Tag Archives: prophecy of the last hope of the elves

The Tale of Two Mountains– Pt. 27

isaandnoel

Prophet of Darkness

“They wear blood on their heads,” Issa whispered into the tiny hole in the reed. She sat cross-legged, with her nose and forehead pressed against the wall of her hut. She had spent the morning watching the transparent green worm as it gnawed its way inside the fibrous shaft. Now that its work was done, it would lay its eggs there and wait to die, to be the first meal for its newly emerging offspring. The creature was on its way to becoming something more, like everything else within Om was destined to do— except for Issa.

The idea made her breath catch in her chest as tears stung at her eyes, but she bit the inside of her cheek and tasted blood, which at least served to harden her resolve. Her own destiny, or lack thereof, did not matter right now. This little worm could be trusted to carry some of the truth into the next life, she thought, picking at one of the scabs on her fingers, causing it to ooze.

“Great cloaks of blood and nothing else, as the sun rose up setting the earth ablaze, the pages turned to ash that fell from the sky like snowflakes, she swallowed it whole,” she added, rocking back and forth as the words ruptured out of her.

She slapped her hands hard over her lips. It would not do to give the poor worm too much.

For the six days since she awoke from her dance with Moag, Issa had been locked up in her hut with little to do but try to spit out the poison of Moag whenever she recalled even the slightest part of it, telling it as secrets to the worms and the birds and the wind, if they would listen. No one else would. Her mother looked at her with fear in her eyes, though she tried to hide it. Her father rarely stayed long enough for her to fall into one of her fits of imbalance, as he called them. She had tried several times to tell Harvey of the things Moag had shown her, hoping he would understand, thinking perhaps he could help piece together the strands of her thoughts into something comprehensible, after all he had been there as well, but her persistence only seemed to make him angry. Harvey wanted her to pretend to be herself, to be his old Issa again, if only so she could get out of that hut and live and breathe, since she had been given this second chance at life by the wanderer. She knew she was too far gone now, and so was he, even if he was not yet willing to admit this about himself. The truth was there was so much there, such a cataclysm of ideas in her head, trying to be understood all at once, that her thoughts were like blinding currents, few ideas coherent enough to express, except where the wanderer was concerned.

“Ohamet,” she growled as she got from the ground and hurried to the window, knowing she would not be able to see him, but strangely drawn to look anyway.

Noel walked along the riverbank on the far side of the mountain, Harvey at his side. Isabella regarded with jealousy the warmth of the morning light aglow on his cheeks. He was content, if not happy, and if she listened carefully, Issa could almost hear the rush of the water drowning out their sentences. She could smell the damp earth on the air, intermingled with the tender bloom of wild thyme crushed under their feet. Noel walked with his hand outstretched, allowing the tall blades of grass to brush over his palm, and Issa knew each blade as though his hand were her own—as if she might rip the life up from the ground with ease. All she had to do was close her fist.

She clenched her fingers tight, and a drop of blood splattered to the floor, startling her out of her stupor.

This was her life now, no matter what Harvey wanted for her. She had no idea how long she had been standing at the window, holding her breath, gouging her fingernails into the flesh of her hand.

“Echteri amu schripat,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes again, blurring the lines of the treetops against the sky. “Schripat. Schripat.”

He had to live. He had to change everything.

A knock on the door sent her thoughts of the wanderer adrift.

She wiped her bloodied fingers over her face, rubbing away the tears as the Mardraim entered, and she forced herself to smile. “My Mardraim,” she began, bowing her head politely, trying hard to control the quaver in her voice. He had not visited since the day she woke.

“I am sorry to disturb you, Young Isabella,” the old man answered gently, pausing for a moment with his back to her as he shut the door behind him. She watched his jaw pulse as his shoulders shifted, in preparation. “You are feeling better than last I saw you?” he added as he turned again, his face serene as ever, not betraying his initial aversion to the state in which he found her.

Isabella looked down at her nightgown, stained with blood, knowing there was nothing to be done about it, and pushed back the twisted locks of her hair. When had she last washed?

“I am well, yes,” she lied. She felt frenzied, constantly racing to hide from her own panic and the torrent of ideas that were not of this world. Her memories prior to her encounter with Moag still scattered and vague, she often got lost in her head trying to bleed the wanderer from her veins, so that time had become disjointed, and she had taken to numbering the days in scratches on the floor to try and keep count. Six. Maybe more. Perhaps less. But there were six marks, and she was fairly certain she made them all herself. She was hardly well. “Are you well?” she added casually, as though the two of them had met on the path, on her way to perform some duty of the aspirant, and the courtesy was only natural.

