Seth was still asleep when David got up the next day. He had barely spoken to his son over the last two days as he had been working longer each day and noticed Seth had been staying up later each night.
He wanted to help his son get through this dark time but he had no idea what to say. He wanted to tell him things would get better but he knew enough people had already said that and he also knew it wouldn’t mean anything because he didn’t believe it himself most of the time.
He got dressed and looked in on Seth before leaving. Drake lifted his head and looked at him as if to ask, ‘you want me to wake him up?’ David grimaced at the thought of trying to talk to his son again and softly said, ‘it’s ok boy. Keep him company for me, ok?’ Drake cooed in response and then rested his head back down on Seth’s leg.
David then grabbed a biscuit from the bowl of bread on the counter and headed out the door. The sun was shining and his eyes squinted and worked quick to adjust. He secured the door behind him and then headed around the house towards the center of town where Crazy Joe’s garage was located.
As he walked he looked down over the Rahn Valley forest below. They lived on a plateau located above the tree line up the side of the northern part of the Dorahn mountains. The Dorahn range created a horseshoe around the Rahn Valley with it’s open end facing the west coast of Agnos. This made it a remote place to live in spite of being one of the largest areas of land. If you were here, you probably lived here and if you didn’t, you were probably lost.
Thus, living on a plateau on the side of a mountain range in such a remote location meant they basically lived in a remote portion of the middle of nowhere.
Their village was actually quite large for being so difficult to get to. Over thirty people lived up here although that was made up of mostly a few big families. But they were also a fairly wealthy village as villages in the Rahn Valley goes since they had a cave system that connected them to Forge. Any savvy traveler could head to Forge, pick up needed supplies, and sell them in the valley to people who got out even less than they did.
“Morning Joe,” David said as he entered and started to organize his tools.
“EGGS!” Crazy Joe replied from inside a large wooden contraption in the middle of the garage.
Crazy Joe had always been called Crazy Joe and he didn’t mind, or at least he never said that he did. Most people were unable to talk to him for more than a minute or two before deciding there was nothing inside his head worth digging around for. David, however, had figured out that he was more of a crazy genius rather than just being crazy.
Even if people could understand his riddle-esque, condensed speech habits they would still immediately think he was crazy thanks to his signature introduction.
While any other sentence he said would be two or three words long at most, his introduction was a full sentence and always the same. “Hi, I’m James. Some people call me Jimmy, my friends call me Jim, but you can call me Joe.” This would be repeated over and over the first time he met someone.
No one was actually even sure if his name really was James or Joe, but they all called him Joe and he seemed to be fine with that. Every so often David would wonder if he should call him Jim, since he considered him a dear friend, but Joe was content with Joe and it was simply the way it had always been.
Everyone was also in the dark as to how Joe came to have the vast wealth of gold pieces he did as well. There were speculations of varying degrees of probability. Some thought his parents may have been rich but no one had ever met them since Joe had moved here alone fifteen years prior. Others thought he had gone searching for gold in the Mines of Madness in the south. They were said to be rich in gold but would drive miners crazy coming out and telling stories of odd sounds and visions of ghosts. Others assumed he had begged for the money and just simply never spent any of it.
David was the only one who assumed he had worked for it. He was always building something and had invented several machines over the years he had been on the plateau.
One machine he had would bring eggs in from his chicken coop outside and crack them open into a skillet, starting a fire underneath it in the process. There were rarely any shells left in the egg. Another machine would pick up dirty dishes from the counter, wash them, dry them, and then place them on the other side of the counter.
The newest creation looked to be the most ambitious even though David questioned whether it would really work.
“What would you like me to do today, Joe?” David looked towards where Joe was hunkered down as though playing hide and seek. There were a few clunks and bangs from his area before he jumped up smiling a big one tooth grin. “SCREW!”
“Sure thing, Joe.” David picked up a wrench and started at the front of the big machine tightening every bolt he could find.
It was busy work, he knew that much. He was done doing what Joe needed help with a few days before but Joe kept telling him to come back. Joe knew that they wouldn’t have much money anymore as Nita had brought made most of it. Before Seth had been born David would go with his wife when she was called away and help anytime he could. If he couldn’t help he’d often take odd jobs wherever they were to stay busy and make extra money.
After Seth came along there was a long discussion as to what they would do. Nita had decided to quit taking jobs anywhere more than a half day away but David knew she wouldn’t be happy. He took on taking care of Seth and started taking repair jobs around town. This was when Joe started hiring him since most people took their repairs to him. Despite thinking he was crazy everyone knew he could repair anything better than anyone else around.
The only thing he had been worried about early on was growing apart from the love of his life. That idea had quickly faded the first year, however, when they would have long talks often lasting all night when she came back. He would make her dinner and she would rock Seth to sleep in her arms and then he would ask questions about every part of her vacation.
And then, when Seth was older, he started to see pieces of his wife come out in him. Seth was smart and picked up on things very quickly. He had the same love of animals as his mom and same love of reading. And then there was the thinker. That’s what David had always called it when he saw Nita doing it. Anytime she would be lost in her own thoughts her face would scrunch up and her mouth move over to one side while her head tipped the other way. Seth had started doing it when he was eight which looked even funnier if they were ever sitting next to each other doing it at the same time.
