The North Wind – Part 6
Time slowed down. Everyone else disappeared around her as Hana stared at Marcus, who looked the same as she remembered. He had the same large brown eyes and wide smile, but an unfamiliar essence passed over his face that she couldn’t recognize.
“I knew you would return,” he said, his tone soft. He tripped over his lengthy red robes to her.
“Marcus,” Hana found the words, reaching out to him, “How did you—”
But someone much taller, much older, leaned down, grasped her by the shoulders, and pulled her into a hug. Hana flinched. “It’s alright,” a steady, husky voice spoke, “I’m still me.”
Hana jerked away and glanced up at Marcus, who continued smiling. He appeared as old as Brigdu and the others, with the same leanness and a few graying hairs, but the childlike roundness in his face was gone.
In a blink, Marcus was a head shorter than her once more, his robes giant on him. “Don’t worry, child. You’ll get used to it. I’m so glad you made it,” Marcus squeaked.
“You’re one of them!” Hana cried. The realization slammed into her, even if none of it made sense. She couldn’t deny that he resembled the others walking through the rain, though she didn’t want to believe it. Yet somehow, he still resembled the little brother who followed her around every day. The little brother who went off into the woods and never came back.
“Old One,” the Captain stood behind Hana, bowing, “We found this girl in the desert. She is also in contact with the Posdin in Setton, who is on his way here.”
“Yes, he told me you found her outside that town,” Marcus patted Lou’s shoulder, face-to-face with the Captain. Hana blinked, trying to adjust to how he moved and acted, flashing between old and young all at once.
“I knew my summons would work.”
“Wait, you summoned me?” Hana’s mouth dropped open.
“My ability in the Great Arts is a bit shaky after the North Wind sent me to your world,” answered Marcus, “but after returning and working among my people, I finally accomplished what I most wanted. To get you here.”
“Forgive me, Old One,” the Captain bowed again, “but this has never happened in any land of the Disroyu. Humans do not—”
“They must now.” Marcus sighed, “It took me much time and effort, but bringing Hana here is something that needs to be done. The growing tide of evil is furthering itself into each layer, poisoning all of them. Order all the officials of the Eastern Ridge here tomorrow. They must know of the plan coming together.”
“Yes, Old One.”
“But,” Hana’s voice trailed off. It wasn’t possible. After all those years with her and her mother, he couldn’t be one of them.
“I had to. You’ll see.”
Marcus linked his arm with hers, leading her down the amber hallway riddled with sunbeams. She stumbled next to him, dazed.
“We will journey to the North Wind, Hana. But I’m afraid there is more.”
They strolled down the looping, circuitous hallways of the Eastern Ridge Court, where Hana tried to explain everything that had happened. Every now and then, they crossed through a patch of bleak, heavy rain before entering the orange mists where the sun beat down through the windows, setting behind the descending houses.
“Until now, I believed the Pillars were legends, and I don’t like that they’ve appeared to you all of a sudden. You shouldn’t have acted so rashly.”
Hana’s face flushed, “I didn’t exactly mean to.”
“If you heard the North Wind, however, he must want to give you important information.”
“Does He know what those Pillars are?” she stuffed her hand into her uniform pocket. She tried to shake the uneasy feeling simmering in the pit of her stomach.
“He might, but he has never told me,” Marcus took her free hand, “He is the source of the Great Arts, where all the magic we use comes from. After what you told me about interacting with him at the Pillars, I believe you could practice the rudiments of the Great Arts as we do. Don’t worry. When I begin teaching you, you won’t have to worry about traversing the layers at random. You will have more control.”
Hana’s eyes widened, “But I thought you could fix it!”
Marcus stopped and stared at her. She kept her gaze on her feet, conscious of Marcus’s soft but deep features that she didn’t recognize. He no longer resembled a child, even in a child form. Hana wanted to ask why he left and why he showed up in the first place. But then all those thoughts disappeared, replaced by a different kind of anger.
“Can’t you get rid of it? Fix what happened to me? You have that power, don’t you? And now that I’ve found you, we could go home.”
“I wish I could,” whispered Marcus. Hana guessed what he meant. She dug her hand deeper into her pocket.
“What would I learn exactly?” she asked.
Marcus trotted down a stretch of steps out into the hot air. “What do you know of your world? Its laws that keep it going?”
She stopped midway down, “You mean gravity and things like that?”
“That’s what I mean. Gravity, force, and velocity are all our magic, materials, stock, and trade. These are different Arts we practice and manipulate to keep your world going. I will teach you how to practice with these things.”
Hana’s mind reeled. She almost tripped on the last step. “I didn’t—I didn’t know they were things.”
A crystalline call trickled through the stone walls and up the river. A set of soldiers stood at attention and parted ways at the entrance stairs for two dwarfed dots climbing up.
