Darkness Ascending: Prologue
April 7, 2015
The night was dark, the air cold. To the lone boy walking home in the quiet stillness, nothing was amiss. This quiet village just outside of the Hoia-Baciu forest had not seen any significant trouble for some time now. As far as the young boy could remember, sickness was never a problem, nor was violence. The quiet folk of the village had no skills in criminal activities, nor did they have any want of partaking in those activities.
So the boy was not scared. He loved the stillness, the peace, the tranquility. He could see the lone light of his mother’s house on the horizon, and picked up his pace; eager to eat.
When he stepped into the wood shack, the smell of roasting lamb and fresh herbs overwhelmed him.
“Momma! Mr. Albescu told me I could work at his farm! I can feed the ducks and the sheep and the cows and the pigs and the…”
“Please! Andrei!”, his mother interrupted,“Can you not see I am fixing supper? You are fourteen now! You should know when to respect me!”
“I’m sorry Momma.”
“Good, now go clean your hands, we will eat soon.”
The boy walked through the laundry line hanging from the rafters, and pushed his way out the back door. The sound of the stream guided the boy through the sparse trees. The flicker of fireflies throughout the tall grass only added to the child’s fascination. When he finally found his way to the burbling stream, he sat, and dipped his hands into the cool, running water.
He sat there for a moment, feeling the water get caught and then escape from the prison he created with his hands. He pondered this for a while longer, and the thoughts racing through his head, such as man’s capability to harness nature, were far too complex for his unworldly and uneducated conscious to comprehend. Shaking his head, he rose, and turned around.
The small shack, which had been no more than twenty steps away five minutes ago, had been swallowed by the dark. There was no light from the windows, nor was there the familiar sound of Momma cooking and humming that the boy was sure he had heard not a moment before. The sound of the stream had disappeared too. Same with the crickets. The darkness around him screamed at him in silence, and his head rushed.
“Where am I?”, his thoughts escaped him into the void.
The darkness did not respond.
Taking a tentative step forward, the boy felt his hand brush up against something hard and…bark-like. A tree. This was still a forest, the boy thought, but which one. He had grown up around his forests, had played in them when he was younger, and knew all of them like the back of his hand. All that is, except one. A forest that everyone in the village was forbidden from entering, upon pain of death. A forest that was known for taking the lives of careless wanderers. He was in Hoia-Baciu.
The boy’s heart started racing, adrenaline pumping through his veins. He crouched, waiting for the onslaught he was sure was going to commence.
“What would it be”, he wondered, “werewolves, shapeshifters, bears?”
He strained his ears in the silence, strained his eyes in the dark, but could not make head nor tails of anything. Suddenly, a twig snapped in the distance, shattering the glass-like veil of silence.
The boy whipped his head around at the sound of leaves rustling, and then crouched lower when he heard a heavy branch crack into two. Then, the whispers began. Awful, terrible, horrible, eerily human whispers came from all directions. They begged him for his body, and then begged him for his soul, and then begged him to join them. It was at the last request that the boy was shocked from his fear, and he jolted. Letting his survival instincts take over, he whipped over the fallen husks of trees, almost sensing them in the dark. He kept running until he thought he saw a light. It was a flicker, but it was a beacon at the end of his torment and torture.
The boy emerged into a clearing. He could feel the wisps of the tall grass brush against his legs, and a cool wind brush against his face. Finally stopping to catch a breath, the boy looked around at his surroundings. The light he had seen earlier flitted in the distance. Taking deep breaths, the boy looked over his shoulder. The shadows behind him seemed to be writhing and squirming in the night. Fear once more striking his heart, the boy took off running, with hardly enough time to breath . The light that had served as his only beacon in the dark was now gone; and, not being able to see, the boy tripped on a rock, and fell.
It had been seven weeks. Don’t ask the boy how he knows this, as the time that exists in the forest is not like the time outside of it. In a forest where the sun never rises, the boy had lost all concept of time. He had lived in fear for what sometimes felt like ten minutes, and other times ten years. He could feel his mind breaking down around him as the unul r?u (the evil ones, as he called them, you might call them demons) whispered to him. They wanted his body, his mind, or his soul––which ever came first. The boy rose from his ramshackle shelter, and began his futile trek to freedom. The quiet stillness of the dark was novice to the boy, he had gotten so used to the creaking and breaking of trees drowned out only by the incessant voices of his tormentors.
As he left his shack, the boy’s dark-adjusted eyes could pick up more than most humans. The faint outline of trees, of bushes, of rocks. Those were the only obstacles that could be seen, but that was enough. The boy could easily pick his way through the forest during his endless retreat.
The boy found his way through the forest, using his pathetic and newly-developed night vision to avoid the obstacles in his way. It was at this time that the boy discovered something unusual. On the ground, in a strange pattern, were rocks. Bending down to pick them up, the boy could feel unique inscriptions on each and every one of them. Gathering them all (for sale, if he ever made it out of the forest), the boy continued on his way. Holding one of the rocks in his hand, and the rest at the bottom of his rabbit-skin bag, the boy emerged into the same clearing he was in over seven weeks ago. The voices began once more. The old adrenaline flooded the boys veins, and he prepared to run. The stone still in hand, he turned around, only to find the shadows had wrapped themselves like a blanket around him.
“Stop!” he shouted, in a desperate voice.
And they did. The demons stopped whispering, and parted for him. Cautiously, the boy crept between the walls of shadow, and ran. Wondering why his hunters would do such a thing, he suddenly realized. The stone! The stone must have some sort of power over the unul r?u. He held it, and they listened. Determined to finally fight back, the boy turned, and held his ground. The rapidly approaching shadows swarmed him once more. The boy selected a second stone from his bag, and held it up. Immediately, one of the shadows was filled with bright light, and burst like an animal that had died and had been left out in the sun too long. The whispering of the shadows increased in tempo, so the boy once more grabbed a stone. Holding it up, he could faintly see a word inscribed in the stone.
“Ahtâaz?”, he breathed. Wondering what on earth that could mean.
A voice answered him from the shadows.
“How may I please thee, master?”
He had command over a devil! The boy was ecstatic. The power he could attain…it was indescribable! After running for so long, he was tired of being helpless. So, in a commanding tone the boy answered, “I want your power.”
And all went black.