The Creator's Eye: Mover of Fate, Part I, page 6
“J-John,” he stammered.
“Your last name, too,” Acheron commanded coolly.
“How old are you?”
“Where are you from?”
Michael wanted to nudge his friend to shut up, but when Acheron stared harder at him, the fool even elaborated, “It’s a town in the west.”
“My lord, that is likely where we were headed when we found them,” interrupted Drastos, confirming Michael’s fear.
Acheron, however, paid no mind to this comment and continued questioning John. “And where were you traveling?”
“We were coming here. Some villagers were attacked by dogs and we needed to retrieve a healer.”
Drastos added, “The one at the end saw the traitor, Neacan.”
“Oh?” asked Acheron, raising a hairless brow and turning towards Michael.
“He tried to help the traitor,” Drastos went on, sneering yet again at Michael, pleased to incriminate him, “but he claims that the argos killed him.”
“Good,” remarked Acheron. “The traitor got what he deserved. But the question is, did Neacan say anything to the boy before he died?” He stepped before Michael. “What did he reveal?”
“The boy claims that Neacan was dead before he could speak to him.”
As Drastos spoke, Acheron stared intently into Michael’s eyes. Michael felt compelled to stare back. He suddenly knew why John was so quick to answer. It was as if this many-horned man was searching for something in Michael’s mind. His pupils were of the darkest black and his iris flecked with gold and emeralds. They were beautiful and terrible, darker, yet more resplendent than anyone’s he had ever seen before. They were beyond human. Michael wanted to turn away, but could not. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. If Michael had the answers to what this terrifying man wanted, he would have told him everything.
Acheron suddenly turned back to Drastos and snarled, “Why is his face covered in blood?”
“He fell off his horse,” lied Drastos, suddenly looking grovelly and shifty-eyed.
Acheron scowled at Drastos, “That looks like a sword mark on his cheek! I need to see their faces unmolested.”
Acheron never touched Drastos, but with a flourish of his hand, a cut much like Michael’s appeared on Drastos’ cheek. He yelped and clutched his face.
“Do not cry out!” commanded Acheron, looming over his underling.
Drastos pulled back a whimper. He regained his composure and stood still. The scribe meanwhile had paused writing and the other soldiers looked warily at Drastos. Michael saw their hands hover over their sword hilts.
“If you ever want to be anything more than a lowly kulpa,” menaced Acheron, “you will listen to every word that I say.” He pointed towards Michael. “Each unnecessary mark upon their faces will be punished with an equal one upon yours. Do you understand that?”
Drastos nodded as he pulled his hand away from his face. His fingers were tipped with blood.
Acheron turned back to Michael. “Now, tell me your name, boy.”
Michael did not want to answer, but those black eyes drilled into his head again and compelled him to speak. “Michael. Michael Edwards”
“Edwards?” asked Acheron. He said the name again, rolling it around in his mouth as if feeling its shape with his tongue. “Where are you from?”
“I’m from New Canaan.”
“Were you born there?
“No, I was born in America,” he said, unable to hold back the words, “in a small town on the East Coast. My parents and I moved here when I was a baby.”
“And what are their names?”
“Simon and Rose,” he said, hating that he could not stop the flow of answers pouring from his tongue.
“Where are they from?” Acheron pressed on.
“They are also from America as were their parents.”
“And tell me, how did you come across our traitor?”
Michael recounted the story of how he tried to save the horned man from the dogs.
“It is as I said, my Lord,” said Drastos beseeching Acheron’s favor. A drop of blood ran from the tip of his wound down his cheek.
“Quiet, kulpa!” Acheron scolded as Drastos shrank back. “Put those three in the north wing,” he said to the guards standing behind him while gesturing at John, Aiden, and Donald. “They are too old to be of any interest, but take the boy to the dormitories,” he said looking at Michael. “I want him cleaned up. I wish to interrogate him further.”
Soldiers seized Michael by each arm and half-walked, half-dragged him towards the colonnaded building at the east end of the plaza. He looked over his shoulder to see his companions being whipped towards a large brick classroom building. Meanwhile, Michael was led upstairs to the third floor of the dormitory and down a long hallway lined with many numbered doors on both sides. All of them were shut, but he thought he could hear voices behind some and muffled whimpers behind others.
