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CHAPTER 2 - The Outside Again

Shadows Of The Stars

By ChloePublished 3 months ago 25 min read
CHAPTER 2 - The Outside Again
Photo by Bartek Garbowicz on Unsplash

Loft gathers the playing cards back into a pile and stacks them neatly at the center of the table as the other eight children stand up and wander over to Owain, who stands awkwardly between Kloey and Red, his mind reeling. Not only has he just been told information about the history of the past, the Takeover, Venik’s unrelenting rule over the Blackwoods, and his insistence that every human on the face of the Earth should be killed, but now he must explain all of this information to his nine loyal companions, including one who is deaf? He certainly can’t manage something as big as this.

“I gave you a voice for a reason,” Red says at his side, as if just reading his mind. “Use it.”

“What’s wrong?” The same question echoes in every mind of the eight children standing around him, and Aoife waves her hands at him, asking the same question in her own hand-language.

“I– I shouldn’t be the one to explain it,” Owain says hurriedly, saving him from having to somehow bundle up everything he was just told into a few measly paragraphs to please his inquiring friends. Instead, he turns to Red, who stands just by his side, arms crossed. “You still haven’t told me anything about what you’ve been doing here. It looks like they all know, or they act like they know, but I have no clue.”

Red huffs, obviously not expecting Owain to turn on him like so. “Fine then,” he says. “Do you want me to put it bluntly?” He turns his head towards Kloey, giving her a questioning look. “Because that will take less time and be much less tedious than explaining it all out like we have just done with this stubborn boy.”

“If you explain it to them in that manner, Red, I’d be surprised if they understood you,” Kloey says, tapping a foot against the tiled, sunshine-spattered floor. “The only reason I did go into such detail with this ‘stubborn boy’ is because he needed that detail, otherwise he’d be confused, and that would just elongate the explanation even more.”

“Do you want me to drag it out like you did?”

“Why are you so insistent upon everything being quick and fast? You know just as well as I do that these children are tired enough, and they certainly don’t need more to worry about than what they already have. You needn’t explain every little thing that you’ve done to them.”

“Certainly,” Red mumbles sarcastically, casting a look in the direction of the ten confused children, Aoife most of all. “Let’s just spend all the time in the world scientifically figuring things out and let Venik come here and kill us all.”

At these words, the children shrivel back in fear and horror, though Aoife does nothing but stare confusedly. Atticus looks her in the eyes, conveying the message, and she jumps in frightened horror, backing into the clump that the other seven children have made.

Owain already knows about the threat of Venik, and though he finds it quite scary he is now more concerned with saving his friends than being scared of someone he has never met or seen before.

“Red, you know we cannot just assume he’s going to find out about this place.”

“He already knows of the existence of the Light Forest,” Red hisses. “What’s to stop him from sending spies? And what happens when they find out about this place? He will murder us all.”

“All except you,” Kloey grumbles, shoving her arms into the dramatic folds of her robe. “He can’t kill you.”

“Shadows can hurt each other, you know,” Red sniffs in response.

Owain shakes his head, waving his arms to silence the rumbling arguments of these two, who clearly don’t seem to get along that well. “OK, OK, fine! I– I– I’m gonna– I will explain it if you’re– if you– I mean, if you– if–”

Dae glances at him encouragingly, giving a small smile. She, of all people, knows how difficult it is for him to speak without a constant stutter, particularly when in front of them all, and especially when yelling.

He takes a deep breath, steadying himself. “If you can’t stop a– arguing,” he says, his voice heavy with his rather sing-song accent, “then I will just tell them myself.”

Ao nods her approval, clearly wanting an explanation for the insanity of the things Red has just mindlessly spewed out like a broken waterspout.

The aforementioned lowers his head and wraps his black robe tighter around his shoulders, keeping his heavy gaze fixated on Owain. “You can tell them all that you like about Venik and his pets,” he spits, voice heavy with venom.

“They aren’t his pets,” Kloey whispers, mostly to herself, but both Owain and Red, and of course all the children except Aoife, hear her, and Red sighs frustratedly upon hearing her voice.

