Their progress was slow. Cora and Ford guided Tress down the path, and Everin followed behind. An hour later, he still felt shaky from channeling the boy’s misery. Tress’s blue energy had essentially returned to its initial brightness; however, Everin wasn’t feeling strong enough to attempt to absorb any more, especially considering how quickly it would regenerate anyways. His muscles were weak, and his chest felt tight. He wondered if his newfound abilities to absorb suffering were causing harm to his physical body. He felt a jolt of anxiety as he considered the thought. He didn’t know what the mysterious energy of people’s auras was made from. It was quite possible that his body wasn’t designed to hold more than whatever he naturally produced, especially since he probably naturally produced much more sorrow than the average person. He wondered which would give out first if he continued to use his abilities – his mind or his body.
Cora and Ford didn’t seem to notice that Everin lagged behind. They were preoccupied with helping Tress and speaking words of encouragement to him. After Everin had siphoned off much of the boy’s blue aura, its light had faded enough that he could make out Cora and Ford’s auras as well. They were a steady green with tinges of blue. Anxiety about Tress’s condition and empathetic sorrow for what the ghosts had done to him. Their emotions seemed to be focused on the blinded boy, so Everin wasn’t able to study whatever had eased Ford’s anxiety around Cora earlier that morning.
As the day stretched onward, the group passed several travelers headed in the opposite direction – a large family, a group of merchants riding a horse-drawn wagon, and a few other groups of four or five adults traveling together on foot. Everin noted that Tress drew several looks from the people they passed. It was clear that their group was struggling. Tress’s clothes were streaked with blood. It was also fairly clear that something was wrong with him, as Ford was walking behind the boy, hands on his shoulders, slowly guiding him forward. Cora, Ford, and himself weren’t in great condition, either, Everin noted. Despite their obvious struggles, none of the travelers they passed stopped to offer assistance or even to ask if they were alright. Everin felt stabs of bitterness toward every group that looked over the wounded boy before quickly turning away and quickening their pace. He had to remind himself that these people didn’t have the vision the he did. They weren’t blinded by the spectacular lightshow of sadness that the boy cast outwards. They had the privilege of being able to choose to ignore his all-consuming sorrow.
At around midday, they sat on a cluster of rocks just off the path to rest and eat. Ford placed pieces of bread and dried meat into Tress’s hands, and he quietly ate. Everin peered into Ford’s bag when he got a chance and saw that they were nearly out of food. Cora seemed to realize the same thing.
“We probably won’t make it to Thistleton today,” she commented.
Ford nodded grimly. He didn’t say it, but they all knew that Tress’s pace had slowed their travel, and his extra mouth to feed would quickly burn through the rest of their supplies.
“My guess is that we’ll be out of the forest by late tomorrow morning. We’ll arrive in Thistleton just after noon.”
Cora quickly glanced at Tress, not wanting to make him aware that he was causing their difficulties. She held up her canteen. Through the transparent hardglass, Everin could see that it was nearly empty of water. Cora motioned to the canteen with her eyes and asked, “How are our supplies holding up?”
Ford shrugged. “We’ll be able to make it to Thistleton, one way or another.”
A solemn mood fell upon the group. They ate quickly and in silence before getting back on the road to walk for the rest of the afternoon. Everin felt his strength beginning to return to him, but he still felt somewhat ill, like he’d ingested a poison, and his body was attempting to fight off its influence.
They had only been walking for an hour or so when Everin heard the noise in the distance. It sounded like the clopping of horses’ hooves. Horses weren’t an unexpected presence on the trail. Perhaps one in every five groups of travelers rode horses or pulled their wagons with some kind of animal. What made the noise suspicious was its rate. This wasn’t the steady clomping sound of horses walking down the path. It was the rapid hoofbeats of horses at a fast-moving canter – several horses, if Everin was correct.
The noise quickly grew louder. The group stopped as Ford asked, “Do any of you hear that?”
Before Everin could respond, the noise reached a crescendo. There was a rustling sound, and several horses with riders burst onto the path no more than fifty yards ahead of them. Like phantoms, the four mounted figures appeared to materialize down the road. They must have emerged from some hidden side path in the forest, Everin thought. One of the figures on the horses, the leader, turned his head to scan up and down the trail. His eyes locked on to Everin, Cora, Ford, and Tress. He pointed and spoke something to his partners. They all turned and began to walk their horses down the path towards the young people.