Now, though, David’s heart had a huge hole in it. His fear of losing his wife a reality in a way he had never imagined and now he was worried of losing his son emotionally. He felt even worse that his son didn’t have anyone to talk to. While others might think it silly David loved talking to Joe about his issues. Joe was wise beyond what anyone realized and knew that most of the time, when someone opened their heart, they just wanted to have someone listen. Other times, he knew exactly what needed to be said with just a few words.
The day David came back to work for Joe after Nita died he poured out his heart and all his troubles. Not much got done that day as Joe just sat there and listened with intensity as David spoke through tear covered eyes. And when David ended with, “I just don’t know how we’ll get through this. She was the backbone of the family,” Joe finally spoke and said, “Son of mom.”
David looked at him and agreed, “he is strong like his mother, isn’t he?”
Seth, however, had no friends like Joe. In fact, Joe was a closer friend than any of the kids his age that lived in the village. Most of the kids weren’t concerned with reading or learning about animals and that was all Seth really knew to talk about. Anytime they played together he was more content to sit and read. And after he got Drake, when he did want to play, he played with his new friend. He had been fine being alone and really still was, even though David knew he needed someone to talk to.
David knew this because he was finding it hardest to cope at night when he lay in bed alone. His wife had had a tendency to try and annoy him any chance she got. She would tickle him and poke him and pinch him and anything else she could think of to get a rise out of him. She was the playful spirit to his practical ways. He never got mad though he did occasionally actually get annoyed which she seemed to enjoy more than anyone should.
He often thought he’d enjoy her time together more if she didn’t do those things but now he realized it was those little things that he missed the most. In fact, he missed all of her habits that he had once found annoying.
Sometimes she would suck on her teeth after dinner while she read. She didn’t mean to do it nor did she ever really realize she was but it bugged David to the point that he would sometimes head
outside after dinner having been unable to concentrate otherwise.
She also whistled random tunes at random times. This he actually didn’t mind much as she was a fine whistler however when she was alive he would have never told you it was something he adored about his wife. Now, however, it was something he not only missed but hated that he would never hear again.
To make it worse all his thoughts like these caused him to feel sick to his stomach. He would be ok doing the little busy work routines that Joe gave him and then a random sight or faint smell would trigger a distant memory and the pains would return. This would be his life over the next few months and a still regular, if not
occasional, routine after that.
“Joe, all the bolts are tight, what else do you need done?”
“Alright, sir,” David acknowledged as he walked to the back of the shop to grab the paints. Painting was something he had always enjoyed as a hobby. He had been doodling on a piece of paper during lunch one day when Joe had saw it and immediately set out to have him ‘brighten’ everything he could see. At first David just painted things normal solid colors but it didn’t seem to appease Joe as he would give a one tooth inquisitive look and ask, “brighter?” Now David paints whatever images come to his mind and they both enjoy it.
The breakfast machine has pictures of hens laying eggs while the dishwashing machine has pictures of people scrubbing pots and pans. Now though, he could think only of angels and that’s what he painted. One after another he covered the new contraption with angels. Some flying above clouds and some playing little instruments while others just stood there, looking over all the work, but they all had a resemblance of Nita in one way or another. David became so engrossed that he worked the rest of the day without thinking about anything else but making perfect looking angels.
“INTRUDER,” Joe yelled and startled him back to reality.
“What? Hey I’m no intruder, I’m looking for David Baker.” Joe was already ignoring him and had gone back to work as the man tentatively walked in.
“He didn’t mean it like that. I’m David, do I know you?” David started washing so he could shake the strangers hand.
“No, no I’m afraid you don’t. I was asking around looking for your wife, actually.”
David’s smile faded and his hand unconsciously pulled away and went back to wiping the paint off. “I’m sorry fella, but I’m afraid you’re too late.”
The man wiped his hand on his coat and continued with a bit of a stutter, “Ye..Uhh..Yeah, so…so I heard. I must say I’m sorry to hear about your loss. She was an amazing woman.”
“Thank you… so you knew her then?”
“I’m sorry to say I only had the pleasure of meeting her one time. I had a problem with some wolves killing off my sheep and she helped me out.”
“Yeah, she was good like that. So you are having more pest problems?”
“Huh? No, uhh, well yes, maybe, I don’t know. Honestly I don’t know what it is.”
“I’ve heard that before. Unfortunately I can’t help you in this situation. Creatures were my wife’s thing.” David looked at one of the angels he had painted. His hand traced it’s face.
“Your wife spoke highly of you.”
“Yeah. Almost as highly as she spoke of your son.” David smiled for just a moment. “Some of the people around here seem to think highly of him, too.”
David’s smile waned. “You must not have been talking to the kids around here.”
The man ignored this and continued on, “They seemed to think he might be able to help me.”
