Just a heads up to say thanks for reading this, I hope you enjoy it. There's more to come! Reviews welcome, criticism, ideas, anything. I'm open.
Text Freya Norley 2011
Chapter 1- Aurora ~ Dawn
I was running. Running hard. From what, I couldn't truly ever know. Ragged breaths came out in short sharp gasps, turning into white clouds as they hit the air. Every part of my body ached, but I stumbled blindly on. The only thing propelling my terrified existence was the deep wild fear inside that screamed at me to move. Move now, or die.
The crunchy layer of autumn leaf litter muffled the sound of my desperate feet as they pounded the ground, the colours beneath me a frantic blur of red and gold. I knew that whatever was chasing me was bad. Really bad. I could feel the evil emanating off it, pouring into the forest around me like a thick black oil slick, suffocating everything in its path.
Tendrils of the slime slithered past me, nipping hungrily at my ankles like venomous snakes, winding themselves around my legs. Their grasp grew tight, tripping me up. I hit the ground painfully, the breath whooshing out of my battered frame.
Bile rose in my throat as I scrambled frantically at the ground, clawing at it with my nails stubbornly ignoring the pain as they broke. I re-doubled my attack; sweat pouring off me in my frenzied effort to escape, as I felt the black matter ooze around me. I was tiring, and I knew I didn't have long before my weakened body gave up entirely.
Suddenly, my body was dragged backwards along the hard ground; the blackness enveloping me in its thick hatred, wrapping itself ever tighter around my writhing body. My skin tingled at its surprising coldness and I recoiled in disgust as it slithered eagerly upwards, enclosing my struggling arms in a black cocoon. It slowed down as it reach my neck, as if savouring my last teary breaths as it coiled around my straining neck, chocking of the moan I did not know had escaped from my mouth. Too little, too late. No one would ever hear it.
My death cage was black and thick. And so…so dark. Even one sweet gasp of air was impossible now. All I could breath was the squalid must that was trapped in with me. This was it, I realised, as sweat congealed on my face and my chest heaved. I was going to die.
As I thought this, I felt my still struggling limbs grow heavy and stiff like dead wood. The burning need to escape that had kept me going for so long…faltered and gradually faded away.
Choking back the tears that dribbled down my cheeks, I forced open my mouth open against the smothering black blanket that trapped me, in one final attempt at a scream, and-
It burst into the night, filling my little room with an eerie screech and bouncing harshly off the walls. I jerked awake, instinctively flinging myself sideways, and smacked my head with a loud thunk on the wall.
"Shit!" I whispered furiously into my duvet, my hands flying up and clutching my throbbing head. Dammit, god-dammit!
I reached out into the semi-darkness, warily groping the wall beside me for the glow-lamp. My fingers tripped along the roughness of the wall, searching in vain for the little machine that would give me my light.
Damn biotrizity, I thought, venomously cursing the Senators eagerness to turn to renewable fuels. Good for the environment, bad if you wake up in a daze, screaming like a banshee and forget how to work the damn thing!
At last my desperate fingers found the switch and a comforting yellow light illuminated the room, casting shadows on the faded red walls and beat up furniture that made up my small excuse for a room. The familiar surroundings calmed my wildly beating heart; enough for me giggle shakily at how stupid I was being.
Wiping a quivering hand across my sweat soaked forehead, I winced as I felt my eyes twinge painfully as they adjusted to the sudden contrast of reality.
I frowned and shook my head, calling up the hunting hounds of my mind to chase away the foreboding cobwebs of my latest nightmare. Your fine, Aven, I told myself, it was just a dream. Just a dream. A product of your over-active imagination. Or too much cheese. Probably that. Either way, it was just a dream.
I sighed and let myself flop back onto my pillow, massaging the bubble of pain on the right side of my forehead. There was almost definitely going to be a bump. Great, just my luck, I thought moodily. First day back at the Academy as well.
I stared at my ceiling, still unable to get the feel of the cold slime of my skin. My eyes followed the tiny hairline cracks that spread across the dull paint like breaks in ice. Spiders' cobwebs swung dustily in and out of the darkness, their owners long gone.
Little glowing lights twinkled at the edge of my vision, and my attention was drawn, as always, to the little creatures that skirted at the corners of the pool of light.
They twisted and turned in a whirling gig, like my ceiling was their dance floor and their music was the simple silence of the night.
Harmless little creatures, created from the leftover energy that the Shade Wars had caused. Some clever Scientist had named them "Corda Umbra", which as my Granama told me, means "hearts of the shade." Normal folk like me usually call them Cordas, as apparently saying the full name became too much of a bother.
