The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I, page 3
A blue the color of the daytime sky flashed so brightly that it penetrated Michael’s clenched eyelids. There was a deafening bang and he was knocked off his feet by a scorching gust of wind. Bits of flying gravel stung his face. Michael lay stunned on the ground and coughed from the dust and smoke that suddenly filled the air. Before he knew what had happened― why he was inexplicably not being torn apart by that deadly pink mouth― sturdy hands reached under his arms and lifted him to his feet. Through the whirling clouds of gypsum and trail dust he craned his head to see his father holding him up.
“Are you okay?” Simon asked.
Michael stammered. He didn’t know what to say. He was too tired and confused. He felt fine, but between the monstrous dogs and the sudden explosion, it seemed too unlikely that he should be. He took a few seconds to make sure that all of his body parts were accounted for before mumbling, “I think so.”
His father turned to Sam, who was lying on his back further up the trail. It seemed that Michael had been blown backwards a fair distance. Sam groaned, but did not stir. They rushed over to him and helped him up. He appeared to be no worse than before, except rather stunned by the blast.
Michael could see his other two friends standing in the street light, staring back at them, still carrying the limp body of the horned man. “Great shot, Mr. Edwards!” called Jake.
“Michael, what happened?” his father asked.
Michael took a few more dusty gasps before finding additional words, “We were up on the ridge, by the Fold, and that man came out of the bushes. The dogs were chasing him. They mauled him around the neck before we could fight them off.”
His father looked impressed, “That was very brave of you, son. I didn’t know that you could Move.”
“I…I’ve been studying while you were away,” Michael stammered, suddenly realizing he had blurted out his secret. His father had expressed little encouragement in his passion to study Moving. In fact, he had often tried to dissuade Michael, insisting that he was needed at home to take care of his mother. But this did not seem like the best time to discuss his clandestine studies. “There’s something else,” he said, changing the subject. “That man over there...there’s something wrong with him. He has horns on his head and his skin’s a weird color.”
“Horns?” asked his father, raising a brow.
They walked over to where James and Jake were standing. They laid the man down on the cobble stones. Sweat glistened on their foreheads and soaked their shirts. They were still panting a little.
“Look,” said Michael, pulling back the man’s hood. He half expected the horns not to be there, as if he had hallucinated the whole evening, but they were still protruding from his skull, glinting yellow under the streetlights. “Do you think he wandered through a Fold?”
Michael’s father stared at the man, brows furrowed. He responded only by tugging at his thick, graying beard.
“Dad? Do you think it could be a Fold?” he asked again.
“Yes,” the senior Edwards muttered dryly. “I can’t imagine what else it could be.”
Between taking Sam to the healers, locating his parents at the festival, and telling the evening’s story a few times over to awestruck friends and authorities, it was several hours before Michael had a chance to rest. He expected to sleep deeply that night, but he felt that he had barely closed his eyes when he was awoken by the sound of his front door opening. He heard the deep voices of several men as they entered his house.
It was still dark outside his window, so Michael was not sure how long he had slept. What little sleep he did have was fitful and filled with the howls of distant dogs. Somehow, he wasn’t groggy. His anxiety energized him and he sat up straight in bed. He could hear heavy footsteps on the wooden floorboards as the men tromped into his living room.
Michael dressed quickly and snuck out to the top of the stairs so he could hear them better. He could not see anyone from his roost, but was quite sure the deepest voice belonged to the mayor, a heavy-set, mustachioed man in his fifties who always wore white-collared shirts a little too open so a wild scraggle of chest hair was just able to protrude out the top. It reminded Michael of a groundhog poking its head out of its hole to cautiously check for predators.
“…and that makes four in all,” the mayor said. “The young girl was mauled quite badly. The healers are still working on her, but they need help from the masters at Alexandria.”
“Have you called them?” he heard his father ask.
“We tried, but the lines are out,” spoke a younger man that sounded like one of the mayor’s assistants, probably John Fontaine.
“All the lines are out?” his father asked in disbelief.
