Olivia and Oliver Part 3
After a fortnight of traveling through the Falmund countryside, Olivia and Oliver finally crested a small hill and beheld Falmyr Forest spread out before them, dark and menacing. The ancient forest began at the edge of the Valley of Lux and ran east until it hit the sea. Somewhere near the center of the forest lay the great fissure which divided Falmund and Isofar. The great forest was the last place Olivia and Oliver's father had been seen, and now Oliver seemed to be leading them in his footsteps.
Olivia still didn't know what to make of Oliver. There was a serenity around him that was never there before. She wondered how much of his calm exterior was actually due to shock or if he truly had changed somehow. Still, she could not deny that something extraordinary had happened in the sewers of Falmund, and so she watched and waited. Whenever she asked Oliver where they were going he was never able to give a specific answer. He simply replied, "Onward." Oliver seemed confident as he led them, so when they came upon Falmyr Forest Olivia hesitated only slightly before following him in.
Before venturing out into the wilderness, Oliver and Olivia had pooled what little coin they had in order to procure some provisions in the city, and most nights they had been able to rely on sympathetic country folk for room and board. They were doing relatively well for two people who had to suddenly flee home, but they only had enough food to last a few days before they would have to start foraging.
As Oliver and Olivia stepped beneath the boughs of Falmyr Forest they entered a different world. The massive canopy filtered the rays creating an eternal dusk. Massive tree trunks rose from the bare ground like pillars in a cathedral. Even the very air around them seemed to hold its breath in quiet reverence. Olivia was silenced by the foreboding beauty around her and for the next several hours she and Oliver moved through the forest careful not to disturb the peace.
Around midday, Oliver called for a halt so they could eat. They found a suitable location in a small clearing and unslung their small packs. As Olivia dug a piece of bread out of her pack, she noticed something out of the corner of her eye.
"Oliver, look at this," she motioned to a scrap of cloth. "Isn't this the same color as the uniforms in father's company?" Just then, an inhuman howl pierced the silence. Oliver and Olivia sat bolt upright listening for where the sound came from. A few moments later they heard an echoing call that sent shivers down their spines.
"We're surrounded," Oliver whispered. "We have to try and break past them before they close in on us."
"What are they?" asked Olivia, "How do you even know they're after us?"
"They are creatures of shadow," replied Oliver, "but do not fear them, we have access to a power that overcomes the darkness."
Olivia glanced down to see that Oliver was clutching the stone he had found in the sewer. She had so many questions, but now was not the time to ask. Quietly, she urged Oliver to lead the way. They made their way out of the clearing and up a small hill in an attempt to get a better vantage point. The howls seemed to come from the North and East, but now all was silent again. They made their way West along the hill in an attempt to outrun whatever was hunting them. Ahead of them the hill bottomed out into a narrow rocky ravine.
"We'd better turn back," said Olivia. "The ravine may come to a dead end."
"I agree," replied Oliver. "Though we'd have a better chance fighting them off in the ravine, I'm still hoping we can outrun them."
Oliver turned to lead them out but suddenly stopped in his tracks.
"They're here," he whispered.
Surrounding the entrance to the ravine stood six...things. At first glance, they appeared as men, but wrong somehow, twisted. They stood unmoving and silent as wraiths. Olivia unconsciously reached down and unsheathed the sword at her hip.
"They...they DROVE us here," Olivia said to herself. "We fell right into their trap."
Several tense moments passed before Oliver placed his hand on Olivia's shoulder and slowly they began moving back into the ravine. Suddenly, the six creatures let loose a series of deafening shrieks and leaped forward.
"Quickly, into the ravine!" shouted Oliver.
Oliver and Olivia burst into a dead run leaping over stones and fallen branches in an attempt to put as much distance between themselves and the creatures as possible. Olivia risked a glance back to see the creatures easily keeping pace with them. They would never be able to outrun them. Their only hope was to find a narrow section of the ravine and fight them off one by one. Just ahead, Olivia could make out a narrow pass which would serve as a suitable choke point.
"Oliver! We can fight them off in that gap ahead!" Olivia panted. Oliver surged ahead and was nearly at the gap when Olivia felt an icy presence breathing down her neck. She whipped her sword behind her and felt a satisfying jolt as her sword struck home. The creature behind her yowled in pain and fell away allowing Olivia to cover the last few steps unhindered. Oliver and Olivia stood shoulder to shoulder in the narrow gap and faced down the creatures surging towards them. Just as they closed in, a loud CRACK split the sky. Olivia looked up just in time to see the rocky walls of the ravine come crashing down crushing the creatures beneath tons of rock and earth.
When the dust cleared there was no sign of the creatures and the forest had returned to silence. Olivia could not believe their luck.
"Was that you Oliver?" she asked. "Did you do something with your stone?"
"No," he replied. "I think something else is at work here."
