Setonosh was a thin and wiry man who couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds when carrying a basket of food. But he wasn’t doing that though. There wasn’t any food for him to put in a basket which was the very reason he was a thin and wiry man. Another reason for his skeletal visage was due to the absolute necessity of his running 90 percent of the time as if is life depended on it, and in truth, it did indeed. And running was exactly what he was doing now.
The leaves of the plentiful plants and trees cut at his face like razors as he darted in between them as fast as his stickish legs could carry him. He had no time to stop and check how much blood was streaking down his face or limbs, as doing so might result in even more blood escaping him. He was told to run towards the sound of rushing water, and that’s exactly what he was doing in order to save his own neck. It took skill to determine the direction the sound was coming from while running at full speed, lungs panging like drums. One slight miscalculation and he could spend the next twenty minutes recovering his trajectory. He had to make sure that each and every step he slammed into the ground counted for something because the thing that was close behind him could afford to lose one hundred steps to his one.
For so long, all Setonosh saw were flashes of green in all its variations whizzing by his head until the ground beneath him vanished and he found himself sailing through the air, his head tilting forward and down towards a pool of swirling water. After he hit it with all his light weight and popped back up to the surface, he saw before him a wall of water thundering
down, and replenishing the pool he was in. The jagged rocks that decorated the water here and there were retaining their secrets carefully as he waited in violent silence. Now that he was in between the proverbial rock and hard place he realized that that very saying was an understatement when in between water and a hard place. From behind him he could hear the thundering of footsteps drawing closer and closer. He didn’t know what to do after that which he had been told to do, which was make it to the waterfall and wait. The waiting part is what gave him the most trouble.
He looked back and up at where he had shot out from and saw the trees move aside like grass as the likeness of a man came through them slightly slower than he would have. At first he saw the fingers exposed and wrap around the trees, slowly moving them apart, then he saw the head of a man seven times the size of his own peer out, and then down to where he was. Once he was spotted a grin of satisfaction was clearly seen on his pursuer. His head hovered upward several feet as the rest of his body became exposed. Once his pursuer had stood the entirety of his stature, Setonosh could see that he was a clean thirty feet taller than himself and an inestimable amount of pounds heavier. He had not realized this was the case when he provoked the giant. In his life he had come across many of them, but made it his practice to run before he could size them up. He lived a life much like a squirrel that runs down timidly for a scrap of food then flees with lightening speed at the first sign of any movement. He never took the time to see what the movement was, he simply ran.
This time though, Setonosh was forced to come face to face with one of these creatures, and it nearly paralyzed him with fear. The water he was in wasn’t deep enough to disappear beneath, and if he tried to hide knee deep he would run out of air long before the giant one would lose interest in the place. Setonosh tried to remember what he was told to do step by step and even though he was nervous beyond belief, so far he managed to do everything according to plan.
The giant man brought his foot out and stepped down into what was surely to him a puddle, but to Setonosh a pond. Before the other foot could land Setonosh furiously swam towards the waterfall that had made the sound he had followed through the trees. He kicked his little legs and flung his little arms as hard as one fighting for their life, because he was. The giant man thought it was amusing to watch this little thing attempt escape from him. He made himself comfortable in the pond and laughed enough to shake the hillside and the waterfall his prey had hidden behind. It wouldn’t be much of a dinner but as of late there hadn’t been much meat to choose from, even if he had to make do with meat saturated with adrenaline.
Once Setonosh had disappeared behind the wall of water replenishing the pond the giant one began to count in his head until three minutes would expire. This was something he found himself in habit of doing regardless of how hungry he was, or how likely it was for his prey to escape. It was instinctive and compulsive. He felt that he had to do this before he could continue his toying with the prey. To pass the time he tapped the water with his finger tips and hummed to himself. Each slap of the fingertip flew water up several feet but not enough to reach the giant man’s face. After the three minutes passed he quickly stood up, and eyed the waterfall with eager intent.
“Time no more left for you little one. Too skinny to stay in there long. Starving to death is very painful way to end life…very painful…and very long. Stomach will eat at itself until what’s inside you become poison and burst. I seen the faces on many that went that way and you listen now ‘cuz I seen the faces twisted with pain inside.” he said.
He stopped for a moment to see if his coercion was causing a reaction behind the water. He was beginning to wonder if Setonosh was even worth the wait seeing as how he was so withered and thin anyway. He briefly considered abandoning this little catch and spending his time looking for something that he knew would be more satisfying. Then again, it had been some time since an opportunity like this had presented itself, and he couldn’t risk waiting too awful much longer to eat for the simple reason of being picky.
“Out of waterfall without me coming in and I give an oath to end your life very quickly…it happen so fast…so easy you never feel pain again. No matter to me little man, either way it is no more for you. Your choosing.”
He was patient enough to give him a few more minutes to think it over until his own stomach gave a tumble, and quenched that patience. Tired of waiting any longer he crouched down a little and slowly pierced through the waterfall with his hand. He gave a few light grasps, felt around a little, and then sent his arm in after his hand. His fingers fumbled around groping the walls, and as far as he could reach he couldn’t feel Setonosh inside. He supposed that his meal must have escaped deep into some cave behind the water, and now there was no hope or point to staying here. Frustrated, he withdrew his arm and shook his head softly in disappointment, much like a child that didn’t get its way. He started back up into the forest. The climb up was no major task for him since his size let him clear the distance in two, simple steps.
He hadn’t disappeared too far into the trees before his keen ears heard something snap from behind him, back at the waterfall. He quickly became excited and couldn’t help but to grin from ear to ear as he stopped dead in his tracks and waited for another. The second time though he heard a cry of pain which swiftly became muffled. The giant one switched the direction of his feet and darted back without missing a beat. He had cleared the drop off again and landed in the pool causing a crater of water for just a second before gravity pulled it back down around his ankles. He hadn’t seen the skinny little man on his way down so he flung his hand and arm back into the waterfall reaching for all he was worth. The socket of his arm felt as if it were going to pop out of joint, but he could feel breath blowing across his skin, and if only he could reach just a little further.
Then without warning, the giant one let out an enormous cry of pain even before he had realized that the pain was a piercing wound in his hand, just between the bones in the middle. His hand instinctively snapped out of the cave and back towards his ear like a reverse strike from a serpent. Just as his hand shot out of the water, and into his view the sight of what was on it startled him enough to double step backwards.
It wasn’t the man that had went into the cave, not the skinny little man whose fear he could almost smell through the trees. No, this man was altogether different. Much larger, much older, more hair which was grey instead of black, and as the momentum of the giant one’s hand had propelled this man to come flying towards him he just barely saw the fury carved into his face. His left hand was holding on tight to the handle of a harpy, a harpy whose blade was dug deep into his hand. The man’s right hand threw one end of a very large rope towards his neck. On the end of the rope a large stone was entwined, and the thrust it was given was enough to clear the giant ones neck, snap short, and sling around and around. Just before the giant ones hand had completed its backward snap past his own ear, the man coming at him let go of the hook, and with the hand which was now free he secured his grip on the end of the rope he still held. It was too late for the giant one to prepare for what was coming as his assailant whizzed right by his ear, and with all of his size, strength, and of course with the momentum the giant one had supplied him, the rope snapped taut right at his Adams apple.
