Glimmer of A Fallen Star: Chapter 5- The Village

All around, the forest whispered in hushed sounds. The trees, their branches swaying, dancing when caressed by a cold breeze, let out crackling, rustling sounds, as if speaking to each other in their mysterious language.

But there were other notes, hidden beneath the usual symphony of sounds that the forest sang. Sounds that should not have been there, that did not belong to that place. Or any place, given the nature of those sounds.

A low humming, which occasionally turned into chilling, ear piercing shrieks coming from the shadows beneath the trees.

Ignoring those sounds as best as they could, Marduk and Hadan ran, pushing through the low undergrowth of the forest.

A thick mist had risen, dampening their clothes with cold moisture. Clouding Hadan’s view, perhaps, he thought, for the best.

Because, things were hiding in that mist. And he was sure, that feeling their presence was one hundred time better than having to see one of those things again.

The sight of it, it had instilled a feeling of fear and repulsion in the young boy’s mind, almost making it crack.

For that thing, that shambling, white shapeless body, was not from this world.

Marduk took the boy’s hand, forcing him on his feet.

<<Now, we will run. As fast as we can, without turning back. Look at me, Hadan. Do not turn back>>

And they ran. As fast as they could, stumbling, scraping their clothes and skin on the vegetation, that seemed to reach out its branches to grab them, hold them still for the things to come and get them.

<<Be my eyes>>

Marduk told Hadan, not because he needed him to see the path, but to give something for the boy to do, to give him a purpose, hoping that it might distract him, keep his thoughts occupied might stop them from wandering to what Hadan had just whitnessed.

The boy was still shaken, and he had not spoken a single word since Marduk rescued him.

In the distance, loud noises could still be hears. And the very earth beneath their feet, it shook from time to time.

This time, the Starfall was going on strong, the biggest event of that type that Marduk ever experienced.

Still, he wondered, how could something of this scale happen without him even catching a hint of it? Before, his sight always showed this kind of event, with days, sometimes month, of advance.

And yet, this time, it happened unexpectedly. Like the attack on the village, like the presence of those things in the forest.

Perhaps, there was something wrong with his gift, Marduk thought. That, or old age had finally caught up to him, and his head was beginning to give up, to rot as it should have long time ago.

Marduk shook his head, trying to push back those thoughts. Right now, he only needed to think about moving his legs, one step after the other, as quick as he could.

The only positive thing about their situation, it was that those things hunting them were terribly slow, and lazy.

Rather than hunt, they would ambush. Luring their prey, mimicking words that they might find familiar.

But, that did not mean that the things would not follow them. They were slow, lazy, but relentless. They would follow them, keeping a slow pace, out of sight, but they would still be there, in the distance, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

Nowhere inside the forest was safe, only outside, where daylight would burn their white and shriveled flesh, and the things soaring in the night sky would scare them away.

But, the forest was wide, and harsh to traverse.

At some point, Marduk found himself forced to carry Hadan in his arms, since the boy was beginning to fall behind.

He felt his heart beating, fast, too fast, and the boy was trembling, reeking of piss, tears and sweat. By no means, a boy his age should ever set sight on something so horrible. And the boy went through so much already, thought Marduk, holding his body tighter, feeling pity for Hadan.

He put more strenght into his legs, pushing forward through the mist that covered the path.

Exhausted, after running for who knows how much time, Marduk let himself collapse on the grassy ground.

They made it, they went through that accursed forest. The night sky on their head, was beginning to turn the color of dawn, as the Sun began to rise on the horizon.

Panting heavily, the old man closed his eyes, feeling his heartbeat slowly decelerate. Even for him, it was a heavy effort to run that distance, carrying Hadan’s weight.

The boy was sitting beside Marduk, cradling himself as he sighed.

Still shocked by what happened in there.

In the distance, inside of the mist, shapes were shambling, twisting their form and humming their songs, perhaps in anger for their prey’s successful escape.

<<Not today, you horrid things>>

Marduk muttered to himself, glad to have managed to escape that deadly trap. He could drive one of the creatures off, if cornered, and he did, when he found Hadan. But dealing with a number of them, it was something beyond his power.

That forest, it could easily have become their grave. Just a mistep, tripping over an exposed root. Or losing the way among the trees. Something like that, could have spelled their doom.

Instead, luck was on their side while running away.

After letting his body rest, and his rough breathing subside, become calm again, Marduk took Hadan’s hand, forcing him on his two feet.

They needed to go. Even the outskirts of the forest might become dangerous, with those things around. Who knows if a bold one was among their ranks, willing to face sunlight to quench their anger.

Surely, Marduk did not want to risk it.

And so, much to Hadan’s grunts of protest, they set on march again.

The view from their position, it might have been beautiful. But for the two, shaken as they were, it passed unnoticed, as they only paid attention to the path before them.

Finally, the village came into sight. It was a modest settlement, no more than a bunch of tents surrounding a wooden, shabby house.

Silence was heavy in that place, broken by Marduk’s voice.

<<Hey! Is anyone there! We bear no ill will>>

He sat on the dirt road that crossed the village, taking objects from his pouch. He set the vials and jars of potions and poultices in front of him, and drew the sign for “trade” in several languages, writing with his finger in the dirt.

<<We are here to trade! Medicine! Food and water in exchange for medicine!>>

His voice echoed, without an answer.

For a moment.

After some minutes, faces began to peek from the tents. Mostly, women, some shriveled by old face, their wrinkled, brown skin holding a dubious expression.

Some, were younger, old enough to be brides and bear children.

After a while, the first customers began to reach out, curious about the old man’s medicine.

They had a strange look in their eyes, and they moved in a sluggish way.

Their words, they sounded strange to Marduk. Hushed, mumbled, akin to words spoken by someone intoxicated by too much fermented fruit juice.

Perhaps, thought Marduk, he caught the village after some kind of celebration. It happened often in some tribes, that the whole village, comprising women and even children, would celebrate a successful hunt, or a marriage, by sharing intoxicating beverages, or even plants and mushrooms that held some inebriating properties. He too, sometimes, did partake in such activities. More than often, he would enjoy the compounds and substances of certain plants, able to dull the pain in his joints and his perception of reality.

Still, for them to be all in the same state, it was something that tingled his curiosity. He tried to ask, but the women answered vaguely, almost mechanically.

More than that, no one did look at him in the eyes, while their curiosity was directed toward Hadan.

Perhaps, the sight of a boy with an old man might be bizarre for them, or they might be seeing the sorry state that Hadan was in. After all, both Hadan and Marduk reeked of sweat and the scent of the forest. Poor Hadan had still his stained breeches on, so that was probably the reason for the villager’s curiosity.

Marduk asked some women for their kindness, if they had spare clothes to trade and a place where the boy could tidy himself up.

He offered even more of his potions in exchange for clothing. An old woman took the offer, scurrying off to her tent. She brought back some old clothing, perhaps some that did belong to her children.

The old lady guided Marduk and Hadan to a secluded part of the village, where they held some jars of water.

Much to Marduk’s surprise, they had a well, there, and some pieces of hard soap, the kind produced by boiling cinder and mixing it with animal fat.

It was a luxury item, even in the cities that Marduk did visit.

In short, it was something unexpected in a poor, remote village like this one. And it raised Marduk’s suspicion a bit.

Nonetheless, he took the soap and the water, and after undressing, he rinsed his body and washed himself.

Hadan did the same, tossing aside his soiled breeches and donning the new ones, when he was finally clean.

The whole visit to the village costed Marduk ten vials of healing potion, and five jars of herbal poultice.

Perhaps, he thought, he might be able to sell a bit more when the men of this village come back.

After all, he still had plenty of potions and other things of his craft.

The boy and Marduk consumed a light meal, mostly dried meat and hard bread, keeping themselves on the edge of the village.

Although the women accepted their trade, they did not welcome them in the village. As soon as the exchange was done, and after tolerating the two strangers using their water, they made it pretty clear.

With a harsh tone, the oldest among them pointed at the village’s outskirts.

<<We do not break our bread with strangers>>

The woman’s rudeness surprised Hadan a bit, but Marduk was used to it.

Even with the two of them being outside of the village, some of the women were still gazing on them.

<<Why did they chase us off?>>

<<Oh, so you talk again. Guess a full stomach does miracles, huh?>>

Marduk teased Hadan a bit, hoping that the boy would talk some more. Talking was good, especially after the shock that Hadan did suffer.

After the boy went silent again, Marduk sighed.

<<They do that, because they don’t trust strangers. And we are strangers to them, even if we do not bear ill will towards them. Think it this way. Their men are not here, and two suspicious persons show up. They do not know us. And, even if we’re only a boy and an old man, we could still be a danger to them. We could be scouts, sent by a larger group to see if their village is defended. If they let us in, we could give out a signal to someone, marking the village as undefended>>

Hadan looked in the distance, towards the group of ladies still keeping tabs on them.

<<I think they should be more concerned about the things in the forest, rather than worry about us>>

<<Did they scare you?>>

<<Of course they did. What…what were those things?>>

Hadan was still trembling, as the memory of the creatures brushed his thoughts.

<<Things that should not be here. They fell from afar, and now, they haunt, and hunt. This village it’s safe from them, since they’re mostly cowards who fear light and open spaces. The forest however, that’s another story. This place is fine, as long as they do not thread into the forest>>

But, Marduk thought, was it really fine? Was this place safe? A sensation of danger was tingling in his mind, his guts twisting as the feeling of impending danger could not leave his thoughts.

More than the forest, it was the villager’s behaviour that fueled his unrest.

Their behaviour was strange. Too strange. All the women, they spoke with the same cadence, the same slurred words.

Be it young or old, their eyes all had the same vague, almost drowsy stare.

Initially, Marduk thought it the aftermath of some celebration, or perhaps a religious ritual involving drugs, but now, he was not so sure about it.

If that was the case, each person would show different degrees of the same symptoms, with the youngest showing the least, and the oldest being more severely affected.

Instead, they all showed the same behavior, the same shambling way of walking. Even their hands shook with unrest, in a manner unbefitting for the younger women.

No, thought Marduk, something is really amiss in this place.

And the soap that was given to them, it was an item so out of place. During the brief time he spent inside the village, Marduk looked around, failing to find the necessary tools that might have produced that soap.

No sign of the brass recipients that would be needed to heat the mixture of cinder and water to boiling temperature. Of course, it could have been done in jars, but the only ones that Marduk found, they did have no signs of the process.

Being able to see those kind of traces, that was another of the perks of his gift.

And right now, it was properly working, unlike the time when it failed to see the Starfall.

Another thing that bugged Marduk was the absence of animals of any kind in the village. Some of the goods, that were offered to him during the trade, they were fresh. Like a pot of milk, still warm. But no trace of the animal where it came from. And the meat that he accepted, that was old, and salted, definitely coming from an animal that was hunted, not bred. It had that distinctive smell, that taste of lingering fear that all wild animals have in their meat when slain by a hunter’s weapon.

If he was alone, he might have gone to the women, and ask them some questions about it. Perhaps, there was some kind of illness breaking out in the village, although the women’s behavior was different from the symptoms of any kind of illness that Marduk knew about.

There could be some kind of poison in their water reserve, maybe some substance creeping in the water from underground. It happened sometimes when people used well water, that the water vein ran into some kind of nefarious underground deposits and poisoned the entire village.

But the water seemed fine to him, good even.

Or perhaps, and that thought was scaring Marduk, there was something else going on. The soap was surely from outside of the village. Maybe traded by some merchants. But, in this area, there were few places that had the knowledge to produce the substance.

And it was way too similar to that produced in that city.

What Marduk feared, was that the village had been visited by followers of the Starfallen King.

That thought, it terrified the old man. For several reasons, all of them good.

First, it would mean that the Starfallen King’s influence was spreading through the whole continent.

Although there is a whole sea between that kingdom and this place, they’re already here, as shown by what happened to Hadan’s people.

And perhaps, their march was even faster than what Marduk thoughts, and they already reached, if not conquered, large parts of this lands.

Or, it could just be a small group, sent to search something in this place. After all, there was a recent Starfall happening, and it might have been the reason for the Starfallen King’s men being here. The attack on Hadan’s village, it might have been a raid to secure resources, and sacrifices.

But then, why would this place be left standing, and not be just ground to ashes?

Too many things to think about. The Starfall, those things in the forest. This village, and what happened to Hadan’s own.

Marduk thought, hoped them to be all disjointed facts, only coincidences happening due to the random nature that governs this world.

But, that was only whisful thinking, and the old man knew it. More than that, he knew that his gift, his second sight, had failed him.

