Sometimes the dogs followed him all night. Most times he couldn’t see them. A vague awareness they surrounded him. Waiting for him to give up. Most nights he almost did.
“You can’t have me.” He whispered. Unsure if he even believed himself. What would be so bad about dying here? Nice spot to feed some worms. The thought made him feel warm. A few seconds of gushing red water and it could all be over. Cut vertically, not horizontally. Make sure it’s deep. No pracky scars. What was he really looking for? Did they even exist anymore? Or was it just him. The last of a dying breed. No. There must be more around somewhere. He wasn’t old enough or strong enough to make it alone. If one of the dogs decided to make a move he was done. Would someone else even want to help him? His father had told him stories of the Madra.
“Kill you as soon as look at you. Maybe rape you first.”
He forced some sparks out of his fingertips. More dogs than he could count. They barely flinched this time. They were getting use to his magic tricks. He still couldn’t make fire. Nearly fourteen now. It was supposed to come with puberty. Maybe it would never work. Maybe he should lie down and close his eyes. The dogs weren’t scared. It wouldn’t take long. Mandible around the throat. Some pressure, a snap. He could be with his family. At least that’s what the ancients said. Why would a man send his only son to die for our sins? If he was all powerful he could have just clicked his fingers. He wouldn’t even need to click his fingers. That’s how powerful they said God was. There were contradictions everywhere. Faith was for fools. But what if the fools were right? Then he could see his family again.
The dogs could take him to them.
He forced some more sparks out. The dogs barely trembled.
Maybe a month from now. When things got really bad.
Wren decided to live. For how long was a different matter entirely.
The Sin was strong today. She hadn’t hurt anyone yet but every day she itched a little more. Marra didn’t understand why some days were worse than others. She had been through four exorcisms. No change. The ancients she had been brought to had never seen anything like The Sin. They didn’t admit it, with their scriptures and bullshit. But they were terrified the possession might take over. They were right to be scared. It had taken everything she had not to gauge their eyes out and bite into their throats.
Solitude was becoming more of a comfort than it had initially been. Her mother had begged her not to go. With a few more exorcisms The Sin would be washed away she said. Her mother. Willing to die for her daughter, by her daughter, just so she could be with her daughter. There was no more sadness. Just arcing cobwebs in her stomach. The remnants of something that once was there.
Don’t think them. You has me now. Let me have Marra.
The Nephalim was the only way. Somewhere she would have to find one and convince it to help her. She wasn’t sure how much time was left before The Sin crawled up her arm and into the rest of her body. It had started as a small dark spot under her index nail. But now it was half way up her forearm.
Maybe the Nephalim would just kill her. The ancients said they created the Madra. Was that what she was becoming? No. The ancients were full of shit. They were wrong about the exorcism and the possession. Why should they be right about anything else?
The trees lit up somewhere ahead. Like a half hearted lightning strike. Dogs...maybe a dozen. And a boy. Darkness. Another flash. This time Marra saw. The sparks were coming from his fingertips. But that was impossible, the elementals had been killed in the Inquisition.
No weak spark help! Stupid girl. You has me. Kill spark, stupid spark!
Marra drew her bow. She took a flinthead arrow from her quiver and lined up the shot. The line made no noise as she drew it back. The tree was a perfect vantage point. Not long now, wait for the spark, breathe, release. The Sin tightened around her wrist. A tear dropped from her left eye.
Whistle and Thud
Jaws snapped closer. He had done his best. Wren accepted what was about to happen. He turned and got on his knees. This was it. Wren had lost count of the days months ago. He had given it a go, he had tried his best. At least he wasn’t going to die by his own hand. More honour in this.
He felt the dog’s breath on his throat. Air rifling through its nose, lips were drawn back, teeth an inch apart. Strands of saliva hung and fell. Wren’s hands glowed. There were fourteen dogs. The one in front of him was huge. Mean. Behind were some smaller ones, different breeds. A few of the dogs were barely a foot from the ground. They would fight for his scraps. Every pack needed weaklings. But right now Wren was the weakest, he knew it and so did the dogs.
Something whistled. A dull sound that turned sharp in less than a second. Thud. The dog’s teeth hid behind its lips. The growling turned into sorry whimper.
Another arrow hit. The pack growled and barked. Wren stopped his hands from glowing. He had wanted to see the dog that would kill him. A final act of courage. If whatever was killing the dogs wanted Wren as well the sparks wouldn’t do him any good.
“Put your lights back on!”
Wren didn’t move.
“Unless you want an arrow in the head spark up!”
Embers sprayed from his finger tips. Three of the dogs were lying on their sides. Eyes heaven ways, tongues long and lifeless on the grass.
Two more fell.
A jack russel took one to the crown. Beside it a German shepherd tried to walk. The arrow in its back heavy as a piano. It groaned and hit the dirt. Then there was only the shih tzu. Its tiny bark shadowing the fear.
