Chronicled by Hyperion
A chilled mist and a harrowing quiet had crept over the valley. Like clockwork, the sunlight vanished and the full effects of the night swept in, no more than an hour later. On occasion, the broken moon would slip a glance through the veiling clouds, shining for no more than a mere moment or so. Clouds were illuminated under its reflection and created ambient light suitable for minimal vision or activity on the nights where the mist was not over oppressive. Owls hooting, small waves lapping onto the posts Harken Fall sat upon, and a breeze whisking through the trees composed the chorus of the night. On all mentioned accounts, a surreal existence could be drawn from such a picture, but an unsettling darkness remained rooted in the valley.
Floating upon the blackened bay, Harken Fall was the largest of the refuges risen from the ashes of the terror that had haunted the valley. Rickety bridges connected the buildings together, some posts used as boat rests had been dually purposed as hopping bridges as well. The village resembled more of a massive shanty, a conglomerate of shacks and structures shaping a town upon the water. It was unsightly, yet remained the safest of options to found a community.
Land had become overrun with frivolous and frightening beasts that had terrorized the towns, taking not just men, but women and children at will. The families of those who had been taken were lucky to find some kind of mangled remains as a twisted means of closure, while others either gave up on their loved ones early or went nearly mad in denial of the horrible truth. At least upon the water, the disappearances had greatly decreased. Some had seen folk running back from the woods after the sun retreated behind the mountains, barely to cross the bridges back to Harken before being claimed by the woods. Chasing those who made it back were large, shadowesque creatures that had been seen remaining at the line of clearing, savoring their cover of darkness. Unknown in their identity, an occasional howl, cry, or roar could be she heard from the woods. Rumor circulated at one point of a creature reaching the shoreline, abandoning the cover of the woods, searching for blood. Truly, these creatures had a heart for violence and a will of darkness.
It was the first Bearer of the Iniquitous Tome who cracked the void, releasing these foul beasts into the valley. Nobody knew who its first Bearer was, but their intent was decidedly and obviously malicious. Their rise to power was nearly simultaneous with the mysterious disappearance of Roanoke Adept, a thriving colony at the base of the northern mountains. At first notice of its disappearance, folk believed to themselves be lost on the road to Roanoke, rather than the disappearance. It was unfathomable, an entire village, up and gone, not only in population, but in structure and goods. Upon walking the road leading directly into Roanoke, travelers noticed and overgrowth of shrubberies and grass, to the point of no longer recognizing any semblance of a road at all. Worse still were the whispers that could be heard on in the area. The many expeditions throughout the land of former Roanoke were fraught with rumor of whispers and murmurs heard on the wisp of the wind or in the brush of the breeze. Roanoke’s former land had become a bedding ground for mystic unease and confusion. For this apparent work of witchcraft, folk blamed the Iniquitous Tome and its Bearer.
Among the supposed sins of the Bearer were the disappearance of Roanoke Adept, the scarring of the waters, the cracking of the void, and the cursing of Antioch, and other unforgivable acts. Antioch had been a small lumbering town to the south of Roanoke, north east of where Harken Fell now floats. Uncertainty clouded the events relating to Antioch, as there had been no witnesses to relay the massacre. The rumor in question was that the Bearer had taken arms against the village alone, and was successful in her feat. Poetically, the Bearer slew many residents of this lumbering village with an axe, and upon growing bored of their play, cursed the rest to an unnecessary death of plague and pain. Day crews had investigated Antioch some time after the Bearer was undone, discovering horribly violent scenes of gore and malice. The day crews had shuddered at the evidence of this terrorism, only being able to imagine the pain and fear these residents faced in their last moments. It would seem, as had been said, that the trees of Antioch had exhibited their own behavior, swaying without a wind, growing in unnatural shapes, and displaying an autumnal hue year-round.
Recognized now as the Massacre of Antioch and consequently the greatest of the Bearer’s sins, the coastal towns, mainly Harken Fall, had a day each year they would pay homage to the sacrifice of the people of Antioch. Their philosophy was simple and effective; every tree brought down was a gift, and for every gift, a new tree nourished in its place. This philosophy was intact even while their lumbering was was doubled to aid the other villages in their expedited relocation. Without Antioch, relocation would have been impossible, and inhalation would have been inevitable. In honor of the tragedies felt by all, especially Antioch at the Bearer’s hand, the Bearer’s name had not been spoken.