“Just because an old acquaintance of yours is one of his slaves–”

“She was not just an ‘acquaintance’!” Kloey shouts, causing them all, except Red and Aoife, to flinch back. “We were friends, Red. And I had only just discovered her again after all those years when Venik took her away from me!”

Red is not fazed at all by her outburst. It seems as if he expected it, rather. He softens, though only a small amount. “Venik does not ‘take’ any of them,” he says without emotion. “He requires permission to ‘take’ them, if anything.”

“Are you saying that she chose to go willingly?!” At the mere thought, Kloey seems ready to burst with rage. “How would you feel if it wasn’t Kaila, and it was one of your own brothers?”

All of them watch (except for Atticus, who listens with all his might) as Red seems to shrivel and shrink. After several moments of quiet, painful hesitation, he says, rather weakly, “You know they cannot choose anything ever again.”

Owain frowns. Have Red’s two brothers decided to turn to stone? How long ago had they made the decision? Certainly Red can go and wake them up, if they haven’t completely turned just yet! Can’t he?

There’s no hope in the saying. From the look in Red’s eyes and the regret on Kloey’s face from shouting such an abhorring thing, Christopher and Blake must have turned to stone.

Owain turns back to his fellows. “I, um…”

It’s a lot to explain, isn’t it? I don’t know if I can actually do this, he thinks to himself, shuffling his shoes against the floor to make a noise that will distract him from his nervousness. Where can I even start? Do I have to explain about the Shadows? And Red’s two brothers? And Venik’s beginning as Sven?

“I suppose… we should just keep it simple, then,” Kloey says from behind him, turning toward the nine children, all in a semicircle around Owain. “You are all in grave danger.”

All of them stare without blinking. There is fear clear in their eyes, and fear echoes wildly within their minds, but instead of a panicked state of fear, it is an accepting, calm state.

Thank goodness, Owain thinks, because I wouldn’t have been able to deal with them if they felt anything otherwise.

Then, as if rehearsed, Kloey and Red speak an explanation, line for line, that exposes everything Owain has just been told.

“A being named Venik strives to end the lives of every last breathing thing on Earth, a group of which you are in.”

“Venik will stop at nothing to kill all of you without mercy. He inhabits the Blackwoods with a group of nasty creatures that do nothing but his will.”

“We have been safe in the Light Forest for a long while, but Venik’s servants will go to any length to please him, and sooner or later they will discover that you are all here and invade, spreading the Blackwoods and destroying us all.”

“For that, you must be ready. You must all be ready.”

Owain’s eyes slip over his horrified friends. Elwood is nodding solemnly, seeming to listen to something from afar. Maeave is staring into Red’s vibrant eyes, still but shaken. Niamh has her hand wrapped around Dae’s, and Dae is breathing heavily, suddenly seeming more afraid than ever before. Ao and Cleo stand side by side, Ao’s arm around Cleo’s shoulders, and Atticus is intently staring into Aoife’s eyes, which are slowly widening, to convey to her all of this information, whilst Loft is looking on with a concerned expression, shifting his weight from foot to foot. All of them, who had appeared so cheerful just before, now look as if the troubles of the world have been laid over their shoulders– because they have.

Kloey inhales deeply, her shoulders rising with the slow breath, and then exhales abruptly, preparing herself to speak. “Red found you and rescued you many full eclipses past to save you from Venik and the Blackwoods. You were weak, and he and I nursed you back to health, but during this time we knew that we would never be able to stop Venik on our own. Not when he had already recruited so many of the remaining living Shadows.”

“You each have been given an ability,” Red says softly, “by me.”

His gaze slides towards Elwood. “You can hear from miles away.”

Elwood nods his head, his long hair waving just above his shoulders.

Red looks to Maeave. “You can see through walls, and see things that none of us else can.”

Maeave shuffles slightly at having her name called.

Niamh. “You are capable of comprehending any language possible.” And then, he speaks in the softest, most whispery voice Owain has ever heard, and it is only then that the boy realizes that Red is speaking an entirely different language– none that has ever been documented or recorded in the histories of Earth. But despite this, Niamh smiles sheepishly in understanding, and Owain hears her mind echo with words of praise from Red.

Dae. “You can walk in the world through dreams.”