“I am concerned for you,” Edward Frank answered too honestly. He motioned to the table as a match for Issa’s solitary chair appeared there. They made their way to their respective seats, and the mardraim continued solemnly. “I wanted to give you time to heal, before I pressed you too much about the things you experienced these past weeks. I still lack a full understanding of the things that have gone on in our mountain, since Ohamet came, however I believe you can help me, if you are willing.”

He glanced down at the bleeding skin on her fingers, then back to her eyes, searching them for something he was not yet ready to voice. For a moment, she thought he would ask about the wounds, but instead he said, “The last time we spoke, you claimed to have received prophecies directly from Moag. Do you remember telling me this?”

“I do,” she answered, laughing quietly at the idea she might have forgotten something as important as the things Moag showed her, though she did not remember exactly when she had told the Mardraim about them, and she knew she could not remember everything she saw. No one could possibly remember so much. No one was supposed to know the things she knew.

“I would like to know more about these prophecies,” the old man said, folding his hands in his lap.

A spasm of agonizing glee coursed through her, as Isabella sat up straight, her knees bouncing, causing the table to tremor. If the Mardraim would listen, he could help her understand. “Echteri amu schripat,” she said before she knew what she was saying.

“The wanderer lives,” the old man nodded. “You have told me this before. If it is a prophecy, do you understand the meaning, child? I do not know Moag, as you do, and Om offers no guidance for understanding such things.”

“Om would not—” she began, but as if the words had opened the tap inside her, all the confusion flooded back, and Issa found herself drowning again. “The beast saved three, born a shelter, he knows where it belongs, blood on their heads.” Eyes wide, she clamped her hand over her mouth and held it tight, as she rocked back and forth on the spot, squeezing every muscle in her body , to hold back the torrent. It would not do to frighten the Mardraim away. He would help her. He had to help her.

The old man shook his head, concern and confusion weighing down his white tufted brow. “These are prophecies you witnessed in the darkness? Or are they a single prophecy? Isabella, do you know?”

She nodded excitedly, then shook her head, realizing she could not answer for certain, tears spilling down her cheeks again even as she let loose her mouth and continued, “I heard the infant crying for a soul when you put him back in Moag, she swallowed it whole.” She balled her fists in her lap, baring her teeth, fighting to hold herself still. “Swallowed it. Swallowed it… whole.”

“The infant? You speak of the nameless child?”

Issa nodded. The nameless one had died.

“The nameless child has a prophecy from Moag?”

Another nod.

“But the nameless child is dead,” the Mardraim frowned. “How can he have a prophecy if he is not living?”

“The prophecy could not come to pass if he were living,” Isabella answered confidently.

“What do you mean?

“I…” But she had no idea what she meant. That was why she needed the wind and the worms and the Mardraim.

The elder leaned forward expectantly, pressing his fingers to his lips, and allowed the moment of silence to pass between them, obviously hoping Isabella would somehow manage to gather some focus and reach an epiphany she might share with him. It did not happen. “Tell me again, Issa,” he whispered. “Try to go slowly, and I will do my best to understand. Tell me of the nameless one.”

The pity in his tired eyes was difficult for her to bear, but Isabella took in a steadying breath and did her best to speak slowly, as asked. “I heard the infant crying for a soul when you put him back in Moag,” she hissed then flung her hand over her mouth to stopper the flow.

“I put him back?”

“And I heard him crying,” she answered from behind her fingers, staring wide-eyed at the old man, willing him to make sense of just this one thing, or if not to make sense of it, then at least to take it away from her, so she did not have to know it anymore.

“But what could it mean?” he shook his head, getting to his feet. “The child is dead. He died the very day Ohamet came through Moag. He died, as surely as the wanderer brought Young Isabella back to life.” The elder was pacing now, speaking to himself. “We took his body from the cloister. We burned him, to set him free.” The Mardraim turned suddenly. “Is that what you mean when you say that I put him back in Moag? Is it to do with the burning?”