The guards stopped him at a door near the end of the hall. They unlocked it and then, to Michael’s relief, removed his handcuffs. They then impatiently pushed him inside. Before locking him in, one of the soldiers warned, “Don’t try anything stupid. You’re three floors up and there are guards everywhere.”
Once they’d left, Michael took a moment to assess his surroundings. It was a dormitory room, but did not appear to be lived in. There were no personal effects, just a wooden bunk bed, two desks, a couple chairs, and two empty dressers. There was a light on the ceiling, but it didn’t work. There were also three other doors. Michael tried them. Two were on either side of the front door and slid aside to reveal small, empty closets. The last door led to a bathroom. Michael walked in, but almost jumped out of his skin. A red monster stared back at him. It took him a second to realize that it was in fact his reflection greeting him from the mirror above the sink. His face wore a mask of dried blood and dirt. The wound on his cheek had closed, but the one above his forehead still looked tender enough to open at the slightest prodding.
Michael turned on the tap. There was neither hot water nor soap. He watched the ruddy water pour down the drain as he tried his best to wash his face. It felt amazing, but his wounds stung and the one on his forehead opened again, bleeding slowly at the edges. There were no towels, so he dabbed at it with his sleeve, trying to help it scab. He then cupped his hands and drank several palmfuls of water.
Feeling quenched and slightly cleaner, Michael returned to the bedroom. There was a window at the far end of the room. He tried to pry it open, but the tracks were worn and needed to be greased. It would not lift straight. Eventually, with some grunting, he managed to force each side up a little at a time until he could stick his head out into the warm summer air.
The window looked down upon the plaza and towards the main avenue into the city. He could also see the building where his friends were taken. There were horned men everywhere going about their battle preparations, carrying swords, hurrying down the street, and standing guard in front of some other buildings. He saw one soldier walking two large black dogs by a leash. They barked and yanked their chains taught causing the soldier to lurch forward. “Woah!” he yelled at them.
There were no normal looking people anywhere. Michael wondered if some were being kept in the other dorm rooms he walked by, or if they had all been killed. He shuddered at the thought, but it meant that he better search for an escape. He was on the third floor of the building. It looked too high to jump without breaking a leg, or even splattering himself on the cobblestones below. He looked below his room to see if there was a balcony, or a rain pipe that he could clamber down, but there was nothing— just a smooth stone façade. He also peered up. Above him was the roof, which protruded over the edge of the building, but there was no way to reach it.
Feeling discouraged, Michael tucked his head back inside. He felt beyond tire
Michael was still groggy when he was awoken by the sound of his door squeaking open. He quickly sat up. Two horned guards strode in leading a blonde girl carrying a black bag. Michael noticed that she didn’t have any horns on her head and that her skin was fair and human.
“Clean him up, heal his wounds, and don’t take too long,” ordered one of the guards. “We’ll be waiting outside in case you want to try anything stupid.”
“Of course,” she said detachedly.
They exited and locked the door behind them leaving the girl with Michael. “Did they just bring you in?” she asked, pulling a chair from one of the desks and dragging it next to the bed.
“Yeah,” Michael said. “They caught us last night at the Crossroads. We were on our way here to find a healer. Some people in my village were injured and needed help.”
The girl sat down as he spoke and carefully unpacked her bag. She removed a few bottles of ointment, some gauze, and a long flat box. Even through his sleepy eyes, he could tell that she was about his age and quite pretty, with high cheeks and lively, hazel eyes. Her hair was tied up in a bun on the back of her head, but looked long enough to drape halfway down her back if she let it.
“Where are you from?” she asked.
“New Canaan,” he answered.
She put a few drops of ointment on a piece of gauze and began dabbing at Michael’s wounds. It stung antiseptically.
“Were the lines out?” she asked as she worked on him.
Michael nodded and said, “We couldn’t call anyone. Are they out here, too?”
“They went out almost a week ago,” she sighed, “before Alexandria was taken over. I hoped the lines were working where you’re from and that maybe someone had contacted the king or capital for help, but it’s the same story everywhere.”
“Everywhere?” Michael asked, wincing as the antiseptic burned the gash on his cheek.