Dae’s eyes widen, as if she wasn’t sure that anyone should know about her ability. Confused, and slightly embarrassed, she nods, looking like she hopes Red doesn’t know about all the times she secretly spied on him while he used to wander the halls under the moniker “the Monster.”

Ao. “You can move faster than anyone else.”

Ao nods cheerfully, but does nothing more.

Red’s eyes glaze over Cleo. Cleo gazes at him expectantly; but then, seeing that he has been looked over, his face droops, and he seems about to cry. Ao rubs her hand comfortingly along his shoulder, but he only bites his lip and holds back tears, upset because he has no real power; he was only paralyzed by Red’s “experiments” and can only move because of a machine.

Atticus is next, standing straight and tall. Red stares him thoroughly in the eyes. “You have a voice that can be transferred to others through your eyes,” he says, though Owain knows that Atticus’s ability goes much deeper than just that. His eyes are the direct window to his inner thoughts.

Loft is next. “You are capable of instantaneous regeneration.”

Then Aoife. Red stares at her, looking hesitant, not sure of what to say.

Oh, Owain realizes. Poor Aoife. The Irish girl had not been deaf before, but Red’s testing had caused an accident where she lost her hearing altogether, and now the only thing she has to go by is Atticus’s intent stare and Owain’s basic knowledge of sign language. She has no ability to help her.

“Red,” Kloey says firmly, stepping up to his side, “what’s done is done. You cannot undo what has already happened.”

An angry shudder passes through Red’s body, but for the moment he does not speak.

“Cleo.” Kloey, ignoring Red, addresses the downcast boy. “You have no ability, to be frank. Not like the others do. And that was Red’s mistake, and is nothing for you to feel sullen over.”

Cleo takes a moment to consider these words; then, reluctantly, he nods in understanding.

“And Aoife–” Kloey turns her head towards the brown-haired girl. “–you have no ability either.”

Atticus glances at Aoife and she nods, following suit with Cleo.

“But it does not matter how powerful you are or not,” Kloey continues. “What matters is that you put your differences, however immensely numerous, to the side, and that you stand together to defeat Venik.” She motions to the ten of them. “That is why Red chose all ten of you, so that you could save this earth from Venik’s grasp.”

Owain considers the weight of his new responsibility and wonders if they, even all working together, could possibly ever defeat Venik.

From what Red says, Venik is a creature of unquenchable bloodlust, and he will stop at nothing to kill every living thing on the face of the Earth. He is a Shadow, but at this point the term Shadow might be a higher name for what Venik truly is. He is capable of mass murder and has an army of fearful, naive Shadows under his command, and he will kill any of them if they dare step out of line. He seems more like an incoherent monster than a cognitive being of any sorts.

How could any ten of them make a difference? Owain’s only power is to speak. And what good is it for Elwood to be able to hear small noises from miles off in the case of a battle? Maeave can see through walls and catch sight of vivid colors, but how will she fare in a situation where Venik has come to kill them all? Dae might be able to spy, but Niamh… Ao can run away fairly quickly, but who knows how fast Venik can move?

There’s no point in mentioning Cleo or Aoife, Owain thinks sullenly. If Cleo’s machine is destroyed, he won’t be able to move at all, and Aoife is completely oblivious to everything. If anything, Cleo and Aoife must be protected, not protect.

Atticus’s telepathic abilities do absolutely nothing for him. Loft may be able to heal himself, but healing certainly won’t be useful when you are constantly being hurt.

And that’s just it. All ten of them can do nothing against Venik. They cannot save the world. Owain feels frustration rise and bubble uncomfortably within his chest, and he narrows his eyes, glaring holes into the floor. Why would Red put them all through these trials and tests just to prove a point that can never be proved? They cannot do anything! Owain’s own ability of speaking is the most useless out of them all, in fact. He can’t be their leader.

But Red did give him a voice for a reason, even if that reason isn’t to save the world from the evil claws of a deranged creature. “This is never going to work,” Owain spits, frowning. "How would you expect us to defeat Venik? We… we’re…”

His gaze travels across the dejected faces of his friends. They all feel the same way, he finds. This is much too big of a responsibility to have on just their shoulders. Why can’t Red or Kloey take care of Venik? Why did Owain even have to be woken up in the first place? They could have just left him to sleep.

