Cora and Ford seemed especially tired when the sun rose and Everin woke them. Their auras looked different, too. Or rather, they were hardly there. Cora and Ford had both emanated faint glows of green and blue yesterday. Today, their auras were barely visible. The fear and sadness were still present, but only the faintest tinges of the energy from those feelings radiated into the space around them. The little flickers of nervousness that had perpetually danced around them seemed to have all been released. It was odd, Everin decided, but he didn’t bring it up.
They packed up and quickly left the clearing, eager to get back on the road. It had been a warm night. Droplets of dew clung to leaves, and a general sense of springtime permeated the air. Everin walked behind Cora and Ford. He noticed that Ford’s anxiety at talking to Cora had disappeared. The green flickers that usually arose when he talked to the girl had vanished.
The trio walked for an hour or two. Cora and Ford spoke animatedly for most of the time. They made an effort to include Everin in their conversation, but he could tell that they only had eyes for each other. Perhaps something had happened last night, he wondered. His musings were cut short by an aura that he detected from the trees off the path. Through the layers of forest, he could see an intense blue light.
He quietly reached forward and tapped the shoulders of Cora and Ford. Their conversation interrupted, they stopped and turned around.
“What’s up?” Cora asked.
Everin raised a finger to his lips and made a motion towards the aura with his head. “There’s someone in the trees off the path over there. I can see their aura,” he whispered.
Cora and Ford’s eyes widened.
“Do you think it’s a ghost?” Cora whispered back.
Everin shook his head. “There’s only one person, and their aura is all sadness. None of the ghosts’ auras looked like this.”
“So, it’s not an ambush?”
Everin shook his head.
“Should we keep walking?” asked Ford.
Again, Everin shook his head. “This person is suffering. They might need our help. We should at least see if there’s anything we can do for them.”
Cora and Ford nodded in agreement, and Everin led them off the road and into the trees. He carefully stepped over dead branches and around tree trunks, trying to be as quiet as possible. As they approached the aura, Ford accidentally stepped on a large stick. It snapped loudly.
Immediately, Everin heard a voice call out, “Who’s there?” The voice was male. It was loud but wavering, almost hysterical.
Cautiously, Everin called out. “We just want see if you’re okay. You’re pretty far off the trail.”
He didn’t hear a response, so he resumed his careful navigation through the thick trees. Soon, he emerged into a clearing, Cora and Ford on his heels. He saw the source of the light. In the clearing was a collapsed tent and the charred remains of a campfire. A young man lay facedown in the dirt before the fire’s remains. He looked to be a few years older than Everin, with brown skin and short, curly hair. He was in bad shape. His clothes were tattered and stained with streaks of blood. Everin hardly noticed these details, however.
The boy’s aura was incredible. Deep blue light radiated off his body in waves. It cast the entire clearing in an eerie, aqua light. Everin hadn’t seen any energy from sadness in this form before. The light that had surrounded Gamah, Jorian, and Kyzella had all been a steady blue – pain from miseries that had been borne for days, months, or even years. This boy’s energy was different. The sorrow was new. It was raw. His aura throbbed with every fresh surge of energy that he expelled into the space around him.
Tentatively, Everin asked, “Are you alright?”
“No,” was the weakly mumbled response.
Cora spoke up. “Can we come closer?”
They waited for several long moments, but there was no answer. Tentatively, the trio entered the clearing. Everin was unsure of what to do, but Cora moved confidently. She knelt down next the boy, carefully placing her hands on the uninjured parts of his body.
“Are you able to sit up?” she asked.
In response, the limp body of the boy began to move as he attempted to push himself off the ground. Cora and Ford helped the boy into a sitting position. His face looked just as bad as the rest of his body. His nose was twisted at an odd angle, probably broken, and the blood that had poured from his nostrils had dried, caking itself onto his face.
“Can you tell us your name?” Cora asked gently.
