me, quickly but forcefully, urging them to keep their distance. I feel sweat run down my forehead, and my eyes are constantly switching from one guy to the next. I tense, ready to attack during the pause in their strikes.
Then Tarsh suddenly charges me. He runs at full speed, his sword pointed at me as he runs. I step to the side and slash. He raises his sword so that it faces the sky and blocks my attack. Before I can strike again, he quickly turns towards me and follows with another stab. This one cuts my right arm at the tricep. I grit my teeth and breathe deeply through my nose. In response, I swing horizontally, crying out, but he blocks again and then cracks down on me with an over-the-head attack. I catch his blow just before my head can be pierced. My arms quiver under the weight of his rap, and I scowl. That’s when I notice his stomach is completely exposed.
I cut sideways, and he jerks away, but not before my sword can slice his abdomen. He hisses, “Dammit, you bastard!”
I delight for only a short moment in my victory. In dealing with Tarsh, I forgot about his friends. White-hot pain erupts in my back as a sword cuts my back from kidney to kidney. I fall to the ground, my mouth open in silent exclamation.
I breathe in heavily, gasping in pain, thinking, “How many times will I be left to die? How many ties will I be wounded by an unfair attack?” My hatred grows evermore for the Evil and all that do evil. That’s when I see Tarsh approaching me. “Let this be the day, you worthless clump of dirt,” says Tarsh, looking down at me with evident delight while clutching his stomach, “that you remember how you were beaten, like a dog, by Tarsh Landid!” And drawing back his foot, I see his boot fill my vision a moment later and everything goes black.
TO BE CONTINUED…