I am plunged into a world of uncertainty. Two days hence I faced inescapable and horrific death. I had resigned myself to a brief and calamitous end at the hands of some hellish beast. Now however, my world is turned upside down and I can see no way forward.

I awoke here in my room earlier this day in the company of Horst and the mad little woman he had introduced us to.

“Us”, how heavy and hollow that word is now. Jennings is nowhere to be found.

My head burned when I awoke and I swam through a wretched haze as I fought to open my eyes. The faces that greeted me, although not unfamiliar, may as well have been from another world as their attempts to communicate fell on uncomprehending ears. I looked around for my companion and translator and felt the concern rise as my blurring eyes failed to find him.

It took several moments, and the use of primitive sign language, along with the mention of his name to ascertain that Horst had no idea of his whereabouts either.

I tried to recall the events of that evening but my aching head screamed in protest at such unwelcome probing and I fell back on my sheets. Each beat of my heart made my skull pound and the bile rise in my throat. A bowl was held to my mouth and I protested as its sticky contents started to run over my lips. My attempts to push it away however, were met with a tirade of cursing from the insane midget physician and my mind was immediately filled with the memory of the resounding crack she had delivered to Horst on refusal to take his medicine. Resigning myself to my better judgement I took the proffered sip and, whilst fighting to maintain my dignity against the foul liquid I had just ingested, darkness crept over me again.

The next I knew was a cool dampness on my forehead and a considerably clearer view of the world as I opened my eyes yet again.

The miniature marvel that was my nurse sat by my bed knitting something that could either be a thick winter jumper or a medieval torture device. Only time, and the reaction of its recipient, would tell. Horst had left and, from the passage of sunlight across the floor, I could see I had been unconscious for several hours.

I reached up to my forehead and removed the cold damp cloth as I raised myself onto my elbows, Matron made no move to stop me. Neither did she bat an eyelid as I swung my legs from the bed and felt the cold wood of the floorboards on the soles of my feet. I sat for a moment and let my head fall forward. Resting my elbows on my knees, I felt my mind clear as I listened to the click-clacking of the needles fulfilling their terrible duty.

Taking a deep breath I got slowly to my feet. For a moment everything was well, then my head swam sickeningly and I took heavily to my seat once again.

The screech came so loud and unexpected that it felt like a physical blow, and I remember wondering why my pintsized torturer had not simply poked me in the ear with her knitting needles instead. The door immediately burst open and the hole it left behind was filled with the hulk that is Horst. The concern in his face, after being called into the room so hastily, soon turned to relief when he saw me sitting on the edge of my bed.

His rather overenthusiastic passage across the room toward me was impeded somewhat when he found himself staring down the length of a pair of expertly wielded knitting needles that had suddenly appeared before him. I did not even see the woman move. The needles, accompanied by a menacingly whispered warning, brought him up short and, after mutely nodding his consent, he offered a hand to bring me to my feet.

After a shaky start, a bowl full of the landlord’s best stew and a bracing hot beverage, the contents of which are still a mystery to me, I was in a much improved state of body and mind. Another round of charades and broken German was enough to convey the message that I needed Horst’s help to track down my missing companion. Although the proposal seemed to trouble him, he agreed. Thirty minutes later, with a pack of meagre provisions, two horses and enough armament to make us both feel a little more at ease with the task in hand, we set off for the boy Sebastian’s hut.

The sun was high in the sky and thick clouds were looming. I calculated four hours of daylight to conduct our search before darkness, and the threat of the beast, drew in. I wished for more but at least we had the horses.

We rode swiftly. My time in the Sudan had made me a better horseman than Horst and several times I found myself having to slow down in order for him to catch up, but not by much. The ride helped to clear my head a great deal and it was not long before we found ourselves at the foot of the path that lead to the boys hut.

It was here that we slowed our horses to a walk and rode side by side. Travelling this path again brought fresh memories of that night to my mind. They were little more than shouts and screams, splintering wood, rending claws, teeth and the terrifying bellows of a raging beast. The more I tried to chase the visions the more they retreated from view.

All these thoughts were driven from my mind as we reached the bend in the track that finally brought the boys abode into view. It loomed. To say that darkness hung over the place would be wrong. The place itself was darkness. The hut and surrounding trees seemed to pulse with it. A living darkness engulfed this place and made the hair rise on the back of my neck. I was not the only one to feel it. The expression on Horst’s face was one of dread and we both fought to keep control of our horses as they danced under the weight of their fear.

The oppression was palpable. The tattered remains of the door hung in splintered pieces from its hinges. The entrance to this place was a yawning black maw as foreboding as that of the very beast itself. It drew at me. Looking into the inky blackness within drained the very warmth from my skin and made me shiver to my bones.