Twice. Once, for Hadan’s village. The next, for the Starfall, and the things in the forest. Perhaps, this place would mark the third time.

<<Let’s get out of here, as soon as we finish our meal. I do not feel safe in this place. If we continue to follow the cliff, we will reach another village, a sea-side one. Perhaps from there, we might even be able to take a boat, and cross the waters to reach the Isle>>

Marduk spoke while munching a round, reddish fruit. It left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth, light enough to be pleasurable instead of unpleasant.

Hadan simply nodded. He did not have anything, anyone anymore. The old man was the only person he knew, and of course, he would follow him wherever he went.

Noise came from the village, as a group of people was coming from the opposite direction from the place where Hadan and Marduk were.

The men from the village were coming back home.

No more than twelve strong, most of them being middle aged, only few youths in their hunting party.

<<That is no hunting party>>

Hadan whispered, catching a glimpse of what the men brought back.

Instead of prey, the men were struggling to carry a large, black objects.

To haul the thing’s immense weight, they bound it with sturdy ropes, and laid rounded wood pieces in front of the object. That way, it would roll on the wood, making it a bit easier for the twelve men to drag it around.

<<Marduk, look, it shines like your pendant>>

Hadan only thought later about what he told to Marduk, inviting a blind man to look at something.

But Marduk already knew what Hadan was talking about. Although, he basically did not hear the boy’s voice. What he heard, what he felt, was a high pitched sound, and the thing on his neck, vibrating as if having a life of his own.

He grasped the necklace with his hand, raising quickly to his feet.

The point of a spear pierced his back, severing skin, blood vessels, digging its way up to his kidney and piercing it.

Marduk fell to his knees, as Hadan screamed his lungs off. From the vegetation around them, some children emerged.

They had roughly Hadan’s age, their expression vague, almost drowsy. Both boys and girls, all naked, their bodies painted with red stripes.

Mardul cursed, convulsing in pain.

He was right, before.

His sight did fail him for a third time.

Glimmer of A Fallen Star: Chapter 4- The Forest (Part 2)

Hadan squinted his eyes, shielding them from the excessive light by holding his hand slightly above his brow. Outside of the forest’s shadow, daylight shone brightly.

Too brightly, for Hadan, now that his eyes had been accustomed to the dim light of the forest.

They were still in the forest, him and Marduk, still far away from the little village that should be the destination of their travel, at least for now.

Hadan was just scurrying around, while Marduk was resting his old bones, sitting on a moss covered rock.

The boy could still see the old man if he wanted to, and he could even hear his mutterings, a bad habit that the old man showed from time to time.

But Hadan was far more interested in what lied beyond the forest. The line of tall trees abruptly ended on the edge of a cliff, creating a strange contrast between the shadowy ambient under the treetops and the clearing beyond it, illuminated by a light so strong that it hurt Hadan’s eyes.

And beyond the small clearing, beyond the cliff where the clearing ended, lied the biggest body of water that Hadan had ever seen in his life.

He had been to the river, sometimes, when he and his friends felt brave enough to go there in their games, playing hunters and prey while using wooden sticks and pretending them to be lances and spears.

One time, his father brought him in one of his hunting trips, along with Wahsu, and they followed the river upstream until they found themselves in front of the lake, as his father had described the big “puddle”, chuckling as Hadan described with that term the huge amount of water he saw.

But now, what lied before Hadan’s eyes was even bigger than the “lake”, and far prettier than the lake had been. Reflecting the golden rays of sunlight on its almost flat surface, extending as far as the eyes could see, with a color that changed from a light cerulean to a deep shade of blue, far away from the place Hadan was.

Surprised as he was, Hadan didn’t realize that he had dropped the small wooden stick he held in his hand. He used the stick to fight away his boredom a bit, before he decided to explore the surroundings, before he was rewarded for his choice by finding a treasure of a view.

Excited, he scurried back to Marduk’s side. He tripped on an exposed root on his way back, bruising his knee. For an instant, the memory of the sound his leg made when it broke resurfaced in his mind. But, it was only an instant, and Hadan brushed it away as he did with the dirt and leaves that were clinging to his clothes.

<<Marduk! I saw water! Lots of it!>>

Shouting, the boy reached Marduk, pulling his sleeve to guide him towards the pretty sight. He stopped, almost immediately.

Turning towards the old man, Hadan blushed as he realized that he had overlooked something.

Marduk was blind, after all. It was still confusing to Hadan, since the old man proved many times that he could somehow “see” stuff, but Hadan was not sure if Marduk could see, or if there was something else going on. He had never mustered the courage to ask him, and he found it kind of rude to bluntly ask something like this to a man far older than him.

He explained what he saw to the old man, and, using this occasion, Hadan asked to Marduk about that.

The old man paused a bit before answering to Hadan, and the boy thought that Marduk’s silence was somehow due to the old man being offended by what he said.

Marduk caressed Hadan’s head, ruffling his hair a bit. The boy disliked when Marduk did so, and he did it on purpose, to mess him up a bit.

<<No, Hadan. I cannot see see. It’s…complicated, and I myself do not properly know how it works. Sometimes, I can see what happens faraway from where I am. Most of the times, I can see what I want to see. But, it does not happen with my eyes. It’s all in here>>

He said, tapping his left temple with a finger.

<<Now, for the second thing you asked…that is called a “Sea”. It’s water, lots of it. So much that you cannot even imagine how much it is. When we will reach the village, you’ll see it up close. Now, let’s go. We’ve spent already too much time inside this forest>>

The boy nodded with vigor, strolling off while Marduk followed him in his usual slow pace.

His mind was agitated enough, and he did not want Hadan to be concerned as well.

Since they entered the forest, a strange sensation took hold of Marduk’s mind. He felt uneasy under those trees, agitated. It was a long time ago, the last time he felt a similar sensation.

His suspicions only grew worse with every step they took inside the forest. It was quiet, too quiet for a place like this.

Usually, birds would chirp, hidden in the highest branches above, and small animals would occasionally cross their path. This one was not a dangerous forest, by all means. At least, that’s how Marduk remembered it.

He still thought it safe, when they entered the outskirts of the forest. There, birds would sing their songs, and they found animals, albeit few of them. The boy even managed to catch some as prey, and they ate them for lunch. Small things, they were, and the lack of larger animals did not make Marduk suspect that something was amiss in the forest.

But, as they reached deeper into the trees, they encountered less and less, until the silence grew strong, the absence of noise looming on them.

And Marduk, albeit a bit suspicious, still thought it safe, for a while.

Now, he was not so sure. The usual sounds of bird singing their songs was not there, and he did not catch a single noise, nor the slightest scent of any of the animals that should be there.

Instead, there was an unnatural silence in the air, only broken by Hadan’s voice and the sound of their own steps, crackling over the dead foliage that littered the ground.

And the smells of the forest, they were not right.

There was the usual scent of vegetation and musk, the scent of wilderness and humid shadows where leaves rotted over growing mushrooms.

But there was another scent mixed in there, faint, wrong. Like a misplaced note in a well written song, that smell was breaking the harmony of the place, leaving a bad sensation with its sole presence.

The smell of death, faint but heavy in its implications.

As they threaded further into the forest, Marduk’s uneasiness only grew stronger.

Hadan was walking in front of the old man, sending glances back to him from time to time. He did not want to leave Marduk behind, mainly because Hadan did not knew where to go, and he feared getting lost into the forest on his own.

He feared being left alone, since, after all that happened with his village, Marduk was the only person that cared about Hadan.

That though made him waver a bit, and he bit his lips to not let tear rise once again to wet his eyes.

He kept his tears to himself, only letting them go at night, when he was sure that the old man was sound asleep.

The wound in his heart ached still, less than it did before, but it was there, not quite healed yet.

There were moments that made the boy forget, for a time, and he was without concern again. Seeing the “sea” for the first time was one of those moments, and he would treasure it for the time being.

But, other moments were difficult for him, as memories of his now deceased family would assail him without prior notice. Sometimes, a simple gesture, or even some smells or noises, reminded him of the days spent at the village, of his friends and tribesmen.

And the most difficult moments were those when the realization that all of them were now gone, when the thought of him being alone, struck him.

Hadan knew he was letting his mind go there, in one of those moments. He could still stop it, and he did, thinking back about the sea, and what wonders it would hide inside.

He escaped from memories, diving into his fantasy. After all, he was still a child, and he had plenty of that.

The boy imagined himself, bathing in that cerulean water, and then swimming across the colors until he would reach the deepest shade of blue. What things could inhabit that place, how deep would those waters be under his feet?

Following those thoughts, he distracted himself, steering his mind away from dangerous and sorrowful remembrance.

Lost as he was in his thoughts, he almost hit his nose on a fallen tree, stopping his feet right before his face could have an encounter with the coarse bark.

He turned around, a bit flustered by his own clumsiness. He searched for the old man behind him, but, much to his surprise, Marduk was nowhere to be found.

Hadan’s heart skipped a beat. Only now that he was alone, he noticed how the forest around him was silent.

Not a trace of the usual noises that would liven the air. Not a single bird, not the clattering sounds of insects doing who knows what in the undergrowth of the forest.

Feeling his uneasiness rise, as fast as his own heart was beating, Hadan went back on his feet, not quite walking, not quite running.

He hoped to catch a glimpse of the old man’s silhouette among the trees, but with every turn he took, every bush or fallen branch he passed, his agitation only grew as he saw no trace of the old man.

The day was now growing even darker than before, and a thick mist was beginning to creep into the forest’s undergrowth.

The stench of rotten leaves and humid ground grew stronger with every step, and there was something else mixed in it, an unpleasant smell that Hadan could not identify. But he felt that it was wrong, and dangerous. A smell that should not be there.

He began to run, lifting pieces of dried leaves with every stride he took. He began calling the old man, shouting his name, as panic was gripping his throat in his cold fingers.

Lost inside a place he did not know, the boy ran.

He neglected to check the proper direction, as he was too scared to think straight. He passed the trees and the moss growing upon them, without even spending a speck of his time to glimpse at them.

Hadan was more concerned by the sudden darkening of the place, and the rising mist that was now thick in front of his eyes.

The trees became specters, their branches devilish hands ready to claw his skin with gaunt and skeletal fingers.

And the eerie silence only made things worse.

Conceited as he was, fleeing from the confused shapes inside the mist, Hadan misplaced his feet, and tripped onto something, landing on the dead foliage that littered the ground.

He muttered an imprecation, rising to his feet once again. He did not even bother to shake off the leaves and dirt on his clothes, more concerned with looking at whatever made him trip.

He recoiled in fear, seeing the white thing protrude from the ground, half buried in it.

It was a bone, half gnawed by something.

The sight only worsened Hadan’s fears. In his mind, that bone was human, probably from another careless child that wandered in this forest, getting lost and then found by something hungry. And it was coming for him too, no doubt about that.

As he ran these thoughts, Hadan did not even realize he began to tremble, shaking as his face paled.

Suddenly, a voice called his name.

The boy looked around, unsure if his mind was playing him some kind of nasty trick. Then the voice called again, this time stronger, nearer.

He sighed, deeply, as he recognized the old man’s voice calling him.

Hadan rose up on his feet, his knees still weak from the sudden scare he had.

Moving towards the direction from when the voice seemed to come, he did not run this time.

Advancing in the mist, he heard the voice again. One, two , three times the voice called his name, each time stronger than the previous one.

The boy rejoiced in his heart, as he knew he was getting closer to it.

Following the voice inside the mist, he found himself into a clearing inside the forest. The trees around formed a ring, and a patch of the sky could be easily seen above his head.

Night had fallen, and the sky, black in his color, was traced by the silver lights of falling stars. Many of them fell, as much as Hadan never saw, as much as he never thought possible.

Like they all together decided to leave the blackness of the night sky, and fall to the earth below.

Far in the distance, a loud noise boomed, and the ground shook with vigor. It happened some more times, every time after one of the stars traced its way down to the earth, in the distance.

A flash of light, the sound and then the earth itself trembled.

It should have been a beautiful sight, but Hadan could only feel a strange, mixed feeling of fear and uneasiness from the spectacle before his eyes.

Something like this should never happen, the boy thought. The stars should stay in the sky, not fall down here.

Immersed as he was in his thoughts, his eyes pointed to the night sky, Hadan failed to notice the shape that was standing in the clearing.

It was only when the voice called his name again, that Hadan noticed.

