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Authors: M.P. Reeves

A Path of Oak and Ash

BOOK: A Path of Oak and Ash
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Copyright © 2016 M.P Reeves

All rights reserved.

 

Oh that I could see to the Other Plane – that I could learn the magic of the Ancients.

Oh that the secrets of the Druids

could be whispered in my ears

that I might know their beauty and their power – that I might love again this land

and hear the voices of the spirits in the trees and rivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

 

 

There is little evidence that Druids have ever existed. Druids are by nature, elusive; transient as the wind, indistinguishable as a single leaf hanging upon a plenteous tree. They live in another age yet one parallel that of man, where all are in union with nature rather than above it. A land of strong souls, untouched earth and forgotten magic. Where the spirits of nature, the wood nymphs and the water lilies whisper freely in the ears of all that would listen.

Yet there are times, rare transient times, when those that walk with the earth find their boots on man-made streets. There are many a name whispered throughout human history of such individuals. Assumed Druids who guided ancient Kings in times of trouble, stood against evil in unspeakable forms, weaved through tragic love, and performed feats so incredible their recounting can only be dismissed as an exaggeration.

It is through such a tapestry of intriguing tales and handed down whispers that Carrick, a boy of two worlds, came to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

Erik Slaine had detested human cities for the last four hundred years. From cobbled stone to concrete slab man continued to move further away from the natural earth, suffocating in the artificial cocoon they created for themselves. Signs of the true world they had been born into reduced to a lonely underfed tree surrounded in stone and lattice every twenty paces along lifeless grey sidewalks. Had he not been saddled with a critical obligation he would not find himself tarrying on this side, now nor in the foreseeable future.

His direct mandate was the observation of a nondescript yet entirely important individual, one that was at present walking past Erik Slaine in the flesh.

The boy appeared as the rest of them; pale, thin, clothed in patterned mass produced cloth spun from a machine. His face, contrary to his wares, was unique. Features that carried the strong lines of his lineage, his coloring so akin to his blood. A strong jaw, high cheekbones, a straight nose flanked by almond shaped eyes the color of a summer sky, thick hair the shade of wet mud and cut far too short. He walked with an even stride, the corner of his mouth often kicked up in a slight smile to the world.

Erik had watched him for the cycle of two moons. An easy task as the boy held to a pattern without deviation. After he left the education building, he rode his metal wheels to the corner store for libations before heading to his compartment in a tall brick building two blocks down. It was at the location of the sweet proprietor that Erik had decided to fulfil his duties. The locale gave a good view of both the schoolyard and the face of the lad’s home. A place where he went largely unnoticed, blending into the urban canopy of their concrete forest like so many other wayward individuals.

This day had passed like any other thus far, the boy entered the merchant’s shop, exited with a quiet step, collected his vehicle and continued on down the path. It was then that this day became the farthest from mundane, for as the lad walked alongside his friend toward his abode another pair of eyes watched. A dark gaze from behind the tinted glass of a luxury vehicle parked along the street. It was on this day that his life would be forever changed, his path converged with the one bestowed upon him the moment of his birth.  

They had found him, and unlike Erik Slaine, they would not be inclined to simply observe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2

 

 

The bag came off Rick’s head with an audible snap, his surroundings shifting from pitch black to a blinding light. With a wince he dropped his gaze, desperately trying to focus on the blurred outline of his worn sneakers until the off brand logo became legible. Beneath his torn soles, off-white tile revealed a familiar pattern. It looked just like the stuff in his own apartment but in far worse shape; full of dents, burn holes and covered in mud.
Am I in my own building?

Heart pounding, his head snapped up as the reality of his predicament came rushing back cutting through the drug induced haze that muddied his memory. He had been taken. Kidnapped. Abducted. Duct tape held his arms to a wooden chair, legs just as tightly to the chair’s own. Those men from the black van had shot him with some kind of dart, then...he couldn’t remember.

Something moved beyond the light. A creek in the room, footsteps.  

Beyond the bright glow of the single lamp someone stalked in the darkness, further away someone flipped on a lighter. The soft red glow briefly illuminating its holder, a man wearing black, seated on a ratty chair. It was hard to make out anything significant about the fellow, most of his body was hidden in shadow.  

"Kid looks just like him."  He rasped through an exhale of smoke. The pungent scent of tobacco filled the air, churning his stomach.  

"Where is Brannon?"  The standing silhouette asked from behind the spotlight in an accented voice.  British? No, it was thicker. Scottish or maybe Irish.

Rick opened his mouth to speak, to plead really, but nothing came out. He had a horrible case of dry mouth and the lingering taste of copper on his tongue.

A fist crossed Rick's jaw with a loud crack. Stars danced momentarily in front of his eyes while his head lolled.  He'd never been assaulted before. Ever. The pain was excruciating, dimming his thought process to nothing beyond the throb in his muscles and the swelling of his skin.