Issa shrugged and gave a quiet laugh. The providence of the nameless one had puzzled the Mdrai and Felimi for months. The fact they burned the infant’s body, rather than allowing him to return to the earth, could only mean they were so disturbed by his unnatural disruption of their order of things, as they understood Om, that they hoped to keep him from being born again. But they could not grasp that he was never of this order of things, never had a soul to begin with, so the fire could hardly keep him from coming back.

The Mardraim quickly retook his seat, inching his chair forward, leaning in conspiratorially. “You said I put him back,” the old man offered, fear weathering his face for the first time, and for some reason Isabella could not explain, that look of fear brought her a small sliver of joy. “Issa, did the nameless child come from Moag? Is that why Om gave us no prophecy?”

“Harvey…” she answered, though she knew this was not what she meant to say. She had meant to say she had no idea where the child came from or what Moag’s prophecy of the child actually meant, only that Ohamet changed everything, because he lived… because she had saved him. Everything else was just pieces of the unfathomable deep, and she, for whatever reason, had become Moag’s voice—this trumpeting prophet of darkness, filling the mountain with truths no one could possibly comprehend, until they all drowned in the blackest of black. “Harvey.”

She had watched him die, seen Harvey become a part of the never-ending shadow, a part of everything and nothing, all at once. How he survived Moag, she did not know, but she was certain there was something important she was supposed to remember about him, something Moag had shown her that was not of Moag itself, and not prophecy, but something else entirely, something much more powerful. It burned at her insides, looking for an escape, but would not come out.

The Mardraim drew in a breath. He got to his feet again and gave a few more turns around the room, contemplating what Isabella had told him as she looked on, knowing he could not understand, any more than she could, the frustration growing inside her with every moment that passed. This was all the wanderer’s fault, and she hated him for it, even though she knew this was the way it had to be. She had never hated anyone before, just as she had never truly loved anyone before, but it was as though Ohamet had planted within her a seed of humankindness the moment he set foot on that mountain, and that humankindness had taken root deep within her, and from it sprung this awful, tremendous fury for the elf and the hell he had brought down on her home. Then Moag showed her everything, and she knew now more than ever that Noel Loveridge deserved her hatred for what he had done to her, for the change he had wrought within her, even if all of the other changes that came with him were necessary.

After a long while, the Mardraim came to stand beside her, holding out his hand for her to take. Dutifully, Isabella reached up with still oozing fingers. He took them up, turning them over, examining her carefully, as though he hoped to find some physical explanation for how backwards she had become. The old man did not ask about the deep wounds she had given herself and did not move to dress them. He likely knew it would do her no good—her mother had stopped trying days ago. “Have you received any new prophecies from Moag, since you have healed?”

She had seen all Moag had to show her while in its depths. Anything that was left to show would come from Noel Loveridge. “No, but I can feel it still at times…”

She hesitated, not knowing if she should say more. Did the Mardraim know where the elf went at night, she wondered? She sincerely doubted she would ever be allowed out of her hut again if she confided in the elder that she could still feel the wanderer even while the old man concealed her so deeply from everyone else in that mountain. And Harvey had warned her the Felimi would not accept Ohamet wandering too freely, so while she wanted more than anything for the elf to be dealt with once and for all, the last thing she needed was for him to be locked up too, where she would be forced to commiserate with him and his own prison, the two of them waiting for death. Insane or not, at least she still had some sense of reason.

“When? How?”

“I do not know,” she lied once more, the lies coming easier with every lie she told. Strangely, there was little shame attached to them now. “Moag is there at times, waiting for me to return. It waits for Noel Loveridge and Harvey as well. It waits for you, my Mardraim.”

“I see,” the elder answered, taking a step back, though she was certain he did not see, not with any clarity. How could he?

Isabella often felt the darkness stir within her, calling her home, and she knew that the desire Noel Loveridge felt as he crossed the ocean and flew up the face of the mountain and clung in death to the shadow of this life, and the desire he felt for whatever it was he sought when he slipped away in the night and wandered the tunnels alone, was the same desire Issa felt to return to that immutable blackness where she now belonged. His wandering was a part of him, as the darkness was a part of her. It had consumed her to save him, but Noel had brought her back, when he should have left her to her end. So she suffered his wandering dangerously close to the fragile line between Om and Moag, and she knew he was desperately afraid of slipping into the darkness himself, but then he had so much left to do, so much left to change. As for Isabella herself, she suspected that one day, if she was ever allowed out of her hut again, allowed to wander freely, she would go there, to the place Noel went at night, and she would step into the shadows and feel nothing at all anymore, save perhaps an overwhelming sense of relief at finally finding the peace promised by that ultimate end, as she became one with the darkness at last. She could wander right into the folds of Moag and never know she slipped away. Noel, however, could not, for the wanderer lives.

