In the Darkness

Part 4

Aiden followed Marc through a hidden path into a large cave. As they ventured further in the sound of low voices lofted itís way to their ears. They could not yet hear what the voices were discussing, but were fairly sure they knew whose voices they were.

They emerged from the dark corridor they had been walking along and into a large room. It was warmly lit by a large fire in the middle, the smoke had to be directed into a nearby bog so as not to attract unwanted attention, but all the hard work it had taken to make it had been worth the safe haven the cave now served as.

"Aiden! Marc! Youíve returned!" A younger man with a close resemblance to Marc greeted them heartily as they entered the room.

"Farrell!" Marc greeted back, "Indeed, we have returned. Did you ever doubt it, little brother?"

The younger man was about to reply when Aiden placed his burden on the ground, off to one side so he would not be awakened by the menís banter.

"What is that youíve brought there, Aiden?" Another man asked, older than the others but still retaining as much youth.

Another, sharing the manís appearance of well kept raven hair, blue eyes and a slender build laughed as he saw what the younger man had brought in, "You leave us to slay demons and return with a child!" He exclaimed.

The first man laughed in harmony with his double, "Really, Aiden! We can not trust you to leave without bringing back some surprise!"

"Hey, this one was Marcís idea." The man defended then added, "Itís nice to see you again too."

The twins looked at each other guiltily, before standing and embracing the younger man as one, identical grins on their faces, "Welcome back, brother!"

The four men joined Farrell around the fire once their greetings were finished, leaving the boy undisturbed where Aiden had laid him although they certainly did not remove him from their minds.

One of the twins offered Aiden and Marc bowls of stew that had been prepared earlier. They gratefully accepted this offer and all questions were held off until the two warriors were through with their dinner. Once the men had finished, the five companions sat in uneasy silence, each waiting for another to start into the conversation.

After a while Aiden tired of waiting, "Eamon, I know you wish to ask something, just speak it already!"

Eamon, the elder twin, shook his head emphatically, "Nay, I think it was Errol who wished to ask something. Isnít that right, Ro?"

The younger twin glared at his brother before reluctantly nodding, "Where did you find him? Who is he?" The man stopped himself from asking other questions knowing Aiden could not answer all of them at once.

Aiden grinned, "See? That wasnít so hard." He commented before proceeding to answer the older manís questions, "First the second one, as that will be easiest: I have no idea who he is. You?" He asked, turning to Marc.

Marc shook his head, "I know nothing of him either. We found him within the demonsí castle in pretty bad condition. We did not want to leave him there so we brought him back here."

"Hold up, you found him inside their castle?" Farrell questioned. His brother nodded, "They donít take prisoners, brother!" He exclaimed, "Either they kill them or they convert them."

Marc frowned, "Surely they must keep the men before they will consent, Far. It is nigh impossible to convert a man who is not willing."

"If that were so there would be a whole lot less of those man-creatures and more dead bodies." The younger brother retorted, "Who in their right mind would agree to such a thing?"

"Thatís just it," Eamon started, "They arenít in their right mind when they agree. They have been tortured to the point of wishing for death, they are not sane. But it matters not to the demons. Whatever state they agree in still shows their weakened resolve and they are not able to resist."

Farrell shook his head, "It makes no sense. If they wish for death so much why do they not just take it? What drives them to think it will be better to side with the enemy and kill others?"

"It is not something one can understand until one has felt it himself." Aiden stated quietly.

The conversation soon died out and the five friends stared into the fire silently, each buried in their own thoughts. Gradually a song started up among them depicting the tragic fall of the last king of the free lands.

The boy woke some time later. His hand went immediately to where his chest still hurt badly and winced at the pain it caused as his shirt rubbed against the burn. He looked cautiously around him, happy to see that at least he was not back in that confining black room.

Where he was, though, puzzled him. He found himself in a large cavern with a fire smoldering in the middle of itóthe barely burning coals still giving off a dim light. Not far from the fire, the boy could see several bodies. He tensed up slightly, wondering if these were some of the creatures from before and if they were friends or foes.

He lay awake for some time, his mind wondering what he had gotten himself into now and barely daring to hope that maybe his luck had changed. At length, one of the bodies near the fire moved. It sat up, eyes wandering around the cavern, fallen upon each of itís silent comrades until they came to rest upon him.

The strangerís blue eyes locked with the boyís own. Quickly, the boy snapped his eyes shut, hoping the stranger hadnít noticed. He could not keep his curiosity at bay, though, and cracked one eye open to peek at what the stranger was doing. His heart nearly stopped as he watched the man rise and make his way through the others to him.

The boy squeezed his eyes shut again, trying to lay silent and still his pounding heart for what seemed like a very long time to him. He tentatively opened his eyes once more when nothing happened and was surprised to see a man crouching right in front of him, looking at him intently with a small smile on his face.

The boy started, backing against the wall in surprise as much as fear. The man frowned slightly.

"Come now, boy. You neednít be afraid of me." He encouraged softly, "My name is Farrell, what is yours?"

