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Sometimes darkness is the only safe domain for the innocent. It protects the weak from the forces that be through sheer blindness. It protects the powerless from the powerful like a bodyguard. The darkness makes everyone equal. You can dominate that which you don’t see. It was here that Addigo found himself. The darkness was so comforting that he thought to lose himself to it.
“Wake up, dead man.” Those were the first words he heard as he tried in vain to climb out of the darkness that seemed to be forever consuming him. There was a grip on his heart that wasn’t letting go. Maybe it would be easier to let the darkness take him. Better that than facing the truth of his actions.
There were consequences to every action taken. Sometimes the consequence was a good thing, so no one ever noticed, but Addigo new how to see both. Addigo new the consequences to his recent actions would not be good. These consequences were like vices, they held you and squeezed until you burst from the weight.
Maybe he was already dead, and serving his punishment in eternity for being a coward. Joleen’s father had always told him that cowardice deserved the harshest of penalties. Maybe listening to ghosts in limbo was his punishment.
But the voice didn’t let him go. “Wake up. You are running a high fever.” It was a woman’s voice. Addigo tried to take a deep breath and felt his lungs burn. He felt sweat forming on what he thought was his brow. So he was alive. Choices. Give in to the darkness or listen to the voice?
He heard the woman’s voice come to him again as if from the darkness around him. “Let the spiders take your fever.”
At the mention of them, he suddenly felt the tiny pinpricks of their mandibles, as if her words had made them real. He followed her voice through the darkness, trying desperately to find a way out. There was always a way through every seal.
Sensing more of his surroundings, he heard a rustle nearby, like a hand reaching into a small burlap bag, and then he felt more of the spiders scatter across his chest. Their bite stung him, but in his current condition he could do nothing to push them off. He was at the mercy of this mysterious woman.
“These are special spiders, Addigo.” So she knew his name. Was she a siren ready to take his soul away now that he was defenseless? He thought of that shade long ago when life had been a little better and a shiver went down his spine.
“They steal and thrive on the heat of others,” continued her voice. “In the winter, when a man is hunting and he is cold, they are his death. But today, they will save your life.”
Something warm rushed over him and he felt a pang of apprehension. That had been magic. Magic used on him. If she meant to kill him or harm him or to take his soul, she was going to great lengths to save him. Maybe this was a sadistic spirit indeed.
“You must fight this fever,” she went on, “like you will fight for the rest of your life.” Her words made him certain he was going to the world of limbo where the damned lived. In the darkness, he felt her voice latch on to him. Maybe she didn’t want to save him. She wanted him strong enough so he could put up a fight as he was dragged to the netherworld against his will.
He had always heard it told that evil entities were this way. They gained power in the fight. Nothing mattered but the kill, and more importantly than the kill was the struggle that was fought to consume the soul of man. Evil was evil for a reason.
He decided then and there that it would it be better to die and lose himself in the darkness that to be a puppet to this sadistic and powerful being. That it was powerful there was no doubt, because Addigo couldn’t bring himself to forget the voice. He couldn’t forget that it was calling to him. How could something ever be stronger than the call of death?
Ellen Pinto Roe had once told him that magic was not stronger than death. Nothing could heal death. When death called, she once told him as they sat in the king’s courtyard on a sunny afternoon, all you could do was buckle down and hope that you had taken care of all the things that truly mattered in life because second chances were gone at that moment.
Addigo had been so scared that day, sitting next to the king’s witch, a person that threatened his life by just existing. He found her utterly beautiful with her long black hair and tight leather. In the Guardian’s blue eyes, he found all the power in the world held in check by responsibility, and on that day he decided to be like her.
That she was beautiful there was no doubt. Her face was like a painting, and all he wanted to do was touch it to see if the acrylics would hold under the pressure of his finger. He wanted to lose himself in her icy blue eyes, to touch her lips and taste her skin. It had been a childhood crush, and nothing more.
What allured him to the Guardian was her strength. Where others feared her, Addigo found resolve. In Ellen Pinto Roe, he found strength like that of his mother. His mother had been who she was when no one had cared to accept that. To her dying day, Addigo had admired that in her.
Joleen Zelonis also had that type of strength. It was a strength that could hold even against the weight of decisions that could break any man. Joleen’s father had taught him everything, but these three women raised him. They were his three queens, and he would go to the ends of the world to fight for their cause and for their rights. At their word, he would charge an army by himself.
