From the mind of Marian-Rusk
I can feel my body swaying side to side as if I am walking a great distance but can see nothing of my surroundings. I can usually see well in the dark, even with no light at all, but this is different; every direction is pure blackness. I don’t know if my vision is gone, or there is just nothing to see. The darkness, however, is nothing compared to the silence. Almost tangible, it wraps around me, cutting me off from even the sound of my own breathe, my own heartbeat. My body walks for what feels like days, but could be seconds, there is no way to know in this horrible void, this lack of sensation. The swaying finally stops. Am I now resting? The darkness seems to dim slightly, but after a time I start to think my mind imagined it. Then the images appear in the air around me, causing my eyes to blink away the sudden attack. Sounds assault ears that have been strained by silence for so long.
Once the shock is over, I realize I know these scenes. They are the sights and sounds of my childhood! But not seen through my eyes. I see them now as a cloud or bird would, looking down on my younger self and my family in our yard in Hylley. There is Tyler, with that red handled axe he is so proud of, standing shoulder to shoulder with Iosua. They are steadily and slowly spreading out to surround me. As Iosua moves to the left, I look past him and see Eoghan and Siobahn similarly engaged in a practice battle. Before my two younger brothers can completely surround me, I watch myself start a simple three move attack routine. I know this moment in time! As I see myself finishing the move I scream out to mind where I place my feet, but it is to no avail. No voice came from between my lips, for there is no sound where I am. There is only sound in the memory, or dream, or whatever this is playing out in front of me. My younger self stumbles into the hole and, just as they did 6 years ago, my brothers waste no time on taking advantage of my error. Iosua knocks into me to knock me further off balance, while Tyler uses the back of his axe to knock my sword from my hand.
The event that changed everything is coming up and I try to turn away from the pain, but it doesn’t work. The image simply swings in the air to always stay directly in my field of vision. I can’t help but see Tyler’s axe swinging back in to finish the second half of the horizontal move or to see my younger self form a spike of blue light in my right hand to block the oncoming axe. Everything freezes, but one figure. My father walks over to have our talk. The one where he tells me that I am adopted and that my life for the past 13 years has been a lie. But this time is different. The story is exactly as I heard it then; the ending is still the same. But this time I notice the details my younger, angrier self could not. I see the pain, no not pain, the relief in my father’s eyes as he tells me the truth that he has kept from me all these years. As he tells his son, because that is what I now realize I have always been, that he was not his flesh and blood, but that he was indeed still his son. I hear him tell my 13 year old self “Collect your thoughts like I’ve always taught you. Your mother and I will still be here when you are ready.” and this time I actually listened to the words. I finally understand that the first 13 years of my life weren’t a lie. I was still a McKeon. No, I am still a McKeon. I watch as my father walked away to give me space and, as he did, the image faded and I was once again left in darkness and silence, but with a new understanding of the past to think on and pass the time.
The void had not been back for too long before the swaying begins again. I don’t know what this means, but I think possibly I am unconscious, knocked out during the ogre battle, and am being carried by my companions. It would explain the swaying and the visions. I sit there for some time, contemplating what the rest of the group must be going through. With what happened over the past few days, I am amazed that they are even bothering to carry me along. I would have figured Cromwell would have just left me for the animals, not even bothering to put me out of my misery. Misery. I was no stranger to that. But did I bring it on myself? As I start to think back on some of the people I had lost, the swaying stops. They must be stopping to rest for the night. I hope everyone else is alright. I would hate to lose anyone else. There have been far too many lost already. And then the images start to appear again. I am almost expecting it this time so my eyes and ears are a little more prepared but my mind is not ready for this particular set of images.
It starts simple enough. Once again I am staring down at myself from above, but this time my younger self was walking through the woods. I am a few years older, dressed in leather armor and forest garb with a shortsword hanging from my hip. I watch as my now 18 year old self comes to a clearing and begins to walk around the edge. If sound existed in the void, I would have let out a low moan. This is where my platoon was wiped out. That exact clearing. That exact day. I watch as the images continued to follow me walking through the woods, then the sounds of steel on steel and the quick cries of the wounded as steel connects with flesh. I watch in horror as my younger self sprints back to help out and comes upon the pitched battle that is my entire platoon against a larger force of goblins, hobgoblins and orcs. They fight valiantly, and I fight right alongside them.