As I gazed sleepily at them, I could see why whoever named them was right; they really were like little hearts in the shadows, beating away. Never aging, never growing, they just popped into existence one night, and at the end of their lifespan, exploded with a little poof and a forlorn little sigh.
I watched their almost translucent bodies pulsate with soft glows, bulging oddly and then shrinking rapidly as they communicated. If I squinted just right I could very faintly see a tiny shape in the very centre of one….but no, it was gone. I blinked, disappointed. Ever since I was old enough to think, Cordas had fascinated me. I remember nights when I would never sleep, stubbornly determined to crack the mystery of their existence. All I knew was that they came when the Shade Wars ended, and have been here ever since.
Hovering at the edge of light, but never into it, the Cordas existed only in shadow. Like so many other things, know one knew why or what would happen if they ventured into light. Many fools had tried and failed to force them to do such a thing. But the Cordas were uncatchable, flitting as easily into darkness as water goes down a drain.
I smiled, how nice it would be to live in such a tiny existence. I bet they didn't get nightmares.
My eyes drooped and a huge yawn escaped from my mouth. I glanced at the illuminated face of the Sun Dial and saw that the miniature glowing ball that represented the Sun, floating smugly at the 2:00 slot.
I groaned inwardly and rubbed my eyes. I was an early riser, but two in the morning? I doubted even the birds were awake at this ungodly hour.
Pulling my duvet tighter around me, I lay back into the blessed warmth of the bed. Drowsily, I once again watched the little Cordas, who seemed to wink and flash at me like little stars. I grinned childishly to myself. I liked stars.
I shut my eyes, and felt my mind wander away into the enticing realm of sleep, which so sweetly sung for me to shut my eyes…
Several hours later, deep in the quiet darkness of my happy slumber, a high piercing sound trickled through the layers of dusky unconsciousness.
How strange, I thought dreamily, the words floating out of my sleep self in a puzzled bright orange. I watched them float around me, swirling in a kaleidoscope of colour as other sleep-words joined them.
"Its your alarm, ignorant one." came a snide voice from behind me. I whirled round, or the equivalent of whirling round in dream world, as I over spun and wobbled off to the right.
There came a sigh of boredom and I twisted round again. No one.
"Who are you?" I shouted, the sleep words rushing out of me in a confused blur. "Are you a figment of my imagination?", a hopeful pause ensued. I squinted into the blackness warily, expecting a rebuke. After no reply I carried on bravely, "Because if you are, I've already had enough of you for one night…."
The voice chuckled nastily; "I don't think a mere human like you would be able to conjure up such a regal being as myself."
"Oh" I murmured, intaking the new information with surprise. "Who are you then? And for that matter why are you in my dream??" It's obvious snobbishness angered me, and the words leaped out an angry red.
An awkward silence answered. "Ah, well… you see I'm actually here to warn you about-"
I awoke up with a jolt, half formed questions still on the tip of my tongue. Damn, I thought to myself. That was one weird ass dream.
Still, it was some improvement to the previous one. I grimaced as various unwanted images flashed through my mind. Blackness never-ending. No light, no air….
I closed my eyes again wearily and snuggled back down into my bed. My mouth was as parched as desert soil. I licked my lips and frowned as no soothing saliva reached them.
I lay back in the sleepy silence, not wanting to move my tired limbs. I soon gave in to the unignorable desire for water and I reluctantly swung my legs out of my bed and dropped with a wince to the cold floor.
Not good, not good, my senses screamed at me, as I dragged my barley awake self to the small washroom adjacent to my own.
Twisting the dull metal tap to full blast, I let the sweet water fill my mouth, so satisfyingly quenching my thirst. I gulped it down eagerly, not bothering to push my wet tangles of hair out of the way.
After gorging from the tap, I glanced up at the mirror that hung lopsidedly on the wall above me, studying my reflection with intent.
Something felt… different. And although I couldn't see any change… well I could sense it.
I gazed at the girl in front of me. Long auburn tangles fell to her shoulders, a fringe framing her pale face. Her cheekbones shaded at a stark angle by the flickering light. My eyes followed the curve of her lips and traced along her strong jaw line. Her eyes met mine. At a glace they were a serious dark brown, almost black in her pale face. And something else. I leaned forward sharply, my body pressed against the hard cold stone of the sink. There, right there encircling her pupil was a thin band of white.
I stepped back hastily, my feet slipping on the tiled floor. That couldn't be right, it couldn't be. I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, but the mysterious affliction was still there.
The girl in the mirror smiled menacingly at me, and cocked her head to one side.
Slowly, I lifted a shaking hand to my face. I sure as hell wasn't smiling so why was my reflection…?
