Chapter Ø: An Evil Wind
“Phobos is close.” Caligo looked up at the light trickling through the leaves. The forest was quieter than usual. The sun had been down for hours but the heat still made the comfort of his bed feel like a sick joke. Sleep wasn’t coming to him tonight.
His bedroom became a place of paralyzing fear this time of year. The shadows cast by the tree in the red moonlight looked like tiny dragons climbing the wall, jerking and clawing when the wind moved the branches. When he was younger, he hid under the blankets with the stuffed rabbit that had since faded into a pale baby pink. His mother gave ragged thing to him out of habit every night when she tucked him in. He let it fall to the floor as he snuck out of bed.
Tonight was his first time crawling out his window into the tree that once frightened him. A milestone, he thought. He climbed into the wind and the boughs without a sound, half expecting to be greeted with a searing torrent of flames, only to feel the gentle brush of leaves that welcomed him just as they had in the daylight. The realization that he could leave whenever he chose washed over him as he landed on his feet in the yard. There are no dragons in Vorago.
Watching Clover finish her preparations, he aimlessly pushed around the damp leaves on the forest floor with a stick. The humid summer air carried the scent of their decay. The naked moon was in full view, the closest he had ever seen it. The flames in the pit dancing before him paled in comparison to its crimson glare.
“It’s perfect. It won’t pass by us any closer for another five years. If you want to do this, tonight is our best chance.” Although she was younger, Clover had a way of manipulating Caligo into the strangest things. As ridiculous as her schemes were, her enthusiasm was too endearing to scoff at.
Sage burned in a copper bowl by the fire between them. She reached for the smudge feathers she had bundled herself with dyed leather. She had secretly been selecting feathers from the birds brought in to the kitchen by the cat on mild spring mornings, sorting feverishly through the bloody pile for its prettiest parts as her aunt cursed the animals for soiling her clean floor.
“I know. I just can’t believe how big it really is. I keep having this nightmare where that big crater is filled with dragons trying to swallow me up.” Said Caligo, pulling his knees in closer to his chin. The moon had a large gash running along its side where a strange red glow seeped out at all times.
They had discovered these ruins of an old shrine deep in the woods about a month ago and had been playing in it every day. He looked down at the markings in the stone beneath them. North, South, East and West were marked around the fire with different colored gems: White, black, blue and red respectively. Pearls from his mom’s old necklace fit into the grooves marking the directions in between them once they had cleaned out all the moss and dirt. Few webs of tangled ivy still covered the two and half pillars that remained around the outside of the stone circle. Their hands were still scratched and sore from trying to clear them. Caligo was beginning to have second thoughts, but it wasn’t for him to refuse one of her half-baked midnight schemes. She had spent every night in his father’s study, reading about ancient exorcism rituals. He didn’t want all her work to be for nothing.
“Remember the legends of the Xian? They actually touched Phobos with their bare hands from the top of Mount Dirge.” Said Clover. “And they lived to tell about it.”
The warm breeze sent a shiver down his spine. “Yeah, right…” Caligo’s stomach turned at the thought of it. “That’s just some story our parents feed us to keep us from being afraid of it.” He said. He tried to swallow his saliva, thickened with anticipation. “I don’t feel good… Why don’t we just turn back?” The dim light he knew wasn’t really there continued to flicker. He tried to focus on the flames dancing around in front of him, but his eyes had been playing tricks on him all day. He was no longer sure what was real anymore. At this point, if he wanted to turn back, he would need assistance finding his way. Once he started having auras, there was little he could do except wait until he lost consciousness. His seizures came as a relief sometimes.
“Come on, we’ve talked about this. You’ve been taking your meds, right?” Said Clover. Her amber eyes were dazzling in the light of the fire. Her dark complexion was in stark contrast to Caligo’s, whose pale skin reflected the light.
“Yeah…” He knew where this was going. He doubted a 11 year-old girl was going to fix him when even his doctors couldn’t. Caligo suffered from a unique recipe of epilepsy on a bed of chronic dissociation, served up with a side order of we don’t know. His servers always brought it out with a cocktail of –ines and –ides that just left him feeling sick, all the while being told: drink it up, it’s good for you.
“And do you feel any better?” She asked.
“…No.” A shimmering slug wriggled across his fluttering field of vision. “It’s… worse.” He admitted.