“Everywhere,” she repeated. “They’re attacking all of the villages and bringing the people here. You’re lucky to be in this room by yourself. The classrooms are packed.” She opened one of the other bottles and put several drops of a clear gel onto a fresh piece of gauze. “This is mother’s kiss. It’s from a plant that grows on Hyperborea. It should heal you really fast.”
“That stuff is great,” he said, still grimacing from the pain. “I sprained my ankle pretty bad once when I was a kid, and my doctor used it on me. It was better after just a couple days.”
She spread the ointment over Michael’s wounds. It felt icy against his open skin, but did not sting like the antiseptic. Michael wanted to know more about the attacks. “Are the people okay? Are they killing anyone?”
“The ones in the classrooms are in tight conditions, but they’re getting food and water. Sometimes the soldiers hit them if they don’t listen, but for the most part, they don’t seem to be killing people. I spoke with a woman who said her husband was killed, and I heard that a few people were killed in Troy, but I also heard they flogged and imprisoned the soldiers responsible.”
“Like Drastos,” said Michael.
The girl paused what she was doing and looked at him quizzically.
“The one who captured me― he gave me these cuts,” explained Michael pointing to his wounds.
“I know him,” she said. “He’s a bad one. He gave me this,” she said, pulling down the back of her collar to reveal a large blue welt on her shoulder blade. “If he’s not beating up prisoners, he’s cursing them and spitting in their faces.”
Michael grimaced sympathetically at the sight of her bruise. “It seems like they really don’t want us dead though,” he pondered out loud. “The head honcho down there― the one they call Lord Acheron― he cut Drastos across the cheek for blemishing my face.”
The girl thought about this for a moment. “I think they’re looking for someone. When they catch people, they march them into the center of town and then split them up. They send all the young people to this building― pretty much anyone under the age of twenty-five. There are some older people here, too, mostly town leaders, some professors, some mothers with babies, and my dad.”
“He’s the Chancellor of the Academy.”
“Your dad is Chancellor Smith?” Michael asked excitedly.
“Do you know him?” she asked, surprised.
“No, but I was hoping to see him.”
“You’ll have to tell me about that, but hold on a moment. I need to concentrate,” she said while opening the long black box. Inside, padded by red velvet was a delicate wooden wand. “I found that healing works best if the one who is hurt participates, so as I wave this wand over your head, imagine light coming from it and closing your wounds. Okay?”
“Got it,” Michael agreed.
She took out the wand and held it in front of her chest with both hands, as if in prayer. Suddenly, she was interrupted by a pounding on the door. “Hey!” barked one of the guards on the outside. “Are you done yet?”
“Just five more minutes!” she called back.
“You have two!” warned the guard.
“Does Acheron want him cleaned up, or not?” she argued.
“Just shut up and keep working!” the guard said resolutely. “You have two minutes.”
“Okay,” she sighed with frustration and turned back to Michael. “I have to start over.” She closed her eyes again and restarted her quiet meditation. Just as Michael had learned not to wish, want, or pray when Moving, but to affirm, she was visualizing Michael’s health and well-being, as if her healing had already worked. After a moment, she opened her eyes and began to wave the tip of the wand over his forehead. Michael did as she prescribed and imagined light shining from its tip, shrouding his face. He felt a pleasant warmth wash over him. After several passes, she paused and looked closely at the wound. “I think that’s working.”
Michael touched the gash which had eased its aching. “I think you’re right!” he said, astonished. “Thank you!”
“Well done to you, too,” she smiled back. “Your thoughts helped.”
Michael touched the wound again. He was not sure if it was just his imagination, but it really did seem smaller. As she wrapped clean gauze around his forehead to keep the wound clean, he told her, “You’re really young to be this good at healing.”
“Well, my dad is the Chancellor. He used to let me visit the classes when I was a kid.”
“You’re lucky,” he said. “I’ve been wanting to study here my whole life. It’s one of the reasons I made the trip. I was supposed to meet with your dad to make it happen. I even have a letter from the mayor of Canaan recommending me if there’s space, but now space doesn’t seem to be the problem.”
“I know, this is terrible,” she said woefully. “I don’t know what they’re going to do to us.”
Another pounding came from the door. “Your two minutes are up!”
“Okay,” she shouted back, “I’ll be right out!” She returned the wand to its padded container. “What’s your name?” she asked him.
