There was a gathering of wolves a few kilometers away from where the funeral pyre had taken place. They stood over a large cliff that was slightly higher than the tree-line in the woods, giving a magnificent view of the open star sky. One particular wolf stood closer to the edge of the cliff than the others. He had a sharp and thin red stripe on his fur that ran from the top of his head to the end of his tail, contrasting against the gray. His eyes were narrow, wide, and bright white. He had quite a few scars on his body where fur no longer grew, mostly from some sort of battle that had long past. His name was Faris.
Faris, do you see it? A newborn.
Although no sound was actually heard, Faris communicated with the other wolves with his mind. The wolves conveyed messages through their thoughts. It was as if the ideas of the words appeared in his head alongside vivid imagery. Faris could see flashes of the starry night sky in his mind, and thoughts towards a brewing storm.
Yes Saris. There it is. A beautiful sight. A star being born. With the waning of the moon, our sacrifice is due. I wonder if they will give us the arriver.
Faris suddenly felt a warm flash of blood in his head – a warning of impending violence. He began communicating with all of the wolves at once as he turned around, realizing that he was cornered at the edge of the cliff.
What is this? Why? You seek war? Who among you can challenge my authority?
Saris stepped forward, nearing Faris’ face.
None among us alone can challenge you, Faris. We challenge you together. I won’t kill you, but I won’t help you either.
Saris stood bold in the full moon, her seemingly burnished silver fur reflecting the glimmer of the moon and the stars. Her eyes were a deep red, slanted downwards, and glaring. She held no natural hostility – it was a form of forced anger, as if she was more so upset that the situation had become a violent confrontation with her own brother out of sheer necessity. Faris slowly backed up, his hind legs standing as far back as they could on the cliff, surrounded by six of his own personal guard. Saris began walking away.
We have enjoyed almost 5 years of peace. The threat of the arbiter still remains. If you go to war, he will surely return. Remember that. Farewell, Saris. I believe you expect to take my spirit after I am gone, but I cannot allow a warmonger to have such a devastating power.
Faris closed his great white eyes for a moment, then turned around and leapt down the cliff. Saris about-faced immediately, clearly surprised by Faris’ decision to face gravity. She immediately began communicating with the other wolves.
Locate his body at once. We must begin the ritual immediately while the moon is still full.
The wolves all scattered, trying to finding a way down to the valley below.
Boren had collapsed beside the stream in the fetal position, his hands clutching his gut. He was a lightly-skinned man in his late forties with wavy gray hair, recently tapered on the sides. He had stubbles of facial hair, as if he had shaven within the past few days. Boren’s eyes were not like his father’s – they were brown with bushy gray and black eyebrows. The enormous pain had overtaken his body, rendering him unconscious. Romell pushed back his long flowing white hair, and stood up on his feet. He placed two fingers on Boren’s neck to check for a pulse, and nodded to himself in satisfaction. Walking over to the stream, he scooped up a helping of clear water with his left hand and took a loud, obnoxious gulp, taunting the unconscious Boren. Romell dried his hands off on his red robes.
“ROMELL!” A bellowing yell came from the candle-lit trail behind Romell. He flinched at the sound of the noise, knowing full well that it was his father. Asmund quickly walked over to Boren, examining his body to ensure he was still breathing and alive. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
“He was thirsty, father. Besides, this was inevitable,” Romell said in a condescending tone. “If you didn’t want him to drink then perhaps we should have just let him die of thirst.”
Asmund sighed, acknowledging that despite his son’s tone, Romell was indeed correct. They both stopped for a moment and looked up at the sky. “You see that, Romell? There he is. Now everyone on the island knows… Eydis will not be happy about this. A new star being born on a full moon? This is possibly the worst timing,” Asmund lectured. “Did you and Boren exchange any important information on your walk that I should be aware of?”
“Well,” Romell paused for a moment to swallow. “We talked about… dinner.”
“You didn’t by chance tell him what the water would do to him, did you?” asked Asmund, staring intently at Romell. “No? Well then… If the shock to his body doesn’t kill him, you can be the one to explain to him.” Asmund kneeled down over Boren’s unconscious body, hoisting him over the shoulders, and walked back towards the bridge.
“Father, I take it the ceremony is concluded,” Romell said. “Who won the election?” Asmund looked back at him, smirked, and kept walking, the unconscious Boren hanging over his right shoulder. “So, you did it…” Romell’s deep blue eyes lit up with joy. “And for a moment there I thought your astronomy skills were impeccable. It could take many days before they notice.”