The boy stared at him silently, not sure whether he could trust the man yet or not. The man continued when it was clear the boy was not going to speak. He nodded over at one of the other bodies by the fire, "My brother and our friend found you and brought you back here. Do you remember that?"

Again the boy did not answer but seemed somewhat more relaxed.

Farrell stood and in a slightly louder voice addressed the boy again, "Iíll wager youíre thirsty; and hungry as well. If youíll come with me weíll fix that up right away!" The man said cheerily.

The boy stared after him a moment as he turned and began to walk off but his hunger and thirst quickly got the best of any hesitation he had had and he stumbled to his feet to follow the man as best he could.

Farrell smiled to himself at the sounds that told the boy was following and first led him to a sturdy barrel across the cave. He stopped here, lifting the lid from the barrel and dipping a clay cup inside. He quickly raised it back out and handed it to the boy.

The boy barely hesitated before drinking down the liquid. The water felt so good against his parched throat that he quickly downed the whole mug and Farrell filled it again for him, laughing a bit at the boyís eagerness.

The man grabbed a pair of logs that were sitting nearby and made his way back to the fire, careful not to step on any of his friends. He gently pushed the logs into the smoldering coals which almost immediately began to eat away at this new fuel, small flames eventually revealing themselves around it.

The boy watched interestedly, sipping from his cup a little ways away from where the men were grouped around the fire. Farrell stirred something in the black pot hanging over the fireplace, slightly off center to allow the smoke to escape easily. The man frowned, "Itís a bit cold." He told the boy in a hushed voice.

The boy didnít care if it was stone frozen and was about to say so too, when another man began to stir. He jumped slightly at the unexpected movement as one of Farrellís companions propped himself up on his elbows.

The dark haired man smiled sleepily at Farrell, "Stew for breakfast as well, I suppose?"

Farrell grinned back, "If you would like you may try growing wheat or corn on the surface but I do not think it would take root well." He noted.

The man nodded thoughtfully and glanced over the cave until he noticed the boy sitting nearby, "Youíre up now, are you?" he asked as his brain slowly caught up with the rest of his body.

The boy nodded slightly back, wary to see what this one would be like.

"Come sit over here, it is warmer by the fire." The man encouraged the boy who crept timidly forward, not willing to chance the manís wrath by disobeying.

Farrell stirred the stew a little more as the flames grew larger, nearly licking at the bottom of the blackened pot. The boy hugged his knees to him again, trying to take up as little space as possible and staying as far away from the new man as he could while not disobeying his request.

The man stared into the fire in silence for a moment then suddenly turned to the boy, "I am Aiden." He introduced himself, "The lazy ones are Marcell, Eamon and Errol." He said, nodding to each of the bodies in turn.

The boy looked at the others uncertainly, Aiden noticed this, "Donít worry about them, theyíre harmless!" He laughed. "Least, they are as long as youíve got me and Far around." He added in a confidential voice, laughing again at the boyís confused reaction.

The loud laughter roused the remaining men and before Aiden could respond he found himself buried beneath a blanket which had been thrown at him from Eamon, less than happy about being woken. The men grudgingly rose, introducing themselves to the boy in similar fashion of Farrell and Aiden. They had barely finished when Farrell declared that the stew was fit enough to eat and he dished out a bowl for everyone.

The boy quickly ate the stew whichóalthough it was a little thinótasted to him the best he had ever had. When he was through he carefully studied the men around him and decided that they, perhaps, were not all that bad.

They were fairly rowdy, but that was mostly due to their high spirits. Their loud laughter was contagious, the boy found himself smiling despite of his fears several times throughout the meal. Silence reigned for a short time when the meal had been finished, once again no one knew where to start.

It was Marc who finally started the conversation: "Well boy, what do you think? Would you like to stay or do have somewhere else you ought to be?"

The boyís answer was almost inaudible, "There is nowhere." He replied sadly.

Aiden frowned, "Lighten up, boyó" He paused mid-sentence, "Do you got a name? We canít very well call you Ďboyí all the time."

"Terran," he answered almost as quietly.

"Well, Terran," Aiden continued, "As I was saying there is somewhere you need to be."

The boy looked up interestedly, "Where?"

Aiden grinned, this had been exactly the opening he had been looking for, "Right here!" He declared, "I donít know if youíve noticed, but these guys have been getting a little rowdy and I think you might be just the good influence they need."

Eamon punched the younger man playfully in the arm, "If anyone here needs a good influence, itís you, Aiden." He retorted, pleading Aidenís original case very well at the juvenile action.

"We didnít have anywhere else to go either." Errol stated more seriously, "And then we found this place, itís homey enough, once you get used to sleeping with rocks in your back."

"Thatís true." Farrell stated somberly, rubbing his back slightly, "My brother and I didnít have any place to go after our home was destroyed but we ran into this delightful young man," He shoved Aiden gently, "And he brought us here."

"Yes," Eamon agreed, "Aiden is always bringing home the most interesting things."

"Your home was destroyed too?" Terran interrupted, looking at Farrell with concern in his deep brown eyes.