The giant one gagged as the rope tightened, and the man on the end of it landed behind him, and quickly pulled back with every fiber of strength he had. It was enough to bring him down on his back. He brought his hands up towards his neck to fight with the rope in hopes of relief and air. His assailant would not allow him to get one second worth of a chance. He dashed by his head, reached up, and snatched the hook from the hand leaving an opening and burst of blood. Once his weapon was back in his own possession he reached for its twin from its sheath on the small of his back. Both of them were long bones of some sort, and on the end of both was another jackknifed bone which was very much different than the first. Instead of doubled rounded at the end, these were long talons with serrations on the side facing downward. With a quick movement of the wrist he could snap them out of a locked position, and into another on a whim.
He snapped both of them into a downward slant, and planted one into the giant ones side abdomen. Once it was dug in deep and secure enough to hold his weight he used it to hoist himself up, and plant the second one into the flesh of the giant, who now was wailing with sharp pain. As the assailant secured his position on top of the giant one his blades were plucked free, and he began sprinting towards the large head.
The giant was just beginning to acknowledge what exactly was going on. Once his slow mind had gathered itself he knew that for the first time in his entire existence he had come face to face, as it were, with a human that did not run, but instead chose to fight. Not simply chose to fight, no this was something different altogether. This was a human unleashing a full fledged attack, something completely alien to the giant one. Not knowing what to expect he collected himself and began to rise up from his lying position. His assailant was no longer afforded the luxury of running flat and straight, but now had to contend with running up a moving giant at impossible angles.
As the giant one leaned up supporting itself with its elbows the sudden stabbing pains returned, this time though not in the hand but on the stomach, then the chest, and then the neck. He glanced down to see his assailant using his blades to dig into his flesh, hoist up, slam the other blade into his flesh, hoist up and on and on until he had reached the face. The giant one established his footing once he had made it all the way up and was now prepared to pry this man off of him and fling him miles away if he had to. This opportunity would not come so easily though. His assailant was very agile, very aware of his surroundings, and was more than capable of using them to get the edge on the situation no matter how large in mass he was, and for a human he was very large in mass. Each time the giant one attempted to slam him with his hands the assailant had already gained ground upward towards the face. Each slap of the giant ones hand against his very chest was for naught.
His assailant had clung onto his face with all of his strength and pulled his arm back like a catapult, the bone harpy in his hand snapped into a stabbing position, and the assailants strike came fiercely into the giant ones eye. As the blade pierced the surface, and was forced in deeper, the assailant ripped, and slashed until the eye was obliterated and could never be used again. He knew that within seconds of his destructive act a very large hand would instinctively come up towards him to clasp the wound, and crush him in the process. He wasted no time in maneuvering out of the way and onto this giant’s shoulder, then snapping his bone blades into position again, slightly stepping outward, and catching the tips of the bones into the giants back he slid down towards the ground as the blades opened up the flesh of the brute.
Screams. Painful, loud, forceful screams. The giant one had never felt the amount of pain that he was feeling now. He never in his life had encountered something that could inflict this upon him by either choice or instinct. He had always been accustomed to being the one bringing the fear, the shadow of death, and the sound of domination. Each and every time he had done this to a weak and small thing of a prey he could smell the fear, the weakness, and then the acceptance. This was different though. He couldn’t smell any of that. As he tried to assess all the places he was gushing blood from, the only thing he could smell from this man was the scent of fury, the scent of rage, the scent of recompense. He couldn’t understand it, he couldn’t explain it, but as he caught glimpses of this man moving all about him, tearing away at him, bringing him to a vulnerable position, he knew that somehow this man deserved the blood he was exacting. This wouldn’t stop his instinctual reactions of self preservation though. Each and every time this hulk of a man brought an onslaught of violence to him, he fought against it with all he had, even though each attempt was apparently useless.
For a moment the assailant had ceased from causing damage. This gave the giant one enough time to take a few steps back towards the waterfall, spin around, and look at the situation as best he could. The eye that had been mutilated wasn’t helping him in any way, and the one that was left was struggling to compensate for the other. Once he had gotten his bearings he fixed his gaze a few feet before him and, saw the assailant standing in a prone position with both of his bone harpys ready. He held himself as if he could tackle the giant all on his own with his shear brute strength. This was enough of a mistake for the giant one to charge him with all his own strength. Once he began executing this, it was too late to realize that his plan was poorly thought out, and a slight dodge was all it took for his assailant to watch the giant one slam his head into one of the stones of the earth. It wasn’t enough to put him out, but it was enough to stun and disorient him.
The assailant leapt back on him and scurried up, and around; towards the giant one’s face. Once there he looked down to his accomplice and shouted for assistance.
“Setonosh, now!” the assailant shouted.
The skinny little Setonosh had exposed himself some time ago, and was enjoying himself as a spectator. He had watched his friend whittle his pursuer with an enormous amount of pleasure. Now though it was time for him to assist, so as the shout came down he ran to the side of the pond and retrieved the bundle of cloth that had been placed there long before any of this had begun. Once it was in his fist he ran towards the two in combat and whipped it round twice, slinging it upward. The assailant caught it sure enough and didn’t hesitate at slamming the bundle down the giant ones throat.
This caused the entire ordeal to slow down. The giant one was caught off guard as the thing awkwardly slithered down his esophagus and opened up inside his stomach. The reaction was almost instantaneous. His assailant could see that the chemicals bubbling inside of him were taking effect so he took his cue and got as far away as possible. As hoped the giant one gave in to the bundle inside his stomach, the chemical that had swiftly rushed through his system causing him to become overwhelmingly sleepy. He took a few steps in odd directions, and began to fall on his side, completely unaware of anything. He had become a victim of a powerful root which took days to dig up and grind into a fine powder until it could be administered to something of his size.
Neither Setonosh, nor the assailant moved for several moments after the thundering collapse of the giant one. Both of them wanted to be absolutely positive that it was out for the count. Once those moments passed, the assailant snapped the bone harpys into a safe position and placed them securely in the sheaths on the small of his back. He relaxed his posture once he was sure that the creature wasn’t going to suddenly shoot out of its slumber. He found the nearest stone and sat down on it to rest from the skirmish. He paid no mind to Setonosh who scrambled towards the waterfall, and disappeared behind it. He was saying something, a lot of somethings as a matter of fact, all of which the assailant ignored. He was more concerned with the possibility that he had been injured without realizing it. In silence he closed his eyes and let all the sensations throughout his body return to his brain. Was there pain anywhere? Was there the warm flow of blood from any extremity? Anything broken, anything dislodged? One couldn’t be too cautious at his age, a slight injury to a young man could be the undoing of someone as seasoned as he. Perhaps a few decades ago he would have done this and kept going, but now he was reasonable enough to know that he had more days behind him than he did ahead.