The Court, a once honorable and noble gathering of men and women devoted to the prosperity of the valley, now a fearful and cowering group of broken people shook at the thought of another outbreak of darkness. Hellbent on preventative measures, any who could be suspected of reaching for darkness or the Iniquitous Tome were put to death without question or much evidence. In the brightest time of day (though still dull to the light that used to shine on the valley), the so called perpetrators of witchcraft, darkness, or even whispers of it would meet an end at the end of a rope. This bright time of day was the only time the Court felt safe enough to leave the planks upon which the pompously strode in Harken Fall. Hangings took place at the tree line of the woods. All were made to look at the perpetrators become corpses at the end of the rope, to watch their last breath denied them and the light leave their tearful eyes. Dark as it may sound, the Court believed it a solid preventative measure against the spread of darkness, inspiring the harshest disassociation with it.
Ever under the shadow of the tower of Knossos, wakes of the bay lapped endlessly onto the posts upon which Harken stood. Minimally in detail, the Court assured the people of the valley of the defeat of the Bearer, and that death had taken the Bearer for good. As a show of action against darkness and an attempt to gain the trust of the people, the Court placed the Iniquitous Tome in a sealed chest, unable to be unlocked, and placed in the bottom of a watery grave, deep in the pit within the depths of Knossos tower. Most felt safety, security, and assurance that wickedness like this had been banished from the valley, while some felt otherwise.
Mist and quiet, moving through the trees, like a marine layer sweeping over the mountains and into the valley rather than from the coast. The bay seemed to be at rest, regardless of the below. Nobody had touched the waters that night, and the Murk Singers obliged with their silence. Dreadful creatures, really… the mere thought of them sends shivers down most folks’ spine. Pale, disgusting beasts with slender tentacles, much like an octopus, yet covered in thick, white hair. Or was it grey? None had been seen but at night, their color indistinguishable for all the people knew. The lesson had been learned the hard way: Flesh in the water will bring the slaughter. Fear of their presence had encouraged the people of Harken and the other water towns to keep out of the water spare the boats, and even then the topic was skeptical.
But as previously stated, without mention of the darkness in the valley, the scene was somewhat eerily surreal and tranquil. A reverence and fear to be given it, yet some would say things could be worse. The mist and quiet suited some, and others it off-put, yet remained regardless. Braille was one of those who appreciated the tranquility of the night, regardless of the dark abounding. Not one to serve the darkness herself, she did hold it in some respect as it was profoundly present in the valley. Having lived in the valley for her entirety, she had loved it before the darkness, and she held close to the valley even though disease and corruption had taken it. She would travel between Harken Fall and the other coastal towns, and often wander into the woods. She hid well from the creatures of the dark, and grew fond of the fearful adventure. Few if any knew her after the sickness swept over the valley, so she felt as though none would miss her should she disappear, too. She couldn’t place the last time she spoke to anyone, guessing that solitude was just her modus operandi. Either way, she did not care for interaction much. People had often rubbed her the wrong way and had been a nuisance.
The moon and her sons (the broken fragments of debris which used to be part of the moon) reflected brightly that night, providing ample ambient light through the clouds. The mist below chilled Braille’s already cold hands. She exhaled to watch her breath manifest in the air, yet nothing. For the cold of the night, she expected something and felt a hint of angst. The cold of the bridge she so cavalierly laid on seemed not to bother her, yet was a constant presence in the back of her mind. Two folks walked by her, creaking the bridge as they went. Their steps were right next to her, almost on her, yet they completely ignored her. She it had been that way for a while. People had begun to ignore the one another, as if the oppressive discoloration of the valley had a stern hold on their behavior. Simple decency should not have eased away so silently, she believed, yet acknowledged as the discomforting truth behind it.
Sounding though it was miles away yet right there within the same instance, a loud crack like thunder echoed across the valley. Like a twisting tree or a falling mass, an initial impact sound followed by a yipping and howling of the beasts in the woods. It jolted Braille to her feet, and as she surveyed the direction of the sound, she could see dark shadowy shapes moving quickly toward the sound. The yipping continued, like the shrill cry of a coyote. Echoes of the night were not uncommon, but the crash and what seemed to be consequent beastly gathering were abnormal. She looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the sound, and it appeared as though none had. She took a step or two forward on the bridge, looking around as if she was looking for permission from herself, then ran toward the shoreline. Her footsteps were nearly silent, the chill on her neck was biting yet not worrisome, and her curiosity and fear intertwined into a shaking in her hands. She continued running.