The mayor spoke again, “We’ve tried several phones. We even used the radio, but nothing’s working.”
John added, “We’ve had techs working on them for the last few hours, but no luck yet. They say that it may be a malfunction at the communications hub in Alexandria, but aren’t sure yet.”
“I have the girl stabilized for now,” added a third voice, “but the wounds to her head and abdomen are quite severe. For her to make a full recovery she’ll require more help than I can provide.” Michael assumed that was Dr. Chang, a newcomer to the town and the islands in general. He was not an expert in the healing arts used in Arimbol, but was a respected doctor in his own country.
The mayor said, “We will of course do everything we can for her. In total there are three injured people in the hospital, plus one dead man with horns sticking out of his head. No one knows who he is. Plus there are more packs of those animals roaming the town. We had to shut down the celebrations early and set up a patrol. We could hear them out in the vineyards as we walked over here. Master Edwards, do you think these animals are attacking us because of some kind of Fold?”
“It’s possible,” considered Michael’s father, audibly shifting about on what Michael assumed was their rumpled yellow couch. “I’ve seen Folds cause transformations in people and I have seen strange beasts emerge from them, sometimes even aggressive ones, but more than one effect per Fold is unusual.”
“So it’s multiple Folds?” asked the mayor.
“Possibly,” considered Michael’s father, “but they would have to be very near each other, if not overlapping.”
“Can you find them?”
“Maybe. I would probably start at the ridge where my son first spotted the man and the dogs. I could try to follow their trail back to the Folds. I’m no expert in tracking though.”
“John,” began the mayor, “can you find someone in the village with hunting experience?”
“I think Mr. Garcia can help with that.”
“We also need a few good Movers,” the mayor continued. “People that have some skill to defend themselves. We need to warn everyone in the town to be careful and to not walk alone at night, especially on the outskirts of town.”
“We should also check on the farmers to make sure they’re safe,” added John.
“Right,” said the mayor. “In the meantime, we’ll keep working on the communication lines and hope for the best, but we should also send a party to Alexandria to retrieve a healer.”
“Wouldn’t it be quicker to simply take the girl there herself?” asked Michael’s father, adding that even at a fast clip it was a day’s journey there each way.
“It would be faster,” responded Dr. Chang, “but I would not move her in the condition she’s in. I believe that I can at least keep her stable until more help arrives.”
“Between sending people to Alexandria, a crew for me and security for the town, we’re going to need a lot of help,” said Michael’s father.
“Right,” said the mayor worriedly. “I fear we may be running low on skilled Movers.”
Michael listened to the Mayor and his father list and divvy up their few assets. He was anxious to assist them, but knew his dad would make him stay with his mom. It was thus to his great surprise to hear his fathe
No one responded. Michael assumed that they were just as shocked as he was. They all knew his family’s situation.
After a stunned moment, his father continued, “Last night, I saw him blast several of those beasts away. Apparently he has been studying on his own and can Move much better than I ever suspected.”
Michael was taken aback by his father’s praise for his recently revealed abilities.
“But who will take care of Rose?” the mayor asked concernedly about Michael’s mom.
His father explained, “I will make sure to be back by nightfall. If I don’t reach the Folds by then, we’ll have to organize a more elaborate expedition.”
Michael heard the visitors stand up. As he watched them emerge from the living room and walk back towards the front door, he carefully slunk away from the stairs to be less conspicuous.
“Please ask your boy if he wishes to do this and we’ll try to collect a few others for the journey,” said the mayor, anxiously fiddling with his mustache.
“We need to move quickly, for the girl’s sake,” the doctor reminded everyone.
As soon as the door was shut, Michael’s father turned and looked up to the dark mezzanine where Michael was hidden. “You can come out now,” he demanded. “I know you’ve been listening.”
Michael emerged sheepishly, unsure how his father caught him. “You really want me to go to Alexandria?” he asked.
“You don’t want to?” his father replied, raising his eyebrows and putting his hands on his hips, making him look thoroughly incredulous.
