Saligia

By Tor Sovik 
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Prologue

It had been seven days. Seven days and no sign of the little boy they had been searching for, for almost an entire week. Darius was tired. He hadn’t slept last night, knowing that letting the little kid be exposed to this kind of weather for much longer would guarantee his demise. Darius’ team leader had told him that they would cease the search if the boy was not found by sunrise.

Darius, however, had no intentions of stopping himself, but this deep into the mountains it would be hard to keep going on his own. He had crossed rivers; streams; old, withered stumps of wood; and fresh, young evergreens. Cold wind and freezing rain buffeted him from what felt like every angle. The boy’s mother had convinced him to ignore all this. Her silent sobs back at the camp had torn his heart nearly in half, and he had promised to do his utmost to find her son.

A bit further up the arm of the mountain he was currently climbing he could see the craggy outline of a cave. It probably wasn’t deep, but it would still be a likely location to find the young one. He was tired anyway, needing a few hours of sleep, and could probably scout out other locations the boy might have used for shelter from the mouth of the cave.

“Hello! Evander? Are you in here? I’m from a rescue team. We’ve been looking for you for almost a week now. Everything’s going to be OK.” The shouted words reverberated through the cave. Echoes cascading back at Darius from far away. This cave was much deeper than he had originally thought. Darius clicked his flashlight on, using it in addition to his helmet light. The flashlight emitted a much stronger light and gave the cave an eerie feeling.

The shadows seemed to dance before Darius’ eyes.

As he turned to get a better look from his vantage point a flash emanated from above. A wave of sound rammed the cave not even half a second later. That’s just perfect! He thought. Now my walkie-talkie will be useless as well. Normally, it wouldn’t have posed much of a problem, but the storm seemed massive, and he was quite far from the base they used all the way out at the mouth of the valley. The static from the storm would eat up any message before it got that far.

The cave was deep. It had a slight down-hill slant that took him further into the bowels of the earth. Having given up going outside as a feasible plan for the moment, Darius dedicated his mind and time to search for Evander. He might not find him, but it would prevent him from being bored and exposing himself to hypothermia so close to the biting chills of the surrounding landscape. He had food and some fire-wood in his pack. He had refilled his water bottle only half a mile back, and the iodine was still working on purifying it.

The shadows on the wall was still catching Darius’ attention. There were half-glimpsed shapes in these shadows. Hands reaching out to grab him, faces screaming in agony, claws of chthonic beasts clutching at his face. They only seemed like that to Darius for an instant before they turned back into completely normal, shapeless shadows. They unnerved him nevertheless.

As he turned a sharp corner, Darius thought he saw actual movement out from the corner of his eye. As if something was pressing itself against the wall after having peeked out at him. He turned both his lights towards the movement, but the only thing he could see was a large boulder. It seemed like nothing special. Perhaps a raccoon had run in, having sought shelter in the same cave he was exploring? Perhaps.

Darius now felt well and truly weary. It was warmer down here, in the depths of the cave. He had a bit to eat, a few sips of water and decided to catch a few hours of sleep next to the boulder before he kept up the search of the cave.

As he fell into a deep slumber next to the boulder, tucked into his sleeping roll, black smoke started issuing from a tiny crack in the side of the boulder. It pushed sideward as if it purposely sought out the sleeping figure. As tiny tendrils of the oily smoke reached for the man a white glow issued from the very crack the smoke was escaping through. The smoke was yanked forcefully back into the crack, undulating the entire way, clearly struggling to break free from the forces that pulled it back.

When the smoke was nearly completely swallowed up by the stone, the man rolled in his sleep, the tips of his fingers making contact with the boulder. His heart was weighed, and he was considered pure. The forces in the stone had no option but to let their powers shatter, and release the fuming smoke, still fighting for its last few inches of freedom. The smoke was free. It gushed forth from the crack, part liquid, part mist. It pooled around the sleeping man, determined to chain itself to him as it rebuilt its strength. This man would be its new vessel.

It had work to do, a world to break.


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