The Ageless One, Part Two: His Enemies
The bonfire burned bright and hot, and it seemed every gisler in Halhor was there, sitting around it. Doelan sat crossed legged in the grass with the rest of the orphans. Despite the heat from the fire, he was still pretty cold, so he huddled up in his cloak as best he could, watching the older gislers tend to the blaze. They looked exactly like fifteen year old humans, but some were far older. Normally, this bothered Doelan, who was only eleven. He couldn’t tell who was twenty and who was fifty, but he wasn’t thinking about that tonight. Tonight, he was interested in Halhor’s visitor, a magician from Linicai, capital city of the Ciniceros Empire. The center of the empire was ruled by humans, and this one was supposed to be fifty years old. Doelan had seen older humans, but never one this old. He was curious to see what someone who aged normally looked like after living so long.
A few of the other orphans were giggling. Doelan looked but promptly looked away when he saw Neron. Neron would probably tease Doelan later; something stupid like, “you want to look like that weird old guy that came here!” So I think adults here all look the same? So what? Doelan thought, trying to brush it off. Howeve such talk would get to Doelan more than he wanted to admit. He was just thinking of an excuse to move away when he heard a “Psst!” off to the side.
He turned and grinned when he saw Liri at the edge of the group. Doelan made his way through the rest of the orphans and sat down. Liri was twelve, only a year older than Doelan, and always had an impatiently exited expression, as if he had something to tell you and just had to say it. As it turns out, when Doelan sat next to him, he did.
“The magician’s going to show us the storm wars, when the goblins used dark clouds to wage war on surface dwellers like us! I’m so excited!”
“Me too,” said Doelan. “I’ve never seen goblins before.”
“Well, you’re about too. This magician’s going to use magic to tell the story.”
“I don’t know, my mother said I’d find out when we watched, but means we’ll see what goblins look like, definitely.”
That was certainly a good thing in Doelan’s mind. He had never seen any dark creature with his own eyes. He had only heard them described, and now he was going to see them. He was expecting creatures with slanted eyebrows and sick grins.
“What do you know about goblins?” he asked.
“Well,” said Liri, “Not much. All I know is that they’re kind of like bugs. Dragonflies really, they…are you alright?”
As it was, Doelan was not alright. He looked at Liri, the color draining from his face.
“What did you just say? About the goblins?”
“They’re like bugs. They…Oh. Right. You don’t like bugs do you.”
“Bugs, spiders…if it has more than four legs it gives me shivers.”
He turned towards the fire and almost shivered right there. The idea of large bugs…
“I’m sure the goblins won’t be too scary,” said Liri.
“I’m not scared,” said Doelan.
“Fine. Oh look! Is that the magician?”
Doelan looked but saw nothing. He was about to ask when he felt Liri flick something off his shoulder. He looked at Liri, a little shocked.
“What was on my shoulder?” he asked.
“Do you really want to know?”
Doelan thought about it. “No,” he said. “Not really.”
Liri giggled a little.
“Gislers, young and old!” cried the voice of an old man.
Doelan and Liri looked to see him. The visitor had arrived, and he stood next to the fire.
He was human, dressed in a white linen robe with one arm fully clothed with the other arm bare, along with the shoulder. He had grey hair, wrinkled skin, and a solemn expression. This really was the oldest person Doelan had ever seen, and he hadn’t expected this. He had been told that older humans were hunched, with their skin hanging as if it was a bag on their bones. In person, Doelan found that this description, thought it had some truth to it, was quite exaggerated. That seemed to happen a lot when other gislers described old age.
The old spread his arms out.
“I come to speak of the goblins wars, and how they ravaged our lands. It began with the eagle men.”
From his pocket the magician took out something which smelled like herbs to Doelan. He threw it on the fire, which blazed brightly! A ball of fire flew up, and beneath that a patch of smoke shaped itself into what looked like a castle floating on a nest. It was illuminated by the fire ball, like a small sun. Doelan and Liri watched and listened eagerly.
“As many of you know, the goblins never come out during the day. The bright sun is our only protection against them. One day, however, dark clouds obscured the sun in all nations, taking that defense.”
Another cloud of smoke obscured the fire ball, the smoke palace went dark, and small smoke figures flew around it. Doelan wondered how he could see as well as he could.
“The goblins descended on all, and the war was brutal. In the end the spell was broken. Magicians gathered together from all nations, and all together cast a simple spell to make it rain. The black rain was like a poison, but it, along with the clouds, faded away, and once again we were safe from goblin attacks.”