“I do,” Michael mumbled hesitantly, “but…”
“Look,” his father began tentatively, “I saw what you did last night. You have talent as a Mover. Did you learn all of that on your own?” He was actually smiling with a look of pride that Michael had not seen in a long time.
“Well, I had some books to help me,” explained Michael. He was unsure if he should reveal more about them, but he knew his father would eventually pry it out of him. “Uncle Sefu sent them to me.”
“Sefu?” his father spat, his smile fading to a sneer as if he smelled something unsavory.
Michael nodded uncomfortably, noting his father’s unease at the mention of his uncle. “They’re just basic textbooks,” Michael continued, trying to understate his uncle’s efforts to educate him.
“You know I don’t like him interfering,” his father said irritably, but then he caught himself and reversed course. “Never mind,” he grumbled with a frustrated sigh. “I have an ulterior motive in sending you on this mission. It’s not right for me to keep you here when all of your friends are going to college. You have talent that I did not know about. After finding the healers and the comm. station, go visit Chancellor Smith at the Academy to see if there are any spaces available for you to attend in the Fall. I’ll write a letter for you and am sure that we can get a recommendation from the Mayor as well. He will owe you for performing this service. What do you think?”
Michael was astonished at this sudden shift in attitude. “That sounds great,” he said tentatively, afraid that this sudden permissiveness could be withdrawn as quickly as it was granted, “but what about mom?”
“I’ll work it out,” his father said. “After all, I’m getting older and should maybe start focusing on projects closer to home.”
Michael was shocked and thrilled. He ran downstairs, embraced his father, and thanked him repeatedly.
It was early afternoon by the time Michael and the other three volunteers rode through the Blue Mountains beyond the edge of town. They rode swiftly on four white pegasus horses, bearing the tell-tale double mane on their shoulders reminiscent of folded wings. They were considered to be the fastest in Arimbol and were the quickest way for them to reach the hospital in Alexandria.
Despite the urgency, it took them a while to depart. They had to find volunteers and pack bags with food, first aid kits, and clothes for the night. This was normally a safe trip made by people every day, but the strange dogs that attacked their neighbors made their security unpredictable. Camping was out of the question, so they would have to spend the night at an inn along the way.
On horseback, Michael’s head rose well above the cobalt vineyards. He could see far in every direction. To the west was the sea, blue and glistening in the afternoon sun. Beyond it was New Canaan, where he had just hugged his parents goodbye, excited for this brief but important journey.
As he rode past the vineyards, soft-tailed cottonwells scampered for their burrows amid the dry summer grass, and emerald-banded magpies inquisitively glanced down at him from twisted red oaks. Michael thought of the two letters from his father and the mayor to the chancellor of the Academy tucked into his breast pocket. He imagined what it would be like to attend school in the Fall and make this same journey with his friends Jake, James, and Sam who would be well-healed by then. He imagined signing up for classes on the first day and what he would take. All of the courses his friends took sounded so interesting— healing, engineering, biology, but it was applied metaphysics that really caught his imagination. He wanted to master Moving energy with his mind.
Michael had once heard that top students who finished the four year Masters program could apply to stay on for an extra two year research position. He imagined pushing beyond the boundaries of the books and courses to discover new applications for Moving. But of course, that was a long time away. First he had to deliver the letters to Chancellor Smith and hope that there was still space for him.
He dreaded to think what would happen if there was not. He would have to return home and wait there for another six months, or maybe even a full year before he could enroll. He tried to push this worry out of his mind and think positively, but the assuredness did not stay long. He felt guilty that he wanted to leave his home and his parents so badly, especially since they needed him. His father had always tried to dissuade him from studying or moving out on his own.
When Michael’s friends applied for the Academy, he confronted his father. He told him that he wanted to study there, too― that he needed to grow, be an adult, and live his own life, but his dad was furious. Michael couldn’t recall exactly what he had said, but he couldn’t forget the look of anger and betrayal on his father’s face. He made Michael feel so guilty that he never brought it up again. However, his heart never stopped yearning to join his friends in Alexandria.