We dismounted and, securing their reigns to the nearest tree, left our horses to their protests as we covered the last few yards on foot.

The ground outside the door was pitted and marked with footprints, signs of battle and, most alarming of all, immense paw prints. Horst shouldered his rifle and I drew my sword as we gingerly made our way inside.

The place was in ruin. The thick, heavy table that once stood in the centre of the room was now against the back wall and fit for nothing but firewood. Everything in sight was either broken or far from where it should be. Stampeding horses could not have done a better job.

We took little time in realising that there was nothing here of any use to us. We were about to leave when Horst called for my attention. With much pointing of his finger, pacing about the floor, indicating different places in the room and the speaking of the few names he knew I managed to ascertain that he was attempting to tell me what happened here. The last thing I could recall clearly was the sound of the beast beating at the door and its terrible howling and gnashing of teeth. All I could tell from Horst’s mime was that I had been thrown across the room more than once and the final time had rendered me unconscious. Horst was dealt the same fate soon after but not before seeing Jennings tackle the beast head on while the boy cowered in a corner. When Horst regained consciousness he found that only he and I remained, so he had taken it upon himself to get us back to the village.

The only avenue left open to us now was deciphering the jumbled footprints outside in an attempt to track Jennings as best we could. This would be a tall order however as I had little or no tracking skills to speak of and neither, it appears, did Horst. After another bout of amateur dramatics I managed to convey my intentions to my colossal counterpart but, after managing to pick Jennings boot prints out of the scrum, our efforts came to nought several yards into the tree line. The only things we managed to ascertain were that he had fled in the direction of the shrine and that he was either accompanied by or chasing, Sebastian.

I had planned to make the shrine our next port of call anyway and so, with this information spurring us on we mounted our steeds once more and bade a thankful farewell to that tainted place.

The sun was making its way toward the horizon a lot faster than I found comfortable and we rode with haste to the crossroads where the shrine stood resolute and cold as a tombstone.

The silence of the place drew in as the trees grew thicker on either side of our road, but there was no time to give credence to our trepidations and we spurred our horses on in an effort to see to the task in hand as quickly as possible.

We reached the crossroads at full gallop, drawing our horses to a sudden stop as soon as we had closed the distance. Handing Horst my reigns I jumped from my mount and approached the shrine at a run. The candle was still unlit and my mind raced as I tried to find any clue regarding the whereabouts of my companion as precious time ticked away. The only footprints at this place were the ones we had left several days ago. This I concluded from the fact that they only lead from one point, the point at which all three of us had approached the shrine previously. None of them led to or from the woods in the direction of Sebastian’s hut. Jennings had not come here after leaving with, or chasing the boy.

I dared to call Jennings’s name several times but to no avail. I felt what little hope I held in this place slowly ebbing away, but it wasn’t until I turned to look at Horst that the full weight of our predicament hit me. We were a long ride from the village, the sun was sinking rapidly towards the horizon between dark heavy clouds, our horses were tired and scared, my head was still pounding and the last time we had encountered the beast it had bettered all four of us. Horst and I would not stand a chance against it if we were to cross its path tonight. I did not want to give up looking for my friend but I had to resign myself to the bare facts. Looking for him on my own in unfamiliar country in the dead of night with that nightmarish thing on the prowl would be suicide.

Somewhat reluctantly, I accepted the proffered reins from Horst and took to my saddle. I was barely seated before my companion took off as fast as his horse would carry him. He had no intention of being in the wilds when the sun went down. We pushed every ounce of speed and strength from the animals as we raced the sunset back the village. It wasn’t until we were more than half way back that I realised that Horst was having no trouble keeping up with me on this leg of the journey. In fact, it was I who was chasing him most of the way home.

We returned to the village just as the sun was turning red on the horizon and didn’t stop until we reached the door of the inn. Breathlessly, Horst and I entered the bar room and were greeted by a sea of inquisitive faces. My heart was pounding in my chest as I leant against the bar top and every pulse was like a hammer to my aching head. The pain turned my stomach and nearly caused my legs to buckle. Several moments later another mug of the landlords warm mystery brew was pushed into my hand as I sat trying to hold my head on.

It truly is a magical thing as within twenty minutes my headache had subsided considerably and I was able to engage Horst in another round of bridging the language gap via mime. This time however, it took considerably longer to convey my intentions, but after almost a full ten minutes he was able to grasp that I wanted volunteers to help me search the surrounding area outside the village. I could not go alone as I knew nothing of this land and I would prove easy pickings should the beast return. I did not want to give up on the search for my friend so easily.

I had Horst explain this to the room at large but the only result was that those present became extremely interested in the contents of their mugs to the exclusion of everything else. This vexed me and I prompted Horst to ask again but he had only reached the midway point in his pitch when the ignorance and cowardice of these people overwhelmed me.