Olivia looked around and her heart nearly stopped when she noticed the figure standing on top of the ravine. It was Captain Olem. Her father.
Captain Olem stared down at the two figures in the ravine below him. They looked as shocked as he felt. His children were here in the forest so far from home. How? Why?
"Oliver! Olivia" he cried as he slid and stumbled down the pile of debris to gather his children in his arms. There was a wordless outpouring of emotion as the family was reunited in their father's embrace. Olem finally pulled back to get a good look at them.
"I see you have my sword," he said to Olivia.
"Yes," replied Olivia, "mother gave it to me when...I suppose you'll be needing it again."
"No, you keep it. It suits you." He turned his gaze to Oliver. "And you my boy, something's different about you. You've changed somehow."
"So much has happened, father. I would like to tell you about it, but I'm not sure I know how."
Olem regarded his son with a critical eye. "We'll have time to discuss it later, but not here. We're still not safe. Fortunately, my camp is nearby."
Captain Olem led his children to a nearby cave which he had made as defensible as he could. There was a shallow pit dug around the cave mouth with pointed stakes angled along its edge to discourage anything from trying to jump over. When they were safely inside Captain Olem motioned for Oliver and Olivia to have a seat. It was only when the siblings finally sat down that they realized how exhausted they were. Their father retreated to the back of the cave and returned with enough rations to create a meager meal for three.
When their hunger was sated, Olem asked the question he had been dreading.
"So, my children, how fares your mother?"
Olivia looked into her father's pleading eyes and willed herself to speak, but the words wouldn't come to her. Instead, tears welled up in her eyes as the terrible events leading them here replayed in her mind. Without a word, Captain Olem's worst fears were realized.
Over the next few hours, Olivia and Oliver recounted their ordeal, taking care to omit any reference to speaking stones or mystical powers. Olivia thought it best to let Oliver explain whatever it was he was going through himself, and it seemed he wasn't quite ready to confess all. When they neared the end of their story and the unlikely reunion with their father, it was Captain Olem's turn to tell the tale from his perspective.
"As you know I was sent out from Falmund with one hundred hand-picked men in order to discover the truth behind the "stonebound" rumors. We were to track down any leads and substantiate any viable story. If we discovered the rumors were true; that ordinary people were granted strange powers by some ethereal voice, we were to hunt them down and capture or kill them."
Olem paused to take a breath before continuing on.
"I want you two to know that I didn't believe any of these rumors. King Joram has been growing increasingly paranoid and erratic in his day to day dealings. I fear he may have already lost his grip on reality, and I shudder to think what would have happened if one hundred soldiers were released unchecked in the countryside. I only agreed to lead them in the hope that I could reign them in and squash the rumors quickly."
"We found a scrap of uniform in the forest just before those creatures attacked us," said Olivia. "What happened to the rest of your men? Were you attacked by the creatures too?"
"I don't know how to say this without sounding crazy, so I'm just going to say it. Those creatures are my men, or what's left of them."
"I don't understand," questioned Olivia. "How can such a thing be possible?"
"I can hardly believe the tale myself, and I've been living it these last weeks."
Olem hunched forward and took a deep breath before continuing his tale.
"Even before we set out from the city something felt odd. The men seemed agitated and restless. For a while, things were going okay. We rode through the surrounding towns listening to all kinds of fanciful stories of stonebound. Most of them were too fantastic to be believed, but there was a common thread that ran through all the stories. The stonebound always disappeared after revealing themselves. Some people said they headed North, others said West. Either way, they were all headed in the general direction of the Valley of Lux."
"The Valley of Lux?" questioned Olivia. "Why go to that wasteland? Nothing can live there."
"We had no idea, but we decided to follow them. Everything changed when we entered the forest. The men were visibly agitated and fights started breaking out among them. I could see there was a danger of open rebellion so I instructed the officers to round up the worst offenders and place them in chains. Things seemed to calm down after that but everyone was still tense. As we bedded down for the night, I was considering calling everything off and returning to Falmund the next day, but I never got the chance. Sometime during the third watch, a shadow descended on the camp."
Olem shifted uncomfortably as he continued, " I can't explain what I saw. One minute the men were sleeping and the next they were transformed into the creatures you saw. I had to fight tooth and nail just to escape the camp alive. I don't know why I was spared their fate or even what they are, but ever since then I've been trying to get back to Falmund to warn everyone."
Olivia sat in shocked silence. She looked at Oliver but his expression was unreadable.
"They are no longer men, but creatures of Tenebris," Oliver intoned.
Olivia waited for Oliver to elaborate, but he stayed silent.
"What do you know of all this?" asked Olem, searching his son's face. "And what has happened to you? I think it's time to reveal whatever it is you're keeping from me."
Oliver's face was a mask of hidden emotion as he slowly answered, "Father, I am Stonebound."