The night was cool and damp with the coming dew. They were running, not daring to look back toward a world they could hardly remember, and a recent past they could not soon forget. Only traveling at night, they remained on the game trails, sleeping during the day, eating small animals and edible plants to sustain them. They were wild animals by day ,and traveling ghouls by night. They ate little and spoke even less. Finding themselves in a large clearing one of the two travelers falls behind. “Stop, wait...”. his breath quick and shallow from pain and exhaustion. His body weakening he falls to one knee. “Whats wrong?” she asked running back to his side knowing full well what ailed him. They had been running for what seemed like days -- long, dark, unending days – and the pain in his side wasn't making the flight any easier. “Its nothing” he lied. “I'll be alright”. Picking himself up he takes two steps more and stumbles. “Here let me help you” she said taking his arm. Struggling to speak “I'm afraid I'm not much help to you now”. “Maybe not but I need the company” she said with a smile. Fighting conciseness the young man leans against his new friend as they continue their seemingly endless journey. “I don't think its supposed to hurt this much.” she leads her wounded protector to an old be-mossed tree. “Here lay down you need to rest.” Slowly ,painfully he lays down. Removing the blood and sweat-soaked bandages she inspects his wound. “So what do they call you?”
“They don't.” he responded weakly “My people usually just call me boy, or son." winching at a small prod she had giving him. "As they do for all the men and women not married or scared by ” his voice trembles becoming softer “death.” His eyes began to water at the thought of his town. Forcing the tears from his eyes, he looks back down the path they had taken, a dim orange glow was slowly growing on what he thinks is the horizon. “It will be day soon”. Twisting to see his new orifice, a pain courses through his head. “Lie still or the next time I'll use the butt of your ax.” The young girl commands with both her stern voice and a surprisingly strong left hook. His head, now dizzy, lays down on the soft forest floor. “How does it look?”
“Good” she lies, feigning cheerfulness “I think you're loosing less blood.” Reaching down to the hem of her dress, she rips a large section of the garment in strips revealing several large cuts that had already begun healing. “I'm glad my father always demanded I wear these ghastly things.” Moving over to her friend she props him up against the tree, his weak body offering little help, or resistance. Redressing the wound was time consuming , but it was easier and quicker this time. Her weak companion hardly had enough strength to sit up, let alone complain about what she was doing. She would have preferred, however, to fight with him; at least then she would know he was okay. Men, in her experience, aren't well unless they're complaining about something. This thought made her smile as she remembered her father and brother, now both far behind them, now both dead. Laying him back down, she gets up to look for some wood to make a fire. He isn't going to make it through the night, she thought.
It was a typical summers day in North Fork the wind, from the east, was filled with the fragrance of golden horns, and spirit vine. The townspeople were busy going about their daily lives, tending their flocks, mending their thatched roofs, building new homes for the recently married. The young children were running through the streets chasing one another. First the boys, chasing the girls their arms out stretched with some slimy creature from a nearby swamp. Then the older girls would come to the aid of their little sisters, a kiss to any boy that was too slow to get away.
The blacksmith was tending to a man who was attempting to haggle. The man was on his way to the coast, about a four-day journey from North Fork, to a large port city to start a business with his brother and he was promising he would send payment, in full ,with interest, if the blacksmith would mend the axle on his wagon. Traveling with the man was a strong looking boy of seventeen, his face like his fathers is kind , and like his father the boy was adorned with thinning black hair that did little to protect his head from the summer heat. The mans wife, who was planted on a large steed, looked about the town with a mix of curiosity and boredom. She was thin and graceful, her body covered from neck to ankle with a lovely dress. She had the grace and beauty of a delicate flower, wilting. The final member of this small caravan was a girl of fifteen that could be best described as miss-placed. Lacking in both poise and grace, the young girl reclined in the back of the wagon her body shaded from the heat by a make shift tent. She was reading a thick tome entitled “sub-people of the east” her thick auburn hair mounds gracelessly around her shoulders. She wore a dress like her mothers pale yellow, with clasps made of ivory, but where the woman was framed by the clothes the girl looked uncomfortable and fussed with the dresses many pleats every time she turned the page.
A young man and his father make their way back from the river with baskets of fish to sell or trade in the market place. The boy was tall for his age thin ,tan, his hair thick and heavy from water he had used to cool himself off. He and his father were joking about something as the crossed the blacksmiths shop paying little mind to the travelers. “Saladin!” yelled the blacksmith in his gruff soot burnt voice “Did you notice if the tavern had any rooms left to rent for these” he hesitates “fine folks?” Knowing the game Saladin , the young mans father , replies “Yes, there is always room this time of year.” Thinking quickly he adds “ I just remembered I meant to drop off a load of fresh fish to the inn keep” Looking down at his son and then back at the blacksmith. “Should I send my son? So the owner has time to prepare the rooms?” Sending the boy back toward the tavern the blacksmith and Saladin exchange waves and continue with their trade.
After a few more minutes of debate the blacksmith concedes to the business mans request, and even declines the ten percent the man was willing to pay. That night the travelers are treated to a warm bed and a fine meal for double the cost of a regular stay. The blacksmith sits in the orange glow of twilight allowing the newly mended axle to cool. He smiles and waves at a woman half his age as she stokes the fire thats warms the water in the wash room inside the inn. The woman is the blacksmiths daughter and the inn keepers wife.