I am ashamed now when I recall my earlier outburst. My tongue flew with the rage that had built up inside me. In the few days we had been here my friend and I had done more to unravel this mystery than any of the men who sat in that room and yet now, when I needed their help to find this man, they would not even pay me the common decency of acknowledging my request. When in honesty, who can blame them? I have seen the thing that waits out there in the shadows. I have encountered that fearsome creature first hand and I would not rush to meet with it again.

It was in my fit of rage however that my tiredness and concussion came back with a vengeance. As I moved from table to table demanding the attention of those seated by it, the pounding in my skull increased and the last thing I can recall is feeling myself stumble as the room span around me and, once again, I woke up here in my room. The time was obviously late as the main room of the inn downstairs was in silent darkness, as was what I could see of the village from my window.

It is what happened next that brought the most surprise to my day. After resting for several hours as I had done, I found myself much repaired and fully alert. Resigning myself to the fact that my options were extremely limited I decided to take up my meditations as I already felt somewhat lax in my duties in this area given the events of the day. I hoped that through calming my thoughts I may be awarded some fresh insight on what to do next.

I took up my breathing, cleared my mind and focused my awareness where the soul stone rested on my chest. What I expected was the usual soft, slow transition to the waking dream like state I had come to expect, and to find myself sitting in my old fishing spot on the bank of the river. Instead what greeted me was an explosion of sensation.

I knew immediately that what I was experiencing were memories. This was not something I felt, but something I knew. Putting the sensation into words is not easy, but it is the difference between suspecting something to be so, and knowing it from the very core of your being.

I was indeed at my familiar spot by the river but this time I was not sitting as I usually did. Instead I was floating several feet above the ground and I felt utterly free. I felt as if I could expand to fill the whole universe or shrink to the size of an insect. Space, time and matter had no meaning anymore. Everything I saw was a part of me and, in turn, I was a part of it. For the first time in my life I understood what it was to be completely without fear. I was safe here in this place. I was a radiant being of light, love and warmth. This was my natural state, this I knew.

As I revelled in this sensation I became aware that something was trying to get my attention. Looking down I saw the object that had been sitting beside me on the bank of the river, only this time it did not attempt to move out of view. I sensed that it had a presence all of its own. Almost as if it spoke to me like an old friend. This was the first time I had been able to see it properly but I instantly found myself wondering where it had been for so long, as if I had mislaid it sometime in the past and suddenly stumbled upon it again.

It changed slightly as I looked at it, as if it was somehow unsure of its own form or shape. The outline would always stay the same but the detail would shift if I tried to look too closely. It resembled the handle of a flintlock pistol but longer, nearly a full foot in length. It had something that looked like a trigger but I knew it was no gun. I knew straight away that this thing was no weapon but rather a tool. A tool with a conscience of its own that was somehow intrinsically linked to me.

The wooden handle bore several different crystals of varying shapes, sizes and colours. The two most prominent of these sat at either end. One was a perfect sphere of clear crystal set into the base of the handle. The other was large and shaped like a short, stout knife blade.

All of these crystals were connected by copper that ran inside the wood. The final and most important piece however, the presence that sought to communicate with me, was inside the thing itself.

I could not make out any more of it, as at this point my attention was drawn elsewhere. I felt compelled to look across the river, and what I saw there shocked me and drew my full attention.

It was a woman.

She stood in the mist on the far bank, not more than six yards away and simply looked at me. It took several moments for me to get over the initial shock of seeing another person in this place but once I had, it was clear that she was nothing to be afraid of. In fact she was quite beautiful.

She smiled at me in a way that made me feel comfortable, as though she wished to engage me in conversation and I would have gladly done so had it not been for the feeling that I was somehow restricted.

As I stood and looked at her the feeling of calm familiarity grew but it was soon dashed. I knew that she was nothing to be scared of, but the shadow that now loomed behind her was another thing entirely. Something large and dreadful was approaching through the mists behind her and it felt entirely foreign in this place. I not only saw it moving, but felt it. As though it’s very presence was driving a knife edge through the calm. I tried to warn her but the next thing I knew I was sitting in my room shouting in vain at the wall.

I knew I had just witnessed the things that were revealed to me when the beast had rendered me unconscious. Jennings’s training had worked. When my body was in danger my consciousness had found its way to the safety of the soul stone, only the soul stone held more than I knew.

My journey there tonight has taken its toll on me and I write this with heavy eyes. Tomorrow I shall start my search a fresh. I must find Jennings. I have no other choice.

[Return to Victors Journal]

[See Victors Artifacts]

One comment

Bobbi DeSart
 1 

That was fun! I wish there was more. 🙂

February 22nd, 2015 at 9:34 am

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