Welcome back to another offering of Left of Midnight! The newest book in my arsenal of literary offerings! I’m Timothy Scott Purvis and I’m pleased to be bringing you yet another writing of my from my new book. I hope you enjoy it and that it meets your expectations from what I’ve been putting up here so far.
So, without further ado, let’s get to it!
THEY MARCHED ONWARD for the next day and a half and camped out at the end of the second. Shōtō could feel an agitation building in his gut the closer they got to the volcano. Currently, they were camped underneath a series of stony alcoves that overlooked part of the forest. There was still a lot of forest rising high and above the alcoves beyond the stony outcroppings, but neither of them could see that portion of the island from inside where they sat. It was deeper than the alcove near the lake. Allowing for the both of them to stretch out on their makeshift mats. Even roomy enough to build a fire in the center of without the smoke blinding them or the heat burning their flesh off. Yet the entrance to the alcove looked out at the volcano and it sent dread up his body.
Tomorrow, they would arrive at the base of the great mountain. Its impressive girth now dominated the skyline and rose higher than even Fujisan itself. This unnerved Shōtō even more. There is something in there. I can feel it. The closer we get, the more that certainty is there. We should turn back. Even being this close is a mistake. Perhaps tomorrow, should he refuse, I’ll just head back myself. Let idiot bear the brunt of whatever wickedness lies at the heart of that thing. Where Fujisan is a blessing and fills the heart with joy, this thing is a curse. Full of hate and rage and darkness. Sorrow lies there.
“Penny for your thoughts?”
Shōtō nearly jumped out of his skin as he shifted his view from the volcano where its silhouette sat against a darkening sky, the vivid oranges, yellows, and reds of the setting sun disappearing from view beyond the little edges of the forest canopy he could see vanishing behind the great volcano’s base. He looked at Avery and sighed.
“Nothing much. Just looking at that monstrous thing,” Shōtō said and looked to his fingers picking at one another. He hadn’t realized he’d been doing that. “Are you sure you want to go up there, Aberrysan?”
“Aberry?” the man looked at him quizzically. “Is that what you’ve been saying? I guess learning English has been challenging for you. I have to admit, trying to pick up Japanese makes my head hurt. But, for future reference, it’s ‘Avery’. Ave reeeeee.”
Shōtō looked to him for a long moment trying not to grin. “Ave dddreeeeee.”
“No ‘d’ in Ave reeeeee.”
Shōtō laughed then and leaned back against the wall of the alcove feeling the warmth of the fire for the first time. The coldness threatening to engulf him seemed to be nothing now. Just a quick chill that was fast dimming into nothing. He no longer felt as dark and the looming form of the volcano no longer felt so… full of doom.
“Yes. No ‘d’. Sorry, Averysan. Part of the Nihongo speech pattern I suppose.”
“Nihongo?” Avery leaned forward and clasped his hands over his knees.
Shōtō watched him for a moment and tilted his head slightly to one side. “Yes. You say ‘Japanese’. But the correct, well, I suppose Japanese way of saying Japanese, is Nihongo. means the same thing really. Japan is Nihon. Or Nippon. Depending on which prefecture you’re from. I lived most of my life around or in Tōkyō. So, I always just said Nihon myself.”
“Toe key yoe… Your speech is very fast. Hard to pick up on. Always just thought it sounded like gibberish til now, Shoot Toe.”
Shōtō lifted a brow and quirked the corner of his lip. “First off, that’s what I thought about your language. Fast and angry sounding. Second, it’s ‘Shōtō’. Show toe. That’s the slow way of saying it. There are plenty of inflections to get used to. But your Nih… Japanese, is getting better.”
“So, I was right that one time. It’s Show Toe. But quicker of the tongue?”
“It takes time to get it, I imagine. I was raised with it, just like you were with English.”
