Wings of Paper - Chapter 14

Wings of Paper - Chapter 14

A Chapter by A.L.

Up the Mountain


We rose before dawn and continued our trek up the volcano. The path was growing harshed with every step and the signs were becoming so urgent they were almost hilarious. 

Certain death lies beyond this point. Warm temperatures ahead. You have been warned. Seriously, turn around - I’m risking my life to put these signs up! 

Though the signs made all of us laugh we were exhausted from the endless days of travel and did not make much conversation. This would be our last step before our journey to defeat Dee - again. This time we wouldn’t fail. We couldn’t fail. 

A lot was riding on my shoulders alone and the stress was finally worming its way into my veins. I could feel it squeezing my chest, a constant pressure crushing me. 

If I didn’t succeed my friends would die. There was a possibility that I would die too. 

Not to mention those who had already been killed by the Darkness. The weight of their deaths pressed in on me, attacking my mind over and over like a knife. 

As we drew closer to the peak of the volcano the air grew warmer and thicker until attempting to breathe was like fire itself. We had to stop even more frequently now, becoming out of breath faster. 

“The number one tourist death-trap,” Alex read from the brochure. She had been reading it over and over again, as if the words would change. 

“We get it - the mountain kills people,” Sadie groaned. “Or maybe the mountain doesn’t kill people - the people do it to escape this crazy heat. I feel like my skin is going to melt off.” She wiped her brow, her skin pink and raw. 

I could practically feel the radiating waves of heat from the ground through my sneakers. Hunger gnawed at my stomach but it wasn’t time to eat yet. Our food stores were dwindling just like our spirits. Every step was like agony, and I felt like if Dee didn't kill me the insane heat would. 

“Good news, we only have one more rotation around the volcano to go!” Hiro said cheerfully, though his tone was sluggish. And then he passed out. 

At least this time he didn’t have any cliffs to fall off of. 

Unfortunately, he also gave no warning which meant his problem was getting worse. Our group slowed to a stop as Kenzie moved Hiro’s limp arm with her toe. “He’s out cold,” she sighed. 

“We can’t stop here,” Sammy said. “The path is too narrow and steep - if something attacks us we won’t be able to defend ourselves.” 

“Fashion a leash out of a rope and tie it to him. Just drag him behind us,” Sadie offered. 

“The rope is too frayed,” Alex sighed, though she looked like she was actually considering the thought. 

Kenzie grit her teeth and grabbed Hiro, tossing him over her shoulder like a sack of flour. “I can carry him, he’s not that heavy.” 

Sure, Hiro wasn’t tall or fat. But he was still a person and carrying him seemed like a lot of added weight plus climbing up the side of the mountain. But Kenzie just clenched her jaw and carried on, leading the way. 

Kenzie’s every step seemed to draw more energy out of her. But she persisted onwards even with Hiro across her shoulders. It was more than I could ever hope to do. 

About an hour later we reached the final campsite on the volcano. This one had no buildings, no trees, no nothing. It was simply a flattened area of rocky dirt with a signpost scorched to the point of illegibility. 

Beside the signpost was a skeleton. With every gust of wind it shimmered slightly, a golden form appearing in front of it. 

“Is that a ghost?” Alex asked, gesturing towards the golden apparition. 

Sadie and Sammy both shook their heads. Sammy was the one to answer, his voice cracking. “That is the body of a deceased elf. After we die our light forces beg for freedom and can no longer escape from us. It leaves behind an impression of us, forever bonded to the place of our death.” That sounded … eerie. I imagined being in a library and a random, screaming, dead elf just appears out of nowhere. 

Sammy’s mother must be tethered to the road right outside his house, I thought. No wonder he was so upset. He had to walk by her dead form on the way to school and back every day. 

Kenzie, with Hiro still draped across her neck, inspected the signpost looking for a way to read it. Finally she laid him on the ground and took a seat next to him, dropping her pack to the ground. “We’ll have to stop here.” 