The clearing itself was enveloped in mist, bathed into moonlight and a heavy silence. Illuminated by the Two Moons above, someone was standing right in the middle of the clearing. His clothes in tatters, and he did not move. There was no wind rustling the leaves, but the tattered clothes of the one standing in the clearing were fluttering, like if they were being swayed by a wind that was not there.

Hadan took a step closer, but he wanted to take one hundred in the opposite direction.

He thought that the one calling him was the old man.

Now, he was not so sure. No, he thought, that man is definitely not Marduk.

Another thought brushed his mind, that whatever was standing there, was not even a man.

Again, the voice called Hadan.

This time, he was close enough to hear it.

It was a wet sound, gargling, muddy and wrong. It gave chills to Hadan, repulsing him and terrifying him at the same time.

Definitely, that thing was not human.

It moved, turning towards Hadan. Slowly, its head began to bend until it reached an unnatural angle.

Before the boy’s eyes, the thing revealed itself.

How could he not see it clearly from the start, Hadan thought. How could he even mistake something like that for a human being?

The color of it, a repulsing shade of white, the same of the liquid that sometimes oozes from rotten wounds.

And the shape of that thing, it was so wrong to look at. Hadan already had encountered some dangerous and feral animals, he already felt the terror that comes from being so near to a predator, an animal so far stronger and fiercer than you, that the only reaction to it is cower in fear.

However, it was not the same kind of fear that was taking hold of him now. This fear, was stronger.

Because no matter how scary, or dangerous, the animal was, it was still an animal, something from this world, something that is defined, real.

This thing, it was not defined, no more than a shambling, shifting mass of body parts bent to unnatural angles, shapes that Hadan could only recognize as absurd.

It had the vague outline of an insect, but its body looked soft, like that of a slug, having even the same glint of it.

It swelled, pulsed, as if the thing was breathing. Six, or eight legs were sustaining its body, joint-less, smooth, like worms sprouting out of the thing’s body.

An upright torso sprouted from the thing’s body, lined with a number of smaller, wriggling appendages similar to those sustaining the thing, but different in a way that Hadan could not understand.

It had no eyes, only strange, bulbous growths that pulsed with a dancing, rhythmic light.

<<Haaaadaaan>>

The sound gurgled again, coming from the thing itself. Its body trembled, rippled, and the upright torso split at the center, revealing a gaping mouth dripping with saliva, its inside red and lined with squirming, needle-like teeth.

Hadan screamed his lungs off.

In response, the thing began to move towards him, gurgling the boy’s name with every slow step it took.

Terrified, Hadan was trembling, unable to move, paralyzed as the strongest fear he ever felt held its grip on him.

It was coming closer, step by step, taking its time, almost if it was enjoying the boy’s fearful screams, reveling in his terror.

Hadan screamed, again and again, until his voice broke, until his lung hurt.

Until the thing reached him, and gaped its mouth.

A foul smell of rot engulfed Hadan, and he felt a warm sensation spread on his groin and legs.

It was the end, found inside the jaws of whatever that thing was.

<<Hadan!>>

A familiar voice echoed in the clearing, shouting words that Hadan could not understand.

A flash of light followed, and an horrible sound, a piercing shriek full of pain and hatred.

And then, the world fell silent again.

<<Hadan!>>

The voice was now there, and Hadan opened his eyes again. This time, it was really Marduk that was calling his name, and Hadan jumped to his neck, holding tight as he cried all his tears.

The old man embraced him back, before prying the boy away to check if he was hurt somehow.

Hadan was shocked, without any doubt, and he was trembling from fear.

Well, Marduk thought, of course the boy was trembling. Something like that, could make even the toughest hunters piss their pants and cry like little babies.

The old man was glad that Hadan was not injured, but that thing’s presence here could only mean more trouble on their road.

Because, if there was one, there would be more.

The old man lifted his face, staring at the night sky with his blind eyes.

<<What is going on?>>

He asked to the sky, without expecting an answer.

Glimmer of A Fallen Star: Chapter 3- The Forest (part 1)

Marduk woke up, covered in sweat as fragments of a nightmare still haunted his mind. In the past nights, he often saw those eyes again, in his dreams.

He tried to calm the unrest beating in his chest, to no avail.

He felt terrified, a sensation that he had not experienced since long time ago.

<<This must not be a coincidence>> he muttered to himself, trying to chase away the bad sensation that was slowly taking hold of his thoughts, creeping in, nightmare after nightmare.

He grabbed the pendant that hanged from his neck, caressing its lines with his old, shriveled fingers.

That gesture had some calming effect on his mind, and he often found himself fidgeting with the pendant, searching its smooth surface whenever he felt unrest, or, in this case, fear.

And the nightmares he had were always tied to the moment he got that object.

He closed his eyes in remembrance, thinking about the short time after his tribe was taken.

For some time, he remained with them. Not by his choice, but he could not refuse the will of the thing that he called from the stars.

When it awakened, taking possession of the young warrior’s body, opening blackened eyes to see this world for the first time, the thing cast a spell on Marduk.

A gift, that’s how it called what was done to Marduk. Although, it was more of a curse.

And Marduk could not resist it, bound by a will so different from his own, alien and powerful in ways that a mere human could not understand.

He was forced to stay, to see what had become of his fellow tribesmen. And it was wonderful, to see what the thing from the stars accomplished.

In a single year, the starving tribe that Marduk knew was no more. They moved away from the barren lands of their exile, migrating north towards their former sacred lands. And they reclaimed it,

less than two hundred men against a tribe of two thousands and three hundred fifty people. Those that exiled them in the first place.

Marduk saw, as the men of his tribe battled, and conquered. Trampling down their former brethren, showing a strength out of this world.

Even Marduk took place in the battle.

Even with his old, shriveled body, he could easily overpower the strongest enemy warriors.

He remembered how some of them dragged him away from the temple, before the exile, when they found out his crime, his conspiracy.

Marduk’s attempt to take power for himself, to dethrone the elders failed even before he could set it in motion.

And the same warriors that chased him out of the temple, the same that rounded up his men and banished from the sacred lands, were now falling like flies under his blows, unable to oppose the unnatural strength that flowed in his body.

He felt powerful, like he never had, his old, shriveled body was free of any pain, he could move like when he did when he himself was a warrior of the tribe.

In that night, he had his revenge against those that cast him down. And, much to his later sorrow, he felt good about it.

Led by the thing he called from the stars, the exiles conquered the sacred land.

And that was only the first of the miracles Marduk witnessed.

In a short amount of years, a splendid kingdom was born.

The Starfallen King, as the thing from the stars chose to be called, guided his people to a age of scientific wonders.

The former tribesmen, who wore crude leather and brandished weapons of wood and bone, were gifted the secrets of fire and stone.

They made tools and weapons from it, melting rare rocks in grand ovens, until the elements combined and formed something that had the hardness of stone, but could be molded like clay.

And it shone like stars, like the sun itself.

The Starfallen called it “metal”, and gifted his people with the knowledge and method to produce it.

Various form of this “metal” could be obtained, mixing different kind of rocks, to obtain various kinds of metal for different purposes.

The king taught how to grow crops and cultivate the land, and how to capture and tame animals instead of hunting.

And that was the turning point for Marduk, the point where marvel became suspect first, horror later.

For the King taught his people not only to enslave beasts, but men alike.

From time to time, the tribe’s warriors left their city, roaming the land not to hunt beasts, but to hunt men.

In chains, they brought them back to the city, forcing them to work in their place.

Slaves, they became.

Exploiting their work, the tribe grew even more.

Their tents and houses made of wood, became houses of stone.

Paved roads were set, and monuments were built with the lives and sweat of thousands slaves.

Marduk, who greatly valued freedom, abhorred the slavery. But he noticed something even darker than that.

Most of the people caught during the raids, were thrown into slavery. But some, mainly children and women, were reserved a different fate.

Dragged on top of the altars that slaves built, they were laid down on stones during the nights were the two moons overlapped, forming a dark ring in the darkest nights.

And thy were slain on the altars, their hearts offered to the Starfallen.

With each sacrifice, the king’s power grew, and Marduk felt that growth.

With each life offered, new strength flowed inside the old man’s body, the same strength that came from the Starfallen.

Marduk grew restless, his mind torn by what he witnessed. He always held the old customs of his tribe, and their God would never demand the sacrifice of human lives. And yet, the same God that spoke to him, the same that he called into this world and became king of men, was reveling in sacrifice, demanding more and more as time went by.

The steps of the altars became painted in deep crimson, and the number of sacrifices increased even more.

Until the city itself took the smell of rotting, burning flesh.

Until Marduk could not recognize his fellow tribesmen as human anymore.

Not only those that were brought back by the Starfallen, but the others, normal people, woman and children, old and young alike.

They revered their Starfallen king, they cheered when the sacrifice’s heart was held high towards the night sky by the priests, only to be burned in offering to the God king.

At that point, Marduk decided to end the horror he brought. He plotted to take the king’s life, if something like that was even possible.

He still had the knife, made with the same matter as the Idol back then.

He waited for the perfect moment, for when the king would send word for him, inviting him to his palace made of that strange metal they called “gold”.

Often, the God king would summon him, taking pleasure in talking to the old man. Marduk always felt repulsed by that thing with the form of a man.

In all the year that passed, the body of the Starfallen remained the same, a young boy in his prime age.

And whenever Marduk saw him, those eyes, black like night itself, made his body shiver in terror.

He often saw that appearance, the light brown skin slightly covered by rich vests, the golden crown and mask that the king wore in public set aside on his throne.

And the pendant, always dangling from the God king’s neck, shining black piece of the Sky itself.

Marduk believed the pendant to be some kind of amulet, a source of power for the king.

It was something the king obtained recently, but since then, he never parted from it.

As Marduk recalled, one night, the same kind of night when stars fell down from the sky, as they did when Marduk held the rite to call the God into this world.

The Starfallen king left the palace, taking few men with him.

One of them was Marduk himself.

They rode towards a distant land, until the king ordered his men to stop.

He proceeded alone, into a barren wasteland, following a star that fell.

The following days, tremor shook the land, and the sky went black until day and night were no more, both painted in the same absence of light.

When the king came back, his body was injured, his precious clothes tattered.

And he had that pendant on his neck, the symbol of victory over his mortal foe.

Because, Marduk knew, what took place in the barren wasteland was a battle between being not of this world.

That moment, he learned two things.

There were more beings like the Starfallen god, perhaps even more powerful than the king himself.

Marduk shuddered after seeing the aftermath of the battle, the wasteland turned into a desert, land and rock became sand, as black as night.

The battle shaped the land, turning mountains into black dust. Some was scattered by the wind, coming from the outskirts of the place, those not touched by the brunt of the battle.

The center of the land was twisted into something out of any logic. Black stone, that shone like glass, twisted into forms that defied geometry.

And the air itself became poison. That place became forbidden, a lifeless desert that became known as the Black Sands, avoided and feared even by the Starfallen king’s own people.

That time, Marduk learned of the king’s power, and that were other things akin to him. But, at the same time, he learned that the king could be wounded, perhaps even killed.

When he was summoned for the last time, Marduk attempted at the king’s life.

He came close to him, to it, and plunged the knife into his neck.

Marduk used his old knife, made out of the same strange matter that composed the Idol he revered.

He figured out, that if something could take the life of the king, it must have been something not from this world. And he was right, at least he thought.

It was unexpectedly easy. He looked at the king’s corpse, his blackened eyes gazing towards the ceiling, still as lifeless as before.

In a moment of spite, Marduk snatched the pendant from the king’s body, and ran as fast as he could.

He was still inside the palace, when he heard the laughter, the voice resounding in his head. He looked back, from a moment.

And he saw it, creeping out of the young corpse, the Starfallen in its true form. If it even had a proper form.

A black mass, so dark that it seemed like it was negating light itself, shambling, twisting tentacles.

Marduk had the impression of seeing a gaping mouth, lines of sharp teeth twisted into what could only be a malicious smile.

And the eyes of that thing, gazing Marduk with a hatred older than the world, fierce, ancient and powerful. He saw those black eyes, the stars swirling in them.

Feeling his mind shattering, Marduk cried his lungs out, running as fast as he could from the thing.

He fell, scraping his hands and knees, he ran and fell again.

He ran for how much he could not even remember, he ran until half the world was between him and that thing, until minutes or centuries went by and he felt safe again.

He ran, his mind clouded in madness, his eyes seeing the unseen, the things between worlds that must never be revealed to human eyes.

Because, from the moment he set his eyes on the true form of the Starfallen God, the veil of reality was shattered for him.

