The Man Named Burton
It was about seven o'clock when he set out from the log cabin. Making his way down the narrow path and into the wood before him, the man kept his black cloak huddled closely to protect him from the chilled winds that came down from the mountainside. With his light feet he managed to keep himself at a quick pace.
His mind was far from the woods, however, having focused it on something far beyond even the boundaries of the world itself. With a crisis soon to arise, he knew that there was only one person he could turn to. That person was not ready to face the challenges yet; he would not be ready for some few years now. The man knew that, but time was short, and there were few options remaining. He had done what he could, but every time he looked to the horizon he could see the cracks forming, becoming deeper all around.
It was a sight that few could witness, but upon the awakening of his pineal gland he had become aware of the subtleties within this universe and all of the universes. The pulls and pushes of things that existed outside of what most perceived to be existence affected him, just as they would a spirit of this world, or a demon. Though he knew that he was neither of those things, it was during times like this, of which there had only been one before in his life time, and it was quelled with much greater ease than the rising situation would be, that he began to question what, exactly, he was.
Surely he had started off as some kind of mortal, but at this point... At this point his heartbeat was an uncertain rhythm, and if it were not for that then perhaps he could handle the situation. Unfortunately, it would have to be left in the youthful and naïve hands of a friend of his—a boy who was on the verge of becoming a man, who had seen so little and knew even less. Of course, Art was always a quick learner, and it came to the man in the black cloak as no surprise that Fate's strings had tugged at the boy when the time arrived. It was a cruel destiny to possess, perhaps; the man could not say for sure, but it was one that would have to be completed nonetheless. If there was one entity that could not be defied, it was Fate. She, the cruelest mistress, was a force that existed constantly, in every corner of existence both conceivable and inconceivable, and the cloaked man had come to respect her. Art would come to respect her too, and in time he would even meet her, though indirectly.
The man in the black cloak sat cross-legged on the ground, directly across from the younger one, who had not even seen his first score of years. His hands rested on his knees, and he drew in slow, deep breaths, allowing his figure to rise and fall dramatically. Strands of long white hair tumbled out of the hood that covered the uppers of his face in a thick, ceaseless shadow that stretched down and met the stubble that covered the lower half of his face. Though it was difficult to see from the angle at which Art sat, he could tell that the man's nose was crooked; it must have been broken several times in the same spot.
The moon sat high in the sky, looking down on them with a blank face, uncaring towards the lives of the mortals—and perhaps something beyond a mortal—beneath it. The wind blew, pushing the grass over like a weak child trying to fight a bully. Art's hair ruffled against the breeze, and he tried to push it away from his face, but found it impossible to struggle against. He let out a sigh as it finally died down, feeling the river of the warm summer air rushing into his mouth.
"You've come far, Arterrius, that you have. Come, gather branches to make a fire; the trees are not far from here. We must talk for some time, as there is much to discuss regarding your future," the man said, bringing his hands from his knees and weaving them together, allowing them to hover just above his lap. He swallowed audibly, waiting for Art to make his response, but there was none.
Art sat there for a moment, thoughtfully absorbing what the cloaked man had said. Then, he rose from his seat in the grass and turned, heading into the forest. The man sat there, nodding slightly, his motions so subtle that they were barely noticeable. "Aye you are good, Arterrius," said he, "but goodness is something difficult to hold onto in a time such as this." The whispers of his voice went unheard to Art, who was already beyond the threshold of the forest.
Quickly spotting a few tree branches that were within his reach, Art leaped up, grabbing at them, yanking them right off, and landing ungracefully on the ground with the most unpleasant thud the mind could dream of. Having nearly fallen, Art let out a low chuckle, tossing the sticks to the side as he leaped up for a few more. Neither of them had been particularly fond of large fires. A small kindling would do the trick, and if Andrew wanted something bigger than that, then he would be able to make it. The ways of magic were quite foreign to Art, but he understood his mentor's powers enough to know what the man was capable of and what he was not capable of.
He returned not long after, a bushel of sticks weighing his arms down, stacked so high that they nearly met his eyes. Waddling, he came to the area in which they sat, and then dumped them down into the space between the print of his rear and the man.
"There, Andrew. Will this be enough to satisfy your need?"
"Yes, this is sufficient," Andrew said, "Now stand back." Art obeyed.
The warmth of the air suddenly changed. Art could feel his forehead break out into a sweat, and unconsciously wiped at it with his sleeved arm. The humidity died quickly, leaving only a dry aridness in the air. It grew soon to be stifling, and Art had found himself forced down to the ground, his head too weary, too light to support the rest of his bodyweight. His eyes never left Andrew once, but soon they could not help but divert. The pile of sticks were glowing, then with a magnificent burst of light—so bright, so powerful that Art had to close his eyes and look away—the sticks were aflame.
"And so we speak now, Arterrius. Look back to me," Andrew commanded in a quiet, yet powerful voice.
"What is this?" he asked, "what sorcery is this? I've never seen you use this before."
"Yes, you've seen me grow a fire, but you've never seen me conjure one before, have you? It is a power that you yourself will learn to use in the years to come, a power that can only be obtained by freeing yourself from the victimizing binds of Fate. Free yourself, Arterrius, and become a true servant of Her," Andrew spoke in ominous tones, reaching out his arms and dramatically shaking them. Art felt his world swirl around him, as if the very dimension in which he existed was falling to pieces. For a moment he found a small window of clarity amongst this chaos, and he wondered: Is this the work of Andrew? Is he so powerful?
"Who is this person of which you speak?"
"Fate, Arterrius. She is Fate. To know Fate is to know whom you are. To manipulate her, as she was meant to be, to take hold of her infinite strings and move them, and to understand the ramifications of such actions with a humble mind and peaceful intentions—that, Arterrius, that is the art that humanity has forgotten. That is the key to my power. I see that potential in you. Unleash it; join me!"
Art was still. The chaos had ended, and now he was left with a choice. He trusted Andrew; he had been his apprentice, learning the ways of the world, people, and life, for the past five years, and now… Now everything was different. He chose.
It was the right choice, he felt, a choice that would make him stronger. "I will learn your magic," he said. Andrew smiled and nodded a few times in approval, running a few fingers through his long hair.
