GI (1): The First
The winds howled with fury. Dark clouds churned and rumbled, and before their quaking roar, lightning sparked and flashed across the bustling sky. A red moon, its crust tinged of blood, it’s mares as black as tar, gazed down upon the spires of Arrodine and the city of its rule.
The castle was large and solemn looking. Its black stone walls were pitched darker than the night sky. But outside those walls, outside that citadel, an orchid of thick white cherry blossoms spanned for miles on rolling hills. Even in darkness, as the clouds closed their gaps and the moonlight died out, millions of flowers bloomed on thick green grass, revealing their petals to the beginnings of a drenching rain.
A cobbled road, coated in clear red crystal, cut through the land. It led right from Arrodine to a small valley garden in the midst of the orchard and continued to the beginnings of the eastern forest, where beyond, the howls and wails of beast and demon drowned in the wind. But just before that forest, a small wooden cabin stood – its clay coated, mulberry wooden roof never nearing shadows forged by canopy. Its rustic walls seemed weak. Its foundation seemed weaker. The cabin creaked under a squall, but even as the rain fell and its roof thrummed harshly from an increasing smattering of cold and wet, the place stayed firm. Firm as it had been for the past thousands of years when the first bricks of Castle Arrodine were laid.
Makron stood on the cabin porch gazing out at the land. He watched the grass cased in shadow turn a golden hue as moonlight shined from the closing gaps among the clouds. He watched the orchard’s flowers sway harshly and the distant city lights flash. Wind blew against his face, prying his well-oiled hair up from its combed back position. A cold seeped into his flesh that seemed to hit bone. A finger twitched.
Makron’s eyes had roamed sky and earth, eventually, drifting away to stare at the wrinkles on his hands. How did I get so old? He sighed. The past toiled in his mind, his successes as well as failures. But as always his thoughts would drift when his eyes landed on the castle. Arrodine. Like the name of the old beast in the mountains where the eastern forest spanned as it stretched into deeper domains. Within that glance, Makron’s bond to Arrodine called out to him. Like the song of a loved one; the cry of a child; it was his life’s blood as well as his torment. As his thoughts churned, his mind began to muddle, Makron touched the ring on his finger. His father’s ring. And at that, clarity came once again.
Makron was not supposed to be at the cabin that night. No one should have been. The storm was said to be a dangerous one. But what did the rulers of a city care for the life of a mere servant? Furthermore, Makron was bonded. Bound to serve at the behest of the king. And that bond, that oath he gave so long ago, no mortal could break. That was a servant that could be made to do anything.
As the air got colder; the rain heavier, it was now becoming hard for Makron to even see a few feet ahead of himself. He grabbed his rich, green cloak tighter around his tunic. All he could do was follow the strange orders he was given, and make sure the garden was not damaged. As if my watching can prevent anything in a storm.
Minutes passed and soon hours. The rain had not ceased; the lightning and thunder had only grown worse; the wind a constant force.
A mumbled curse; a sigh. Picking up the small lantern near his foot, Makron was just about to walk inside when a thunderous boom broke the air. The entire night became brighter, and for a moment Makron’s shadow shifted in front of him, plastering itself onto the shabby cabin door.
Makron swirled around. Before his mind could register what was going on, the night turned black, blacker than the black he had always known. And the land trembled; the air shook. Makron had nearly tumbled over. The bitty flame inside his lantern flickered within its rocking cage; it pulsed, but seemed to wane to nothing. That was for only a few seconds… And then everything lit once more as if it were an illusion, the lantern flame brightening back up and the earth going still.
But it was not an illusion. At the far right, at the edge of the little garden, was a crater as wide as a house. Makron’s finger twitched again. He could not even breathe. He just looked at the area, dumbstruck. It was only moments that he stood there in his shocked state before he began to run. This can’t be possible. Why now. Why me?!
Makron ran and ran. The hood of his cloak had long since fallen back. Water got into his eyes and ran down his head. The oil in his hair suspended and tricked down his eyebrows and onto his neck. He ran through the grass and cared not for the flowers he crushed or the scratches he received as he hopped the short barbed wire fence that circled the garden.