The smoke didn’t imitate rain, but cleared, revealing the fire ball sun, once again shining on the nest palace. Doelan figured that rain, in this form, was asking for a bit much. The next moment all the smoke cleared, but then started forming another figure, like a human.
“Many died in the wars and poison rain, but we won, and all was safe again. But remember, if you go out at night, beware these creatures. They are deadly, and show no mercy.”
The smoke solidified, and even gained color, and Doelan, for the first time, saw what a goblin looked like. It was not very tall, and rather skinny, but as thin as it was it had strong looking muscles. It still seemed as if it could break your bones with ease. It wore a loin cloth and at its side was a sword made from a single piece of metal. It had a large, round and bald head with a thin lipless mouth and two slits for a nose. However its most grotesque features were the ones that gave Doelan shivers.
It had compound eyes on its face, and wings on its back, like those of a dragonfly. Doelan couldn’t remember the last time his skin crawled so much.
“And listen,” the old man continued. “Listen for their screech. If you hear this screech, run!”
The smoke figure bellowed out, and Doelan heard a sound that for a second reminded him of crickets chirping. But this wasn’t chirping, it was a bloodcurdling screech!
It ended, the smoke figure faded away, and the old man walked off, gislers everywhere clapping, except for Doelan. He was panting. Panting hard.
Then he jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder!
“Whoa! Doelan? Are you okay?” asked Liri.
“I’m fine. Uh…everyone’s leaving.”
And sure enough, the rest of the gislers were getting up.
“Are you sure…” Liri began.
“Okay. What did you think of the magician?” he asked as they stood to go with the rest.
“Uh…” Doelan hesitated. “He was okay I guess.” Doelan didn’t want to mention that the goblin scared him. Something about the eyes. Doelan always imagined dark creatures and evil sorcerers grinning menacingly, but what he saw from the magic smoke…it was emotionless.
It was like this creature wouldn’t hesitate to kill you. It wouldn’t take pity on you, nor would it savor the moment before killing you, giving you time. It would just kill you.
Of course Doelan knew he was being silly. He had no idea what goblins were like. What he was an apparition, like an artist’s interpretation.
Even so, something about those eyes. Those big compound eyes had disturbed him.
But he wasn’t going to tell Liri. “I never knew about the black rain,” said Doelan. “Have you?”
Once again, Liri had that impatiently exited look. “Have I?” And of course Liri would tell him everything he knew about the subject. Doelan smiled, happy to listen and to talk about something else.
Back at the orphanage, Doelan couldn’t sleep. He huddled up in his blanket, looking around. In his bunk, surrounded by sleeping gisler children, he watched. He remembered what the magician said about goblins coming out at night. He knew he was making a fool of himself.
After all, he thought. Goblins have never come into the village before. Why should they now? That didn’t stop him from watching for them, and listening for their shrieks.
He tossed and turned, huddled up in his blanket. He heard the gisler in the bunk above him groan. He knew he needed to stop, or he’d wake his bunkmates up. He kept thinking, this is stupid, this is stupid, this is stupid. Then he turned over and quickly hid under covers!
He had seen something in the room!
He stayed underneath the blanket. It was hot, or at least it felt hot, but he didn’t dare come out, for he was certain that he had just seen a goblin! Right there in that room!
Still, he didn’t hear anything. Cautiously he peeked out. He saw nothing. He poked more of his head out, and still nothing. Maybe he had imagined it. That was probably the case. He still saw nothing.
A little relieved, he stayed still, hoping to get some sleep. He still knew he was being silly. There was nothing out there. Nothing.
Slowly he closed his eyes, and managed to get to sleep.
His dreams were not pleasant.
The last thing Doelan can remember is running. He’s running away from the cottages screaming! It’s something about goblins. He sees them…or he had seen them. He isn’t sure any more. But he has to run. He has to.
Gislers call after him, but he runs. There are goblins! He knows it! He can’t see them clearly but they’re there. He runs. He runs!
That’s the last thing he remembers.
Doelan woke up in a not so comfortable bed. He knew immediately it wasn’t the same bed he usually sleeps in. This bed was from the doctor’s wing from the orphanage. He knew it hadn’t been a dream. He really had been running from something. He looked around for a second, seeing the stone walls, more uncomfortable beds, and the gisler nurse, who of course looks fifteen. The petit, fussy red head girl in a white uniform was actually twenty five, but Doelan was too groggy to feel weird about it. He turned over and tried to go back to sleep.
Though he wondered what happened to him.