"This is good," he replied, his smile still shining, though his teeth were yellowed and chipped. "This is very good, or as my mentor Warren used to say, 'You've made an excellent choice, a very excellent choice!'" Art smiled too; he remembered how Andrew used to tell him stories of Warren, the old man who had trained this old man sitting before him, his oldest friend and greatest ally, but most importantly, his mentor. Ah yes, the years had been quick, so they had. It felt as though just yesterday he had been twelve, and first joining Andrew after the tragedy of his homeland left him orphaned and within the easy grasp of the blackness that had become so common these days.
"When will we commence?" asked Art, "I'm eager."
"First we talk. There's much work to be done, but when it is finished, you will be ready for the journey," said Andrew.
Art cocked his brow and leaned forward, his face glowing, a glorious orange, in the firelight. "Journey?"
"There is much to explain, but it will be some time before I do so. The journey will be a part of your test, both the beginning of your free life, and a final examination of sorts. When the time comes, I will not be there to guide you, but you will meet me at the end, and that is when the situation will be explained to you.
"You will learn the ways of magic. Not much, but some; enough to get you by, but you will grow and improve in it. You will learn the ways of the knife and the gun, and most importantly, you will pick a horse on which you will ride until the day it finally dies," he explained, chuckling at the last bit, "and I know you've always wanted a horse of your own."
"I do!" Art exclaimed, laughing as well. It amazed him how quickly this conversation had become lighthearted. "Though, I suppose it won't be all fun and games."
"Of course not. You're seventeen now, soon to be a man, and I will test you and teach you as one, understood?"
"Aye," Art replied, his regional dialect coming through.
"So it will be," Andrew replied with his own unique words.
Art sat there, his eyes glittering in the light, the flames dancing in his pupils. He was bewildered, Andrew observed, as any young man would be. There were few out there who could handle these things with as much grace as Art, but even still, his calmness and excitement had been surprising. Though, was it really so shocking? He had spent years with Art, and by this point he figured that he would have known exactly what to expect. Ah, but that was the thing with young men, they always help surprises. Art was a calm and mostly reserved boy, but he was still a boy, and would be for some time to come. He thought with his gut more often than he did with his head, much to Andrew's annoyance, but even still, the elder man knew that he was ready. They were both ready for this.
So it was, as Andrew had said. Art did learn the ways that his mentor had learned so many years before—fighting, peacekeeping, guns and knives, horses, and his continued lessons on life and the world around him. It was a large place, bigger than his mind could fathom, and he yearned to see it. From every desert to every wood and forest, and from every dirt road to every small village that it lead to. He was a hungry person, and Andrew admired that in him, for he had been young too, and he knew what the drive felt like. A whole year passed, and after that time had passed, Andrew knew that Art was ready.
For some time they worked together, helping Art learn new things, preparing him for his ultimate test. Finally, the day came. Art turned eighteen, and Andrew left him at the edge of the ocean. Turning back to his apprentice from atop a great ship, he waived, the sleeves of his cloak flapping in the wind. A smile stretched across his face, and as he took in the salty scent of the sea breeze, allowing it to fill his lungs with a fresh sense of life that the dank forests and woods had been incapable of providing him with, he knew that Art would be able to do it. If there was anyone who could, it was Art.
The ship backed away from the port, and eventually Andrew faded into the distance. Art stood and watched, his horse by his side, his fingers running through the animal's mane. This was the first time that he had ever been alone, but as humbling as the thought was, it was equally as exciting, if not more so. Turning, he led his horse down the path that they had traveled to the seaport. He would head back to the town for now; a ship of his own would be arriving near mid-day tomorrow, and he planned on having himself a good meal before heading off to bed.
The next morning he set out after having a hearty breakfast. It would be the last one he would have in a long time.
For almost a year he traveled, crossing waters and countries, until he finally arrived at the edge of a great desert, and then for some months he walked across that. There was little to be seen there, but with each passing moment he felt a great darkness growing within him, and he knew that something was on the horizon. Everyday he looked to it to see if that darkness was there, but everyday it remained empty... However, today he sensed something else, something different.
A church was supposed to be a sacred place, or so he thought. It stood there, in the middle of the desert, harboring damned things so awful that his mind could not even imagine them; he knew it by the way it made his stomach feel when he looked at it for too long. Too long was a pair of words that he had grown to hate with a burning passion. He had been out in this desert, this damned, God-forsaken desert for too long, and it was tiring him immensely. Sighing, he walked to his steed and rode away.
The horse was fast through the sand, galloping against the powerful wind currents that threatened to overturn him at any moment. It breasted a dune, not faltering even for a moment, then jumped down, landing gracefully on its hooves before continuing on, unfazed by the harshness of its surroundings.
Art rode atop this horse, as he had for the past few years, making his way across the continent. Now at the age of nineteen, he had come to learn of things that he had once been blind to. The growth of two years weighed heavily on him, though not all of it was a burden. His black hooded cape flapped in the wind, the hood covering his head, though once every few moments it was pushed back by a gust, nearly revealing the worn face from within its confines. He held the reins in clenched fists, his control over the animal completely masterful by any standards. His eyes, though hidden by the veil of shadow that his hood provided him, looked out onto the ceaseless desert, surveying the sand dunes against the horizon. There must have been millions of them, and beyond that, he did not know. This desert had to end somewhere; he had been traveling it for nearly eight months now, with little human interaction and few resources on which he could survive. However, in spite of this predicament, he managed to persevere.
The gun holstered at his side bounced ever so slightly against his hip, and his knife, sheathed against his other leg, did the same. A lasso was fastened to the back of his belt, and a large flask carried in a canvas case strapped to his back, beneath his cape. His shirt was beige, almost white, really, and thin. His pants were denim and beaten poorly, much of the color having faded long ago. Below the legs of his pants was a pair of brown leather boots with spurs on the back. He rarely used the spurs, finding that his horse Bo liked him enough to be obedient without them. It was better to have the animal trust you, he always said.
This desert had been a place of strangeness, of evil. Now, as he grew closer and closer to his destination, he could not help but feel as though there was something ahead of him, something disturbingly sinister. When night would arrive—it always came at different hours now—he would spend most of it awake, his skin crawling over him, that dark presence keeping him ever alert. There were times when he would believe that he was losing his mind. In a place where there were no others, it seemed like an easy thing to do. Bo kept him good company, though, and he was much thankful for that. Had he been forced to walk he surely would have died by now, and would have gone mad long before then.