Then from the west, the dark replaced the day, and the sweet fluidity of life was replaced by the tenacity of death. They came from the river ,their grayish skin glistened in the moonlight: teeth sharp, serrated ,too large for their mouths they shoaled into the town of North Fork. They were gigantic, shortest standing seven feet from heal to head. A faint bio-luminescence paints their bodies giving a slight beauty to their ravaged skin their speech as horrid as their appearance. They carried only what could be used to kill , break , and burn. Howling they surged through the town, wave after wave fire following in their wake. Houses burned, children burned, men fought and died, women young and old were raped and murdered or hauled off as the spoils of war. In the darkness a young man too frightened to move, hides, listening to the sounds of his parents being slaughtered---in the flames and the night.
The young man wakes from his dream, the new bandage holding firm to his mid section already damp from new blood. In the glow of the camp fire he could make out a shadowy figure hunched over his female companion, and the only other surviver from North Fork. He didn't know her name, or her family's name, but he new that he would be dead with out her. He yells at the shape, the unseen grips his neck, his voice stolen from him before the first words escapes his lips. The shape, this human form, reaches down and begin raising the sleeping girls tattered dress. “Stop!” the boy cries, but again his very breath is taken from him. Still weak from loss of blood, the young man hurls himself toward the form. Squarely hitting it in the side both the boy and the man shadow hit the ground hard, the boy is up first reaching for something, anything, to protect the young girl from this dark mass. His hands fall upon an ax that he had retrieved from the back of a fallen savage. The thing moved past the fire causing no smoke nor amber to shift as it moved through the suspended ash. “What do you want?” the young man demanded but he found no voice. An unnatural cold consumes the boy, as the shape begins to laugh. “I meant no harm” it rasped “I only wanted to see it--- to... touch it.” It continued, “Do you think, young fisher, that your ax will harm me? What will you do when I decide to continue my... little game” the young man stands resolute: “I will find a way to stop you beast, I am not afraid of you”. The form laughs again, its voice dark and loathing. "Not afraid?” goads the man shadow “Not afraid, boy who could not move when his father called his name to aid him.” The form begins slithering toward the boy ”Not afraid, boy who listened to his mother being raped over the body of her dead husband.” Nearing the boy the form begins to gain substance. “Not afraid?!” The man roars, spit hitting the boys face. “Boy that couldn't even face death, like a coward he runs from the only place he has ever known.” regaining his poise the shadow man continues “Will he ever stop running, I wonder." With that the man begins to move toward the young woman, still sound asleep on the forest floor, her thighs clearly visible in the orange glow of the fire. The boy, frozen in place, tears falling from his eyes, watches .
Images flood into his mind of his fathers blood soaked clothes and his mothers ravaged body still twitching from her gruesome death. He sees the blacksmith being struck down as he sends a still glowing sword through one of the savages. The images shift to a young girl a head shorter than himself, her hair waist length glows as red as the fires that now raged through the town. she stands firm and defiant as her brother and father defend her and her mother till both met a quick and bloody end. Her mother is dragged away by the man who killed her husband to become a slave. He sees the girl stand facing her attacker not flinching as he screams at her in his savage tongue, a flash of light and blood, and the savage screams pulling a small blade from his shoulder that the girl dared to put there. In raged the savage grabs her throwing her down ripping her dress to expose much of her shoulder and left arm. He begins to descend on her forcing her young legs apart. Then blood, bright red, illuminated by the blaze of houses behind them. A large ax had been embedded in the back of her attacker from an even larger savage who had strode out into the street from a burning house. This savage looked about him, unaware of what had happened or what he had done. The boy watches this savage continue on his path down the main street of the town stopping only pick up his fellow fallen horde on his way out of town. Looking back at the girl, their eyes lock, the large man still on top of her slight body. Two more horde, seeing their brothers body, run toward the boy screaming curses and demanding blood for the lost rapist. The boys legs begin to move as if by they're own will toward the fallen savage and the girl that lay beneath. Instincts and rage had replaced fear in the boy's heart as he pulls the ax from the dead man. It comes out heavy and fast causing the boy to loose his balance, he spins, and falls cleaving the unfortunately faster of the two savages right thigh. Screaming in pain the be-painted man falls as his chunkier friend reaches the fray. Dropping the axe the boy regains his footing and slams head long into the stomach of the new combatant. The two fall to the blood soaked street the boy on top grabs the mans head using it as a hammer to brake apart the large stones that make up the ancient road that runs the length of North Fork. A sharp pain course through the young mans side but nothing would deter him from his task. The body of the savage falls limp behind him but the boy continues. Tears flowing from his eyes he picks up a large rock, lifting it high above his head something hits him from the side knocking him off his mount and breaking the trance. It was the uni-ped he had crawled over to the boy during the scuffle. Using the same rock the boy picked up the man intends to put it to its purpose and smash the boys skull. The rock never fell though, at least not to its intended target. As the man readied the stone above his head there was a blur of light and the sound like a melon being wrenched apart. In the slow motion that follows the inexplicable the ax had found its way into the chest of the man, his body falling backward from the force of the strike. The rock thus suspended in space as if it too could not believe what had happened falls on the reverse blade of the ax forcing it deeper into the savages chest. An eerie sound escapes his body as his lungs empty for the last time. The girl, now standing, looks down at the boy imploring him to move. Picking up what little the savages had, they run. Running from the screams and the death. Running from the flames and the fear. Running from everything they knew and could have learned. They run because they can, because its all that is left.
A strange noise begins to grow from around the boy, still frozen in place. It sounded like a song, no, not a song ,a note, a tone. The cold that had come over the boy begins to dissipate and the boy regains control of his body noticing for the first time a small pendant that had been pinned to his thigh. The man must have placed the thing there when we were struggling the boy thought. It was this thing that had pierced his skin that was making the noise. The man returns to his task, this time unbuttoning the ivory that guarded the girls virgin chest. Driven to protect her the boy begins to move: forgetting the campfire, forgetting his wounds , forgetting everything but the man that was once shadow, and what had to be done.