“I want out of here,” she said suddenly, breaking the Mardraim’s train of thought as she twisted her hand free from his grip. “I want to return to my duties. I want to be myself again.” A part of her did want these things, desperately, but that part of her was overshadowed by the knowledge she had been granted and the understanding that she would never again belong in this realm. “I want to walk outside, to laugh with Harvey, to feel Om again. Please. Please, my Mardraim!”

The old man drew in a weary breath and offered her a pained smile. She expected him to give her some consoling answer reserved for those who were clearly out of their minds, but instead he whispered softly, “We are trying to find a way to restore the path of Om for all those affected by Young Noel’s arrival. I cannot promise we will succeed, Issa. I can only promise we are trying.”

“You should have killed him,” Issa stammered, shuddering even as the words escaped her lips. “He stole a piece of me, robbed me of my very existence. You will not restore Om’s way. You cannot. Schripat.” She spat on the ground, and the shudder quickly turned to convulsions, her muscles seizing up, bloody hands twisted with palsy, as an impossibly brilliant light filled her head and she felt her chair slip from beneath her and her body become a part of the ground.

“Come, young one,” the Mardraim said sometime later, lifting her up, curiously strong for one as old as he, she thought vaguely, as she began to wake to her surroundings. Her body was still and limp now, and the sky outside had begun to hint of twilight. She had lost consciousness again, she thought panting like the takin searching for water and shade, the searing pain in her head making it difficult to open her eyes. “You must rest now,” Edward Frank whispered. “I will visit again soon. Perhaps then I will have some answers for us both.” And he carried her to her bed mat and laid her down on her side, brushing the tangled mass of hair from her face as he tucked her blanket around her.

____________________________________________

Tale of Two Mountains, Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6, Pt. 7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9, Pt. 10, Pt. 11, Pt. 12, Pt. 13, Pt. 14, Pt. 15, Pt. 16, Pt. 17, Pt. 18, Pt. 19, Pt. 20, Pt. 21, Pt. 22, Pt. 23, Pt . 24, Pt. 25, Pt. 26, Pt. 27

The Tale of Two Mountains- Pt. 13

School has finally begun, Hurray! And I am finally (sort-of) back to a reasonable work schedule, with a few bumps here and there that must still be worked smooth, but never mind the little hiccups, because I am grateful to be back to writing on a regular basis.  Yesterday, for the first time since May, I had the opportunity to get reacquainted with book two of The Eleventh Age series, and it felt SO good to put my mind back in that story, even though it was only for about thirty minutes before Lilia came in from class, with her gas station food for lunch (I’m convinced she has a stomach forged of titanium), and I sighed and put my things away… In our room, I have a cork-board for helping to keep myself organized, and there’s a plastic sleeve hanging there, with all of the pictures of characters I’ve drawn so far tucked inside.  Elli has been staring out at me all summer, just waiting for me to get back to her.  Poor girl has no idea what’s in store for her.

But enough of that for now, as we must get back to The Tale of Two Mountains, and see what terrible things will happen next to Noel and Isabella.

isaandnoel

NOEL

The darkness swelled with a menacing sigh, weighty blackness tensing around him, as Noel gathered his things from the rocks below, returning them to his pack, pausing only a moment to catch his breath, before jumping down into the sand, grabbing up his torch, scurrying, quick as a rat, up to the entrance to the next cavern. As he reached the top, he looked back into the room below, half expecting to find the floor rising up like a wave to swallow him.

“It was in your mind,” he reminded himself, whispering low, hoping not to stir up any echoes from the depths, but all was quiet now. The pristine sands lay still beneath him, undisturbed, as though he had never been there, the only sound to be heard, the racing of his own breath. “Just in your mind,” he repeated, but there was little comfort to be found in that idea, so he gritted his teeth, straightened the rucksack on his shoulders and took an anxious step through the threshold, deeper into the insidious pitch, as the light of Hestia’s flame gave an intimidating flicker.