Setonosh sprang out from the waterfall with a bundle in his hand and waved it back and forth as if he had discovered something that neither of them had previously known about.
“Chema…Chema!” he shouted.
Once Chema looked up at him, Setonosh was satisfied that he had gotten enough attention and thus clumsily made his way down the wet stones. Chema shook his head softly and only mumbled a remark of frivolity loud enough for his own ears. He didn’t want to take any glory away from Setonosh seeing as how the only glory he could have at this point was retrieving and delivering his clothes to him. Before any planned engagement Chema shed himself of anything that served no purpose or could hinder him in an onslaught or attack. Most of the time he wrapped himself in enough clothe to cover the entirety of his body and protect him from the rigors of travel; and the chance of being immodest. However when the time came for him to draw blood, and every ounce of his primal instinct rose up inside of him, everything came off with the exception of his armored girdle.
“Sorry about getting them wet, I can spread them out on the rocks to dry if you want.” he said handing Chema his garment.
He took it, shook it out to rid it of all the excess water and threw it around his body, then pinning it in place in what almost looked like a single motion. The perfect placement of the thing mattered very little to him so long as it served its purpose. No need to inform Setonosh that there simply wasn’t enough time, he was sure that the idea had gotten across by simply ignoring the offer.
“Very soon that thing isn’t going to be laying there as peaceful as it is now so if you don’t want to be the first thing it sees when it wakes up I think you should stop talking and help me with it.” Chema said.
The two of them went to work with little to no words being spoken between them after that. Setonosh didn’t speak because he in fact didn’t want to be the first thing the giant one would see and Chema didn’t because speaking was one of the things he saw as optional rather than required while around others. What is the appropriate thing to say to another when a man, if that could describe it, that was at least forty feet taller than either of them had just tried to rip them limb from limb and could very well come to at any moment? How’s the weather?
Even at the hurried pace the two of them were working, attaching a makeshift harness to this thing’s back took nearly an hour. The most difficult part was getting the straps of the thing underneath the giant ones side so they could be attached to the chest piece. While Setonosh executed this, Chema was busy packing the socket which once housed an eye so the thing wouldn’t bleed to death before it could serve its purpose. Once he was satisfied that that was no longer an imminent danger he began work on the other eye. When the work was done the great light in the sky had faded away, the details of the world were replaced with shadows and shades and the smaller light made its way above them. Now that his mind was freed from the burden of the task they had completed the aching in his knee began to creep back up from overuse and agitate him. He reached down to give it a good rub and looked around for a nice spot to sit for a while. Chema was going to take the time to relax and gather his thoughts in silence while working over the pain while he waited for the creature to stir itself but Setonosh would have no part of that.
He stood in front of him with an expectant look on his face and an impatient posture to match it.
“What?” Chema asked.
“I did what you asked didn’t I?”
“Yes. Yes you did.”
“It’s been days you know, I know I’m always on the steps of starvation but by now even you have to be hungry.” Setonosh said.
It had been days, and if Setonosh hadn’t said anything Chema probably wouldn’t have realized that he too was indeed hungry. He stood up and slapped a little dust off giving the skinny man a slight nod. It had been days since they had eaten because it had been days since Chema had found anything to eat. The closer and closer the two of them came to where he was heading the more scarce food became. How could people like them go into the forest or by the lakes and hunt or fish when things like the giant one on the ground were devouring everything they could see? The deeper in their territory Chema went the more wasted the land would become, it was no wonder that there were nearly no humans left for miles and miles in all directions of the base of Mount Hermon. When he had ran into Setonosh it was because the poor man was terribly lost and had certainly found himself in a place that, had he known where, he would not have wanted to be.
Chema looked up and could make out the circling of vultures overhead doing their best to find food as well. It seemed all of them were in the same dire predicament. With a broken branch left over from the scuffle he walked over and smeared the top of it in the semi dried blood of the giant ones hand. He waved it around and around in the air until one of the starving vultures caught a good scent of it and slowly wafted downward. He sat the stick down and patiently waited for the bird to finally touch ground, too desperately hungry to be frightened, and begin pecking at the stick. It was only allowed one peck before Chema snatched it by its head and gave it one swift thrust on the rocks killing it instantly. Tossing the vulture at Setonosh’s feet, he went back to where he had been sitting before and resumed his position.
“Start a fire.” he said.
“I thought you said that thing could wake up at any moment? You expect to have time for us to make camp and cook this thing?”
“You work better when you’re hungry. Now start a fire.”
After the vulture had been thoroughly picked clean and its smallest bones were now being used as toothpicks, Setonosh couldn’t help but notice and admire the irony of eating a vulture. Seemed like poetic justice to him even though the thing tasted absolutely horrendous and would more than likely exact its vengeance on him later. He was thankful though, if it hadn’t been for Chema there was no doubt in his mind that he would have starved by now.
“You should head south. Follow the waters of the streams and travel in the water as much as possible. Some of them can smell us like a lupine or better, so you want to mask your scent as best you can. If you have to cross over plains or fields wait until night to do it and even then be very cautious. Sooner or later you should find others probably banded together for safety.” Chema said.
Setonosh tossed a small bone into the fire and listened to it crackle as he shook his head in rejection of the idea.
“I’m not heading south. I’m not heading anywhere. We have an arrangement, how am I supposed to hold up my end if I’m gone?”
“Then a better question is how are you going to hold up yours? I bait these things into your traps, you kill ’em, and then I get to eat. Everyone’s happy, except for the big ones anyway.” Setonosh protested.
“You can’t come with me Set. I shouldn’t have let you come this far as it is.”
“But you did. I can’t head south now; I’ll die before I even see the thought of another person. Look around Chema, there isn’t anybody else for miles and miles and the only reason I’m still here is because of you.” Setonosh said.
Chema looked over his shoulder at the sleeping hulk to make sure there was still no movement. A moment of silence passed before he brought his attention back to Setonosh. They had only been in one another’s company for a matter of months and if it hadn’t been for the fact that Chema didn’t want to let the man starve to death he never would have made the arrangement with him. Chema thought he was much like a dog with no home who had gone so long without a meal the thought of snapping at an outreached hand was far gone, and much like a dog now Chema couldn’t get rid of the thing.
“I’m not coming down from the top of that mountain. Once I do what I have to do the chances of me getting away alive are next to nothing. If I even make it up there at all,” Chema said.
“If I head south from here I know I won’t make it. You’re the only man fool enough to be heading the opposite direction of everyone else by going up there, but if I go with you I know I at least have a chance.”
