A Chapter by Natasha Reams

     I do not know much of the world outside of the Formarri Forest in which I live, but in my dream I somehow knew that the darkness covering the land had originated far to the west in the Cavash Desert. The darkness spread over the earth like a sickness while I watched from above as if I were flying. Then, suddenly, I was sent hurtling towards the ground. Before I could muster a scream I landed safely on my feet before a magnificent castle. Something in me told me this was the capital of Astoria: Cresten. I turned back to the west and saw the darkness had surrounded the city, but stopped just a few feet from where I stood. Out of the darkness stepped a black figure with brilliant blue hair and piercing grey eyes. My breath caught in my throat, but my body refused to move. The figure charged towards me on a black horse as his maniacal laugh rang in my ears.

     I woke covered in sweat and out of breath. My familiar home greeted me with its four wooden walls and simple wooden furniture. The only adornment was an old sword with five colored gems in the hilt hanging over the door frame. It was a family antique, passed down from father to son for hundreds of years. As my breathing slowly returned to normal, I looked to the single window of my house and saw the sun had already come up. Late for work again, I rushed out of bed and yanked on the clothes that sat in a pile on the floor where I had tossed them last night. I ruffled my sandy brown hair before running out the door.

     The village of Dower was lively just as it was every morning. Walsh the Baker was busy before his stone oven next door as the smell of bread wafted through the air; Juanos the blacksmith was hammering away at his forge just down the road; and the local fortune teller Marice sat on her rocking chair next to her house with her hood pulled over her eyes. Several women were gossiping by the freshwater spring near the main road as they gathered water, and children ran laughing around the clutter of houses.

      Turning left onto the main road, I followed it to the edge of the village where a large, fenced-in clearing was full of cows and horses. Already the stable master, Sorin, was herding the cows toward a large barn on the edge of the clearing for milking. As I approached I saw my beautiful horse Liza tethered near the gate. Hopping over the fence with ease, I quickly climbed onto Liza and rode out to meet Sorin. He took one look at me and snorted derisively.

      "I ought to sack you already, Finn. Late every day this week!"

      "Who would help you with the cows then?" I teased mildly.

      He threw up his hands while still holding onto the reins of his horse, "Some young boy wanting to prove himself and has the decency to be on time!"

      "I am decent," I mumbled. "I can’t control my nightmares is all."

      Sorin shook his head but did not press the matter. We quickly finished herding the cows into the barn, and Sorin left to milk them while I tended the horses. Eight wonderful steeds roamed the clearing including my Liza and Sorin's Dreeves. Six of the horses had all been born of the older mare, Kella. Liza was the only other female, born more recently than the others, at three years old. Her coat was a brilliant orange-red, just like the sunset; her tail and mane were red and streamed behind her like fire as she galloped. Sorin had been trying to get her to breed with one of the six stallions he owned, but complained she was too hard-headed to take a mate. I was glad of it though. If she became pregnant it would greatly limit how often I could ride her, and it never felt right to ride one of the others.

      After my work with the horses was finished, I laid on the soft grass and stared up at the clouds. They drifted by leisurely, much like the days in Dower. Each was the same as the last and continued with no end in sight. As I lay there I lifted my right hand above me to look at the back of it. Since birth there had been a mark on it in the shape of two crescent moons facing away from each other: one with a small sun between its ends and the other with a star. Usually I kept it hidden with a strip of cloth wrapped around my hand, but in my haste that morning I had forgotten. The sight of it brought questions from the villagers that I couldn’t answer. It also created a strange burning sensation whenever I had my recurring dream.

      The sun was nearly at its zenith by the time Sorin emerged from the barn. He looked tired and hungry, as he always did after milking the twelve female cows he owned. I quickly hid my hand from view and stood as he approached.

      After a long stretch and a loud yawn Sorin turned to me. "Lunchtime. Let's see what Lyann has for us today."

      I nodded and we walked towards the village. Lyann was Sorin's fiance and made our lunch everyday. She was a quiet girl, only eighteen, and she was exceptionally beautiful. Sorin had gotten lucky that she'd fallen in love with him, otherwise half the young men in the village would be after her. None of them would dare touch Sorin's girl though; he'd have them beaten to a pulp in a pile of cow manure the next morning.