Little had happened over the past few months. There had been a small town just before he passed into the desert, at the very edge of the last plain. Some time was spent there, but now that he looked back, he probably could have spent more. Though they had warned him of the isolation this vast wasteland presented, he was arrogant enough to brush their comments off lightly. He was certain that he would be able to make it, though on several occasions his predictions came quite close to becoming untrue. With great perseverance he had weathered through every trial, however, and now he stood in the final stretch. Weaker now than ever before he may have been, but his spirit was still strong, and he knew that was enough to carry him on towards the end.
Andrew had spoken of a great forest at the edge of the desert, and that was where he would be found. Art could envision it, and he knew that the trembling in his hand was caused by the excitement of that image. In fact, he could almost smell the forest; almost smell the sweet air that carried the dew from the leaves and grass. It was pure harmony, and would be a pleasant contrast—an understatement if there ever was one—to this damned place.
Turning his head back to the wavy horizon of dunes, Art spotted a small speck near the edge, coming to the point between visibility and invisibility. Squinting, he leaned in to take a closer look, only to find that it was near impossible to discern what the thing actually was. He sighed, leaning back and allowing Bo to slow down some. "Steady, boy," he spoke, patting the horse gently along his mane. He raised his hand to his head, fixing the hood, his eyes still locked on the small speck.
The dot must have been a few miles away, perhaps ten or twelve, perhaps a little less, but even still he managed to determine that it was in fact moving. Smiling, he felt reassured that his eyes were as sharp as ever, and there was no desert, no matter how vast, no matter how weary it made him, that could rob him of that.
Figuring that he could catch up to whomever, or whatever that dot was by nightfall, he gripped the reins tightly, lifting them into the air and bringing them down with force against Bo's backside. With a thunderous roar he shouted "Ya! Porro!" and the horse took off once again, galloping proudly, his mane waving in the air. Art crouched slightly, allowing himself to become more aerodynamic; he wanted to achieve the fullest of Bo's speed.
The heat from the ground shimmered in the sunlight as they headed towards their target. Bo was pounding away at the ground, his hooves digging into the sand, kicking it up behind him as he pushed off with great vigor. He could feel the passion of his rider, the intent and desire to reach that black mass so far away from them. It was their connection, their synapses firing in unison, back and forth to each other as though they were of the same soul.
Art kept his eyes fixed on their target. It had been too long since he had seen another living soul out here; he wanted to find this person, he wanted to know when this damned place would finally come to an end. The last old towns had been left behind weeks ago, and since they he hadn't seen any trace or sight of another living being. He had come far though, and he could sense that he was nearing the end of his journey across the continent.
At the end of this journey he would meet Andrew again, his old mentor, the man that had introduced him to the powers that he now wielded, perhaps with more expertise than any other in the past. Recognizing that fact, Art knew that no desert could conquer him, not with the intent he had, not with the power that he held. There was no force of nature that he would bow to and proclaim himself defeated.
The days moved quickly, though they were short this time of year, and especially short in this desert. The sun's arc through the sky still seemed to move quicker than usual, though Art assumed—after they had finally come to a halt, of course—that it had been his dire concentration that had altered his perception in such a way. That great ball of fiery light was dipping now, heading towards the other end of the land, soon to disappear behind it for another night.
He sighed, dismounting Bo, giving him a few taps on the back of the head. They would only break for a few minutes; they both needed the rest after an hour of charging forward towards that dot, which was now much larger than before. In fact, he could see now that it was a silhouette of a man, who was only a few miles ahead of them now, as he was traveling by foot. What had surprised Art was that he still managed to be such a distance ahead of them, though it appeared he was walking no faster than a snail's pace.
"Rest, Bo," he spoke to his horse, though the animal seemed to have obeyed the order long before Art had even bothered speaking it to him. A chuckle escaped his mouth, and he gave Bo a few more pats. Wiping sweat from his face, he took in a deep breath, feeling his heart beat ease as fresh oxygen rushed into him. His brown locks were matted against his forehead now; some of them having fallen so far that they even covered his eyes. For the first time in a few weeks he allowed a true smile to form on his lips. With the sighting of this silhouetted man came some hope, something that he had been direly missing for some time now.
He allowed the time to pass, a few minutes at most. Then he beckoned to Bo once more, climbing atop his saddle and grabbing the reins. They headed out, straight for the silhouette in the fading light.
Dusk came and left quickly, and soon it was dark. Art had difficulty keeping sight of the man, but his eyes were sharp, that they were, more so than those of an average human being. He squinted, barely able to make out the shadow of a being against the dunes of the desert. It was still there, though, moving as slowly as ever. From this point it would only be a few minutes—he could probably count them on his hand.
That it was, and by the beginning of true night, when the stars were beginning to shine their brightest, he came upon the silhouetted man, who was now, of course, far from a silhouette. Bo cut in front of him, turning to his side and slamming his hooves down into the sand, creating a dazzling spray of the grains against the backdrop. Art looked up, removing his hood, hoping that his haste had not misled him into danger.
The stranger met his gaze, and he could tell immediately that he had not been foolish, a stroke of luck on his part. The man was over twice his age, most likely just having passed his second score a few years back. His hair was dark brown, though even in this bleak light Art could see that it was graying. His skin was worn, but not old looking. It showed signs that he had lived in the desert for quite some time, and if anything it was more durable than most others'.
He wore a cowboy's hat that fit snugly atop his head, leaving much of his face cast in shadow, but he made no hesitation in revealing himself, removing the hat as soon as Art brought his gaze to him. His eyes were a wild green, glowing like emeralds in the light. Art felt them pierce through his skin, as though the man's glance held some kind of power within it. His face was clean and shaven, perfectly at that. A white, long sleeved buttoned down shirt, similar to the one that Art wore, though obviously of a different color, covered his top, and on top of that, a brown leather vest cut off at the shoulders and left unbuttoned. His pants were brown, and his boots black. He wore a belt, but there was nothing on it as far as Art could see. He hadn't gotten much of a glimpse at the man's backside in all of the commotion, but he seemed peaceful enough... except for those eyes.
"Do we have business, stranger?" the man asked.
"Nay, our acquaintance has never been made. I spotted you some miles back when you appeared to me as nothing more than a speck amongst this damned wasteland," Art explained with a rapturous shiver in his voice, simultaneously dismounting Bo. "I was in the mind that perhaps you would fancy a traveling partner. I'm sure you've been observant towards the scarcity of life, especially in the form of companionship, around these parts."
"Aye, I have," he replied, his tone unwaveringly stoic, "Though it never once crossed my mind that I was in need of company, 'specially from a stranger such as yourself. Pardon me, if your kindness would accept that, as I've found no interest during my travels to have any sort of man take up journey with me."