“Why?” I asked. Although I wasn’t eager to get up close and personal with the interior of the volcano, I didn’t want to wait too long. The Darkness was progressing faster than ever. 

“I can’t carry Hiro any longer. Not to mention the ring of Darkness is ahead. Only you and Alex can walk through it and you need a plan,” Kenzie explained. “We have no idea what all is up there.” 

“Or how I can get through the Darkness when it blinds me,” I added. I wasn’t necessarily excited to walk through pitch blackness again - especially not after last time. 

I shuddered at the thought of the visions and the sensations of creatures around me. 

Never again

I would not be the weak baby like last time. I will not have to be dragged out of the Darkness as I go insane. 

“The longer we wait the more the Darkness consumes,” Alex said. “Luke and I can leave now and be back by tomorrow morning. I mean, how long does it take to forge a sword?” Probably a while, but I didn’t know. 

I didn’t know how I was supposed to forge the sword either. My plan was full of holes and we had no time to fix them. Hiro’s condition was worsening and while I wasn’t sure that he would die we were certainly losing our ability to use him as a fighter. Hiro was drifting away and I still hadn’t found a way to stop the Darkness. 

“Fine,” I agreed at last, surprising myself and the others. 

“Luke, are you sure? We can still plan…” Kenzie stuttered. 

“Hiro needs us to hurry,” I answered. “So does the rest of the world. I can’t let anyone else die.” Too many people were gone. 

Sammy nodded. “I understand.” Sadie blinked once. Only Kenzie seemed opposed. 

“I’ll come with you,” Kenzie said, standing up and grabbing her sword. “You need someone to protect you and…” 

“Are you saying I’m no good with a sword?” Alex interrupted, placing her hands on her hips. I held my breath, waiting for a fight to break out. Kenzie sighed, shaking her head as she struggled to form words. 

Finally, Kenzie spoke. “I … you’re like my sister now. I can’t bear to lose you.” 

“So you’d kill yourself before losing me?” Alex again. “If anyone besides Luke and I go into the Darkness it’ll be like committing suicide. We can handle ourselves.” 

I didn’t voice my objections to that because I figured that would just make it harder for Kenzie to let us leave. Not that we needed her permission anyways - if I imagined her asleep she would sleep. 

“C’mon, Luke,” Alex grabbed my wrist, beginning to pull me away. 

“Be careful, please,” Kenzie said, her voice soft. Alex didn’t respond, she kept pulling me along until we were striding up the path alone. 

“You seem angry,” I noted. 

“It’s nothing,” Alex mumbled. “I’m just stressed, that’s all.” I understood that entirely, but something else was going on too. 

There were no more signs on the path and I felt woefully unprepared for this mini mission. The air began to feel cooler than I had felt in previous days and I could feel the Darkness ahead. It was like a heavy weight on my mind, dragging me down. I pushed ahead anyways. The Darkness could not control me. 

“We’re here,” Alex announced, breaking me out of my thoughts. The Darkness was like a wall in front of us, solid yet gaseous, overwhelming yet calm. 

“Are we sure about this?” I asked, my voice shaking slightly as I felt the hairs on my arms stand up. I could practically feel the prickling feet on my skin, pulling at the fabric of my shirt. 

“We don’t have a choice. And I’d rather not pass through it at night,” Alex said. “Just hold on to me and I promise I won’t let you go. I will lead you through. Trust me.” 

“I do trust you,” I lied. I had just met Alex a few days ago. A week? Time seemed different here. The others I had known for years since their creation. But Alex? She was a real person. 

“You don’t,” Alex said, tearing apart my lie. “Luke, I won’t let the Darkness have you.” 

I shivered involuntarily as the Darkness reached out a tendril of mist. It brushed my arm, feeling cold as ice. “I know you won’t.” 

“But you’re still scared.” 

“I shouldn’t be. The Darkness is somehow my own creation.” 

“You have every right to be scared. The Darkness is not your fault, no matter how much you say it is,” Alex told me. “I will keep you steady in there, but if you let the Darkness control you inside there’s nothing I can do for that. I know you can make it through.” 