      We made it to Sorin's house, which was the closest one to the clearing, and Lyann greeted Sorin with a kiss on the cheek. She smiled warmly at me and ushered us both inside to the table. It was set for three, as usual, today's fare a hearty rabbit stew. Sorin and I took our places across from each other and immediately started filling our bowls. We ate ravenously, tearing off bits of fresh bread now and then. Lyann ate politely with a broad smile.

      I leaned back after finishing a second helping of stew with a sigh, "Delicious as always, Lyann!"

      "Thank you, Finn," She smiled gently. "I used the rabbits you got this week. They were perfect for stew."

      Before I could respond, Sorin looked at Lyann, "What's this? Using another man's catch to feed your future husband? Finn better not be stealing you away with his bow!"

      We all laughed. Lyann's voice was like a soft bell filling the room, "When you start catching such lovely rabbits I'll cook them. For now Finn is the only one bringing me any meat."

      "It’s strange though," I spoke quietly. "There’s hardly any game nearby. What I’ve caught was solely out of luck, but no one else seems to think so. I've had five women already ask me to bring them some of my next catch. Next time I go out, I'll have to bring back at least ten rabbits!"

      Sorin laughed loudly, "It's your own fault for being so good at hunting, boy! You should be happy for all the attention you've been getting from the ladies. A girl might be just what you need to keep your head below the treeline."

      I rolled my eyes, "Maybe, if the women asking me to hunt weren't already married."

      "You'll find a lovely girl soon, Finn," Lyann said comfortingly. "Not all the girls in Dower are taken."

      "Just remember that this one is!" Sorin joked as he wrapped an arm around Lyann's shoulder.

      We laughed again, but I quieted first. I didn't need a girl right now: I needed to stop these nightmares. They had started weeks ago and were getting steadily worse. Sleep evaded me completely no matter how early I went to bed. These dreams had to mean something, but I had no idea. Darkness could signify a lot of things.

      I kept thinking about my nightmares as we said goodbye and started walking back towards the clearing. As we approached the main road I paused and listened carefully. Sorin stopped and threw a question back at me, but I didn't hear it. I stared down the main road where it went off into the dark woods, heading west out of the forest. Something like the pounding of hooves seemed to be coming up the road. It sounded similar to the figure's black horse in my dream, charging forward straight at me....

      Sorin's hand on my shoulder made me jump and I whirled to face him. He looked worried, which was rare. I looked back down the road but the sound of hooves was gone. Shaking my head to clear it I assured Sorin I was fine. We continued on, but I couldn't help glancing back at the road disappearing into darkness.

           The next morning, after waking from my nightmare earlier than usual, I lay in bed for some time in silence. While my mind swirled around the recurring events of my dream, my eyes traveled across the room to where my family’s sword hung above the door. The sight of it brought memories I did not care for to the surface. Memories of the last day I’d seen my father alive: of when I’d still had a family.

           With the sudden need to move I leapt up from bed to get dressed. After wrapping my left hand like usual I glanced out the single window near my bed to see where the sun was at. It was still a bit early to go to work…. Unconsciously my gaze traveled back to the sword. Hesitantly, I approached and removed it from its mount. Pulling the blade free of its sheath I stared at the shining steel. For being centuries old it was in surprisingly good condition. My father used to say it was infused with magic by the gods. He used to say a lot of odd things.

           I sighed heavily before resheathing the sword. Tucking it under my arm I left home. On my way towards the cow pasture I stopped by Juanos’ shop. His forge was already blazing hot and ready for a day's work. The old foreign blacksmith smiled down at me with gentle green eyes.

           “‘Morning, Finn,” Juanos spoke in his light, rolling accent. “It is not often I get to greet you so early.”

           I grinned a little and held up my family’s sword. “Yes, well, I was hoping you would sharpen this for me.”

           Juanos took the sword reverently, slowly drawing it. The ring of its steel seemed to echo as he examined the blade.

           “Never have I seen such craftsmanship,” Juanos murmured. “This surpasses all the ancient forging techniques I have heard of. Where did you get such a blade?”