David contemplated this for quite some time, shifting his weight from leg to leg and breathing deeply at each silent concern. “I must say I’m honored that others in the area thought he’d be up to it, but he’s never had any real experience. He’s learned a few things around the village which is probably where they saw him doing good but he’s never had to deal with a real wild creature.
“And he’s only 14. AND his mother just died.”
“I understand, I really do. I had to ask, just in case. The next creature handler is in Forge and this would save some travel time.”
“I know. And I wish we could help I just couldn’t even guarantee that he could actually help you.”
“Well, I would be willing to give him that first chance, if it were the case. Everyone starts somewhere, right? I know he’ll be a great creature handler if he’s anything like his mother.”
“… Well, I’ll leave you to your work then.” The man straightened and bowed just slightly before turning on his heels and walking out. David went back to looking at the angels and Joe came around and sat next to him.
“He’s just too young,” David defended words Joe hadn’t said. “He could get hurt,” he continued arguing to no one. “It would be too much for him right now.”
Joe looked him over and David looked back wanting to be reassured. David had many fears, though concern over whether Seth could actually be a decent creature handler wasn’t one of them. He not only knew he could do it, he was sure he could do it now. He did fear losing his son, though. He worried that if he went and he was good he would keep going.
He wanted to believe that Seth would always want him around on his trips but they simply weren’t that close. He also knew his son needed to find himself. Nita had left home when she was 15 to train as an apprentice. The plan had been that she would train Seth but now there wasn’t a handler anywhere near them. Seth would have to move and the house would be empty. David knew this and didn’t want any of it to happen. He didn’t want to be alone.
Joe knew this, too. He watched David and felt for him. He knew what David was going through more than David would ever know. Joe gummed his lips and licked grease off of his one tooth before offering his advice. “Fly little bird.”
David looked at him and then chuckled. “So you think I should let him go?”
“Fly birdie fly,” he said with his almost toothless grin while flapping his arms and starting to jump up and down in his seat.
David stared at him for a few moments before jumping up and running out the door yelling, “SIR! WAIT!”
He was up late four nights later as rain pounded the roof of their home. Outside a drip was keeping an awkward beat on a metal bucket and inside Drake was restless and would nervously pace at every clap of thunder.
Seth, however, was shaking for other reasons. He had read through almost all of his mothers journal and was up to the last few entries. He had learned that most of her jobs were in the north and the one time she had gone south she had troubles dealing with King Agnos, in spite of the fact that he had called her down there.
He had also learned that the goo creature was known as a gellaco which his mother had learned from Wise Willie whom apparently lived in Forge.
Forge was just north of where Seth lived though he had only remembered being there once. In spite of it being relatively close it was still hard to get there, being on the other side of the mountain range he lived on, even though there was a set of cave systems that led to it.
He also learned about other creatures, some that his mom had tamed for people to keep as pets and others that his mother had learned to just stay away from. One of which, a large bear creature with spiky quill like poisonous fur known as an ederentian, was apparently located in the forest valley of Rahn that his mountain range surrounded.
He flipped the page in the book as another clap of thunder rocked their home and Drake walked around before finding a ‘safe’ spot under Seth’s blanket. He found a one page entry about trying to buy gear in Forge for another trip up north. She states she wasn’t sure what she needed she was only told the trip would be dangerous.
He had learned that anytime someone told his mom something was dangerous she normally didn’t think it would be, so when she made any comments that she thought it would be dangerous it usually indicated that she was going to encounter something fantastically bad, like the ederentain bear.
He flipped in anticipation to the next page and read what would be the last entries she would make.
Jan 21 – 476: I have arrived in Anchorton and met with Tiny Tom who has filled me in with some exciting yet scary news from the caves to the west. It appears someone reported seeing a dragon.
There has not been mention of dragon sightings in more than two hundred years and the thought that one is possibly still around has me more excited than I could ever imagine. But of course, the other side of that is what will be done with it.
The talk of dragons has already spread across the entire village and many people are already calling for it’s head. The last mention of dragons in this area were those that constantly attacked the town and ultimately destroyed it so many years ago that it wasn’t rebuilt until 402.
But I’m not so sure. If a dragon had survived this long without causing any harm who’s to say it would do anything now? Of course rushing in and attacking it would set it off anyway so I wonder if attacks did take place originally, who started them? Just as any creature is prone to attack if provoked, maybe it was our own hubris that caused us to prematurely fear something large, scary, and misunderstood.
On the other hand, I have to remember to keep my own feelings aside. I have to curb my deepest wishes and desires that want this to not only be real but also friendly. I have to remember that while I want this to be the discovery of my lifetime it could be a nightmare and quickly turn into my demise.
Still, I wish Seth were here. He has wanted nothing more than for dragons to be real since he was able to say the word. The experience that this would be for him would make my own pale in comparison. I know my decision to start bringing him along next year is correct and I wonder if I should even bring him with me next time. With work keeping me away more and more often I feel I barely know him anyway.
Seth sat the journal in his lap and cried for a few moments at the lost opportunities. She had wanted him to be with her and he would never get that chance. What would his life have been like had she been able to? And what would he do now that he couldn’t?