“Wake up, Addigo,” came the voice again. This time it sounded like the woman was right in front of his face. She was reading his thoughts. “Your queen needs you. War sweeps across your land, Addigo.”
The voice finally drew him out and he was able to feel his eyelids. He kept his eyes closed for a few seconds, considering his next course of action. If the thing in front of him were hideous, how would he react? He didn’t move an inch, he didn’t probe for his sword, and he didn’t change his breathing for fear of being discovered.
When he finally opened his eyes, he could not see a thing. There was a soft film of blurriness over his eyes, and it took a moment for them to adjust. He had to remain calm. It took his eyes a second to register what he was looking at. The first thing he noticed were all the tiny spiders crawling all over his body. They moved over his soft, feverish skin like loggers over snow. The spiders looked like tiny mountain drillers, tiny beams of heat escaping from his skin like hot magma. He couldn’t help but notice that he was bare-chested and only had a sheet covering him from the waist down.
The next thing that happened was the feeling of numbness leaving his body. Then there was the overwhelming burning sensation of something hot leaving his body. Feeling came to his body in a rush and he felt a thousand pins piercing his flesh, almost like the sensation of having a leg fall asleep and having blood rush back into it when you tried to stand. The sensation was too much and Addigo jumped out of his makeshift bed. There was a small table nearby with a candle burning softly in the center of it and he bumped into it clumsily like a young boy at a dance. The table fell over, spilling its contents to the floor. A trail of wax flowed across the wooden floor and ignited a curtain hanging loosely over a window frame.
As soon as his feet hit the floor, he was no better than the wax, spilling himself across the floor like and old lady. He flailed for something to grab on to and fell head first into a darkened corner, right at the feet of someone sitting on an old rickety rocking chair.
The silence that ensued was deafening. The chair was not moving and the feet did not move. Dirt covered his cheek and he had to wait a second to lift his head. Prone and without his sword, he was afraid for his life. But he didn’t see anybody looking down at him for the figure was wrapped in the shadows of the corner. He could see the feet, but at the knee they seemed to be attached to something disembodied.
He lay motionless where he was, looking at the shadows around him, thinking that he was right back where he started. When he didn’t move for several minutes, he finally made out a pair of eyes staring back at him from the depths of the woman’s cloak.
When she stood up, she towered over him like a ghost come to condemn him. He felt like he was about to pay for all his sins. Without a word, she took a step over him and with three easy strides reached the curtain that was quickly catching fire. She casually kneeled down and patted the curtains’ flames with her bare hands. Addigo noticed there was no soft glow around the woman’s hands. She was very powerful.
He took advantage of the fact that her back was turned to him and shuffled his way out the shack’s door. Trees rose all around him full of pines and leaves. Several maples, untouched by the passing of the seasons, shone in all its glory several feet away. A small brook cut across the glen and a fawn was peacefully drinking from the clear fresh water. Even with his startling escape, the fawn barely glanced up at him.
This place was not in Sydowen Forest.
As he reached the brook, he splashed water on his face. There was no point in running. He didn’t know where he was, and his legs could not carry him very far. Besides, he could not leave without his sword. The fawn continued to look at him as if to say that he was intruding on it. Suddenly the fawn looked up behind him and raced between two trees and disappeared. He then knew she was standing at the door. He would have to face her eventually.
He turned to look over his shoulder and found her standing right behind him. He did not hear her creeping up on him. She had his sword in her hand, and she was pointing it right at his throat. Her eyes were as cold as ice and he found something familiar in her gaze. Her features were as hard as stone and her cloak was draped around her like a second skin.
She gestured to her left and a small pool of air coalesced and rippled like a pool of water. A small patch of land appeared and a lump caught in Addigo’s throat. Logs were piled and stacked together in the shape of a pyre. He didn’t have to see the body to know who lay on it. He caught a glimpse of a linen wrapped foot somewhere among the wood, like a hand saying goodbye to a traveling relative.
Her awesome display of power was lost on the sight of what she had conjured.
“You will have to find your way now, Addigo,” said the woman. Addigo felt tears come to his eyes. “I shielded your mind from the memories of your son. The fever did not allow for such mistakes. I did not mean to intrude.”
As he lay there on the floor, sheet barely keeping him modest, Addigo felt an odd familiarity with the lady. Out here, under the sun, she didn’t look half as dominating as she had inside. There was something soft about her now. If it weren’t for the magical sword in her hand, Addigo would not have felt as threatened as he did.
“You will live, my son,” she said. Then she wiped something from her eyes. “It is good to see your face after all of these years.”
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler III
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