“Actually, my first language was Inuktitut. However, I doubt I can remember much about it anymore. Not with how often my mother moved us around. My brother and I were pretty young when she left dad…” Avery stared off into some unknown distance, his eyes fixated on the wall to the back of the alcove. He then looked to Shōtō shaking his head. “I don’t speak Japanese, Shōtō. In fact, until today, I could barely even understand what you were saying. It was a struggle to hear just how difficult your English pronunciations were. Now, it’s like you’ve been speaking it your entire life. What happened? Are you that better than me at speaking English?” he laughed and leaned back. “Shit, you probably are. I’m just some grunt runnin’ ‘round shootin’ first askin’ questions later. Point out where you want me to go, yes, sir, you want me to skipaloo while I’m at it?”
Shōtō saw him look back to his right at off to that same unseen distance. Haunted, likely, by the same sort of past Shōtō was trying to escape. And somehow fate had decreed the two of them should be right here, right now. Sharing this decent sized alcove on the way to whatever horrors awaited them on that volcano. And that slight trepidation tried to return but Shōtō tuned it out. He didn’t want to sink back into that darkness. Not just yet. There’s was something he needed to verify.
“I don’t speak very good English, Avery,” he said and Avery looked back to him. Shōtō’s demeanor had become very serious once more. “And if you’re not speaking Japanese, then there’s only one thing I can think of…” he pointed with his hands still hovering over his own knees at the dark silhouette of the volcano nearly invisible against the night sky. “That place. It’s full of a darkness. You have to feel it. Why do you want to go there so badly?”
Avery brushed the back of his head against the alcove wall not bothering to look over his left shoulder towards the mountain. Instead, he kept his gaze on Shōtō’s dark eyes, the fire flickering flecks of orange red light in his irises.
“There’s this dream I’ve been having,” he started, his voice low and resigned. “In it, I’m this guy, Neti. And I’ve been tasked with reaching this tower in the desert. But I can’t get there. I always die in the desert. Stranded for want of water and hopelessly lost. And always this voice in the sky saying, ‘reach the volcano’. And, well, I just want to know if there actually is anything special about that volcano or if I’m just having really bad dreams. I’m hoping for the later, if it’s all the same to all involved. Knowing it was simply a matter of solitude and malnourishment will go a long way to making me feel better about myself. It’s probably nothing. Just a volcano. Then we can head back home. Live our lives out as wastrels. Victims of a deranged war began by the men of power.”
Shōtō frowned and looked out the alcove entrance. The night sky was completely black now, the stars out in their vivid splendor blanketing one end of eternity to the next.
“I’ve been having strange dreams as well,” Shōtō said. “Only, I can’t remember mine. There’s only this… darkness. Telling me not to go to that volcano. To prevent you from going as well. But I don’t know why. The last real dream I can remember, was being in a field full of flowers and listening to my mother’s voice lull me to sleep. Since then, I haven’t really had a good night’s sleep. Here’s what I do know, if neither of us can really speak one another’s language, it’s because the closer we get to that place, the easier it is for the both of us to understand one another.”
Avery laughed. “Don’t be absurd! How can just getting close to a volcanic mountain, long, long dormant, by the looks of it, how can getting anywhere near that cause us to suddenly become idiot savants in language barriers?”
“I don’t know,” Shōtō sighed and looked to Avery, his own head lightly brushing the alcove wall. “What I do know is that there is an evil in there. An evil I don’t want to come anywhere near. For some reason, you’re being driven towards it. And I’m being driven away from it. I… I don’t know what the right course of action is.”
Avery leaned back forward draping his arms over his knees and affixed his eyes deeply on Shōtō’s. “How about this, then. Let’s get up to the base tomorrow morning. We’ll take a look around. If something seems really off about it, we’ll head back to our little cave home by the lake. If along the way we stop understanding each other real well, I guess that proves your theory correct. And we’ll just stay away for as long as humanly possible.”
“And if you find that you’re satisfied with what we find there?”
Avery smiled. “Well, shit, I guess we still head back to the cave home and call it at that. However, it probably also means we’re just better capable of learning one another’s speech patterns than we give each other credit for.”
Shōtō shook his head but couldn’t stop the smile. “I hope you’re right. Maybe… being on this island is driving me mad.”
“You and me both,” Avery paused and then clasped his hands together. “Hey, while we still have one another and haven’t lost the sudden ability to be gifted linguists, does your radio still work?”