“Faris is gifted, do not forget. And let’s not be too happy,” Asmund sighed under his breath, as he continued walking back towards the candle-lit path. “I still have to pick the sacrifice, and the moon is now waning… We need a decision soon.”
Romell brushed off the grass from his red robes and ran after Asmund. “At least we can change into proper clothes, now that the rites have concluded,” said Romell, walking on the right side of Asmund nearest the unconscious Boren. “As for your sacrifice, why don’t we just throw this fool at them?” Romell tapped Boren’s head with his left pointer finger mockingly.
“Romell, I know you are intelligent. One day you will be far more intelligent than I am,” replied Asmund, clearly frustrated with his son’s question. “But you and I both know that we must determine what Boren is capable of. If he grows into something we don’t understand, then they will use it against us. I’ll give it maybe two or three hours before they suspect we have an Arriver.”
Soon, Asmund, Boren, and Romell were in a cabin at the dead end of the candle-lit path, surrounded by tall cliffs – Asmund’s estate. The chimney was churning oak-scented smoke as the warm orange glow of the fireplace filled the cabin with warmth and comfort. The still unconscious Boren was placed on a handmade leather couch near the fire with a light brown fur draped over him. Asmund was sitting in his chair, lighting up his maple pipe with fresh crumbling of some dried herb, drawing in slow but steady puffs of smoke, and exhaling them slowly as if deep in contemplation. He was staring into the fire, but his mind was elsewhere. Boren began to churn in his sleep, groaning and slowly opening his eyes, unable to see much beside a blur. Asmund took one final draw from his pipe, flicked the remaining cinders into the fire, and placed it on a sturdy wooden walnut coffee table placed between the leather couch and the fireplace. He was now wearing what looked to be a simple pair of worn jeans and a white cotton t-shirt, as well as some brown slippers. He was completely clean shaven, his face visible without the hood and robes.
“Please…don’t,” rasped Boren, struggling to form words. “Don’t…eat me.”
Asmund shook his head with a very angry look on his face. He squatted down real close to Boren’s face. “No one is going to eat you,” Asmund whispered assuringly. “The water makes you hallucinate. Whatever you believe you heard after you drank it is a false reality…an illusion. But if you are still scared, there is a rope-ladder behind my house that will lead you up to the top of the cliff. You may leave at any time, but be warned. There are wolves out there.”
At this point, Boren was able to slowly pick himself up, and was now sitting on the couch, looking directly at Asmund. His nostrils alerted him to the presence of food, and he looked at the walnut coffee table. Next to Asmund’s maple pipe, there was a plate of various berries, yellow grains, and what looked like a stick of yellow cheese. “Is that…for me?” asked Boren. “You’re not trying to fatten me up first are you?” His hands were as unsteady as his tone, quivering ever so slightly.
Asmund grabbed the plate with a smirk, placed it on Boren’s lap, and stood up to return to his chair. He once again grabbed the pipe, sprinkled some more dried herb into it, and used a thin, twig just slightly poking out of the fireplace to light it up. He puffed maybe four or five times very deeply, and closed his eyes. “Boren, I know you have a lot of questions on your mind. It is already late, so please, let’s get to it. Ask me your questions. Then you can either choose to stay or leave,” Asmund said calmly. He opened his eyes – they were an odd and almost unnatural looking deep white, reflecting the light off of the ambient glow of the fire.
Boren was silent for a moment, contemplating what questions he should ask first. He didn’t feel in pain anymore, but he was weak – even if he wanted to scale the rope ladder, he knew he might not survive out in wilderness on his own. “How did you know I was coming?” asked Boren.
Asmund pointed straight up at the tall ceiling. “In this land, the stars represent life. Each and every star up there is a living being on this island capable of possessing the spirit. It is hard to tell apart a wolf from a human. But if you know what you’re looking for, you can find it. Luckily for us, many creatures such as ants cannot possess the spirit,” Asmund paused to take a puff of his maple pipe. “However, simply having that skill is not enough to forecast the coming of an Arriver. Forecasting the stars – their formation and death – is a skill that only two people have. On the beach when you arrived, I saw that you noticed a star falling from the sky. That was our leader.”
Boren at this point was digging into the plate, but halted his relentless chewing in disbelief upon hearing Asmund’s response. “I’m not quite sure I can believe such a story… but why go through all that trouble simply to receive me?” asked Boren.
“One way or another, you were going to join with the spirit,” Asmund said, this time releasing a massive cloud of smoke that was sucked away through the cracks of the cabin. “I witnessed your star being born. It was beautiful, and I thank you for that privilege. But more importantly… your body is now dependent on the water here. If you try to leave the island for extended periods of time, you will die. None have ever survived… except one.”