"You are quick to your decision, perhaps even hasty," said Art.
"Oh, am I?"
"If I may, I should like to make a proposition," Art said.
"You may, but be cautious in your choice of words, strange rider. You know little of me, almost nothing; it could be easy for me to find that you're unwelcome amongst me," he replied, again without a change of inflection. Art nodded, folding his hands together before him. He constructed his words carefully, giving a few thoughtful nods to himself before looking back up at the man.
"I've come to a conclusion about our situation," he announced, his hands falling back to his sides.
"Trust cannot be shared between us. Therefore, we must travel with each other," he explained. The man nodded as if he understood, though he knew that he was going to wait for further elaboration. "If we part ways here, then never will we know if the presence of the other would have served as an advantage. However, if we continue on, then we can discover such an opportunity, and if it is not suitable, we part ways."
"I see," the man said, scratching his chin "Young, but a good thinker you seem to be. I will journey with you, in that case. You've made your argument, and made it well at that. You will soon come to find that I am a man who will not be so easy to travel with; I prefer silence and solitude to sociability, but I cannot pass on an opportunity that would serve as an advantage to me, as you put it."
"Then shall we settle here?"
"Walk some more with me," the man said. Art nodded, tapping Bo on the back of the neck a few times. Bo responded by turning around, moving with his partner's guiding hand along the sand. He seemed relieved to be taking another break after such a long day of work, hanging his head low, giving proof to his exhaustion.
The man caught up to Art, walking steadily beside him, his back perfectly erect and his feet moving at an even pace. A soft breeze came about them, blowing Art's cape back, revealing his weapons and other objects that he kept strapped to his belt. The man seemed to notice, but made no protest to them. From the looks of it, he was a very calm, assured person. Most feared the gun at Art's side, but Art could tell that there was something more to this man, something brave about him. They shared that, if his assumption was in fact correct. Art's eyes wandered over to him, observing him curiously. Was he truly carrying nothing with him? Then suddenly, he saw a slight bulge in the man's back pocket, no bigger than a marble. Can't be anything useful, he thought.
"Do you have a name?" he asked Art, his eyes still focused on vast sea of sand dunes before them.
His gaze did not break, even as Art gave his answer. "Arterrius Turner, but I much prefer Art."
"Art, a fine name," he said, "My name is Burton Coe."
"A good name yourself," Art said. "Though, it's deceiving. Burton is not a name of the inner countries, and yet your speech mannerisms have led me to believe that it is from there you have originated."
"The mannerisms of Inner-Speech can be learned through time. I admit I much prefer speaking naturally, though."
"I won't hold it against you."
"There's not enough to be said for me to speak in such a way," he explained. Art nodded as a silence came between them. It lasted for some minutes until Burton decided to halt them, figuring that it was time to settle down for the night. They managed one final dune at Art's plea, and then finally lay beneath the clear night sky. The moon had taken the place of the sun atop the sky now, shining a pale light down upon them that were deceptively virginal and pure.
Art curled up, wrapping his cloak around his body so as to preserve the heat within him. Desert nights were chilly, he had learned that quickly, and he was thankful that he had kept this apparel with him throughout the entire journey. He could hear Burton turning over a few times before finally settling in a spot. The sound of the older man's snoring quickly filled the air, and with the slightest of chuckles Art wondered if his idea had been a sound one after all.
It always took him some time to find sleep—rather, for sleep to find him. Turning on his back, he placed his hands behind his head and looked up into the night sky. Polaris shined magnificently above them, the jewel of the sky and the envy of the lesser stars around her. Art pondered how much longer it would take him until he reached the end of this desert, and if it was in fact the end of the continent. The West had been so largely undocumented and unmapped that it had taken hundreds of years just to find where it all began, and still they had not drawn the ends of it. For all he knew, he would be out here for another year before finally finding Andrew, as disconcerting as that thought was.
Though, he was lucky, and he knew it. To stumble upon another out here in this desert, one who had not even a horse to keep him company was truly fortunate. Art could sense that they would get along; the man seemed just humble and quiet enough to not be a bother, and yet he seemed wise enough to be useful when needed. They had known each other for less than a full hour, and yet there was this air about Burton that Art truly liked and trusted. A familiarity, it was, something he now realized that reminded him much of his father. It must have been those piercing green eyes. They held magic about them—perhaps in a literal sense, which only peaked Art's curiosity—that he found intriguing.
For another hour or so he stared at the stars, lost in his own thoughts and youth. Eventually he turned on his side and curled back up once more, finally seeing that sleep had found him.
It was a dream, he knew that the moment he arrived in it, and what a dream it would be. The sky had been painted a morbid gray, the clouds huddling together like a menacing gang, approaching slowly, their knives drawn and ready to strike, but Art showed no fear. The imagination could be a terrifying thing, but he had learned to control it, manipulate it according to his will, and as such, dreams never frightened him.
The desert was laid out before him, stretching on for all eternity it seemed, as it always seemed. There were no dunes here, however. Was this the same desert, or some false space that his mind had created for him? No, it could not have been the same; it even felt different. The air was heavier here, humid. The evil that resided in the real desert was gone, but he felt something new in its place, and was unsure of its intentions. Turning, he looked to find nothing surrounding him, nothing but the same open space, the same abyss. It made his skin crawl. Looking to the left, he tried to see if there was anything on the horizon. From there he would scan all the way around, keeping his eyes squinted, his ears open to any sounds. Lucid dreams often had purposes, as Andrew had taught him. They could be difficult to decipher, though, as they were filled with many symbols and confusing scenarios. After observing his surroundings completely, and with all five of his senses, he decided that there was nothing.
That couldn't be. There was something, and it was watching him with a careful eye. It was beyond his senses, beyond that which could react to the physical world. Of course his senses could not perceive it. He was not in the physical world.
He drank the moisture in the air carefully, feeling it fill and irritate his lungs. A hand came to his face, and he wiped the sweat from his brow without much thought. His mind wanted him to know something, but he did not know what it was. Nothing had happened to him recently that was noteworthy, except for meeting Burton of course, but so little had passed between them that he doubted that this dream would revolve around his presence, unless there was something about him that may have been... different. Yes, he had sensed that. It was not a threatening presence, but a different one.
Burton had much concealed within him, of that Art had no doubt. The way he moved, the way his eyes looked, their power so haunting, made it very obvious, but was there any purpose in having a dream about it? There must have been. Andrew had a tendency to be right about these kinds of things. Art began to walk.