He was right. Chema knew it. The earthborn behind them surely wasn’t the only one claiming the land around the mountain so Setonosh was certain to run into more before he made it to safety. With the rumors Chema had heard on his way here, that the earthborn so deprived of food themselves were now turning to each other for sustenance, Setonosh would be a wonderful delight to anyone that found him. These things were so large that even if that wasn’t matched with their malice they still would have devoured all of the resources wherever they went. In the beginning things had not been as horrible as they had become, back when the fools who worshipped these abominations brought grain and fruit and raised all sorts of livestock to offer up as sacrifice and obeisance. However, the fools bowing at the feet of the earthborn were too occupied with placing their foreheads on the ground in adoration to see that the ability to sustain these things had begun to dwindle as the earthborn multiplied. It was as most problems are at first, subtle. Left unchecked the full appetite of the things had been unleashed and after centuries of being catered to, one day the foolish worshippers who had always brought the food and brought the spirits began to bring less and less because they had to go further and further to get it. The chain reaction had begun and the survival instinct shared by all living took over all reason these things had as they began turning to the worshippers to satisfy their hunger. This didn’t occur with reservation, it had always been the nature of the things and Chema could never bring himself to feel pity for those first masses of humans that had been ripped limb from limb. Their flesh having been devoured while they screamed and writhed, their blood drank up like a passion fruit. As far as he was concerned they received the wages their stupidity had worked so hard for.
It was for those that the earthborn hunted after that angered him; the ones who lived far away and wanted nothing to do with these titans, but just didn’t live quite far enough. From Mount Hermon a slaughter was sent out in all directions as the earthborn sought to satisfy their hunger and bloodlust. After the word spread that the worst fear of many was coming to fruition and those wise enough began fleeing from the faces of the giants or going into hiding, the giants were left with no immediate choice, they were forced to then sin against all the beasts of the field and all the fowls of the air. Many of the ones fleeing who were quick enough and smart enough and if fortunate didn’t have families too large to efficiently cover enough ground found themselves in the imposed predicament of the earthborn for there was now no food for them to live by. The closer one was to the mountain the worse things were but the opportunity to live a somewhat risk free life was still possible in the far reaches of the known world, making it that far was an altogether different matter.
When the earthborn found that meals were becoming fewer and farther apart they disbanded from the company of one another to hunt on their own claiming territories as their hunting grounds. The state of things had become a powder keg simply waiting for someone to light a fire. For someone whose every waking moment was consumed with hatred and wrath of the earthborn, all of their kin, and all of their creators and for someone who would never see enough revenge exacted upon them or blood spilt from them, the opportunity could not be passed up. Though Chema was quite proficient at luring them where he needed them, and more proficient at putting an end to their time in the flesh as it were, he knew that at the end of the day he was but one man. Not only that but he was getting old, very old and regardless of his size strength and agility eventually those would fail him. He almost couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t roaming the lands killing the earthborn…almost. Things had to go faster though and he knew just how to do it.
It only took a few whispers in just a few of their ears before he convinced them that there was no need to hunt for the small and less satisfying humans when a food source much more bountiful was all around them. So they turned to each other. Chema took pleasure in being a witness to the war he birthed as one by one the earthborn fell at the hands of his own brother. What would have taken him several more centuries to accomplish on his own took only decades for them to do to each other. The earth shook underneath the feet of the horrible giants whenever small bands of them met and engaged in battle. The soil was ruined for acres about with the green of the grass being overturned and the black of the dirt showing the gashes in the land beneath the trees that had been broken like twigs. By the time it was over and the victor or victors had done to the defeated what they had fought to do there was nothing left but a wasteland. Chema already believed that wherever the earthborn went they destroyed all the beauty that had been there but after he ignited this conflict and the earth mourned at the hurt that was being done to it everyone else would believe it too. At least this way their numbers would dwindle and whatever was left of humanity might still have a chance to survive and reclaim what once had been in their care.
Chema wasn’t about to take responsibility for Setonosh or the results of his decisions, he was man enough to do that for himself.
“You know the risks. The choice is yours.” he said.
Though this had tore Chema from any blame for what could happen he still remained displeased with carrying him along. Once the choice had been made it was now only a matter of waiting for the earthborn to rise from his sleep before they could continue.
It was groggily rising to its feet, but before it reached half its own stature the throbbing pain in its empty socket almost took it back down to the ground. It moaned, winced, caught its bearings then stood fully erect. Quickly its mind raced back until it remembered what had happened to it that left it in the situation it was now in. With its good eye it scanned all around to see if the two who assaulted him were still nearby, but all it could spot was a place where a fire had recently burned. It was frustrated. It wanted to kill the little things for the loss of its eye but didn’t know how long sleep had dominated, and surely they were long gone by now. It brought its hand up and touched where its eye had been, wondering what the socket was packed with in order to stop the bleeding, and why they had bothered to do that at all. Why not just let it bleed to death?
It wasn’t allowed too long to examine everything before it heard Chema very lowly speaking in its ear.
“I wouldn’t make any sudden moves, you big dumb oaf. You had better listen to what I have to say very, very close before you stir yourself up into some idiotic rage and start smashing things or tearing things out of the ground and all that sort of thing.” he said.
The earthborn froze. Not because Chema had told it to, but because the voice was so close to it that for a moment it felt child like fear of the unknown. It shook that off and realized that Chema must be on him somehow and if that were so it probably wasn’t a good idea to move especially after the last time it had let Chema get close.
“You must be in a lot of pain I know, and believe me when I tell you that just thrills me to no end. I’m not a cruel man though, and I don’t want to be cruel to you anymore do you understand? Nod a little if you do.”
“Wonderful. Now you probably already know that you’re in a situation that’s very nasty and not to your advantage don’t you?”
It nodded again.
“I’m gonna tell you what it is and what could happen to you if you don’t do exactly as I say, so are you still with me?”
It nodded a third time.
“Good. Now I tore your eye out of this freakishly huge head you have and I’m gonna go ahead and let you know that I really liked doing it and I hope it hurt a lot worse than I could imagine, but you still have a good one so things are looking up for you. I think you’d like to keep it, I think it wouldn’t bother you at all if you could see even if you are slightly impaired. With things being the way they are I wouldn’t imagine that being a completely blind giant is the best thing to be when there are other giants around that can see perfectly fine and know a good meal when it’s stumbling around making a lot of noise. So if you do me and my friend a small chore I give you my word you won’t lose that good eye and we can all go about our business letting bygones be bygones. There’s that, or you can make this difficult for us and I pull back on these ropes back here which will cause the steel plates around your eye to pop it right out. Do you feel that?” Chema asked.
He gave a slight tug on the ropes he was holding and the earthborn could feel a small amount of pressure around its eye. It couldn’t see that they had connected a harness around it like a backpack and was comfortably standing in a makeshift basket riding him like one would an animal. As infuriated as it was it knew that it had little choice given the circumstances.
“What want Arges to do?” It asked.
Setonosh looked at Chema and mouthed silently “they have names?” Chema nodded then turned his attention back to the earthborn. This was one of the reasons he didn’t want him coming along, too many interruptions.
“All I want is for you to get us over the walls. Once we’re over I’ll take all this off of you and you’ll be free to go. Agree?” Chema asked as if it had a choice.
The earthborn answered by simply walking in the direction of Mount Hermon at a careful speed so as not to knock Chema off of his back and accidently setting the plates into motion. There would be time later to get recompense but for the time being the earthborn knew well enough to oblige.
