Chapter 8 (Everin)

McCarthy Loxborne.

The man who had taken so much from him.

Everin reread the name over and over again. The name that had haunted his dreams at night and consumed his waking thoughts during countless miserable days. His hands trembled as he held the paper, shaking with a rage that had burned for nearly a year.

“Everin, what’s up?” Cora inquired when he didn’t life his eyes from the paper.

“It’s him,” he breathed quietly.

“Who?” Ford asked.

“It’s him! It’s McCarthy!” Everin choked out. Blood rushed to his face. Tears welled in his eyes again, and he was powerless to stop them from falling. “The man who killed my parents. He’s the one who gave these orders!”

Cora gasped. “Everin, I’m so sorry…” she started to say before Everin interrupted her with a scream of frustration.

“He took everything from me! I hate him! I’ll kill him!” Everin thrashed his arm forward and hurled the sheet of paper aside. It only travelled a few feet through the air before catching in the wind and drifting to the floor.

“Careful!” Ford cried as he bent down and gently scooped up the paper, making sure that it wasn’t ripped.

Cora carefully touched Everin’s shoulder. “Are you going to be okay?”

Everin realized that he was breathing hard. He tried to steady his breaths and unfurrow his brow before responding, “I can’t shake him from my dreams, and now he’s back in my life. I wish he would disappear. I wish he would just vanish from the face of the earth, before he can hurt anyone else.”

Before Cora could speak up, Everin continued, “You know what this means, right?”

Cora’s face was creased deeply in concern.

“What does it mean?”

“It means that I was right. My parents weren’t killed by random bandits that night. McCarthy has some kind of plan that involves my parents and me.” Everin swallowed hard. “Now that I know there’s a reason, I have to know why he killed them. I have to find McCarthy.”

“You want to confront this man again? Everin, he’s dangerous,” Cora said, shocked.

Everin shook his head, his moment of panic replaced with a chilling clarity. “I need answers. This is my life, Cora. For the past year, I’ve been trying to find closure. This is it. I have to know why he took my family and gave me…whatever this ability it. I need answers, and I need justice. That’s the only thing that matters.”

Cora’s eyes glistened. Everin saw the faintest of blue light enter her aura. She nodded.

“Okay, we can leave first thing tomorrow morning.”

Everin’s eyes widened. “You don’t have to come with me,” he blurted. “This is dangerous. I don’t want to drag you in.”

“We’ve got nowhere else to go,” Ford said. “We deserted too, so we can’t stay here. And this McCarthy fellow tried to kill Cora and me, too. I’d say this has gotten a bit personal.”

Everin slowly nodded. “Okay. We find McCarthy, figure out why he went after my parents and me, then we’ll avoid getting caught for desertion until the war ends?”

“I’m in,” Ford said.

“Me too,” added Cora.

Gamah sighed. “I can’t say I like the idea of you young people running into danger like this, but I suppose if can’t be any more dangerous than fighting Meronne’s army. I can hide you three in this room until you’re ready to leave.”

The trio thanked her, and Gamah stepped outside, carefully shutting the door behind her.

Ford turned back where Everin lay in bed. He turned the paper with McCarthy’s instructions and the map of Allomoria around so that Everin and Cora could see it.

“McCarthy said he’d be at Doronhine waiting for Everin. That means that all we have to do to find him is to get to Doronhine without getting caught by King Valen’s army,” he said.

“That’s easier said than done,” Cora commented.

Ford shrugged. “Not if we use the Elderwood Forest for cover.”

“You want to travel through the forest?” Cora couldn’t keep the surprise out of her voice.

“The only other way to get to Doronhine is to travel up the Belingua River, but King Valen’s troops travel up and down it all the time. We’d be sure to be spotted. We could try walking around the western edge of the forest, but that would take weeks.”

“Do you think we’ll be safe traveling through the forest?” Cora asked.

Ford nodded. “Spring is just beginning. Any dangerous animals are probably still hibernating, and if we run into any soldiers or bandits, Everin can do that thing with the lightning to them again.”

Cora turned to see what Everin thought of that, but he was asleep in his bed. The trauma of dealing with Gamah’s emotions as well as his own from the traumatic memories that McCarthy’s name had stirred up had been too painful. While Cora and Ford had talked, Everin had allowed his mind to check out. He distanced his consciousness from the wounds freshly opened by the mention of McCarthy’s name and escaped into a dreamless sleep.

Cora decided not to wake Everin. She quietly discussed more details for their trip with Ford. She found that he was quite knowledgeable on a variety of topics including geography, navigation, and local wildlife. It was something that pleasantly surprised her – she hadn’t expected the boy to know much more than how to work metal in his parents’ forge. Once she and Ford were content with their travel plans, they agreed that it was best to get some rest before their departure. They were both tired from having stayed up most of the previous night watching Everin. There were no other beds in the room, so they both unrolled sheets onto the smooth wooden floor and drifted to sleep on either side of Everin’s bed.

That afternoon, the trio awoke. Cora explained their travel plans to Everin, and he agreed that she and Ford had decided on the path that gave them the best chance of remaining undetected. For the rest of the day and into the night, the group talked quietly amongst themselves to pass the time. Cora made sure to keep Everin engaged in the conversation, because she noticed that his face would start to take on a familiar detached expression if he was able to sit and think about McCarthy for too long. Gamah came in at one point to bring them food, but otherwise, she treated patients and made sure not to open the door to their room.