"Want to try that answer again?"  Whomever was standing closest to him tossed something at his feet, the rectangular shape landed with a clap against the cheap beige linoleum flooring. A book. His book.

"Go put your backpack away.  I'll get your gift."  Her lightly freckled face lit up with a sly smile brought on by the surprise. For being almost forty, Maureen Smith had the beauty of someone a good decade her junior.

"You didn't have to do that." Bills had been a constant problem for them since the recession hit. His mother had lost her job as a mortgage agent when the banks did their cutbacks. After that it wasn't long until their house went into foreclosure. It had been a harsh adjustment from their suburban home to this small apartment in an iffy part of New York City. All of their things moved by their own hands. Rick had been so hopeful they would have stayed there for more than two years, out in the lovely suburbs rather than this urban wasteland where the sirens never seemed to stop.

"Nonsense. It is my only son's fifteenth birthday. You better believe I got you a present." She shooed him off toward his room.

He walked down the short hallway to his room and dumped off his black and plaid book bag by the oak desk in the far corner. The wall above it had been decorated with postcards from all the states they had lived in; Alaska, Connecticut, California, Texas, Florida, Washington, Utah, Nebraska, Maine and Arizona. Unfortunately they never stayed in one place for more than a year or two throughout his entire childhood. Most of their homes had been really nice though, his mother found work in consulting-whatever that meant-or some lab job.

It wasn’t until this last move that she’d made the decision to get involved in banking and well...now she worked as waitress at a crappy diner two blocks away. Rick never understood why she did that, he had snooped and seen the fancy diplomas she had in her sock drawer. He had wondered why she didn’t hang them on the wall, but if he had asked she would have known he was poking around which would have gotten himself grounded.

He didn’t get it at all. In his mind he figured she could have used those to get them out of this hole, but she didn’t seem to mind it one bit. Even when the sheriff escorted them out of their last home she had smiled, telling him it was fine. Claiming such a place was too big for just two anyway. Everything was always fine. Fine fine fine.

Whatever.

He wasn’t going to be that way. As much has he loved his mother when he got out of high school he was going to go to college and unlike her, he was going to get a degree use it.

Find one place to call home. Set down roots with a girl that didn’t annoy the crap out of him.

Have a normal quiet life.

Rick took a moment to pull the chain on the bronze red shaded lamp by his bed, then checked his face in the mirror above his dresser. The bruise on his cheek he had gotten in P.E. two days ago had all but faded. It wasn’t surprising; He had always been a remarkably fast healer. The broken arm he had gotten in 1st grade only took a week to mend, although his Mom had made him wear the stupid itchy cast for the whole six the doctor had commanded.

At this rate his face would be perfect for school tomorrow. Perhaps if Matt was bringing Jessica this weekend he could invite Liz tomorrow, they got along well enough and it would keep Jess from bringing Mary.

The corner of his mouth kicked up in a grin. Yeah that sounded like a good plan.

“Richard you coming hun?”  Came the call from the living room, a perfect cheery trill of patience.

“Yeah, sorry.”

When he rounded the corner back into the open space his mother was standing by the counter between the kitchenette and the living room a small package in her hands and a smile on her face.

"Thanks Mom."  Rick felt awful as he took the small package from his mother's hands. Staring at the glittery blue stars of little wrapped box he found himself wondering how different their lives would have been if his father had lived. Rick had never met him, never even seen a picture of the guy. Mom didn't like to talk about it, never gave specifics, just that he had passed shortly after she became pregnant. As he grew up his Mom had tried her best to fill that hole, showering him with attention and always ensuring he participated in as many activities with other boys as possible. At his soccer games she cheered twice as loud, clapping once for herself and doubly so for his father. Still Rick wished there could be two in the stands for him. A Dad to look up to. One that would take care of his Mom and teach him how to fish...

A hand on his shoulder brought him back to the present.  "Don't be sad now. Your father would have been very proud of you."  Rick looked up, not surprised she had figured out his train of thought. Birthdays and Christmases seemed to bring it out in him. She smiled then. "Come on now, open it."

Tearing back the paper he found a hardcover book. The dark green cover was decorated in runes filled in light gold, long lines and short ones forming a pattern around the circle at the center. Rick opened it; flipping page to page he found only gibberish and sketches.

“It’ was your father's.”  She smiled wistfully. “I wanted you to have it. Figured you’re old enough now.”

“It’s beautiful, looks old too.”

“Oh it is, a few hundred years actually. So be careful with it.”  She clapped a thin hand tipped with purple fingernails on his shoulder.  “I was going to make homemade pizzas for dinner. Does that sound alright to you Richard?”

“Richard?”

“Richard.”  The slap across his jaw was followed by another prompt.  “Answer the question kid.”