Things had changed since the last time Chema had set foot near this place, that was a long time ago though when easy access to the summit had been desired. Now though it was restricted for the most part with the few exceptions every now and again. Though the only images of the place Chema had in his mind were the ones his youthful eyes had once seen he knew this was the place, he could feel it. As he had met the occasional wave of people trying to get as far away from the mountain as possible he would get little bits and pieces of information, and even before he had resolved to go there himself he kept up with what was going on up there with all the resources at his disposal. The wall that had been built around the base of the mountain was too high and perilous for a man to scale alone. The bricks used to build it were several tons each and so tightly fitted together that not even a needle could be fit between them. The surface had been smoothed over to make it slick and impossible to get any traction of climbing and the only footholds built into them were matched to the size of an earthborn. Even if against all odds a man could achieve such a feat as reaching the top of the wall somehow he still would have to find a way down the other side without freefalling to his death which would leave him with the problem of having to repeat the impossible several more times all the way up to the summit. There wasn’t just one wall standing guard but several at good distances apart all the way up.
At some point Chema had heard there were gates in each to allow access for the earthborn that weren’t giants but the gates would not open unless you had the blood of the earthborn running in your veins. He resolved that the best way to bypass that problem was to go over and the only way to do that was to be around forty feet tall and sure enough the wall was giving their one eyed friend no problem at all.
The higher they ascended the more alien things looked to them. The night was so thick and so black that it could be felt and the wind that blew past them could almost be heard weeping at the tragedy of this place. Looking upward towards the sky was more disturbing as the waters in the heavens swirled around slowly as if they were being pulled down towards the mountain. In the center of the spiral was a void darker than Chema had ever seen in the sky with tiny pin pricks of light tossed around. With the light of the shimmering moon behind them Setonosh was amazed at the millions of detailed glyphs etched into the wall itself just below the glossy surface. He had never seen symbols or written language that looked anything like it before and though he didn’t understand what any of them meant or said he knew that there had been no random choice of placement of any of them. Somehow each and every glyph revealed something on its own and yet all of them together meant something as well. It was the work of meticulous hands. Hands that did not know how to leave imperfections in the messages they produced but were clearly bound by some universal obsession with producing the messages.
Chema would only take notice of these things briefly then make sure his senses stayed alert in the case that their ride would suddenly develop a streak of rebellion and attempt to hoist them off his back and to their deaths. Every once and a while he would remind their big friend how much of a bad idea that would be by slightly tugging the ropes, reminding it that such a thought of rebellion would cost him severely.
Once they had scaled the final wall Chema told the earthborn to slowly approach the edge of the grounds where just as he had hoped were lined all the way around with elaborately crafted torches spaced by exactly three feet thirty three centimeters. Looking around Chema was not seeing what he had expected to see. In the distance there were still magnificent structures standing from temples to living quarters each one as carefully crafted as the other, but something was missing.
“Where are they earthborn? Where are the discs?” He asked.
He had expected several of them to be at the summit, either resting on the structures that complimented their awe striking presence or hovering above with only a haunting silence beneath them. It had taken Chema rigorous mental preparation simply to expect seeing them once he had reached the top, for their sheer size alone was enough to cause the bravest man to shiver underneath them much less the sure sense one would get that the things were sentient and focusing right on them. Hiding in the brush from the earthborn seeking food and being able to feel the heat of his breath paled in comparison to one of the discs brooding overhead.
“Long time gone. Not needed here after war started. To other mountains some went…the rest I don’t know” It answered.
Chema slowly released a sigh of relief so low not even the giant ear close by could hear it. They weren’t the reason for his visit here but he knew they could be a major obstacle in reaching his goal and the fact that there wasn’t one anywhere in sight alleviated him of a world of worry. With that out of the way he scanned around the grounds and realized that the activity of the discs was not the only activity absent, as far as he could hear or see the only ones around was the three of them. If the place had been completely abandoned it couldn’t have been too terribly long ago seeing as how none of the structures had begun to lose their splendor with the exception of thick layers of dust blanketing them all.
“I want you to turn around earthborn, face the way we came.” Chema said.
It did as it was told and was becoming more and more agitated with having to take orders from something lower on the food chain.
“Good, now back up until I tell you to stop…that’s it. Kneel down.”
The two of them made a small jump down from the earthborn to the ground and took a few steps past the torches. Chema then let go of the rope but decided to wait a moment to let the giant know that.
“You can stand and face us now.” Chema said, with a less authoritative voice this time.
It slowly rose and shifted about on its heel until it could see the two of them looking up at it through the flickering flames. Even with the one eye he caught the nervous shaking of Setonosh’s hands before they flustered behind his back to hide. Seeing Chema with no hold to the rope brought a sinister pleasure bubbling up inside. It stayed concealed though and the titan wasn’t about to let his expression give it away.
“How I take metal off eye?”
“The two plates are barely on there at all now, just pull the top one down and the bottom one up.”
Its large hands gently tweezed each plate between its fingers and flicked them away from the mountain like one would small coins with no value. Setonosh forced the lump in his throat down because he had lifted the plates earlier and nearly pulled a muscle.
“The other,” it asked gesturing back to the harness.
Chema looked down and pushed a few pebbles to the side then returned a friendly expression. He brought his arms behind him and clasped them there with palm over wrist. The earthborn was finding the contrast between the two of them curious, it thought that the larger man must be drunk or mad with the display of cavalier. It was considering grabbing him first and tearing his eyes out with its teeth or grabbing the other first, tear him in two and flogging Chema with both ends of his friend. The possibilities were endless, except for them though. The only possibility for them was to either faint from the pain it was going to cause them or bleed to death first.
“I’ll tell you how to take that off, but just so we’re clear I gave you my word that if you got us up here I would let you leave and no harm done. It’s my intention to keep that word because the ride up here was considerably free of bumps and shakes and I have a feeling it had nothing to do with the steel in the eyes.”
‘Talk and talk and talk little man. Arges soon make jokes too. Arges make jokes you not laugh at though.’ It thought to itself.
“So you trust me now to get that thing off and I’ll trust you after not to come across these torches with anything sinister in mind.” Chema said.
It nodded and carefully held up and lowered a hand in the most non threatening way it could like it was taking an oath. Chema was satisfied that the earthborn saw, as it were, eye to eye with him and pointed at the lever on its chest that was facing down and secured with a weak latch. Once its hand fumbled about and finally got a grip on the lever it looked at Chema for confirmation. Chema shook his head assuredly and slowly led Setonosh a few more careful steps back as the giant looked back down to release the latch and lever. A clang of some small metal and a few clamp releases later and the entire rig tumbled off of him like chains from a liberated servant. It didn’t move for several seconds after everything was off, it couldn’t be too careful that somehow this had put him into another one of Chema’s tricks. The three of them stood motionless in anticipation of one another. The earthborn waited to see if there was more in store for it, Setonosh waited to see what either one of them were going to do, and Chema simply waited for the giant to turn around and leave. He could tell that the longer the giant stood there and realized that the unshackling was no trick and he truly was free to go that the likelihood of that actually happening was becoming less and less. He could see in its eye that the internal debate was over and it had already made up its mind though still waited to act on it.