Within every shadow, strange shapes were shifting, stalking him relentlessly.

Nights were even worse, and he could not even bear to gaze up to the stars anymore, knowing the horrors that fluttered between them.

Until he could not take it anymore, until he robbed himself of his eyes, to stop seeing those things.

But he was changed forever, first by the God’s gift, then by his reveal.

Even blind, Marduk could see.

It was different than before.

He could not choose what to see, at the beginning.

He often found himself assaulted by some vision of distant lands, or he could see what happened below his feet, between the minuscule grain of sands, see the creatures that dwelt and lived in that world of diminutive size.

Sometimes, visions of a strange past took hold of his mind, and he spied strange creatures running away from monstrous predators, their scaly hides and fanged mouth feeling as real as the ground beneath his feet.

He saw other races, so different from humans and yet capable of the same intellect, the same cruelty. He saw wars, both past and future.

He saw strange birds letting something fall on what looked like a city, and a fire so intense that it burned everything to ashes, rising up in the sky and taking the bizarre form of a blazing mushroom.

He saw the void of space, and what lies beneath.

With time, he learned to control the visions, to direct them towards what he wanted to see.

Sometimes, he even pondered to take a look at him, but he always desisted that thought. After all, Marduk felt safe, having fled half the world in order to not see that thing again, and he knew that seeking it would only break his safety.

He thought himself to be safe, but the recent events proved him wrong.

The attack on the village, was without any doubt perpetrated by the Starfallen King’s warriors.

“Men dressed in light”, that’s how Hadan called the attackers. What the boy saw, were people wearing metal armor.

And that meant, the Starfallen was getting close to him.

Could his forces have already enslaved half the world?

Marduk tortured himself with that question, often spending sleepless nights over it, sometimes, his worries seeped into his dreams, painting in them the color of nightmares.

More and more, as they left the ravine, the nightmares took hold of Marduk’s mind.

First, they were confused, a jumbled mess of memories and scenes.

Then, they became more clear. They were not memories, they were messages.

Threats. More and more, he saw the Starfallen, both in his human shell and in his true appearance.

The Starfallen taunted Marduk, threatened him, like he did when Marduk fled the city. For a long time, the harassing ceased, but now, it started again.

That could not be a coincidence, thought Marduk.

For the dreams to start again, right after the Starfallen’s men showed up near him.

It could not be a coincidence, and that terrified Marduk.

He grasped the pendant tighter, and he let out a deep sigh.

<<A bad dream?>>

Hadan’s tired voice shook Marduk out of his thoughts.

The night was about to end, sunlight began to spread towards the horizon.

Probably, thought Marduk, he woke up the boy by making some noise, perhaps he even started to mutter to himself, absorbed in thoughts like he was.

<<Yeah. It happens at my age>>

Marduk stood up, giving a faint and tired smile to Hadan.

Since they were both awake, there was no point in lying there.

He started to fix some breakfast, as the boy went out to relieve himself.

Soon, they would resume their march toward the forest, and the sea beyond it.

After taking care of their meal, the two extinguished the remains of their campfire and set out on the road again.

The forest was now visible, tall trees that seemed so little from distance now showed all their gigantic size, their tops shrouded in a thin veil of mist.

Hadan looked at them in marvel, until his neck hurt from looking up too much.

He never saw trees like those, tall, with trunks so large that it would take ten or twenty people to join their hands together and embrace a single one of them.

The old bark from some of them was falling off, and Hadan could see the new bark growing in those scars.

Marduk walked closer to one of the trees, and he made an incision in one of the scars, storing the thick, white sap that flowed from it inside a small bottle.

<<This sap has healing properties, especially good when treating burns and infection. The bark itself, can become a remedy for pain and fever, if you dry it and grind it into a fine powder. Care to tell me what tree is this one?>>

Marduk asked the boy. Sharing his lessons to Hadan made him relax a bit, taking his mind away from his woes and worries, focused as he was in teaching something.

That’s something he always liked to do, and, sometimes, he wondered how his life would have gone, if he stuck to being a teacher instead of following his twisted aspirations of power.

<<Salabat. Although I pictured them to a bit…different. Smaller>>

Hadan’s answer made Marduk smile.

The boy identified a tree he never saw before, just by remembering the properties of sap and bark.

He had a good memory, for sure.

And for someone who deals with plants and potions, that’s one of the most important qualities.

The ability to memorize different plants, recall their effects and recognize them from their parts.

Of course, the boy’s ability was still lacking, but he had time to grow, and Marduk had the will and patience to teach.

More than that, teaching helped against boredom.

As the two of them walked into the forest, Marduk showed Hadan several types of herbs and mushrooms, useful for concoctions and potions.

He questioned the boy, to probe his understanding.

The forest was wide, shadowed by the tall trees.

Although the sun shone brightly that day, the air inside the forest was damp and cold, and Hadan shivered in the shadow of the trees.

His hands were dirty with soil and sap, as he was made to collect roots from the undergrowth of the forest.

He hummed a song while he did so, but it choked in his mouth as the violent memory of his father, who thought him that song, blazed in his memory.

Since he survived what happened to his village, he often found himself prey to those moments, memories of the ones he lost.

It made him physically hurt, cutting his breath and making his heart pound as if it attempted to burst out of his chest, to leave behind those painful memories.

As before, he tried to push back the tears, feeling like his throat had been tied into a tight knot.

He diverted his thoughts on Marduk’s lessons, repeating the ingredients and properties of plants he had found in this forest.

It wasn’t much, but it helped Hadan to distract a bit from his pain.

He immersed himself into the task that the old man had given him. Soon, they would reach a village , beyond the forest.

There, if they wanted to enter the village, they would need some goods to trade.

Since Marduk’s craft was something rare, he only needed to gather and prepare some ingredients, and the village would gladly admit entrance to a healer and his potions.

And so, the boy was sent to gather the roots and herbs around, taking them back to the old man.

When he collected enough, Hadan sat beside Marduk, looking as the old man processed the ingredients with his hands.

He ground roots and bark together, mixing water and sap to the poultice.

The two of them were in a small clearing, where Marduk had set a small, controlled campfire.

There, he was heating water on the fireplace, in a small clay pot suspended on the flames with wooden sticks.

A bit ineffective and crude, as the old man lamented, but it would suffice for their purpose.

Hadan looked intensely as the old man mixed precise quantities of sap and poultice into the boiling water, and waited as Marduk stirred the liquid.

The steam coming from the pot had a bitter, grassy smell.

After a while, most of the water had evaporated, leaving a thick, red colored soup inside the pot.

<<Now, we need something to make it sweet to the taste. Come with me, boy>>

Hadan followed the old blind man into the forest. He was no more bothered by the fact that a blind man was behaving like he could see, even better than how Hadan did.

Now, without a doubt in his heart, Hadan knew that the old man had something supernatural in him, some kind of power outside of his understanding, that allowed his blind eyes to see the world in mysterious ways.

And Hadan did not care about it, not the slightest.

Well, he thought, to be fair he was curious about it, but he never directly asked Marduk about it, out of respect for the old man.

Hadan himself was slightly amused by how his consideration for Marduk changed so quickly and so many times since he first met the man.

At first, he was grateful to him, then he was scared bloodless when he heard his name. Now, after he knew him better, Hadan felt a profound respect towards the old man.

The things he knew, and those that he shared to Hadan, were precious to the boy.

They sated his curiosity, not like those old stories that the elders of tribes told, or the vague answers they gave him when he raised his hand during lessons, and he asked his questions.

Hadan remembered those times, with a smirk on his face.

First, he never liked the elders.

The tent where they held lessons to the children of the tribe smelled of old sweat and mold.

Their stares were always sour and angry at the children, every time they surprised them sharing a laughter.

Even worse when a child told something that went against their teaching, or made some question that they did not like.

Hadan recalled the time when he asked about the nature of stars.

<<They are the souls of our ancestors, taken by the embrace of our Mother, to forever be held under the loving gaze of her Eyes>>

That answer disappointed Hadan, deeply.

When he asked Marduk the same thing, the answer he got was different, entirely so.

The old man spoke of incredible distances, of the dark void between worlds.

He spoke about worlds, not just one, different, infinite in number.

And the stars in his words were not the burning souls of long dead warriors, they were burning, yes, but gigantic masses of something he called “gas”.

Even the Father, or as Marduk called it, the “Sun” was but one of them, another star, another ever-burning eternal mass of energy.

Another boy would have laughed at that answer, thinking those words the product of a senile mind.

An adult of his tribe would have thought them blasphemy, towards the Father and the ancestors that gazed from the sky.

But to Hadan, those words were wonders, vastly more interesting than the old tales of ancestors and Gods that lived in the immutable sky.

<<Here will do. Now, do as I say, and be very, very careful>>

Marduk’s voice called Hadan back from his thoughts. He led the boy towards a fallen tree, and from the rotting trunk, covered by moss and large, reddish mushrooms, there was a buzzing sound coming.

As Hadan came closer, he saw the origin of that sound.

Big as his index finger, insects were swarming around a ball-shaped brown “thing”.

The insects, buzzing around, gave him a bad feeling.

<<Now, those are Ohla. Watch out, do not step closer to their nest. You will enrage them, and they will swarm on you, stinging everything they can see. And they see a lot. Their poison does not kill, but it hurts like hell>>

Marduk made a wry smile to Hadan, seeing as the boy recoiled a bit in fear.

<<Why did we come here?>>

Hadan asked, his voice slightly trembling.

<<To collect something from their nest, of course>>

Marduk’s answer sent a shiver down Hadan’s spine.

The old man took out a rag and some dry branches, and he dropped some kind of liquid on the rag, from a small clay bottle he took out of his pouch.

A strange smell diffused in the air, making Hadan’s nose itch.

<<Now, this liquid here is flammable. It means, that it takes fire very quickly. When it burns, the liquid lets out a thick smoke. Harmless to us, toxic to them>>

Said Marduk, pointing towards the Ohla nest.

He wrapped the cloth on the wooden stick, handing it to Hadan along with two fire-stones.

<<Well, time to start>>

The boy sighed, and he crouched down, laying the stick on the ground as he smashed the fire-stones one onto the other, letting out sparks as the two stones collided.

The sparks flew over the cloth, and it burst into flame.

Hadan fell backwards, surprised by the intense heat coming from the cloth.

Marduk let out a hearty laughter, and shook his head.

<<You need to be cautious with that, or you’ll burn yourself along with the cloth>>

Hadan dropped his shoulder, feeling a bit offended by the old man’s mocking tone.

Still, he took the torch in his hands, taking care of keeping the burning part away from his face.

<<Now?>>

He asked, holding the flaming torch.

From its end, a thick black smoke was released, making the young boy cough and squint his eyes.

<<Now you push that under the nest, and wait>>

Feeling a bit insecure, Hadan followed Marduk’s instructions.

He went near the nest, taking slow steps in order to not upset the swarming insects.

He placed the torch beneath the nest, almost tossing it when one of the creatures landed on his arm.

He swatted it away, letting out a small squirm of disgust.

Having completed his task, he went back towards Marduk. And they waited for the smoke to take effect.

After some minutes, the two of them went back towards the nest.

The buzzing noise was gone, and as they came closer, they saw the insects laying down on the ground and inside the hollow trunk.

Overturned, with their ten legs squirming and jerking in the air.

Their bodies had a strange, shining black-reddish color.

Wings, twice as long as their bodies, sprouted from the back of those creatures, and they had long, elongated eyes that looked like stripes, yellow in color.

Their hind part looked like a big, soft sack, that ended in a curve stinger almost as long as the body itself.

Hadan imagined how it would feel to be stung by one of those things, and he was sure that it would have been unpleasant.

As Hadan fearfully looked the insects, Marduk collected their nest, shaking off the few insects still clinging to it.

With a smile, he showed the nest to Hadan.

It was round, made with a strange, wax-like substance that had a deep brown color.

As Hadan took it in his own hands, he was surprised to feel how light it was. From it, a sweet, fruity scent enveloped Hadan’s nose, making his mouth water.

<<If you crack this open, you will find a thick yellow syrup. It’s called “honey”, something these little things here produce. Here, you break the nest like this and take out these yellow bits. Have a taste>>

Marduk took back the hive from Hadan’s hands.

Carefully, he broke the nest, taking something from inside of it. Some kind of stick, or spike, oozing a thick, yellow liquid.

As Marduk gave Hadan the yellow “thing”, the sweet scent grew stronger.

Hadan took a small bite from it, and a sweet sensations spread in his mouth.

