The Dark Path
WARNING - While this story does not directly reference or rely on events from previous tales from the world of Albrene, it is a continuation of Bahn's storyline. The first installment following Bahn was The Forest Path.
The Dark Path
The Forest Path – Part 2
The bars of the prison floor pressed deeply against Bahn’s back. Every movement was agony as he struggled to sit up and prop himself against the walls of the swinging cage he was hanging in.
Bahn shuddered as the winter night whistled through the trees and gripped his exposed body. He pulled his knees close to his chest and covered himself as best he could with the animal hide he had been given. He knew the spell that would bring warmth to his frozen bones, but he dared not utter a word, afraid of what might come out.
— How did I let this happen — Bahn’s thoughts were slow and clouded as he struggled to replay the events of his last mission. — What did I do wrong? —
The forest was blanketed in the blissful quiet of the noon-day. The sparse canopy of the tall redwood trees scattered light across the forest floor, creating intricate patterns and shadows over every surface. Bahn walked through the thin underbrush with great care, working to avoid fallen twigs and dry leaves just as he had been trained. A twig snapped somewhere behind Bahn. He stopped and peered into the forest.
“There’s no need to hide from me, Toraw. I know you were assigned to observe my mission, why can’t we be civil.” Bahn knew the answer. He had known it when she vanished shortly after the two of them entered the forest. She was an agent of the elders. She was not here to keep him company or help in his mission, but only to be a witness if he did something wrong.
Bahn continued through the forest toward his target in the northern foothills of Mount Hatave. It was there another sentinel reported a small corrupted zone and the possible existence of a blight. It would take him several days of walking the uneven terrain of the forest floor to reach the region.
— I’m not ready for this.. – Bahn shook the thought from his mind. — Only failure comes from thoughts like that. —
Bahn stopped moving and held his hand over his face in shame. — I cannot cast light spells. . . How am I going to cleanse the corrupted zone? – It was a dilemma he failed to considered before entering the forest. He was so eager to prove he could perform the duties of any sentinel that he forgot to plan a solution. Bahn recalled a book his mother gave him when he first started training just three short years ago. It was a book of seals – seals which called upon light magic, even when the caster possessed a connection to the darkness. If only he could remember what the seals were, he would be able to contain and possibly eradicate the areas corrupted by dark magic. Bahn continued forward, combing his mind for the runes and patterns of the light seals. He cursed his stupidity for failing to plan for his first real mission. Before now, he had only been on routine patrols that required almost no planning or forethought.
The sun had long since fallen out of sight behind the towering trees of the northern forest when Bahn decided to set his first camp. Once his small fire siphoned the cold of the winter night, Bahn began to search the bag his mother had packed for him. It was a small deed Bahn occasionally allowed his mother to continue to aid him with, despite his already being an adult and a fully trained sentinel of the Shaforisi Guard. The other sentinels would tease Bahn if they knew, but he did not care. Bahn knew this small act allowed his mother to hold on to him just a little longer. Inside Bahn found a loaf of bread and some dried meat wrapped in individual bundles along the top, but something underneath caught his eye; it was a book. Bahn recognized the cover: A Record of Aluan Earth Seals: For the cleansing of cursed earth and objects. By Römakh. Bahn laughed aloud. Remembering Toraw was listening, he spoke softly to himself. “Thank you, mother. I hadn’t realized father wrote this.”
Bahn finished his dinner before propping himself against a tree. He wrapped his fur coat tightly around the front of himself to keep out the cold air of the winter night. Bahn entered the world of his dreams: He pictured himself sitting beneath the giant oak in the central courtyard of the village. It was his favorite place to meditate and would be a welcome distraction from the eerie sounds of the forest night. Bahn wondered if anyone would visit his dreams tonight.
Bahn sat under his favorite tree, the pleasant breeze carrying the scent of spring flowers as it rushed across the field. The air was warm and welcoming, the sun was high in the sky, yet it was not too bright. It was a perfect day. Bahn held his eyes closed, immersing himself in the chirping of the songbirds. Soft footsteps approaching from behind Bahn drew his attention. It was Yönaw. Her almond brown hair flowed gracefully in the soft wind as she sat casually next to Bahn. The two of them sat there for a moment, basking in the peaceful sunlight of Bahn’s dream.