It was the woman, he thought, rubbing his fingers against his palm at the memory of her frightened hand gripping his in panic. It had to be the woman—she had felt so real. It had all felt real, even though he could see now it made no sense. Sand pits generally did not spring to life and attempt to drown people, at least not without some magical cause, so he should have known there was no logic to it when the woman appeared there, out of nowhere, begging to be saved. What was she playing at, he wondered as he started off, keeping close to the left wall this time, to see where it led. The stuff of nightmares had been forced into his brain, taking over his conscious mind. Somehow the woman had gotten inside his head, made him see… made him experience… but why? Was she trying to frighten him away? If that was the case, she was going to have to try a bit harder, because giving in just wasn’t in his nature.  Noel had a job to do, and he planned to see it through to the bitter end.

But how had she managed it, he wondered, scowling as the flame dimmed. In all his years of training, the scholars had never mentioned this sort of psychic ability, the power to manipulate a mind completely, to make one think without the person realizing something was wrong. Of course, there were various hexes and potions for taking over control of a person, but they were all quite violent, excruciating, often requiring the breaking of the will with damning effects, leaving the subject mentally defunct, incapacitated for what little remained of their lives, but this magic… How was he supposed to defend himself against something he could not understand?

Let them bring what they will, he thought, annoyed as he swallowed against the constricting air, the darkness becoming almost palpable as he pushed himself onward. All that mattered now was the prophecy. One way or another, he would find where the seers of old were holed up, and when he did, they would explain the Prophecy of The Last Hope of the Elves. “You can carry on in your peace, in your infernal darkness, after you’ve told me about the child,” he growled, switching the torch in his hands, so he would not think about the woman anymore, then calling out to the unearthly shade, “You hear me? I have to know about the prophecy. That’s all I’m here for, and then I’ll leave you be.”

Silence replied, her black grin spread wide before him.

The irony was the child was all he had left, his own last hope, he thought, squeezing his jaw as he wandered blindly, listening close to the emptiness for any sound at all, expecting any moment to find himself fighting monsters in his head once more, but whatever would come, whatever was next, it was worth it, just to finally have the truth. He had grown up, like everyone else, hearing tales of the destruction visited upon humanity at the time of the Fall. Millions upon millions of men, gods, fairies and wizards were lost, as once great cities were consumed by a wrathful earth, whole nations swallowed up by blood-red seas, drunk on human evils. When the earth finally stopped trembling and the waters grew calm once more, the stain of the Great War was all but washed away, leaving the world precious few tokens by which to remember the butchery that preceded the Fall—carnage wrought by the five races.

At the Bergfalk Institute, Noel had been taught exactly what every elf was taught from the time they could talk: the Fall was civilization’s punishment for the atrocities committed during the war. Many held it as a proud fact that, of all those millions who met their deaths when the hand of Fate wiped the world clean of human treachery, not one solitary elf was lost, though perhaps that was because millions of them had already been slain by much less supernatural hands. That Aewin and Eurial were spared in the Culling was viewed by some as proof of the divine providence of elfinkind, proof that they were Fate’s chosen people, and while others considered this idea of elfin supremacy distasteful, this did not stop the majority from believing the survival of two elves of the Father’s bloodline was undeniable proof that the prophecy foretelling the coming of the Child of Hope, their avenger and restorer, was not the destiny of one child, alone, yet to be born, but rather the collective destiny of all elfin sons born in the more than ten thousand years since their people were slaughtered by the Wizened race. The Nobles, as students of Bergfalk had come to be known, were the Born Legion of Hope. They were the warriors who would be her shield and her blade.  He had believed.

Noel was eight years old when the Seat officially recognized Melchior Bergfalk’s lifework, granting him authority to establish his foundation. Over the course of a decade, several children had been born with exceptional skills, and Bergfalk and Foote were convinced this was a sign Hope’s prophecy would finally be fulfilled. With the elders’ approval, Bergfalk built a formal school where those young elves could be trained directly by the scholars in preparation for the birth of Hope. Noel’s three older brothers were not particularly talented; he outshone them all from a very early age, though his parents were not the sort to give much praise and were far more likely to accuse their sons of attention-seeking, if any one of them happened to do something out of the ordinary. Even so, at the time they seemed proud of him when they received the notice informing them Noel’s name was on the original list of children recommended by the Seat for the inaugural class at the institute.  For the first time in his life, Noel felt he was meant for something important.