“Nice to meet you, Michael,” she said, extending her hand. “I’m Maya.”
“Don’t touch the wound too much,” she recommended. “I’ll try to come back later to see how you’re doing.”
And with that, she picked up her bag and hurried out the door.
Michael slept some more after Maya left, but in the evening woke up and looked out the window. He watched as three more men were brought in by soldiers. They were likewise dragged into the plaza in chains where they were examined by Acheron. He could just barely hear what they said from his third story room, but it sounded like they were friends out on a hunting trip. All of them were sent to the classroom building across the plaza.
As dusk approached, Michael’s door opened and Maya was once again led in by two guards who yet again warned her to be quick.
“They threaten me every time,” she grumbled to Michael after they left. “I’ve been healing everyone just like they asked for the past week. I never question them and I never talk back. I’ve even helped to heal some of their own men.”
Michael suddenly noticed the dark circles under her eyes. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I just haven’t had much time to rest. It’s only me and two other med students working the whole city.”
“What about the master healers, or the professors?” Michael asked.
“They’re all locked up, probably because they could use their Moving to escape or fight back. I’m just a lowly second year, so am no threat. Anyways, I brought you some clothes,” she said, offering Michael a folded black shirt. “It’s not much, but it’s clean.”
He thanked her and promptly put it on. It fit loosely, but was better than the blood and dirt soaked tee he wore in. It was amazing how having fresh clothes immediately lifted his spirits.
“So how are your wounds?” she asked.
“I haven’t looked, but they feel much better.”
“Well, the cut on your cheek is gone, but let me check on the one above your forehead,” she said, removing the piece of gauze. She seemed quite pleased with its progress. She applied a bit more ointment and estimated that it would be healed by morning.
As she finished putting on fresh bandages, Michael heard a growing commotion outside. They hurried to the window. Soldiers were shouting and running towards the main gate. There, Michael and Maya watched in shock as hundreds of people were marched through them and down the main avenue to the plaza. Men, women, and even small children were chained together. It looked like an entire village had been emptied of its inhabitants.
“They really are bringing everyone here,” Michael uttered, realizing the scope of the campaign.
“This is awful,” fretted Maya. “This is at least the fourth village they’ve captured in the last week.”
More soldiers joined the procession, threatening the townsfolk with the tips of their swords or a crack of blue electricity to walk faster. As the mournful and beaten villagers poured into the plaza they were prodded into several rows facing Michael’s building. Soldiers removed the chains from the first row.
More and more miserable, frightened people trudged in through the town gates. Amongst them was a wooden cart pulled by two of the shaggy, black horses. Lying strewn in the wagon, Michael could make out the limp green body of one of the horned men. As he was dragged through the city, a commotion began amongst the other soldiers. They ran alongside the cart yelling epithets, shouting “traitor,” and spitting upon the corpse. Michael’s hair stood on end― it was the soldier he had tried to save at Roak Rock.
A second crowd gathered around another soldier who held aloft a single curved object. The crowd cheered and patted him on the back. Michael recoiled as his eyes focused on what it was. “Is that his horn?” he gagged. “Did they cut it off as a trophy?”
As the cart arrived in the plaza, a door opened in the northern building and once again Acheron stepped onto the square escorted by several guards. He approached the phalanx of prisoners and began examining the front row with the same calculating look he had given Michael and his friends that morning.
He stopped in front of a frightened young boy, no more than ten years old, and pointed at him with his right hand. Two soldiers grabbed him by the arms and dragged him towards the building where Michael was held, but did not bring him in yet. His parents were standing nearby and cried out for him, but kicks and blows from the soldiers’ batons quickly silenced them to whimpers. The young boy was sobbing now, but stifled his tears after a warning from the guards.
Acheron continued down the line, picking out each young person and sending them to the east side of the plaza. The crowd was squirming now, fearful of what might happen to them and their children.
Acheron then came to a tall young man and likewise sent him with the rest of the children. Once separated from the masses, Michael recognized him. A new chill went up his spine. It was his friend, James.
Michael scanned the crowd. Behind James, he recognized his neighbor. A few rows down he saw Jake, and there was the mayor, slouched and barely discernible, his mustachioed face smeared with dirt. Michael saw Sam slumping against his mother. His leg was still wounded and probably damaged much worse from the long march.