It was the most delicious thing he ever tasted, even more than the sweet fruits his father sometimes brought back from his hunts.

He gulped down the entire thing, chewing it down and letting the savoriness spread on his tongue.

He wanted more, but Marduk denied it.

After all, the old man said, they needed the honey to finish the medicine he was preparing.

The two of them headed back to the fireplace.

There, Marduk broke the rest of the hive, and threw the yellow bits inside the pot.

Again, he added a bit of water and some more herbs, stirring the mixture over the fire.

After a while, the medicine was ready. It became a brown syrup, giving off an intense sweet smell.

<<This here, it cures common cold, fever and sore throat. It’s easy to make, and it sells well. The only difficult thing about this recipe is procuring honey, but you saw where it is possible to find some. Now, do you remember the other ingredients and how to prepare them?>>

Hadan nodded, but Marduk made him repeat the whole process again, stopping the boy as he repeated the step, making him random questions about each ingredient’s properties, where to find them and how to prepare them.

When Hadan finished, Marduk was pleased by his words. He patted the boy’s head, and he gave him the last bit of honey from the hive.

Then, he collected the medicine from the pot, storing it inside some of the small, sleek bottles made of clay that he always brought with him.

Having collected all the medicine he could, he gave the big pot to Hadan, sending him off to clean the pot and collect more water from the nearby stream.

They had chosen that place for their camp, since it was clear from vegetation, perfect for lighting a fire without risking to burn down the entire forest, and because a small stream of crystal clear water was flowing nearby.

Hadan reached the stream, and he immersed the pot in it. He shivered when his hands touched the cold waters, but he endured the cold.

The boy cleaned the pot as best as he could, then he filled the waterskins that Marduk gave him. He headed back, after he drank his share of the cold water and collected a pretty stone from the stream.

As Hadan returned, Marduk took the pot and used it again. Inside of it, he put the waxy hive. Hadan looked at him with a raised brow, baffled by what the old man did.

<<I’m not cooking it, Hadan. Here, look>>

He flicked his finger, signaling Hadan to come closer. As the boy looked inside the pot, he let out a sound of surprise.

The hive was melting down from the heat, becoming a clear, semi-transparent liquid.

<<You can use this to seal things. It’s waterproof, that means water cannot get past it. So, you can seal bottles and pots containing liquid, and even wounds if you boil the wax enough and mix it with some disinfecting herbs>>

Hadan knew what wax was, he had seen it in his village. What he did not know, was that wax could be melted, and that it came from those hives.

Marduk explained him that the wax his tribe used was different from this one, coming from mixed oils and plants instead of insects like this one.

<<Sometimes I will teach you how to make it, perhaps. Not today, lessons are over for now. We need to set on march again, boy>>

Nodding to Marduk’s words, the boy collected his belongings. Marduk did the same. They quenched the fire, taking care of dousing it with enough water, in order to not leave some embers still lit.

They left the place behind, heading in the direction that, according to Marduk, would lead to a village beyond the forest.

As Marduk taught him, Hadan looked at the giant trees, looking for the brown and gray moss that grew on their trunks, near the roots.

The brown and gray moss where the same kind of moss, only the gray one grew in the part of the trees that faced north, the brown one on the south part.

It confused Hadan first, as he still had no grasp of cardinal points and general directions. He always oriented himself as the tribe hunters taught him to do, judging from the sun’s position during the day and using the stars at night.

But Marduk taught him different methods, to use in different situations.

Here, in the forest, the sun could not be seen, since the trees covered blocked the view.

And so, he needed to rely on this trick, seeing where the moss grew on the trees and judging his position and direction from them.

It was difficult, at first, but Hadan got the hang of it after a while.

Together with the old man, they headed in the direction that Marduk called “east”, the same where the Sun would rise.

Glimmer of a Fallen Star: Chapter 2- The Boy and the Old Man

Hadan started trembling in his bed, his eyes locked onto the old man’s smiling face.

He could not believe what he just heard.

In an instant, he remembered all those stories bound to the name that the old man just pronounced.

Marduk.

<>

Marduk tried to make the scariest face he could.

He imagined the terrified look on the boy’s face, as he heard him squirm in fear.

The old man broke into laughter, a dry sound that he himself had not heard in a few years.

<<Relax, I am just joking. Well, my name is Marduk, but I have not been cursed by some god lately>>

The boy let out a big sigh of relief. Marduk shook his head, getting up from his seat.

<<Still, you wasted a perfectly good plate. Look, there are broken pieces everywhere>>

Hadan remained wary of Marduk. After all, he could be lying. All bad people lie, and if this man was really the Marduk, he would surely lie to him.

<<Still, you haven’t told me your name yet, boy. Do you have one?>>

Hadan gulped his saliva, hesitating, unsure if he wanted to answer to the old man.

After all, Marduk did save his life.

So, it was a good thing, he thought. He decided to trust the old man, for now. He did not have any other options, the boy thought, as the feeling of pain in his legs reminded him of his conditions.

There was nowhere he could go, not at the moment.

Muttering, he shared his name with the old man.

<<So, Hadan. Care to tell me how you ended up on death’s door?>>

He knew, but he wanted to hear the story from the boy’s lips.

In his life, he had seen one too many of this kind of unfortunate situations.

A lone boy, half dead and sole survivor of his tribe.

His wounds would heal, at least those on his body.

But little Hadan had other wounds, deeper than the boy himself had realized.

And Marduk needed to make him talk, if he wanted to treat those wounds.

One time too many he had seen the same scene, a young mind crushed by the pain of having lost everything they held dear.

He needed to make the boy talk, to see how deeply his soul was wounded.

Muttering, first, then with a teary voice.

Hadan shared what happened to him, and Marduk listened in silence.

The boy was strong, both in body and mind.

Normally, someone his age would close himself in pain or shock, unable to process what just happened to him.

It was a good thing that the boy could talk about it, that he could share the pain, Marduk thought.

Still, it would take time before his wounds would heal, and they would leave deep scars.

For now, there was nothing much that Marduk could do for the unfortunate boy, beside tending to his wounds and talk to him, waiting for time to do his trick.

After all, time itself was the only effective medicine for that kind of injury.

Marduk walked past beside the bed where Hadan was, heading to the small entrance of his home.

More than a proper home, it was a furnished cave. He did not even put a door in there, only an old and worn tent to ward off sunlight.

After all, it was a temporary stay for him.

Marduk headed out, staring with his blind eyes in the distance.

He assumed that the boy was the sole survivor from that place, but he felt the need to check.

He closed his eyes, a pair of useless things. He did not need them, to see.

A sore smile popped on the old man’s face, followed by too many wrinkles on his old skin.

Too old, almost two hundred years worth of sunlight and spite.

<<Well, being cursed by a God has its perks>>

The old man thought, focusing his sight on the charred remains of the village.

He saw the smoking piles of ashes, the blackened wood sprouting from them like black, skeletal fingers coming out of the very earth itself.

Death everywhere, but, unlike he had surmised before, there was also life in there.

Faint, waning, but someone was still breathing in there.

He widened his perception, feeling an acute pain in his left temple as he did so.

Marduk endured, looking away from the village, searching if someone else survived the massacre.

He avoided the ones taken away from the village, their fate was already sealed. Most of all, he wanted to not see those things that took them.

The boy said that a group of men wearing shining armors attacked the village. But Marduk knew, that the boy had been wrong.

Those were not men, they only wore them.

He diverted his mind from the group, directing it further into the grasslands. There, he found some kin of the unfortunate little boy.

A group of men, heading back from a successful hunting trip. They were dragging back slain prey, a few Varn and a Fjalte pup.

Sighing deeply, Marduk headed back into his cave.

<<I’m heading out for a bit. Here, if you get thirsty, drink this>> he said to Hadan, giving a small jar to the boy.

<>

With those words, the old man parted, leaving the boy alone.

His body ached with each step. Marduk cursed under his lips.

Despite the undying part, his body was still that of an old man, with all the sweet little things that time gifts to a decaying body.

Like the pain that hit his hip every time he took a step, or the one that stabbed his hands when the air was too cold, or too hot.

All the sweet gifts given by time. Pain, pain and even more pain. Even when he pissed, or lied down on his bed for too many hours.

His blindness was another matter, however.

That was something that he gave himself, in order to stop seeing.

His mind fluttered, for a moment, toward the things that led him to forfeit his sight. The memory of them was faint, and he was thankful for that.

But every time that his thoughts wavered in that direction, his old heart started to race again, gripped by fear.

It all started that day for him, when the Idol spoke to him.

Marduk recalled that day, no matter how hard he tried to not let his mind wander to it.

The sight of his tribesmen lying dead, the pitch black eyes that stared at him.

And the grin on that thing’s face, as Marduk realized what he had done.

But the worst thing was seeing his tribesmen rise again.

That day, Marduk learned a terrible truth of this world. That there are others, far away in the black veil of the night.

And he brought something from those worlds, giving it a body in this one.

All that happened afterwards, was just a consequence of his actions that night.

Even Hadan’s fate. It was all tied to what happened there.

When he gazed in the thing’s eyes, he was changed.

The thing took Marduk’s head in his hands, cradling like a father would do to his son.

He still shuddered, remembering the cold touch of those hands, and the chilling voice that followed.

It spoke in an unknown tongue, yet Marduk understood.

The thing thanked him, for the service done.

It rewarded him, gifting Marduk with timeless madness.

And he went mad, for a time. Perhaps he still was, Marduk thought. Or at least, he wanted to.

But in his heart, he knew that madness faded away, and he regained reason. And with reason, it came guilt.

With a great effort, the old man shook himself from that train of thought.

There was nothing to be found in there, only bitter memories and distraction.

He stepped inside the ruined village, shielding his smoke with a corner of his ragged mantle.

The smell that lingered in that place was harsh to bear, the scent of charred skin and despair.

The air was still warm, and ash fluttered in it, swayed by the wind, almost like it was dancing.

Some of the burned huts and tents were still letting out a dark smoke, others had even some embers still burning.

Marduk looked around with his blind eyes. The sight he had only showed glimpses of the world, without being reliable like a pair of proper working eyes.

But years, centuries of blindness had honed his other senses, which had already been “tampered” by his old friend.

He found some of the survivors, following their scent and the waning noise of their beating heart.

Many of those he found were beyond help, the only thing left to do was give them a quick and painless death.

Others, so few that he could count them on his fingers, could still be saved.

Marduk dragged them out of the collapsed buildings, tending to their wounds.

He washed and bandaged, he applied lotions and unguents to charred skin.

He amputated limbs that were too mangled to be mended. He saved lives, albeit a few.

The day faded as he tended to the survivors of the tribe. As he did, Marduk recalled the time were there was no tribe there.

He found that place in the ravine, choosing that place to let his old bone rest. He thought to be far enough from them, from his old acquaintance.

How many years he fled, Marduk could not even remember.

Centuries, perhaps, but memories of that time were blurred, as his mind was still in madness’s grasp.

He remembered crossing the sea, and many lands after. All in order to leave that place behind, to leave his past and the horror in it.

He found this place, and he stopped. Thinking that the distance he put between himself and his old friend, his past, was enough for him to feel safe.

He was proven wrong, as the recent events had just taught him.

When Marduk stopped here, in this valley, it was still a lush place, devoid of human trace save for him.

Slowly, time passed, and the first nomads took residence there. Eventually they formed a village, becoming the ancestors of the people that were now in front of him.

Marduk saw generations of them live, struggle as they settled in the valley. Looking at them from his home in the ravine.

He did not care much for them, initially, only limiting himself to trade a bit with the tribe, exchanging their food for his potions and herbs.

Some generations treated him well, some even revered him. Others shunned him, and many held fear towards the undying, unchanging man.

They called him cursed, they told stories to their children about the man who stole a God.

Marduk did not know if they invented that story, ironically getting close to the truth about him, or if they heard of it, his story and his name shared by mouth to mouth, from traveler to merchant and so on until it reached the tribe.

He did not care, as long as the tribe still traded with him.

And they did, no matter if they revered him or feared his name.

Even during the time he was shunned, people still came to him, in secret, bringing their goods.

A Varn’s leg in exchange for medicine for their sick daughter, a sack of grain for a potion that would help a man’s virility.

Some even asked him to make the rain fall from the sky.

And he did, a few times. When his old friend gave his cursed gift, Marduk was changed.

Not only his body, denied of the natural end. His mind was changed, allowing him to see, to do things that no one should be able to do.

At first, Marduk relished the gift. But with time, his expanded mind showed him the truth, and he could not bear to look anymore.