Much later Doelan’s head was better, though it was still throbbing a little. The nurse had spoken to him earlier, but with his head still pounding they didn’t talk much. All he knew is that he had run off, and had been found after that, past the edge of Halhor. How much later he didn’t know, for in the end the nurse had let him get some rest. He watched that same red headed gisler nurse scold another boy across from him. Doelan was still a little out of it, but he was back to normal enough to find the scene strange.
If Doelan was right then the boy being scolded would turn fifteen and be a man within the month. He couldn’t hear what she was saying, and hardly cared with his head pounding but it struck him as odd, as it had done many times before, that she was supposed to be the older one, a woman, and he was supposed to be the child. As usual they looked the same age to Doelan. No one else would feel that way about it, but to Doelan it seemed out of place. He didn’t know why he was thinking like this, now of all times. At least, not entirely.
He knew that these thoughts kept his mind off of his throbbing head, if only a little bit. Even thinking about his head was better than thinking about those…creatures. He needed something else to think of fast! He got it, but it directed him back towards his head.
“Hey Doelan,” said Liri’s voice. “How’s your head?”
“Fine,” he said unenthusiastically as he turned over. “Fine. Hello Liri.”
“Hello,” said his friend with a concerned smile.
There was a pause for a moment. Doelan leaned back and closed his eyes and Liri just looked at him awkwardly.
“The nurse told me,” said Doelan, still with his eyes closed, “that I was found outside the village, knocked out. That was after they attacked me with questions of where I’d been.”
Liri laughed, and then tried to cover it up with a cough.
“Don’t worry,” said Doelan smiling, his eyes. “I meant it to be funny.”
Liri smiled back. “I see. Well, you really were found asleep you know. I was worried, and I was also wondering where you’d been.”
Doelan sighed. “I don’t know why everyone keeps asking me that. How long did it take them to find me anyway? An hour?”
“You mean you don’t remember?”
Doelan opened his eyes and turned on his side. It took him a second to get comfortable again, and another second to rest his throbbing head on the pillow properly.
“I don’t remember much, no. The last thing I remember I was running away from the village but…” he didn’t want to tell Liri he had been scared of goblins. He was too ashamed. He figured he had probably imagined them anyway. “That’s all I remember.”
“You just ran off and can’t remember why?” asked Liri, who sounded as if he almost didn’t believe what he was hearing.
“I can’t explain it,” said Doelan. “It doesn’t make sense to me either. I don’t know why I ran off, and I don’t know why I collapsed.”
Liri swallowed nervously.
“What?” asked Doelan.
“Um,” said Liri. “Doelan, I was there when you ran off. You didn’t collapse. At least…no one saw you collapse. You kept running, and as long as it took to find you…you must have been running for long time.”
It took a second for Doelan to process this. He tried to speak a couple of times but words seemed to fail him. He didn’t understand.
“But that means...Liri? How long was I gone?”
Liri swallowed again. “A week.”
Doelan lay there with a stupefied expression on his face. An entire week? He had been missing that long? What could he have done in that time?
“I’m sorry Doelan,” said Liri. “I don’t know what happened either. Are you sure you don’t remember why you were running?”
Of course Doelan remembered, though he wished he didn’t. In his stupor, he told the truth, “Yeah. Goblins.”
“Goblins?” asked Liri in disbelief. “What about them?”
Doelan was shuddering just thinking about it, “I thought I saw some.”
“In Halhor? I think other gislers would have noticed.”
“Maybe I imagined them,” said Doelan.
“What do you mean?”
Doelan thought about how to explain it. “You remember that magician?”
Liri thought about it. “Yeah, the human. He told us the story about the goblin wars.”
“Well when he told that story last…I mean…I guess that night…a week ago…he told that story and…it scared me.”
“Oh,” said Liri silently. He didn’t say anything else for a few moments. Doelan waited patiently, and then Liri said, “Is that why you were running?”
“I think so. I can’t remember much, but I remember thinking that there were goblins around me. I don’t know.”
“That doesn’t explain where you were.”
They sat in silence for a few moments. Doelan huddled up a little. Liri looked at him with pity. They might never figure out what had happened to Doelan. Still, Doelan was worried more about something else. Something that he knew was coming. He shivered some more, very scared. Liri noticed, and realized…
“You’re afraid you’ll see goblins tonight aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Said Doelan flatly. “I know they come out at night, when it’s dark. That’s when I’ll be scared again.”
Liri thought for a moment, and then spoke, “You know Doelan, you aren’t the only one whose been afraid of things at night.”
“What do you mean?”