“My name is Tress.” The boy’s voice was shaky and faint. He looked blankly ahead, not making eye contact with Cora – not appearing to focus his gaze on anything in particular.
Cora offered her a smile. “Okay, Tress, can you tell us what happened here?”
Tress cleared his throat. “I was…they…” He shook his head weakly, unable to continue.
Cora waited patiently beside the boy. “It’s okay. You’re okay now. We’re here to help,” she encouraged.
At this, Tress shook his head fervently. “Please, just go. Get out of here.”
“We can’t leave you like this,” Cora insisted. “You’ll die.”
Tress still stared ahead with empty eyes. “Maybe that’s what I want to happen,” he said. “My life is over.”
Everin stared at the boy. Powerful waves of blue light continued to billow off him.
“You can’t mean that,” Cora said, shocked. “Please, just tell us what happened.”
Tress struggled to control his shaking breaths. “King Valen,” he said, his voice cracking on the syllables. “I was going to get drafted for his war, so I ran away. I live with my mother in Thistleton, but I knew that my father, a hermit named Jorian, lives in these woods. I was going to find him and stay with him until the war ended.”
Recognition flashed across Cora’s face. She quickly glanced up and Everin and Ford. They nodded back to her, remembering the fisherman they’d encountered yesterday.
“It’s dangerous to travel through the Elderwood Forest, especially by yourself,” Ford said.
Tress continued to speak, he words were bitter, and he choked back what could have been a sob. “I know, but I didn’t have any other choice. I traveled most of the day yesterday and set up camp here last night. That’s when I got attacked.” His voice started to waver. “These four people appeared out of the woods. A man named Galimus I think, and three others. They…they called themselves the Elderwood Ghosts.”
Everin felt his blood run ice cold. His throat tightened as dread filled his entire being. He stood, rooted to the spot, waiting to hear what Tress said next.
Again, Cora waited for the boy to stop regain his composure. When he finished fighting back sobs, she gently asked. “The ghosts, what did they do?”
Tress looked ahead. The expression in his face was numb, defeated. Finally, he swallowed hard and managed to open his mouth to speak again.
“They took everything I had, supplies, money, all of it. Then they beat me up and left me here to die.”
Cora reached to touch his shoulder and he flinched at the contact. He still started blankly ahead, into the forest beyond the clearing. “You’re not going to die. We can get you to a healer,” she said.
More vigorously, Tress shook his head again. “No, you don’t understand. There’s no point. My life is over.”
Just then, Everin began to put the pieces together. His stomach began to twist itself inside and out as he realized what was wrong with the boy.
Cora was concerned, but she didn’t understand the severity of the situation. “What’s wrong? We can help replace what was stolen, and your injuries will heal if you get treated for them.”
Tress turned his head in her general direction, but Everin saw that his eyes didn’t focus on Cora. “When they beat me up, one of the ghosts smashed the handle of his sword into the back of my head. When I woke up, they were gone and now…” He raised his hands in front of his face, an utterly defeated expression in his dead eyes. “I can’t see.”
Everin didn’t breathe. Tress buried his head in his knees, more letting sobs shake his battered frame. After an eternity frozen in shock, reality smashed into Everin like a sledgehammer. Tears burned his eyes. He wanted to run. He wanted to run and run and never stop, but his legs wouldn’t work. Everin turned. He couldn’t face the sobbing boy. In a trace, he stumbled away a few yards to the edge of the small clearing before he sank to his knees.
Time passed. It could have been minutes or years. Everin stared at the trees before him, but he didn’t process what his eyes were taking in. All he could focus on was the sobs of Tress and the whispered assurances of Cora and Ford. Eventually, he heard footsteps approaching him.
“Everin, are you okay?” Cora asked him.
Shakily, Everin shook his head. He pointed in Tress’s direction. “It’s my fault,” he said. “If I had just agreed to use my power on the ghosts back when we met Jorian, none of this would have happened.”
Cora knelt down beside Everin. “You couldn’t have known that the ghosts would do this.”