“Sister, what are you doing here. I’m on a mission.”
“I missed your departure. I wanted to see you off. My patrol ran a little longer than it was supposed to.” Her voice was soft and distant, as though she was lost in thought. Like their mother’s, Yönaw eyes reflected the water’s of the world, shamelessly betraying her deepest emotions.
“What’s wrong Yönaw? You look worried.”
“We’re all worried Bahn. The elders are convinced you will give in on this mission. I know your determination. . . You are strong, but the others. . . Dad has never been this silent at dinner before, and I would be lying if I said I was not worried. You’re my baby brother, I have to look out for you. . . Especially with that hot head of yours.” Yönaw chuckled slightly as she finished.
“You’re only two minutes older than me. That means we’re both still eighteen. You always seem to forget that. Besides, there’s nothing to worry about, Yönaw. I am going to prove the elders wrong. Mom let me borrow the book of seals. I am going to cleanse the corrupted areas in the north and I won’t let anything stop me. I’ll be home in a few weeks. Then we can all laugh at how stubborn those old men are.” As Bahn finished speaking the world around him was engulfed in shadow and the grass beneath their feet began to wilt and decay.
“Bahn, you have to wake up!” His sister's voice was loud and urgent as she vanished from before his sight.
Bahn startled awake and jumped to his feet, his heart pounding in his chest. The campfire was dead and cold. He was surrounded by complete and total darknes. He could just barely make out the shape of the nearest tree.
The hair on Bahn’s neck stood on end. — I’m not close enough to the corrupted area for a blight to be here. What is this? — Something ran between Bahn and the only other tree he could see. The creature made no sound, and seemed to possess no features, only a figure – Tall and thick. Wisps of shadow followed the beast. — What is this?” Bahn felt something slam against his side, pushing him to the ground. Something heavy landed on his chest, knocking the breath out of Bahn. He could not make out the figure in the darkness, but it seamed humanoid. Bahn gasped as he felt his energy drain from his body. Definitely a blight. —
Bahn pushed up with all his might, throwing the creature off him. Without hesitation Bahn sat up and knelt to the ground, placing his fingertips together in his lap. Fog escaped his mouth as he began to chant.
“Smee lawla’de jaagulavef, masa maa edra’de Ra’Resaguka.” All sounds of the night drew silent as Bahn spoke. Bahn shook his head as the air around him became heavy and hard to breathe. The skin on Bahn’s legs began to tingle, as though his blood had stopped flowing. Something was trying to silence him. Bahn struggled to open his mouth and begin the second line.
“Smee loyiraw. Smee amon’e’laeloa, e Reshseen Reshaloa.” As he spoke these words a bright ray of moonlight peered through the trees, illuminating the figure before Bahn. It appeared human, but its skin was a dark grey and shrunken to its body. Its black beady eyes were full of hunger and rage. It stood before Bahn, twitching ever so slightly as thick black smoke radiated from its skin and a black, tar-like liquid oozed from its mouth and eyes, slowly dripping to the ground in large chunky globs.
“Smee lo’jaagulavef, Smee laeloa.” As he spoke the creature took a step toward Bahn.
“Lo’lolef de’laagulavef e sawfaw, shaaras lyedeer’Alua.” The creature jolted backward as though it was struck with some unseen force. Feeling returned to Bahn’s legs as he struggled to continue.
“Ahaa’Alua. Lolef’Alua, Lyool’de jaagulavef shub yaysh’Alua” Bahn cringed as a deafening screech echoed through the air, causing every hair on his body to stand on end. The creature before him appeared to be in pain, a pain slowly replaced by anger as it took another step toward Bahn.
