“Damn her,” Rory mumbled under his breath as he tramped down into the fringes of the ravine down one of the paths sheltered by the rubble of some of the dormitories. What the hell is she panicking about? So Leah decided to wander off on her own. Not all of us are that keen on staying together all the time.
He’d had the advantage of being able to buck that rule a bit, mostly because of the effect he’d had on the grays when they’d attacked Marin. He still wasn’t quite sure what he’d done, other than let loose something that lurked inside of him, something he tried to keep tightly bottled up. No one tried to stop him when he slipped off alone on short walks in the area, hikes up to the ruins of 45 and back, sometimes across to the orchard. As long as he brought back any fruit he found ripe, no one really complained. A few asked why he was allowed to wander freely, but a shrug usually quieted the questions.
After all, no one really wanted to go anywhere alone but him.
That’s what landed him heading down into the ravines by himself to see what the heck Leah was doing on her own down by the river. He had absolutely no doubt that she was just down there clearing her head, probably fishing like she’d told Thom, just doing it alone rather than with a gaggle of other people.
It might’ve been the end of the world, but not everyone wanted to be all huggy-touchy-feely—or with other human beings twenty-four/seven.
Of course, that morning, all he’d wanted was a hot drink and a spot near the fire, since digging the well had left him feeling about twenty years older than he actually was, but Kellin had other ideas. More to the point, Leah had other ideas, which caused Kellin to have other ideas.
“Damn her,” he muttered again, no longer sure who he was cursing about. At least they’d let him go by himself rather than dragging someone along behind him. Brandon and Drew, Marin and Kellin, Stasia and Paul, and Davon and Jacqueline had all gone looking, too, hoping that they’d find her that much faster.
She’s probably down by the old crew launch, fishing. If it were me, that’s where I’d be. Good purchase and places to sit, current’s not too fast, either. Not that he trusted the Grand’s bounty yet, but there were a few people more trustworthy of its yield than he was. As long as Tala kept on producing salted or smoked meat, he’d be fine for a little longer.
The woods were dead still for most of the hike down. He’d come to the spot where the hills started bottoming out into the river’s upper flood shelf when he started hearing whispering rustles somewhere someplace above. The air was dead still, not even a breeze.
I’m not alone out here. It was too high to be one of the others, too widespread to be a squirrel or another critter. He stopped walking, looking around slowly as he became aware of something dark, foreboding as his eyes sought their source. There were shadows moving through the trees, silent as the grave, around and above. He rocked back against his heels on the dirt trail, starting to hear the whisper of voices amidst the brush.
Forsake them, Old Soul, and come to us. We are your kind, blood of blood, flesh of flesh.
His heart began to pound, the sense of violence and darkness starting to sing in his blood even as his heartbeat pounded in his ears.
Come to us, Old Soul. Come to us. We ask for nothing but your hands and your talent. All else is yours. Help us. Help us. Help us.
The whispers became a wail.
“Help you do what?” He demanded, looking around at the shadows gathering along the trail, unnatural and concerning.
Help us! The voice demanded it, now, instead of begging.
“Do what?” Rory asked again, voice as commanding as the whisperer’s.
You will help us, Old Soul, or suffer like the rest!
He opened his mouth to shout back at it but never got the chance.
The shadows coalesced into a mass around him, binding and choking, squeezing and clawing.
Fuck no, he thought, you don’t get me without a fight!
He could feel the heat burning just beneath the surface, setting his palms tingling and eyes stinging. He could sense the clean heat building inside, begging for release.
“You want me?” He shouted. “Try and take me!”
Even as the shadows forced him to a knee, heat and flame pulsed off of him in a shimmering, writhing wave. Tongues of flame licked hungrily out from him in a circle, devouring the shadows in their wake.
The shadows screamed as the clean flames touched them, consumed them, vanishing into dust and foul-smelling smoke one by one as Rory knelt on the ground, hands balled into fists.
He struggled for control, taking deep, labored breaths.
It wasn’t like helping Drew save Marin. This was like the first time, trapped in the gym when he was twelve with no way out.
Of course, he didn’t remember anything about that day beyond the flames erupting and waking up halfway down the hall.
Breathe. You’ve got this.
The flames sucked inward, vanishing with a pop mere inches from his skin. The acrid smell of burnt hair lingered as he slowly straightened up and flaked some dried mud off his knee.
I think I had some control there. Maybe a little.
That control had been tenuous at best, though, and he grimaced.
Next time, don’t start to panic.
Rory looked around. No sign of anyone coming to investigate.
Must’ve been quiet, or far enough away. Either way, small favors strike again.
A shiver went down his spine at the memory of those voices. They’d scratched at his brain, at places he kept shut away, the dark, hidden places of his mind. That darker part of him had been deeply tempted, but he’d refused.
He couldn’t be sure he’d manage to do that a second time.
Want to help support Awakenings?
Want to chip in to support Awakenings? Buy Erin a coffee through ko-fi and fuel her creativity with a little caffeine.
Want to help support all of Erin’s writing endeavors?
Thank you to my supporters!
Thank you to all of my supporters at Patreon, especially Karen L. Klitzke and Brandon!
Where we’re listed