He approached the line of trees beginning the woods, stopped, and thought for a split second, why am I going? Her unsureness was clearly not going to be an obstacle for her, as she craved to know. Her feet pushing into the ground, sending her forward once more. She ran as if to get somewhere she had been longing to go for a very long time. She reconciled the thought she had been neglecting, where am I going? Where did that noise come from? Her answers, she believed, would surely come, but she knew she had to run. She did not tire, something that she had noticed to be strange. It had been nearly five minutes without stopping now, yet she felt no need to catch her breath. Run a voice said to her. She, in opposition to the voice, stopped in a startled feeling, wondering where the voice came from. She couldn’t she hear it, it didn’t come through her ears, yet it was a deep, calm, and commanding voice she had never she heard before. Like a thought independent of coaxing or inspiration.
Concealed in the night, some beasts of the dark ran by giving Braille no notice, something she would accredit to their hunt of the noise as well, she imagined. Picking up speed again, she ran faster. At this point, some of the area had become familiar to where she had explored before, yet she was unsure. She did not know where to go from there, yet she was certain the sound was in the general direction of her path. A breeze shifted and she could see mist moving north east. Follow the voice said again. Her respirations began to labor, not under the strain of running, but under an anxious trepidation and utter bewilderment. A faint red glow shone in the distance.
Her run slowed as she approached a hill with a small rock face toward the top, no more than fifteen feet tall. It looked somewhat familiar, but she was not entirely sure. Almost cresting the hill, she neared the rocks she knew she needed to scale. Halfway there, she she heard a guttural growl and the thunderous footsteps of a running beast. Although the moon seemed to light the night enough for her vision, she couldn’t see much detail other than a large, shadowy figure that sent a chill all throughout her. Merely feet the base of the rocks, it leapt directly over Braille, breaking some small debris loose as it clung and ascended the rocks. It seemed to give her no notice, rather continued over the hill. Her eyes were not watching much of the beast as she was shielding her face with her arm. Much to her surprise, though she was certain the debris would hit her, she remained untouched.
After her brief struggle with the hill, she was atop it, looking forward toward the glow she saw, no more than sixty yards from her a clearing the size of a large room, sparse fires kindled around it as if they ended up there as a result of an accident or some kind of catastrophe. At least seven beasts circled the area growling and yipping. The fires occasionally shone on a beast, revealing minimal yet horrifying detail of their monstrous display. Coarse, stiff hair, black and the occasional grey, covered their bodies. Most of them had two long legs with proportionately larger feet, two longer arms with large hand like extremities and claws. Some had tails, some had horns, some had antlers, and some had fangs that protruded past their mouths idly. The singularly universal qualities they all shared were their hair, the long face, or rather snout with generally snarled lips displaying bloody teeth, menacing black eyes, and a clearly visible spine like a malnourished and sickly dog.
Their appearance was shocking, which is why the details of the environment seemed to take a moment to set in. There was no mist on top of the hill, and none below where this scene was either. The clearing was littered with thousands of bits and pieces of debris from a tree, as if it had been shredded or exploded from within. The most shocking of all this she had yet to observe, but upon seeing it, Braille hastened forward again.
A body which appeared to be male laid bare face down in the dirt. Entirely motionless, she believed the body to be nothing but a corpse at this point, yet her curiosity plunged her forward. The beasts continued to circle, yet would not advance to the body closer than about ten feet for the longest time. When one finally did, the nearest tree seemed to sway and bend down, striking it away, emitting loud and sharp cracking sounds as it did so. Braille, shocked and terrified, froze in her steps, gasping at what she had just seen. The beast was knocked back from the impact yelped at its new injury, and after rising to its feet, rapidly limped away. The rest of the beasts cowered back a few feet, some retreated all together, the remaining three yipped and howled to approach the body, yet the tree continued to sway just the slightest bit, but enough to see it was not like any ordinary tree movement. After an hour or so of this circling at cowering around the body, the beasts finally retreated as the sun began to light the valley as it made its way to crest the mountain tops for a sunrise.