"What are you afraid of, Aven?" Her voice turned the air cold. That wasn't like my voice at all. Callous cruel and empty, it sent crackles of fear down my spine.
Her unearthly grin became wider. "Darkness is waking Aven. And it's hungry." She paused and let her hand trial across the surface of the mirror. Shards flew off and she laughed a deep guttural growl as she clambered out of the frame to wards me.
When roof-walking there are two unspoken rules. One, don't fall off. Two, if you see a Knackers nest, run. And gods forbid you encounter a Strifer. Mess with one those and you're done for.
I broke the second rule in the twenty minuets it took me to roof-walk from my house to the Lower School.
Roof-walking all started in the aftermath of the Shade Wars, when no one could walk the rubble strewn Lower and Ground Citadels for fear of a nasty death. That's was were the Nightwakes ruled, and the only way for the surviving human population to travel safely was to construct a means of walking from roof to roof. That's how roof-walking was invented.
The wooden walkways start out small, hardly big enough for two, and as they clamber up towards the higher Citadels they gradually become larger and lager until they all flow like a great wooden river into the Causeway, which stretches from the Lower Middle Citadel right up to the Aurora Tempest itself.
Of course, there are numerous other unreported paths and back routes that the Senators don't know about. Those particular routes take a great more amount of skill to travail; some are unfinished and just stick off into the blackness, causing you to take flying leaps to the next roof. Others, like the Witching Road, are a hive of Black Market activity, travel through that and you'll get a punch of noises, sights and smells assailing you from all angles.
Even though the Shade Wars ended before I was born, Nightwakes like the Knacker and worse, still inhabit the old Lower and Ground Citadels. And every once in a while one or two creep upwards in the darkness. Reminding everyone there still there. Still waiting.
My family live on the Lower Middle sections, the furthest down you can get from the Aurora Tempest and the nearest you can get to the screeching lair of the Nightwakes.
The first thing you're taught as a child of the Lower Middle is how to roof-walk and how to spot a Nightwake. Nightwakes are creatures of shadow, and so only devour their victims' souls, leaving the empty husk of a corpse to rot.
There are three main types of Nightwake: the Knacker, the Minastrife or "Strifer" and the Malus or "Shifter".
As the poorest level, and the one nearest the disused Lower and Ground Citadels, it's my fathers' job as Chief Light Keeper to stop the malicious Nightwakes getting any further. And they're mostly successful. Mostly.
I've only ever seen a Knacker once. I was five and had got lost after a annual family trip to the Witching Road. I had got distracted by the maze of trinkets and colours, and had been separated in the huge bustling crowd. I had wandered around in a tearful daze, getting more lost as I had strayed out of the Market and into one of the back roads. It was there I found a huge nest of Knackers, there long sickle shaped claws glinting in the moonlight, eyeless heads turned in eagerness to the sweet smell of young soul. I had screamed then as they had hobbled toward me, bones clicking and screeching that blood-curdling howl. I remember pitching forward as I fainted and then a sudden warmth as my father swept me off my feet and promptly destroyed the nest with three swift blasts from his ArmaSun 1000.
Today was the day I had my second fateful encounter with a Knacker. After two highly disturbing nightmares in one night, I was only half awake as I stumbled onto the wooden path, the cheerful goodbyes from both my parents still ringing in my ears. I had wandered along, hardly paying attention to the route I knew so well, when a foul gut-wrenching smell made me stop.
I squinted into semi gloom that surrounded the edge of the path, warily hugging my satchel closer to me and slipping the torch I always carried with me out my coat pocket. Nightwakes hate the light, and if I could get at least a chance of escape, I wasn't going to waste it.
Gripping the heavy metal object in one hand, I waited grimly as the sickly bone clicking and the slow scrape of claws being dragged along wood reached my ears,
I still couldn't see it though. Over the years they must of learned not to come directly head on. So that must mean they attack from behind….
As the thought occurred to me I knew I was right. The clicking sounds stopped, as if the Knacker to knew what I had realised.
A low snarl filled with hunger came from behind me and I whipped around as a dark shape as big as a wolf launched itself with a furious howl at me.
I shrieked and fell backwards, the blinding beam of the torch bursting into the darkness. I hit the wet wooden floor with a crack, pain shooting up my arm. I moaned and gritted my teeth as the jagged darts of agony caused me to drop my only weapon.
My head felt like a sack of bricks as my eyes unfocused.
Suddenly a flash of heat whooshed past me and the Knacker yowled again and keeled over with a grisly thud on the path.
A strange smell of pine trees filled my head as I sunk into unconsciousness.