“In the plane?” Shōtō shook his head. “No. I lost it when I crashed. The entire front end of the plane caved in. The nose a waste. The cabin crushed. It was only a miracle I was able to pull myself out of the cockpit. I thought my legs would be pinned forever and that was where I would die. Fortunately, there was enough give that I could just pull myself out with some forearm effort.”
“Well, shit,” Avery nodded. “It was an off hope. Mine just died after a few weeks. Never could get a signal out. Never received one in return. So odd. Anyhow. Get some sleep. If you get your way, we’ll be heading back tomorrow evening.”
Avery readjusted himself on his mat slipping down until he was flat on his back and his right forearm was over his eyes. He was asleep in less than ten minutes. Shōtō, however, was awake significantly longer. He kept thinking about what Avery had said about his own radio. Rolling it around in his own head for hours.
If he couldn’t get or receive a signal, what does that mean for us? It was an impossible thought. But he was beginning to see one thing that Avery was absolutely right about, their survival seemed to depend entirely on what the true nature of that volcano was. I think I have a name for something now, myself. Shōtō looked out into the darkness. He could still see the shape of the massive volcano rising high into the sky. It was blocking out a large portion of stars. It was like the starlit canopy above just… vanished where the mountain stood. Its evil, demonic presence still dominating the skyline. Even if he couldn’t see it. I shall call you ‘Akuryō’. Demon god of the Island of Lost Souls.
‘JUST BEYOND THE dunes of sea, the cavern networks can be seen. Travel the sands and peer the shores, upon breaking the summit of the lees bracing Edin’s seas, there you will find the lands of yore.’ The voice was deep and certain yet Neti was unsure of what it meant to convey. What was Edin? What were the Lands of Yore? Urudiin had its yore, yes. But nothing he had ever heard of in the tales spoke of such places. And now he was wandering aimlessly across the desert dunes rising and falling seeing the tower too far in the distant. Never getting closer. Never quite vanishing from view. A hazy giant so far out of reach he was sure he would die of thirst long before he reached it.
As far as any sea went, he’d lost sight of it long ago. Days, weeks, months. It was all the same to his tired mind. He’d lived off of random oases scattered along narrow stone networks peaking out of the sands whenever they seem to feel like peaking. No indications of where the small little ponds full of water had come from either. It was as if the sources of liquid just sprouted out of the ground when his need was greatest. Perhaps that was for the best, he considered. Were it not for his thirst and hunger, his need to understand what he supposed to be doing out in the dry air of the desert (not even a subtle breeze to be found) might override his burning desires and send him straight back to Urudiin and never rise up out of his burrow again.
Yet, as he crested what felt like the millionth dune, he looked out and, behold, the great sea he had seen before entering the forest long ago.
“Ha! Ha haaaaa!” he cried out and fell to his knees raising his arms Heavenward and spreading his palms outward. “Thank you, Lords! Thank you!”
He looked forward seeing that sea spreading all the way out to the horizon. He couldn’t quite smell the salt of the sea, though. For all he knew, it was another illusion. A mirage glittering on the desert floor. However, there was a feeling deep within that perhaps this vision was the real deal and the only reason he couldn’t smell anything was due to how still the air was.
An earth shattering boom echoed out and he turned towards the tower on the horizon. From this vantage, he could see its girth and its height rising strong into the sky. It was still a black silhouette in a gray haze, though. And through that haze he saw the return of the bright lights dancing to and fro, battling one another. Every time one hit the tower’s edge, the ground quaked in anguish. And he had time enough to wonder, Is this the reason why Urudiin rumbles so? Must I cease this war of the lights? Have the gods found another way to do battle using but torches and thought? At this, another boom thrummed out and he came to his feet. I pray that my people are safe and no further harm has come to them. Please, I beseech thee, whoever you gods are. Whatever you desire. Let my people remain safe and secure until I can beg of your deference. Show me my destination. Show me where—
Neti’s eyes fell upon a dark spot along the base of the leeward side of a series of rocky dunes. There, the sand seemed to culminate on the seaward side, while on its inner side a great wall of rock came out of the ground. And near its center was a cavern entrance.