“Exactly. It’s time for a new approach. Worst case, nothing happens, and you’re no worse off, but I’m pretty much positive that what’s ailing you is just a garden-variety demon possession. The Elysians used to do this all the time. Just close your eyes- and try to take it seriously?” She giggled. Her comforting smile was hard to appreciate through the auras. She sat up straight, waving the feathers in the smoke. The pitch of her voice begin to rise and fall in his perception as she chanted in Elysian, the ancient language of shamans. It was just as well that the auras were so intense, he didn’t understand it anyhow. He watched the tendrils of smoke disappear into the night sky before closing his eyes.
Finally his consciousness began to shift. Instead of slipping away as it usually did, it seemed to disintegrate into tiny flakes, like bits of ash in the wind. Unfortunately, Clover was wrong. Nothing was far from the worst that could happen. What did happen would take years of sorting through nightmares and memory. Each year the two becoming less and less distinguishable from each other.
He had pancakes for breakfast. He tripped on a pile of books in the hallway on his way to the study. He found a caterpillar on the windowsill and was afraid to touch it. A scattered stream of images and moments in time were all he could recall of that day for years to come. Perhaps he hadn’t the fortitude to delve deeper, or perhaps he simply chose not to. The doctors said that the human brain sometimes blocks out memories that are too painful to process.
What he did remember, he resolved himself to keep sealed away in the most private crypt of his mind. He remembered that human blood tasted markedly different than animal blood. He remembered the crack of the skull and how quickly the heart could pump blood into red soil. He remembered that if he really needed to, he could drag a wet body half a mile through the woods, and if he screamed loud enough, he could drown out the voices, if only for a few seconds.
4 Years, 3 months later-
I stepped back and waited for my vision to clear. The blow to my head might have knocked me out if I hadn't been training so extensively as of late. Forcing the air in and out of my overworked lungs, I wiped a drop of blood from the corner of my mouth, leaving a dark smear on my ivory skin. The red glow of Phobos dimly lit the night sky, providing just enough visibility to size up my opponent. As the Mola came into view, I formulated my plan. Its thick skin and fur were like armor I could not penetrate with a normal sword. Luckily, my dagger was sharpened to a razors edge. I kept it secured to my leg with a leather strap.
Scraping at the ground with its thick yellowed hooves, the Mola lowered its massive head and charged forward. Darting to the side, I grabbed its left horn, redirecting the charge with my own body weight, straight into a pile of trash. Pull when pushed. Against a building sat the mangled body of my friend, still clutching a syringe filled with a fluorescent red liquid as his blood crept along the pavement. “Vax!” Calling to him was pointless. I knew he was going to die, even if I did have the energy to heal him, I hadn’t the skill. I had just enough time to grab the syringe while the Mola regained its stance. A gust of air rushed through its wide leathery nostrils. Its large form was deceptively fast, and before I could stand back up, the Mola grabbed my hair. There were a few things I could have done to get myself out of this position, however, my Moshu was rusty and I was relying purely on physical attacks. Furthermore, nothing in this world could make me even dream of damaging my beautiful red hair. Both my body and spirit were pushed to their limit.
I heard a laughter from the the end of the alley as the thing dragged me by the hair across the bloody pavement. It was Missal. "Why does a little thing like you care about some junkie and his smack?"
He stopped laughing when I found my footing against the dumpster and thrust my blade into his Mola’s chest. Push when pulled. "Because." I pulled my dagger from the beast. "I’ve seen that material before."
Missal smirked. I took the opportunity to push my blade as deep as I could into the lifeless Mola’s thick neck. The muscle and sinew proved too tough to carve all the way through. I thought at least partially decapitating it might buy me some more time.
Vax still lay against the building gasping for air. Before I could say my goodbyes, the Mola was already back on its feet. I watched the luminous quality leave the liquid as Vax drew his last breath. Dammit. The Mola could not be destroyed by any means available to me. I knew that from the beginning. I had nothing left to fight for, so I made the shameful decision to flee.
I moved much faster in my spirit animal form, but the fight had stripped me of nearly all my chi. My disheveled human form was actually less conspicuous than a fox in this city anyhow. I retreated to the hospital complex a few blocks away, bloodied and bruised. I could sense Caligo’s dreaming mind near by, and took comfort in knowing he was inside safe and sound. The child needed to sleep, and until I was really desperate, I needed to let him. In the middle of the empty parking lot, I stopped and let the syringe fall to the ground. It was useless now. The once glowing crimson looked like nothing more than half-clotted blood. I used the foot that still had a shoe on it to crush the syringe into the pavement and limp away. Desperation was an unfamiliar sensation. How will I know when it is time?