“We’re nothing,” Owain finishes, sighing.

Kloey turns her eyes towards him. “You may think so right now,” she says, “but I assure you, we wouldn’t have chosen you if we weren’t sure that you could take out Venik.”

Looking at the strangeness of both Red and Kloey, he finds that he doesn’t believe them. And besides, even if he did believe them, how could they be so sure? What could make them so certain?

He mentally waves it away. Red starts to move towards the door of the room, not looking back to see if any of them are following, and states, “It would be easier for you to understand this if we actually showed you the Light Forest.” And then he disappears out the doorway, turning left.

Owain stares after him. With a motion of his arm, he invites the other eleven in the room to follow him and wanders towards the exit, excited at the prospect of finally breathing fresh air but similarly frightened by his new responsibilities. Kloey rushes ahead of him to catch up with Red and they all file out of the room, turning towards the end of the hall. Two thick-set doors stand guard at the entrance, preventing anyone without a decent set of claws from getting in or out, shedding just a small amount of sunlight through their glass windows. Red, standing in front of the doors, hauls one of them open with a twist of his arm and jerkily beckons for the others to follow him. He vanishes into the outside.

No one follows him too closely, and so Owain takes the lead and steps hesitantly out the broken doorway, unnerved by its rusted hinges, and onto a concrete ledge. A small slope leads down to a forest of flowing, gliding green. Sunlight lives and dances graciously in the air, sparkling on a brook laughing just a few paces off to his right. A dirt path stretches in front of him, wandering off into the viridescent woods. The air is filled with the smell of fresh air and pure light and living, breathing things. Empty shadows twirl on the shrubs and grass decorating the ground.

Tentatively, Owain wanders forward, not used to so much light after living in the dark of the abandoned lab. He hasn’t been outside for what feels like years. The sunlight that splatters onto his hands feels unnaturally warm. He wants to flinch away, to back into the comfort of the shadows that he has grown to know, but he knows that he must continue in this venture. His friends, and perhaps the entire world, are counting on him.

Red has stopped by the edge of the treeline, glowering over the ten children just now rediscovering the joys of living in the light. Kloey wanders over to him, taking soft steps over the grass. She doesn’t seem to enjoy the feel of sunlight and travels through the gray smudges on the forest floor instead. Once she reaches Red, Owain leans forward to listen in on their conversation, knowing that they appear to be keeping more to themselves than speaking the truth.

“Is it really such a good idea to bring them out here already?” Kloey asks fervently, folding her dark robe tighter around her shoulders. “Owain has barely had a moment of rest. Shouldn’t they all have at least some time to spare before we throw them in with no prior warning?” She speaks sarcastically, her tone expressing how upset she is about Red’s decision.

Red narrows his eyes thoughtfully. “There is no time to spare,” he says. “I already told you, once it was decided who the leader would be, we would have to let them create a plan amongst themselves. Now we must let them create it, otherwise we risk putting them in danger.”

“But if we show them the Blackwoods, they will already be in danger,” Kloey argues. “Venik will hear their hearts and then he will find out that there are living humans in the Light Forest.”

“Suppose he does,” Red says. “That only further enhances our need to drive him out.”

Owain walks over to them, stepping deliberately into as many pools of sunshine as he can. “If you’re so worried about Venik, why don’t you just kill him yourself?” He looks Red up and down. “I– I mean, you seem… p– perfectly capable of doing it.”

Red glances away, looking insulted, even though Owain had rather meant to compliment him. “If I could do this on my own, Venik would be dead already,” he admits quietly, eyeing the other nine children as they take in the outside world. “But in my years of being trapped in stone, I was weakened, and now I am not as strong as I was before. I... I may be able to fight Venik, but I cannot kill him.”

Owain persists, not wanting the only solution to this problem to be him. “Have you tried y– yet?”

“Of course I’ve tried!” Red gnashes his teeth together, causing Owain to flinch backward. “How else would I have humiliated myself in front of Venik’s very eyes?

“He used to think that I was his leader, and that I was at least respectable. But now he only thinks of me as a weakling, and nothing I say ever matters to him.”

