Chapter 8 Scene 2

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 29 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Fronek stirred the coals with the charred end of a stick. He added a handful of bark peels and small twigs. Within moments, he had coaxed a single tongue of flame from the bed of the previous night’s fire. Others quickly followed as he fed larger branches into the pile.

The fragrant wood smoke perfumed the dawn air. Shafts of sunlight speared through the light mist in the small clearing where they had camped.

Fronek stepped away from the fire and examined their surroundings. Once this had been the front garden of a modest homestead. Fronek could imagine what it must have looked like then. This pair of ragged, overgrown sourpear trees would have been carefully manicured. The fruit now fallen and left to rot would have been carefully harvested instead. That clump of weeds, choked with season’s worth of dead leaves may once have been vegetable plot.

And the ruin in front of him, slowly collapsing under the weight of ‘turns of neglect, had been the house. Not grand and imposing, but warm and comforting. A home. Devon’s home, once suffused with equal parts compassion and independence. It was empty now. The spirit that sustained it had fled, leaving this hollow structure behind to succumb to the ravages of time.

Devon moaned in his sleep at Fronek’s feet. Devon had arrived in the camp just before midnight at a dead run. Between ragged breaths, he had announced his acceptance of Fronek’s offer before collapsing to his knees.

Fronek smiled down at his new apprentice. The boy was certainly determined, and an expert tracker. He had followed Fronek unerringly, despite the mercenary’s conventional attempts to obscure his trail. Fronek wondered if Devon would be able to see through his more unconventional methods with time. That could make life interesting. Ahh well… one thing at a time.

Devon tossed in his rucksack. Fronek kneeled next to him. The boy had slept poorly. As Fronek watched, he shuddered feverishly and cried out a half voiced warning. Fronek grabbed his shoulder and shook him, gently at first and then with increasing vigor until the boy bolted upright.

His frame was trembling with tension. Sweat beaded on his face. His hands, locked tightly into a claw-like grip, began to turn red as he mumbled in a voice that was not his own. Fronek could only understand the end.

“… no escape for us now.”

The red climbed up Devon’s wrists. His eyes were open but blind. Fronek looked into them and saw… pools of liquid flame rising in their depths. Quickly he seized Devon’s forearms in both hands. The red rose up to where his hands encircled the boy’s forearms, but no further.

Fronek put as much cold ring of command as he could muster into his voice. “Devon. Let go. You must close the door and let go.”

The fire in his eyes guttered briefly and Devon gasped in his own voice. “What door?… He won’t let…”

Then the flame in his eyes surged anew and a darker voice cried out. “Mine!”

Fronek’s eyes widened in shock. What was this? But he acted quickly despite his surprise. From depths that he rarely tapped, Fronek summoned his own true nature. For an instant so brief it could have been imagined, orbs of argent light flared where his eyes should have been. Even as quickly as Fronek shuttered the glow, it had the desired effect.

There was a new tone in the dark voice that issued from Devon’s mouth. Fear. “No! Forgive!”

Fronek’s voice was a dark, crackling hiss. “Release him.”

The flames vanished from Devon’s eyes. His head lolled back as he sagged. Fronek lowered the boy’s head back to the ground, and lifted each eyelid, fearing the worst. Devon’s eyes had rolled up in his head until only the whites showed. He was limp, and coated in a sheen of sweat. The angry red color was slowly fading from his hands, leaving behind an unhealthy pallor. His breathing was shallow and labored.

Fronek put one hand on Devon’s chest, holding his wrist in the other. Fronek matched his breathing to Devon’s, willing it to stabilize gradually. He counted breaths and heartbeats. Slowly, the boy’s breathing steadied. After a few moments, his eyelids fluttered open and he looked up at Fronek.

“Are you all right lad?”

Devon looked around, confused. “What happened? Where…”

How much would he remember, Fronek wondered. “You were dreaming. A nightmare. We’re camped outside your old homestead.”

Devon sat up, looking at the dilapidated farmhouse for the first time. He rubbed his arms with both hands, suppressing a shiver. “It wasn’t just a dream though… was it?”

Fronek sat back on his haunches with his hands on his knees. “No. It wasn’t just a dream.” He let out a heavy sigh.

Now that the immediate danger was past, Fronek would have to explain some things. But how much? “Can you tell me what you remember?”

“It was bad this time.”

Fronek’s eyebrows rose. “You’ve had this dream before?”

Devon nodded miserably, hugging his knees up into his chest. “Since I was six or seven.”

“Then tell me everything. Every detail you can think of.”

And Devon did. When the nightmare first started. How it had grown over the ‘turns. The way it had seemingly stopped all together only to return now with renewed intensity. And the charm that Mabel had given him that had helped when he was a child but seemed to have failed now.

Fronek made no comments throughout the fractured narrative. But he did ask occasional questions to clarify the boy’s descriptions. When Devon mentioned the charm, Fronek pursed his lips.

“May I see it?”

Devon wordlessly withdrew the token from under his shirt. He held it out to the mercenary, suspended by the slender thong that he wore around his neck.

It was a flat golden disk. The image stamped on its face had been worn nearly smooth by constant handling. Fronek could just make out the image of a wall with an arched entryway and a barred wooden door. He turned the coin over, but knew what he would see on the reverse. The same image with rays streaming through a door that stood open. Despite its simplicity and wear, it was beautiful. And Fronek had little doubt about its authenticity.

“Where did Mabel find this?”

Devon tucked the coin back under his collar. “She found it with my mother’s things after she died.”

“And did Mabel recognize it? Did she say it was your mother’s?”

Devon shook his head. “Mum never wore it. Mabel thought it might have been my father’s, though.”

“Yes, it may have been. You said it helped when you were younger… how?”

Devon looked down at his feet, still hugging his knees. “I don’t know. The dream just happened less often when I wore it, and I woke up sooner when it did happen. And afterward, it was easier to get back to sleep.”

“Did the charm feel different after the nightmare?”

Devon looked up. “Different how?”

“Sorry, bad question. Never mind. How do you feel now?”

Devon took a deep breath. “Better. I’m sorry.” Devon sat up straight and looked at Fronek, a fragile hope in his eyes. “Can you teach me how you did that?”

Fronek hesitated, but found he could not turn away from Devon’s earnest gaze. “How I did what?”

“How you made him let me go. You commanded him to release me. And he did. Can you show me how?”

Now Fronek looked away. He had hoped Devon might have forgotten that little detail. Could he deny it and convince Devon it was just part of his dream? No. He would not believe that. “I’m afraid the short answer is no, Devon. I can’t teach you how I made him release you.”

Devon’s face fell. His voice was barely a whisper. “Why not?”

“Because my way is not your way. In time you will understand why that must be. I can help you find your own way. I will help you uncover the source of these visions and determine their meaning. But only you can face them.”

Fronek gently lifted Devon’s chin until the boy’s eyes met his. “Do you think you can do that?”

Fronek watched as Devon built up his resolve. Again Fronek was impressed by the reservoir of courage buried deep within the boy.

After a few moments, Devon nodded. “Yes. How do we start?” New determination shone in his face.

Fronek smiled. He offered Devon his hand as he stood. “The way most days start, of course. With breakfast.”

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