It was not before long that he came upon a church, but not just any church—no, it was the church that he had seen before; it's feel was unmistakable, but it was not the same now. How it had appeared he could not understand, but dreams were allowed to defy reasoning, and so he decided not to question it any further. It was clean now, completely cleansed of the demonic presence that had possessed it before.
He had heard of things like this happening. In one world, something could be one thing, and in another, it would be something else. In the dream world, that church was just as pure as any other one, if not more so. Art was tempted to walk into it, but he hesitated. What if this was a trick? Surely his mind would not deceive him, but there appeared to be something powerful at work here, perhaps even something divine. That worried him, and he was rarely a worrying kind of person.
Still, his intuition said that he should enter. It whispered in his ear, though the whispered words were clear and strong. Art smiled, suddenly feeling confident, and reached out to the door, grabbing the knob firmly in his hand and gave it a twist. His body went into motion, and he pushed himself into the building.
It was a cold place, oddly enough, and was void of the awful humidity of the outside world. He found that his sweat disappeared not long after he entered, and found contentment in this. The stained glass windows poured colorful light into the room, into the seats and in the middle of the hall that led up to the great alter, where above everything was mounted a statue of Christ being crucified on the cross. His face was sorrowful, the crown of thorns cutting into his head, leaving metallic trails of blood running down his face. It was a particularly grotesque depiction of the Son, but he had seen things far worse than that. Thankfully, he was not a man of religion, and cared little about the man hanging from the ceiling, appreciating the technique of the art more than the symbolism.
He walked slowly towards the altar, the echoes of his booted feet against the ground bouncing around him somberly. There was a great pain in this place, a great sorrow, but it did not resonate from the building itself. It was something inside of the building, and he wondered if it was, in fact, himself that he was feeling. Maybe his own thoughts and emotions were bouncing off of these walls just as his footsteps and breathing did, but he was wrong.
In the very first seat of the church, all the way at the front, just before the altar, sat none other than the man he had just acquainted himself with. Burton sat with one leg crossed over the other, his arms reached out, hugging the backs of the seats as one would hold two close friends on the shoulders. Though Art was behind him, he could tell that the man's eyes were glazed over, astonished, most likely, by the beauty that he beheld before him. Was Burton a religious man? He thought not, but of course it was hard to make such an accurate judgment after knowing him for such an extremely brief period of time.
Maybe he was in thought. Churches had a knack for making one consider their sins and decisions of the past. Yes, that seemed more appropriate for a man like Burton. Art finally met him at the seat, and sat down next to him, trying to find where the man's eyes were directed.
"I wonder if there is such a thing as Fate," Burton commented suddenly. "I think there may be, how about you?" Art ignored the question. His beliefs were his own business.
"We've been drawn together. That is all I know," he said. "I think we're here for a reason, but it may not be Fate's hand that has guided us, though it may very well be, of course. It's not about what you believe so much as it's about where you are right now, and how you act."
"Wise words," Burton replied. "Why are we here, oh sage?"
"Because we must become pure if we are to continue together. We must not sin against one another, and we must not keep our secrets. Make yourself pure, Burton. Dip your hands in the holy water, and maybe that will be a start," Art suggested.
"And you? Will you follow me?"
"I don't believe in Son Jesus," he said. "This is not a place of purity for me. This is just a place."
"I don't believe in Man Christ either," Burton explained, displaying his chosen name for that messiah. "My spirit lies with Hedda, watcher of travelers."
"I pledge allegiance to none," Art said. "Funny, though, I think we're doing what we were intended."
"Make ourselves pure?"
"Through revealing ourselves to each other."
"I should very much like to wake up now," he said. "There are other ways, and my mind does not always know what is best for me. Sometimes I prefer listening to my gut, so in spite of these symbols and dreams, I'm afraid that I must defy myself."
"I concur; there are other ways to understand a man."
"Then awaken," Burton said. "I will see you when the sun rises." He turned to leave, making his way down the center aisle, leaving Art by himself, still trapped within the lucid dream, feeling dissatisfied. There was an urge to leave this place; it held nothing for him, but he was in thought now, and he would sit until he could think no more.
"No, wait," Art shouted as he turned to Burton, who stood at the door, "It doesn't feel right to defy this. Dreams are made for a purpose, and the fact that we are experiencing one together only means that there is an even deeper purpose to this. If you wont tell your story, then I will tell mine."
Burton turned back to him, his eyebrow cocked, curious, debating. Should he listen to this boy's story? What could he possibly have to tell? Hardly out of childhood, Burton believed. There was little he could say, but he seemed to have a wisdom that was hard pressed to come by in these times, especially among the younger folk. Perhaps having a brief palaver with him would be of no harm, and perhaps he was right about the dream. If they were sharing it, that most likely meant that it was for a reason, and though he was a man who had prided himself on defying purpose and destiny in the past, he found tempted by the proposition, tempted by Fate this one time. Art was an interesting person; he could see that clearly. Giving him the time to tell his tale would undoubtedly prove as beneficial to Burton, as much as a certain part of him disliked the idea.
"I will give you your time. Make your tale quick, as I have little patience for palavering," he said. Art nodded understandingly as Burton made his way back to the seats, taking one in the row across from art, though sat at the very edge to be within hearing range. Art told him of Andrew his mentor and the journeys he had partaken in. Through every forest, over every sea, and across every plain Art explained to him what he was doing.
"It sounds to me like your mentor has you on a wild goose chase," Burton said, "Though I suppose I shouldn't be so quick to judge him."
"Maybe he does, but I've learned much over the past few months, much about life and people, and how to live on my own. That was his intention, I believe," Art said. Burton leaned up and sighed, folding his hands together in his lap and bending over them slightly, allowing his legs to hold the weight of his arms and upper body.
"What was your life like before you met Andrew, or is he your father?" Burton asked.
"He's not my father. I used to live in a village. It was quite a long way from where we are now. When I was twelve it was burned down. I don't know how it happened, but Andrew took me in after that and taught me how to make my way in the world. It's only been seven years since that happened, but it feels like I've spent most of my life with him," he explained.
"You don't miss your mother and father?" Burton asked, allowing his informal outer-country speech seep into his words, "Surely you must think about them and long for them."