“It’s Sayrin and the Posdin,” pointed Hana, “Come on, Marcus.” With Marcus back to smaller human size for the moment, she reached for his hand to run off, but she stopped, feeling awkward just thinking about it. A second later, his height covered the golden sun from her angle.
Hana bit her lip, “I mean, Old One.”
But Marcus didn’t notice. He clutched her arm. “Wait.”
“What is it?” Hana glanced behind her in time to see a commotion break out among the group of soldiers. Through the splashes of red, a figure lurched, crumbled, and fell to the ground while the others readied their spears. The soldier’s armor darkened, his skin scaling, his mouth gaping open.
“Hiata! Juyndu!” The Captain screeched, running out of the Court toward them. The soldiers called the same and threw their spears, one after the other, into the flesh of the unfamiliar creature.
“That’s a Joondin! How did it get here?”
“Old One!” Brigdu shuffled out of the hall. His saucer-shaped eyes darted from the entrance to Hana and Marcus and back again. “It’s happened. We feared this, but we got it.”
“Who was it?” Marcus leaped past him.
“The Captain could tell you that. He’s examining the soldier. It happened so fast. And there hasn’t been any in this part of the land!”
Hana raced after them, but Marcus and Brigdu sprinted through the corridors and disappeared, their footsteps fading in the thunder that crashed in the distance.
Hana jumped and hid her hand as the Posdin rounded the corner. He flicked his glasses aside, “There you are! Come along! Something has happened.”
“I know I saw.”
“Posdin!” Sayrin scuttled into the hall, the patches of waning light flicking over her long blue coat. Sweat beaded on her tiny forehead.
“You and everyone are being awfully excitable, Fra Sayrin,” the Posdin gave her a dissatisfied shake of his head. “All’s well if you remain calm.”
Sayrin ignored him and barked, “There are more of them. Quick! Outside!”
“They what?” A surge of terror bloomed under her skin. “Marcus!” she shouted. She flew past the Posdin and out of Sayrin’s grasp.
“No, don’t! It’s too dangerous!”
The blinding sun covered the thrashing shadows as the soldiers surrounded the next Joondin to appear in their group. Hana blinked away the light and watched a spear settle into the neck of what had once been a Dimoven guard.
“Back away!” the Captain ordered, “Is that all?”
“Yes, Captain,” answered a soldier, whipping the last spear out of the body. Hana tried to keep back the urge to vomit as the scaled flesh flickered with life for the last time. A moment later, the body seemed to deplete itself, melting in the hot air, its bones crumbling.
“Bring it inside,” Marcus ordered from among them, hidden because of his small size. “Fri Posdin!”
“Sir?” the Posdin appeared behind Hana.
“Send messages in this layer! We can’t wait to meet in council tomorrow.”
“In all shapes, I will, Old One,” the Posdin bowed.
The guards dragged in the wilting shells of what had once been Dimovu, four in all. The armor pasted to their flesh blossomed with rust. Their faces curved as if emaciated, their eyes colorless and blank. Jaws hung open as if they had been screaming. Hana followed the guards in with tentative steps, searching for Marcus. She watched him march away, swarmed by the guards, who left the Joondin in a pile and readied their spears once more.
“Keep calm!” admonished the Posdin from a little corner where he started his work. Hana sneaked over to him, watching as he motioned with his hands. In a split second, the air around his palms wavered. The Posdin continued making circular gestures until the air solidified, forming into a white ball that he let go. He kept making more shapes and storing them all in a row on the ground.
“Do you see, girl?” asked Sayrin, her voice quiet. When Hana turned to her, she noticed the lines deepening across Sayrin’s sallow face.
“Does it just happen? To anyone?”
“Yes. We want to stop it spreading,” the Posdin worked at the air once more, molding it into a square, “If it works its way any further, who knows what will happen.”
“Captain, Old One,” Brigdu saluted, “Permission to burn. I’m afraid we can’t risk anything spreading. Otherwise, it may affect us.”
“I don’t believe this is a sickness caused by contagion,” Marcus cut in, “This is our chance to examine the cause. Then we talk to the North Wind if we can.”
A white shadow flitted past Hana’s shoulder toward another of the guards. The soldier stiffened, his limbs rigid as Ino dove for him and tackled him to the ground.
Sayrin yanked Hana backward as chaos broke out. Everything became a mass of red and screams, the Joondin shrieking and snapping at Ino’s neck. A spear went through Ino’s back and into the Joondin. The Joondin’s arms dropped, its body slowing.
“That makes five!”
“Stay calm, all of you!”
Long, shaking fingers wrapped themselves around Hana’s arm. She went rigid, glancing up into the eyes of the Captain as the blackness took over his skin.