Braille moved forward again, yet this time remarkably slowly, fearful of the things she had witnessed. The rest of the trees nearby seemed unwavering in their solidity, so she seemed more comfortable hiding behind those as she approached. She reached the proximity of where the beasts had been circling before, looking around as if she expected terror to strike at any moment. The wavering tree grew still, looking like any ordinary cedar she had seen in the area. She still approached with great caution. Nearly ten feet from the body, she trembled when she saw it take a breath. Again, the voice, or thought (she didn’t know which), commanded Wait. With less fear and anxiety than before, she sat and followed the command.
The sun rose to at least mid-morning position. Valley beget more color, permitting the brilliant colors of the trees to radiate just a little more than their listless gloom of the night. She surveyed the rise of the sun and its rays caressing the valley in all their splendor. Magnificent, she thought. While waiting, she thought over the last few years… or at least, what felt like a few years. It had been fifty years give or take a few. Has it really been that long? She remembered the callous details of the reign of the Bearer. A lump grew heavy in her throat, and her eyes welled without release. She remembered when her home, the thriving Roanoke, was a capital of industrious trade and wealth. She missed her family, her books, her songs. She grew accustom to playing stringed instruments and singing, but had not partaken in anything she missed of Roanoke since its disappearance. She remembered laying her head down to sleep one crisp, starry night in her bed, and awoke the next morning amidst the forest; bed, chambers, and the rest of Roanoke nowhere to be seen. It sent her into shock. She remembered how when she woke, she rose quickly, fearfully searching for any sign of her former residence, finding only a crooked, crude cross driven into firmly into the ground by a fresh grave. She had never seen a grave at that point. Upon recalling these events while sitting in the clearing, she acknowledged the shelter and innocence that shrouded her young life. She also remembered the brief word she spoke to the grave, hoping for its new resident to find peace. Find peace, find rest, find the highest of places, oh lost one.
The body twitched. Braille jumped back, frightened and startled. As her hand supported herself on the ground, she felt something softer than the pine needles, deciduous leaves, and other bits of shattered tree she had expected. She glanced and saw that her hand had fallen upon a large pelt, perhaps that of a bear, that she could have sworn was not there when she approached the debris and the clearing. She stood, gripping the pelt in both her hands. It felt strange to grab it, like a common-place movement, yet foreign and unfamiliar. Heart racing, she slowly approached the man’s bare body, continually looking all around, as though her head was on a swivel, most particularly keeping an eye on the sweeping tree. When she reached the man, she noticed that any of his visible veins here pitch black, and his visible ear had dark blood dried in and around it. Shocked at the spectacle, she gently threw the bearskin over him.
Midday. From her resumed post of about ten feet away, she heard him cough. Once. Twice. He began hacking, as though he could not breathe. She ran over to him, rolling him onto his back and sitting him upright. As she did so, he clung to her, as if his breath depended upon it, coughing and gasping all the while. Again, it was another foreign and unfamiliar feeling to touch him and be touched. He groaned, as if trying to catch his breath, yet now able to do so now. His eyes slowly opened, squinting to the brightness of the day. She saw his face, now, and saw the darkness of severe bags under his eyes, similar dried blood under his nose as there was from his ears. His jugular veins were distended and dark, like the rest of his veins. His eyes, from the little bit that she could see, were grey and bloodshot. Reacting to the light with severe sensitivity, he closed and covered his eyes.
“What’s your name?” Yet again another foreign and unfamiliar behavior. It dawned on her how long it had been since she had spoken to someone… longer than she could place.
Whispering, seeming to be his only ability to communicate, is a raspy and broken voice, he said, “Alder.”
“Alder, what happened?”
Ignoring her question, he blurted out, “Antioch.” He coughed up some dust and gasped again. “Get me to Antioch.”
Braille was confused; Antioch fell over fifty years ago, why would anyone need to go there? “Alder, what is in Antioch.
Alder, shaking and trying to stand but unable due to a remarkable lack of balance or equilibrium, ineffectively spoke something, then upon clearing his throat and rewrapping the pelt around him, tried to speak again, “Home.”
“Antioch is gone,” Braille said with an uncomfortable pause before she spoke. Alder looked puzzled at her, lowering his eyebrows as if to show disbelief. “Alder, what happened to you?”
“What do you mean, gone?”
“You know… the Bearer massacred the entire village.” As she spoke those words, she realized there may have been a better way to break the news to someone who appeared to have some sense of urgent business in the subject of interest.
Alder’s eyes now open, welled with tears. He slumped back to a sitting position, holding his knees. “So…” he spoke quietly, with a lump in his throat adding new difficulty to his speech, “It wasn't a dream.”
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