“This human kid who came to Halhor, who was probably just being mean, told me that there’s this kind of dark creature that hides under your bed at night. Adults can’t see them, so they can’t check for you to see if it’s safe.”
“No. My father told me that this is an old tale…just made up. Anyway, he also told me that, to stop being scared at night, I should count.”
Doelan stared in disbelief. “Count?”
“Yes. Count until you can’t imagine the creature anymore, because that’s where the creature is. In your imagination.”
Doelan didn’t believe it, but then, “I suppose I can try that. Did the dark creatures go away for you?”
“I don’t need to count any-more.”
Doelan still wasn’t sure about it, and Liri noticed.
“Doelan, could you at least try it? I…I don’t want you to disappear again.”
Doelan looked at Liri, who stared back nervously. Doelan didn’t want to disappear again either. He knew, for his own sake and Liri’s, he was going to have to be brave.
“Okay Liri, I’ll try.”
They smiled at each other, though secretly Doelan believed it wouldn’t work. Still, it was all he had, for he knew that he would have to face the darkness again.
Awake, late at night, Doelan was scared again. Those bug eyed creatures with their bloodletting shrieks…He huddled up, as if the blankets could shield him. He was still in the hospital bed in that wing of the orphanidge. He was alone, so he felt nothing to inhibit him from crying.
Every time he heard a creak, or some other noise, he imagined a goblin. He looked around. Every shadow moving made him cringe and want to hide. Then…like before…he saw what he thought was a goblin.
Crying some more, he thought…remember what Liri said. Count.
“One…two…three…” he wasn’t feeling any better, “four…five…six…” at least he wasn’t picturing goblins any more, “seven…eight…nine…ten…” he calmed down a little, “eleven…twelve…thirteen…” he peeked out, not seeing anything. He sighed in relief that he hadn’t seen any goblins, with their empty eyes, their sharp swords… “Fourteen…fifteen…sixteen…”
He kept counting. It kept his mind off of goblins, and eventually he got to sleep.
He woke up the next morning, and the first thing he did was breathe a sigh of relief. The sun was out, and that was a comfort. He breathed in and out, thankful that he had gotten through the night.
“Are we feeling better?” asked the red headed Nurse with breakfast for him. She had just entered the room when Doelan looked up.
“Yes, thank you,” said Doelan, who was famished. He sat up, ready to eat.
“I don’t suppose you remember where you where?” the nurse asked as she places a wooden try filled with bacon, eggs, and water on his lap.”
“No,” said Doelan. “I still don’t.”
“Alright,” she replied before leaving.
As Doelan ate he thought about it. He didn’t know where he had gone. He wondered if he ever would.
In truth, after that day, inquiries were made, but no one ever found out where Doelan had gone. Nothing strange happened for a while, so the event was eventually forgotten, if not completely. It was the mystery that was never solved. Where a young orphan had been for an entire week.
At that moment, though, Doelan was happy, thankful he had a way to fight his fears. He was also thankful for Liri, and Liri’s father. Doelan stopped eating for a moment. He suddenly felt sad that he didn’t have a father to tell him this kind of stuff. Still, he was glad Liri shared his father’s advice with him, and was eager to thank Liri again and tell him how it worked.
He really was thankful.
Still, he knew his fear of goblins would haunt him for a long time. This wasn’t just an imaginary creature under the bed. The goblins were real, and it his fears of them wouldn’t go away so easily.
And someone watching him knew it, all too well.
Doelan was being observed by a mind. The person who owned that mind wasn’t watching him with physical eyes, but observing him through pure thought. She had no need to watch him in person, and as far as she was concerned had more to learn by watching him with her mind, for what she would see in person was different than what see saw now; a boy eating bacon and eggs in a bed.
So strange, she thought, as she gazed at him. His fears of my goblins allowed him to see them. I didn’t know that was even possible. It even allowed him to get away…even if it was for a short while. What’s even more amazing, though, is that he was sent back to us. He isn’t particularly important, so far as I can tell.
Still, one more little boy in my fold will be helpful, if only by a little. And now that he has a way to block the goblins out, his fear of them shouldn’t cause any more trouble. Still, I might want to keep an eye on him. I don’t foresee him causing me too much trouble directly, but if he alerts other gislers to my presence, that will set me back a while. Let’s just hope my goblins can keep him from escaping again.
Little Doelan, I’ve got my mind on you.
For now, Doelan was safe, and happy eating his breakfast. But he had caused trouble, and was bound to cause more.
To be continued
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Jason Richard.
Published on e-Stories.org on 06.04.2011.