He had never been handy with tools like his dad, which was because he never really took an interest in it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t impressed by the things his dad and Crazy Joe made, he was, but the act of actually creating them just didn’t get him excited.
Creatures, however, had always interested him. Being in such a small village the idea that there types of creatures in the world that had not even been discovered yet made his mind spin. It was an even sweeter thought since he had a natural talent for it. He wiped his face, attempted to push away the thoughts, and read on.
But for now I need to stay focused on the current task at hand. What to do if it really is a dragon? Tiny Tom has agreed to go with me and I feel safe with him as he is a skilled warrior, even if he is afraid of a ball of goo. I also trust him to not run in attacking without giving me a chance to learn how the dragon might behave.
I have also gotten various herbs and potions from the local apothecary. A lot of the normal items for healing wounds and sedating animals, but also a drink that is supposed to calm aggressive animals without knocking them out. I have never used anything like it before and even the apothecary admitted it was pretty much untested however I know her to be very talented and have faith that, if needed, it will work.
I have also looked through what few books I have with me on the subject of dragons which, of course, are basically useless. These are the same stories I read to Seth when he was growing up and it is hard to tell if any of them actually happened. Most were written anonymously and the one that I know to have been written by someone who had been a creature handler is vague on what he did to try and tame the dragon, only pointing out that he ultimately failed.
It is really just down to my own instincts at this point and what I know about how dracons behave. I can only hope that dracons behave in any way similar to their distant relatives.
Jan 22 – 476: Tiny Tom and I have arrived at the mouth of the Lacerta Caverns where the reported dragon had been seen. This cave system is immense and believed to be two thirds larger than the most detailed map we were able to buy. We are sleeping just inside the mouth of the cave entrance today and have decided to go down the right fork first. Even it forks a number more times on the map we have however it appears most of them are dead ends. We have chosen to explore a path that has been only partially explored.
Tom is making a stew right now which makes me think of David’s everything stew he makes when I’m not feeling well. I miss my husband and son and want to take time off when I get home.
Tom has also insisted that I wear some sort of protection which, while I resisted, I have appeased him by wearing the lightest armor mesh he had. Even that is weighing me down and slowing our progress but I can appreciate that he wants to keep me alive.
Jan 23 – 476: We made it to the unexplored portion of the tunnel system we had chosen however it did not get very far before it also dead ended. It took us a day to get here and will take us a day to get back to the entrance to head down the other forked path. Then it will be a toss up deciding which paths to take from there as many of them seem to be unmapped.
One note on today’s journey is that we saw no signs of life on our way down. A few bugs, yes, but no rats or snakes or anything else you might expect to see living in here. Did something eat them all or scare them all out?
Jan 24 – 476: We are once again camping at the mouth of the caves. It is raining outside and we got to clean ourselves up a little. Leftover stew and stale bread for dinner. Going to bed early as I’m already exhausted from navigating these burrows.
Jan 25 – 476: We spent a day exploring various forks and paths and have gotten nowhere. Most were dead ends and we are sleeping at the mouth of the cave yet again. We both noticed how warm it was down that side of the caverns. When we had gone down the right side it had been cool and damp, however today every path was dry, muggy, and hotter than the last. It was easy to see why that side was largely unexplored as it made travel slow going. We were happy to see that it was still raining outside and have cooled off.
I’m starting to lose any hope that a dragon was actually spotted and wonder if the whole thing wasn’t a hoax. This whole trip has been a bust so far and I’m more and more ready to go home with every step. But we are getting paid well so we need to have a definitive report when we get back, hopefully we can finish exploring these caves within the next couple of days.
Jan 26 – 476: We are now deep in the caverns and have yet to find an end to the current tunnel system. It was the first one we chose and have been walking it all day. It has gotten so warm that we are having trouble breathing and have had to remove most of our clothing outside of undergarments. Even our armor has now been set aside as it is too much to bear and we are contemplating leaving some of our things in this spot tomorrow when we continue on.
Which also has us discussing just how far we can continue in such conditions. If we are having this much trouble enduring these caves it is highly unlikely anything would actually live here, let alone for hundreds of years. There are not even any bugs to be seen anymore and we are running low on food. If we don’t find a water source tomorrow we will have to turn around and head back lest we run out.
My head is starting to hurt so I am going to lie down. I pray for an easier day tomorrow.
Jan 27 – 476: We have yet to find an end to this tunnel however we have found a water source. It is a bubbling lake in the middle of a vast open area. Around it walls ramp up from our level to another tunnel exit high above us. If we are to go on we will have to climb up to it however we are not sure we will be able to go on.
While we have found water we are as of yet unable to even try to drink it for it is just too hot. Tom has put a large amount inside his helmet where we hope it will cool however after what we think has been an hour it is still bubbling. We are also wondering, if it does cool enough to drink, will it be safe?
Beyond that we are also almost out of food. We have some dried meat and old bread left that may get us through tomorrow. With so many things against us, how can we keep going? Who could have even come this far to see a dragon if one even is down here? With our spirits all but broken and everything against us, we will most likely be heading back up tomorrow.