She didn’t know that. I had barely made it out the last time. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. But that didn’t change how it felt for me. 

“It can try all it wants, but the Darkness can’t have me,” I said, inhaling deeply. 

Alex opened her mouth like she wanted to say something. But then she closed her mouth and looked away. “Let’s go then.” 

The Darkness was colder than ice. It tugged at my skin, begging me to stay and collapse. But Alex’s hand in mine was like a beacon. A light. A warmth that anchored me to the real world. Against the Darkness it was the only thing holding me steady. 

I was blind in this mess. But Alex seemed to know exactly where we were going. She pulled me along, slowing when I began to hyperventilate. She whispered in my ear but the Darkness was interfering with my hearing as well. I heard a jumble of words, but nothing more than that. 

I could hear the pitter patter of feet around me but knew it was only hallucinations. But that didn’t make it any less real to me. 

Alex squeezed my hand, reminding me that I needed to just keep my mind shut. But with being a creative person and everything, my mind refused to silence. It conjured up pictures of bodies, of creatures with teeth as sharp as knives and screeches like screams. I forced these pictures out of my head - anything I created could possibly come to life. 

For some reason I recalled an article I had read for science about predators versus prey. About the flight or fight instinct - and there was another one too. Freeze

Icy shivers rolled down my shoulders, racking my body with tremors. I could feel the iron grasp of hands on my shoulders, holding me still. My heart was running away but I was frozen in place. 

Sounds echoed around me. The creatures weren’t happy. There was a warm tugging on my hand but the dark shadows were the only thing occupying my mind. 

The creatures shouted things at me. The phrases sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognize the voices. Why did you create me? I’m useless!

You are the cause of the Darkness, the reason that Dee exists, the reason that Hiro is dying.

Why are you even trying to fix this? The world you created is not your home - it’s not even close. Go home where you belong. 

You’re the cause of the deaths of the villagers. 

Why even write? You’ll never get anywhere in life by putting words on paper. Pick a better career now because I won’t be there to help you when everything collapses on you.  

The last words caused pictures to form in my mind. I saw a man with eyes the same shade as mine, gray as the clouds that coated the sky. His mouth formed shapes, but the words that came didn’t match the picture. It was dismantled, broken, distorted. 

He shouted at me, voice harsh. The words sliced my brain like a scythe. “You’ll never raise a family with a job like that. The only billionaire authors are propaganda, to give people hope. I won’t let my son become a disgrace and have a job like that.” He spat the last word, shaking his head. It was like he was talking to me but also someone else at the same time. 

“It’s not useless!” That was my voice, but I didn’t say it. “Authors make people happy!” 

“Happiness is fleeting,” the man argued. “A book will never stick with you, not like cold hard facts. If you want to write words then you might as well record meetings or court trials.” 

“I don’t want to write facts, I want to write fiction. To give people hope and make them happy,” the voice of me argued. “It’s not useless, and I won’t beg for your help either. I can start a family on my own.” 

The man scoffed. “Disgraceful child. Who would want to love something like an author?” 

The pictures faded away leaving my insides hollow and emotions raw. The warmth on my hand tugged again but the word freeze echoed in my mind. I was under attack. Maybe if the force thought I was dead it would leave me alone. 

The screams came again. 

You can’t spell anything right! Your stories are trash! What kind of name is Hiro?! Why are you wasting your time on a talent that can’t be improved! I’m sorry, Luke, but I just can’t accept this work - it’s not nearly what the district is looking for. Get a life!  

The voice blurred together, attacking me over and over again. I could feel the words actually bombarding me. Slamming into my skin. 

The warmth tugged again, even more insistent than ever now. A voice thick and sweet as honey poured into my head, filling it with sludge. Warm sludge. Bright sludge. Hopeful sludge. 

I dove inside the pool of sludge, feeling its warmth circle my body. I could feel the hole in my chest filling. I saw pictures of people who looked familiar. A boy with dark hair and narrow eyes. A girl with long, dark and a fierce glare. A blonde girl with delicate wrists and ringlets. A boy closed off to the world, his pointed ears reddening. And the last face, a girl with dark hair and vivid blue eyes boring into my soul. 

