Crocodilian ~ Chapter 16
Tales of Havek: Volume One | Duration: 12 Minutes 58 Seconds
XVI: A Memory (Un)Made
Richta hugged his wife and daughter and went to leave the child’s room. He was wearing the soldier’s silver armor, but held the helmet under his arm against his waist. He stopped and looked at his family.
“If you’re not back within the hour, I’ll find you. Just like last time,” Amal said. She didn’t cry but Meria had tears on her cheeks.
“I’d expect nothing less,” Richta said with a smile. He left the room and closed the door. His neighbors, Yorn and Melani, were waiting at their dining room table, a solar lamp at the center of it illuminating the concern on their faces. Yorn stood, the legs of the chair scraping against the wood floor as it was pushed back. His wife, Melani, put a finger to her lips, worried that the sudden noise would wake their sleeping toddler. Yorn was a big man, nearly twice Richta’s size. The lumberjack was like an older brother that Richta never had growing up.
“Thank you,” Richta said, shaking the large man’s hand.
“Of course, of course, anything for you and yours. Amal delivered our baby Tani, it’s the least we can do.” The man paused, looking away for a moment. “Hey, I have to ask you something. Did you, uh, kill that man?”
“What do you mean?”
“The man who’s armor that is, did you kill him? I won’t tell anybody, just curious is all.”
“No, Yorn. I didn’t kill him. He’s tied up at my place. I just needed his armor to reach the mayor unquestioned by the rest of them. I have reason to believe there’s a man from my past here in town who wishes my family and Undrey harm. Once I find a way to escort the mayor back, I’ll take the rig we stashed up in the trees and slip away until the storm blows over. The soldiers shouldn’t cause you or the townsfolk any more trouble.”
Yorn nodded and moved out of Richta’s path to the front door. He placed one hand on his wife’s shoulder as they watched Richta tighten the sword’s scabbard on his hip and adjust the chest piece. The weapon was large, the tip of the sheath nearly reaching the floorboards.
“I’m no fighter, but I’ve swung my fair share of axes. Are you sure you’ll be able to lift that thing when the time comes?” Yorn asked with a grin.
Richta scoffed. “I haven’t lifted a blade in years, but after the—Well, I have no other choice. My rifle is down in the bay somewhere. This sword will have to do.”
“We’ll pray for you, Richta,” Melani said. “We’ll all be praying for you. Be safe and return to your family unharmed. They need you more than you know.”
Richta donned the helmet and a strange familiarity overwhelmed him. Looking through the eye slit was like looking through a lens back in time, the metal edges framing everything as if he were in Blokravn and Tamerond Blake was once again his superior officer.
He left the cabin and stepped out onto the floating boardwalk. The rain was relentless, and the wind had grown even stronger. To the left he saw the silhouette of a soldier standing guard on the elevated boardwalk near the tree line. The man was looking down at something in the water, one hand covering his eyes to obstruct the rainfall. A sharp crack resounded from the mayor’s mansion and Richta jerked to see what could have made such a distinctive noise. When no further disruption came, he glanced back at the tree line and didn’t see the soldier standing there anymore. Shrugging, he stalked away toward the mansion as fast as he could without looking suspicious.
Ian knew he was in a dream. Objects were formless unless he looked directly at them for long enough that his mind created the intricacies of what he was seeing. He also knew he was in a dream because he was back in his childhood home, the one that had burned down all those years ago when he’d been orphaned. He sat on the floor in the middle of the common area, stacks of blocks forming his very own city, the tallest of which represented the Emperor’s tower.
His mother began humming behind him and Ian turned to find her sitting at the table. She wore her favorite silk robe, the one that she always wore around the house. She was intently focused on a letter she was writing, but Ian wasn’t sure of its contents. He wasn’t sure he ever knew what she was doing that night since it had never mattered before. But now, he was curious to have this moment back, this chance at seeing his mother again.
Ian stood up and nearly swooned at the disjointed motion within the dream-like version of his memory. He felt like an observer in his own body, the world swaying with each unwieldy step. At this height, he had to be back in his younger body, for the interior of the house still seemed much grander than the actual thing.
