Though oceans be fathoms deep,
They never compare to the depths
Of a soul.
He stared at the sky, deepening to violet. He liked watching the sky change. It steadied his mind, cleared out the confusion. The clouds passed silently by, sweeping over the steadfast trees. After a while he could almost feel the earth turning beneath him. The first few stars of the night began to wink into the dark, each one clearing his thoughts more and more.
Creaking timbers echoed behind him, somewhere through the forest. He had wandered away from the Gordian Knot, the magnificent flying ship he’d been aboard for the last week, taking advantage of the first stop on solid ground for the past few days. He hadn’t realized how very much he enjoyed having dirt under his feet. So he savored this short time before the airship launched out in the morning. There was only one more stop on ground before they headed out over the Atlantic Ocean.
He rubbed his head. It had been aching for about a day and it seemed nothing would stop it. He figured it was the altitude, being up so high had such thin air. But now back on the ground the throbbing lingered. He looked back to the sky for relief. Several more stars had appeared in the short time he’d looked away. Their twinkling eyes stared down at him, watching, as if they knew something important was about to happen.
A light flashed in his eyes; quick, almost like lightning. He blinked and looked around. There was nothing but the soft shuffle of leaves. He glanced back at the stars when another flash struck him. He squeezed his eyes tight, rubbing his head. The headache was a little worse. When he opened them again two more flashes raked across his eyes. He shut them again but streaks of red burned the inside of his eyelids. And then it overwhelmed him.
There was confusion, things moving too fast, some too slow. The forest was still around him, but it wasn’t there. He saw glimpses of pictures or another place. There were stone walls and it seemed dark, several spots on the stone dimly illuminated. Everything flashed and darkened staggeringly, the images pounding against his head. There were people around. He could feel their presence, sense their shadows. Then all of a sudden he saw a face. It was a girl’s face, young but not a child. She looked terrified, her bright blue eyes wet with tears, her blazing red hair matted to her head. She screamed… and then the flashes took consumed her.
He grabbed his head as it tried to split open and felt the ground meet his body. It was cold and stable, and settled him. He took a few short gasps. Then another blinding flash seared the inside of his head. Everything went completely black.
It didn’t seem long before he could see the forest fade back into view. It slowly swirled and twisted but it was still there. Something bright white was glinting between a couple of trees right in front of him. He tried to focus on it but it just floated there in a haze. Finally, it became clear and he discovered a face staring back at him. He thought for a second it was the red-headed girl’s again and tried to straighten himself up, tried to help her if he could. For some reason he earnestly felt like he needed to help that girl. But as the face became clearer, it was a much more terrifying visage.
It was a Man-at-War, one of the pale twins, smirking ever so slightly in the growing moonlight. He tried to stumble to his feet, to back away.
“Do not be afraid,” she cooed, “I will not hurt you.”
He croaked, and finally found his voice, “Stay away from me.”
“But why?” She took a step, “We need you.”
“Need me? You tried to kill me. Stay away!”
He continued to stagger backwards keeping his eyes on the girl. She just smiled, and from behind her appeared her perfect twin, flawlessly identical in every way. Their almond eyes softened with a smirk. “We can’t leave you. You must come with us,” The first one said.
He stopped and stared at them. “Why would I ever do that?”
They both smiled again, as if reflected by a mirror. “Because you’re our Master.”
Melting from the darkness a hulking figure appeared like a fortress behind the twins, more mountain than man. A scurrying little shape leaped out at their feet and grinned, a giddy smile above a pointed chin. The Men-at-War. They beckoned him into the darkness, their faces wrought with mischievous pleasure.
“Come, Ares. Come take your place.”
He screamed but it made no sound. A barrage of flashes overtook him again, and he grabbed his head just to keep it from splitting open. He saw the redheaded girl’s face one more time, screaming like him, and then a voice yelling over top it.
It got louder until finally that was all he heard.
“Uncle Sterling!” His eyes opened. It was much darker, but the forest was still around him. No one was around. He was on the ground and everything was still.
“Uncle Sterling!” The voice called again. He got his bearings and looked back behind him, to where the figures had been standing. Everything was hushed branches.
“Uncle Sterling! There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you. Are you ok?” His nephew Logan ran over and knelt down next to him. Sterling just stared at the young man for a second, trying to find answers in the forest green eyes, then looked past him to the stars above. They twinkled innocently as if nothing had happened. He took a deep breath.
“Yeah, I think I’m ok,” he croaked.
“What happened?” Logan asked as he helped him up.
Sterling looked back to the empty dark woods. “The headache.” He cleared his throat. “Got a little dizzy. I think I’m tired. Or just not used to this much air.”
Logan nodded, understanding being lightheaded from so much air on the ground. “I was just getting used to the thin air on the ship too.” He slung his uncle’s arm over his shoulder. “Well, we were going to have dinner, didn’t want you to miss out.”
“Thanks, Logan. I was just … clearing my head.”