At last. Thank you, Lords! Thank you! He rushed down the dune he was upon and hurried towards the cavern entrance. It was hard going at first. At the base of the dune, there was a long plain of sand that gave easily at each step. He worried he might be drawn into the depths of the sand here it was so loose. But, by some miracle, he found solid purchase on a stone floor leading the rest of the way to the entrance. White sands covered the first half of this slab floor. But as he neared the entrance, it cleared off to show an almost smooth and gray surface. His right hand came up to shield his eyes for the glare coming off the ground the closer he came. It was as if the sun were right upon him. Or, the light of the gods was blessing his cause. The skies were a crystal clear blue. Not a cloud was in sight. Yet, a sudden gust of wind kicked up a great cloud of sand when he was only a dozen feet or so from the cave, its interior beckoning him warmly.
He cast his glance down and away and pushed forward against the sandy gust beating at his flesh and just when he thought he could bear it no more, just when he was on the cusp of throwing himself upon the surface and shrinking into a ball, the winds stopped. The sand no longer pelted against his skin. He stopped and removed his arm from his face. He was within the cave entrance. Neti looked back hesitantly. There was no more sandstorm to be found. All was still and silent as it had been before he entered.
I’ve passed my first test. Now, I must find my way to the tower. Which way is it? Are there a series of tunnels? A great subterranean city here as well? Neti turned into the cave and walked forward. He paused again. Only the entrance to the cave was lit. The cave was fairly large. At least the height of three men standing atop of one another and seven carts wide. Yet, the further back the cave went, the darker it became. And another thought came to him, causing him to shiver. What will I do if I cannot see moving forward? Is this another test? Lords, help me. Where do I go?
Only silence was his answer. Neti took in a breath, let it out. Then set his stride with determination as he walked forward and into the dark abyss of the cave. The light behind him grew dimmer as he walked. His vision diminished. There was nothing else for it, he figured. He could either go back into the desert and surely die, or continue forward into the dark and hope to find his way eventually. Even if he couldn’t see anything more moving forward. He kept his pace up even when the light finally faded from view and he came to a wall that curved around a bend leading him into a pitch black as dark as the void.
And he walked.
He couldn’t say how long he walked, but it was for a very long time. The only sounds he could hear were the shuffling of his feet across the dirty sand tossed floor, and his right hand feeling across the surface of the cavern wall. If something were in there with him, he couldn’t see it, let alone hear it. And the air was growing colder the further in he walked. He got to become so cold that he had to remove his robes from about his waist and throw it back over his shoulders. He pulled the rags (for they were more rags now after the great distance he had walked through elements more fierce than he’d been exposed to before) tighter and placed his hand back on the wall to continue walking forward. Before long, it was freezing cold and he could feel his breath across his face. Shivers wracked his body and his breathing grew labored.
And he walked.
The wall never gave onto any other offshoot tunnel. Never did more than bend here and straighten out there. At one point, it felt as if he had reached a decline and was walking down into the earth. Yet, he couldn’t be sure. His awareness told him nothing more than he was only safe holding onto the wall as he walked.
There is nothing here. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear. I can only pray to the gods that I am traveling the right way. His stomach growled and his mouth felt parched and new concerns eked their way into his subconscious mind. Is there an oasis deep within this network of caves? I’m… so hungry.
He paused as something echoed off the walls deep within the cave. He paused and listened. It had sounded like a rock skipping through water and down a steep drop off. What if I come to some cliff? The wall suddenly gives out and there is nothing to prevent my fall… He shivered violently and forced himself to pushed forward. So be it then. Better to fall to my death than give up on my task to save my people. A new resolve filled his mind and he continued onward ignoring the cold seeping into his bones the best that he could.
And he walked.
After a time, he fell to his knees. There was nothing at his feet that caused him to fall. Only a weakness in his body. One that was starved of sustenance both spiritually and physically. If he didn’t eat soon, he wasn’t certain he’d be completing his task at all.
So be it. Let it be. It is the will of the gods and I will not set myself against them… He forced himself back to his feet with a huff and a grunt and continued onward. The surface of the wall still the smooth stone he had felt since entering the cave however long before.
And he walked.