"Aye," Farrell admitted, "But that was long ago."

"This is our home now," Marc agreed, "And these idiots our family."

The twins met this with cries of indignation while Aiden just laughed the insult away.

"Yes, our city was destroyed as well." Errol nodded, "Very long ago. We were only, what, fourteen at the time?" He turned to his twin for confirmation.

Eamon nodded, "Our mother was lost a few years before that, such are the fates in these dark times."

"My parents were lost when I was very small." Aiden added, "My mother had just enough life in her after the attack to bring me to a safe place where I lived for a time with Eamon and his family."

"That is why we fight the shadows." Marc stated, "We have all felt their wrath and wish to save others from the same fate."

"Unfortunately, it is a losing battle." Farrell spoke bitterly, "As you know yourself, young one."

Terran frowned, he did know himself. His whole townóand their sister townówere destroyed in one night.

Errol spoke louder now, "Our father lived to an old age though, so all hope is not lost."

"Yes," Aiden agreed, "He hung onto life to the bitter end, sucking all the youth from it!" His voice lowered slightly, "But Iím afraid he has passed now. He died in his sleep not two nights past."

Terranís eyes widened in horror and he was about to comment on what he felt was a heartless statement but a loud guffaw from the back of the cave interrupted him. He watched in wonder as an elderly gentleman slowly made his way into the light of the fire. His hair was white and gray with age and he bore the longest beard Terran had ever seen.

"Whatís this about me being dead?" The old man asked grumpily.

Aidenís eyes lit up, "Father!" He exclaimed, standing and hugging the man in greeting. The twins remained where they were seated, trying to conceal their laughter, "You have made recovery then!"

"Made recovery, humph." The man grumbled, "I was never sick and you know it. What other lies have you been telling this boy, then?"

"You make yourself scarce enough that you might as well be ill." Aiden muttered sitting again.

"Father," Errol started, "This is Terran," He introduced, indicating to the boy, "Terran, this is our father."

"Yes, I know." The man said quickly, "I couldnít help but overhear, you were so loud." He turned from his sons to stare intently at Terran, "I am Edan. You have already met my sons."

The boy nodded, dark eyes wide and curious.

"Where do you come from, Terran? Your face looks familiar."

"Landen." Terran answered, casting his face down as memories of his townís destruction hit him.

"LandenÖ" The man frowned, "Do you boys remember?" He asked, eyeing the younger men again, "I donít think Iím recalling it correctly, when was it that Landen fell?"

Aiden frowned as well, "Weeks, two at least. Closer to three now, though."

Edan nodded, "Three weeks." He muttered. He seemed to be lost in thought for some time until he suddenly spoke, addressing the boy again, "No one has ever been taken into a demonís house and came out alive. Youíre the first." There was a long pause, "Would you be willing to tell me what happened?" The old man asked finally.

The memory played through Terranís mind in flashes. First the horror of being grabbed by those creatures, followed by темнотаís anger and complete darkness. More anger, worse this time, and darkness again. They were finished off with the agonizing, burning energy that hit him. Terran squeezed his eyes shut against the memory but that only amplified it as his mindís eye made it even more vivid.

Terran, eyes still closed, grasped his chest. He immediately regretted doing so as a wave of pain hit him. His eyes sprung open and he gasped in pain.

"Terran, whatís wrong?" Aiden asked, worry in his blue eyes.

The boy didnít answer, unable to form coherent words or thoughts through the pain. Tears welled up in his eyes. Edan had knelt down next to the boy by now and pried his hand from his chest.

The old man opened his shirt and pulled it back to reveal the still raw burn over the boyís heart.

"This wonít do at all." He mumbled, lowing the boy onto his back. "Get some bandages." He ordered to no one in particular, "As well as hot water and whatever herbs we have in supply."

Errol was quickly by his fatherís side with clean bandages and Eamon was close behind with a small selection of various herbs. Farrell and Marc were meanwhile heating water and Aiden was left with nothing to do to help.

As soon as the water was hot enough the older man quickly and skillfully cleaned the wound and applied a herb, grumbling at the lack of what he really needed. He bound the bandages with the help of Aiden who was running out of patience and would have gotten in the way had not his father charged him with this job.

"There." Edan sighed allowing Aiden to tie off the bandage.

"That looked pretty nasty." Marc said tactlessly.

The boy, who was unfortunately still awake looked at his chest in worry, "Will I be alright?" He wondered out loud.

"You will be fine." Edan said, casting a glare at Marc. He stayed thoughtfully silent before saying: "What I wonder is where a young boy like you gets a wound like that."

Terran, looking miserable, answered him at length with a whisper: ďтемнота.Ē

"Tem-what-a?" Aiden asked in confusion.

ďтемнота,Ē Eamon repeated, ďProbably the demon-lord you were off to slay.Ē

"Or his lieutenant." Errol added.

Farrell frowned, "But why burn him? Heís only a kid, canít cause that much trouble. And that canít be some kind of torture, itís too precise."

"It seems like we have a mystery to unravel then." Edan mused.

Aiden grinned, "This should be fun."

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