"I don't even remember what they look like. Much of my childhood is in a haze," Art said. Burton stood still for a few moments, mulling this over. To him, Andrew seemed like an odd character. Whether he was a villain or a hero remained to be seen, and Burton did not believe that he would truly know the answer until he met the man for himself. Of course, that was unlikely to happen. Whether or not he would even be traveling with Art the rest of the way was unknown to him. It seemed plausible to think that they would stay together, though.
"I think it's time we left now," Burton said, "There's nothing more to say, is there?"
"No," Art said. Together the two of them rose from their seats and headed out the door. Art felt something in his heart, something strange. It felt good to talk about everything that had happened to him, to share it with someone else.
Art rose from his slumber the next morning with a sense of restoration. It was the first time in many weeks that he had felt so strong after sleeping. Often times he would awaken even before the sun, finding his eyes red and itchy; his muscles stiff and weakened. Today was different, and he found himself partly thankful towards the company of Burton for that. Knowing that someone had his back did him well; it lessened the paranoia and loneliness out here, and the vividness of his nightmares. Oh, how one could think when there was no one to occupy your thoughts with. Sometimes it was torturous.
Art allowed these thoughts to drain from him. He looked over to where Burton had laid the night before, only to find the indentation of his body still there. Looking up to Bo, he asked sarcastically: "Where has out friend run off to?" The horse neighed and shook its head about, as it always did when Art teased him. The man chuckled and stood, figuring that Burton hadn't run too far; there was no sense in it, unless he had second thoughts about joining up with them, though that didn't seem like the kind of thing he would do. Of course, there was still much mystery surrounding this man, but Art had taken careful analysis of his personality. It was highly unlikely that a man as reasonable as Burton would take such a dramatic move and flee like that.
Art turned, finding that his intuition had served him well, as Burton came stumbling across the barren wastes, not thirty feet from where he was standing. He waved with his right hand, his left being occupied by some kind of desert critter that he had hunted and killed, and gave a call, a kind smile strewn across his face. Art turned to him, unknowingly running a hand across Bo's mane.
Burton arrived quickly, his step being quite fast, faster than Art recalled during their walk last night. He figured that the man, in spite of his age, was rather spritely, and must have been conserving his energy during the treacherous walk across the desert. Perhaps it was something that Art could learn from him. He was used to riding or walking in short, yet quick bursts, expending his energy quickly and taking long rests afterwards. Perhaps that was why he had been sleeping so poorly as of late.
"Found this little guy about a mile or so from here," Burton announced upon his arrival. Art nodded and sat down, legs folded. "There's no wood for a fire out here, and I haven't seen a plant in a good while, so we're going to have to eat it raw."
Art looked down at the creature. It had tan, mangled fur, beady eyes, tiny ears, and repulsive looking claws, erratic and gnarled like the disturbing roots of an ancient tree. Its tail was thin and ropey, stretching out nearly three feet behind it, creating most of the length of its body.
"Looks like a rat of some kind," Art examined, "but I've eaten worse, if I recall correctly."
"I could say no differently," Burton replied. "Unfortunately, I'm not too fond of it, but my stomach is running on empty. I've gone nearly the entire month without so much as a morsel."
Art stiffened. Who was this man? This man who could go an entire month without food, in the desert no less! He walked so quickly, and yet his tank was nearly dry—amazing, Art thought. Perhaps there was more to Burton than met the eye.
"I can't say it's been as long for me, but enough of this natter; I'm hungry, and I need some food," he said as he reached over to the dead rat—it's neck had obviously been broken by Burton's hand—and brought it over to him. The thing lay in his lap for a few seconds, and then, with a confused look in his eye, he glanced up at Burton.
"Allow me," Burton chuckled as he took the critter back, breaking it apart appropriately. The stench was vile, and immediately met their noses. Art cringed and jerked backwards, away from the offending odor; Bo neighed and kicked a bit, then turned and stepped a few paces away. Burton simply chuckled and took a bite out of the stuff. "Best you hold your nose when swallowing this. It's a nasty taste, so it is."
"You didn't have to tell me that," Art smiled, holding his hand before his face and pinching his to nostrils tightly. Hunkered down, he waddled over to the rat and started picking at the meat.
"Will your horse need any, as well?" Burton asked.
"Yes, but he eats surprisingly little, and he doesn't particularly care for meat."
"Animals know survival better than anything else. If he needs it, he'll eat it."
"Of that, I have no doubt."
The two men sat and continued eating until they found themselves content—not full, but content. The rest was given to Bo, who, though hesitant at first, decided to eat the meat graciously. It was difficult for him, but after some time he managed to find a pattern of chewing that worked. It took him nearly half an hour to eat all of it, during which time Burton and Art palavered.
"What business do you have here in this desert?" Art asked after a few mouthfuls.
Burton paused, chewed for a moment, swallowed and then made his reply. "I'm returning from a messenger journey."
"Is that all?"
"All that I feel like revealing," Burton replied with a smile. "You seem to have some strange reasons yourself."
"Aye, it seems that I do, but they're reasons worth traveling for, I feel," he said. "Andrew always has a good plan up his sleeve."
"Hm," said Burton as he took another bite from the rat.
Finally, as the last bone was picked dry, they stood. "It's time to continue, methinks," said Art, who strode to Bo, stroking the horse's neck once more.
"Agreed. My senses tell me that our patience during this journey has paid off, and that our destination grows near," Burton announced, turning his gaze off to the horizon. "However, I also sense that we'll not meet our place without our fair share of peril. There's something out there, something that's got my skin prickly, and I don't like it."
"Perhaps. I'm not entirely certain, but this feeling is leading me to believe that it is," he explained.
"I don't fear them," Art replied. "They're nothing more than pests, but I'm curious; how is it that you can sense something, and yet I'm unaffected?"
"Sensitivity to such things, at least at the level that I am, is grown through time and patience. I suspect a young man like yourself can sense a great many things, but you've not yet sharpened them to their fullest extent."
"Your statement stands true to me. Forgive me for—"
"No need to forgive. No offense was taken," Burton said. "Come, we've lost too much time already, and I feel this day may be short."
"Aye, it will be." They left and turned not once to look back at their campsite. No, the future was too promising to look over their shoulders now. It was only within two hours that they finally saw the end of the desert coming to the horizon, but as they had predicted, the day went quickly, and within another hour the sun was already setting. Still, night did not daunt them, not when they were this close. However, Burton's premonition, his feeling, still hung in the dense air like a swarm of flies on a sweaty day.