Michael’s birthday was a few months after that argument. His friends had all been accepted to the Academy and already left for school. Michael was feeling especially dour about this along with his relationship with his father, which was strained then even more than usual. They rarely spoke more than morning pleasantries to each other or enough to coordinate their schedules for the day. Michael didn’t plan to do much for his birthday. He was too depressed to celebrate and there was no one to celebrate with anyway. But then something came in the mail that lifted his spirits― a gift from his uncle Sefu. It was a beginning textbook in applied metaphysics.
Michael wrote Sefu a thank you letter, and told him that he was unable to attend school that year, but he would use and enjoy the book nonetheless. A short time later, Sefu sent Michael another package containing two more books, more advanced than the first and including notes scribbled in the margins. An inscription from his uncle on the first page read, “So you may pursue Moving on your own. You shall be your own master.”
That morning at breakfast, Michael remembered telling his father, “Uncle sent me a gift.”
His father immediately snapped, “I don’t want to hear about him!”
His father and Sefu had not spoken for several years. Michael decided it was best to keep the books under wraps. Over the next year, Sefu sent additional texts and Michael secretly devoured them.
Expectant of his father’s undisguised disdain for Sefu, it came as a big surprise to Michael that his dad changed his mi
Michael held those words in his heart and they washed away the guilt he felt about leaving. In a moment, he forgot his worries and smiled serenely again. He turned his attention away from New Canaan and the sea and looked northeast where beyond the hills and grasslands lay his future.
To either side of him were his companions. First, there was John, the mayor’s aide. The mayor was frustrated to lose his assistant, but without enough good Movers in Canaan to go around, it was the best option.
John was probably the most well-trained traveler with Michael. He was twenty-eight years old, thin, short, and baby-faced, yet was obviously smart and skilled enough to be hired by the Mayor. Everyone said that he might become mayor himself someday, or perhaps move on to an important role at New Salem, the capital of Arimbol.
The other two volunteers were Aiden and Donald, two freckled and rust-haired Irish brothers in their mid-thirties. They had moved to the islands as boys and now owned a market with their parents near the town plaza. Both were burly and thick-armed from stocking hefty crates of produce all day. They were hardy men who camped, hunted, and traveled during their time off. They knew Moving for all of those things, so were valuable companions for this trip.
The dogs Michael had faced yesterday did not balk when attacked. They seemed more than fearless— they were determined. If they encountered more such animals on this trip, they would likely have to defend themselves, but with John, Aiden, and Donald he felt confident that they could.
However, Michael was not a confident rider, so focused silently on the road. The others were somberly quiet as well. Instead of taking the steep trail up the ridge that Michael climbed the day before, they followed the main road through the canyon that slowly rose to the north of town. This dirt road was wide and well-packed by years of wagon wheels and the heels of many feet. It passed through the hills before descending to the grasslands beyond. Vast black wheat farms with white ranch houses dotted the landscape and would be all they would see for some time.
It was dusk by the time they saw trees along the trail again. The sky was a deep purple with a dusty yellow glow on the horizon. Michael was sore from riding all day. He was not used to riding for so long, nor were his horses. Despite the great reputation of their breed, even they had slowed considerably in the last hour.
“The pond is nearby,” announced John.
As they approached a shallow pool lined with oak trees and stray tufts of black wheat, they dismounted and allowed their horses to drink their fill. Michael stumbled, his legs almost numb. He bent one back at a time, stretching his taught hamstrings.
“So what do you guys think?” asked Aiden, donning a jacket against the cooling evening. “There’s an inn nearby. It’s probably the last place to rest before night comes.”
“Ain’t no sign of those dogs,” said Donald. “We should go on.”
Aiden pointed out that all of their horses were getting tired. “I don’t want them to get injured. I would hate to be stuck out here and have those dogs come upon us in the dark.”
Being the youngest, Michael was not sure if he should offer his opinion, so instead decided to ask, “What about the girl?”
“Didn’t the doctor say he could take care of her for a few days?” asked Aiden.
“He did,” began Michael feeling responsible for her well-being, “but do we really want to test that?”