Michael was aghast. “It’s my whole village!” he lamented. “They took everyone!”
Acheron was still scanning the crowd, going through each row of tearful prisoners. Then Michael watched him approach a middle-aged man with a thick beard, but instead of moving on quickly as he had with all the rest, or waving him off towards the north building, he stood and stared at him.
Before Michael could think what he was doing, he called out to the man, “Dad!”
Both Simon and Acheron turned and looked up at Michael’s window. Acheron’s eyes shrank to slits as they caught sight of him, but before he could say anything, the horned lord was blown backwards by a massive blast of light. He was thrown towards the crowd of children, young people, and guards who scattered in every direction. But instead of crashing into them, his cape billowed out with a gust of wind and he righted himself in mid-air. Before his feet even touched the ground, he drew his sword from its scabbard and slashed it through the air. A wave of flames fanned back towards Michael’s father.
Simon brushed aside the blaze with a wave of his hand, sending sparks and embers flying everywhere. Suddenly, there was pandemonium. Any prisoners who were not chained together scattered while anyone who was still bound tried to run back towards the gate only to fall upon each other in a hysterical pile. Even the horned soldiers panicked. Some tried to keep the prisoners in line, while others were scorched by the embers and ran for shelter.
Michael’s father fired back at Acheron with rapid volleys of red light, but Acheron deflected them easily. They bounced off his sword and catapulted into the buildings on the north side of the plaza, incredibly igniting the stone walls as they hit.
The two powerful Movers circled each other, firing frightful balls of burning energy. Michael could not tell if it came from Acheron or his father, but suddenly a massive blast jetted towards his window. He shoved Maya out of the way as the room exploded around them.
Michael opened his eyes to a cloud of smoke and dust. Before he knew what was happening, Maya grabbed him by the hand and pulled him to his feet. “They blew a hole through the door!” she exclaimed. “Come on!”
There was not just a hole through the door, Michael realized as they ran into the hallway― the whole thing was blown off along with a substantial part of the wall it was hinged to. The two guards that had been standing behind it lay groaning on the floor under a pile of bricks and splintered wood.
Michael and Maya ran down the hall towards the stairs, but Michael paused. “What about the other prisoners?” he asked looking at the rows of doors.
“Do you want to ask them for the keys?” asked Maya, nodding to the guards who were already rising to their feet and drawing their swords.
They swung open the door to the stairway. Michael’
“Take that, horn-head!” she spat, as Drastos tumbled backwards over the stairs into a jumble of clinking blades and armor.
They heard a door clang open downstairs as more soldiers charged into the dormitory trying to secure the building. Michael and Maya whirled about and ran upstairs. They burst through the heavy metal fire door and onto the broad, flat roof. The sky was darkening into a dusky purple, but the roof was well lit by the flames growing from the northward buildings. Blasts of light shot into the sky from the plaza below and exploded like fireworks.
Michael saw that only a short gap separated the dormitory roof from the classroom building. They easily leapt over it and ran to the far side, which connected to yet another rooftop.
“They’re over there!” shouted an angry voice behind them.
Michael turned to see Drastos clutching his bloodied nose as two other soldiers ran past him and hurdled onto their roof.
Michael and Maya charged ahead, finding bridges, ladders, and ledges leading across streets and alleyways to yet other rooftops. More familiar with the layout of the city, Maya led the way. Her bun had come undone and her long, blonde hair stretched out behind her as she ran. They sprinted and climbed as far and as fast as they could until they simply ran out of roofs. They found themselves at the edge of the city wall looking down at the Memphis River several stories below. The Burnt Plains stretched out before them, disappearing into a fierce red sunset.
Michael could hear the soldiers shouting at them from behind. They were catching up, fast.
“We’re trapped!” exclaimed Michael. “Is there a way inside this building?”
“Are you kidding?” asked Maya. “We’re getting the hell out of town!”
Michael peered over the edge of the red shingled rooftop at the river and black wheat fields far below and then looked back at Maya as if she was crazy. Missiles of light zapped the floor around them, spraying shards of tile against their legs. The soldiers charged at them with swords drawn, firing wildly as they ran. Maya did not waste time debating. She grabbed Michael by the hand and yanked him off the ledge.