‘You stumble through the dark so willingly. Driven by your faith and your belief that what awaits you at the end will be salvation for those you hope to protect…’
Neti paused and looked around. He listened to the blackness and heard only the same silence. The voice hadn’t been the deep reverent inspiring tones of the voice of before. This one had been young and female. Gentle and encouraging despite its disbelief in his mission. He shook his head and continued walking. It was nothing. Just my mind struggling to accept the place we find ourselves in.
Neti stumbled away from the wall and fell onto his stomach, his face bouncing off the hard stone surface. There was an acrid taste in his mouth. Almost metallic. He was sure he’d bitten his lip in the process and put his hand to his mouth. Sure enough it felt wet. But it was impossible to tell for sure. He crawled around trying to find the wall again. However, he found nothing but the floor. He crawled slowly, hesitantly. Yet he could not find the wall again. His heart hammered in his chest and fear stole away at his mind.
No… No! It’s right there! He kept searching but would not get back to his feet. The last thing he wanted was to stumble over the edge of a cliff and fall into the abyss. Not when he was so close to his end goal.
‘The goal you hope to find…’ the voice sounded small all of a sudden and tepid. ‘It isn’t what you expect. There are no benevolent gods waiting to save you. Yet, there is a war. I had to wait. Wait until I was sure you were alone and they, the dark ones, the Voija, were occupied with their own struggle for survival before I could reach out, help you see. It’s too important, you see.’
“Stop taunting me, demon! You will not break me!” Neti screamed, his face to the floor and his hands clenched into fists as he remained on his hands and knees going no further and squinting his eyes against the darkness surrounding him. “I will pass this test! The Lords await me! My people demand my sacrifice and so shall it be!”
‘…’ the voice in his head he could almost hear sighing to itself as it struggled for its next thoughts. ‘There is only one thing waiting for you when you arrive at your destination. One thing that is not a salvation for your people. It’s a disease, a possession of spirit that drives good people to do evil things. Open your eyes.’
‘Then you will never see the truth and all that you struggled for… will be in vain.’
Neti sat for a long moment and then, cautiously, opened his eyes. He found himself thrusting backwards onto his buttocks as he stared at shadows so black that they were blacker than the void surrounding him. And they were in a circle around him. He kept pushing back in various directions every time he noted one. And what netted his attention most, held him transfixed in horror, were those cobalt blue eyes. And all of them were affixed to his.
Neti stood up, a panicked scream in his throat and he sought any sort of escape from those demonic visions.
“No! No! Get away from me! You’re not real! Your phantoms standing in my way!” he back away once more not even sure where he was now. “Whatever you want, it won’t be yours!”
He took another step backwards into a different direction away from two of the beasts stepping towards him. And he fell. He kept falling until he hit the sloped and stony wall of the cavern wall. He shouted out in pain as he found himself twisting over and over on his side down the slick surface. Up and down turned into a whirl of black and he lost all sense of direction as he screamed. His screams echoed back to him from every direction further destroying his ability to determine his own orientation.
Then he was flat on his back laying in the center of an open area that was lit under a low light. Even so, it took his eyes several minutes to become accustomed to the new light source due to how long he’d been down in the cavern system. He attempted to turn over onto his side and felt great pain in all his limbs, his head, and his torso. He laid back down and squinted his eyes. After a few more minutes, he reattempted reorienting himself and turned onto his left side. He stared out into an area lit by diffuse lighting coming from somewhere high above. It rippled off of several boulders and along the shoreline of sandy stone surrounding a—
“Water!” he grunted and pulled himself to his hands and knees and clawed his way across the sandy stone as quickly as his body and hands would allow, the pain cascading across his body in waves. He made it to the body of water (which seemed to span out into the dark further away) and plunged his face into the cool surface. He ignored the sudden icy chill wracking his sore and tortured body. When he brought his face back out and, having taken in as much water as he could handle, he flopped once more onto his back and stared up into the dark abyss above. A pinpoint of light was the only thing breaking that blackness and it cast a circle of light around him and the small oasis at the base of whatever cliff he’d fallen down.