Everin, Cora, and Ford talked about their village, and how it would change after the draft. They talked about the war and speculated as to why King Valen had chosen now to strike. They even got around to discussing the previous day’s events. They were all still at a loss for words when it came to explaining the three-eyed wolf, the pool with the metal rods, or what the ruins could have been used for during the age of the old gods.

Finally, after several hours of nightfall had passed, they decided that it was time to move. They each took with them a thin, rolled-up sheet of fabric to serve as a sort of bedroll, and a canteen made of hardglass, filled to the brim with fresh water. Ford carried a pack full of bread and dried meats. If rationed properly, it would be enough to get them through the Elderwood Forest. Gamah had been kind enough to provide them with the resources for their travel. After the draft, there just weren’t as many mouths to feed in Greenshadow Village, she’d said.

They left Gamah’s hut just as the first rays of sunlight began to creep over the horizon. They avoided the main road that ran through the village, just in case anyone was out for an early morning stroll. There was a slight chill in the air that morning, and Everin was eager for the sun to rise and banish the cold.

Soon, they found themselves approaching the outskirts of the small village. The only structure that lay between them and the open plain was Margoline’s hut. As the three moved closer, Everin saw a light glowing in one of the windows. Apparently, his former caretaker was up early, or perhaps she hadn’t slept.

As they crept past, he whispered, “hold on. I have to check something.”

He left Cora and Ford and carefully padded his way to the hut, keeping out of sight of the window. Everin reached the stone structure and knelt down underneath the window. He wasn’t exactly sure where the desire came from, but he needed to see Margoline with his new eyes – he needed to understand her.

Ever so slowly, Everin raised his head until he could peer inside. Through the smudgy glass windowpane, he saw a familiar form. The short woman sat in a rocking chair, knitting. She absentmindedly stared at the wall across the room as she worked, appearing disinterested in whatever she was making. The knitting wasn’t what caught Everin’s attention, however. It was her aura.

It was much brighter than Cora’s, Ford’s or Gamah’s had been earlier. It was a deep blue, so thick that it threatened to obscure her outline. Instead of floating faintly around her figure, it smothered her with its intense, navy blue energy. Even through the glass window, Everin could sense the intensity of Margoline’s sadness. She was a broken woman. There was so much energy around her than Everin feared what might happen to him if he tried to absorb it into himself. He turned away and began creeping back to his companions. There was nothing he could do for Margoline.

Cora didn’t ask him what he’d seen when he returned. Everin offered her a silent expression of gratitude as they continued walking down the path that led out of the village. As the sun began to show itself, their surroundings became clearer. Greenshadow village was only a mile south of the fringes of the Elderwood Forest. Soon, the wall of trees materialized in front of the group. Everin could hear birds chirping from their nests in the upper branches. It was a cheerful sound that stood in stark contrast to the somberness of their mission.

The path that Everin, Cora, and Ford walked on continued into the thick of the forest itself. The road was well-trodden and wound through the towering trees. It was wide enough for Everin, Cora, and Ford to walk side by side with room to spare. There were several such paths that ran through the Elderwood Forest. Soldiers, traders, and travelers of all kinds used them to traverse the ancient woods. For those who couldn’t afford a ferry down the Belingua River, or wished to travel unnoticed, these roads were the fastest way to cross between the northern and southern halves of Allomoria.

As they walked deeper into the trees, the morning night faded, obscured by the thick tree trunks all around them. Soon, they found themselves walking along a dark path, only able to see a few yards ahead of themselves. Everin turned to look at Ford as he noticed his aura changing. Spots of bright red were beginning to fade into existence around his being. Without having to think, something inside Everin told him what the aura meant.

“Ford, why are you angry?” he asked.

“I’m not angry,” Ford snapped back.

“Ford, I can see the energy around you.”

The boy sighed. “I’m not angry, I’m just annoyed that we couldn’t bring a lantern or something we could use to see in this darkness.”

It was true that they’d decided against bringing a light with them. Cora and Ford had decided that it would make them too easy to spot as they left the village. However, that didn’t make it any easier to stumble down the dark forest path. Everin looked closely at the crimson light around Ford’s figure. It was the faintest red. The lack of light was only an annoyance, and hardly generated any emotional energy.

“I think I have an idea,” he said.

Everin knelt down by the side of the trail and scrounged around until he found a stick that had been protected from the wet morning dew. He turned his attention back to Ford and brought down his mental walls. It was easy, almost as if he’d been actively fighting to keep the energy away until then. The red light flowed from the boy and into Everin. The intensity of the aura had been faint, but the experience of feeling Ford’s anger was still intense. Everin’s heart began to race, and his brow furrowed tightly as he stared down at the stick he held. Everin controlled the energy and pushed it back out of himself. In a bright flash, a tongue of flame leapt from his hand and briefly enveloped the end of the stick. The fire had been larger than Everin had expected, and had also burned out quickly, however, not before igniting the dry stick.

The flame sputtered and trembled in the slight wind. As the flame on the end of the stick grew, it steadied. Wordlessly, Everin handed his improvised torch to Ford and continued walking down the path. Cora and Ford looked to each other, surprise and perhaps a little apprehension on their faces, but they rejoined Everin, and the trio continued making their way deeper into the forest.

Next chapter:

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