“I hate to say it,” John dissented, “but we should stop. It does her no good if we get stuck in the middle of nowhere or if one of us gets hurt. We can leave when the sun rises and still be there by midday tomorrow.”
Michael thought that this was sensible and did not protest further.
When their horses were sated, they remounted and trotted the short distance to the Crossroads at Leptis where their path continued to the northeast. Roads branched northwest towards Roan, and also south to the Hattusa River on the way to Urgench at the southernmost tip of their island.
Leptis housed little more than a couple stores for food and supplies for travelers. Sprawling ochre sycamore trees shaded the streets and a grassy picnic area for travelers to relax. Their great indigo shadows covered most of the town in the waning light. Closest to where the roads crossed was a stone inn swathed in white primroses. It was surprisingly charming for such a tiny flea bite of a town. A wrought iron sign above the front entrance advertised a tavern and restaurant, while a warm, homey light beckoned from the windows.
The group tethered their horses to a fence post and slouched tiredly into the lobby. A broad wooden counter greeted the guests, but there was no attendant.
John rang a bell on the front desk. “We would like some rooms for the night,” he announced, but no one appeared.
“Is anyone here?” Aiden added after a while.
Michael walked into the adjoining tavern. The air smelled stale. Several of the tables still had plates of partially eaten food on them. A few plates lay shattered on the floor while two chairs were tipped onto their backs. No one had bothered to clean up. It was as if the restaurant and its staff had abruptly decided to abandon their duties. Michael suddenly realized how quiet the hotel was, and the whole town for that matter. It was late in the day, but it was strange that no one was attending any of the fruit stands or walking in the street. Aside from his companions, not a single traveler was to be seen. The charming inn suddenly felt quite eerie.
“What’s going on here?” Donald wondered. “This place is usually busy. All the farmers stop here on their way to Alexandria.”
“No merchants, no travelers…” murmured Aiden. “Do you suppose they’re closed for Discovery Day?”
“Why would a hotel close for a big traveling holiday?” countered his brother. “And besides, that was yesterday. Everything should be open today.”
Aiden nodded his head. “Should we check the rooms upstairs? Maybe the owner is asleep.”
“I don’t think so,” Michael said, returning to the lobby. “The restaurant is a mess. It’s like everyone just disappeared. And look at the desk,” he pointed. It was strewn with papers, some of which had spilled onto the floor.
“This is weird,” said John, backing towards the door. “I don’t think we ought to stay here. Let’s press on to Alexandria.”
Michael and the others concurred, but just then Michael heard something. “Do you hear that?”
“Is someone here?” asked John, startled.
“No,” said Michael, “it’s from outside.” There was a distant rumbling. It sounded like the gallop of distant hooves.
“Yeah, I hear it,” said Aiden. “Definitely horses. Maybe it’s everyone from the hotel?”
“Why would they all leave together?” asked Donald skeptically.
“Well, let’s go see,” said John. “It sounds like they’re coming this way.”
Michael could hear the rumble growing louder. It sounded like there were more than just a few horses. The group went back outside and walked to the town center where all the roads met. They stood staring at the road towards Alexandria.
Out of the darkness approached a party of men on horseback― Michael guessed twenty in all. All of their horses were black and had thick shaggy fur, the likes of which Michael had never seen before. As the riders approached, they showed no sign of slowing down. Suddenly, Michael saw something that made his hair stand on end. Perched on the head of each and every rider was a pair of sharp, curved horns.
“Run!” he yelled to his companions, but they just stood there dully. The approaching riders drew swords. They gleamed against the evening murk. Michael shouted for his friends again as he ran towards their horses. They finally realized the menace and turned after him. A bolt of red light screamed through the air, striking Donald in the back and knocking him to the ground. Aiden stopped to help him up, but was likewise struck by a blast to the chest, sending him
The air suddenly filled with shafts of red light. They struck the ground all around Michael’s feet as he ran. He and John reached their horses and untied the reigns, fumbling with them in their panic. Just as John released the tether he was blasted back into a hedge of primroses. He slipped to the ground, eyes shut, and chin sunken against his chest.