A ringing of bells broke the conversation. Romell appeared from one of the rooms in the back of the cabin looking very distraught. “Faris,” Romell said. Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead, and as he muttered the name, Asmund stood up immediately, almost knocking over the coffee table. Before Boren could even blink an eye, they both disappeared outside.
High up in the trees, Asmund and Romell had strung up a large net underneath the cliff that overlooked their village. They had attached several bells in the case that someone or something should fall into the net. Faris laid immobile and unconscious in the net, but he appeared to be breathing.
Asmund and Romell stared up at the net in awe. “It appears your planning has worked, Romell,” Asmund whispered to his son. “But now we know for sure – there has been a coup, and perhaps soon, war.” Romell was sweating profusely now, anxious at what had just transpired.
An exhausted Boren came crashing out of the door of the cabin, but Asmund and Romell were too busy trying to lower the entangled Faris from the net. He decided it was his chance to escape, still fully convinced that his hosts were planning on eating him. He kept walking alongside the cliff looking for the rope ladder that Asmund had mentioned. Instead, he discovered a shallow set of rocks. The rocks were unlike anything he had seen before. They seemed to glow blue in the moonlight, and were extremely warm to the touch. They had rounded, smooth surface, and were very pleasant to the touch. He began to scale them slowly, one foot at a time.
After about an hour of climbing, Boren had finally made it to the top of the cliff. He collapsed on the grass, still exhausted from the pain of the water that had overtaken him. As he closed his eyes, all he could hear were his lungs desperately trying to pull air into his body. At first it was a steady, fast rhythm of breaths. But soon, it became muddled and staggered as if two different sets of lungs were breathing. Boren opened his eyes to see a large wolf with glowing, silver fur sniffing his face. It was Saris.
Are you the arriver?
Boren heard voices in his head, and saw images of a star in the sky.
“Please… I mean no harm… those people were trying to eat me. Just let me go on my way,” pleaded Boren. “I don’t quite know how we are talking to each other, but I beg of you.” His eyes were closed but he could hear the breathing and sniffing of the wolf. The smell of blood saturated the air, emanating from the jaw of the massive creature.
Why have you come here?
“I lost my family, and I can’t remember why or how they died. I was wanted for murder, so I fled here for refuge,” Boren said nervously, clearing his throat. He finally looked at the wolf who was examining him, the piercing red eyes scanning over his entire body. “I was hoping to find some way to restore my memory and remember what had happened.”
Guilt plagues you. I can see it. You wonder if you did it. I’m surprised the boy didn’t tell you. My name is Saris. Stand up and come with me. I wish no harm upon you unless you fail to cooperate.
“What boy?” asked Boren as he stood up and brushed himself off. “Romell? How would he know?” He sounded desperate and confused now, but the silver-furred Saris just kept deeper into woods that were nested far back behind the rise of the cliff.
You ran away to avoid being eaten. Don’t let it be in vain. If you want to escape, I wouldn’t suggest running. You will just die tired.
A flash of warm blood rushed through Boren’s head as if the pain of the threat of being eaten hit him all at once in one brief moment. “Saris… I will do what you ask. But tell me one thing – can you see? Can you see if I murdered my family?” Saris turned around and stared directly at Boren from the shadow of the trees, her red eyes now wide and glaring. All that could be heard was the faint melody of crickets and the slight splashing of the stream far below the cliff.
Some people believe truth sets you free. But I’ve seen those imprisoned by it. Even if you do find out what happened to your family, what could you possibly do? You can’t leave the island. And every second you spend here is much longer back from where you call home. The truths you seek will no longer matter, and will exist in only memory. And the memory of what you have done, both good and bad, will haunt you like a cancer. And the best thing to do with your bad memories is to cut them out. Forget them.
Boren clutched his head as he saw visions of a wolf jumping off the cliff. It was the same wolf he saw earlier, entangled in the net. He fell to the ground, disoriented by Saris’ thoughts in his mind. He looked up again to see Saris standing over him.
Saris took a deep breath, stared up at the sky, and let out a drawn out, very audible howl. Almost at once, wolves from all directions began to howl back. Boren nervously looked around to see wolves swarming towards Saris. Visions of blood, pain, and death began to fill his mind. It was so overpowering that he could almost smell it. Saris stood in the epicenter of the swarm of the wolves, her chest standing tall and her silver fur glowing majestically.
Tonight. Tonight we go to war.