“Smee loyiraw. Smee amon’e’laeloa, e Reshseen Reshaloa. Smee lo’jaagulavef, Smee laeloa. Lo’lolef de’laagulavef e sawfaw, shaaras lyedeer’Alua.” The creature howled as its legs turned to smoke and drifted away. The blight fell to the ground before pushing itself upright and glaring into Bahn’s eyes. Bahn was now facing the creature, and within arm’s reach. Its black eyes betrayed the great fear and pain it felt. Bahn could not help but feel pity for the soul before him. It had done nothing but try to survive since its creation, now it would die because of its choice of prey. Bahn closed his eyes as he whispered the final phrases of The Chant of Light.
“Leshuau’Alua, Jaagulavef yaysh’mismaar. Resheen Reshaloa. Laeloa.” As the last word escaped his mouth, an enormous weight lifted from Bahn’ shoulders.
Bahn opened his eyes to find the area around him illuminated by the full moon. The creature was gone. . . all was normal. Bahn closed his eyes and leaned back against the tree as the sounds of the night resumed. — So that was a blight. Laeloa, so much for sleeping tonight. –
“I wish I could use light magic. Everything would be so much easier.” Bahn sighed as he imagined seeker Toraw fending off the blight. It would have been little more than a minor nuisance to anyone with light magic. If it weren’t for his connection to the darkness, the blight would have incapacitated Bahn long before he had finished The Chant of Light. — I hope Yönaw wasn’t affected through my dream. – Bahn could not help but worry for his sister. He knew the chances of the blight being powerful enough to reach his sister through his dream was incredibly low, but he could not shake the terror in her eyes when it attacked. – I can’t think of that now. She is safe, back in the village. I need to focus on my mission. –
The soft glow of sunrise was slipping through the treetops when Bahn hoisted his bag over his shoulder and resumed his journey. It was still a long trek to his objective. There was no time to waste.
Days melded together as Bahn traveled north through the forest. He stopped periodically to find a gap through the trees where he could spy the monstrous peak of Mt. Hatave, its ever constant presence made navigation of the forest child’s play.
— Almost there. Four days of hiking through these woods, and the worst I’ve seen was a blight, – Bahn marveled as he continued through the forest. He had heard stories of the massive trees of the Northern Redwoods, but their size was far greater than he imagined. The spaces between the trees grew with their size. Should the need arise, it would be hard to find a place to hide in the increasingly thinning undergrowth.
Bahn stopped, listening. He could no longer hear the birds. That was never a good sign. A Snarl of some kind emanated from behind a fallen tree. Bahn stopped for a moment, marveling at the size of the giant redwood on the forest floor. This magnificent tree was no different than those around it. It dwarfed anything Bahn could remember seeing, even on its side, it was taller than he was.
Bahn heard muttering from behind the tree in a language he did not understand.
“TABAK!” It was a single word spoken with such hatred, power, and disdain that Bahn felt his heart skip a beat. He did not understand the meaning, but Bahn knew it was dark-speech.
Bahn heard the snarl again. It was followed by the sharp cry of a wolf. — I hope Toraw will care enough to help if I need it. — Bahn moved forward, careful not to make a sound.
Bahn curled his fist in anger as he peeked his head around the roots of the tree. A man and a woman stood amid several animal carcasses, watching as two wolves fought in front of them. Both wolves were bleeding profusely, with visible chunks of skin and fur missing from their bodies. It was clear neither of these poor creatures would survive.
Bahn’s blood boiled with rage as he stood and began walking toward the two dark maji. He started thinking through the words for a spell that would cause the most painful death imaginable for the two monsters before him. Bahn stopped, the two people before him were completely expressionless, void of all emotion. Before he could react, the woman pointed at Bahn. The wolves yelped painfully then began limping away; one of them fell to the ground, motionless.
In unison, both maji raised their arms toward Bahn, their dead eyes fixated on his.