“Lords… I praise thee for showing me the way. You saved me from myself and my own doubts. Delivered to me water. And I’m certain food is only—”
‘Those were your lords, dear Neti…’
Neti scampered backwards once more until he was flat against one of the five boulders lining the water’s edge. “Leave me be, spirit! I’m on a quest!”
The voice giggled in his head and he was shocked to find himself smiling in spite of himself. It was a stunned smile, of course. And he panted heavily as he tried to regain his composure. The voice went on, ‘It just so happens, our quests align.’
His breathing slowed and he blinked slowly trying to bring reason back to bear. “I don’t see how that’s possible. I have to get to the tower. I have to speak to the gods to cease their warring. The more they war, the more they destroy Urudiin.” The voice was silent for a long moment. He leaned forward and looked around. “Have you abandoned me at last, spirit?”
‘Listen well, Neti of Urudiin. There is nothing you can do to stop your home’s fall now…’
“You… you lie!”
‘Listen to me. Please. I’m sorry. Urudiin… from my perspective… it is long gone. However, you can stop more suffering by setting the stage. A stage that will end Midnight’s reign once and for all…’
Neti frowned. “I don’t understand you, spirit. Just… let me save my people.”
A tear ran down his cheek. And he stared out to the lake. It was clear and he could see a myriad of fish swimming around underneath the surface. He could see all the way to the lakebed and saw the fine silt where several fish pecked at something there of interest.
‘Forgive me, Neti. There just isn’t time for everything to make sense for you,’ the voice intoned. It was tender and full of love and he found himself wanting to listen to it for, for the first time in a long while—at least since entering the caverns—he was warm. ‘You are one of us. However, your role is small, comparatively. You are the Messenger. Before you, came the Seer and the Gatekeeper. After you, comes the Trapper, the Carpenter and the Healer. I am the Healer. However, I cannot heal anything as of yet for I slumber the long sleep. After all of us, is the King. However, none of us can speak to him. He is too far away. But we can leave him the signs. The signs to end Midnight forever. But first, your task is to communicate with the Trapper. For the both of you are connected by blood. The strongest connection of us all for he can dream of you and the life you lived.’
“I… I’m sorry, Healer. But I am too confused to understand what you mean. Are you one of the gods?”
She chuckled in his mind again. ‘No god nor goddess nor Infinity be I. Just an Aurite seeking to shine the light where the darkness falls. Now, listen and remember. It is in your mind the Trapper will see. Are you ready?’
Neti sighed and nodded. “I am, Healer. But I’m so hungry… It will be difficult for me to concentrate.”
‘That’s alright. I can speak while you ready your meal. You will remember if your mind is open to receive.’
“How… how will I prepare a meal?”
‘Look over your left shoulder.’
Neti sat forward and leaned around the boulder and over his left shoulder. There was an old campsite in a shallow cavity several feet away. There, he saw a skeleton and some tools. Neti frowned.
‘That poor soul was lost long ago. Yet, his flint rocks and spear work just the same as they once did. He gave up despite the ample supply of fish to be found. He gave in to his fears, his hates, his doubts. Perhaps you will discover some things about him as you listen. Maybe you will be encouraged to find those who once loved him and wondered where he had vanished. If so, that will be a journey to be made afterwards. Don’t worry, you’ll come to the tower to be sure. Go ahead, get started.’
Neti stood on trembling legs and wandered over to the long gone person. He found that the wood around the firepit was still good. A testament to the dry air despite the cold above. He started a fire. Picked up the spear. His mouth salivating at the notion of a large fish to eat.
‘Once upon a time,’ the voice started again easily as Neti prepared to chuck his spear into the water. The fish were easy to see and didn’t seem very startled at his presence at all. ‘There was a being called Minke De’a…’
Once more we reach the end of our offerings for this week. I hope you enjoyed this offering and hope as well that you’ll be back next week for more Left of Midnight!
~Timothy S Purvis
While I have you here, why not check out one of my works on my personal author’s page? https://www.amazon.com/Timothy-Purvis/e/B085Q62XRP?ref=sxts_sxwds-bia-wc-drs1_0&qid=1603127596&sr=1-1-f6b8d51f-2c55-4dc3-89ad-0c3639671b2d