“Arges, I’m asking you very nicely to stop what you’re thinking, turn around and just walk away. All you have to do is walk down this mountain and everything’s over.” Chema said.
He had hoped that calling the thing by its name would somehow get it to connect that Chema was trying to do it a favor. It was for naught though, Arges threw its arms back and proned itself to lunge forward and tear the two of them apart. He screamed in anger just a second before a flickering began in the space his eye once occupied. Just as it passed over the torches to get to its prey the packing in its eye began to spark and make all sorts of strange noises inside its head. Right before it could figure out what was going on the chain reaction had begun and the following explosion blew out the back of its skull, dropping the rest of it hard to the ground before the two standing alive.
Setonosh was still squinting from the explosion and didn’t want to know what that soft, warm mass on his cheek was. After he was content with the fact that it wasn’t his own skull that had produced such a horrible sound he opened his eyes and beheld the corpse of what had recently been identified as Arges.
“What …what just happened?” Setonosh asked.
Chema took a few steps over to the dead giant, cut off a piece of its garment and used it to wipe the blood off of his face, then nonchalantly handed it to his friend.
“He blew his brains out.” Chema answered.
“His brains…blown out? How …how did that happen?”
“I told him to turn around and leave, he didn’t. He wanted to come across the torches and kill us so he got what he deserved.”
Chema was already past all of this and was ready to continue upwards, though Setonosh hadn’t fully grasped what had just happened. Setonosh stomped after him as he made his way further up.
“How did his brains get blown out, Chema? I’d like to know so it never happens to me.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. When he was out I packed the back of his eye with some very large rocks and a few special things I learned from an alchemist a few decades ago. Very unlikely you’ll have it happen to you, Set.” Chema answered.
Though much of the summit could be seen from where they were there was still a way to go before they were truly at the apex. Chema was debating on whether or not to camp and wait for dawn or use the night as cover. He marched upwards as he tossed the ideas back and forth not wanting to waste a step. Setonosh hurried after him not wishing to fall prey to the darkness around them or any of the strange things that had been rumored to be at the top of Hermon.
“Special things, what kind of special things?” he asked.
It wasn’t that he really cared to know, it was more that his mind wandering into the catacombs of his worst fears that were rested with the summit of this mountain were too great to bear at the moment. His heart could very well pop right out of his chest.
“Sulfur powder, charcoal and something called potassium nitrate. It’s a real pain to get it right and the guy that taught it to me couldn’t find any real potential for it besides making fancy lights in the sky. To tell you the truth I never thought I’d find a use for it either, until tonight.” Chema said.
That was the last thing that Setonosh could manage to ask as they made their way up. After that he was too busy shooting his gaze in the direction of each and every sound that he heard. It had been easy for him to be brave when the two of them were at the bottom of the mountain, but now that they were about to step foot on a place forbidden to most humans that bravery was a far distant memory. As the structures they had seen a little below became closer and larger Setonosh could make out that they too were intricately decorated with designs not much different from those that had been on the walls. Some of them larger though, lit just enough to be seen by randomly scattered torches. Other than the flickering of the flames the site was completely void of activity. This was something that neither of them expected. This was something that no one in the known world would have expected seeing as how the summit of Mount Hermon was well known to be constant with activity. From the base it could never have been discerned for as long as anyone could remember the activity on the mountain had caused disturbances in the upper atmosphere, disturbances that made the waters in the heavens stir and dark shapes come down and hide the summit. It had always been this way. As Chema finally stood on the stone foundation of the city it was nothing as he expected. Yes it was massive, yes it was dangerously beautiful, yes it was the antithesis of all that was down below and all over the world but it failed in the area of activity.
“This isn’t right. This place should be quaking with life.” Chema whispered to himself.
Setonosh scanned the opposite direction of his partner and shook his head as if he knew what he should have expected. The entire time they had been travelling together Chema had made it clear that reaching the summit would be nearly impossible, completing his task would be impossible and getting down was completely out of the question so as far as he was concerned this was wonderful. Then a sudden observation was brought to the forefront of his mind. He turned his head over to Chema and chose to bypass the intent look of caution on his face.
“You know I think you spoke more to that big dead thing back there in a few hours than you have to me in months. I just always thought you were a quiet man, but around that thing you couldn’t seem to say enough.” he said.
Chema turned to him in disbelief, how could this foolish man bring something like that up at a time such as this? Chema could have sworn that he heard jealousy in the tone. He chose to ignore it and throw away any response he could muster primarily because it was true. He did seem to speak more to those that were unfortunate enough to become his prey over those who he would call his ally. Perhaps what Setonosh had not noticed though was the intent of the words. They weren’t to make friendly conversation or communicate any other thing besides bitter animosity and hatred.
“I’m going to take a look around; I need you to stay right here. If you hear or see anything call for me.” Chema said.
“See what I’m saying. That has nothing to do with…”
“Call for me if you see or hear anything.” Chema interrupted, and walked into the side streets between the lower structures disappearing into darkness.
Setonosh wore the disgruntled expression right up to the moment that he lost sight of Chema, and then the expression turned to panic. What could be worse than the summit being as active as he had always heard than with the summit being the exact opposite? He hunched his head down between his shoulders as far as he could get it to go and trembled at the smallest sound. For a moment even the sound of his own breathing held him captive. Then just when he thought he could bear it no longer he heard a low, soft sound that soothed and calmed him; a melody tickling his ears and setting all of the tightened muscles in his body to rest. The more comforted he became the more distinguished the melody became. It was the humming of a woman, or was it two maybe more. He couldn’t pin it down and after a few more moments of the seductive sound he couldn’t care less. Where was it coming from? He lethargically looked about until he could see the fuzzy forms just inside the doorway of what appeared to be a temple. The more he looked into it the more drawn he was to go there. Each step he took made the forms clearer and clearer to him. One was blonde, another brunette, more still with hair of red; each one with the whitest of garments falling around their womanly curves, inviting him ever closer. He was ensnared in the beckoning of their beauty and didn’t think for a moment of fighting it.
Once Chema had come back around the corner it was too late. Setonosh was already within fingertips reach of the women. He instinctively yelled and sprinted towards him, calling his name, hoping to wake him from the trance. Setonosh looked back at Chema with a half smile still on his face confused as to why he sounded so distressed. By the look of Chema’s face one would think he were in danger of death.
“They’re sirens, Set. Get away.” He yelled.
Setonosh turned to face the women again, but this time there was no willingness on his part to keep approaching them. What had once appeared to his eyes to be the loveliest of ladies calling to him, reaching out for him was now something horrifically different. Where once there had been blonde, brown and hair of red now was replaced with sparse strands of dirty grey. Where he had once seen rounded cheeks, now were the lines of bone beneath the skin. Begging eyes now piercing daggers, fully perched lips were blackened teeth. The garments of white were dirty and torn, the curves of a woman were now the form of a foul and the beautiful melody that had lured him towards them had quickly changed to a murderous shriek. Realizing that he had been made the fool much like the earthborn that had brought them up he violently tried to escape. It was all for naught though as the flesh wrapped bones ensnared him by multitude and easily pulled him into the fray.
