The staccato rhythm of the artillery units echoed in the darkness of the evacuation center. Parents and children huddled together under the crimson flicker of the emergency lights. A blast reverberated through the secure hold… One less defense unit.
A chorus of cries erupted from those too young to know better. Their call for comfort was deafening. Baleful glares were cast to the parents of the unruly young. Quiet them, lest they be silenced before they call the dark hoards to them. Mothers and fathers pulled their young to their breast, dampening their fear into whimpers while hushing the soothing lullabies that had worked in less dire circumstances.
The refugees of Clearwater dared not voice their rage with the enemy at their doorstep. This time, there are no weapons for the panicked survivors to take matters into their own hands. One disaster averted in favour of another.
Astral, an eight-year-old girl, with long ebony hair sat in a corner watching the survivors succumb to the transformative nature of their circumstance. She watched as friends and neighbours became monsters in human skin.
Her Sunday best was stained and torn, her legs and arms scraped from a nasty fall when the initial stages of panic set-in over Clearwater. She was one of the lucky ones. She cradled her trusty teddy bear between her legs and her chest, keeping her constant companion close, making herself small. Humans were unpredictable in their fear. It was a wise decision to avoid the notice of the strangers with familiar faces.
Somewhere out there, beyond the walls of concrete and steel, her father was fighting a losing battle against the legion of freed demons.
Children fought against their parents’ smothering love. Too weak to make any significant impact, their bodies slumped in their parents’ hold. Better to pass with love than to suffer the torment of the demonic forces that were bound to take them.
Approving nods with a mix of disdain replaced the hate of the residents of older, well behaved, well controlled, children. In times like these, there was no room for compassion when selfish lives were at stake.
The spark of life drifted from the children, dancing above their parents, confused and frightened. ‘Hush now, children, your sacrifice was not in vain.’ Astral’s moist blue eyes stared up at the void that had been her imaginary friend. ‘Why?’ her eyes wide, she begged for answers she could not voice.
‘Because of you,’ her imaginary friend replied. ‘Did you think they wouldn’t follow? Did you think that choosing a Hunter as your Guardian would change anything?’ It was a cruel thing to imply that the razing of Clearwater was the fault of a child. Imbedding the sense of guilt and duty now, during such a formidable time of her identity was crucial. She should not have the option to deny the severity of the threat at hand, nor should she pass her role to lesser hands. The girl had the memories of the time before, a rare condition that most children learn to forget. Not this child. Her memories would serve her well.
The sparkling souls of the children danced around the dark shapeless void, waiting for instruction.
Another blast shook the dust from the ceiling.
“It’s not my fault.” The child’s voice was less than a whisper, her ancient accent still present even after eight years in the new world. Not a whimper in her tone.
“Henry!” a desperate mother cried out, shaking her son’s limp body. “Wake up! Somebody help -”
A loud crack silenced her cries as a good Samaritan broke her neck. Her body hit the floor and residents returned to their families.
Silence was the golden rule. All the Council’s information channels said so. Don’t say a word. Don’t breathe. Stay absolutely still. It was all a lie. The demons would sniff them out.
Another blast signaled Clearwater's losing battle. The machinegun fire stopped.
Astral tasted the subtle change of fear to despair. Fear was an acquired taste, but she couldn’t stand despair, with a few exceptions.
Ash danced down from the ceiling like snow and the pungent scent of blood and feces overtook the room. Cracks formed on the concrete walls. The lights flickered out. It wouldn't be long now.
Glass shattered against the steel shutters. The deep wallowing howl of the Zephyr called out, and pure silence fell onto the evacuation center. These people were lost.
The steel shutters resisted the onslaught once, twice, bending and warping a little more with each thunderous attack.
'Daddy's not coming.' The child stood up, her loyal teddy bear in her grip. Breath held, she moved through the refugees toward the shower of broken glass. No-one dared stop her.
‘Do it like I told you,’ her imaginary friend pulled the souls of the young with her, trailing after the child. Her pulse filled the room as she allowed her senses to wash over the people. Oh no, she most certainly did not care for their flavour at all. Astral’s racing heart pounded as she watched the metal twist above them.
‘Breathe slowly. Use their fear to guide you. Anchor your purpose within them.’
Astral’s breath was short and hollow. Her heart threatened to burst under the pressure. The child’s unnatural hold over the people was slipping.
Black ooze trickled into the center, pushing its way through the cracks in the concrete wall expanding the small openings into fissures. It flooded the room, herding the flock of refugees to the heart of their tomb.
The ooze pushed its way toward the cowering residents. It pulled itself upright like a living mass before diving onto the townsfolk and the bold child who stood against it.
‘I’m sorry’ the imaginary friend told the child before pouring itself into her tiny frame. The transition was painful. Ten years was a short time to forget the everyday aches of the physical world. Time stretched out in all directions forming a nebula of twilight. Past and future versions of Astral approached the child. She had forgotten what it was like to be four feet tall. She had forgotten how imposing she had been as an adult.
The voices of her many incarnations filled her mind, sharing multiple lifetimes of knowledge all stemming from this moment. The best course of action mapped itself out for her and the versions of herself blinked out of existence, save for the masked one which stood at the greatest distance, swathed in shadows worn like a cloak. This one traced a symbol in the air and nodded with the grace of a god.
“They are MINE!” she roared to the darkness, her consciousness returning to the present. The ooze fell back, pushed away by the raw energy the child unleashed.
She shook the dizziness from her head. She felt the original soul of her Vessel fighting her hold. It was strong. Good.
The metal sheet tore from the building, revealing thick dark clouds circling the sky above. The refugees had vanished from the center denying their original existence. “You want them!” The child pounded her chest. A savage smile spread across her face. She jutted her chin toward her target. “They’re in here come and get them!”
The ooze rushed toward the child, rose over her and blanketed her in its hate. The ooze turned hot, boiling with fury. Inside it plunged hundreds of needled into her small body, where it formed new threads filling her veins and forced the meat from her bones, working to consume her. She would be made to suffer for as long as her body could withstand death.
It drove deep into her, searching for the taste it craved. The ooze paused in its assault, realizing too late what it had tasted. It recoiled violently, releasing the child from its hold, leaving her in a clear ten-foot vortex of open space devoid of its wicked presence.
Like a second skin, the souls of the last vestiges of Clearwater sparkled over her small form, reshaping her. The luminescent glow of her stigma-infected gaze betrayed her unnatural origin.
The ooze’s fluid mass solidified in seconds, poisoned by the soul it had tasted. It shattered and fell to the ground as a heap of black sand.
Howls as deep as insanity, long and mournful, filled the broken center. Black sand danced around the child. The fight for Clearwater was far from over and her time was limited.
Here we have it, the fourth draft version of chapter 1. At the end of each chapter, I'm going list three questions that will help me decide if I've hit my intended marks as a writer. It's the difference between accidentally creating an emotional response and engineering one.
- When did you get sucked into the story? If not, what stopped you?
- What questions do you have about the plot, character(s) or story in general by the time you reach the end of the chapter?
- If you were the main character in this situation, how would you have done things differently?
You can share your answers to these questions over on the Awakening Facebook Group.
If you have questions of your own that you would like other readers to answer feel free to post them to the group.
If you want me to answer your questions directly remember to tag me in the group, or you can email me directly.
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