The garden was filled with plants of all natures. They were exotic- some taller than himself and some shorter; their stems twisted and mangled one another; their petals and filaments exuded varying colors and patterns; and the smell was simply intoxicating, even amongst the shifting air.
It was only moments before Makron came across the scarred earth. By then the rain started to lighten to a mere drizzle and the clouds begun to clear. The crater was not deep, barely a fingernail down, but it was wide. It encompassed a fortieth of the garden’s size. It will be noticed! Makron trembled. Meters of the garden were now barren, empty of the colorful life it once held. Even the plants at the edges of the blast had toppled over, their roots sticking out of the mud.
Makron could already feel King Orno’s boot on his neck; the spikes crushing his windpipe. The same boot used on Third Baron’s wife when she refused his advances. But given the King’s current mood, it was more likely that Makron would suffer a more ‘advanced’ punishment. Like the King’s most recent victims. Living plant food.
Makron’s mind realed. He wanted to run. Run far away, but knew he could not. The bond he had kept him rooted, kept him from even thinking that far along. If he could not run, then could he fix it? Yes. The garden was not really a garden, but more of a cacophony of plants from all over from the King’s travels. The plants grew with no control or tending. He could dig up some of the plants that were close together and spread them across the empty space. Especially since the king had this area only recently planted, it was highly likely to go unnoticed for a day or two. By then, at least it would not be him on duty. Makron chuckled. Relief that maybe he would not have to suffer this.
He squatted. Makron looked at the area again and knew he could do it. He had felt the earth. It was hard and burnt, but when he dug his fingers deeper he knew it was manageable. Whether the plants lived after the day, well, no one would attribute it to anything from this night, and if they had, it would be too late to shift blame. Guessing at the time, Makron figured he had another six hours before daylight. Time before some nosy, early riser looked from the castle walls to gape. Plenty of time.
But even with his plan, carrying it out would be difficult. Besides having to use his hands, having to dig during the rain was a whole other matter, and was definitely something he did not want to do. Just as he was going to turn around and start looking for where to start, something caught his eye. Right in the middle of the crater, something glimmered. It was so starkly different from the black earth around it, that it easily caught his gaze. Makron drew closer.
But before he even investigated, his thoughts went askew. Maybe the king dropped a precious treasure the last time he was here? Or one of the nobles from when they visited? Makron was not in wanting, but it was as if a fog shrouded his mind. He did not know such thoughts popped up. After so many years, after obtaining his position within Arrodine, such desires for treasures were long gone. Shaking his muddled head, Makron drew closer and crouched low. As his hand drew nearer, that’s when Makron finally realized what it was; a flower bud. The bud shined dimly in the dark night, its sepals a white glow. There was no damage or rent. It stood perfect, even as the wind bustled and whipped everything else around it.
Drawn to the dull gleam- a reflection of light from who knows where, like prey to a viper’s charm, Makron’s hand reached for it regardless of the ever nagging feeling that that was a bad idea. His fingertip brushed the sepal and…
A crackle and pop churned the air. Makron’s face turned pale as he tried to jump back. But it was too late. A deafening boom reverberated in his ears as a giant shifting white light slammed into his chest. His throat clenched as a viscous coppery fluid ejected from his mouth; he was thrown back.
He crashed into the mud and slid for several meters, barely able to breathe. His eyes were open, but all he could see was white. The ground felt like it began to leave him and his mind fogged. His eyes drooped shut, but not even darkness came; just white. It seemed like a deep white pool in front of his eyes, and as he saw it, something wormed underneath. Its movements sporadic, then still; still as well water and then, suddenly, a face stretched out like a wet pearl mask, its mouth opened wide. A wail with no sound; its hollowed eyes not seeing; but just as quickly as it appeared, the face went away. The white as still and unmarred as if it what had been had never been.
It was then that a voice, as sweet and soft as a woman’s kiss, tickled his ear. “You are my first.”
The wind still roared and the plants still shifted.
But Makron fell unconscious.