Bahn knew what was coming. He dropped to his knees and buried his hands in the ground. “Mätawna de Kadü, Söma.” The earth shook violently as walls of rock and dirt errupted from the ground between Bahn and the dark maji. Everything was enveloped in deathly silence, as a torrent of thick black smoke rushed past the wall on either side of Bahn. — Just a moment slower. – Bahn closed his eyes. — I must keep my concentration. –
The inner surface of Bahn’s wall began to darken. He could sense the edges slowly wearing away. – I must think of something. – Bahn imagined the words for a teleportation spell to get behind the maji. However, the emptiness growing in his stomach told him he did not have the energy for such a feat. — A simple spell then? Lightning? –
“Is it better to die because of the foolish views of a few old men, or is it better to live to serve your god? Let me save you.” Time slowed as the soothing ghostly voice spoke. Every muscle in Bahn’s body was tense, yet his mind was slow and at peace. “Simply call my name, and I will save you.”
Bahn felt his concentration slip, as a large chunk of the wall fell to the ground without a sound. He knew who was speaking into his mind. This was Resaguka, the dark god. Bahn looked at the ground beneath him, it was nothing but black tar. — The amount of dark energy they’ve released. . . They’ve corrupted the forest, the very earth its self. – Another chunk of rock flew off the wall in front of Bahn. His heart raced as he desperately grasped for his thoughts, trying to string together a spell. . . anything to end the dark maji.
Bahn began to channel what he hoped was not the last of his magic as he found the words he was looking for. It was a simple lightning spell that he hoped would pierce the torrent of darkness and unnerving silence.
“Ve’Kkahab Vätta. Adüa do’kkakksda, Tärat Kkedër’Tägüka” Shivers echoed through every part of Bahn's body, as the wall he had erected shattered. Bahn could see every spec of dirt drift the earth at an impossibly slow speed. The deadly wisps of shadow energy flowing toward Bahn seemed to warp and flow back toward the dark maji. Bahn looked past the previously impenetrable wall of shadow, towards his enemies. Black veins were seeping up their necks, and their eyes were leaking the same black tar-like substance Bahn saw oozing from the blight’s mouth. Bahn shielded his face and turned away as their skin turned black.
A deafening explosion broke the silence as Bahn was propelled through the air and onto the ground several feet away.
Bahn looked at the forest around him barely able to contain the knot forming in his stomach. He saw nothing but death and corruption. Several large trees were cracked and bleeding the black tar now covering the earth. Their leaves were falling in torrents all around him, vaporizing into black smoke before they could reach the ground. One of the trees let out a terrible moan as it began to fall, splintering into three pieces as it landed over a large boulder. One of the wolves from before was caught in the blast; all that remained was a grey husk, frozen in place where it had attempted to flee.
Bahn reached for the back of his neck as sharp pain shot through his spine. His vision began to blur, then faded into darkness as he fell.
A tear rolled down Bahn’s cheek as he realized what happened. The cold bars of his hanging prison were the least he deserved. He had given into dark magic.
“How can this be my fault? I don’t even know dark-speech. Those words were planted in my mind!” he cried out into the darkness. Bahn’s, heart sank as his call was returned only by the creaking of the tree his prison hung from and the occasional insect of the night.
“Why did you give in?” the woman’s voice was soft and sad, dripping with guilt. “I was moments away from ending the lives of those maji, but you gave in. Why?”
Bahn did not answer Toraw. Instead, he dropped his head against the steel bars of his cage, surrendering to the sharp pain they brought.
“I meant to cast lightning at them. . . When I spoke the words to cast the spell, dark-speech came out instead. I . . . I don’t know how to explain it.”
More tears welled in Bahn’s eyes as Toraw let out a heavy sigh of disappointment.
“The elders will be trying you in the morning. They are going to find you guilty. I do not know what their punishment will be.”
Bahn knew. There were only two punishments they were allowed by law, and his father would never let the first happen. He would be banished. It would mean an end to his dreams of paving the way for others like him, and he would never get to see his family again. — They won’t even want to visit me in my dreams — Bahn’s shoulders quivered as he pulled himself tighter into a ball and allowed his tears to flow freely. – Execution would be kinder. —
To Be Continued. . .
Up Next – The Prisoner, follows two young mercenaries as a strange encounter changes their lives forever.
Tales From Albrene
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