Chema stopped in his tracks as he watched the last of Setonosh’s flailing arms disappear into the darkness of the temple, followed by one last gurgled scream. He shook his head in disappointment, but wouldn’t allow himself any time to be taken off guard. The sirens that had pulled the skinny man in quickly reemerged not to come too far out of the temple. Their arms outstretched, beckoning Chema to come to them as well. They began to sing their melody again but it would have no effect on him.
“I see you for what you are. Set your trap for others.” he said.
This emboldened them to come out further towards him, spacing out from one another as they approached him. Though he had told them that their song couldn’t reel him in that did not stop them from starting fresh, low at first to gauge his response.
“Your wits match your vile looks. I said I see you for what you are, you move one more step to me and each of you will see one another’s insides.”
To accentuate the point he displayed his bone harpies from their sheaths, casually pointing them downwards so their ferociousness could be seen. This did the trick as the gaggle of twisted females backed away. He acknowledged that they must be here unprotected or else they wouldn’t have done such. They would have held him at bay as something far nastier approached.
“Where are they? Where are the Watchers?” Chema said.
The women hissed and snarled at him. He had offended them already by reminding them of the ugliness they possessed so they were not about to oblige him. They stayed where they were, underneath the darkened doorway squealing and squelching at him.
“I asked a question. I’m not accustomed to repeating them and I’ve no problems with killing women.”
He waited but the only response he received from them was twisted writhing and cursing. If he went after them more than likely they could disappear into the temple or the shadows of this place and keep him very busy for some time and they knew this. His strategy was in the process of being rethought when an audible cry echoed in his ears, a much needed gift to his situation. It had shot out from inside the doorway they were guarding and by the looks on their faces he could tell the sirens had not wanted him to hear it. That’s what they had been doing, distracting him from hearing the cry of children inside but now that his ears were focused on them there was no shriek they could make to mask them. By the pitch of the cries Chema distinguished them to be small Aluka children, small and very hungry Aluka children. He made a nice clean cut in his forearm and grinned as an even flow of blood slowly crept towards gravity, then when there was enough he waved his arm in the air a few times.
Rushing out of the temple and past any siren arms that attempted to hold it back, a bone thin little boy with hands outstretched was running at the blood with lightening speed. His head didn’t have a single strand of hair, his eyes were completely black, and his cries whistled through razor sharp fangs which happened to be the only teeth he had in his head. Chema’s mighty hand opened and allowed the boy to slam his neck into it and become captive to his grip. He kept the boy at arm’s length, careful not to let the fangs get near his skin. The little Aluka kicked, screamed, wailed and thrashed to get free but those efforts were in vain. Chema had him and until he decided to let go there was no prying away from that grip.
The eyes of the sirens pierced into Chema threatening him without words. If only they could get hold of him they would make him suffer indescribably.
“I’m going to start with this one. I’m going to crush his little throat and toss him in front of you so you can watch him fight for air until he can’t fight anymore. After that I’m going to go in there with the rest of your precious little bastards and see how many parts I can cut off of them before they stop moving. Or this can be over, just tell me where they went.” Chema said.
All of the sirens were moving in a rhythm much like the waves of the sea, a pattern which didn’t break as one stepped out from the others, the apparent head of this particular group.
“Fool of a man you must be to come up here and threaten the women of the Watchers, fool of a man you must be to hold a child of the Watchers and promise it death. If they were here you wouldn’t be so bold or dare lay a hand on what belongs to them. Put the child down and when the Watchers come back we will tell them to not make you suffer before you die because you did not know it was theirs.” The siren shrieked.
The little Aluka stopped making any sound at all, his little body went prone and began to jerk and twitch just slightly. Chema was squeezing just enough to get their attention.
“I know what fathered this filth, all the more reason for me to kill it and if you knew who I was you would know it wouldn’t be a mistake. Look at me siren; do you know who I am?”
All of the siren looked him up and down then brought their mouths to one another’s ears speaking in a way they could understand but to anyone else the sound was like the scurrying of rats. One of the sirens remembered hearing about the bone harpies before and cried his name out. When all of the sirens heard it they shrieked a cacophony of his name into the air in horror. Now they knew this man was not mistaken and had not wandered this way mad or threatened the life of the Aluka lightly. Their demeanor changed quickly and all except the lead siren hunched down low waving their vein wrapped arms towards the child wishing they could reach. The lead siren stepped out from among them and drew closer, but nowhere near striking distance of Chema and the child.
“Please…please give him to us…” her lips smacking with dark saliva.
“…each one is so precious to us. We know who you are Chema, we know you mean what you say.”
“You know who I am then its best you tell me where they are. Tell me that and the Aluka will be in your arms and the others will live.” Chema said.
They nodded their heads. As Chema watched them, the way they looked and the way they behaved he felt pity for them in a way. Once the horrible beasts that stood before him had been some of the most beautiful women eyes could rest on. Their skin was smooth and flawless; their hair silken and lively, the scent of them couldn’t be breathed in enough. It was far different from the leathery grey skin and putrid smell wafting in front of him now. What had always been on the inside of those beautiful women had now come outside and engulfed them so their hearts could no longer be hidden. They had become this as punishment for the things they had done, for the things they had brought into the world that was destroying all life. These were some of the women responsible for birthing the earthborn to the Watchers and in doing so birthing abominations to mankind.
“They left to Albion, not long ago; left us here to care for the children until they come back.” The siren said.
“They built a place there to watch the heavens, to chart the circuits of the stars above the waters. They have them all over the earth but it was the one in Albion whose keepers sent for them to come.”
“The keepers? What do you mean?”
“Humans who serve the Watchers. They chart the circuit of the stars for them. They swore oaths to never leave in exchange for what they value most.”
Chema held very little respect for those who had bowed down to the Watchers in servitude or homage. He saw them as no better than the earthborn that ravaged the lands.
“Why did the keepers call for them?” Chema asked.
“Something in the heavens is coming. They said it was disobeying the system and the circuits. Now let the child go, we’ve told you where they are.”
Chema loosened his grip as a sign of good will but wasn’t quite ready to free him. By this time the little Aluka had wrapped his little fingers around his wrist and was doing its best to hold itself up and alleviate the discomfort of choking.
“They didn’t say what it was?”
“No, only that it shines red in the Albion sky.”
“Is that where the discs are too, in Albion?”
The sirens were groaning to get their child back. It was the same instinct any mother would exhibit as they watched their offspring in danger, even if it was a twisted offspring such as this. They were clamoring now and Chema knew that soon they would be more difficult with cooperation.
“No…the Watchers went to Albion, saw the red in the heavens then sent word for the discs to leave. They went up through the waters…please Chema.”
He lowered the Aluka so his feet could touch the ground then let go of his throat. The boy scurried into the arms of the sirens and all of them wrapped themselves around him showering him in comfort. Chema turned away thinking they would no longer pay him any attention but before he could make his way down the lead siren spoke again.