All of them stay silent for a moment. Kloey and Red stare unblinkingly towards Owain, who eventually figures out why they seem to be focusing on his very soul. It’s no wonder Red had decided to give him his voice back, out of all the ten children he could’ve chosen.

“You… d– do you want me to…” He swallows back a horrified lump slowly solidifying in the back of his throat. “Do you want me to… t– talk him out of it?”

Red narrows his eyes, but he says nothing more. Kloey nods her head.

“None of us can defeat Venik,” she states. “None of the living Shadows left can, and none of you can. The only hope we have left is that Venik listens to reason, after all this time of ignoring it.”

“But… why would you think he’d listen to me, of anybody?” Owain stammers. Venik had reason to listen to Red– Red was his leader! But in comparison to Venik, Owain is practically nothing; a fly to a spider, perhaps, or a mouse to a serpent. Nothing but another ant to be squashed underfoot and easily silenced.

A wistful look comes to Kloey’s eyes, and though she looks at Owain, she seems to be looking farther off into the distance than he ever could imagine. “Because evil has listened to a voice before,” she whispers, just loud enough so that he can hear. “And that voice was a voice just as small as yours, but it brought a change to the world that otherwise would have never existed.”

Owain shifts, lowering his gaze to the dirty ground. Kloey’s words sound so convincing, and yet… how could he ever stop Venik? And what words would he even use, if given the chance? How would he speak? What would he say? Why would Venik ever listen to him? Would Venik taunt him because of his little voice, and his constant stutter? Would he even have a chance to get a word out before Venik tore him to shreds?

He shudders. None of this seems like it will work.

But Kloey and Red’s confidence in him does not fade, even when he seems to lack it himself. They both seem positively sure that, if all else fails, he will be the one to turn Venik from his ways and save the whole Earth.

He turns away from them, frustrated. He can barely recall what his life was like before his appearance in the strange lab and the Takeover, but from bits of blurry memories he understands how utterly bored he had been; how uninterested in the basic ideas of daily life he had been. Back then, his only worry was schoolwork, and even then, he had nothing else to fret over. The world was in a state of somewhat perfection, and there was nothing ever wrong.

Now he wishes that he could return to those times. At the moment, they seemed lacking in any fun or exciting ideas, but now he would give anything of his own will to go back to the part of his life where his singular worry was about his grades, and nothing else. Not about the state of the world, nor his own stuttering voice, nor the lives of his friends, nor the survival of light on the living Earth. He would not have the responsibility of having to save the last bits of surviving humanity.

Owain sighs heavily. I shouldn’t have taken it for granted, he thinks to himself. If only I could just go back to then, and…

Red clears his throat, catching all their attention (except Aoife, who is tapped on the shoulder by Atticus.). “I will show you the heart of the Light Forest,” he announces, “but beware that the heart is at the very edge of our territory, and beyond it lies the gray lands of the Blackwoods. Do not travel far beyond the stream once we come to it, otherwise you put yourselves in great danger. Do you understand?”

All of them nod, including Aoife, and Red turns in his heel and leads his way down the dirt path and into the trees. Owain, making sure that everyone goes before he does, tags along at the rear, gazing into the trees as they pass in rows.

It’s strange to think about how much he missed being outside while he was in the lab. There’s nothing very special about it, other than fresh air and natural light. There are, of course, birds, and the lovely sounds of nature, but otherwise it’s quite unpredictable in terms of rain or shelter. It would certainly be better to live inside the lab instead of living out here, where he could catch a cold by standing out in a thunderstorm because he has nowhere to sleep.

Owain slows upon encountering the edge of the green treeline. Ahead of him, a slope rolls slowly downwards towards a glowing white river, but it isn’t the river itself that draws his attention; it’s the land beyond it.

“Owain!” Kloey calls his name from the shore, raising a hand and waving at him. “Come on!”

Reluctantly taking his eyes away from the view beyond the river, he travels down the grassy hill, keeping one eye behind his back in case someone else has decided to fall behind. When he makes it to the sandy shore, he draws in a breath, unable to find the thoughts to describe what he sees.