It was so hard, that he robbed himself of his sight, only to have a bit of respite from the harsh reality of this world.

Perhaps, it was that moment that gave him back his sanity, not anymore challenged by the apparitions that lurked in the night sky.

Marduk took a deep breath. Disappointed by himself, because he let his mind wander again in those memories.

Trying to distract himself from them, he took an old, wooden pipe from the little pouch he hung on his waist.

With gestures that he did too many times, he loaded the pipe with dried herbs, and lighted them on fire.

The smoke was a poison, without a doubt. He had seen one too many men become addicted to it, to the sweet thing that the poison brought to a human mind.

Because that poison clouded thoughts, turning them into a mild nothingness, for a while.

He relished as the drug started to show the effect, as he waited for the hunters to come back.

The Sun started to set, painting the sky of a dense red. Or at least, that’s what Marduk imagined.

He knew that the day was falling, since the night birds started to sing their songs, as they always did to the waning sun.

It was the only thing he regretted, being unable to see the beauty of this world.

It was a trade that he did, beauty in exchange for sanity. And sometimes, he felt like he cheated himself in that trade.

The hunters came to the ruined village. Marduk felt their despair, and the little relief they had when he showed them the survivors.

From the tribe, no more than sixteen people survived, counting the hunters.

And they were hundreds before the attack.

The old man talked to the hunters, begging them to collect their wounded and whatever they could salvage from this place, and move north, leaving this place.

The hunters accepted his suggestion.

Partially.

They took some of the survivors.

Three women, and a little girl with no more than ten years on her back.

The others, an old couple and a man that lost his leg and left arm, were killed on the spot. Harsh as their decision was, Marduk could understand it.

The women and the girl could still walk, and they would give new blood to the tribe.

The wounded man was not useful, like the old couple.

They would have dragged the others down, and so they chose to get rid of them. A cruel decision, but understandable.

And the remaining hunters decided to leave Hadan behind. Marduk told them about the boy and his conditions.

As he expected, they refused to take him. It could have gone different, if some of the survivors were relatives of the boy.

But that was not the case, and the boy was only seen as another mouth to feed.

And, with his wounds, Hadan would not be able to move, much less fend for himself.

The survivors took the decision to leave the boy behind.

Marduk was not surprised by it, albeit he wanted a different outcome for the boy.

He parted from the ruined village, leaving it behind his back.

On the way back home, he thought about what to tell to the boy.

Hadan’s condition was critical right now.

If he told him that there were survivors, he would be happy about it.

But that would lead to telling him about how he was abandoned, and that notion would probably crush the young boy’s mind.

Marduk weighted his options, thinking about the best thing to tell to Hadan.

He came to a simple conclusion, a bit cruel but necessary.

He would lie to the boy.

After all, he could not bring himself to tell him the harsh truth, that he was abandoned to his fellow tribesmen.

By telling the boy that he was the sole survivor, he would spare him the pain of rejection.

When Marduk came home, Hadan was sleeping soundly.

The old man entered his cave, moving slowly to make as little sound as he could.

He watched the boy sleep, for a moment, before heading out to gather herbs again.

He was out all night long.

His task was finished soon enough, but he took some time for himself, to think about the future.

One thing was clear to the old man.

He could not stay there anymore, not for long.

He could not abandon the boy there, wounded, all alone in the world.

And they could not yet live, for the boy’s wounds would still need some time to heal.

He thought, for a moment, to use his gift to mend the boy’s body.

He quickly dismissed that thought, since he did not want to use those methods anymore. Curing the boy with traditional methods would be fine, after all.

He could spare some time to let Hadan recuperate on his own, and then they would move away from the valley, leaving behind the cave in the ravine.

Perhaps, they too would head north, Marduk thought, crossing the river towards the Hussar plains.

Or they could head west, towards the forest and even beyond, cross the mountain range whose name Marduk did not remember, and arrive at the sea that was beyond the mountains.

Yet, those were thoughts for a later time.

For now, he only needed to tend to the boy, hoping that the perpetrators of the tribe’s massacre would not come back in the valley.

He knew that the possibility of it was small, but it was still there.

Days passed, as the boy healed from his wounds.

Hadan wept when Marduk shared the fate of his village, of his tribe.

The boy remembered his family, their faces, their embrace, something that he would no longer be able to feel.

He resented the old man for telling him those things, he even doubted his words.

But as he grew stronger, as his wounds healed, Marduk took him into the ruined village, to see the devastation that struck his home.

That time, Marduk tried to teach an important lesson to the boy.

Do not seek revenge.

Those words, among many others, the old man repeated to the boy.

Day after day, until the burning desire in Hadan’s chest waned, a bit at least.

He still dreamed about the day he would meet again those men dressed in light.

He often saw himself, his body that of a strong man an not that of a wounded boy, drawing his bowstring as he took aim to one of those men’s neck, releasing the arrows that carried his fury, his revenge.

Some times, in his fantasy, he would kill them with a knife, slitting throats while whispering his family’s names.

Other fantasies involved spears, or him as a powerful sorcerer, raining fire on his foes as the Father shone his blessing on him.

The boy knew that those were only fantasies of a child, daydreaming about something that would never happen.

Because Hadan was smart.

He knew better than doing something silly like seeking revenge.

What could he do, against people that decimated his tribe? His father, and Wahsu, were the strongest hunters he had ever seen, and yet, they fell against those people.

Although he cherished those dreams, he knew that they were impossible to realize.

He would stay with the old man, for as long as Marduk let him.

Initially, he was wary of Marduk, still being swayed by those stories that the tribe told about him.

He owed his life to the old man, without any doubt, but he could not bring himself to trust him, to like him.

Most of all, he was scared by the old man’s ability to see.

It confused Hadan, a lot.

He knew that the old man’s eyes did not work, and yet, Marduk behaved like he had a pair of perfectly functional eyes.

Even more, sometimes it felt like Marduk’s eyes could see more than a normal pair of eyes.

It was a mystery to Hadan, how could the old man do what he did.

As he gave it more thought, he realized how impossible would be for a blind man, and especially for an old blind man, to survive in there.

Perhaps, before the attack he relied on the tribe to find food.

But if that was the case, Hadan thought, now that the tribe was gone the food should have gone too.

Instead, every day, there was food in their plates, and fresh water. Herbs, fruit, and sometimes meat.

Sure, a blind man would be able to smell the fruit and herbs from afar, but hunting? Hadan knew that it was something out of the ordinary, and it scared him.

Initially. With time, however, he became used to this weird blind old guy.

As days became months, his opinion of the old man changed.

He grew fond of him, seeing Marduk as the substitute of a family.

Like a grandfather, something that he never had.

He slightly remembered his grandfather, a faded memory, more an impression than a proper figure in his mind.

He was too young when his grandfather passed away, too young to properly remember him.

Gradually, Hadan warmed up to Marduk, and the old man did the same.

Hadan was a stranger no more to the old man.

Initially, he saw him as a burden, a responsibility to hold as he was the one that decided to save the boy’s life.

But, as time went by, Marduk saw something in Hadan.

He was smart, and a good company.

He listened to the old man’s stories, feeling them deeply.

It was a nice change for Marduk to have some company, he realized, almost regretting to have secluded himself for so long.

As the boy’s condition grew better, Hadan started to head out more and more, often bringing prey and herbs with him.

Nothing too grand, small rodents and birds, still he had the making of a hunter in him.

What surprised Marduk the most, however, was the boy’s aptness to his teachings.

He started to share some notions as a whim, bored, when he waited for Hadan’s legs to recover until the boy could start to walk again.

From the start, Hadan showed an acute curiosity towards the principles that Marduk shared.

He started with some simple notions about herbs, and the boy surprised him with his own knowledge.

Hadan knew several kind of plants and their effects, and even held some basic notions and understanding of how to compound them into poultices with healing effects.

The boy shared how his mother had taught him, since she was a healer in the village.

Hadan’s face went dark as the memory of his mother touched his thoughts, and it was in that moment Marduk took the decision to teach the boy what he knew.

It was a decision taken on a whim, but as time went by, Marduk became more and more pleased with his choice.

He started to teach Hadan to read, but, much to Marduk’s surprise, the boy already knew to do so.

His knowledge of words and symbols was still limited, however it was a rare thing for a boy his age to know how to read.

Apparently, there was a merchant that spent some months with the tribe, when Hadan was no more than seven years old.

The boy told Marduk about how he spent much time pestering the merchant, begging him to share stories about the world he saw in his travels.

He bonded with the merchant, and the man taught him how to read and write some symbols.

Hadan remembered those moments, and even chuckled while thinking about how his brother had scolded him, telling Hadan that reading was for women and men without courage.

Wahsu said another term, a bad one, and Hadan did not want to repeat it in front of Marduk.

He choose to use an euphemism, out of respect to the old man. However, he himself hated bad words.

He never spoke them, as they felt wrong to say in his mouth. Wahsu was very fond of them, however.

Especially when they were alone, he used more bad words than proper ones. Hadan missed his brother, and, however painful and unfair that thought was, he missed him even more than his father.

Hadan’s mother passed away when he had only nine years on his back.

After that, his father grew distant, cold, both with Wahsu and with him. His brother, however, was always there.

To make him laugh, to scare off those that bullied him.

And Hadan’s hearth ached deeply at his memory.

To quench the feeling, he delved into studying what Marduk taught.

He surprised the old man by showing how he could already read and write his name.

He felt proud when Marduk praised him, the first positive feeling he had in a long time.

The old man taught Hadan new symbols and words. He then taught him numbers, and how to add and subtract them one from another.

Months went by, and Hadan was able to walk again. His old wounds hurt no more, and he could run, jump and stand right on his hand, like he could before he got wounded.

He started to go out and hunt again, first placing traps, then using a crude bow and arrow he crafted himself.

After a while, the old man and Hadan moved from the ravine, heading away from the valley.

They brought the more indispensable things from their cave, like cooking tools and two old bedrolls made with leather, wooden sticks and filled with soft plumes from an animal unknown to Hadan.

The rest, they would get on the road. Or so Marduk told the boy.

They marched for some days, reaching the limit of the valley itself.

They were going east, towards the forest. At least, that was what Marduk said.

To Hadan, the destination did not matter.

He was excited, his heart pounding in his chest. He never left the valley, not even in his wildest dreams.

As the two started their travel, he was initially worried by the old man.

How could a wrinkled, old body like his cross the valley, much more reach those mountains that he spoke off?

However, his doubts vanished, like mist in the morning. Not only the old man was able to keep Hadan’s pace, he proved himself faster, and stronger.

Things like those, they were a surprise no more for Hadan, as he grew accustomed to the old man’s weirdness.

Perhaps, he thought, he really was the Marduk from those legends. For Hadan, however, that would mean that those legends were very wrong about him, after all.

<<Look, there on your left>>

Marduk tapped Hadan’s shoulder, pointing towards a lush green spot in the distance. From their position, high on a rocky hill that they just climbed, they overlooked the valley below.

In the distance, the place they left behind, the ruined village and the ravine that was their home.

In front of them, bathed in the new day’s light, a new place appeared before Hadan’s eyes. A green sea of tall grass, spotted with white flowers. And beyond that, the forest.

Hadan drank the view before his eyes, breathing the fresh air of the morning.

Glimmer of a Fallen Star: Chapter 1- Hadan

The boy was trembling with excitement, following his brother’s footsteps as they threaded through tall grass.

He was staring at his brother’s back, his skin shimmering with sweat, muscles tensing under his skin as he drew the bowstring.

The boy was elated to be there, in the open field.

For weeks he had pestered Wahsu, his elder brother, to bring him on the hunting fields.

And he was overjoyed that morning, when Wahsu gave him a big smile and told him he could come along.

<<Yes, Hadan. Just, promise me. You will be careful, and you will be quiet.>>

Elated, Hadan smiled until his face went numb. His brother patted his head, ruffling his short black hair with his hand.

Usually, Hadan hated that, but right now he was overjoyed. He admired his brother, one of the best hunters of the tribe.

Hadan always wanted to become one, following in his father and brother’s footsteps. Still, he was too young for that, since the tribe only made hunters who had at least fifteen years on their back, and he only had twelve.

He was also too scrawny, and short, unlike his brother that had a body sculpted from years of training and hunt.

Beside height and muscles, his brother was not too different from Hadan.

The same light brown skin, short curly hair with a dense black tone.

Same nose, too big for them to be called handsome, ruining faces blessed with light green eyes and thick lips.

Wahsu’s face was also decorated with a sparse beard, still growing in patches, more befitting of a young boy than a man with twenty years on his back.