Though he was young, he remembered the day Adair Foote came to talk with his parents about allowing him to attend. That was the first time he heard his father laugh the words, “Bergfalk Foundation,” like it was something to be ashamed of, sniffing as he rubbed his hand across the pleat on his plaid trousers.  Noel felt it in his chest, a twinge of self-doubt. When his father noticed the boys were stood in the hall, listening, he sent his wife to take them for ice cream, a highly unusual treat, unmistakably meant to drive all thought of the Bergfalk Institute or any idea of his own exceptionalness out of Noel’s young little head. No one asked him what he wanted, but at the time he was not certain he was ready to leave, even if he was slightly more apt than his brothers. High Wycombe was not the greatest place in the world to grow up, though in later years Scorpion Records did redeem it some in his eyes, but even though he was always getting into trouble, Noel was certain he would miss his parents and his brothers if he left, because they were all he knew.

He should have just enjoyed his ice cream and not worried about being forced to choose, because things have a tendency of working themselves out in the end. When they returned home, the elder Foote was gone, no one mentioned the foundation or the institute again, and any hint of pride he felt, right or wrong, soon drifted away. He continued his learning at the same dodgy primary school he and his brothers attended, where his mother taught grade two to the children of men, until one day, shortly after his ninth birthday, one of the boys in his class, who had taken to pestering him for his pointed ear, discovered his mother was a teacher there as well, which prompted a new level assault. The boy had only to say, in his high, nasal voice, “Ickle Noelle goes to school wif ‘is mummy,” and blood was spilled. This might have been overlooked, had it not been Noel’s fifth fight in two years and had the headmaster not already been considering expulsion. His mother cried a little while she packed his bags that night, but otherwise no fuss was made of the matter. The next morning, he was sent alone by train. Melchior Bergfalk was waiting at the end of the line, to accompany him the rest of the way to his new home and his new brothers.

“They’re brainwashing the boy,” his father’s voice rolled out of the void, carrying through the deepening cavern on an angry current.

Instinctively, Noel stopped, just as he had stopped twenty years before, to let the words crawl under his fourteen year old skin, back where they belonged. By now, the light of his torch was barely more than a dismal blur, the darkness had grown so thick he could not see his own feet or the ground beneath him, and he reached out to hold onto the wall for guidance, but he must have wandered astray without realizing, because there was nothing but empty space beside him. “Just words in your head,” he whispered through clenched teeth, continuing on, his steps meeting the ground with a rushed canon. He had no idea where he was headed, if he was headed anywhere, or if he was stuck inside some twisted mind-trap created by that woman.  He was certain his father’s voice coming out of that darkness was her doing.  He couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened the last time, had he left her to suffocate in the dust of her own putrefied remains, but the idea left a sickening taste in his mouth, sweet and savory with decay, and his stomach tightened. “Think about something else.”

“You hear him! Your son sounds like a right idiot, spouting such nonsense! The boy’s head’s been filled with propaganda, and I’m done with him talking this way,” his father answered, voice as clear as if he walked right beside him, just at the edge of Hestia’s light. “Noble!” he grumbled the word as an ignominious slight.

Noel stopped again, turning around in a full circle, anger crawling up his shoulders as he tightened his fists, the visceral response as automatic now as it had been years ago. It’s just in your head, he reasoned, just in your head, Noel, he assured himself, peering into the depths, knowing she was there, extracting these parts of him out of vindictiveness. He could almost sense her, like a furious scratching of static all around him, with a hint of some untouched flower, lingering on a higher air. “My father is a good man, who has made his mistakes,” he said calmly, hoping this would dissuade her.

“He will not go back to that place!” his father shouted, and from somewhere in the wretched sea of black, young Noel swore a venomous curse, crying furiously, “You can’t keep me here!”

“He was bitter and angry,” old Noel told the darkness, apologizing for his father as he always did.

“You are my son, and you will do exactly as I tell you.”

Noel wanted to ignore it, but he could not help but recall the way his father’s crooked teeth gnashed at him as he spoke those words, and the unforgiving thump of his twisted finger against his sternum, every other word landing with a hollow thud.  “He wasn’t thinking.” He shook his head. Why was she doing this?

“I am not your son anymore! I’m finished being looked down at, finished being something you’re ashamed of! You’ve despised me all along, hated the way I think, hated what I’m capable of doing! I’m tired of being worthless in your eyes, so consider me dead and gone, and you won’t have to worry about me disappointing you anymore!”