Jan 28 – 476: We awoke this morning and found the water in Tom’s helmet, while still warm, was cool enough to try and drink. I told him I would try it but he insisted that he do it instead as he had no family to go home too. While I argued that that was no reason to be ok with dying he eventually took a drink anyway. To our benefit he did not get sick and to our surprise, he felt a lot better.
He told me to try it and upon the water even touching my lips I felt stronger immediately. We have not eaten anything today and do not feel hungry. The heat has not bothered us and we have stopped sweating. Whatever is in this water it is unlike anything I have ever encountered. We have set more aside to cool so that we may fill up our water skins and head deeper into the caves tomorrow. If we can carry enough of it we may just make it to the bottom of this cave system. God willing, we will find that end tomorrow.
Jan 29 – 476: Another day traveling this winding tunnel has gotten us another day away from the entrance and no closer to an answer. The one bright side is that the water we retrieved from the lake yesterday has not only kept us going but made us more optimistic than ever. We have strength to keep going and the heat, in spite of making anything metal we carry too hot to touch, has not bothered us at all. I look back at what I wrote over the last few days and can’t even remember why I ever wanted it too end.
Jan 30 – 476: Today we encountered our first problem and it is again something neither of us have ever seen. We reached a tunnel that narrowed to the point where Tom had to hunch over and walk sideways to even fit through. It then opened just enough for us to stand next to each other however the path was covered with what looked to be a set of vines. They were covered with red and yellow leaves and some kind of dark fruit was growing on them. We immediately decided not to try the fruit however when Tom went to slash a clearing for us the vines fought back.
From the wall beside him a vine rose up and grabbed at his sword before he could swing it forward. From my side a vine grabbed my arm and another went for my leg but I jumped out of the way. Tom took a dagger and cut his sword free before getting me.
We have back tracked to the last open area we had been through and are resting before deciding what to do tomorrow. We have come so far I am not ready to give up but I don’t know what Tom is thinking. He’s never been much of a talker and has been less so these last few days. Still, the idea of seeing any life down here at all is exciting and gives hope that something could survive.
Feb 5 – 476: I am back in Anchorton and apparently have been unconscious for a few days now. When we woke up the next day I was able to talk Tom into trying one more time to get past the vines. While he was concerned of what may lie beyond the vines if we did get through I was very adamant about at least trying since we had come so far.
When we got to the opening where the vine lay in our way it seemed there was less of it than the day before. We thought this was in our favor and he swung at the portion covering the opening.
One vine snapped apart and we looked to make sure nothing was trying to grab us again. He then took another swing and yet more vines snapped apart. At that point the ground shook and a loud roar filled our ears. From beyond the vines we saw the tunnel light up with flame and my skin began to tingle with excitement.
I told him to keep going as I could almost fit through the portion he had cleared but before he could take another swipe the vine suddenly grew and doubled in size. It quickly recovered the tunnel and Tom started to back me away.
Yet when we turned around to head out we saw the vines had covered our exit and all the surrounding walls. We were trapped.
He started swinging at everything that came towards us while attempting to clear our exit in between. That’s when vines started to come towards me. Tom handed me his dagger and I swung as best as I could towards each one. One grabbed my wrist and I cut it free. I ducked under another one as Tom struck it.
With my heart racing I started swiping at our exit with him until a new vine appeared. It was at first as black as night before showing itself the same red and yellow color of the leaves that adorned it. At first I just thought it was another vine with different colors however as it got closer I saw it had a tiny mouth and little eyes.
I stood, a bit stunned by what I was seeing, and then tried to hit it. I missed and it lunged at my stomach where it met the light armor mesh that Tom had convinced me to wear again today. Then Tom attempted to strike it down but failed and it this time came for my arm.
It bit in hard and I felt a sting run up into my shoulder and then my neck. I dropped our torch and the lights went out, for me at least, and I was left unconscious.
Tom says he was lucky to cut us free and then carried me out over the next few days. He says we are lucky to be alive and I have to agree with him on that one.
While I wanted to confirm there was a dragon Tom was quick to point out that as hot as it was it simply could have been a volcano. With no other evidence to say otherwise that is what we’ve told everyone here.
I still hold hope that what is down there is a dragon however I don’t know how we could ever prove it. All I know is I am heading home tomorrow morning and I am excited to see my family. Tom has agreed to work with a map maker to update the cavern maps and we told them all about the magical water yet we had none left to show.
I have seen things on this trip that I have never seen before and while that is all exciting, I just thank God I am alive.
Feb 5 – 476: I’ve made it to Forge but I’m afraid I’ve had more problems. The bite on my arm has become infected and I feel very weak. I am going to have a healer observe it tomorrow.
Feb 8 – 476: I have felt too weak to continue home over the last few days. The healer has cured the infection and it is almost completely gone. Hoping I feel better tomorrow so I can get home to my family.