“Mom? Can you hear me?” he asked softly, almost like he didn’t want to be heard.
His mother stopped writing. He could see that there were tears staining the letter on the table and she placed a hand over what she’d written, the ink smearing in long lines. She looked at him with puffy, reddened eyes. “Yes. I can hear you, Ian. What do you want?”
Ian gulped as he looked at his mother’s face for the first time since his childhood. She was beautiful, yet terrifying in that moment. He didn’t know what he wanted exactly. His mind raced as he thought of an answer. He wanted to be loved again, to be seen as someone worthy of attention, to know that his mother had wished the best for him.
“Did you love me?” he asked, his voice croaking.
His mother closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath. A tear fell from one of her closed eyelids to slip down her cheek. He watched her lips, the rest of the room blurring into obscurity. “No, Ian, I didn’t love you, baby.”
Ian stepped back. When she reopened her eyes, they were devoid of pupils and were as black as the night sky. She gave him a pitiful smile, and laughed as Ian continued to back away.
The door to the apartment opened with a crash and his heart jumped in his chest. His father stalked in, wet from the rain. He placed his large hat on the hanger along with his coat. Ian’s legs were becoming wobbly, but he resisted from collapsing to the floor. This wasn’t how he remembered that night. Something was off, something foreign was invading his mind.
“What in Burg are you still doing playing with blocks?” his father asked, a slight slur to his words. “Boy, I thought I told you to do something with your life. Look at you—nothing, nobody. You’re not ever going to be famous, you hear me? You’re not ever going to be anything worthy of praise in my eyes.” As his father spoke, his eyes melted away to the sides and were left with the glossy blackness that mirrored his mother’s. A harsh odor emanated throughout the room and Ian noticed that the blurring at the sides of his vision was due to the dense smoke. He was suddenly sweating profusely. Muffled screams could be heard from out into the hall in other apartments. Ian tried to run past his father but a strong hand gripped his forearm and stopped him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” his father asked.
“You’re just going to leave us again? No goodbyes? Such a selfish child. You deserve your punishment,” his mother said as she left her chair and snatched up his other arm.
They lifted him up and held him suspended in the air. He kicked and screamed but they were too tall and powerful. Their mouths overflowed with black ooze as they laughed at his pathetic struggle. At the front door, the dark figure of Unkel Bo strode in, a prominent smile on his bearded face. The ground became charred behind each of his bare-footed steps, their sooty imprints sizzling into tiny flames. Unkel swiped the hat from the hanger and donned it delicately, making sure that Ian saw the mocking gesture. The hat, too, began to smoke, the edges curling with red embers.
“Thought you’d gotten rid of me, eh?” Unkel Bo said. “I won’t let you go, boy. I won’t let her save you. You’re mine and you’ll always be mine. We’re family now, and family sticks together no matter what.”
The floor beneath Ian crumbled away, revealing a sea of fire raging below. He imagined Burg to look like something similar. He stopped struggling, knowing that if he freed himself, it would only be to his fiery demise. There was no escape. Yet, it was all still a dream, it was all in his head. There was no way it was real. Unkel frowned at the new expression taking hold on Ian’s face. It was an expression of contentment and acceptance.
“I don’t know who or what you are, but you’re not my family.”
Ian pulled free of his mother’s grip first, then stared down his towering father as he yanked the other arm out. He floated there over the burned out hole in the floor, the smoke dispelling and swirling away from him, flanked by the impersonated guardians. Unkel Bo snarled, outstretching his arms to either side. A faint rumble could be heard down the hallway, the noise building into a soft roar as it neared. It was the sound of hungry flames rushing to feed on them all.
“And that is not your hat.”
The dark figure’s eyes flared red as the wall of fire came through the front door and engulfed the apartment. The dark figure and Ian’s false parents dissipated like paper burning into ash but Ian remained untouched. The red flames whirled about him in a tornado of destruction, the floors and walls of the building falling away to nothing, leaving nothing but a nest of black roots embedded in a vast, corroded landscape which stretched out beneath a red-tinged sky of blood and death.