Still, unlike his ability to grow a proper beard, Wahsu’s prowess as a hunter was well respected by the tribe.

He had finished his training in the proving grounds sooner than expected, and he gained his right to hunt when he had fourteen years, one year sooner than what the tribe would usually allow.

But he killed a Fjalte during his Rite, albeit a small one. Still, the feat was enough for the Elders to make an exception,and so they did.

Soon, Hadan too would be allowed to train himself in the proving grounds, and after two more years, he too would become a hunter.

He had never been on the hunt, the only one among his friend that never did. At least, that’s what his friends told him.

Mehru said that he went there, and even hunted a rabbit on his own.

But Mehru was a liar, so he probably just told a tall story to impress the others.

Hadan was there, however. And when they would return to the village, he and his brother, he would tell the others of his courage, he would tell them of his adventure.

Right now, however, it was time for him to be silent.

Wahsu was about to let his arrow loose on the prey.

They stalked it for half the morning, until the Father was up in the sky, his light burning on the boy’s skin.

All around, the wind made tall grass rustle, blowing in the opposite direction from their position. Taking away their scent, sweeping it away from the prey’s nose.

He spied the creature, its tall head peeking out of the grass from time to time.

It had an elongated neck, thin and covered by a light brown fur with two large white stripes going all the length up to the head.

The beast’s large ears darted in all directions, tuning to the faint noises all around, searching for possible threats.

Its big, milky eyes were looking in their direction, and for a moment, Hadan thought that they had been spotted.

It was not the case, however, as the beast delved its head inside the grass again.

The only thing poking out were its four spiral horns, pointing high in the sky as the beast resumed its meal.

Hadan looked at his brother again. T

he Varn did not notice him, nor the arrow pointed towards its neck.

But Wahsu waited, keeping the bow tense and the arrow notched.

The arrowhead glistened in sunlight, reflecting its rays, shimmering like a pretty stone.

And it was a pretty stone.

A splinter of jade, its light green color almost masking the deadliness of the shard.

Wahsu waited again, immobile, his breath almost imperceptible.

The Varn raised its head again, and Wahsu released the arrow.

It flied, whistling in the air before notching itself in the beast’s neck.

The creature cried, a painful lament that almost made Hadan cry himself.

But the Varn did not fell to the arrow, and instead, it bolted away.

Wahsu’ clicked his tongue, following with curse words whispered under his lips.

He looked at the bow, surprised about his arrow missing the mark.

<>

he muttered, looking at the slight curve that bent the bow in an unusual way.

It was a new design, Sahl had told him.

And he accepted, trusting his friend’s craftsmanship.

The bow worked well when he tested it the day before, and Wahsu was baffled by the sudden change in the weapon’s performance.

The arrow was off, missing the spot where Wahsu aimed. It still hit the target, but missed the vital points, wounding the beast without killing it immediately.

And now their prey was running away. It would still die, bleeding out of the wound. But it would do it slowly, far away as the beast ran with all the strength left in its body. And it had plenty, still.

<<Quick! Follow me!>>

Wahsu immediately rushed out of the hiding spot, and Hadan followed.

The Varn was quick, running away until it became a small spot in the distance.

There was no way for them to catch it, not even now that it was wounded.

<>

Hadan muttered, looking at Wahsu with teary eyes.

His brother smiled however, reassuring him.

<>

Wahsu’s voice was calm, his expression unwavering.

But he knew the dangers that pursuing a bleeding prey would pose.

First, the scent of blood could attract predators and scroungers. He could easily fend off the small Hapas, even a group of them.

But if something like a Fjalte caught the scent, it would have been an entirely different matter. Hopefully these hunting grounds were void of them. Hopefully.

Still, Wahsu could not let his brother see him worry. Not now. He strode onward, with Hadan following behind.

They marched, following the trail of blood into the wild grass, running, but not too fast. After all, they only needed to not lose sight of the wounded prey.

They went on and on, more than hour spent as the Father changed his position in the sky. The light was still scorching, but less than it had during the peak hours.

Wounded, and dying, the Varn was lying in an empty patch of dried soil, few dozens of meters from the hunter and his brother.

Still, even if their prey was near, something else caught the two’s attention.

In their village’s direction, far away, a thick, black column of smoke rose.

It was too soon in the day for it to be the High Fire, Wahsu thought. And even if it was, there was no way that the smoke would be so dark.

A bad feeling wrenched the hunter’s guts, as he turned to his brother.

Hadan too was staring at the menacing black column, his face paler than Wahsu had ever seen it.

<<Let’s go back>>

The hunter whispered, almost audible to his brother.

Hadan simply nodded, too shocked to even reply.

That smoke was bad news.

They ran, this time at full speed towards the village.

If fire had broke in there, consuming the wooden structures and tents made with tanned hide, the village would need every able hand to quench the fire.

And so, they ran.

When they arrived at the village, rising smoke clouded the sky, hiding the soil from Father’s light.

The air was dense with a thick smoke, carrying the repulsive scent of charred skin. Screams echoed, and Wahsu knew immediately that it was no accident that caused this mayhem before their eyes.

Figures were moving, barely visible inside the smoke. But his eyes were well trained, and he saw them.

Their shining skin, shimmering among the smoke.

He had heard of them, from the rambling of some caravan merchant, too drunk to even properly speak.

He remembered the tale that the drunken, shambling merchant slobbered in front of the fire, when Wahsu and his hunting party shared fire and food with the nomad caravan.

He thought it the rambling of a fool, shuddering man, talking about demons whose skin shone like the brightest star, like the Father himself.

And they were hungry, the merchant said, hunting man and beast alike. Their skin could not be pierced, harder than bone, sturdier than rock itself. And their claws tore warriors apart, like leaves in a storm.

The others laughed at the merchant’s story, deeming it the delirium of a drunken fool. But Wahsu saw, he saw the terror painted in the merchant’s eyes as he spoke.

And now, he knew. That tale was real, and demons were here.

He took his brother, diving into a tall bush while keeping his hand to Hadan’s mouth, keeping it shut.

He dragged him away from the village, moving as silent as he could. When he thought he had enough distance between the burning village and their position, he released his brother, holding him with his two hands on his tiny shoulders. He knelt, looking straight into Hadan’s eyes.

The boy was trembling, and his eyes were moist with tears.

<>

He turned his back away from Hadan, but he changed his mind. Wahsu fiddled with the small pouch hanging from the side of his waist.

He extracted a small dagger, handing it to his brother.

The weapon had a wooden handle, the blade portion made with sharpened bone and fastened to the handle by a tightly knit fiber string.

<>

Terrified, Hadan nodded. Wahsu patted his head once more before sneaking out of their hiding spot.

Hadan saw his brother go away, and tried to force back his tears. He wanted to call him back, but he did not. Instead he crouched on the spot, staring at his brother’s waning silhouette as he disappeared inside the smoke.

Time went by, hours maybe. All Hadan could hear was some distant yell, some of them of pain, others of rage.

A few times he thought he heard his brother’s voice, but he hoped to be wrong. He was wrong, there was no way in hell that Wahsu could be the one crying in pain. For he was a hunter, one of the tribe’s best.

But as time went by, his fear grew.

And suddenly, something came into view. Hidden inside the bush, he could not properly see what was going on.

He was distant from the village’s entrance, and the branches of his hideout were partially covering his view. Still, he saw something emerge from the smoke.

And his heart skipped a beat.

They had the form of men, but their bodies shone, glimmering in a cold light. Some of them were atop of beasts, creatures that Hadan never saw before.

He initially thought them to be monsters, part men part beast, but he forced himself to look more, to look properly at them, like a hunter would do.

And he saw that those were no monsters, but men mounted on large animals.

Their bodies were not shining, they were wearing something.

Some kind of armor, without a doubt. But it was neither hide nor bone, like the armor his tribe used. It was something different, unknown to him.

Some of the shining men held weapons in their hands, made with the same materials as the armor they wore.

On their faces, they held masks, twisted in terrifying expression, but undoubtedly human.

Hadan almost shouted when one of them turned towards him. For a moment, he thought that he had been spotted.

But the man returned his attention to his comrades, and they strode along, ignoring Hadan’s hiding spot.

The boy almost drew a sigh of relief, but it froze in his throat as he saw more of the shining men. And what they were carrying.

Wounded, beaten, some of them so badly that he hardly recognized their features. But their clothes, and the tattoos that decorated their skin, were unmistakably those of his tribe.

They were bound by a rope that shined in light, each of them being dragged, tied to the large beasts and forced to walk.

Some of them, unable to walk on their feet, fell to the ground, only to be dragged by force, their skin scraping on the bare ground.

Hadan was so focused on the grizzly scene that he did not hear the rustling of leaves behind him.

He almost pissed himself when he felt a hand grab his left arm.

Turning around, he expected to see his brother.

Instead, something shined in the corner of his vision.

He had been found. Without even thinking, he spun around, slashing with his dagger.

The sudden movement was enough to surprise his captor, and he bolted away from his hiding spot.

He ran, and ran, as fast as he could.

Among the youths of his tribe, he was the fastest. He even beat some of the adults, when they raced around the central plaza, playing with his friends.

But now, it was not child’s play. He was running for his life.

He heard a commotion behind him.

First, shouted words in a language he could not understand. Then, it came another sound, deeper, not human.

Something was following him, hunting him down. And they were catching up with him.

He dared not to turn around, fearing that his heart would give away if he saw what was chasing him.

Far from the village, he ran towards the grasslands, heading to the steep cliffs and ravines that lied on the village’s outskirts.

In there, he could find a spot to hide.

They would lose him inside the small tunnels, too narrow for a grown man to follow him.

Too narrow for those beasts. At least, he hoped so.

He was almost there, his goal right in front of him.

The first part of the ravine was deep, and he had to be careful around the edges.

He needed to head right from his position, following the ravine’s mouth until he found a proper spot to climb it down.

But he could not do so. As soon as he neared the ravine, something jumped on him, making Hadan lose his balance.

Shouting, he felt down the ravine’s mouth.

He hit his body against the rock, tumbling down as he desperately tried to take a hold, to break his fall with his hands.

The thing that assailed him was heavier, and it felt faster, landing on the ground below with a loud thud. It let out a wailing sound that echoed in the ravine.

Hadan fell, until he crashed his body on the rock bottom of the ravine. He heard his legs break, and he let out a muffled cry, unable to even shout from intense pain.

In that instant, he remembered the time when Jaltha broke his leg, and Hadan spent almost two entire days harassing the boy, mocking him for his tears.

Now, he knew the pain that Jaltha felt, and, in his mind, he thought about apologizing to him as soon as he could.

It was a silly thought, he realized. But it distracted him from the pain, if only for a moment.

He was alive however. Hurting, wounded, unable to move. But alive.

Again, he almost drew a sigh of relief, but he froze in shock as he saw something move beside him.

The thing that attacked him was rising. It was some kind of animal, almost as big as him. A thick, black fur covered his body, sprinkled with fresh blood.

But the thing that caught Hadan’s attention was the beast’s mouth. A row of sharp teeth was bared at him, glistening with saliva and blood as the beast snarled, coming closer to the boy.

Weak as he was, Hadan’s consciousness faded away.

He had the impression of hearing a strong voice behind him, but then a dark veil fell on his vision, and the world was no more.

The air was filled with a sweet scent, and the boy was woken up by it. He opened his eyes, still clouded.

The world swayed in front of him, and a strong sense of nausea rose up in his stomach. Resisting the urge to throw up, Hadan closed his eyes again. He tried to lift his body up, but a sudden fit of pain made him desist.

<<So, are you awake boy?>>

A gritty, coarse voice called to him. Once again, Hadan tried to open his eyes.

He managed to see the shape of the place he was in, a small cave, dug in the soft, orange colored rock of the ravine.

His body was lying on a straw bed, covered by a thick pelt that prickled his skin.

Once again, he closed his eyes as he felt his stomach rebel again.

<<Easy, easy. You hit your head pretty hard. What were you thinking? Jumping down in the ravine like this? You’re lucky you only broke a few bones>>

Again ,the coarse voice.

It sounded old, and this time, it was nearer than before.

Hadan tried to answer, but his voice came out weak an broken.

He cleared his throat, feeling the taste of blood in his mouth for a moment. Then, he tried again to speak.

<>

Hadan muttered, his voice stuttering from the recent shock.

<<Don’t be silly. I only scared it away, and I dragged you here. Relax, it will not find us. Now, care to tell me your name, boy?>>

The gritty voice beckoned him again. Hadan remained silent for a moment, pondering if the man told the truth to him.