Feb 10 – 476: Feeling much better today, heading home. Can’t wait to see David and Seth. I have decided to never leave home again without Seth. It is time he followed in my footsteps as he has always wanted to do. But mostly, I don’t want to die with us being as apart as we have been. I miss my son. I am so happy I will be able to hug him in a couple of days.
I also want to share with him the graces that God has shown me through this whole ordeal. I could be gone now, but I’m not, thanks to Him.
Seth closed the journal and shut his watering eyes. These had been the last words she had ever written. Two days after this she had gotten home and was already feeling worse again. She hadn’t gone into details over what had happened only that she had run into trouble and she just wanted to sit in her chair by the fire. By the second day she was back she was too weak to speak. A week later and she was gone.
Seth felt the anger at losing her rise up again. Everything he had just read about her last trip swirled around in his mind. He wanted to scream at her for going in the first place. He wanted to scream at Tom for not protecting her. He wanted to scream at God for letting her die. In his head, he did the last one.
His mother had often spoken of her faith and he had always felt that he also had God on his side. When she was home they often went to the temple in their village and prayed and she would read scriptures at meal times.
Now though, after she thanked God for keeping her safe He had let her die and this made Seth angrier than anything else. If she could have so much faith in God and get betrayed what was the point?
He wanted to curse God for letting this happen but instead he simply asked over and over until he fell asleep that night, “Why?”
Drake wrapped his tail around Seth’s neck and shoulders forming a scaly blue scarf catching the tears of his friend. His leathery wings stretched across his shoulders and his long neck and head nuzzled against Seth’s as if to hug and comfort him.
But nothing was going to comfort Seth today as he looked down at the body in front of him. He was dealing with the overwhelming sensation that he would never speak to his mother again which was something he had never contemplated in his 14 years of life. That is, not before she grew deathly ill a week before.
Drake too, felt an immense loss and looked as sad as any dracon ever could. Drake was a baby when he was given to Seth as a gift by his mother just over 4 years before she died. She taught Seth everything she could about handling and training Drake, as well as other wild creatures when the situations would arise.
He tried to make these situations arise as often as possible because he enjoyed these moments with his mom more than anything else. She would always compliment his abilities with the animals and say he had a gift with them that she had never seen before.
Now these moments were gone forever and he struggled to sort through the reality of what lay before him. His mind raced and jumped from memory to thought and thought to memory. For a few seconds he would remember something about his mom that would make him smile and another second later he would be overcome with sadness. The constant ebb and flow of emotions were affecting him so deeply he was getting nauseous.
But he just stood there staring at her as everyone passed around him. He vaguely noticed when people offered their condolences and occasionally picked up whisperings of other people saying, ‘poor boy, they were so close’. People offered food and gave little bits of wisdom such as, ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘it will get easier.’ Everyone had something to say about what had happened, everyone except for his dad.
His dad was not standing next to him which didn’t really offend him. What did offend him was that his dad wasn’t standing beside him frozen speechless and in tears over the loss.
‘How could he be chatting it up over there,’ Seth wondered in between the train of emotions he was riding, ‘when mom is laying here?’
Eventually he was pulled away and his mother was covered. He was vaguely aware of people talking about his mother and praying over her. He watched the covered body as more people came in and laid flowers beside it, only occasionally thinking the flowers being laid down were not extravagant enough to be a real offering for someone as great as his mom.
And he watched the body while the preacher spoke the words that he assumed preachers speak at everyone’s memorial. He watched the body and had fleeting thoughts that maybe this was some elaborate prank being played in him and his mom would suddenly jump up and surprise him.
These thoughts stuck with him for days after the funeral. He really had a hard time adjusting to the idea that she was gone. In some ways he would occasionally forget she was dead and just think she was on another trip away. His thoughts would wander in this way until he’d think about her coming home which would drag him back to reality, hitting harder each time.
At the end of the funeral his other was taken into the cave used for such situations. He had seen the process before when a local villager his dad was friends with had passed away. That had been shocking but seeing his mother go atop the pyre full of wood was making him want to scream out loud. As the fire was started he started to step forward to yell at them to stop hurting his mom.
But they weren’t hurting her, it was what they always did with their dead. This was the cycle of life and it always seemed to end abruptly. His dad took him home and they sat in their living room not talking to each other. They continued not talking to each other for a week. Here and there would be a grunt to indicate dinner was ready or something needed cleaning.
Seth caught his dad crying the second night they’d been home and finally saw that his dad was struggling just as he was. It was everyone else who didn’t seem to understand. It was everyone else who only knew to offer food so they wouldn’t have to cook and to say it would get easier and they were sorry. No one understood what they were going through except his father and what his father understood was that neither of them really knew how to handle the situation.
Seth’s dad was the first person to break the silence.
“I have to go do some work for Crazy Joe.”
Seth looked at him, slightly stunned as though he had just been woken from a deep sleep. After a short moment he finally worked some words out, “Oh, ok.”
“Do you want to come with me? Might do us good to get out of the house.”
Seth thought about it and for no reason he wanted to yell at his dad but wasn’t sure why, instead he answered, “No, I’d rather stay here.”