The river is not only white water; the water glows with light. Pure sunlight fills the riverbed, flowing in a soft current much like water would, traveling up northward where a sea might be. The sunlight dribbles and dances and swirls, revealing reflections of the sky and clouds in wispy grasps, drawing the attention of all ten children, apart from poor Atticus, whose blind eyes can only see a dim gray outline. What is this river of absolute light?

Kloey wanders to the edge of the light-water, her black robe trailing into the shallows. “This is the heart of the Light Forest,” she explains matter-of-factly, not at all in wonder of this unreasonably supernatural sight. “We call it Lightwater River.”

“The river keeps the forest alive,” Red says, staying as far from the lightwater as possible. “It is both light and water. The sun is what fuels it, and it never stops flowing; not since the Takeover.”

“However…” Kloey wades further into the water, passing a pale hand through the waves. Ripples of white scatter out across the slow-moving river. “If a Shadow, any kind, touches the lightwater, they will die. The only reason the Lightwater River remains untainted here is because it is guarded by Red and the others.”

“Others?” Owain questions aloud. “There are other living Shadows?”

“Of course there are!” Red exclaims. “They barely live in the Light Forest, though. There are some that live in the Blackwoods who do not agree with Venik and his thieves, and they wander by themselves. Those that had lived in the Light Forest have now all turned to stone.”

“Why did you keep the Lightwater River if it could kill you?” Owain asks, voicing the confusion of his nine friends.

“We had no choice,” Red answers slowly. “The world dies without light. It began to die after the Takeover, when we foolishly believed that we could rid the world of every source of light and it would survive.”

“But it did not,” Owain predicts ominously, lowering his gaze to the bright, sandy shore. “It… it started to die.”

“We noticed this, and we knew immediately that we could not get rid of the one thing that we had always hated. We had to bring light back to the earth.

“But Venik…”

All nine sets of eyes, including Atticus’s, turn towards Red.

“Venik disagreed. He thought that all of us had gone insane to want to bring back the sole asset we once wished to destroy. He wanted the world to remain covered in darkness, so that it would die, and all would be cold and black as he wished.”

“We could not stop him,” Kloey whispers. Her eyes are transfixed, now, on the slow, hypnotic movement of the river, as if she has only just now noticed the sight. “Too many of the Shadows had already turned to stone, and the ones who were left were either too weak or too naive to fight against Venik’s strength.”

“He left us.”

“And he took so many away from us.”

“And now…” Red swivels his head around, searching the surrounding area for any sight or sound of a living Shadow, but there is none. “Now, we are all that’s left here.”

Kloey looks dejectedly into the water and says nothing more.

“What… what does he want?” Owain asks. If only he can understand more about Venik, then maybe– and just maybe– he might be able to stop the Shadow leader.

Red shakes his head. “He wants to kill. He wants darkness. And he stops at nothing to have what he wants.”

Owain hears the echoes of the minds of his friends. Their thoughts bounce uncertainly through the air, colliding and splitting and shattering into pieces, but all generally saying the same few words: “What do we do?”

He isn’t quite sure about that. He knows that Aoife and Cleo need not do anything. Elwood and Atticus might be good guards, considering their ability to hear from far-away places, but beyond that he doesn’t know. Red wants him to speak with Venik by himself, but, from what he knows about Venik, can he even get to the Shadow without dying? Will Venik kill him before he has the chance to speak a word?

And of course he won’t be listened to. He stammers too much. And no one likes his accent. It would make any regular person feel uncomfortable just being around him.

He stares into the lightwater, mesmerized by its light spell. “Well… what do we do, Red?” he stutters.

Kloey turns back toward the eleven standing behind her. “You cannot put yourselves directly in danger,” she says, returning to her normal composure. “Walking up to Venik would be a horrid idea. I think that we should find one of Venik’s servants and negotiate a meeting time with him.”

Red stares at her as if she’s gone insane. “Negotiate? With Venik? Don’t you remember how we could not negotiate with him? Isn’t that why we are in this situation now?”

Kloey sighs. “We must try. Venik must listen to reason.”

“He has not listened before.”