As the last orc battles against my platoon leader, I strike down the last of the goblins, my shortsword shattering in the process. We are the only two left, my commander and I, and even before the goblin’s body finishes its downward decent, I am already sprinting across the clearing, mindblade forming as I run. I scream at the orc to fight me instead, but as he turns to face me, I see my commander slump to the ground, a bloody gash across his entire torso. I scream again and fling the mindblade as hard as I can, slaying the last of the killers of my platoon, my friends. I watch as my younger self races over to the body of my commander to check for a pulse, but know it is hopeless. As I know the frantic checking of the rest of the platoon would be hopeless as well.
From this vantage point, however, I can see the total scope of the battle. My platoon wasn’t just outnumbered, but grossly outnumbered. There are at least 4 times as many goblins, hobgoblins and orcs as there are soldiers. It was a miracle I survived at all. They had been lying in wait for us. It wasn’t my fault they died. Well not entirely. There was no way for me to know they were there, and no way to change how it happened. I did the only thing I could in the circumstance, I killed the things responsible for all that carnage. I avenged my platoon. My eyes snap back to the images at that moment, just in time to see my younger self bend to pick up a tiny lizard. The name “Cara” reverberates through my head as the images begin to whirl.
The images become a whirling cyclone of colors for several seconds and then, just as abruptly, stop. This new image is confusing at first. I simply see myself leaning over a pack. Then, as I see myself bring forth a small bloody figure, it all becomes clear. This is when I lost Cara and truly became the last remaining creature to walk away from that battle. I do feel some pain upon seeing her again, but it is blunted by time and now I can truly appreciate the river funeral I am now watching.
The images quickly swirl around me and I hear a deep pounding, like a giant heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. The whirling stops and I see a one eyed giant bearing down on our small band. Siobahn, my only sister, stands with her hammer at the ready, begging the huge brute to get close enough to hit. As I watch, he moves close to within striking distance, knocks Kal aside like just an annoying fly, and then heads straight for Siobahn. She strikes a mighty blow with her hammer, but it is not enough and he brings his giant fist down on the top of her head. With a sickening crunch, her body crumples to the ground. As a pool of blood quickly forms under her broken body, the giant is finally taken down. Her death had bought the others the time they had needed. Although tears now rim my eyes, I have finally come to realize that she died doing what she did best, protecting those she cared for. She would not have wished it any other way. I can barely make out, through my tear filled eyes, the images as they start to blur and whirl away once more.
When the images finally stop, I am staring up at a high stone cliff face. I shudder knowing what is coming next. I see myself from just a few days ago; watching in terror as my childhood friend, one of the only people left alive that meant something to me, plummet to his death on the ground in front of me. It hurts, but like the rest, I have to face this. I have to stop hiding from everything that hurts. Yes, I lost Kal. I lost Cara. I lost Siobahn. I lost Eoghan. I lost my platoon. But I realize now that I never lost my family. My parents will be waiting for me when I get home and if I never wake up and get on with my life and this mission, then I will never make it back to them. They will never know what happened to their only daughter or oldest son.
Suddenly a rapidly spinning object appears in front of me. It seems to be changing shapes and colors as it spins; a large red hammer one second, a small green sword the next, then a small orange axe, then a blue starknife. It starts to spin faster and faster, becoming more weapons than I can count. I begin to get dizzy watching it and feel myself falling over. No, I growl, not this time. I reach up and grasp the handle of the now shapeless mass of energy the shifting weapon had become and start to push it with my mind. I feel like I am 15 again, just learning how to control my mindblade. I exert my will on it and force it to take the shape I want, instead of the other way around. It slowly rounds to a solid handle that sits comfortably in my hand. After that I concentrate on the upper half and form it into a short sharp blade. The spinning colors are the last part. I focus on those and they slowly stop spinning and then slowly a dark green color starts growing from the handle to envelop the entire blade. When I am done, I hold in my right hand a perfectly formed dark green version of the short sword my father gave me to carry all those years ago. With the ghosts of the past behind me, I can now look to the future.
I spend the next couple of hours practicing to regain the skill of reforming the mindblade into different forms and different colors. I am enjoying a nice mental break when suddenly the floor shifts out from underneath me and I tumble down into the abyss. I bounce down for untold minutes and suddenly hit a hard bottom. I open my eyes and find that color and sound have returned to the world. I am in a cave. Shai stands over me. For the first time in a long time, I am truly awake.