Seth’s dad didn’t know how to handle the situation or what to say or do to make his son feel better. All he knew was that nothing was making HIM feel better, so he didn’t figure anything would help Seth. He simply gathered his things and walked out the door saying, “If you need anything, come on down to Joes.”
Seth did not go to Joes and did almost nothing all day. Twice he let Drake fly around outside for a moment but even Drake tired of it quickly and flew back to be by his friends side. And once Seth got up to look for something to eat in the myriad of food that had been brought to them.
It was later in the day when Seth started to look through his mom’s book collection in the living room. His mom loved books and loved reading. When he was young she would read to him at night while he was falling asleep. She collected books from all over Agnos when she went on her travels and he would hear the most fantastic of stories.
His favorite stories were those of dragons, Drakes very distant cousins. While she had let him know many times that she had never seen a dragon and believed them to be long extinct, he always held out the childish hope that they were real.
When his mother brought Drake home he had first said, “you got me a dragon!” But she corrected him explaining that it was a ‘dray-cone’ and would never get larger than a hawk. His favorite story was about a man who was studying a large dragon in the north that had the ability to make itself invisible. He attempted to ride the dragon by throwing a rope around it’s neck, however since it was invisible at the time he had accidentally roped around it’s tail and was subsequently tossed into a tree.
Seth ran his finger across the various spines sticking out like a kid running down a picket fence with a stick. He stopped on a ratty worn spine with words that were unrecognizable from years of use. He pulled out the book and sat down in the big chair by the fire. He ran his fingers over the leather cover and felt the stitched in symbol on the front. It was an ornate circle of interweaving lines with two letters “S” in the middle that crossed each other. When he was younger Seth had thought them to be snakes giving each other a hug.
He opened the book and started flipping through it’s pages carefully. The paper was old and brittle and the smell that wafted out of it reminded him of winters that his mother would set reading the book to herself by the fire in the very chair he was now sitting.
Most of the book had always seemed rather boring to him what with it’s lack of pictures and dragons. In fact, it lacked wild creatures entirely which was odd for her collection given that she was a creature handler. No, most of the book was about a group of people who had a secret society of fighters and adventurers. While that part was always interesting to him most of the book was sets of rules that the group held themselves to. There was hardly anything about actual adventuring or fighting anywhere to be found in there.
He stopped on one page marked by a piece of paper stuck rather haphazardly into the book with a bible passage scrawled across it in rough handwriting. He recognized his mother’s writing immediately as she had never learned the art of calligraphy like his dad had. Hers always looked hurried as though if she didn’t get it on paper quick enough the thought would leave her forever. The paper read, “We love, because He loved us. John 1 4:19” He held it for a second in a clinched fist before easing and setting it beside him.
He started looking at the pages it had marked, skimming the words and trying to focus, something that had been hard since his mother died. The pages spoke of a charter that the group was to hold itself to. Most of it, again, was rather boring to him and he was about to flip some more pages when a sentence caught his eye.
‘It shall be at the forefront of our constant thoughts that the group never grows stale. When we see the world changing, we must change with it, yet when the world does not change sufficiently we will create change ourselves.’
Immediately Seth’s mind was driven back in time to when he was just 7 years old. He had been growing taller and was thrilled to show his mother just how tall one night when she came in to read to him.
“LOOK MOM!” he nearly yelled in excitement as she came in. He was touching his head to the top of his bed and stretching his toes just as far as he could, just barely touching the foot of the bed. “I’m almost too big for my bed,” he added with a big grin on his face, proud of growing tall.
His mother, however, didn’t smile at this but rather retorted without missing a beat in a peculiarly serious tone, “You know, when you grow up and you get too big for your bed you have to build your own.”
She had then gone on to read to him though he wasn’t able to concentrate and indeed didn’t get much sleep that night. He was kept up wondering how he would ever be able to build a bed. Would his dad teach him? Would he be given wood or instructions? Would he be able to ask for help? What if he got too big tomorrow? He was only seven and couldn’t imagine being able to build a bed by himself.
He had forgotten about it a few weeks later until he had looked at that book. Reading those lines he realized what she had actually meant. The bed was not a bed, but the world around him, and building it meant he had to change it. Tears started to stream down his face as he realized his mother was still teaching him things, even after she had gone.
Drake stood up on the ottoman where he had been laying between Seth’s legs. He stretched a bit and then walked in a circle a few times before settling back down. Seth closed the book and held it close for a few minutes before scanning the shelves for another one to look at.
His eyes dropped their gaze closer to the fireplace where the books were overflowing off of the shelves and into small stacks around the room. He picked one up that was right beside the chair. It was one he had seen before but had never seen his mom actually reading. Opening up he found out why. The first page had more of her scribbles on it and read, “Nita Bakers Journal: 475-”. Seth realized this was recent, started just the year before, and got goosebumps at all the possible things that could be written in these pages. He was not disappointed when he flipped to the next page and saw that it was a journal entry from one of her jobs away.