Art noted the thickness that he inhaled. It was usually dry, but something was different. A normal person may not have noticed this, may have been too preoccupied with the heat to notice this little fact, but both Art and Burton, and even Bo, recognized this as something beyond mortal. They made sure to stay on edge for the rest of the day. There was something close to them, of that they had no doubt, but they could not see it. It only led them to one option—a demon.
Nightfall came, and yet they still continued. There was no sense in stopping, but still, in spite of the lengthy stretches of walking, the forest seemed so far away from them, still lingering on the edge of the horizon. They traveled for a few more miles before deciding on a place to set up camp.
That night Art could find no sleep. He stared up at the sky for hours on end. It was going to be a long night for once. He was thankful for that. There had been too many occasions where he had lost sleep because the dark only lasted for a few hours, but it seemed as though it be a little bit closer to normal. Maybe that had to do with the fact that they were getting closer to the forest. Hopefully he would manage to find a few hours of rest before having to wake up the next morning.
That thickness in the air kept him up, though. It felt s though they were closer to it now than they had been before, though that made little sense to Art. Demons existed beyond the mortal coil; their auras did not have focal points, so it made no sense for them to feel closer to this dark presence unless the demon had corrupted something. Turning onto his side, Art gazed out towards the horizon. There was nothing that he could see, nothing for a good amount of miles. So what was it that haunted them?
He would not discover it today. There was no sense in pondering over it, so with that he allowed himself to sleep.
Burton stirred. There was something close to them, something moving. He reached into his pocket, feeling for the marble. Was it needed, though? He could sense no demonic presence. It must have been but an animal. Releasing his grip on the tiny object, he turned back around and leaned his head against the ground. No, it was not gone yet. He could still hear the feet shuffling.
As he sat upright, prying his eyes open, he surveyed the area. There was nothing around him. Had he simply dreamt it all? Something inside of him said that this was not true. His intuition spoke with clarity, and he would not doubt it. Then what had caused the noise? What was rousing his suspicion so greatly? Looking to Art, he let out a gasp of surprise. The boy was gone.
Burton stood now, his hand reaching to the marble, grasping it tightly. He lifted it from his pocket and held it in front of him. The noises had stopped, but now Art was gone, and he was alone. Bo was still at the campsite, which meant that he hadn't been left for dead. Surely Art would not leave his horse; he had shown his dedication to the animal, had even spoken of his friendship with it just a few hours back, before nightfall. No, he was definitely not gone. Then where was he?
The marble glowed lowly in the dark. It wasn't as much as Burton had hoped for, but it would suffice. If he could find a set of footprints then he would be able to follow them to Art. Why he was worrying so much about this boy was beyond him. He'd lasted this long in the desert; why would he need Burton's help? He was most likely in no trouble at all, but that was not what Burton's senses were telling him.
He crouched low to the ground and swiftly waddled over to where Art had been laying. Holding the marble up the dent in the ground, Burton soon found the footsteps that he had been seeking. They led away from the campsite in an awkward pattern, as if he was stumbling across the sand—not walking. He had left by himself, as there was only one set of prints, but Burton figured that it was not of his own accord.
Looking back to Bo, he figured that the horse did not was to be disturbed, so he would follow Art's trail alone. It would be easier to keep track of the footsteps this way. He looked up to the horizon, scanning it, trying to find any sign of his companion. The sun was starting to rise, cracking the sky with a slim layer of pink and orange. This would help him, but it was still too dark to see very clearly without the light of the marble. He would have to continue with it for a while, until the sun illuminated the sky. What disturbed him, though, was that Art had already disappeared. He had only left a few minutes ago, at least from what Burton could tell. There was something wrong here, something very wrong.
He remembered something his father said to him as a child. They had been moving out west at the time, and a storm had come upon them. The old man had said, "Well, son, looks like were in for a load of shit right about now. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong." That seemed to be applicable to this situation, but of course, as Burton remembered, they made it through the storm with little trouble. Hopefully he would manage to make it through this just as easily.
The footsteps went on for some time. How Art had traveled so far, so quickly, bewildered him. There was still no sign of the boy, but his erratic footsteps seemed to sully the entire area around him. Wherever he was right now, Burton assumed that he was not aware of his situation. He must have been sleepwalking, or in some kind of daze or hypnosis. That would be the only thing that could explain the scattered footprints.
He continued onward for some time. The sun was still rising, much slower than Burton would have liked. The glow of the marble was still dim, but he managed to keep on Art's trail. Where the boy was at this point was beyond him. How he had yet to catch up with him was equally as confusing, but then again, this was no ordinary desert. If time was eschewed, then perhaps distance was as well. That would explain why the forest at the edge seemed to have grown no closer than when they had first spotted it.
Exhaustion had hit him by the time he mounted what must have been the thirtieth dune. Art couldn't have gone on for this long, not unless he was possessed, and that was appearing to be the most likely option right about now.
"I join this boy and find my first trouble in months," he groaned to himself as he nearly toppled over. Once the sun was up it would be impossible for him to continue his search. He would die in the heat, with no supplies or water, or even a horse to carry him. If he turned back now then he would be able to save himself, but what of Art? What would become of him? The thoughts did not settle well with him. He would continue on until the sun had truly risen, and after that he would be forced to turn back and leave. As much as he hated it, it was the only option. To die on a fruitless search was a death he was not willing to partake in, though he figured he deserved as much for his sins. Though, he figured that abandoning Art would only earn him an even worse death. Fate, the cruel mistress, had put him in quite the catch twenty-two.
Pushing onward, Burton made his way over another dune. Fate had spoken, and for once her voice had been kind. Before him, laying face down in the sand, was Art. Burton slid down the side of the dune, kicking up sand behind him in a small torrent. He landed next to Art gracefully, kneeling down to him. The boy was still breathing. That was good, but there was no clue as to what had happened to him, and that was what concerned Burton the most. If this happened again, then he was not sure if he would even bother going after him. Who knew how far he would go?
He held no doubt that there was some kind of demonic presence behind this. The thickness in the air was still present. Looking around, Burton tried to find a sign of something, anything that would give him a clue, but there was only Art. He sighed and knelt over to pick Art up from the ground. It would be a struggle to get back, but he figured that he could manage it. Finding Art had lifted some of the burdening weight from his shoulders and restored some of his strength.