Everin was frozen. As the four riders had started approaching, he’d noticed the white bandanas wrapped around their foreheads. There was no mistaking it, this was Galimus and his Elderwood Ghosts. Cora and Ford seemed to have the same realization the Everin had just had. Their auras flared brightly with a mix of green and red light. Fear tempered with rage at what the ghosts had done to Tress.
The blind boy seemed to sense that something was happening. Ford had stopped guiding him, so he twisted his head around agitatedly. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
Ford started to say something, but for once he was at a loss for words, unable to figure out how to tell the boy that the ones who’d taken his sight now stood just a stone’s throw away.
Galimus answered for him. He climbed down from his horse and began to walk closer. His red aura had regenerated since the last fight, whatever hatred drove him was still burning fiercely. His companions dismounted and approached as well. Everin saw that their auras were green – nerves due to the anticipation of a fight. However, their fear was faint. Clearly, they weren’t as spooked by him as they’d been before.
“Well, would you look at that? It’s the kid from last night.” His voice was confident and cruel.
Tress jerked his head in the direction of the leader of the ghosts, but his unseeing eyes didn’t focus on the man. “Is it him? Are the ghosts here?” he whispered hysterically to Ford. Fear, disbelief, and pure unadulterated hatred began to color his aura.
“That’s right, we’re here,” Galimus said, a hint of confusion in his voice. “Don’t tell me you don’t recognize us?” he smirked at that, probably thinking the allusion to the beating and robbing of the boy was clever.
Tress’s voice was as cold as ice. “I recognize your voice. I can’t see you because I’m blind.” Tendrils of red energy flickered venomously within his aura at every syllable. “I’m blind because of what you did to me!”
Galimus’s eyebrows raised slightly in surprise, but other than that, his manner didn’t change. He turned to his three followers, who appeared equally unconcerned. The man turned back to Tress and the other young people and shrugged.
“Tough luck, kid. That’s life. Were not here for you anyways, we’re here for him.” He jabbed a finger at Everin.
Everin snapped out of his disbelief at the scene that was playing out before him. “Me?” he managed to ask.
The leader of the ghosts stared him down. “Yeah, you. We’ve got a reputation to maintain in these parts. We can’t let you leave after what happened the last time we met, especially since you’ve got some things that belong to us. We’re going to need those back.” He nodded towards the sword strapped to Ford’s pack and the one that hung from Cora’s hip.
Cora defiantly unsheathed her sword and pointed it towards the man. Ford glared at Galimus with disgust in his eyes. “What makes you think he won’t beat you again?” He threatened.
The man smiled smugly. “Because we’ve brought these to protect us from your friend’s magical fire and lightning.” He raised the wooden shield that was strapped to his left arm. It shone slightly in the forest light, as though it had been painted over with wax to make it flame-resistant. His three followers all had similar shields. Hardglass was sturdy but had a low melting point. These shields, however, wouldn’t have the same problem when faced with Everin’s flames. He then added, “That is, if he’ll even try to use it on us. We were picking up our dinner the other day from our pal Jorian when he happened to mention that he’d run into three kids who’d beaten us in a fight, but he told us that a kid named Everin refused to fight us again. I’m no expert on strategy, but I’d guess that Everin won’t be pulling a stunt like that again. Perhaps he’s what you’d call a one-trick pony?”
Tress’s reacted at the mention of his father. “Jorian? You better not have done anything to him!”
Galimus laughed as Ford whispered quiet assurances to Tress and attempted to guide the boy off the path, away from any fighting that might break out.
Cora was stating just a few feet from Everin. She leaned in and whispered, “You can take these guys, right?”
She looked at her friend. The blood had drained from Everin’s face. “I don’t know,” he said nervously. “I don’t think I’ve recovered from channeling all the sadness from Tress earlier.”
“Everin, I need you to do this. Is there any way you can manage?” she pleaded.
Before Everin could respond, Galimus barked, “Alright let’s get this over with. Kill the Everin kid. Get our gear back from the other two. Kill them if they get in your way.”
The four ghosts unsheathed their swords and held their shields in front of their bodies as they began to spread out into a semicircle around Everin and Cora. They began to slowly approach. They were in no hurry – they had the advantage of numbers, but they were still wary of Everin and the risk that he might summon his energy.