There in the darkness came the drumming of feet on stairs, swift and light, then heavy and slow.

“This isn’t real,” Noel told himself, even as he felt his jaw pulsate with the swish of his old vinyl duffle, the zzrip! of the bag being torn open, the tussling fluster of his youthful breath as he shoved things inside the bag at random, fast as possible, hardly considering what he might need, he had been so angry, his head throbbing with grief at the resentment he saw on his father’s face. The old fellow need not have said a word, and his eyes would have done as much damage.

“Put that bag away, you aren’t going anywhere, boy!” His father was at the door, his mother stood behind him, taking turns at looking irritated and helpless as she shifted on her feet.

“He didn’t know what else to do,” Noel pleaded on his father’s behalf, wondering why the woman would confront him with a past that was long ago forgiven. Certainly, he and his father had parted ways since, but he understood now that on that night the old man had been ill, he was not happy with his own lot in life, he thought Noel was simply being disrespectful, pushing him about the institute at a time when he had already begun to think Bergfalk was an obsessed old lunatic and he regretted ever sending his son there in the first place. Noel should have let it go, taken time to calm down, instead of reacting, but he felt every insult his father laid on Bergfalk and Foote, every aspersion cast at the institute, the elders and the Seat was a personal attack against Noel himself and everything he believed, everything for which he had worked so hard, the very person he was born to be.

“Just leave me alone!” Young Noel said, spittle flying from the shadows.

“You want to leave, then get out, but don’t you think you will take a single thing from my house!”

“Stop this, please,” his mother cried. “Let him take some clothes.”

“No, he’s not taking any clothes! Those are my clothes! I worked for every thread of them! I put every stitch on his back!” Feet on the stairs. “That’s right, now, get out of here, boy, and don’t slam that door!”

The back door hit the jam with such violence that the porch shook, along with the mountain.

“I just wanted to breathe, to calm down, but he came after me. Why are you doing this?” Noel called out into the dark.

The door slammed again, and a hand was on his shoulder, forcing him around.  “I said don’t slam that damned door!”

“Just leave me the hell alone!” young and old Noel replied as one.

The fist that met his face was strangely muted, either weak or restrained. Noel stumbled backward off the porch, rubbing his jaw bone.

Noel stumbled backward in the darkness, wondering why he was being forced to relive such a memory. “This is not real. You are in my head!”

The door slammed, feet met the stairs, light and slow then heavy and fast and fast and faster. “Get out of my way!” young Noel shouted, as his father shoved past him and stood at the top of the stairs.

“Leave Now!”

“I am getting my godammed things! I don’t give a flying fuck what you say!”

“How dare you talk that way to me!  Get out of my house!”

“Trust me, I’m going, if you’ll just get the hell out of my way!”

“I wish you were dead, boy!”

Maybe I am dead, Noel thought, the panic reaching his feet first as he set out at a run through the endless abyss, leaving the crushed young man and the hateful words of a broken father behind. Perhaps no one had come to save him, his body had been swallowed up by the mountain and was presently pinned under tonnes of ice and snow, and this was his own personal hell where he was bound to spend eternity, reliving everything that had gone terribly wrong in his life. Or maybe the deities had mistaken him for a man of faith, and he was venturing through the stages of a sherpa’s afterlife on his way to being reborn a proper dung beetle, fated to tend the droppings of nobler asses until an arrant wildebeest puts him out of his misery.

Had he seen the man and woman who rescued him somewhere before? Wasn’t she one of Wells’ birds? Melody? Melinda? What was her name?

“No, no, no,” he muttered, coming to a stop, looking around himself at the malignant shadow of the longest night. “How could you, Noel? How could you have died before you figured out the damned prophecy?” And with a savage roar, he hurled his torch away, as hard as he could throw it, the light of Hestia’s eternal flame disappearing instantaneously, as Noel stood, both of his fists in his hair, the strangled contortion of his face becoming more painful with every second that passed, waiting for the sound of the wood to land against stone.

Waiting and waiting, but there was no sound at all.

“Fuck all,” he breathed, running hands over his face, turning around left, and again around right, before falling hard on his knees.

“I really am dead.”

_______________________

Tale of Two Mountains, Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6, Pt. 7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9, Pt. 10, Pt. 11, Pt. 12, Pt. 13, Pt. 14, Pt. 15, Pt. 16