He answered, giving his name to this stranger that saved his life.

<>

What followed was pain. Hadan endured, forcing his mouth shut, holding his screams inside his throat as the man tended to his wound.

He felt his old, wizened hands gently caress his body when the man examined the wounds.

He felt his old, wizened hands when they harshly gripped his leg, making pressure to make the broken bone straight again, forcing it against a stick and then holding it in position by binding it to a straight wooden stick.

He felt his skin burn as the old man washed his wounds with a foul smelling liquid, and he cried when the old hands pierced his skin with a bone needle, sewing the skin back together as if it was an old cloth to mend.

Still, Hadan endured all this. He did not dare to look, however. Blood did never scare him.

At least, not when it belonged to something else, that is. When it was his own blood flowing, that was a different matter.

The torture only lasted for half an hour, but it felt an eternity to Hadan.

He fainted when the old man finished, going back to the black, dreamless sleep that held him when he crashed down the ravine.

The next day, Father’s warm light was shining on his face, waking him up. Hadan opened his eyes, this time without his stomach rebelling and rising up.

The old man came again, holding a small plate in his hands. He offered the plate to Hadan, that happily drank the soup it contained.

It had a bitter aftertaste, but it was not bad to eat. Not good either, but beggars can’t be chooser, Hadan thought.

The old man smiled, his wrinkled skin becoming even more.

He wore a ragged tunic, that must have been splendid once, as the embroidery still visible in some part of it revealed.

It was tattered in some spot, and it must have been old, perhaps even more than the man himself.

On his neck, a necklace dangled, a curious round stone, so dark that it almost seemed made of night itself.

He still had all hair on his head, white and long, tangled and dirty.

Furry eyebrows that overlooked a hunched, narrow nose, and thin lips that revealed a set of teeth too perfect for a man his age.

But the feature of his face that shocked Hadan the most, were his eyes. There was no iris in them, nor a visible pupil. They were white. Completely so.

Hadan gaped his mouth in realization. The old man in front of him was blind.

<>

Hadan asked, his tone stronger than the day before.

<<Oh, not even saying “thank you”? Oh well, I suppose I could give you my name first. I am Marduk>>

Hadan let go of the plate in his hands, letting it fall down on the floor and shatter in thousand pieces.

He had heard that name, in stories told by the adults at night, when children were not supposed to hear.

There was a tribe once, and they cast out some of their men for a terrible crime. Their leader, a vile and renegade shaman, stole the precious God from the tribe when they were forced to leave the sacred land.

And the God grew angry, and cast a curse upon the renegade tribe and their shaman. He killed all exiles, and made their leader a monster, cursing him to walk the land forever.

The God robbed him of his sight, for he could not longer gaze on the sacred land. He took his sense of smell, and taste, for he could not enjoy the fruit of the sacred land, nor the meat of its creatures.

And he took his touch, for he was prohibited warmth, and the comfort of another’s embrace.

And the God left him his ears, for he would be able to hear the sacred curse his name, for ages to come.

And he made him undying, unable to return to his ancestor’s side. For he was cursed for his crimes.

The Undying One. The Traitor, the one who stole God.

Marduk, the Accursed one.

Glimmer of a Fallen Star-Prologue

Inside his room, in the innermost part of the sanctum, the old man was standing. His hands, trembling from both old age and emotion, were caressing curves sculpted in black obsidian. His eyes went teary, his old lips trembling with excitement. He did not know how many years went by before this moment, his mind being clouded by the cruelty of time. But now, it was different. Focused, as sharp as it was when he wrenched the scepter from the dying hands of his old master. Now the Idol had spoken, awakened from His slumber and awakening the old man’s mind with him.

Once again, he tried to commune with divinity. He had to be sure, that all he felt war real and not a cruel trick played by his mind. Once again, he closed his eyes and let his left hand sway, flesh on cold stone. For a moment, he felt nothing from it, and his heart swayed from conviction. He was old, after all, and his mind bore the scars of time. But the voice came again, soothing like a gentle breeze. The old man dropped to his knees, shuddering in ecstasy. The Idol had spoken again.

After collecting himself, the man strode off his room, his mantle swaying behind him as he walked towards the temple’s exit. In his eyes, a renewed fire burned, and for the first time since ages ago, he had a new purpose in life. He passed by the paintings that adorned crude rock, without paying his usual respects to the sacred figures. He had no time for that, for the Idol gave him a new task.

Sunlight bathed the area outside the temple, making his eyes hurt as the old man left the cave. He looked back, for a moment, taking a quick glance at what had been his home for over two decades. He remembered now, his memory clear as flowing water. Twenty five years he spent in that place. He found it, a small cave overlooking the plain where his tribe had been exiled. He dragged the precious idol there, secluding it in the innermost chamber of the cave. He thought the silence there fitting, as the Idol too went silent when they left the sacred land. In time, he molded the cave with the strength of his hands, sculpting, painting, until it was no more a mere cave but a suitable temple for the Idol and his lone priest.

He had stolen it from the old temple, the night they left the sacred lands. He did so in secret, for it was a thing precious to the tribe. He did so in spite, to rob them of their precious Idol. But the God spoke to him through the stone, and he felt to his knees when he heard His whispers a long time ago.

Marduk remembered, his hands trembling in the air when he first heard the whisper coming from the black stone. It was not something of this world, both the stone and the voice were something coming from the dark veil of night. He remembered the stories that his master told him, about the Star that fell, about the Idol that was forged from it, carrying the voice of a God older than time itself.

And he heard that voice, for a time.

But time was cruel, and the Idol went silent for long ages, leaving Marduk to wonder first, to madness later.

But now, it was time to leave all behind, for the Idol had spoken again.

Standing at his temple’s entrance, the old man cleared his throat before making a speech that would change his tribe forever.

His voice bellowed, echoing through the small canyon that hosted the exiles. Commanding and deep, like it was in his prime years. For all the people looking at him, it was a shock. They had seen the old priest wither in his cave, the light of reason fading away in his clouded eyes.

But now, the old man was different. A new strength in his voice called all the tribesmen, rallying them under his shadow. And they saw his figure, standing tall against the sky.

They knew that the withered old man was no more, and Marduk, their High Priest, their leader, was back.

Marduk spoke, and they listened. First with doubt, then a rising feeling spreading among them. Marduk’s words strung the deepest desire inside each tribesman’s very soul. Something that they knew not possible was now promised to them, and their hearts were swayed by the promise made to them.

For the Idol had spoken, and his words were true. From the High Priest’s lips, the Idol spoke in thundering voice, promising their return to the sacred lands of old.

And the tribesmen bent their knees, abiding to Marduk’s words.

The old man gazed upon his brethren, and he was pleased. He had conquered their hearts, swept away their doubts. Since the Idol went silent, he had lost respect from the tribe, as they saw him as no more than a senile, withered man.

But the Idol spoke again, and in His words he found strength, and a promise.

Now, all he needed to do was set up the ritual, as promised.

Night came, and the small canyon where the tribe resided was bursting with life as it never had. Drums resounded in the night, chants and dances around fires that burnt so bright against the darkest night. The Eyes did not shine in the night sky, only innumerable and fickle fires shone in the blackness above.

And Marduk was staring at them, tracing their form on the ground below. Connecting them with lines, his hand firm and steady as he traced the forms with the blood of a newborn lamb.

Some of his tribesmen cringed when he demanded one of the tribe’s precious lambs to be made a sacrifice, but it was all for the greater good. For the sacred land was promised in return, and a lamb, although precious in these times of famine, was nothing but a small price to pay.

When the lines were completed, Marduk poured the remaining blood over the Idol. In order to prepare the ritual, he had ordered the Idol to be moved in the center of his village. Around it, all the tribe was chanting, praying with all their might, raising their voices and shaking their limbs in a frenetic dance.

All but Marduk and another man were praying.

The old man was standing in front of the Idol, pouring blood from a brass cup that he held with both hands.

All around him, blood was painted on the ground, tracing the lines representing the constellations seen in the sky above. And in the center of it, a young man knelt down. His chest bare, painted with the same celestial symbols laid on the ground. The tribe’s mightiest warrior, a young man with seventeen years on his back, but capable to bring down a Fjalte on his own, despite his young age.

He wore a necklace adorned with the beast’s teeth, each as long as a finger, curved and jagged. On normal days, the boy would wear the Fjalte’s skin as a trophy, showing off the black mane that belonged to his prey.

But this was not a normal day, for the tribe’s destiny was about to change.

The old man looked at the youth, his hand trembling a bit when he took out the ceremonial knife. A slight doubt touches his mind, for a moment. He steeled his hand, resolving himself to complete the task given by the Idol. After all, how could he let his heart doubt the words of a God?

The young warrior was looking straight at Marduk, no hint of fear in his eyes, his stern and dignified expression greatly pleased the old man.

He will make a good sacrifice, thought Marduk. After all, he was the best warrior among his tribesmen.

Marduk lifted the ceremonial knife high in the air, chanting his prayer as he walked towards the kneeling youth. In his right hand, the blade shined, reflecting the swaying red light coming from the fires lit all around. It was a small curved blade, made in ancient times with the same sacred stone that the Idol was built with.

Marduk was now behind the knelt young warrior, holding his head with his left hand as he muttered the final words of his prayer.

<>

He asked, his voice gritty and coarse.

<>

A wide smile blossomed on Marduk’s face. He was moved by the young man’s courage, his unwavering faith. He knew that he would make a good sacrifice.

<>

Marduk’s voice echoed in the night, followed by the tribesmen’s roaring cheers.

<>

Again, the old man yelled, and the crowd roared.

<<Hail, to the Old God>>

This time, Marduk whispered. He slit the boy’s throat, letting his young blood bathe the rocks below.

The tribe went silent, hundreds of men holding their breath in anticipation.

But nothing happened. The skies above were silent, the falling stars tracing their white lines in the blackest void above.

Marduk was shocked. He followed all the steps as the Idol whispered him to do. He grated its surface with the knife, made with the same, celestial matter of the Idol. He mixed the black powder that came from it with blood and herbs, as he was instructed to do. He traced the stars, breaking the taboo that separated heavens with this dirty soil.

And yet, nothing happened. The ghastly sounds coming from the dying boy were the only noise inside the canyon, and the priest’s faith wavered.

Did the Idol lie? Or was it all a trick played to him from his old, withered head? Could he just have reaped a youthful life, robbing the tribe of its best hunter, following the delusion of a senile mind?

Yet, the Idol did whisper him about stars falling from the sky, and they were falling, tracing lines of silver light as if weaving a web in the dark canvas of the night. Then why nothing was happening?

He did everything right, following every order that the Idol gave him, every action done with the utmost care and precision. He uttered the prayer, word after word, even if the language was unknown to him, for it was the Word of God himself who taught him the prayer.

Absorbed in his doubts, he failed to see the faint glow coming from the ground below, as the red lines started to shine with a dark light. He failed to see the twitches of the youth’s corpse, and the cracks forming on the Idol itself.

But his eyes gaped wide as the Idol broke, shattered in thousands of glistening splinters. The fragments moved, like a swarm of insects, flying, buzzing, moving towards the corpse.

Under Marduk’s incredulous eyes, the splinters pierced the corpse. No, they merged with it, entering the body without leaving scars behind.

Again, there was silence.

And in silence, the lifeless body rose to its feet. It stumbled, gurgling unintelligible sounds while attempting to speak with its throat sliced open.

Marduk saw the open wound closing, thorn flesh mending itself.

The warrior stood, but he was a warrior no more. Something danced under his skin, squirming as the warrior rose.

It was nothing short of a miracle, Marduk thought. And yet, he could not quench the fear that was taking hold of his mind. He could not stop himself from trembling, shuddering at the sight of the warrior.

And when the boy opened his eyes, he knew the reason. Those were not the eyes of a man, or a benevolent God, if such thing even existed.

For Marduk saw, and he knew.

That those pitch-black eyes were not something of this world. They had the Stars in them, glistening as the Sky above, blackest than tha darkest of nights.

He knew that that accursed night, it was not his God that he brought there.

He knew that his actions called something, giving It a body.

And that something was not there for them.

He knew, for when the boy…the thing opened his eyes, the cheering tribe went silent again. Not from surprise or reverence. Not for devotion.

When the thing stood, and opened its eyes, the tribe went silent. The silence of death fell on the canyon, leaving an old man in the presence of a God.

Stars were falling from the night sky, glimmering, as Marduk fell into despair.