However, as he lifted his foot from the sand, Art's weight now resting on his shoulders—it looked quite stupid, but of course there was no one around to witness it, much to Burton's relief—he felt something beneath him. It was hard, like a stone, but not bumpy or small. No, it was flat, like a surface of some kind. With his brow cocked, he looked down, lifting his boot, watching as the sand slipped back into the space that it had once occupied. For just a moment, not even a full second, he saw a flash of gray. It was stone, and it was a surface. Something had been buried beneath this place.
His left hand still held the marble, his fingers clutching it tightly. The full power of the little object was no mystery to him, but he was not sure if it could displace all of this sand. Perhaps if he could uncover some of the surface, then his questions would be answered. If his assumptions were correct, then he was standing on a demon circle, a rare occurrence in nature, but an extremely dangerous one. When active, it served as a portal between the spirit world and the physical one, allowing demons and elemental spirits passage from their home into this place.
Opening his palm, he held the marble out before him, placing Art down once again. The sun was up now, and the sky was a bright blue above him. The Marble flickered in the powerful light of the sun, catching some of it for itself. It glowed in Burton's palm for a few seconds, and then compressed the light into an even smaller ball within itself. Burton held it to his face, inspecting the tiny ball inside of his marble. Yes, this would suffice, but he knew that he was no elemental sorcerer. It would be difficult for him to move this using his own methods. However, if this was the source of their problem, then he had no choice. What if he was claimed next? Art would not be able to provide much help in such a situation; he had already explained that his use and knowledge of magic was very limited. The problem would have to be dealt with now.
Burton squeezed the marble tightly, feeling the small ball of light from within it feeding him energy. Closing his eyes, he allowed it to surge through him. It was like floating, almost, being lifted to another plain of existence. He could feel his pineal gland being pried open, letting in the light of the spirit world, the plain beyond all plains. Yes, this was a demon circle. The dark presence that emanated from it was too great to believe it was anything else.
With his eyes open once again, he began to tug at the strings all around him. They were the strings that Fate used to bind everything together, to keep all destinies interwoven and controllable. It was both amazing and sickening at the same time. There were so few that could break free of these strings, as he had, and apparently Art as well. Andrew the mentor was definitely free as well, if that was the case, and it wouldn't have surprised him a great deal if he was the one who taught Art how to sever those strings.
The strings moved the sand, slowly, very slowly, but surely. It would take some time, perhaps ten minutes or so, before it was all displaced and the circle was revealed, and from there he would have to seal and then break it, which would most likely take an hour or so. He would have to create his own strings, attach them to the circle, then tighten them until the stone broke.
Eventually the sand was moved, revealing the dark circle. He stood at the edge of it, and wasted no time in making his way to the middle. A pentagram had been carved into it, the tips touching the edges of the circle. A small pentagon was left in the dead center, formed as a result of the crisscrossing lines of the devilish symbol. Burton sat down in the very center of this, putting him in the absolute middle of both shapes. He folded his legs neatly and closed his two physical eyes, keeping the third one on his forehead, the pineal gland, open to observe the aura. Taking in a deep breath, he felt the strings form around him and stretch to each corner of the pentagram, latching onto it. Now came the hard part.
The dark aura around the circle began to dance about like flame against the wind. It grew, shrank, and then evened out again. There was a spirit beneath it, trying to make its way into this world. He had to seal it before it could manage to escape. The pentagram lit up a bright red, but he resisted it. The strings around him, Fate's strings, not his own, folded down, wrapping around the circle. It squeezed it tightly, forcing the red light back. Burton's own strings were making no progress as of yet, but that was to be expected. He had to seal it first before breaking it.
There was a tugging sensation from beneath him. He knew that the demon was close. Had he arrived too late? Perhaps he had, but it wouldn't stop him from trying. If he was not careful, however, he knew that he could end up being tugged into the limbo between the two worlds. It had happened to him once before, but he had managed to escape. Of course, he had been a young man at the time. Whether or not he still had the strength to pull himself out of such a situation was beyond his knowing.
The tug became stronger. He was slipping. The strings around him became tighter. He had to try harder, seal it off before he was taken into it.
Hours had already passed, though it only felt like minutes. The sun was already atop its arc, but Art was still unconscious. For the first time, he realized that it might have been a good idea to wake the boy before continuing on with this endeavor. Any amount of skill would be useful to him, even if it just meant pulling him away from the circle as it began to suck him in.
The strings were only becoming tighter now. Yes, he was close to completing it. The beast beneath it was ramming its body against the side, but the portal was growing too small for it to fit through, and the process for it to actually reach the other side would take too long; it would not be able to make it. He was thankful for that much. Unfortunately, the portal was still large enough to claim him, and the tugs were only growing stronger. He knew that if he opened his eyes, he would undoubtedly find himself half buried in the stone. It was now that he wished Art were awake. The risks were only becoming more and more dangerous.
Fate must have been on his side this day. He felt something come around him, a pair of arms reaching around his chest, lifting him upwards. Was this Art? It must have been. The portal was close to closing, and it seemed as though he would live after all. Had it closed around him, he would have been cut in half. Looking down, his pineal gland could see it, barely the size of the marble that he still held in his hand. Yes, it was done, and now to break it. He tightened the strings, feeling them pulling against the stone, lifting pieces of it into the air, breaking it apart. With one final yank, he tore it into pieces.
His eyes opened, and he was standing atop the stone. In the physical world it was still intact, but it was useless now. Behind him stood Art, who looked over to him curiously. Burton turned around, letting out a long sigh. He flopped over onto the stone, spreading his arms out, allowing the sun to bathe him in its warmth. The dark aura had passed for now, but he knew that the circle had been opened before he arrived. There would surely be more demons ahead of them, unfortunately. If they were lucky they would be able to pass them with little to no trouble, but that was unlikely to happen.
"Thank you," Burton said, "I suppose I owe you one, now."
"What was that? What were you doing?" Art asked as he extended his hand to Burton, lifting him up from the ground.
"This... This is a demon circle. It acts as a portal between our world and the spirit world. Something must have possessed you last night and dragged you over here. You're lucky I was able to follow you and close the thing off," he said.
"I suppose it's I who owe you," Art chuckled.
"You repaid me when you saved me," Burton replied, "and for that I am thankful. You may not have been killed, but you may have been had I not come. What they were planning to do with you I am not sure. Sometimes demons use humans as avatars to make their way into this world instead of just moving through the circle. It probably led you to the circle because it's a thinner point between worlds."
"I suspect that was it," Art said. "We should get a move on, though. Are you alright to walk? Bo could carry you for a bit."
"I'll manage," Burton said, "Thank you, though."