No, Ian Merstellar thought to himself, this is what Burg looks like.
William Yitlin fled the mansion when he saw Tamerond kill Mayor Penh. He hadn’t anticipated their confrontation to reach that level of severity, and yet what had he expected to happen by bringing those two together in one room. For the deputy commander to break his code of military justice and toss out his obligation to protect the common person, William knew something much darker resided within the man’s soul. Tamerond’s confession about the Blokravn tragedy was unexpected, but the fact that he’d admitted to his wrongdoings meant that even William was not safe.
When William darted out into the rain, the first thing he saw was a soldier stalking toward the mansion down the boardwalk. He could have run to the man and explained everything, however, there was the slim chance that the men Tamerond chose were in on the operation. If he spouted out the truth, the soldier would grab him and haul him back. So in his desperation, William turned around and sprinted up the staircase to the second story. He stepped into the dryness of the canopied lookout and shut the door, leaning up against it. I’m too old for this, he thought.
He expected to hear the heavy boots climbing the staircase, but none came. The view from the second story would have been beautiful had there not been the grey haze of a great storm raging about them. The structure bobbed and the giant rope tethers of the tide columns popped with tautness after each wave. Large trees bent in the gale force winds at all sides of the bay and when he looked out over the small town, he was taken aback by the sight of the linked cabins and boardwalks floating atop the violent waters.
Inside the second story was a broken desk, a blood-stained floor with books strewn about and a distinct hole at its center, obviously the same one that he’d seen from below in the main room. This new perspective was far more unsettling, the claw marks at its edges alluding to some sort of animal having climbed through. William recalled the claims made by the mayor and an inkling of truth to them began to emerge.
Stepping closer to the hole, he could make out the big man in the chair below. His head had fallen to one side and harsh shadows obscured his face. William registered movement through his rain-spattered spectacles and saw Tamerond kneel to pick up his helmet and place it on his head. The golden-clad soldier turned and began speaking to someone William couldn’t see. William reckoned it was the soldier on the boardwalk.
“You there, find William Yitlin. I need to speak with him,” Tamerond said.
William waited a moment, mostly out of fear. The soldier had seen him ascend the staircase. He’d know exactly where to find him, yet the man didn’t respond.
“Don’t make me repeat myself, soldier. That’s an order.”
William wasted no time. He backed away from his vantage point and raced to the door as fast as he could. He descended the poorly measured staircase and tumbled forward, gripping the wooden railing, splinters cutting into his hands. He forced himself upright and continued his descent. The soldier stepped out of the mansion’s front door and immediately saw him. They stared at one another for a long moment, the rain drenching them. The soldier had a dark patch over one eye under the helmet. William didn’t recall any of the soldiers having an eye patch before. Had something happened to one of Tamerond’s men? Or was this an imposter?
The soldier didn’t say anything. He stepped back into the mansion and closed the front door. Surprised by this unexpected second chance, William shook himself out of his stupor and reached the landing of the boardwalk. He sprinted as fast as his short legs would take him to the only other place he knew to go in Yonledo: Amal’s house.
Tyvno Marsden-Penh sat atop the giant croc, cloaked along the tree line as the animal finished consuming its meal. A soldier had been so clueless as to stand out in the open, an easy snack for his new brothers and sisters. The arrival of Empyrean soldiers had thrown Tyvno off his approach, but his mission was still the same. He held the crocodiles back for now, scoping out Yonledo for any other oddities that may inhibit them.
Tyvno’s enhanced vision allowed his sight to cut through the rain to track movement on the far side of the bay. Outside of the mansion, someone fled up to the second story. The mere thought of someone running in fear piqued his curiosity, goosebumps forming on his already textured green skin. He’d start there. His plan to wreak havoc was flexible, sure, but he made a mental note to save the mayor for last.
“Alright, brothers and sisters, are you ready for more?” Tyvno asked. He smiled at the four crocodiles that flanked him, then patted the thick neck of the one beneath him. “Let’s go get our fill.”
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