Alex. The name simply appeared and I realized that the girl was probably an Alex. 

The sludge surrounding me suddenly became to loosen. It became liquidy and finally like a gas, the golden color flooding my mind with light. 

It grew, lifting me up, carrying me away. The higher I got the more I remembered. The faces had names! Hiro, Kenzie, Sadie, Sammy! I wanted to cry for joy but the golden gas was still lifting me. Higher and higher I rose until it seemed like the ceiling was mere inches away. 

A ceiling? No, that was wrong. 

There were no limits to my mind. No fences, no ceilings, no cages. I was free. The ceiling broke away, falling to the ground in flakes.The gas was solidifying into a staircase, I climbed as high as I could, towering far above the ground. Gray clouds carpeted the sky. Each one rumbled with thunder. 

Nothing could hold me back. Not the end of the staircase. Not the clouds. Not even darkness. 

From my shoulders sprouted sheets of white and black. They flapped, catching the wind, picking me up, carrying me away. I soared through the clouds with wings of my creation. 

Wings of paper, the black letters lining them spelling the word fly over and over again. 

In my mind anything was possible. I flew through the clouds until my wings folded inwards on themselves, disappearing. 

Darkness pressed inwards on my mind but the golden staircase morphed into a wall. In the wall there was a tiny hole, too small for the Darkness but plenty big enough for me. I left the safety of my walled space. And ran through the blackness until reality crashed inwards on me like a tsunami. 

Someone was calling my name. My eyes fluttered open and I was met with a surprising revelation. I could see! 

Everything was blurry, but that still counted as seeing. 

My vision cleared even more, almost as if the Darkness was making a path for me. I knew it wasn’t. The icy coolness on my limbs was evidence of that. 

I realized that I was still gripping Alex’s hand, and she was gripping mine. Her hand was so warm, it must have been the warmth I was feeling earlier. She was leading me ahead, and I was stumbling along beside her, not even thinking. 

We had to be close to the top of the mountain by now, or at least halfway through. There was no way of telling how much time had passed while I was hallucinating. 

The Darkness around me grew thinner, becoming mere wisps of color. Alex’s presence at my side was like a beacon, flashing the way. She wasn’t speaking, she kept her eyes fixed ahead. I followed her - I assumed she knew where we were going. 

Before I knew it we stumbled out of the Darkness. Alex let go of me, rubbing her eyes and head before plopping down a rock. 

I took a moment to get my bearings. The Darkness had stopped at the edge of the path. On the opposite side of us was a rocky entrance to a tunnel, leading inwards into the volcano. The air was hot and cold at the same time, like the volcano and the Darkness were battling. 

“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Alex said. She sounded emotionless and exhausted. 

“I never fell asleep,” I argued. 

“You weren’t asleep, but you were hallucinating again. You were mumbling things, sweating like crazy,” Alex explained. 

“I woke up at the end,” I protested. “Something woke me up.” I didn’t say that the warmth of her hand was part of it. Nor did I mention my vivid visions, they felt too personal to share. 

Alex shrugged. “We made it out. That’s all that matters.” 

She didn’t say that we would have to make it through again. I wasn’t going to say it either. That was something for later. 

“Should we go inside?” I asked her. 

“What else do we have to do?” Alex asked me, her voice still empty. Had she experienced something in the Darkness? I had no way of knowing, not unless she told me. 

I took a step towards the tunnel. The sword was the only way. 

I just had no idea how I was supposed to forge it. 

© 2020 A.L.

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Added on September 4, 2020
Last Updated on September 4, 2020
Tags: short stories, teen, young adult, fantasy, adventure, fiction, quest, darkness, heroes, castle, kingdom, imagination, doubt, confidence



I've been writing for a little over two years now - just short stories and occasionally a book (by word count alone). My main works are sci-fi and fantasy, aimed at a teen audience. I'm still in high .. more..