Twigs snapped above Wren. A shadow landed in front of the dog. Nearly six feet. The dog stood its ground. High pitched barks bounced against the shadow. An arm shot out of the darkness. Thick red veins glowed with magma ferocity. The shadow held the dog above its head. Its forearm illuminated the darkness. It brought the dog close to its face.
A direct declaration. There was no sadness in the voice. The red hand grabbed the snout the other the jaw. The barks weren’t aggressive anymore. They were pleading. Wren turned off the sparks. He didn’t want to watch. A sound like branches under strain followed by a wrenching noise. Bones and teeth ground together, skin tearing. The dog wasn’t barking anymore.
Wren’s back broke the husk of the tree. He hadn’t even seen the shadow coming for him. The black fingers wrapped around his throat.
Golden butterflies flashed around the corners of his eyes. He barely noticed his back coming down heavy to meet the ground. A beam of light from the moon cut across the shadows face. A girl? Older but still young. Maybe four or five years more than Wren. She clutched the tree behind her and howled. The colour on her forearm intensified. Burning through the darkness. Wren could make out her backpack as she flung it to the ground and tore through it.
“Shut up. I won’t do it.”
The words were strong, definite but they were delivered with frailty. As if the sentence was questioning itself.
“You’re just filth.”
She pulled something from her backpack and held it in front of Wren. Moonlight bounced off the chain. It hung in concave arc, the red light from the girl’s left arm streaming along the metal. Only the merchants could get you something like this. Wren wondered how the girl could have afforded it or what she might have done to get it.
“Tie me up boy.”
A flare of tension in his stomach.
“You mute? Take the chain.”
Wren wanted to move. To do what she was asking but his brain couldn’t quantify what was happening. This person had saved him, attacked him and was now asking him to tie her up. It was not uncommon to come across wayward minds. He could just tie her up and keep moving. But Wren continued to stand there.
“Take the chain before I bite through your teeth!”
The girl’s voice changed completely. Like a wolf trying to speak. The ancients had talked about demon possession. Was this it? Wren took the chain and looped it around the tree. The lock was cold, it made the sound of a breaking bone as Wren forced it closed. A shiver pinpricked its way through the back of Wren’s neck.
“Behind you, half a kilometre, the tree with the anaconda roots. Stay there tonight. In the morning come get me out..”
“How do you know I’ll come back?”
His voice was dry but he did his best to cover it up.
“Dogs are the least of a wanderer’s trouble. They would have killed you tonight. Your useless. I’m not.”
Wren’s fingers glowed.
“I could kill you. Here. Now.”
“You can’t even talk without shitting your pants. Come get me in the morning.”
Wren walked towards the tree. Everything was quiet. Wren listened intently. Sometimes, in silence like this, he could make out melodies. He could never tell if it was something from the distance or just the sound of his own thoughts. A slow melody ambient in his ears. Wren listened.
It was beautiful.
The hut was easy to find. The tree was less easy to climb. His hands felt sleepy when he lit up. Couldn’t grip the branches with any force. Wren’s eyes could just make out the branches but the distance was mystery. Marra had stopped shouting a short time ago. It gave Wren a chance to listen to the melodies once again. His father had made an instrument from wood and string years before. He slid horse hair against the strings. Slow and thoughtful. A trader’s broken heart, a tired mother watching her young child laugh, a spider plucking its web in the aftermath of rain. Wren could hear so much in those sounds.
The fist tightened around his heart.
He remembered his father trying to teach him. How was it that his father could make such sounds but Wren’s sounded like high backed black cats? His father never got frustrated or angry. “Everyone has something, this just isn’t yours.” Wren remembered the edge going right through. He remembered the ribs snapping under the pressure. Blood pouring and pooling. The blade was large, even in death it kept Wren’s father upright.
If wren found that man...
The fist opened its hand and caressed.
The only reprieve from fear and sadness were these moments when Wren felt the purity of anger. It ebbed through his body, pulsating from below his ribs. His fingers tingled. He would kill that man. Slowly. He would make him beg. Wren would pretend to consider his captives pleas. Offer him a spark of hope. Make him believe it could be turned to a flame.
Then he would continue.
Marra’s hut was small but pragmatic. Branches, leaves and twigs pasted together with mud. This kind of place wouldn’t last longer than a few nights. Obviously Marra hadn’t intended to stay here. Wren kept his lights off. A spark in the wrong place and everything could go up. Through the spaces in the trees he could see stars. He wondered how high up you’d have to go to reach them. There were ancient stories of men blasted to different planets on giant white spears. One story even suggested that a small creature made entirely of metal had been placed on a red planet. Was that what happened the ancients? Did they leave this planet for another? Wren considered this thought.
What sort of imbecile would choose to stay on this planet?
Slowly the melody swayed through his ears. Wren yawned and turned. Another day was finally over. He commit himself to sleep.