           “It’s a family sword,” I pointed to the jeweled hilt. “My father used to say the gems represent the gods of Astoria. He claimed the sword held their powers.”

           Juanos’ eyes flickered with pity, just like everyone else’s did whenever my family was mentioned. Gently he slid the sword back into its sheath and set it next to his grindstone.

           “I will gladly sharpen it for you, Finn. It will be ready for you when you finish work today.”

           “Thank you, Juanos,” I nodded before quickly turning away towards the cow pasture.

           The day passed uneventfully, just as it always did. On the way back from lunch I paused to listen near the road into the forest. No sound of hoofbeats today. Feeling somewhat relieved, I finished out my work day and returned to the forge. Juanos was busy with another customer, so he simply waved at me to take my sword. I knew better than to try insisting on paying him: he had never asked me for any form of payment when I needed his services.

            It wasn’t until I was on my way home from the blacksmith that I heard it again: echoing hooves beating against the dirt. I whirled to face the road, one hand moving swiftly to my sword hilt. Nothing was there though. The sound had faded quickly along with the sun’s light.

      That evening I lay in bed weary from today's work and unable to sleep. I kept thinking about the hooves I'd heard after lunch yesterday, and again today. It had sounded so real... I couldn't possibly have imagined it. With a groan I rolled onto my side and shut my eyes as if that would block out my thoughts. All I heard were those hooves though. I reopened my eyes and the sound remained. Instantly I was up and tugging on my boots as I ran out the door. By the time I reached the part of the road that vanished into the forest I was breathing heavily. The minutes rolled by and the sound didn't go away or fade. A chilly night breeze sent a shiver through me but I didn't move.

      "Who are you?" I whispered to the darkness, thinking of the figure from my dream.

      Suddenly the hooves grew louder than before and I glimpsed something coming up the road. A horse with a cloaked rider stopped right where the road became shadowed by the trees. The rider didn’t seem completely there though; more like a shadow cast by the trees. I gazed in awe as the rider examined me slowly. Its gaze seemed to stop at my right hand, which I’d forgotten to cover up once again. Then it made a motion for me to follow and turned back the way it had come. My first few steps were without thinking, but then I hesitated. Why was I about to follow a suspicious stranger into the forest without a moment's thought?

      I ran my tongue over my dry lips, speaking barely above a whisper to the rider, "Allow me a few minutes to grab my horse, if you will?"

      The rider nodded and let go of its reigns as if to show it wasn't going anywhere. I ran first back to my small house, donning a dark green cloak and grabbing my bow and quiver. Before I left I paused to look up at the sword back in its place over the door. My heart pounding loudly in my ears, I grabbed it and secured it to my belt. Then I sprinted to the pasture and whistled softly for Liza. She trotted towards the gate sleepily to give me a questioning snort.

      "Don't worry, girl," I whispered gently as I grabbed her halter and led her out of the pasture. "We'll come back." I hope.

      When I reached the road I saw the rider was still there. I gave a silent sigh of relief and urged Liza to approach. The rider turned and started trotting briskly along the road. Liza and I followed at a distance, my eyes straining to see in the dark. After following the road for less than an hour the rider suddenly veered away and plunged into the trees. We followed hesitantly as my eyes darted all around searching for hidden enemies. Nothing attempted to ambush us, however, and eventually we emerged into what appeared to be a very large clearing. A single massive oak tree grew in the center, its branches creating a canopy over the clearing. Giant, twisting roots snaked away in all directions and seemed to connect to the roots of the normal-sized trees.

      The rider had disappeared, leaving me and Liza to stand before the massive tree. Through its branches I could see the moon shining brightly overhead. A night breeze wrapped around me as I stared at the tree. Suddenly a heavy wind whirled through the clearing causing the tree’s branches to rustle violently. Leaves swirled to the ground and the tree itself seemed to be... waking up?

      "Hmm!" An old, gentle voice echoed around me. "Thou hast come at last, Finn. Long have I awaited thee."

      The mark on my hand tingled at the sound of the tree’s ancient voice. I clutched at it nervously. "Y-you talk? What manner of tree are you?"

      The tree gave a deep, throaty chuckle. "I am ancient beyond thy understanding. From my roots this forest thrives, and so shall I live for eternity. Yet that is not why thou hast come here. Call me what thou wilt, though many before ye named me the Grand Oak."