“But I still could’ve prevented it if I hadn’t been so stupid back there,” he spat the words out and turned to Cora, desperation in his eyes.
“I wish you could see it. Just for one second, I wish you could see how much suffering he’s in. Then you’d understand how terrible my mistake was. Ugh!” Everin slammed a fist into the ground. “I wish people could see what I see!”
He pointed in Tress’s direction. “They would see how it’s so wrong. So cruel. They just robbed him of one of the most fundamental pieces of who he is, and they probably don’t even care! If those ghosts could just see his suffering for a moment, if they could see what it looks like, they’d never harm another person for the rest of their lives! Everyone has the capacity to suffer. Why don’t people realize how much pain their actions can cause! Why don’t they care!”
“Everin, you need to calm down,” Cora’s voice was quiet but firm.
Everin realized that he’d been practically shouting. Ashamed, he nodded.
Cora put her hand over his clenched fist and felt it slowly loosen. “What the ghosts did to Tress is terrible, but you can’t change the past. What you can do is help us get him to a healer. They’ll take care of your arm and do what they can for him. Can you do that?”
The muscles in Everin’s neck trembled as he weakly nodded again. “Yeah.”
“Okay,” Cora rose, and Everin slowly followed suit. She guided him back over to where Tress and Ford sat on the ground.
The boy looked up, turning his face in the direction of the sound. Everin felt trapped under the unrecognizing stare of the boy’s unfocused eyes.
“Our friend Everin is standing next to me right now. The three of us are travelling to Thistleton. If you come with us, we can give you a safe trip back home.”
“There’s no point. What do I have left to live for? Plus, there’s the draft. I’m a deserter. They’ll probably arrest me and put me to death anyways,” he protested.
Cora smiled, although Tress couldn’t see it. “Don’t give up so soon, let’s at least see what a healer has to say about your eyes. As for the draft, we’ll worry about that when we get there. Besides, we’re deserters too.”
Tress’s mouth opened in surprise.
“That’s right,” Ford added. “So, we can help you avoid the army as long as you’re with us.”
Hesitantly, Tress nodded. “Okay, I’ll go.”
“Thank you,” Cora told him.
The boy frowned. “For what?”
“For not giving up,” she said.
Ford and Cora tore some strips of cloth from their bedrolls and attempted to wrap them around the worst of Tress’s cuts. Next, Ford stood up and helped Tress climb to his feet. The boy stuck his arms in front of him blindly as he wobbled where he stood. Carefully, Ford placed his hands on Tress’s shoulders and guided the boy from behind, steering him back the way they’d come. Tress’s body was covered in small scratches and bruises, but he appeared to be able to walk.
Hesitantly, he wandered forward. Every time he took a step, he would gingerly test the ground with his foot before shifting his weight onto it. Ford whispered instructions in Tress’s ear as they made their way through the dense trees and back onto the main road.
“Take a big step over this root.”
“Good job, you’re almost there.”
Everin hated watching the boy stumble through the trees. He hated the guilt that ripped his chest apart every time he looked in Tress’s direction and saw the burning blue light that poured off his battered body. Everin suspected that Tress had agreed to travel with them because he didn’t have a choice. The boy had the aura of someone who had no hope left – someone who was just blindly wandering forward. It was a feeling that Everin had experienced plenty of times over the past year.
Soon, they were back on the path. Their progress was slow, as Tress could only walk at a cautious pace. Everin hung behind the other three, feeling numb. As they walked, the light from Tress’s aura drowned out anything that Cora and Ford produced. It was impossible for Everin to determine their emotional states.
“…and that’s when we ran into your dad…” Ford trailed off.
“Jorian,” Tress provided.
“Right, Jorian. We ran into him while he was fishing, about a day’s walk from where we are now. He’s doing okay. He had some trouble with the Elderwood Ghosts, too, but he sounded confident that the King’s army will come in and put them to justice soon.”