“Cora, get out of there!” Ford shouted. He was off to the side of the trail with Tress, trying to stay out of the way of the fight.
She anxiously glanced back and forth between Ford and Everin. She turned to Everin. “Please, I know you can do this, Everin. You have to.”
Everin screwed his eyes shut. The auras were all so intense. There was Tress’s sorrow and hatred, Galimus’s rage, Cora and Ford’s terror, even the anxiety from the other ghosts – it was too much. His body recoiled at the thought of letting any of that suffering enter his being. He was still physically and emotionally drained from processing Tress’s sadness. He felt like one more drop of pain added to the deep pool that already existed in him would make his mind overflow into madness.
“Cora, they’ll kill you!” Ford shouted. “Run!”
Everin opened his eyes and saw Cora jump in front of him. Protectively, she held her sword towards the four ghosts who were cautiously advancing.
“I can’t!” she shouted in reply.
Galimus smirked. “The girl’s made her decision. Kill her too,” he said.
“Cora! No!” Everin heard Ford scream, but Cora didn’t move. Her knees shook as she stood between him and the ghosts. He could see her aura blossoming into a vibrant green of mortal fear right in front of him. No, he couldn’t let this happen. His life was misery, but Cora had so much to live for. He couldn’t let her die in a stupid act trying to save him. Whatever pain he was in, whatever pain he had to absorb, it wasn’t worth Cora’s life. Even if his body gave out from using his power, he had to at least try.
Everin scanned the scene. He couldn’t channel fear. He needed something that he could control so that he wouldn’t hurt Cora. He tried the tactic that had worked before, absorbing the anger from the leader of the ghosts. Everin fought to push down the emotional walls he’d built around himself. He focused on ripping away everything that protected the most vulnerable part of himself – the young boy who missed his parents. He let Galimus’s rage wash over that innocence as it flowed quickly into him, tainting that fragile corner of his being. Everin staggered on his feet as the rage coursed through his body. He was furious again. His body fought to contain the burning energy. Everin’s stomach churned and his head pounded, but he was too angry to let physical pain stop him now.
He stepped in front of Cora and swung his arm forward. A line of flames materialized in the wake of his open hand. They raced towards the ghosts, but they raised their shields and ducked their heads behind the barrier of treated wood. They were unharmed, but some of the ghosts looked uncertain now that Everin had shown he was willing to fight back.
“Boss?” one of the women asked tentatively.
“Keep moving! He can’t hurt us!” Galimus shouted
The ghosts crouched lower behind their shields and continued to close in on Everin and Cora. The perimeter of their half circle was a few swords’ lengths away at this point.
This wasn’t enough anger. As much as Everin hated the mindless rage and disgust that the red energy contained, he knew that he would need more of it to get past the shields. Everin spotted the other source of violent ruby energy – Tress. He stood off the trail, braced against a tree for balance. He wasn’t engaged in the fight, but he was still boiling over with hatred knowing that the thieves who’d taken the rest of his life away from him stood so close and that there was nothing he could do about it.
Everin let the blind boy’s red energy flow into his body. Galimus’s hatred that remained inside Everin now mixed with Tress’s hatred for the man. Everin feared that the energies would reject each other – that the hatred of victim and victimizer wouldn’t mix, but hate was universal. The red light swelled into a single, malevolent ball of rage within Everin.
He raised his hands and let his newfound energy flow into them. The ghosts saw what he was doing and raised their shields in anticipation. Everin inhaled a sharp breath and yelled as he let his rage pour out of his hands. A wave of fire washed over the ghosts. Their shields probably saved them from being burned alive, but they still were still scorched by the surge of heat. Everin let the flames roll over them for just a few seconds, but that was enough.
The ghosts stumbled backwards, throwing their shields down as molten wax began to pour off the wood. They raised their hands to their faces in an attempt to protect themselves from another attack. Fortunately for the ghosts, Everin was out of rage. Unfortunately, they’d broken their formation, giving him a chance to approach.
Everin ran towards the two nearest ghosts. Now that Cora was safely behind him, he began absorbing the ghosts’ fear as he ran. The man and woman looked up just in time to see Everin running towards them, green light gathering in his hands. They attempted to draw their swords, but Everin was faster. Once he was just a few feet away, he released the lightning. Deadly and efficient – it wouldn’t miss its target this time.