“What question?” He mumbled through the pain, mind still addled by whatever sedative they had given him.

“Where is Brannon?”  That lovely green book with its silver markings was pressed against his face, the cover carrying the scent of vanilla and coconut.

Panic rose in his chest, if they had this then they had been in his home. If they had been in his home then...

Mom!
 
Oh no...

“I don’t know any Brannon!”  His words slurred, eyes watering from the bright light on his face, not from fear. He wouldn’t let himself admit he was afraid, although it was obvious to those who kidnapped him his tears were born of terror. The figure hovering just behind the light turned, looking over his shoulder at the man seated in the corner.

“Requesting authorization to begin encouragement tactics?”  

There was a pause, the one who was obviously in charge crossed his legs and took a drag off a cigarette, the red glow illuminating his chin for a fraction of a second. With the exhale of smoke he responded.  “Approved.”  

              A stainless steel cart was wheeled into view with a black satchel on top of it. The aggressor stepped into the light, wrapped in an expensive black on black suit he towered over Rick; personification of the boogeyman from his childhood, a large faceless darkness to be feared. With elaborate flair, calloused hands pulled back the Velcro and unfurled the material across the tray.

A flash of metal, uneven surfaces reflecting against the brilliant light source onto the ceiling of the vacant apartment. Knives. Knives of every shape and size, scissors, saws, small pointy looking things you’d find at a dentist’s office, even something that looked like an exaggerated pizza cutter.

“Oh no! No no no!” Rick shouted out in horror, struggling against the duct tape that held him to the chair. As his head jerked the skin pulled around the puncture on his neck.

With a turn of the knob, he pushed open the main rickety door and walked out into the chilly night. The crisp air felt wonderful against his skin, a deep breath filling his lungs with the scent of countless fireplaces lit throughout the neighborhood.  He wasn’t two steps off the porch before he felt a prick in his neck like a bee sting, but the pain didn’t fade instead it started to burn. Confusion set in, there should be no bugs out this time of year. Rick put his hand to his neck, expecting to find a raised bump with a possible stinger. Indeed there had been something in his flesh, a small metal cylinder tipped with a needle.

Suddenly his vision began to fade, taking a haphazard step forward Rick attempted to pull himself out of the mental fog that had set in.  It was no use, the darkness pulled him down in a visual tunnel, his body going numb. The last thing he saw before his head hit the pavement was the dart in his palm.

He had woken up here, in this abandoned room with two men who were ready to begin cutting bits and pieces of him for information he didn’t have. For someone he didn’t know.

The man in the suit picked a small scalpel off the tray, the kind doctors used in movies in operations. The blade blurred in the light as he turned toward Rick.

“Oh please...not this...come on! I don’t know a damn thing!”  His hands began to turn red as he struggled under the bonds while his pleas fell on deaf ears. Rick had seen enough movies to know what was coming next. Seen enough to know the minutes that followed would probably be his last.

His captor lowered the blade to his right forearm.  "Perhaps we'll start with the skin."

The sliding doors to the balcony exploded inward in a rain of glass. Rick closed his eyes and turned his head on instinct. Both men in the room let out a shout of surprise, but their reaction was drowned out by the caw of a very loud bird. 
Bird?

Rick whipped his head around to find an eagle. No.  Not an eagle-something quite similar but far larger-with its talons deep into the shoulders of the man who had struck him. Blood poured from the punctures in a steady stream onto the cheap linoleum flooring as the man tried unsuccessfully to fend off the creature that picked at his eyes.  

Within the glow of the moonlight he got a real look at the men who had abducted him, both pale and thin wearing black suits. Probably in their forties or fifties, hair graying on the edges.  Rick's eyes immediately darted to the corner, where the one giving the orders had been.  

Nothing but an empty seat. Whomever was running this operation had slipped out quickly as the bird broke in.

The one not under attack reached for his gun under his suit coat. He was unable to draw before the massive creature threw the partially blinded man it had a hold on into him. The pair smacking into the plaster with a sharp crack, falling down onto the floor. In the blink of an eye both were back on their feet, circling the giant bird, who was flapping its massive wingspan in the small space while letting out an ear piercing shriek.

A gun went off, another. Another man had entered the apartment from the door behind him. A huge body in a leather trench coat rushing forward. Throwing something.

Rick's vision was lost to a blinding light, a wave of heat followed, assaulting his face like he had just opened an oven door to four hundred and fifty degrees. In that moment he feared that he was dead, yet his mind still functioned as the wooden chair he was tied to tipped over backwards from the blast, his head cracking against the linoleum floor. The last thought to cross him as he lost consciousness was surprise at the curious smell of flowers.  

Funny, he had expected only burnt flesh.

BOOK: A Path of Oak and Ash
13.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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