Everin noticed that Ford deliberately avoided mentioning that Jorian had asked them for help, and that he’d declined to give it.
“What kind of trouble did they give him?” Tress asked nervously.
“They just took some of the fish that he caught,” he said.
“We ran into the ghosts, too,” Ford added.
Everin could practically hear Tress gasp. “What happened?”
“Our friend Everin is…” Ford caught himself before he shared too much. “Everin is a really skilled fighter. He was able to chase them away when they tried to rob us.”
Tress nodded. “A pity Everin didn’t kill them then and there.” Ford didn’t answer, unsure of what to say. Instead he simply continued to guide the blind boy down the path.
“Are you feeling okay?” Cora finally ventured.
When Tress replied, his voice was bitter, “No, not really. There’s no future for blind people in Allomoria. At least my mother will know what happened to me before I die.”
“Before you die?” Cora asked. “Being blind won’t kill you.”
“I’ll kill myself if I have to,” Tress snapped. “I’d rather die than be a burden to my mother, and King Valen’s soldiers will probably put me to death for deserting once they find me.”
Cora had stopped walking, frozen. Ford gently pulled on the boy’s shoulders, and they both came to a stop. Cora sniffled as she attempted to stifle a sob, shocked by the hopelessness of the situation and frustrated by her inability to do anything to help. Everin could see her own aura turning nasty shades of blue.
Tress seemed to have sensed that he’d upset her. “Cora, you and your friends seem like really nice people. I appreciate what you all are trying to do for me, but my life is never going to be okay again, not after this.” Tress let himself drop to the ground. He pulled his knees up to his chest. Tears were flowing from his own, sightless eyes. “I can’t live like this!” he cried.
Cora and Ford stood on either side of the boy, unsure what to do, unsure if there was anything they could do. It was Everin who knelt down beside him.
“Tress, can you hold still for a moment?” he asked softly.
“What are you going to do?” he asked, wiping drops of water from his eyes.
“I’m trying to make up for a mistake,” he said.
Tress couldn’t see Everin, but he still managed to give him a confused look. However, he let his agitated rocking cease as some of the tension left his body. Everin reached his left hand forward. He didn’t touch him, but he buried it deep in his aura until it was just an inch from the boy’s skin. He braced himself for the impact, and he let the sadness flow into him.
The pain was horrible, even worse than it had looked. There was confusion, shock, and the pain of loss – loss of innocence, loss of control, and loss of hope. Everin felt like the sadness was going to make his chest explode. He felt like a piece of himself had been taken from him, a piece that he could never get back. It took all the willpower he had not to drop to the ground and give in to the overpowering sorrow that smothered him.
The pain from his burn made him wince as he raised his right hand to the sky. With a desperate repulsion, Everin expelled the sadness from his body. A blinding light of pure sapphire burst from his open palm, shooting high into the sky above. Everin glanced up and saw that his thin beam of energy rose all the way to the clouds, where it punched through their fluffy white mass and disappeared. The quietest of whooshing sounds accompanied the current of light that raced upward.
Everin channeled the sadness for as long as he could, letting it flow skyward in a constant stream. When the emotional pain became too much for him to bear, he cut off the flow of energy from Tress’s aura. The boy still had plenty of blue light left, but it wasn’t nearly as intense as it had been before. Everin fell away from him, onto his back. He took several deep breaths before he regained enough control over his painful emotions to stand. He pushed himself to his feet. He’d atoned for as much of his sin as his body could bear.
“Are you feeling well enough to keep walking?” he asked Tress, struggling to keep his voice from shaking.
He looked up in the direction of Everin’s voice. He tentatively places his hands over his face and body, trying to feel if Everin had done anything physically to him. “I don’t know what you did, but yes. I think I can make it out of the forest.”
“Good.” Everin tried to say the word without grimacing. Ford helped him lift the boy back to his feet. Everin’s legs only trembled slightly as he pulled Tress’s weight upward.
Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-19-everin/