“Then what do you suggest we do, Red?” Kloey’s voice rings across the surface of the river, and Elwood flinches. “You can’t fight him. The children can’t fight him. I certainly can’t fight him. We can do nothing if we do not negotiate.”

The spikes on the end of the Shadows’s shoulders begin to rise (maybe they work like hackles on a dog, Owain wonders). He seems to be considering Kloey’s words, but Owain can hear his conflicted mind. Thought battles against thought, word against word, reason against reason. Red cannot fight, nor can anyone else, but Venik will not listen to reason.

Owain tears his gaze away from Red’s eyes, aware of his poring. He can always hear minds, but it seems unkind of him to poke around in business that isn’t his. Though, in cases like this, he wishes that he could do more than just hear minds. He wants to be able to hear memories, too.

But that isn’t the point. He needn’t focus anymore on his own ability.

Or perhaps he should. He, red-haired Owain who was never quite favored back in his time, may be the last thing that stands between the Light Forest and Venik’s destruction.

“Couldn’t we lead him into the water?” he suggests. “He would die, wouldn’t he?”

“Theoretically, he would,” Red starts, calming himself. “But firstly, he would never enter of his own will, and we would not be able to push him; and secondly, They are capable of corrupting the lightwater.”

Kloey sighs softly. She raises a reluctant hand and points into the distance. “Do you see how far the river runs northward?”

Everyone nods, apart from Atticus, who is prodded in the side by Dae when he grumbles about not seeing anything at all.

“A small bit farther north is the border with the Blackwoods,” she continues, unfazed by Atticus’s complaint, “and at the border, the lightwater turns to grayloch– grayloch being the infected water that the monster-Shadows create when they corrupt the earth. The grayloch-turned water runs into an ocean that has become the only safe space other than the Light Forest for living creatures, since no Shadow– living, stone, or Them– has a taste for getting wet.”

“I fear that the grayloch has taken over the sea,” Red admits, his head turned in the northward flow of the Lightwater River. “But the only way to know is to go find out, and neither Venik nor his servants appreciate trespassing in the Blackwoods.”

An idea forms inside Owain’s head. “What if we ask to meet Venik near the sea? Since no Shadow owns the sea, it’s No Man’s Land. It’s… free for anyone to be on.”

Kloey and Red seem to both be considering this idea. “Who would go and ask him to meet us there?” asks Red to no one in particular.

“Maybe it could be you,” Kloey says. “Venik will kill any of the ten if he finds them in the Blackwoods, and you know that he only thinks of me as a ‘halfling’ and nothing else. Only you could go.”

“Perhaps.” Red lifts an arm, investigating his blunt claws. “But going to the edge of the sea means traveling through the Blackwoods, and even if Venik did agree to meet us there, he could not promise not to kill any of the ten before they made it to the edge of the grayloch.”


They all fall silent again, unsure of what else there is to do. They must take a chance, it seems. Venik is a rather curious creature, despite his description being murderous and bloodthirsty. He kills humans, but he does not kill Shadows; he does not own the sea, but he will not be kind to the ten children if he finds any of them on his territory. He rules a whole clan of Shadows, but only by fear.

And somehow, he was once a boy named Sven.

Owain rubs a hand through his hair, trying to flatten his broad, orange curls, and says, “I think I’ll go for a walk.”

Loft blinks at him.

“Alone,” he adds regretfully. He needs time with his thoughts, especially if his nine friends are going to rely on him to save them all.

As he begins to wander along the edge of the sandy bank, he hears Kloey giving out soft instructions to the rest of the group gathered by the water’s edge: “I suppose there’s no point in worrying,” she says. “This is your first time outside since we found you, and you’re welcome to do whatever you like.”

Red’s voice speaks up from the shore. “Owain!”

Owain glances back.

“Be careful where you go.”

Owain nods his head, and then he disappears along the bank.


A/N: All italics have been removed because this was copied over from a Google document. Please enjoy and leave feedback in the comments below. I look for constructive criticism in my books. Thank you

FictionYoung AdultThrillerScience FictionHorrorFantasyDystopianAdventure

About the Creator


she’s back.

a prodigious writer at 14, she has just completed a 100,000+ word book and is looking for publishers.

super opinionated.

writes free-verse about annoying people.

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