“Best chase after them fast, poor Chema. The little one marked you for his siblings so best you hurry to the greater death before the little death gets you first.” She sneered.
Chema looked down and noticed the scratches the little Aluka had made. It was like a beacon he couldn’t get rid of and if he crossed the path of any others or they caught the scent of his trail they would hunt him down relentlessly to avenge the little Aluka. As children they were exceptionally bloodthirsty but the older ones were far more perfect killing machines. There was no time to worry about it now though, not when he had so much ground to cover from here to Albion. It was a problem he would deal with when it presented itself. Instead of leaving the wasted wench with a witty retort he graciously turned and went his way.
He had ensured that everything he would need for the long journey to Albion was placed in a satchel, slung over his shoulder and around his back. The handful of days it took for him to walk from the mountain’s base towards the river were silent and reflective, as unfortunate as that may have been for him. He had become so accustomed to hearing Setonosh that the absence of his voice was unsettling and served as a reminder to his brutal end. Chema had always known that the likelihood of the hungered man surviving too long in his company were slim and from the onset of their partnership he refused to accept any responsibility for what was to happen to him. It was this fact that allowed Chema to feel detached from his death and put it behind him with little to no emotional bereavement.
He had been tending to the cuts on his arm made by the Aluka the entire trip and kept it wrapped in torn pieces of garment he brought with him to stifle the scent it may give off. Once he had reached the waters of the river he spent some time scrubbing the skin knowing that at best it would merely weaken the marks but in no wise eradicate them.
As the river bank grew darker with nightfall a thick fog rolled in from the tree lines and blanketed the surface of the water. Though most would consider this eerie, it struck Chema as rather soothing. Underneath the light of the moon the fog appeared to be even thicker than what it was, but not long after this scene had been set a disturbance rippled across the water towards him and cut through the mist like a slow knife. Chema looked out to the origin as the fog parted and ushered the bow of a small boat coasting from the darkness beyond. Standing in the midst of the boat was a tall silhouette covered in a shroud and holding a staff of some sort in its hand of long, thin fingers. Chema stood to his feet and waited for the boat to drift close enough for him to make a small step on board with what little belongings he had. The ferryman guiding the boat had no need to stop or to exchange words with his passenger on their destination, but instinctively guided his vessel in the correct direction and cut back into the fog.
Chema made himself comfortable, and decided it would be best for him to make an attempt at sleep as they drifted along not knowing if he would get such an opportunity in the coming days. His eyes closed for the final time, but before dosing off he caught a glimpse of the ferryman’s face from deep inside the hood about his head. The skin was clearly a pale, smooth grey with no lines except the small slit of a mouth far below the large black eyes which were unlike the mouth, proportionate to the head. It was the same ageless face Chema had always seen inside that hood since the day the two of them had met.
It had been a little under two centuries when he had been stalking a small group of the Aluka, an endeavor that required an enormous amount of patience, stealth, and ferocity. The night he had chosen to make his move and do away with them had more surprises than he had planned on, namely running into this ferryman who he called Charon. While Chema had been on the hunt, so too had the Aluka, as they chased Charon straight into him. Chema had caught him by the arm as he fled from them and knew instantly that he too was a breed of the earthborn by his very appearance which vaguely resembled a man with longer, thinner appendages and an oversized head. Chema had tried to communicate with him to understand why the Aluka were after him but the only language Charon could speak sounded very much like that of a wounded cat. It didn’t take long for the ferryman to realize he was too weak to escape Chema’s grasp, so he sent the images of his recent memory directly into his mind.
Through the eyes of Charon he could see flashes of the Aluka dragging him across some distant plains, and into a cavern cut deep into the earth. Along with the images came the emotions of horror and desperation. Chema could even feel the tension that had been in Charon’s arms and legs that flailed to escape. The flashes came so sudden and skipped through time just enough for him to understand that the Aluka had attempted to fling him down into a gash within the caverns that had no apparent bottom in sight. Through the senses of the ferryman, Chema could hear what sounded very much like countless screams and moanings from the pit. Though he couldn’t see anyone, the sound was unforgettably human. Not only had he been pounded with the unbearable sounds of torment, but unimaginable heat as well. Chema could feel the emotions of anxiety as he watched the terrified Charon wiggle loose from the Aluka and flee with everything he had in him. Then a wave of flashes went before Chema’s eyes of countless days in forests, fields of tall grass, and open plains that Charon had ran across to escape the fate the Aluka desired to take him to.
Chema had seen all of this in only an instant, and almost immediately after the pursuing Aluka arrived to reclaim what Chema had caught. Charon had been frozen with fear as he watched Chema, a mere mortal man fight off those vicious predators, and send them back into the night. Chema had felt no pity for the weakling earthborn, but saw no point in killing him either. The Watchers had clearly wanted Charon dead, and if that be the case Chema thought it best, if only to agitate, to leave him alive. He had been content to leave Charon there and go on his way, but the grey skinned earthborn screeched after him and made it known that he was still frightened that the Aluka would return for him once Chema was gone. Though Chema could not understand his speech, or lack thereof, Charon could understand his, and understood fully when he had been told to stay near the water for safety. The Aluka had an acute sense of smell, with the one weakness that they were unable to penetrate through or across water, and this would be both Charon’s freedom and imprisonment. For the rest of his days he would dwell in the wet veins of the land going to and fro on the boat he would later fashion.
As the years passed, Charon had mapped out in his mind the paths of all the seas and all the rivers and could guide his boat through them like the swiftest fish that knew all the shortcuts, dangers, and benefits, but never dared to leave the waters that kept him safe. This skill had become an unanticipated asset for Chema, who would from time to time require the services Charon had developed so that his travel from place to place might be shortened. Because the two of their minds had come together for the necessity of communicating, Charon had a faint connection with him and was always sure to stay in waters that were the closest to where Chema was at any given time. This practice always made him feel a little safer and had always been a benefit to Chema who never knew when he would have to call on his ferryman.
Chema had never bothered to find out what he had done that was horrible enough to put him on the outs with the Watchers and their offspring, nor did he truly care. The two of them decided it would be to their mutual benefit to open up Charon’s talent of navigation for the acquisition of coinage, which was something Chema could never do on his own and rarely had need of, but from time to time having money to trade with was a must. He allowed Charon to do with most of it as he wished, and in the rare occasions Chema had need of goods he would dip into the considerable amount of treasure Charon would amass. However, he never relied on Charon for anything but travel and the occasional funds, and never entrusted him with anything that could be turned against his efforts or turned against him because at the end of the day Chema never let it slip his mind that this was an earthborn. Regardless of how many times the ferryman would pull through for him, Chema would never allow the time in which he wouldn’t.
The trip to the land of Albion took no time for the ferryman to execute and as he drifted to the bank to allow his passenger to depart, he without need of being asked retrieved a map from the lockbox built into the stern and guided his finger from the river to the observatory so Chema could quickly make the rest of the journey on foot
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