Feb 2, 475 – The trip north from Forge was uneventful despite all the talk of bandits on the highway. When I got into Anchorton and met with Tiny Tom he was frantic over something that had shown up in his yard the week before. I asked him what it was but he continued to say I just had to see it. When we got to his house he directed me to the back but then didn’t follow. Cautiously I walked over the fence and looked around. I was about to let him know whatever had been there was gone when I saw the bush in the far corner of the yard move. Only it wasn’t a bush, and it kept moving towards me.
I jumped over the fence and watched as it got closer. It’s shape changed as it moved in a blob-like rolling fashion. It had no legs and no arms that I could see. Really, it just looked like a pile of green goo, about three feet tall, with two enormous eyes. It got to the fence and stopped I saw that it’s eyes were sad longing for attention and I realized it was not trying to be aggressive but just wanted out. However it had gotten into his yard it had not been able to find a way back out.
Slowly I reached my open palm out to the goo-ball, stopping just a few inches away from it. It bent forward, or shifted itself, or whatever it did it came closer to my hand and decided I was no threat when it surrounded a portion of it’s goo around my hand. The sensation was scary yet amazing and unlike anything I’d ever encountered before. Like 10 dog tongues licking my hand at the same time it seemed to caress my hand and explore it. It lasted a few seconds and the creature let go. When my hand came out it was not covered in goo or sticky, though it did have a feeling of having something new on it as though I had just washed my hands and not quite gotten all of the soap off.
I jumped back over the fence and, well I guess I took it’s hand. I held my hand out and took a few steps forward to show my intention. It sort of leaned into it and engulfed it again at which point I started slowly walking forward. To my amazement it not only started ‘walking’ with me but also gave some amount of pressure to my hand, almost squeezing it, much like Seth did when he was little.
I led it to the gate, opening it to lead the creature out. When I let go, however, it just continued to look at me with sad eyes. I walked around the yard to find Tiny Tom and the creature followed. I don’t know who was more freaked out, Tom or the creature. It was rather funny to see the 6’7” tall Tiny Tom scream at me to get rid of it while the creature seemed to hide behind my legs. I assured Tom I would make sure it didn’t come back into his yard and I walked back behind his house again, looking into the woods that were there.
Going on the assumption that the creature had to have come from somewhere I started walking it into the forest. The little creature stayed close to me and as we got into the more dense part of the forest it actually reached out for my hand which I gladly gave. It squeezed tighter than before and shook at the littlest of noises.
I was actually getting worried that I’d made a mistake. While I was sure the little guy had come out of the forest I had no way of knowing exactly which direction to head. As it started getting dark I reached a clearing in the woods. In the middle of the clearing was a large felled tree stump that looked to be mostly hollow. At the sight of it the creature let go of my hand and ran, or rolled or whatever it does towards the tree.
I started to yell out to it when out of the log another goo ball twice it’s size came out. It was also green with two big eyes and these eyes were not sad but worried turned to joy when it saw the little guy coming towards it. I had found mommy goo. I was absentmindedly walking towards her to get a better look when her gaze turned towards me and it was a look of anger. She obviously assumed I had interfered and she started towards me at a strong pace.
I reeled backwards but tripped and fell as she started to overtake me. That’s when the little guy jumped in front of her. She stopped and looked at him and they just stared at each others eyes for a few moments. She looked at me again and her gaze softened and suddenly, four more little goo balls emerged from her, separating themselves out and surrounding their little brother.
The mother came towards me and reached out as her child had done before. I reached my hand out and she squeezed and rolled backwards, pulling me up. She gave me a sort of bow and I bowed back to her as she started to ‘walk’ back towards their home. Her children all followed except for the little guy I had bonded with. He came up to me and wrapped his body around my leg. His goo warmed my leg and I reached down and patted his head. His mother turned around and looked toward us for a moment before he finally let go and walked back towards her.
I must remember to talk to Wise Willie and see if he has ever heard of such a creature. I hope to come back soon and study them closer but for now, I am needed back in Forge in two nights.
Seth looked over the pages and wanted to know more about the creature his mom had seen. This was one she had never told him about but then, she had been busier than ever over the last year and was home less and less. He wondered who Wise Willie was as he couldn’t think of any Willie in their small village.
The sound of the front door opening startled him back to reality and he quickly closed and tucked the book away. He didn’t want to share what he’d found with anyone, not even his father who walked in covered in dirt and grease.
“So Crazy Joe is making something I think you’d be interested to see,” Seth’s dad offered to his son.
“Oh yeah?” Drake got up and stretched again and upon seeing Seth’s dad walked over to him and began sniffing whatever smells he may have picked up while he was away.
“Yeah, you wanna go with me tomorrow? He needs some more help and is paying pretty good,” he asked hopefully.
“I don’t think so.”
Seth’s dad lost the hopeful look and gained a defeated one. “Alright, well I’m going to get cleaned up. Why don’t you get us something for dinner ready?”
Seth got up and looked through the foods that people had brought again and settled on a pot of chili which he threw over the fire to warm. He then went and hid the journal in his room so he could read it later. This was how he would spend the next few days, struggling to stay close to his mother and learn about her last days.