     My eyes widened, "From the legend? You're the spirit of the forest who made the trees grow and gave life to Astoria?"

      "Such deeds were done many ages ago, and now matter not. In this age it is the Ancient Hero who matters," There was a loud groaning before the Oak continued. "There is much to explain, yet my time grows short. Surely thou hast seen the quietness of this forest as of late? Tis due to a foul blackness covering the land. It seeps into the trees and spreads through my roots. A poison has entered me that threatens the forest. If I die from it, so shall all those who call the forest their home."

      I swallowed hard, "Dower would die?"

      "Only thou of the ancient bloodline of heroes can cure the poison within me. This is the first of many tests thou shalt endure to gain strength and wisdom. Then thou shalt rise to purge the evil from this sacred land, which was chosen by the gods."

      "Me?" I laughed nervously. "You think me a hero? I've heard stories of the Ancient Heroes, and I am nothing like those brave warriors. I am a cowherd, nothing more. There must be someone better than I to save you, Grand Oak."

      "Such little faith in thee," The Oak sighed heavily. "Canst thou not see thy destiny? The Spirit of the Lost guided thee here so that thou may begin thy journey. If thou fails in thy task, all shall perish. This thou hast seen in thy dreams, have thou not?"

      My eyes widened once more. "My dream.... The darkness covering the land is this poison? But what about the figure on the black horse?"

      "The poison that afflicts me is only a taste of what shall come. It is thy destiny to save this land from darkness."

      "And how am I to do that?"

      "Like mine there are many legends from the beginning. However, I am no mere spirit as the people now believe. I am the essence of Formarri, God of Life. Save me from my curse, and thou shalt inherit my power. Then thou must journey to seek the other gods: Triare, God of Air; Zevran, God of Fire; Palin, God of Water; Cavash, God of Time; and Crest, God of Light. Each shall give thee their power which thou must use to defeat the darkness. Go now behind me and enter the opening at my base. It shall lead thee to my core: the Lifespring. Cleanse the taint thou shalt find there, and continue thy journey beyond this forest."

      Another wind whipped up, sending more leaves swirling towards the ground. A loud groaning echoed as the Grand Oak seemed to be settling, as if going back to sleep.

      "Wait!" I cried, sliding off Liza and rushing to the base of the Oak. "I don't understand. Help me!"

      The Grand Oak did not answer. Left in silence, I turned towards Liza who looked calm and unworried. This is madness, I thought to myself. I am no hero. Though the women of Dower might think differently... But that is only because I am lucky enough to catch something when I hunt. That doesn't really mean anything. Besides, if gods are involved do I really want to get dragged into this? I grew up hearing stories of the gods who created Astoria before man started keeping track of time. It was said that to look upon them in their full power would turn any person to ash. Twenty was too young to meet a god and become ash.

      "Argh!" I cried out in frustration. "What am I to do!?"

      Another strong wind suddenly burst through the clearing, startling Liza. She reared up and bolted off into the woods. I called after her and tried to give chase, but my foot caught on a root and sent me sprawling in the grass. By the time I had scrambled to my feet Liza was nowhere to be seen. After calling her name several times I gave up. She was smart enough to make it back to the pasture on her own, but that left me to make it home on foot. I glanced back at the Oak.

      "Well, since I was left here..." I mumbled as I made for the backside of the tree.

      Sure enough, after climbing over several of the Oak's large roots, I spotted a hole at its base. There was a small ledge just inside the hole before it disappeared into nothingness. I looked up at the Oak and then the hole dubiously. With a sigh, I secured all my belongings and crawled into the hole until I was sitting on the ledge. No sound or wind came up from it as I sat there yet a strong shiver went up my spine. I closed my eyes and let myself slide off the ledge.

© 2018 Natasha Reams

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on February 1, 2018
Last Updated on February 1, 2018


Natasha Reams
Natasha Reams

Anderson, AK

Hi, thanks for reading my stuff in advance. I LOVE wolves, and supernatural romances are my favorite books. I have two dogs (one of which is named Samwise Gamgee so I'm pretty nerdy) and I used to own.. more..