Blazing green light flashed through the space between Everin and the two ghosts. Bolts of fearful energy connected with the ghosts and spread across their bodies. They flailed violently as the energy overwhelmed their bodies, collapsing as it finally ran out.
Everin didn’t watch, his attention was already turned to the other ghosts – Galimus and his last follower. He absorbed the green auras from both of their bodies. They were even more terrified than the first two ghosts had been, since they’d just seen what Everin had done to their comrades.
“I thought you told us he wouldn’t use the fire and lightning!” The ghost said frantically to her leader.
Galimus stared at Everin as he approached. The anger that fueled him had been drained from his body. With a remarkable calmness, he sighed.
“Ah well, I guess I was wrong.”
Everin wound summoned more green light. Galimus knew that this was going to hurt, it might even kill him, but that didn’t seem so important. As Everin turned his frenzied gaze on Galimus, and the man felt a wave of memories wash over him.
A younger Galimus stood before a short man with graying hair.
“I hate to be the one to give you this news, but your daughter’s condition is very advanced. She’ll need weeks of intense treatment to have a hope at recovering,” he said.
“But you can treat her, right?” Galimus asked.
“It’s a very expensive treatment,” the healer said. “She’ll need regular doses of a medication made from several rare and expensive ingredients. I should have enough to treat her, but it’ll cost you nearly a hundred silver pieces.”
Galimus gave the healer a confused look. “But you have enough of the medicine to treat her? I can get you the money eventually. You can treat her illness until then, right?”
The healer shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir. When it comes to something this rare and valuable, I’ll need to ask for payment upfront.”
Galimus didn’t answer for a while. He just rocked back and forth on his feet, shaking, trying to control his rage and resist the urge to break the old healer’s neck.
“You said she’d die if she didn’t get treatment soon!” The words escaped his mouth as a scream.
“I’m sorry. I hate to see patients suffer, but the reality is that money controls us all, even us healers.”
The healer turned and retreated inside his hut.
The shouting could be heard outside the small wooden home.
“You mugged someone?”
Inside the small structure, Galimus raised his hands defensively.
“He was rich. The amount I took won’t hurt him.”
“That’s beside the point,” his wife snapped. “You threatened and robbed a man! Gally, what were you thinking?”
“It was the only way to pay the healer! You know that. Would you rather lose our daughter?”
“We would’ve found the money another way. I can’t believe you’d do something like this. You’re a criminal.”
“It’s not like that,” Galimus insisted. “I only took money from people who had more than enough already.”
“People?” His wife’s eyes widened in repulsion. “You did this more than once?”
“We needed more money…” Galimus began
“Out. Get out. Now.”
His wife pointed at the door, staring him down with a look that cut right through him.
“Please, can we talk?” Galimus asked. He felt tears welling in his eyes.
“No, Gally. I’m done talking. I’m done with all of this.”
Numb, Galimus turned and walked towards the doorway, as if he were in a dream. It wasn’t until the door slammed shut behind him that he snapped out of his trance and began to realize what had just happened. Then the tears began to fall.
Galimus returned to his senses as Everin raced towards him, glowing green palms outstretched. He almost welcomed Everin’s approach. With nowhere to go, he’d formed the Elderwood ghosts and continued doing as he had been – stealing from travelers to get by. It was a miserable existence. His wife’s parting words still stung with a pain that Everin’s lightning couldn’t hope to match. He didn’t know if his daughter had ended up getting treatment. He didn’t know if she was alive or dead. He was a failure as a husband and a failure as a father. That failure had manifested itself as a rage. A rage against the healer, a rage against society, a rage against the world that had wronged him so harshly.
The rage was always present, always denying him any peace or any hope of happiness. Until now, that was. For the second time in his life, he felt like the burden he carried had finally been lifted off his shoulders. The first time he’d felt this way was after the boy had summoned flames during their first fight. Galimus watched Everin send a lattice of crackling green energy towards him and his remaining follower. Who was this boy? How did he control this fire and lightning? And why did fighting him make the pain go away?
The lightning buried itself in the last two ghosts. They didn’t stand a chance. The energy knocked them off their feet, muscles jerking violently as they flew through the air before landing with a hard impact. Then, they were still.
Next chapter: https://sorrowandlove.home.blog/chapter-20-cora/